Monday, July 18, 2022

The Jesus Plague

I wrote this story in the 1990s, after a spate of murders and bombings by "pro-life" fanatics at women's clinics across the country.  With the recent Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade, it has gained new significance. I didn't realize it at the time, but it has a premise similar to a 1957 novel by John Wyndham that was made into a movie in the 1960s.

 The Jesus Plague

Celine Klein sprawled on her bed, wishing she could vomit. Through the blinds, the rising sun cast bars of light on her legs. She had to get up, get ready for work and get on the freeway before the traffic became impossible, but she was too nauseated to move. The sounds of her roommate, Marika, in the bathroom provided an excuse to delay getting up.

This was the third day in the row Celine had felt this way. The sickness went away by lunch time, but she still didn’t have much of an appetite by then.

The toilet flushed. There was a soft knock on Celine’s door and Marika peeked in.

“You up yet, Cee?” she whispered. Her blond hair was wild and unkempt, starting to come in dark at the roots.

Celine groaned and rolled on to her back. “Morning, Em. What are you doing up so early?”

Marika sat down on the corner of the low dresser. She wore a white t-shirt and pink underpants with purple flowers on them. Her bleached eyebrows were tightly knit, her lips set in a pout and she looked scared. “Celine, I think I’m pregnant.”

Celine sat up in a hurry. “I didn’t even know you were seeing anybody.”

“I’m not! I don’t know how it could have happened.” She shivered.

Celine rose, a little dizzy, and sat beside Marika, putting her arms around her roommate’s shoulders. “How can you be so sure?”

“My period was supposed to start a week ago Sunday, and it didn’t,” Marika said, near tears. “You know how it’s like clockwork, every 28 days. Today I threw up. It’s morning sickness, I know it. And I’m still on the pill!”

“Why? You haven’t been seeing anyone for a year.”

“Just in case.”

“Just in case! Just in case you meet a guy whose first impulse is to screw you? Em, I can’t believe you!”

Celine’s stomach suddenly turned inside out. She ran to the bathroom, barely making it to the toilet in time. Afterwards she felt a little better.

Marika stood in the doorway, watching her in horror. “You too?”

“No . . .” Celine said, refusing to believe it. “I can’t be pregnant. It’s been two years since I broke up with Dan!” She sat on the cold tile floor and pulled her nightgown tight around her feet. Wrinkling her nose at the vile, sour taste in her mouth, she reached for a tissue. Celine hadn’t had a period in seven weeks, but that was typical; she was lucky — if you could call it that — when she had six a year.

“Cee, what are we going to do?” Marika moaned.

Celine wasn’t listening. Her mind instead was filled with thoughts of how her life would be completely turned around. How could she manage a job and a baby alone? The men at work would have a field day with this. And how could she tell her mom and dad? They’d want to know who the father was, and as far as Celine knew, there wasn’t one!

Celine got up queasily. “Come on. Let’s go to the drug store.”

* * *

They sat at the kitchen table, staring at the home pregnancy tests they had bought.

“I can’t believe I’m pregnant. There’s no way. There’s just no way,” Marika said over and over.

“These home tests aren’t very reliable,” said Celine. “I’m going to see a doctor.”

“Me too. But I’m getting rid of it. Today.”

An abortion, Celine thought. The word repulsed her, conjuring up visions of bloody, mutilated fetuses. The bones of the skeleton in her Roman Catholic closet rattled with guilt.

“I don’t know if I could go through with that,” she said.

“You’ve got to do it. You don’t know whose baby this is. Somebody probably sneaked into our apartment one night and —”

“And artificially inseminated us while we slept? Right, Em.”

“Maybe it was something we ate?”

“Em, think about it. If you’ve been pregnant for a month or so, when will the baby be born?”

“Let’s see. It’s May . . .”

“Fourth. Add seven or eight months.”

Marika shrugged. “January. So?”

“Try end of December. Christmas?”

“You’ve got to be kidding, Celine. Yeah, I’m the Virgin Marika and I’m going to have the baby Jesus. Who are you the mother of? Santa Claus?”

“I’m serious. Remember what year it is?” Celine demanded.

“1999. So?”

“It’s the millennium, Em.” Celine shuddered as she said it. “The second coming of Christ.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot,” Marika said, rolling her eyes. “Celine, get a hold of yourself. There’s some reasonable explanation for this. There’s got to be.”

Celine shook her head. “I don’t see what it could be. I’m going to call and make an appointment right now.”

* * *

Celine tried to call in sick to work, but no one answered the phone. Traffic on the freeway was light, almost as light as a weekend. Marika cranked the radio up all the way. Sandwiched between Paula Abdul and Prince was a snippet of news: after receiving reports of thousands of unplanned pregnancies, the FDA was investigating Ortho Pharmaceutical for massive failure of their Ortho-Novum 10/11 birth control pill.

When they got to the clinic the lot was full; Celine had to park a block away. The waiting room was clogged with harried women, whining children, and a few nervous husbands. Celine and Marika filled out the forms, turned them back in and found the last two empty chairs.

A pinched line of worry appeared between Marika’s eyebrows. “There’s an awful lot of people here. You think we’re the only ones with our — problem?”

Here, among the crowd, Celine’s apocalyptic vision faded. More and more she saw that her fears were unfounded — her own “pregnancy" was probably a case of the flu and an erroneous test result. As for Em — well, she often forgot how she got home after a party. “That birth control pill thing on the radio probably has everyone worked up.”

“Yeah,” Marika nodded. She put her Walkman headphones on and leaned her head against the wall. More women were piling into the clinic; the line at the reception desk was already ten deep. A nurse started handing out numbers scribbled on Post-it notes.
Celine looked for a magazine to read, but the only thing at hand was People. Casting about for something more to her tastes, she noticed an older woman trying to find a place to sit.

“Ma’am,” Celine said, standing up, “you can have my seat if you want.” The way the woman wore her hair, in a tight white beehive, reminded Celine of her grandmother.

“Thank you, dear.” She smiled, sat down with a flourish and a sigh. The smile quickly faded, replaced by unease.

“Are you here with your daughter?” Celine asked, sitting on the edge of the magazine table.

“My God, no,” the woman said, putting her hand on her heart. The words gushed out of her in a torrent. “I think I’m pregnant, and I’m sixty-five years old! I went through the change ten years ago, but I know what it’s like to be pregnant, I tell you!”

The others nearby gasped. Celine almost slipped off the table. Marika yanked off her headphones, not sure she had heard right.

“I’m glad my husband is no longer with me,” the older woman went on. “If the stroke hadn’t done him in, this certainly would have. He was always a suspicious old goat.”

“It’s the same with me,” said a tall, thin, freckled redhead who sat beside a young girl. “I’ve been divorced for three years and I haven’t been with any men in four, but I missed my last period. Amelia hasn’t even had her first one —" she put her arm around the girl, drew her near “— and she had some spotting and morning sickness. She’s only nine, for God’s sake!”

“I’m on the pill,” chimed in a short, squat blond.

“My tubes are tied,” said an elegantly dressed, professional-looking black woman. 

A petite fifty-something piped up. “I had a hysterectomy six years ago. Uterine cancer.”

“I don’t know what you all are complaining about,” said a small, dark-haired woman with a pale complexion. She grasped the crucifix she wore around her neck. “My husband and I have been trying to make a baby for twelve years, and now we’re finally going to have one. It’s God’s blessing!”

The redhead glared at her. “Honey, the last thing I need is another kid. If this is a blessing, I’ll take a curse instead, thank you.”

“God will curse you to hell if you murder this baby,” the brunette retorted. “Jesus —" She stopped herself, as if she had accidentally blurted out a secret.

“What were you going to say?” Celine pounced.

The woman stared down at the floor, lips pursed, clasping her hands together as if in prayer.

At that moment two nurses and a silver-haired woman entered the room. The latter wore wire-rimmed glasses and a white doctor’s smock over a dark business suit. She cleared her throat. “We have an announcement to make.”

The low buzz of conversation dropped off immediately.

“I’m Dr. Alexa Macalester. Most of you are here for the same reason: you are experiencing symptoms of pregnancy, even though there is
‘no way’ you could be pregnant.

“For the last week or so we’ve been getting a few of these a day, but unfortunately we dismissed them. Condoms fail, people forget to take their pills, or use their diaphragms wrong. A report yesterday from the FDA appeared to confirm our suspicions when they reported a tainted batch of birth control pills. But these rationalizations were wrong.

“Today we started getting hundreds of calls from women who said they were pregnant but simply couldn’t be. We contacted other clinics in the area and they reported the same thing. Across the state, across the country, women have become pregnant when they can’t be. I became convinced of this when I had myself tested this morning — I, too, am pregnant.” The doctor’s chin quivered as she spoke.

“How can this be happening?” Marika interrupted. The other women joined in with a chorus of whys and hows.

Dr. Macalester raised her hand for quiet. “About half an hour ago, a news conference was held in San Francisco. They believe that this is a parasitic infestation of the uterus, manifesting itself with the symptoms of pregnancy.

“Another group of researchers sequenced the DNA of the ‘infestation,’ and found that it has 51 chromosome pairs instead of the normal 23 in humans. The first 22 pairs are completely human — and genetically identical in samples taken from sixteen different women.”

“What are these things?” Celine asked.

“We’re not sure. We’ve performed several vacuum aspiration procedures today. We found no evidence of infection or infestation, unless you call a fetus in the fifth week of development a parasite.”

“Then these are real babies?” the redhead said, her face a mask of pain.

“We don’t know. They might be. But I won’t try to talk any woman out of terminating this pregnancy.”

Suddenly the petite brunette leapt to her feet. “Murderers! Baby butchers! Don’t you see? We’re all like the Virgin Mary, and these babies are Jesus. The saviour is come to each and every one of us!”

Dr. Macalaster nodded to the nurses, who slowly made their way toward the woman. “Please, stay calm. Nobody is murdering anybody.”

The woman backed away, her brown eyes wide with fury. “Baby killers! Judases! You call yourself a doctor?” she spat at Macalester. “You’re Pontius Pilate in a skirt. You would crucify Jesus in the womb!” She scurried toward the exit, grasping the crucifix tightly. “Well, you’re too late! We’re closing down this slaughterhouse!”

The clinic was in an uproar. Children were crying, women were screaming and shouting, getting up and running out of the clinic.

“Please, everyone remain calm,” Dr. Macalester shouted. “Take your seats again and we’ll continue as before. Please. Sit down.”

The hubbub slowly subsided. The doctor returned to the examining rooms, leaving her staff to calm the frightened crowd.

Celine didn’t know what to think, what to feel. She always thought she’d have a baby when she found the right guy, when the career merry-go-round slowed down enough to get off for a while. She watched moms in the parks with their laughing babies, holding the little hands as they guided those precious first steps. She tickled the tummies of her friends’ infants, cooed over them, but she gave them back to their mothers when diapers needed changing. Celine wanted her own baby, something of herself and the man she would love, not some unknown thing.

“Em, can I borrow your Walkman?” she asked.

Marika had her knees pulled against her chest, huddling her arms around them. “Sure.”

Celine put the headphones on, turned the volume way down, and tuned in the all-news public radio station. They already had a name for the crisis: the Jesus Plague.

Madness was quickly spreading across the country. Angry crowds were gathering outside abortion clinics. People were selling their cars and burning down their houses in preparation for Armageddon. The senate leadership announced that committee hearings would begin the next morning. Now that’ll fix everything, Celine thought cynically.

She got up and looked out the narrow window. In the bright spring sunshine the crowd was already assembling. In the span of only a few minutes, it built from nothing to a mob of hundreds of chanting protesters, as if they had heard the clarion call and heeded it as one.


Police cars pulled up, their lights flashing, and uniformed officers piled out to form a cordon around the clinic. Buses disgorged loads of protesters; the crowd grew constantly. Within half an hour a sea of angry faces surrounded the building.

Inside, the smells of bad perfume, unchanged diapers and fear suffused the clinic. Celine could hear the chanting through the thick plate glass window. Not the words — just the roar, the anger, the hate. The protesters grabbed women who tried to enter the clinic, dragged them back into the mob. They threw disfigured dolls at the police, and splashed red paint, or ketchup, or blood on the officers.

Sickened, Celine went back to Marika. Few people spoke; everyone looked pale and scared. Celine could read the thoughts of the women in their grim faces: What is this thing growing inside me? Is it mine?

The door to the clinic burst open, flooding the room with the angry chorus of the protesters. Dozens of black-uniformed men wearing peaked police caps rushed into the room. An official-looking man in a black suit led the way, flashing a badge. The men in black spread out among the women in the waiting room, arms folded across their chests or behind their backs. When they had all filed in, they outnumbered the patients.

“It’s all right,” the leader shouted. “I’m Lt. Adrian Oliver, with the police department. We’re here to protect you in case the mob outside gets out of hand. I’d like to talk to the person in charge here.”

Adrian Oliver was a short, blond man with cool gray eyes. He carried himself confidently, as if he had a mission. Each black-uniformed officer had three or four pairs of handcuffs and a nightstick on his belt, but none of them carried pistols. They looked around expectantly, sizing up the women. Celine noticed that they were concealing handcuffs in their hands as well. She was going to say something to Marika, but stopped when she met the gaze of a man who watched her with the intensity of a stalking lion.

Dr. Macalester arrived in a huff. “What’s going on? Who are you?”

“I’m Lt. Adrian Oliver, with the police department,” he told her. “We’re performing a rescue operation.”

It was the cue. In a single, uninterrupted motion the man staring at Celine lunged, grabbed her wrist and twisted her arm behind her back. He snapped one cuff on her wrist.

The room erupted in a welter of frightened screams as the phony policemen wrestled with the women.

Celine’s attacker was a huge muscular man, easily twice her weight. As his arm snaked around her chest, she brought up her heel and kicked him in the groin. He howled in pain and bore her to the floor, crushing the breath out of her.

“Uhh!” he grunted. “The last thing I want to do is hurt you. Don’t fight me. Please!”

Celine gasped under his weight. “Let — me — go — damn you!”

“I’ll let you up if you stop fighting.”

There was no way Celine’s tiny 5’4”, 105-pound frame could stop this six-two hulk from making her do anything he wanted to. Fuming impotently, she acquiesced. He snapped the other cuff on his own wrist and pulled her to her feet.

Two serious fights broke out between the bogus policemen and some of the patients’ husbands. The “police
used their nightsticks expertly; the husbands went down quickly, bloodied and unconscious.

The women’s resistance was over in seconds. Each was handcuffed to a black-uniformed goon, even the old woman and the nine-year-old. Marika’s nose was bloodied — Celine knew she would never give up without a fight. As the screaming died away the bawling of babies arose.

“Please, please, everyone calm down!” Adrian Oliver shouted.

“Free us at once! We are not criminals,” Dr. Macalester protested as two men restrained her. She had lost one shoe and her glasses in the scuffle. “We’ve done nothing wrong!”

“Ah, but you have, doctor,” Adrian Oliver said. “And we’re here to stop you from doing it again.”

“You’re not with the police. Who are you people?” she demanded.

Oliver smiled at her. “First, let me reassure you: we’re not here to hurt anybody. Far from it. We are the Guardians of Jesus. We are on a mission of peace, for the King of Peace. We are like God’s guardian angels, but we watch over the unborn babies that each of you carries in your womb.”

“You can’t keep us here against our will,” Macalester said.

“Not for long. But long enough to do what needs to be done. Long enough to make you consider the sanctity of the life within your womb, and to help you decide to nurture it, not murder it. Right now, across the country, this same scene is playing out in hundreds of abortion mills. Millions of people are behind us, and we hope you will join us.

“We’re calling on the government to outlaw the butchering of innocents. We’re going to stay here until they do. We have barricaded ourselves in this clinic. Thousands of believers are outside, and most of the police are with us: no one will leave here until we have an iron-clad guarantee that the murders will stop.”

“That’s crazy,” Celine said, aghast. “You can’t keep us hostage until Congress passes a law. We could be here for weeks! And even if they did pass it, it would never stand up in court.”

Adrian Oliver’s smile was beatific. “The only court that matters is the Lord’s court, and by year’s end all appeals will be heard by the Lord God Himself.

“You are all so lucky. I have Jesus in my heart, but you have Jesus in your womb! Each of you will be the mother of God in His second coming.”

“You have to let us go!” a woman shouted. “I have to get back to my family.” Other women joined the clamor.

“Hush! Sacrifices must be made in the battle for the lives of the Christ children. We’ll be bringing in food and formula. Now, please. Everyone just sit down and stay calm. Guardians, instruct your charges.”

Celine’s Guardian made her sit on the table while he towered over her. He had brown hair and blue eyes, and an air about him that said he thought women found him irresistible.

Celine looked into the faces of the other men and saw nothing but masks of smug fanaticism. They regarded their captives as vessels for holy relics, not human beings. Except for Celine’s Guardian: his gaze roamed up and down her body; she didn’t like it at all.

Unattached Guardians started confiscating purses and diaper bags, despite the angry objections of their owners. Several minutes later cardboard boxes arrived, filled with bread, cold cuts, fruit and cans of soda.

Practically yanking her arm out of the socket, Celine’s Guardian slapped a sandwich together and offered it to her.

“I’m not hungry,” she said. “Besides, I don’t like mustard.”

“You’ve got to eat to keep the baby healthy. How about an apple?”

“No, thanks.”

The man popped open a can of soda and guzzled half. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve and regarded her coldly with his ice-blue eyes. “If we have to force-feed you, we’ll do it.”

She frowned and took the proffered apple. “I am thirsty. I’d like a Coke.”

“Sorry,” he said, wolfing down the sandwich. “Caffeine’s bad for the baby. Here’s a can of spring water.”

Suddenly Celine was no longer afraid; anger consumed her. “Why are you doing this? You don’t care about people. You care only about the perfect innocence of the unborn. As soon as these babies emerge from our wombs you’ll throw them away as just more imperfect human trash!”

His lips twitching, the man balled his fist. The expression on his face appalled Celine; no compassion, no guilt, not even hate. Just an incredible frustration that he couldn’t haul off and hit her.

“Keep your mouth shut or I’ll muzzle it,” he growled, his fingers slowly uncurling.

Celine drank the water, surveying the situation. She might wrest the nightstick from his belt, maybe knock him out with it. But then what? She’d have a two-hundred pound anchor on her wrist and a lot of angry Guardians. She discreetly tested the cuffs; there was no way her hand could slip out.

“So, what’s your name?” her Guardian asked conversationally.

“You won’t muzzle me if I dare speak?”

“Sorry. You just got me mad, is all. What’s your name?”


“Pretty name. I’m Todd Henderson. You married?”

“That’s none of your business!”

He shook his head, mouthing the word bitch. “Okay, honey. Be that way. Right now I gotta take a leak. Come on.”

He pulled her ungently to her feet, the cuff scraping the skin on her wrist. Celine looked wistfully back at Marika as they picked their way through the crowd of women and Guardians. Two men stood outside the lavatories. Henderson nodded and pushed the door open.

The thought of going into the men’s room, alone and handcuffed to this man, smothered Celine with a panicky, claustrophobic fear. Never before had she felt such an intense, throat-constricting dread of being raped. That sort of thing only happened to women who invited it, and she had done nothing, nothing to bring this upon herself.

“Hold it!” she shouted, jerking on the chain with her free hand. “I’m not going in there with you. Leave me out here with these two.”

Henderson snickered, enjoying Celine’s plight. “Look, honey, I’d love to take you right now, but you’re already knocked up. Besides, I’m on a mission from God.”

Her eyes implored the other Guardians for mercy. The first one looked disapprovingly at Henderson, but the second laughed. “Sorry, lady. We don’t have the keys for these cuffs. You two are joined at the hip for the duration.”

Henderson yanked her into the lavatory. He stopped at the first urinal. “You can watch if you want,” he said with a sneer. “You’ll be really impressed.”

Celine turned her head away, clenching her eyelids tight. She heard his fly unzip and a brief tinkling. For a moment she considered taking the nightstick and hitting him while he was exposed, just to get even for this humiliation, but he was already done.

He rezipped himself, then suddenly twisted her around, shoving her against the hard tile wall. He pressed solidly against her, forcing the breath from her. “Last chance, honey.”

She smelled the faint scent of shaving cream under the stronger odor of mustard. He pinned her legs and her free arm against the wall. He ran his hand from her hip toward her breast.

All fear fled Celine as she squirmed and writhed in his powerful grasp. A white-hot knife of repulsion and hatred welled up in her. No matter what he did to her, she would fight, even if it killed her. “Help me!” she shouted, banging her forehead into his nose.
“Ow!” Henderson cried. He raised his free hand to slap her. “God damn you, bitch!

The door swung open and the disapproving Guardian stepped in. “Come on, Todd. No one else is treating their charges like this. We’re doing God’s work here, not hustling chicks at the bar. Leave her alone.”

Henderson let
Celine go. “Just playing with her mind, Stan. Just playing with her mind.” He led her out, neglecting to wash his hands.

* * *

They waited. There was no word from the outside world, just the incessant, mindless chanting of the protesters outside. Celine and Marika didn’t talk under the watchful gaze of their Guardians; they just held hands, looked at each other with worried eyes.

Henderson visited the men’s room four times more in the same number of hours, dragging Celine along. She thought it excessive; her father, brothers and boyfriends had all had much greater capacity. He probably
was just playing with her mind.

Celine held it as long as she could, but eventually she had to give in. “I’ve got to visit the ladies’ room,” she told him.

“Now we’re talking! Let’s go, honey.”

“I want to take my friend with me.”

“You really are kinky. Sorry, one at a time.”

He brought her to the lavatory. As they went in, one of the Guardians said, “Lay off her, Todd.”

He entered the stall with her, smirking, and pressed up against her. “Okay. Go.”

“I’m not going to go with you watching me,” she said, with little conviction. She had to go so bad it hurt.

“I can wait here as long as you.”

She saw it now. It was a game for him. His raw masculine power against her pitiful feminine weakness. He would toy with her as long as she made it fun for him. And calling in the other Guardians would only anger him, force him to get even.

She sat down on the toilet seat and hunched over, struggling one-handed to pull down her pants. He tried to peek, but her clothing managed to cover everything, and even he had the decency to stop pestering her in a moment of such vulnerability.

“Why do you demean me so much?” Celine said, waiting for the irresistible force in her bladder to overcome the immovable object of her embarrassment.

For the first time he answered her with a straight face. “Women like you need demeaning. You don’t know your proper place. You murder unborn children. Someone’s got to put a stop to it. Someone’s got to save the babies.”

“They might not even be human! What gives you the right to make me bear this thing growing inside me?”

“That thing happens to be our Lord Jesus Christ.”

She shook her head, her eyes boring into his. “Is this what you want the world to be like? Every one of us in shackles? Watching each other piddle? Would you submit the Virgin Mary to this indignity?”

The man screwed up his face and turned away.

At last Celine’s pipes thawed. He does know some shame after all, she thought.

* * *

Henderson was in pain. He dragged Celine into the rest room twice more, but nothing came out. He tried to hide it, but he kept grimacing and pushing on his abdomen. His snide comments dried up as well. When he finally slumped down into a fetal ball, almost dislocating Celine’s shoulder, Marika’s Guardian called for Adrian Oliver.

“What’s wrong, Todd?” Oliver asked, kneeling over the man.

“It feels like I gotta piss, but I can’t,” he said through gritted teeth. “It hurts like hell.”

“I’ll have the doctor look at you. Can you walk?”

“Yeah,” Henderson grunted, getting to his feet. His mincing walk was comical; Celine didn’t try to stifle a laugh.

Two Guardians brought Henderson and Celine to an examining room. They got him up on the table, groaning and swearing. Celine watched him squirm in agony, sweat dribbling from his forehead, his face pale.

A faint smile on her lips, she leaned near and whispered in his ear. “Do you think this is divine retribution for the way you’ve been treating a vessel of Jesus Christ?”

Henderson’s face went ashen and his eyes turned heavenward. “Forgive me, Lord. . . .”

Moments later Oliver and Dr. Macalester, cuffed to a Guardian, entered. “This is the man,” Oliver said.

“You people take us prisoner and then expect me to help you? I should just let him suffer. But then I’d be no better than you. Okay, mister, what ails you?”

Henderson repeated his explanation haltingly. Macalester asked him a few more questions, then turned to Oliver.

“You’ll unchain me before I do anything,” she said flatly.

Oliver sighed, addressing one of the Guardians. “Philips, go find a hacksaw or a bolt cutter.” The man nodded and left.

“You’ll free two of my nurses and my lab technician. I need some blood work and an ultrasound.”

Oliver nodded. “Okay, you’ve got it. What do you think’s wrong with him?”

“I can’t tell yet, but from his symptoms, it could be kidney stones, or infection of the bladder, the prostate or the urethra, or a cyst in the urinary tract, or a tumor. Male urology isn’t my strong suit — I’m a gynecologist, remember?”

“Now,” Macalester said, turning to her patient, all business. “Jan, draw some blood and run all the tests on it. I’m looking for infection. Linda, prepare the ultrasound.”

The technician drew blood and unsuccessfully tried to coax a urine sample out of her embarrassed patient, then rushed off to the lab with her Guardian.
The nurses stripped Henderson down to his shorts and the doctor poked and prodded his abdomen mercilessly, making him howl.
Celine, standing awkwardly in the middle of all the medical bustle, tried her damnedest not to smile at her torturer's discomfort. It was a losing battle.

The bolt cutter arrived several minutes later. The Guardians cut the
chains on the doctors and nurses handcuffs, leaving oversized bracelets on their wrists
Macalester motioned to Celine. “Oliver, cut her loose too. Shes in the way.” 
“Do it,” Oliver told the man with the bolt cutter. “But keep her here. I don’t want word of this getting around.”

The man obeyed, freeing Celine. She sat in a chair in the corner of the room, curling her legs beneath her and massaging her wrist under the handcuff.

The nurse wheeled a machine to the examining table and ran what looked like a microphone smeared with clear goo over Henderson’s abdomen. Macalester watched the fuzzy gray images on the screen.

“Linda, does this pelvic structure look right?”

“It looks normal to me,” the nurse replied.

The doctor shook her head. “That’s exactly the problem. Liz, turn up the contrast. Thanks. Whoa! That looks just like. . . . No, impossible. It’s got to be a tumor.”

“He’s got cancer?” Oliver piped up.

“I didn’t say cancer — most tumors are benign. Look at this.” She pointed to one of the gray blobs on the screen. “This large tumor, here, is compressing the bladder, here, and the urethra, here, stopping the flow of urine.”

Celine stood up to look more closely, along with everyone else in the room. The image reminded her of the ultrasound picture she had seen when her sister was pregnant.

Macalester flicked a switch, freezing the image on the screen. “This man needs attention that I can’t give him. A biopsy —”

An urgent knock interrupted her. Oliver opened the door and snapped, “What is it?”

A Guardian had brought the lab tech back. “I have the results of the blood work, doctor,” the woman said. “Normal WBC count, but there are high levels of hCG, estrogen and progesterone.”

Macalester laughed. “I know I said all the tests, but I didn’t mean all the tests.”

A young Guardian rushed in and shoved the lab tech aside. “Sir! We’ve got another man with the same problem as Henderson.”

The Guardians exploded in a hail of shouts and curses.

At that moment the truth dawned on Celine — the ultrasound picture was too much like her sister’s. While the Guardians jostled each other at the door she went to Henderson’s side.

“I know what’s really wrong with you.”

“What?” Henderson croaked, his bloodshot eyes twitching.

“You keep telling us that Jesus will be visiting each and every one of us women, come Christmastime. But would it be fair if only women had their own personal saviors?”

He shuddered. “That can’t be. . . .”

“Will everyone please shut up!” Dr. Macalester shouted. “I want to revise my opinion.”

Oliver quieted his men. “What, doctor?”

“I believe that the infestation has affected men as well as women.”

“Impossible!” Oliver gasped.

She pointed to the image frozen on the ultrasound screen. “When I first saw this, I didn’t think it was a tumor. I thought it was a uterus. The hCG and progesterone in the blood prove it. This man is pregnant.”

“Shit! There’s one of those things inside me!” Henderson screamed, raking his nails across his naked belly. He twisted and fell to the floor, knocking over the ultrasound machine with a crash. “Get that God-damned parasite out of me!”

Dr. Macalester jumped out of the way of Henderson’s flailing limbs. “The structure of his pelvis conforms to the female norm. In women the infestation simply took up residence in the uterus, but in men it seems to be creating the environment necessary to reproduce itself. This man is being transformed into a woman, from the inside out.”

Henderson howled like a wounded animal, then fell limp, whimpering.

“The infection rate in females seems to be one hundred percent,” Macalester went on. “I can’t see why it would be any different in males. In six months there won’t be a man left on earth.”

“Is this truly God’s will?” Adrian Oliver’s mouth gaped.

Celine gave him a wide smile. “Welcome to the club.”

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Sports Betting. Really?

Sports betting is apparently making big inroads in the United States, with several states legalizing it and more eager to get in on the scam. The question is, why? 

A prime example of why sports betting is utterly without merit can be found, oddly, in India and Russia, of all places. The New York Times has an entertaining article about a scam run on foolish Russian gamblers:

There were floodlights, high-definition cameras and umpires with walkie-talkies pinned to their shoulders. The cricket players wore colorful uniforms. The broadcast had the voices of recognized commentators, and the logo of the globally recognized television channel: the BBC.

But this was no Indian Premier League, the lucrative cricket tournament that generates hundreds of millions of dollars every year. It was an elaborate fraud, turning a large farm in a small village in the western Indian state of Gujarat into an arena of sporting excitement.

After years of Russian hackers scamming and ripping off computer users across the world, this is, in one way, a refreshing change of pace. The scammers got scammed!

But why are Russians betting on cricket matches in India? I mean, I'm sure these Russians don't care about cricket or even know the rules of cricket (who does?). The players on the field were total amateurs: unemployed construction workers and village teenagers. 

I don't know anything about cricket, other than the pitchers are called bowlers, who throw a ball at a wicket and a batsman, who hits the ball then runs back and forth while the opposing team fields the ball.

But it's really hard to believe that the gamblers watching this fake cricket match couldn't tell that the players were amateurs. Such players would make tons of mistakes bowling and hitting, their hitting would be weak, they would run slowly, they would fail to field easy balls. It would be like watching a bad little league game. How could these gamblers not tell they were being scammed?

The only logical conclusion: gamblers are idiots. Or perhaps more aptly: suffering from a mental illness.

My only personal exposure to sports gambling was when I was eight or ten years old and my dad took me to the pool hall (they sold used comics) and he and his friends put money on the game. And that's not even real gambling. It's sort of like a self-run tournament. 

I've played in numerous volleyball tournaments in which there were prizes, but don't consider that gambling. The worst that happens in these events is when teams sandbag (for example, A level players play at BB level) for the regional tournament so they win the prize.

The one time I went to Vegas was to see a beach volleyball tournament. I never set foot in a casino (too much cigarette smoke back then), much less placed any bets.

But, again, why bet on something that you have absolutely no understanding of or control over? This compulsion to gamble is a mental illness, and has landed countless "church ladies" in jail for embezzling money from their jobs or churches to finance their casino sprees.

I can understand poker, in which your own skill makes a difference in the outcome. There's even some skill involved in craps. But why play the lottery? Or slot machines?? Or gamble in casinos on something like blackjack? What a total waste of time and money! If you actually use skill to play blackjack, you get thrown out for counting cards.

All those bets are sucker bets. The house always wins.

The entire ethos of gambling is corrupt. Cheating is endemic in all forms of gambling, especially in dice and card games among "friends." Loaded dice, marked cards, and hidden cameras these days, are the scourge of gamblers.

And then there's internet poker. Wow. Two obvious scams: 1) you're not playing against real opponents, just against the computer, which gives you good enough cards to keep you on the hook, but in the end is just siphoning money out of your credit card. 2) On a "legitimate" poker site the other three people at your "table" are sitting in the same room, looking at each other's cards, and splitting the take among themselves, playing you for a sucker.

On the internet nobody knows you're a dog, but they should just assume you're a cheater.

I can understand betting on your favorite team, though if you think putting money on the home team will somehow help them win you are delusional. Hopes and prayers have more of an effect.

Gambling on a sport inevitably corrupts the sport. The prime example is the infamous Black Sox Scandal of 1919, when the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. This resulted in rules banning players who bet on their own games, like Pete Rose, who bet against the team he was managing. This got him banned for life and kicked out of the Hall of Fame.

Now people across the country are legally betting on MLB, NFL, NHL and NBA games, and even college and high-school sports. 

This will inevitably result in cynicism and corruption across all sports. No one will ever be sure they legitimately won a game -- there will always be that suspicion that the opponent threw it to cash in on a bet.