A cascade of noise assailed her the moment the elevator doors slide open. Charlene lifted her right hand, shielding her eyes from the dazzling lights that were blinding her. Before Charlene stretched a hallway with a lofted ceiling and lined with black marble tables strewn with bottles of assorted alcoholic beverages. At the end of it loomed a massive two-story ballroom filled with people chanting and clapping. As her ears began to adjust to the deluge of sounds around her, Charlene could pick up the faint trace of a monotone voice emitting from speakers set high up on the walls. “Your pain is at an end, my friends. Come and be cured.”
Cautiously she stepped forward, squeezing her white leather purse as tight as she could. “How had it come to this,” she thought to herself. With each step, the voice got louder and louder. Charlene turned to her left and saw a man clutching his chest, crying out for help. “I thought I had enough,” he exclaimed, “Please someone help me. I thought I had enough to pay the doctor!” An empty bottle lay by his side and he stank of alcohol.
Charlene’s stomach dropped. She looked about her and saw dozens of men and women calling out in a similar manner. A shiver ran down her neck. “Do we have enough,” she muttered under her breath, hoping she wouldn’t be turned away like those she now walked past. She began to recite her prepared script. “Thank you for your time, Doctor. Damien would like to express his gratitude for your willingness to accept our business on such short notice, and with such limited supply.” She progressed down the hallway, desperately trying to calm her nerves. She thought of Damien’s smile, his gentle way of speaking to her, his confident demeanor. She knew that his life hinged on the outcome of her encounter with the one they called the Doctor. Charlene continued forward, her love for Damien propelling her onward.
Suddenly she stumbled, the heel of her Burberry shoe snapped off and went whizzing across the floor. She instinctively reached for the arm of the closest table and let go of her purse. In a panic-stricken flutter of heartbeats, Charlene watched helplessly as the envelope tumbled out of the purse and onto the floor. The cash spilled out and fluttered about, like crumpled leaves on a windy autumn day. People around her turned in her direction, shock and intrigue in their eyes. Panic-stricken, Charlene crouched down and started shoveling handfuls of the green paper back into the purse. People began descending around her, pushing and shoving to get closer to the pile. Someone kneed her in the small of her back and she was tossed aside like a rag-doll. Dazed, Charlene stumbled to her feet and dashed back towards the elevator. She could feel her dress tearing with every step. Try as she might, she could not stop the tears from streaming down her face, smearing her mascara. She repeatedly slammed her finger into the down button, muttering, “Come on, come on,” under her breath. The wait felt interminable. She could hear the elevator ascending, creaking and humming as it climbed the 45-story Chicago skyscraper. It opened and she flung herself inside. As the heavily chromed doors slid shut, she watched helplessly as dozens of intoxicated sycophants fought each other for handfuls of Damien’s life savings. “It’s not worth it,” she assured herself, wiping her eyes. “We will find another way, we don’t need that narcissistic Doctor.”
But deep down she knew, without his cure, her fiancé, like all the other infected victims in the room above her, didn’t stand a chance…