a horror story from 2003
September 23, 2020 10:12 AM   Subscribe

"Kathleen Murphy gripped her can of Mace tightly as she rode the Red Line to work, hands sweating inside the latex of her surgical gloves. All around her, her fellow T riders were openly clutching Mace or pepper spray as well, all glancing around the car from behind safety goggles and surgical masks." "For the Plague Thereof Was Exceeding Great" by Jennifer Pelland is a short, dark science fiction story, published in 2003, about an epidemic and the religious cult that aims to spread it.
posted by brainwane (20 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
that is dark — had to nope out midway through. maybe a CW required.
posted by scruss at 10:34 AM on September 23, 2020 [1 favorite]


Super dark, but I "enjoyed" it
posted by knapah at 10:36 AM on September 23, 2020 [1 favorite]


How refreshing to think a death cult are a small minority of the population.
posted by benzenedream at 10:40 AM on September 23, 2020 [22 favorites]


But how realistic that despite being a small minority, they are able to spread illness and death so effectively!

It was very grim, but I also “enjoyed” it.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:43 AM on September 23, 2020 [1 favorite]


Nope nope nope nopeity nope nope.
posted by enfa at 10:45 AM on September 23, 2020 [2 favorites]


Fourth, she removed her gloves, goggles, and mask, putting them in the medical waste receptacle. Fifth, she ran her hands under the automatic faucet, covering them with a fine spray of disinfectant. Finally, she put on the contents of the hygiene pack: first the hair net, then the mask, then the safety goggles, then the gloves.

The apparently competent government is providing adequate PPE.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:04 AM on September 23, 2020 [26 favorites]


I've been a fan of Jennifer Pelland for years! For those who can, uh, stomach her writing, her novel "Machine" is really great (note -- strong, disturbing images of self-harm), as is her collection "Unwelcome Bodies", which includes this story.

I haven't seen much from her since "Machine", though -- no idea why.
posted by kyrademon at 11:13 AM on September 23, 2020


Good lord does this feel like a bad time to be reading this - don't get me wrong, I love the writing, the more grounded 12 monkey's nature, but there's already a crapton of background dread going on.
posted by drewbage1847 at 11:34 AM on September 23, 2020 [4 favorites]


Am I misunderstanding or is the ending saying Kathleen was carrying a live hand grenade with her every day?
posted by Scattercat at 12:10 PM on September 23, 2020


I haven't seen much from her since "Machine", though -- no idea why.

Her website provides the amazing answer: "She is currently in temporary retirement from writing to concentrate on belly dance instead."
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:20 PM on September 23, 2020 [5 favorites]


The ring is her husband's, on a necklace. No hand grenade, unless you count the overwhelming human need for physical contact and comfort.
posted by lovecrafty at 12:25 PM on September 23, 2020 [2 favorites]


Oh this was really really good. Thanks for sharing it!
posted by kimberussell at 12:29 PM on September 23, 2020


The least believable part of the death cult was that they actually did think they were trying to 'save' people. Our actual death cult is behaving the same way entirely out of spite, rage, hate, and a desperate need to 'own the libs', and not even bothering to try and conceal the fact.
posted by FatherDagon at 1:30 PM on September 23, 2020 [9 favorites]


To reiterate how bad 2020 is: the unbelievable part of the fictional death cult is that they were too altruistic
posted by benzenedream at 2:00 PM on September 23, 2020 [20 favorites]


That was disturbingly close to the current reality. Better in some ways, considering the lack of fictional death cult members in elected office. Thanks for sharing.
posted by sillyman at 2:34 PM on September 23, 2020


I would have given it a miss too, considering, but the commute that the story begins with was almost exactly mine at one point, and I had to see what happened. I haven't been on the T since March, and as things are going for unrelated reasons, I don't know when I can do it again.

Tired of the constant fear. Tired of the distance people put between each other. Tired of the numbness that had replaced emotion. Tired of the bleak future she tried not to let herself imagine. Tired of waiting for her turn to come. She turned to look in the mirror, at the hair gone far too gray from the constant stress of her life. It wasn't worth living like this. This wasn't life.

That's 2020, all right. But the fictional disease is more convenient than COVID. Its contagion is guaranteed, and the result is quick; your ticket out is punched. COVID is just enough below lethality that it can be ignored. A second depressing observation: the Bush administration, awful as it was in many ways, would probably have addressed this with some kind of federal intervention, seeing as they still believed blue-staters were Americans.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:00 PM on September 23, 2020 [6 favorites]


The Bush administration would have used COVID-19 as a pretext to broadly expand surveillance of Americans for purposes of political control. It might or might not have actually accomplished anything with regards to the virus. We probably would have gotten the Department of Homeland Health created, to trace the location of everyone’s car at all times via license plate cameras on every street, and make everyone show their papers to check in and out of any building. I’m not sure how they would have gotten the theocracy angle in there, but they would have managed it somehow.

And no, they did not believe blue-staters were Americans. Remember how much hay was made of the electoral map in the 2004 election? The blue states were literally on the margins, and the red states were real America? That’s when that crap really started to take hold, and where Trump is getting it now.
posted by snowmentality at 6:15 PM on September 23, 2020 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I relate to that ending a little too well.
posted by Sublimity at 6:16 PM on September 23, 2020 [2 favorites]


The Bush administration would have used COVID-19 as a pretext to broadly expand surveillance of Americans for purposes of political control.

Katrina, but for pandemics.
posted by benzenedream at 8:31 AM on September 24, 2020


I came across this story and went "oooooof" because of how it resonates right now. I'm glad that those of you who needed to nope out noped out and did not read something you couldn't handle well, and I'm glad to have shared it with those of you for whom it provided a kind of interesting mirror. It crystallizes this combo-dread that so many of us feel, the fear of the disease and the fear of other people who might harm us using the disease and the fear of the future. And, Sublimity, yeah, that ending.

Countess Elena noted:
the fictional disease is more convenient than COVID. Its contagion is guaranteed, and the result is quick; your ticket out is punched. COVID is just enough below lethality that it can be ignored.
Right -- I wonder whether that's a common characteristic of fictional pandemics, moreso than in real ones? Naomi Kritzer reflected on how her short story "So Much Cooking" predicted and didn't predict our current situation (previously) and noted:
The disease in “So Much Cooking” is a mutated version of bird flu, with human-to-human transmission and a 34% death rate. It is hilarious to me in retrospect that I thought a death rate that high was necessary for the initial setup of people isolating themselves in their houses. In fact, diseases that strike hard and kill quickly are a lot easier to contain, in part because seriously ill people are a lot less likely to go out and mix with healthy people, and in part because we’re collectively freaked out enough to take contact tracing and other containment steps extremely seriously.
posted by brainwane at 3:00 PM on September 26, 2020 [1 favorite]


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