I recently got my COVID-19 booster. I headed to the local Safeway appointment and vaccination card in-hand. The process was easier than the original vaccination. Gone was the paper form I needed to fill out for the first two shots. I was able to complete the form online and had only put my signature on a printed copy that they had ready for me at the pharmacy in the back of the store. No need for a waiting room. No need for a group briefing of what to expect. I sat in a chair and before I got comfortable the injection was in and out and I was on my way with some new scribblings on my vaccination card indicating that I’d been boosted.
Then the countdown began for the side effect. I had meticulously tracked these after my 2nd vaccine dose in April. But the booster was mild in comparison. A few aches, some hotness behind my eyes, tossing and turning at night, but nothing more. I felt back to myself relatively early the following day. Now, we are just waiting for word that we can schedule our 5-year old and 10-year old for the vaccine. When that’s done, I’ll breath a little sigh of relief.
Coincidentally, as I waited in the Safeway, I sat reading “appreciations” of Frank Herbert in my leather-bound Masterpieces of Science Fiction Edition of Dune. Ray Bradbury, who I had the great fortune of meeting on December 12, 1998, had an appreciation. Harlan Ellison, who I had the equally great fortune of meeting on too many occasions to recount here, had a longer appreciation. Interestingly, both their appreciations centered around the same event: Bradbury, Ellison, and Herbert were on stage together lecturing, and started batting around a story idea. They all agreed to write it, but only Harlan kept the bargain, writing a Faustian story titled “The Diagnosis of Dr. D’arqueAngel.”
I have a lot of Harlan Ellison books, many of them signed. (I have quite a few Ray Bradbury books, as well, fewer signed.) I’ve read a lot of Ellison’s stories, but I couldn’t remember reading this one. Perhaps I had, but it was lost to the occasionally emptying of the recycle bin that my brain does from time-to-time. In the programming world, we call this “garbage collection.”
I found the story (and so can you) in Ellison’s collection Strange Wine. It is, fittingly, the final story in the collection. Without giving too much away, the eponymous Dr. D’arqueAngel has an innocuous for death itself. Like most vaccines it requires the injection of very small amounts of death to build up the immune system. And once built up, the treatment must be boosted from time-to-time.
I returned home with a (slightly) sore arm and the hubris of Vaccination in my blood. I pulled Strange Wine off the shelf from its place between Deathbird Stories and Love Ain’t Nothing But Sex Misspelled, and sat down to read the yarn. So should you. But wait until after you’ve been fully vaccinated.
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