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December 18, 2023 Fiction

Patient One

Meg Tuite

Patient One photo

Patient Zero: Jermaine Horace Scudder
Age 32: Jermaine inherits his father’s farm: Winfield Scudder
Winfield Scudder dies of apoplectic stroke: 2002
First shipment to Leipzig, Germany: one male alpaca: 1999
Second shipment to Leipzig: twelve alpacas: six males/six females 1999

Aubrey von Harrowby had lived with fame. Her pretension far exceeded her wit. Her mother was the first doctor to give four-fingered rectal exams: made leaps in early detection of prostate cancer. Her father had written the Manual of Squid, and “Portuguese man-of-war: gonozooids: sex organs with no parental involvement.”  

Needless to say, her formative years had been a Who’s Who of anatomists, physicists, zoologists, chemists, and citadel and tomb excavators. Aubrey had been inducted, before she could speak, into the world of dramatic and exotic histrionics.

When Aubrey was twelve years old, she found a straggly, starving cat in an alley. Her mother set up a lab for her in the basement and had a twelve-pack of exotic felines rounded up from the neighborhood. Aubrey’s first experiments were recorded as cross-breeding, though more accurately cross-bleeding from scars accumulated while handling these feral tentacle-clawed beasts. 

A few weeks later she asked for a male Chihuahua, and a grimy, gnawing thing the size of a postcard arrived by parcel. She put it in the cage with a few cats and covered them with a pheromone spray one of the scientists who visited had concocted after hearing of her project. 

At first the cats and the rat stayed on separate sides of the cage, taking turns eating and drinking from bowls set between them. They snarled at each other. Fangs and rage were proportional. Aubrey kept exacting notes and slept in the basement. She sprayed them every six hours as the scientist had prescribed. 

Three days later the manic rat mounted each cat. The Chihuahua averaged four humps per hour. Science had the cats by their genitals. One cat had six offspring in the first batch. Aubrey rotated a few more cats and found that a few from her first batch could produce at least three litters per year. They resembled a larger specimen of gerbils with feline eyes and a taste for catnip and indifference to any learning curve, lounging and licking themselves in what was radiating into a placid harem. 

Within a few years, Aubrey had her own building on the property, stables lined up with twenty vets and nurses taking temperatures and keeping charts. Once a female was in heat she was dumped in with a pack of males of another species. Aubrey moved through deer/mule breeds; horse/donkeys; ferret/moles, buffalo/wild boars, ostriches and wombats, which left more than a few of the Australian marsupials and some of the boars slathered against the sides of enclosures like tortillas.

Hybrids were successful, at times, and Aubrey found she could get high prices for her breeding stock from zoos and eccentric collectors, though she remained a scientist, kept scrupulous notes after the staff had left and never formed attachments with her subjects. 

Until an alpaca was delivered. As soon as she was face to glossy-fleeced face with the alpaca’s luminous eyes, love flared Aubrey’s internal organs into a magnesium flame. Bombastic pyrotechnics surged a laxative storm blasting a lifetime of chronic constipation like a carnival ride through her intestines and out her rectum. She was soiled and enamored. Aubrey named him Jan Ingenhousz, after the Dutch physician who wrote the book Experiments on Vegetables. She compiled her notes into what looked to be several volumes on hybrids titled Diversity by Collusion, using Ingenhousz’s structure as a blueprint for her chapters. 

Jan, the alpaca, was moved into Aubrey’s living quarters on the property. A room previously used for seances and toilet-training was filled with the finest bales of grass hay. The name and location of the shipper were recorded.  Aubrey ordered a bevy of both sexes. She had found her breed.

The human race was absurd and overwrought. Men were feeble-minded narcissists and women, acoustic blowhorns with an endless flurry of wind. Humans were an obstacle of fisted egos like scratched records on phonographs. 

By 2017, Aubrey had thirty-three alpacas. This was a perfect species. Alpacas roamed free in segregated acres. 

Every night a different alpaca was brought to her room. Aubrey brushed and caressed each beauty. She drank Pinot Grigio and talked to the exquisite long-necked beast before she set up a nest for it next to her bed. Aubrey hummed to the sound of its clicking antidepressant melody while it slept.


When Aubrey was a kid and a mosquito bit her, her entire face swelled up. Over time, she dealt with the intensity, but it was less oppressive. But now, itching was weeping overwrought Danielle Steel novels out of her. She used herbal balms and prescriptive remedies and still became tourettic, tic-ticing and scratching bloody patches over ankles and arms while she slept. 

One night she was rushed to the hospital when her body tremored, vibrated like a wind chime. The diagnosis was bubonic plague. They actually printed it in the local newspaper.

She was quarantined and all hospital personnel came in wearing spacesuits, except for one blonde woman who staggered in sporting a neon-yellow spandex bra and workout shorts, yelling, “Waldo, I love you,” and then lifted Aubrey’s hospital gown and went at her with her tongue like she was scraping off a few coats of old paint. 

The spectacle turned out to be “scabies,” the doctor said. “Have you had contact with any barn animals?” 

Once Aubrey was released and back at her ranch she dialed. 

“You got peaches, so I got to eat-choos,” was the recording. BEEP! 

 I left my message.

“Jermaine, you’re a backward gaze on your old man’s fame. I’m Patient Zero. That alpaca shipment was signed when you were squirting your first jizz. Your dad told me you stuck your pee-pee inside the herd. But my ‘scabies’ were gestating well before yours. Check the records. You are a marked man, Patient One. Sleep well.”