Title The Antidote
Author Susan McCormick
Genre Middle-Grade Fantasy, Fantasy
Publisher The Wild Rose Press
Twelve-year-old Alex Revelstoke discovers a family secret. He can see disease. And not just disease. Injury, illness, anything wrong with the body. This comes in handy when a classmate silently chokes on a hot dog or when the school janitor suffers a heart attack unclogging a science experiment gone awry. Too bad there is another family secret, one that puts Alex and an unsuspecting world in peril.
Revelstokes have waged a centuries-long battle against ancient evil itself. ILL. A man, a being, an essence—the creator of disease. Alex has seen his darkness. He has felt his strength. He does not want to fight. But Alex is the last Revelstoke. And ILL has just begun.
Alex’s mom did not look happy.
“What is this?” she whispered. Her whisper voice sounded scarier than her shouting voice, though that sounded pretty bad, too.
“This is Valentine. I found him in the woods. He’s hurt. You have to help him.”
“He doesn’t look hurt,” his mom whispered.
“He is, he’s hurt, it’s his paw, you have to help him.”
“He ate my cookies.”
“He’s hungry. He’s hurt.”
“He ate your dinner.”
“I don’t need it. It looked pretty fatty, anyway. It’s bad for my heart,” Alex said.
“I made you that dinner,” Mom whispered.
Technically, she hadn’t made it, Alex knew. She’d picked it up at the grocery store deli and the cupcake shop. And the cookies were from a premade bake-and-serve package in the refrigerator. Alex didn’t mention this.
“I know. It looked delicious. Thank you. But he was hungry. He probably hasn’t eaten in days. See how thin he is?”
They studied the dog, who beamed at Alex contentedly.
Don’t belch, don’t belch. Alex knew his mom could only take so much.
But he did belch, and then he threw up, and the cookies and the lasagna and the cupcake all came out all over the Oriental rug. His mom’s prize rug that his parents bought in China before Alex was born.
His mother would never let him keep the dog now, now that he had eaten her special treats, swallowed them whole and then barfed them up all over her memory of her carefree traveling days. He loved this dog already but there was no chance of him staying. Not anymore.
It took him a moment to realize that his mom was down on her knees, apron and all, stroking the dog, gently pushing on his stomach and unhooking the fleece sling. She saw the paw and she clicked her tongue, like she did when he got a splinter.
“He’s starving,” she said. “He ate too fast. All that fat. No wonder he vomited. He’s dehydrated, too. See these mucous membranes?” She lifted his jowl with her finger. “And this foot. What happened to his foot, do you think?”
Alex couldn’t believe it. His mom had turned to doctor mode. Maybe she hadn’t noticed the carpet.
“Roll the carpet back, Alex. We have to get him out of this mess.”
She knew about the carpet and she didn’t care! Alex dropped down and started rolling the carpet, gently nudging the dog to the side. His mom took off her apron and wiped the fur around his face.
Alex had to give it to her. His mom knew her way around vomit.
“Look at this paw. Poor thing.” She tried to lift his leg, but the dog jerked and scrabbled around trying to get away.
“Oh, my, this isn’t going to be easy. He doesn’t want to hold still. Must be pretty painful.”
Alex lay his arm across the dog and held tight to keep him from moving. The dog was strong, and his three good legs pushed in all directions, his eyes frantic.
Alex relaxed his grip, leaving just one hand on the dog’s back. The dog relaxed and Alex moved his hand around to the soft area of his belly that had no fur, petting lightly, humming under his breath. The dog stayed put.
“That seems to be working,” his mom said. “Now let’s see if I can get in here.” She slowly lifted the paw and the dog balked.
Alex started to sing, softly, slowly. “Tummy rub, tummy rub, tummy rub.” He kept his hand moving back and forth across the dog’s belly, back and forth. “Tummy rub, tummy rub, tummy rub.”
Alex’s mom smiled at him. The dog’s eyes were almost closed, his face peaceful. She tried again. This time the dog didn’t move.
His mom felt along the bottom of the paw. “This looks pretty bad. I wonder how he did it.”
“He stepped on glass,” Alex said.
“Hmm. You might be right.” She palpated some more. “It could be glass. It could be a lot of things. Maybe he caught it on a fence.”
“No, it’s glass,” Alex said. “It’s that thick green glass like old soda bottles. You have to get it out. I think it’s infected.”
He could see the glass, green and sharp, he could see the pus, a thick white pudding of trouble.
“I don’t know, Alex. I think we should clean it up and soak it, then maybe we can see better.”
“It’s right there!” Alex said, too loud. He pointed to the glass bits, to the pus.
His mom set down the paw and stared at him. Her voice was back to a whisper, the scary whisper again.
“Alex, what can you see?”
Then he knew. Then he saw. The paw was bloody. It was shredded. But it was covered in beefy red tissue. There was no glass, no pus. Not visible anyway. He had seen through, Translucent Dog this time.
He kept his eyes on the dog. He didn’t want to acknowledge her question. He could feel her eyes bore into him until finally he had to meet her gaze.
He looked at her and she looked at him and he knew that she knew. She knew that he could see what was underneath, the disease hidden under the skin.
He could see disease.
And he knew that this was one of those things he should not have told his mother.
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Susan McCormick is a writer and doctor who lives in Seattle. She graduated from Smith College and George Washington University School of Medicine and served as a doctor for nine years in the US Army before moving to the Pacific Northwest and civilian practice. In addition to The Antidote, she writes The Fog Ladies cozy murder mystery series. She also wrote Granny Can’t Remember Me, a lighthearted picture book about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. She is married with two boys, neither of whom have any special powers. She loves giant dogs and has had St. Bernards, a Mastiff, Earl, and two Newfoundlands, Edward and Albert. None of them had any special powers, either, except the ability to shake drool onto the ceiling. Visit her at https://susanmccormickbooks.com
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