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You Have Contracted a Deadly Song Virus

I assent to the contract terms and conditions! Bio: Erica L. Satifka's short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Shimmer, and Interzone, as well as previously in Daily Science Fiction. Her novel Stay Crazy won the 2017 British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer, and her novella Busted Synapses will be published later this year by Broken Eye Books. She yells about politics on Twitter @ericasatifka. Comments: This story arose from a Title Rummage Sale contest at the Codex Writers Group. I immediately visualized a narrator calmly informing a musical-virus victim of the nature of her malady, with the growing horror underlined by a calm, clinical demeanor. Prions on their own are also extremely terrifying, the idea of a brain literally folding itself inside out and generating all kinds of hallucinations in the process.
I can tell by the distracted look in your eyes that you're barely paying attention to me, but that's perfectly fine. You're among friends here. Every man, woman, and occasional child who walks through those doors knows exactly what you're experiencing. There's no shame in being one of the people gifted with a forever-repeating piece of music in your head.
When this was only a transitory psychological phenomenon they called it an earworm, but the type we have is a little different. The incorrectly-named "Euterpe Virus" is caused by prions, which look more like holes than worms. What are prions? Twists of protein in your brain, neither bacteria nor true virus. Historically, most prion diseases were caused by a faulty gene or the consumption of human brain tissue. I hope you haven't done any of the latter! This outbreak, however, seems to stem from an unidentified environmental trigger.
The cure? We'll get to that in a moment.
Whatever you were listening to when the prions activated is what you're listening to right now. Maybe it happened at a family wedding, after the obligatory playing of "YMCA." Or maybe it started in your room, while you were enjoying some throwaway electropop band. As Elton John put it, you can tell everybody that this is your song.
I hope you don't mind... a little song humor! We try to keep things light around here.
There are three meals a day, to be served at eight, noon, and six. Don't be late. If you miss too many meals, you'll get a tube down your throat, like the lucky people behind this steel door. You may look through this porthole if you'd like.
It should go without saying that singing is strictly prohibited except in the isolation rooms, which can be requested with at least twenty-four hours' notice. Everyone has a different song, and one would not want to debase their glorious personal anthem with the lowly ditties of their fellow residents. That would be rude.
Yes, you can have visitors, as many as you'd like. Don't be offended if you don't get any, though. Since nobody quite knows how the Euterpe Virus works or who might be susceptible to it, few people want to take the chance of being near us. Even the doctors who come around once a week spend as little time here as they possibly can. I'm not sure why. Who wouldn't want to spend the rest of their life listening to one transcendent piece of music at the cost of everything else, cradled in the arms of--
Sorry, got a bit lost there.
Your song may be faint now, but soon it will expand to take up much of the time you formerly spent thinking about politics or troubles at home. You'll realize that everything you once thought was so important is nothing more than a minor annoyance, the buzzing of a fly two rooms away. As your brain slowly molds itself in the shape of your song, you'll develop a peace beyond present understanding, and become bathed in a sort of holy innocence.
Oh, don't look so horrified.
Yes, I know you came here for the cure. The fact is, not long ago scientists were well into their study of the Euterpe Virus, and were perhaps a few years away from permanently shutting off our personal songs. We'll excise the prion-infested auditory center of your brain, they said, and stop it that way. The feedback loop broken, our songs would no longer fill our souls with the ecstatic joy that blocks all other thoughts, for no thoughts are as true and important as the personal song is to those of us blessed with our beloved, melodious prions.
Well, we dealt with those philistines. We stole their research and skewed the results, leading them down a series of dead ends from which they could never reorient themselves. They finally threw up their hands and declared the Euterpe Virus unknowable and incurable. After all, there aren't many of us. Not yet.
Truth be told, most of us would rather die than have our soundtracks removed. This is something that the researchers who worked most closely with us learned very quickly, though for obvious reasons their days of researching are over now. We may never know what causes this so-called "affliction," but we don't want to. We have our songs, and we have each other.
But mostly, we have our songs.
Now you must excuse me, for I grow weak. I have not eaten in several days, as the sound of my chewing is like the clanging of a rusty cymbal, interrupting the pure pleasure of my melody. It wasn't bothersome before, but it is now. The doctors say that soon I'll be behind that steel door, nutrients silently pouring into me as I let myself succumb to my song. I can't wait!
We think you'll be happy here, or at least content, just like the rest of us. After all, who doesn't like music?
The End
This story was first published on Monday, July 15th, 2019


I assent to the contract terms and conditions! Bio: Erica L. Satifka's short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Shimmer, and Interzone, as well as previously in Daily Science Fiction. Her novel Stay Crazy won the 2017 British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer, and her novella Busted Synapses will be published later this year by Broken Eye Books. She yells about politics on Twitter @ericasatifka. Comments: This story arose from a Title Rummage Sale contest at the Codex Writers Group. I immediately visualized a narrator calmly informing a musical-virus victim of the nature of her malady, with the growing horror underlined by a calm, clinical demeanor. Prions on their own are also extremely terrifying, the idea of a brain literally folding itself inside out and generating all kinds of hallucinations in the process.

- Erica L. Satifka
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