Friday, April 19, 2019

Quarantine Station Grosse Isle, Québec


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The 26 eclectic-genre short stories for my #AtoZChallenge are excerpts from travelogue notes by
novel character Gahlen, who first appeared in SHARDS OF MEMORY – Oral History in a Heartbeat.

Each A-to-Z daily post is a complete, stand-alone tale.


Quarantine Station Grosse Isle, Québec
Genre: Horror – truth and fiction
(321 words)

The lazaretto and quarantine facilities here on Grosse Isle in the St. Lawrence River opened in 1832. That row of cannons on the beach faces approaching boats that carry staff. Immigrants are arriving by the thousands for inspection. Cholera and typhus are getting out of control.
Often we have to hold immigrants for unspecified amounts of time even if they do not test positive for disease or sickness. Parents with symptoms of cholera are placed in isolation.
In the disinfection building we have what is called decontamination equipment. We use it to destroy cholera germs on immigrants’ meager belongings. Curious, unsupervised children clamor for a look inside. Workers assigned to the tedious task of disinfecting property shoo them away.
My job is to guard the property. After one evening shutdown, a boy begged me to remove the bad bugs crawling around in him. On the spot, I concocted a plan. If the disinfecting process could destroy cholera on clothing, why not use it to wipe out diseases inside immigrants? The equipment was too compact for adults, but I could start with a small child. If it worked, I would be rewarded, maybe even become famous.
Calculating what I could buy with the reward money, I helped the boy crawl inside and shut the door. I adjusted the dials, compensating for the reduced timespan with a higher temperature. For a moment, I felt some uncertainty. But the machine kicked in and I figured it was too late to turn back. Once the door locked, the cycle began and ran its course.
A ticking sound indicated the process was complete. The lock deactivated and my doubts mounted. Had the boy actually been infected with cholera? Was the machine capable of destroying germs inside a body? How could I prove my plan had worked? As I opened the door, my questions were answered. The plan had not worked, or else had worked too well.

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3 comments:

  1. That's disturbing! I can imagine things like that actually happening at some point in time. It reminds me of when I was young and my neighbor's kittens got fleas. She gave them a flea bath. Never give a kitten a flea bath. I held one of the poor little things as it died in my arms.
    Q is for: Question Everything

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  2. Sorry to hear about your experience with those poor kittens, Heather.

    Some people think the decontamination process at the Quarantine Station gave Hitler the idea for his gas chambers. That thought led to the direction of this piece. In fact, the equipment used at Grosse Isle would not have accommodated any size human being.

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  3. I'm on tenterhooks wondering what emerged - the power of the suggestion. When I lived in Quebec Province, I never got to Grosse Isle.

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