First stage: Non-specific flu-like symptoms including malaise,
headache, and/or fever. Persistent inflammation of joints, and leg
pain. Second stage: Isolated occurrences of agoraphobic, claustrophilic,
and cannibalistic behavior. Third stage: Small flesh-colored lesions
on elbows and shoulder blades which swell and harden. Dissected,
these lesions contain compacted amounts of ossified bone matter
and atrophied muscle.
First Known Case: Girl, twelve years-old, straight "A"
student on scholarship and citizen of the month (January) at The
VanderMeer School, an accelerated private elementary school in Camelsburg,
Indiana. Previously healthy except for headaches, believed to be
stress-related, and one ulcer at age eleven.
Early symptoms manifested in Girl were missed by her parents. As
the twelve-year-old had exhibited a history of headaches, the frequency
with which they began to appear did not seem troubling. Girl's parents
sought the advice of family practitioner Dr. Brumfield Zummer (father
of the discoverer of this disease, former medical student Brumfield
Zummer Jr.) who counseled bed rest; prognosis: "spring fever."
After three days of complaining, Girl was sent home by a school
nurse due to fever. Girl missed one day of school. Family members
recall Girl experienced several nights of leg pain, and was seen
rubbing her elbows and knees. Girl received a "C" on a
In the second stage Girl exhibited an unusual taste for human flesh,
first observed by family members in her attempts to try herself.
Small bite marks appeared overnight on her arms. The family of Girl
sought psychological advice and was advised to admit her overnight
for observation. The cannibalism appeared to be self-specific; however,
Girl snapped once at a nurse. An orderly was called to help subdue
Girl, who managed to bite off a small piece of flesh from the orderly's
hand, which she promptly swallowed. Girl was then reported to have
smiled. Zummer Jr. in his unfinished thesis "Foaming at the
Wing: The Development of Aerialitis in the Midwestern Adolescent"
attributed such acts to "a lack of socialization, the need
for Others manifesting itself in the literal acquisition of Other
Also at this point was the first occurrence of agoraphobia in Girl.
She had grown comfortable in her hospital room, and seemed reluctant
to leave it. Being transported to and from electroshock therapy,
she appeared disoriented—even a short trip down the hall incited
panic. Conversely, Girl also exhibited claustrophilia. When left
unrestrained, she retreated under her bed or to a corner, making
tents out of blankets, surrounding herself with trays and bedpans.
At last known contact with Girl, bumpy lesions were noted on her
shoulders and elbows—falsely attributed, according to Zummer Jr.,
to bedsores. Medical personnel observed Girl "polishing"
these lesions, as if
"expecting them to grow" (Zummer Jr. 29).
Aerialitis appears exclusive to land-locked, flat areas in the
Midwestern United States; specifically, small towns where the tallest
building stretches no higher than five stories. Particularly, it
affects those living near highways. The age of infection is primarily
between twelve to sixteen years, although infected adults have been
identified. The illness is presumed to be hereditary or highly contagious
within families—originating with the oldest child, then spreading
to all siblings. Four years after Girl's diagnosis, her brother,
age eleven, was last seen sitting in his bedroom window. Because
many of the afflicted seem to have disappeared, leading to the discreditation
of this illness, it is not known if Aerialitis is fatal.
Zummer Jr. is believed to have been himself infected. On the afternoon
his dissertation advisor recommended his dismissal from medical
school, Zummer Jr. was last seen throwing papers—described
by witnesses as "heavily annotated"—into the Ohio River.
Girl's parents were advised to expose her to that of which she
was afraid, and she was released from medical care and taken to
a small private airport. Girl seemed to relax in the close interior
of the car, yet grew increasingly agitated once the vehicle begin
moving. She was observed to be trembling once they reached their
destination, complaining that the lesions on her shoulders and elbows
burned. Girl was forcibly removed from the car, and placed onto
a cargo plane with her parents. At approximately 20,000 feet, the
pilot opened the bay, Girl's parents prompting her to the edge.
Upon feeling the wind on her face, Girl freed herself from her parents'
grasp, and stepped out of the plane. She was last seen floating.
the short history of girl