Two doctors visit a couple who have contracted an incurable typographical virus; by Phillip A. Myers.
"Good morning ma'am," the doctor said wearing a gray suit and a formal smile. "I'm Dr. Francis Andrews of the Pan American Health Organization."
Standing next to him was a young woman in a dark business dress with a serious gait. He introduced her, "This is my colleague, Dr. Emily Giern. We were assigned to you and your husband's case this week. How are you feeling today?"
The woman refused to respond. She shrank her head back enough that Dr. Andrews could see her brown eyes squinting back at him. Looking past the doctors, she spotted a small white sedan parked outside her home, the PAHO logo printed on the door.
"Mrs. Lydden," the doctor called out the woman's name, "my supervisor received your message. We want to help your family's condition, if you'd please let us in?"
The woman Lydden remained silent. An awkward moment passed before she opened the door wider to let them in. She wore a drab t-shirt and worn sweatpants. Her cropped hair looked as if it hadn't been washed for days and dark bags hung under her eyes.
"Thank you for having us, Mrs. Lydden," Andrews said as he stepped in. The silent Dr. Giern simply shook the missus' hand in welcome.
The single story house consisted of a joined living and dining room, an extended kitchen, and a hallway leading toward the bath and bedrooms, Andrews suspected. There was a loveseat and recliner facing the television and an Ikea coffee table in between. Hanging from the walls were pictures of the Lydden family, including many of her husband's fishing trips.
Andrews and Giern sat in the loveseat, Mrs. Lydden a chair she removed from the kitchen. Dr. Giern reached into her bag and produced a small recording device.
Dr. Andrews started the recorder and set it down on the coffee table. He then proceeded to identify himself and Dr. Giern, the day's date, and the number of the case. He then turned and asked Mrs. Lydden, "Please state your name and occupation."
The woman licked her lips. The doctor told her to take her time. She took several breaths. Finally, she spoke,
"Emma Lydden, I'm an Estate Planner here in Cumberland."
Dr. Giern listed Mrs. Lydden's voice pattern in her notepad, while Andrews nodded and replied, "I see. And when did you first develop Comic Sans?"
"I noticed it back in... July I think? About three months back? It started with these weird... breaks? In my speech. My words got all disconnected. It was weird. At one moment, I was normal, the next it words changed.
"It started at one word, then two, and so on. Eventually, it got like this 24/7."
Dr. Andrews maintained his composure out of respect for the patient. "Has your condition had any effect on your occupation?"
Emma sighed. "At first it wasn't a problem; nobody noticed when I let it slip.
"Soon as my staff took notice, things turned... problematic. Whenever I talked I could hear others snickering and laughing. Nobody took what I said seriously. Someone spammed me these... crude pics of my head plastered over a dog's?
"Eventually I lost an important client. He... claimed I was... joking with his family's trust fund. He... he threatened to sue me for perjury..." Emma broke down in tears.
After she finished crying, Andrews moved on to his next question. "Have you discussed this with your regular physician?"
Emma wiped a tear from her eye. "My doctor couldn't explain it, only that there was nothing wrong with me physically. I haven't been to work for two weeks now. I'm afraid to talk to my neighbors about it. Apparently there's this rumor that -"
The sound of a toilet flush cut her off. Out of the hallway entered a man in his late 40's wearing a tank top and camouflaged shorts. His hair was receding and his limbs were dry and sinewy. A rough stubble covered his face, a five-o'clock shadow that seemed six hours late.
"Emma? I don't think that eggplant sat well for me last ni..." The man paused when he noticed the visitors in his house. "What's going on?"
Emma stood up and said, "Ryan? Hon, these folk came up from Virginia to study our problem."
"Ah Christ, this again? Babe, I told you it's not that big a deal..."
"It is a big deal Ryan! You just refuse to talk about it."
"Because it's not a big deal! Doc said there's no harm, sure it will clear up in a couple weeks."
"Doctor Google doesn't count!" Emma turned to Andrews. "This man refuses to see anyone in person. I have tried over and over to get him to a clinic..."
"Here we go," Ryan groaned, waving his arms in the air.
"And he just waves it off, tells me to just wait and see. Stubborn, that's what he is."
"If I may," Dr. Andrews said, "I'd like to talk with your husband about this shared condition as well."
"It's not a condition," Ryan denied.
Emma hollered at him, "Will it kill you to listen to the man for five minutes?"
"Fine! Fine. Probe away, doc." Mr. Lydden plopped down into the empty recliner flapping his arms at the doctor in curious motions.
Dr. Andrews began, "Thank you. State your name and occupation."
"Ryan Lydden, I'm a Paving Foreman. You know, roads and concrete? Today was supposed to be my day off."
"Yes, and how long have you been stricken with Comic Sans?"
"Stricken? Pfft. Somewhere like... two or three months, give or take." He counted the number by his fingers.
"And has this affected your job performance?"
"Naw. Not at all." Ryan hesitated. "Well, there are ribbings every so often. But nothing ever big on the job."
Emma cut in, "You told me your boys kept slacking off."
"They do that all the time. They're construction!"
"See, I keep telling her 'It's not your words, it's your appearance.' If you put emphasis in your gestures, people take you seriously." Ryan demonstrated by swaying his arms everywhere as he talked.
"You look like a damn orangutan."
"It's called posture, lady. You're a lawyer, you should know all this."
"Okay, I think I get where you're both coming from," Dr. Andrews said. "Let's continue. Can you describe your recent sexual history?"
Ryan glared at the doctor, "Excuse me?"
"I mean, can you elaborate on all the times you've engaged in sexual intercourse?"
"I know what you meant, doc. Why? Are you accusing me or my wife of cheating?"
"Not at all. Just for records."
"Well not that it's any of your business, but no! I love my wife dearly. Right Hon?"
Emma answered with a, "Likewise."
"Very well," Dr. Andrews changed the subject. "I noticed you enjoy fishing, Mr. Lydden?"
"Yeah, what about it?"
"Out of curiosity, did you happen to go fishing about three months ago?"
Ryan screwed his face around thinking about it. He eventually replied with an uncertain, "Yeah?"
"I remember!" Emma chimed in. "He had time off while I had to work, so he drove down to Green Ridge by himself. Remember Hon?
Dr. Andrews scratched his chin. "Interesting. And do you remember catching anything that day?"
After thinking about it, Ryan replied, "No, nothing big enough. Pickings were real slim."
"Are you sure? Anything peculiar?"
"...Nope," Ryan hesitated, a lump in his sweaty throat.
"Really? Have either of you heard of a Typefish?"
The Lyddens looked at one another in confusion. Each of them admitted to knowing nothing.
Dr. Andrews explained, "That's okay. It's only just recently been discovered. You see, the Typefish is a unique aquatic creature that appeared along the Atlantic Ocean around three years ago. Its appearance is a cross between a tuna and a herring, with just a smidge of mackerel. While it shares traits with both forage and predatorial fish, its diet is actually demersal in nature, which might explain their sudden emergence.
"Unfortunately, we've found they contain a unique toxin inside of them, one that affects the forms of the English language. This causes the structure of your words to convert to Comic Sans, as you see."
Both Lyddens were dumbstruck. Emma replied, "So you're saying my husband contracted Comic Sans from this...Typefish?"
"No, that's impossible," her husband retorted. "I didn't eat any fish that month. And I wear gloves whenever I handle my catch."
"Yes, however the disease from the Typefish isn't spread from being handled or eaten, I'm afraid. The disease can only be transmitted..." Dr. Andrews coughed into his fist as he finished, "sexually."
The room was silent. Both Lyddens' mouths were open. Emma's lips uttered an inaudible, "What the fuck?"
Dr. Andrews continued, "Yes, there've been several cases of late where male patients have been using the Typefish's mouth for fellatio. Once the man hits climax, the fish secretes the toxin into the man's urethra, thereby allowing the virus to travel through the bloodstream and eventually embed itself into the vocal chords."
"There is also a strand remaining in the first infected orifice, which allows the toxin to be spread to further partners afterward."
Emma turned on her husband, "You raped a fish?"
"I just... got lost in the moment, is all."
"How the fuck is there a moment for that!? What, do you get off on fish nibbling at your junk?"
"Actually," Dr. Andrews interrupted, "the Typefish doesn't have teeth. It's a demersal, so its lips suck along his pen-"
"Will you shut up?" Emma snapped. "No wonder everyone is laughing at us. I feel like a Goddamn fish whore."
"Now Hon, you're overreacting..."
"Don't fucking touch me! It's your fault I can't even call my folks. I just..." Tears shed from Emma's eyes as Ryan tried in vain to console her.
"In your husband's defense, Mrs. Lydden, he may not have been a willing party," Dr. Andrews began.
"Several qualified ichthyologists have studied the Typefish since its first appearance and found that once the fish reaches surface it releases an exceptionally strong pheromone which attracts any unwitting victim into its sexual gaze."
Mrs. Lydden wiped the tears from her eyes. "Are you sure?"
"Yes ma'am. In fact, this pheromone is so strong it works on both animals and people, regardless of gender.
"But your condition is more common than you believe, Mr. Lydden. And while there's no physical harm, the virus has been known to create a severe social stigma. Many families have been torn apart by the effects of this disease. Even my wife and I."
"Wait a minute, you have the disease too, doc?"
"No, thankfully she was overseas at the time so I was spared. But surprisingly it turns out that the virus takes on different strands depending upon the contraction of the disease, or in this case orifice. For instance, instead of Comic Sans my wife contracted Copperplate."
"And what happened to your wife?" Emma asked.
"Well I tried to accommodate her illness as best I could by receiving handjobs every few days. But eventually our marriage collapsed and we filed for divorce."
"Because of her Copperplate?"
"No, she later discovered she was a lesbian," Andrews replied with nonchalance.
Ryan asked, "So it really wasn't my fault?"
"That's difficult to determine," Dr. Andrews said. "But the point is that the further your disease is prolonged, the further this will put a strain your relationship. That's why I'd like your permission to begin treatment as soon as possible."
"You mean there's a cure?"
"Not yet I'm afraid. Due to complications, we're still searching for the details of each strand. But thanks to further advances, we can help remedy the effects."
Andrews reached into his bag and took out a prescription pad. "I'm going to prescribe you both some fish oil to be taken every eight hours. And you won't have to worry about chewing or swallowing.
"It's a suppository.
"And make sure you each see your general physician and have blood work done every month. I'll arrange it so he receives precise instructions toward your case. Any questions?"
The Lyddens looked to one another and shrugged, decided they heard enough.
"Then I look forward to hearing of your progress," Andrews stated as he and his colleague stood to leave. They both took turns shaking hands with the couple and thanking one another for their time.
The two doctors left the domicile and entered their white sedan ready to leave. The silent Dr. Emily Giern retrieved her phone from the side of her seat.
"We received a message from the Deputy Director," Dr. Giern said, "about another case sighted in Frederick."
Andrews shook his head. "Fifth case this week."
And with that they drove off toward their next assignment. In the back of their minds, they knew this one would be truly daunting.