Tainted produce can’t be identified until it has killed: unwashed spinach, the odd melon, uncooked egg yolks. Agri-biz has failed to deal with the problems that come from bacteria-laden crops, from meat doused with antibiotics. Community after community falls victim. In Alaska a virulent form of MRSA attacks a small island village, in West Virginia an unknown bacteria decimates the hollers, in Kauai terrorists may have laced a rain storm with E. Coli or perhaps the ocean is just teaming with it. Bacteria- laden food should lead to caution, but that doesn’t happen until the government steps in and bans people from touching their faces, then bans them from touching each other and finally, moves everyone indoors, quarantined in the homeland in an effort to prevent genocide.
In Isolation, a novel about the dystopian future which is just around the corner, Maggie struggles with the need to gauze her three-month old son’s tiny hands and spray them with Keep-Off, an offensive odor designed to teach children not to touch their faces. Trevor believes people should follow every rule. Now, he has Homeland Security behind him as he becomes an Enforcer who monitors the Touch Bans making sure that no face-touching occurs in the public sphere. Gary, a government Sterilizer, lives a quiet life of scanning and scouring the victims of bacterial attacks until an inadvertent touch occurs and he wanders off, both mentally and physically.
Enforcers make sure that touching ceases. Sterilizers try to ensure that the infected are dealt with fast and efficiently, that everyone uses the latest in antibacterials, that bacteria are destroyed. But microbial life forms have a way of surviving. Will it be enough to save humanity? It might not be the nuclear Armageddon promised by the cold war, but it is no less deadly.
A novel in three parts
Isolation opens essentially where we are today: uncooked spinach, an egg over-easy, a tainted melon, or a bad hamburger could kill you. Invisible bacteria assault our food system and our bodies as antibacterial treatments become ever fewer and less effective.
In the middle of the novel, the government bans face touching and eventually bans touching all others. Enforcement of such laws proves challenging, but fear drives people to gauze infants' hands and spray them with noxious chemicals so that they will learn not to bring hand-to-mouth, as well as report anyone seen touching in public. News articles interrupt the narratives bringing the larger American scene into focus with Agri-Biz, Big Pharma, and the government endangering life as we know it.
The Dangers Within
Finally, a nationwide quarantine forces all Homelanders inside in a hope to save society. Knowledge of others decreases as news sources cease, infrastructure crumbles, and families learn to survive with diminished human contact. Sterilizers are on duty to scan and scour anyone who might be contaminated. Enforcers ensure that containment procedures are followed regardless of consequences. Individuals’ isolation grows beyond human endurance until someone has to reach out in the hopes of once again touching.
Isolation: Unsuspected Sources
No one expected her to die. It was a simple kitchen accident. No big deal.
Rebecca’s small dinner party had gone off without a hitch. She had the
red wine open and breathing and the white on ice when the guests
arrived. Everyone enjoyed the wine, munchies and conversation while
they awaited dinner. It was a simple meal of curried veggies with lime
marinated tri-tip and fresh bakery bread. As Rebecca served, one of the
guests inquired about her band-aid.
“Oh, just nicked my finger while chopping the onion.”
“Should we look for blood?” asked one.
“Is that why you chose a curry?” laughed another.
“Oh, just eat. And the person who finds the bloody digit wins a prize.” Everyone chuckled, though one guest was careful as he chewed through the heavily sauced vegetables.
The next evening, Rebecca noticed a thin red line leading toward her
wrist from beneath the band-aid. She worried she’d wrapped the finger
too tight or left the band-aid on too long. She removed it and found the
wound surrounded by a white ring with grey pus oozing out. Oh dear.
She looked in her medicine chest but couldn’t find any antibacterial
ointment. She realized the local pharmacy had already closed so she
poured a bit of alcohol on the wound. Yowsa, that stung. Then she put on
a clean band-aid intending to dress the wound better the next day.
In the middle of the night she awoke to a burning sensation in her left
hand. She turned on the light. The red line had lengthened. Pus oozed out
of the bandage. The clock read 1 a.m. Not the best time to need medical
attention, but what could she do? She wrapped a couple of paper towels
gently around her hand in the hope of not getting pus on anything. Then
she dressed and knocked on her neighbor’s door.
Reg saw her through the peep hole. He cracked the door open. “What’s up, Beck?” Then he saw her hand. “Whoa, girl, did you hurt yourself?”
“Remember, I cut myself prepping dinner?”
“It’s infected. I need to go to emergency.”
“For a finger? Can’t it wait till morning?”
“It’s hot and nasty. I’m scared.”
Reg opened the door. “Hot and nasty? I like nasty,” he growled and h eaded to grab his car keys before Rebecca could wonder if Reg was coming on to her. “You’re lucky I’m sober,” he called from the bedroom.
Rebecca walked with Reg into Emergency. She told them she’d cut her finger. The staff moved slowly until they discovered the red line emanating from the wound and learned that she’d cut herself in a kitchen accident. She insisted it was onions and not the steak that she was chopping when the knife had sliced across her left index finger. The nurse looked skeptical, but she didn’t argue.
Alone in the curtained space, Rebecca suddenly got nervous. She started tapping her foot. She found that she was cold, even though she was wearing a winter parka. Her finger still felt hot, like the burning when you’d stayed outside too long playing in the snow. She put her hood up and wrapped her arms tightly around herself. The nurse’s questions got her wondering. She replayed her party preparations in her head. She could have been cutting the tomato when she did it, but it was definitely tomato or onion, not steak. She didn’t realize it was the same knife and she had already trimmed the tri-tip. She didn’t think about germs in her mouth even though she’d immediately sucked on the cut. She didn’t consider that she hadn’t washed the vegetables before cutting them. She didn’t think about the fact that after prepping everything, she left the same band-aid on when she cooked the steak, served the meal, showered, slept. Since it hadn’t been deep and didn’t need stitches, she had truly ignored the cut after covering it.
By the time the doctor arrived, Rebecca was shivering. She asked for a
blanket, but instead, the doctor ordered the nurse to bring ice to lower
Rebecca’s temperature which had spiked to 104 degrees. The doctor
feared sepsis. She sent for a white blood count.
“What’s wrong with me?”
“I can’t be sure yet, but it appears you may have blood poisoning?”
“From a simple cut?”
“From bacteria most likely. Were you working with meat?”
“That’s what the nurse asked. I used a fork on some steak, but I was slicing an onion or maybe a tomato when I cut myself.”
“Kitchen hygiene is more important than most people realize. Keeping meats and vegetables separate when preparing them, cleaning counters, washing hands.”
“I’ve been cooking since I was 8. Nothing like this has ever happened.”
“Could be your immune system has been compromised by a cold or flu. Could be a virulent form of bacteria on the produce. We’ll get you taken care of.”
Reg couldn’t believe it when the doctor came and told him Rebecca was
dead. Now he felt like such a heal. He’d been tired of watching all the
crazy, injured people come and go from the ER and had just been
thinking how he should go home and let Beck call him when she was
ready. But he hadn’t figured out how to get that message to her. What a
schmuck! Here he was worried about a little sleep and she had been
“How could she be dead? She just had an infected cut, an eensie little nick on her finger?”
“It wasn’t just infected. She had blood poisoning.”
“Blood poisoning? How did that happen?”
“At this point, we can’t be sure. Are you family?”
“No, I’m a neighbor with a car.”
“Do you know her next of kin?”
“I know her friends, I don’t know her family. I’m holding her purse. Do I check in it? Give it to you? ”
“If you’d like, we can take her personal belongings and look for an emergency contact.”
Reg wasn’t sure if he should take her purse home or give it to the
attendant who was with the doctor. Beck’s keys were in the purse, so if
he kept it, he could get into her apartment. And do what? He’d always
liked Rebecca and she’d helped him out a couple of times, but they
weren’t that close, not in-case-of-emergency close. He handed the purse
to the short woman in the blue scrubs with frolicking dolphins. Shouldn’t
she be wearing something less cheerful?
Reg picked up his iPad that he’d been playing games on. He walked to the door and stopped. He looked back into the bustling room. It seemed wrong to just walk out, but what else was he gonna do? A sharp morning light made him squint before he ducked into the dark parking structure and took the elevator up to the 8th floor. As he wound his way round and round the cement structure he wondered what he would do with his day. Probably go back to bed and maybe pull the covers up over his head.