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Katie and the Bad Bug

Have you ever wondered why there are nasty bugs in the world? What is the point of them? This is the question that occurs to Katie when a nasty throwing-up sickness goes around the school. Her mother gives one explanation why there are bad things in the world. Katie is not satisfied, and decides to speak to a bug directly.

This is probably the most surreal Katie story we have brought you since, The Nose that Ran Away.

Story by Bertie.

Read with verve by Natasha.
Pictures by Cai Jia Eng.

Proofread by Jana Elizabeth.

Thanks to Miss Castell who wrote to us as follows:

Hi Bertie
Could you do a Katie story where there is a sickness bug going around Katie’s class?
Miss Castell
Ps I hope you have not got a bug

If you can hear some faint musical notes in the background, that’s not a sound effect – it’s because a jazz band was rehearsing next to us at the Theatre where we record the stories. We hope it does not spoil the story for you.

Katie and the nasty bug –

Hello, This is Natasha, and I’m here with a slightly different sort of Katie the witch story. There is perhaps a touch of science fiction in it.

It was Spring. As soon as the cold weather went, it came back again. The sun seemed ashamed to show his smily face for more than the odd morning. To top it all, loads of people were sick. A spectacular chucking-up bug was going around the school. If anyone looked so much as a bit pasty in class, the teacher would grab an empty litter bin and tell them to hold it close by. Minutes later the school secretary would be calling Little So and So’s mother and telling her to get over quickly and collect her sick child.

The bug even got poor Isis, who was NEVER off school. Like everything else about her, Isis’s attendance record was usually perfect – but not this week, because there was no way she could come in. She texted Katie:

“Poor me, I feel so rotten! Chucked up 6 times. Is that a world record?”

Katie had so far escaped the bug. She was very careful about washing her hands and not going near anyone who coughed or spluttered. She asked her mother what could be done for Isis, and she suggested an ancient witch’s remedy made from mint leaves and mandrake’s root.

“Sounds great,” said Katie, “why don’t witches cure everyone?”

Her mum sighed a little and sat down at the kitchen table. “You see Katie,” she said, “Magic and medicine used to be almost the same thing. Doctors were a bit like witches. And witches were a bit like doctors. Then over time, a new branch of magic called ‘science’ took over. The drug companies started to make millions of little pills. It turned out that people believe in pills far more than magic – and believing that you are going to get better is half way to being cured. Many of the old secret remedies were lost. We only have a fraction of the ancient magical wisdom today. And besides if we start saying, “we’ve got this magic cure,” people will call us “witch doctors” and say we are dangerous meddlers. You have to be so careful if you are a witch. Sometimes our magic doesn’t work – and we could get blamed. But the same is true of medicine. Often, people think the doctor cured them, but actually they would have just got better anyway, because you usually do when you are sick. It’s frustrating, but there it is.”

Katie listened quietly to her mother’s words. She knew of course that sometimes people are their own worst enemies – they can be very hard to help. In this case though, Isis was a special friend, and understood that they could do some special things. Katie went out into the garden to pick some mint, while her mother opened a jar of an extremely rare and powerful magical ingredient called mandrake’s root. She lit the gas flame under the cauldron and half filled it with the purest Transylvanian spring water. She poured the ingredients in and let them simmer for 15 minutes. All it needed after that was a few magic words, and that was it, the witch’s cure for tummy rot was ready. Katie took it over to her friend’s house in a flask, and told her mum that Isis must drink it four times and day. Isis followed the instructions and was already feeling better the next morning.

By mid-week, Isis was back at school – but then all of sudden, Katie got ill. One minute she was fine, and then UGGHH! she was chucking up in the middle of the Science Lab.

Her mum received an urgent summons to the school. It was not long before Katie was back home in bed. Of course she drank the magic remedy, which seemed to settle her stomach, but her mum said it would take a full day before she felt completely better. She must stay in bed. She tried to read, but her eye-lids felt oh-so heavy. She fell asleep for an hour or so and then woke up shivering.

“Ah, Ah-tishooo!”

Her mother was just coming into the room with a hot water bottle. “Oh poor darling,” she said, “I suppose it’s a kind of gastric flu. But do be careful not to spread your germs.”

“I will,” said Katie miserably. “Mum, why do you think there are nasty bugs in the world? What’s the point of them?”

“Ooh, that’s a difficult question,” said Katie’s mother. “But being ill is not always all bad. Sometimes when we are feeling poorly, we stop and take time to think about things. A few days off school are just part of growing up.”

“But I could stay in bed without being ill? It would be lovely! I could read and dream all day. There must be a better reason for bugs to exist in the world?”

“Ok,” said her mother. She sat down on the end of the bed and looked thoughtful. “We all have to fight off illness. If it’s not very serious, we overcome it by staying in bed and resting. But more important illnesses make human beings work harder. In the old days, the magicians had to find remedies. Now it’s more up to the doctors and scientists. Look, what I’m saying is this – if life was easy, if human-beings never had to struggle, or use their brains, or be courageous – if it was all just one long picnic in the garden – we would never grow and develop. That’s why even magic has its limits – because struggling is part of being human. Problems make life difficult, but they make it interesting too. Diseases are just problems we have to solve.”

“I see,” said Katie, not entirely convinced. “I expect you are right, but I’ll just take a little rest now.” She pulled up the bed cover and her mum left the room so that she could have another little nap. But as Katie closed her eyes, she had an idea: “I know. I just sneezed, and I bet there’s a bug on the loose now. It’s somewhere in this room- probably on the bed. I’ll use a little magic to see if I can talk to him and ask why he’s causing everyone so much trouble.” She sat up, and said a spell. It was something she had learned a week ago, when she went for a walk in the country with her Great Aunt Chloe. Chloe wanted her to see the world in an entirely different way – when you say this spell, you can see things that are ever so tiny and microscopically small. Everything looks extremely strange and entirely different – almost like looking through a telescope at a faraway world. It can be quite frightening actually, which is why you have to be sure that you know the reverse spell and can say it quickly if you panic.

Katie focused, just as Great Aunt Chloe had taught her, on a very small area at a time. She scanned the top of the bed cover, seeing its individual fibers, that almost looked like crops growing in a field. Her gaze went in even closer. There was nothing she could see that could be a bug. Something moved, but it was just a tiny spec of dust. Further in she went, her eyes magnifying more and more – “I’m sure that this is where I sneezed,” she thought. There were drops of water that looked like great pools – and yes, rolling around inside one , she saw it – a tiny, tiny bug – incredibly small. You would need a mega-powerful microscope to see it – unless of course you are a witch like Katie and have magic at your disposal.

“Hey!” said Katie, “what are you doing there?”

“You talking to me?” said the bug.

He looked like a green ball with vicious spikes sticking out of him. He was a mean little fellow all right. Katie could see that he had a mouth – and that’s something that even scientists can’t spot through their microscopes. They haven’t yet discovered that viruses can talk – it’s just one example of where magic is ahead of the game.

“Yes you,” said Katie, “Who are you?”

“Why, I’m a virus that just fell out of your nose. I’d thank you not to sneeze like that in future. It’s not at all nice. One moment I’m a guest in your nostril, the next I’m rudely ejected into the world.”

“What a cheek!” said Katie. “I never said you could coming crawling inside my nose!”

“I came up from inside your stomach, as it happens,” said the bug.

“Why you vicious little virus, you’re the one that’s been making me sick!”

“One?” said the virus. “Me and three million others. We multiply pretty quick you know.”

“Why do you do it? What fun is there in making people sick?”

“C’est la guerre,” said the virus.

“Say the what?”

“It’s French. It means, roughly speaking, ‘All’s fair in love and war.’ We’re pirates see. We love a good fight. We don’t ask anyone’s permission to come on board.” He puffed himself up and all his spikes bristled fiercely. “We invade wherever, whenever, we want. Yes, we were just doing great inside your tummy. We ambushed your immune system and hijacked your cells while they were napping. Then you drank that horrid medicine, and your troops seemed to gather strength. It always happens that way in the end, but not usually so fast. Your body started to fight back with a vengeance. Cells were jumping on us all over the place. It was an all out massacre down there. I fled up to your nose, and I guess I’m lucky to get out alive.”

“Well serves you right too, you nasty, thuggish, horrid little brute.”

The bug didn’t seem to mind Katie saying this at all. Either he had a thick skin, or he took it as a compliment. He smiled sheepishly and said:

“Say, you wouldn’t like to drop me on one of your friends would you? A quick kiss on the cheek or a sweaty palmed handshake – that’s all it would take – I could invade in no time.”

“Not likely, said Katie. “Why would I want to make my friend sick?”

“Just a thought,” sad the virus. Now he put on a slightly pathetic expression. His spikes shook. “Look, you wouldn’t want me to die would you? I can’t survive for long out here.”

“I wouldn’t mind,” said Katie. “You’re a disease. You gave me a horrible belly ache. Why should I care?”

“We diseases have a right to live too, you know,” he went on. But just then Solomon the cat jumped up on the bed and Katie exclaimed:

“Oh Solomon, I can see a flea on your back!” And Solomon scratched himself like mad. After that, the virus was nowhere to be seen. Katie pulled her gaze back to normal vision. She sat on the bed with a determined look on her face. In fact, she had quite forgotten that she was ill.

“We must get our revenge on those nasty little thugs.”

“The blood suckers,” said Solomon. “I hate them.”

“I don’t mean your fleas – well them too – but the tummy rotting viruses. They seem to like giving people pain!”

Solomon was not that interested in Katie’s problem. Like most cats he was quite selfish on the whole. He was much more concerned about getting revenge on his fleas. But as Katie was thinking it over, she heard a little voice.

“Hey, Katie!” it said.

“Who’s that?” she replied. “Not another virus?”

“Who are you calling a virus? I’m on your side.” Katie turned on her super-magnifying gaze, but she still could not see who was speaking.

“I’m sitting on your tongue,” said the voice. “I’m one of your cells. We’ve just won a great victory over the invaders. I hope you are pleased. You can stop all that unpleasant chucking up now, because we’ve expelled the lot of them.”

‘Bravo!” said Katie, “Well done!”

The brave little cell did a war dance on the tip of her tongue to show how fiercely he had defended her tummy. He held a spear in his hand – it might have been a spike which he had broken off one of the invaders.

“Stop a moment,” said Katie, “I’ve got a question. Is there anything we can do to clear those nasty bugs out of the school and stop everyone getting sick?”

“That’s just what I came up to talk to you about,” said the little cell. “There’s a gang of us that’s ready to take the fight to the enemy. We’re ready to leave your body and raid those viruses wherever they are – hanging around on the taps in the washrooms, lingering around the school kitchens, waiting on door handles. We plan to give them a good hiding.”

“What a great idea,” said Katie.

“Keep drinking that magic medicine and we’ll keep on multiplying. By tomorrow we’ll have our army ready to go on the offensive.”

Katie’s mum really wanted her to stay in bed another day, but the next morning Katie insisted on going to school. She slipped a jar into her satchel. It looked quite empty to anyone who did not have super-microscopic vision. But when Katie held it up to the light, she could see it was full of tiny warriors shaking swords and spears. They were raring for a fight.

The teachers could not see it. The school caretaker could not see it. The pupils could not see it. But all over the school that day a mighty microscopic war was raging. Katie’s tiny army was chasing the bad bugs out of the washrooms and the kitchens. Behind the fighters came the cleaners, invisibly clearing up. Hygiene is what the bad bugs hate most – and that’s what the good guys gave them by the bucket load. By four o’clock the whole school was swept clean of the terrible tummy virus and everyone was safe again to learn their lessons without fear of chucking up. The great victory was chiefly thanks to Katie, for being smart enough to talk to some of the smallest things on earth – but of course nobody knew that, and if they did, they would not have understood – not even Mr Smart the Biology teacher would have been able to take it all in. Magic, unfortunately, is way beyond the understanding of ordinary people.

And that was the story of Katie and the nasty bug. I do hope that you enjoyed this slightly way-out Katie story. Bertie suggests that you might like to do a little search on the internet, or read a science book, and find out more about how bacteria, viruses, and the body’s immune system fight each other. In truth, the human body is even more wonderful than magic.

Bertie’s also asked me to mention that our stories are now available on a new service called Aha. It’s an app that you can download from your smartphone, and it’s ideal for listening to audio in the car. Storynory is on Aha along with thousands of other podcasts.

Katie is one of the most popular strands of free stories on Do drop by and listen to some more stories soon.

For now, from me, Natasha.

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