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There was a knock at the door.
Marcia squeezed her daughter’s hand, feigning assurance. “Come in,” Marcia murmured as Dr. Simmons entered the room. Marcia assessed Dr. Simmons’s eyes and immediately sensed that the medical tests had disclosed dreadful news.
Dr. Simmons sighed, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Faredale. Felicia’s test results for Virus 481-A came back positive. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this form of the disease.”
Marcia gasped and turned to her daughter. Felicia was wide-eyed and shaking. What can I say to calm my daughter? wondered Marcia. Why did Dr. Simmons report this news with Felicia present? Stunned by the report, Marcia was wordless and merely stroked Felicia’s braids, attempting to soothe the sickly six-year-old.
“I’m dreadfully sorry, Mrs. Faredale. If you’d like, we could make arrangements for Felicia to stay at the local hospital,” Dr. Simmons offered.
Felicia audibly swallowed and trembled. “No, no, no,” Marcia quickly replied. “I think Felicia will be more comfortable at home. I’ve already brought my laboratory animals to my downstairs lab so I can work from home and tend to Felicia.”
“You’re a very sweet mother,” Dr. Simmons commented as she left the room.
The ride home from the doctor’s office was tense with silence. Usually, Marcia entertained her daughter with jokes and riddles, but today she didn’t have enough energy to fake frivolity. Felicia, though young, understood the gravity of her situation. She had overhead Marcia’s telephone conversations with relatives. Felicia knew she had a rare disease. She knew that she could no longer attend school or play with friends. She knew that she was very sick. Now, she had heard Dr. Simmons say there was no cure to the disease she had.
“Mommy, will I ever get better?” Felicia asked.
Marcia swallowed hard. “I don’t know, baby, but we can handle anything together.”
After she had tucked Felicia into bed that night, Marcia went downstairs to her laboratory of animals that she studied as a zoologist. Marcia lethargically observed each animal and scribbled down some notes. She recorded that the experimental rat had run continuously on its exercise wheel for twelve hours. After poking around in the snakes’ cages, she wrote: The female striped myka, the only surviving snake of its species, is pregnant. I had bred this striped myka with a common male copperhead. She examined the gerbils, fish, lizards, birds, cats, and insects, and then she dutifully filled out her laboratory notebook on these animals. As soon as she set her pen down, tears began to flow.
“Oh, poor Felicia!” Marcia lamented. “Why isn’t there a cure for Virus 481-A? There must be some cure out there! Oh, if only I were a medical researcher and not a zoologist!”
Time passed ever so slowly those next two weeks as Marcia watched Felicia’s body become even frailer. Felicia’s appetite diminished, immune system weakened, and happiness dwindled. Felicia couldn’t even sleep well, as blisters covering her skin caused immense pain at all times. Naturally, Marcia spent more and more time caring for her dying daughter and less and less time tending to her laboratory animals. Marcia didn’t realize that the striped myka had laid four eggs or that the parrot had learned to press a button to swing its cage. The laboratory animals were very worried about Marcia and Felicia, as they had overhead Marcia talking about her daughter’s incurable disease and had witnessed Marcia’s moaning. They knew that Marcia usually paid more attention to them.
One night, the striped myka awoke from a dream that made her heart beat faster than a cricket’s heart beats. She had dreamed that her venom contained the chemical ingredient that cured Virus 481-A. “What if I could save Felicia’s life?” the striped myka pondered. It was nearly morning and she couldn’t go back to sleep. When all the animals had awaked, the striped myka narrated her incredible dream to them.
“Wow!” exclaimed the rat named Raymond. “That’s so cool, Myka! You might be able to cure Felicia, and then Marcia would be able to play with us like she used to!”
The parrot chimed in, “You could be a hero, Myka!”
All the animals chattered about how lucky Myka was to possess such a special gift. Myka was jubilant at the prospect of helping Felicia, but she realized that curing Felicia could have consequences. Myka whispered, “The only way for me to inject Felicia with my venom is to bite her. But if I bite Felicia, Marcia will never love me again.”
Nonetheless, Myka acted as though nothing were wrong. The lab animals planned to help Myka escape from her cage the following night. They devised a tactic in which Myka would bite Felicia in order to inject the curing venom and then return to her cage before Marcia could grasp what had happened.
Ding! Dong! Ding! The clock struck midnight. “Okay, it’s time,” Raymond announced. All animals assumed their positions. The parrot pressed the button near his cage, making his cage swing so his beak could grab the ring of keys from the wooden stand. He handed the keys to the gerbils, who handed them to the lizards, who handed them to the cats, and so on until the keys reached Raymond, whose cage was next to Myka’s. Raymond slipped between the bars of his cage (after all, he was quite skinny after all the running he’d been doing on his exercise wheel). He skillfully unlocked Myka’s cage and opened the door. “Go for it, Myka!” he urged.
Myka slithered out of her cage and thanked the animals for their support. The animals replied, “Good luck. We’ll be right here waiting for you when you come back.”
When Myka reached Felicia’s bedside upstairs, she began to second-guess herself. “What if my dream isn’t true?” she wondered. “What if I harm Felicia by biting her? Oh Lord, help me to do what is right.” A tear trickled down her scaly cheek and a cold chill surged up her spine. She knew that the dream was true. She mustered her courage, unhinged her jaw to expose her teeth, and sank her fangs into Felicia’s hand.
“Ahhhhhhh!” shrieked Felicia. Marcia began to stir in the next room over. “Ahhhhhhh!” sounded the ear-piercing scream again. Marcia jumped out of bed and rushed to Felicia’s room. Myka crawled off the bed and slid toward the door to return downstairs. Marcia spotted motion on the floor upon entering Felicia’s room. After she had glanced at Felicia’s bleeding hand, Marcia knew what had happened.
“Darn those animals!” Marcia cursed aloud. She grabbed a rod from a window and stabbed at the snake. “I’m going to kill you if it’s the last thing I do!” she roared, full of rage.
Squirming to avoid the blows, Myka silently sobbed, “Oh no! Marcia hates me now. I wish she knew that all I wanted was to help her and Felicia.” As Myka whimpered her last sob, the window rod punctured her heart and lungs.
“There. That takes care of the snake,” Marcia commented. Then, she scurried to Felicia’s bed. Blood was gushing out of Felicia’s hand. Marcia stemmed the flow with gauze. Surprisingly, Felicia was sleeping peacefully. Marcia couldn’t recall Felicia sleeping this well since Felicia had contracted the disease. Marcia decided to allow Felicia to enjoy this serene rest and take her to the doctor the next morning.
Unable to doze, Marcia ventured to her laboratory and began reinforcing locks on the cages, as she wanted to remove the risk of another animal harming her daughter. The animals sensed that their plan hadn’t succeeded because Myka hadn’t returned and Marcia seemed uncharacteristically bitter.
Morning came quickly, and Marcia was still in her lab. Felicia ran downstairs, shouting, “Mommy! I feel so much better!” Marcia, alarmed at her daughter’s presence and fearing another ‘animal incident,’ rushed Felicia back upstairs. “Mommy, I had a crazy dream that a beautiful snake bit me. As soon as that happened, all my pain left and I slept so soundly! I woke up, and I still feel better!”
Marcia replied, “I’m so happy you feel better, but I think we should visit the doctor because a snake really did bite you; that wasn’t a dream. You might be having an illusive reaction to the snake bite.”
All the tests were run again, and there was no sign of the disease. Marcia and Felicia embraced one another and rejoiced. “Oh Mommy, isn’t this wonderful? And to think, a snake saved my life. I want to go home and thank her,” Felicia decided.
Marcia realized her mistake. Myka hadn’t betrayed her trust; she had betrayed Myka. “Honey, there’s something I need to tell you,” Marcia divulged. “I killed the snake after it bit you.”
“Oh no, Mommy!” Felicia cried.
“I’m sorry, baby; I thought it was trying to hurt you,” Marcia justified.
When they had returned home from the doctor’s office, Marcia and Felicia found the striped myka covered in blood, lying near the door of Felicia’s room. “She was a gorgeous snake, Mommy,” Felicia commented solemnly. “Let’s bury her in the backyard.”
Marcia agreed to the thoughtful gesture. As they both owed their undying gratitude to Myka, they held a funeral service for the laudable snake.
Felicia continued to convalesce over the next two months, convincing Marcia that the striped myka had truly cured Felicia. The disease could no longer be classified as incurable; the cure for Virus 481-A was the venom of the striped myka. Nevertheless, grief overwhelmed Marcia; although her daughter had been cured, other sufferers of the disease would never experience that healing power. The striped myka, as you will remember, dear reader, was an endangered species. Myka was the last snake of her type. “I killed the cure for Virus 481-A,” Marcia wailed. “Now, the cure will never be available to other sufferers.”
Since Felicia had returned to her first grade class, Marcia knew that it was time for her to return to work. She began packing up her lab animals from downstairs. She saved Myka’s cage for last. The empty cage brought back wonderful memories of Myka. Marcia had always been fond of Myka, and Myka had saved Felicia’s life. Marcia peered into Myka’s cage. She spotted four little white ellipses. “What do we have here?” Marcia inquired. She flipped through her lab notebook and read a note:
The female striped myka, the only surviving snake of its species, is pregnant. I had bred this striped myka with a common male copperhead.
“Oh my goodness! There is hope!” Marcia rejoiced. “I had forgotten that Myka was pregnant. I suppose I was so concerned about Felicia that I hadn’t realized that Myka had laid her eggs.”
Any geneticist can verify that offspring inherit half of each parent’s genes. There was one gene in the striped myka that manufactured the chemical that could cure Virus 481-A. The common copperhead, the father of the four eggs that Myka had laid, had a corresponding gene that did not encode the production of this chemical. “Which gene did the baby snakes inside those four eggs inherit?” Marcia wondered. “Is there hope for other children in the world to be cured of Virus 481-A, or did I kill their only hope?”
Marcia devoted herself to caring for Myka’s baby snakes, both in hopes of a potential cure to Virus 481-A and in an attempt to pay tribute to Myka. As she knelt by Myka’s grave in her backyard, Marcia whispered, “Dear Myka, I promise to love your babies just as you loved my baby.”