“Hand me that dropper, will you Dawn?”
Dawn lifted a small glass tube with a rubber ball on one end and passed it to Mel, yawning silently as she did so. Being a physician was turning out to be nearly as unexciting as learning the Pythagorean Theorem. Her mind wandered listlessly through images of triangles and random letters dancing along spindly little shapes. Dawn was brought back from her strange distraction by a sharp gasp from Mel, followed by a muttered curse. She stole a glance at the petri dish, as Mel had told her it was called, and frowned. Nothing in the plate had changed, aside from a blot of liquid sitting on top of the tar like substance.
“What’s wrong?” Dawn asked, not removing her eyes from the glass dish. “Did it work?”
Mel sighed and shook her head. This was her forty-third attempt to illicit a reaction from a sample, but nothing had even so much as made the little black blots change color.
“I don’t understand,” she growled, flipping back through the extensive notes she had taken. “I’ve tried just about everything I can think of!” She pushed the sample aside and laid her head on her hands.
“Don’t worry,” Dawn assured the teary-eyed Mel, “you’ll find something that will work, you’ve just gotta keep trying.”
Mel rolled her head and frowned.
“You are just a heap of good intentions, aren’t you?” she asked wryly. Dawn shrugged.
“I suppose it helps that I have no idea what you’re doing,” Dawn said truthfully. “Makes it a lot easier to be optimistic. Maybe we can just shake them awake? Think anyone has tried that?”
Mel laughed and sat back up in her chair. They had been at their work for hours, only exchanging words when Mel needed a different instrument or a new bottle of medicine or tincture. The Princess had watched the sun sink deep below the trees as the moon climbed the sky, casting its muted light into the candle lit room.
“Well, I don’t see any point in doing anything more tonight,” Mel yawned. “I’ve tested everything I have. Maybe tomorrow we can go and grab some more herbs and make some new medicines. Or perhaps it’s the samples…” She contemplated the tiny plates in silence a few moments than spoke again. “Still, we’re done for now. Help me pack up my notes, will you Dawn? I’m going to put the potions back up on the shelves.”
Dawn did as she was told, scooping up the notes with both hands when her sleeve caught one of the trays and sent it tumbling to the floor. The glass shattered upon hitting the cold, hard stone and Dawn witnessed the most peculiar sight.
By some stroke of luck or misfortune, a small mouse had been hiding under the table when the sample fell. It splattered across a small length of the floor and into the eyes of the unsuspecting rodent. There was a loud squeak and Dawn knelt, scooping up the now unmoving animal and lying him gingerly upon the table.
“Poor thing…” Dawn crooned, gently stroking the fur atop the sleeping creature’s head. Mel had returned from placing three of the small containers of medicine back into their holdings when she caught sight of the mouse on her spotlessly clean desk and screamed. Her hand flew forward to strike the creature away but Dawn caught her, preempting the attack. Mel did not seem to appreciate this but backed away all the same, unwilling or unable to try again.
“Some of the goop got him,” Dawn explained, moving out of the way slightly so that Mel could see his comatose form. “I think he might have the sleeping sickness now, too.”
“Really?” Mel said, unconvinced. “You’re sure he wasn’t sleeping already?”
“I heard him squeak when it fell,” Dawn crooned, “maybe he was sleeping before that, but it still wouldn’t explain why he is sleeping now.”
“And you’re sure he isn’t dead?”
“Positive. Look,” Dawn pointed to the rising and falling chest of the mouse, “he’s still breathing, isn’t he?”
Mel looked, nodding her agreement. She scanned back over the table to where the remaining samples sat and her face froze. In one quick motion she hurriedly withdrew the small rod she had received from the envelope and tapped each of the samples. Each one shut with an odd squelch. As the last sample closed she rounded on Dawn, her face drawn in fear.
“What’s wrong?” Dawn asked, backing away from Mel and the table. “Did I do something?”
“It’s the samples!” Mel explained, leaving Dawn even more confused. “This black stuff! Of course!”
“Don’t you see? We’ve solved how the sickness spreads!”
Dawn nodded slowly, unsure how this was a good thing. Would it not be better if the sickness did not spread? Mel pushed on, talking more to the air than to the confused Princess.
“It makes so much sense! This stuff grows in the nose and mouth, probably for a while before the sickness takes the patient. It must spread the same way, maybe through coughing or sneezing or, I don’t know, maybe even just breathing!” Mel was feverish with delight. “Oh Dawn, you’re a genius! A hero! We’ll have a cure yet, and it’s all thanks to you!”
Excitement bubbled within the Princess and she was quite sure the only thing keeping her from flying up through the air at this very moment was the equally opposite weight of confusion she felt. She had helped the physician, the Chief Medical Examiner, her newly found friend; but as to how she had helped, she was woefully unclear. She stood at the desk quietly, unwilling to bother the now wildly scribbling physician with her questioning. When Mel had finished her writing, she rose, shuffling the newly inscribed parchment in amongst her other notes.
“Why don’t I walk you up to your bedroom, Princess? We will need plenty of rest for what we have to do tomorrow.”
“Excellent!” Mel exclaimed, taking Dawn’s arm and dragging her toward the door.