Thursday 13 March 2014


It is impossible to say just how the thing found its way into the man’s body.

Perhaps it came in when he cut himself while sawing a plank of wood, part of his daily job. Perhaps it was something in the water, or maybe a rusted piece of iron in the soil pierced his foot while he was helping in his mother’s garden. Perhaps it was when his neighbour’s cat, which had been ill for a while, bit him. Or perhaps it was some other way altogether.

But it found its way in.


To say the thing was alive wouldn’t be strictly correct; but it was also, certainly, not dead.

If it could have been seen by human eyes, it wouldn’t have looked like much; like a tiny grain of sand, perhaps, studded with knobs and horns. It was little more than a long strand of chemical inside a shell of another, so simple that the simplest bacterium would be a miracle of complexity in comparison. But the lipoprotein capsule, and the spiral strand of RNA at its core, could achieve things that no mere bacterium could, or indeed a blue whale. It could span the gulf between life and non-life.

How long it had hung on the edge of life, in a grey limbo of nonbeing, did not matter, for time had no meaning to it. It had no self-awareness, no instincts, no response to stimuli except chemical attraction; and it had no motivation, no driving force, except one.

It existed to invade; to invade, assimilate, and breed.


It came alive to the taste of chemicals.

They twisted and twined around it, nudged at it with radicals, poked at it with fingers of electrons. It tasted them, pushed them aside as not what it was looking for, and let itself drift further, where the chemical taste was stronger and more varied; in that medley of flavours, it would find what it sought.

It had no legs to crawl with, no paddles to swim, no whipping flagellae or mats of waving cilia to push it along; but it could flow along the rivers of chemicals, and it did, seeking.

Questing, it drifted. It nudged itself through the gaps between cells, which were the size of buildings to it; it plunged between the careening soft boulders of red blood corpuscles, and dodged a hungry phagocyte or two with consummate ease. They did not recognise it, for they had never encountered its like before. So they let it go.

Drifting, flowing along with the chemical river, it found itself between more cells, long and branching like the limbs of a leafless forest. And there, among a tiny cluster of neurons, it finally found what it sought.

Driven by the chemical gradient, it was flung towards a network of dendrites, tiny fibres which to it were the size of subway tunnels. Unresisting, it slammed into them, and in an instant was caught tight.

Strands of protein wrapped themselves about knob-shaped receptors on its shell, like grapnels, and, contracting, pulled it towards them, like a pirate ship boarding another. And, unresisting, it allowed itself to be pulled, for if it had had the ability to want something, this was precisely what it would have wanted.

Like a glacier slamming into the side of a mountain, it rammed the wall of the dendrite, and stuck fast,

Chemical knives went to work at once. They cut and sliced and probed, and slit the proteins of the dendrite wall, making a hole as precisely as a surgeon incising tissue. The dendrite wall could not defend itself. It had brought the danger to it, and it was already far too late to react. Soon, the side of the tunnel was breached, the last barrier had fallen.

The thing had found a way in.

Now the strand of RNA at the core of the beast awoke. It spun, orienting itself, and let the chemical flow bring it to the hole in the capsule. Beyond was the tunnel, open for it. Oozing through the aperture, it entered the tunnel, and began working its way up it along the flow of the protoplasm.

Now it was bathed in a sea of chemicals, among which were those it wanted. Methodically, with no passion but lethal precision, it got to work.  

It began by taking over the cell’s own processes. It reduced the cell to a slave, more than a slave; to a zombie, blindly following the thing’s commands. The cell consumed itself from within, its entire purpose given over to one, and one only – to create clones of its invader. In effect, the cell had become a Trojan Horse within the gates.

It did not take very long. Within only a matter of minutes, the cell was full of hundreds of copies of the thing’s own RNA. The first part of its mission was accomplished. It began on the second, compelling the neuron to churn out new lipoprotein shells to clothe and protect the RNA – and to provide them with means for attachment to more neurons.

 Soon enough, the host cell had ceased to exist; it was only a womb now, pregnant with an army of invaders, where once there had been only one.

Bursting out of their birthplace and temporary home, the troops stormed their world.


As yet, the man felt nothing.


It crawled up the nerve. Cell by cell, each soldier in its army storming fresh frontiers, overrunning the chemical ramparts, it forced its way up towards the spinal cord. Once there, it would rise slowly but inevitably to its final destination, the brain.

Then, it paused, for it had encountered something for which it was not prepared, something it had never been faced with before.

Some of the cells it invaded were not open and available for it to exploit. They were already occupied by others, similar to it but not of its kind, which were using them as well, to make copies of themselves. The two armies faced each other, feinting and dodging as they scrambled for resources. But the new invader was far too strong to be resisted, and it consumed the other, snipping it apart with chemical scissors and incorporating it into its own RNA strands.

The victory was complete, but in a sense illusory; the invader had won, but been changed itself in a way hitherto unknown. It would never be quite the same again.

Ravenously, it stormed up the nerve. It was faster than ever now, more aggressive.

And it was infinitely more dangerous than it had ever been.


What’s wrong?” the woman asked. Her brow furrowed in concern. “Are you ill?”

The younger man paused in his hammering and wiped his face. “It’s just a headache,” he said. “I’ll be all right.”

His mother stepped forward and touched his forehead. “You feel warm,” she said. “I think you ought to go and lie down.”

Her son shook his head. “I’ll just finish this cabinet first,” he said. “It won’t take long.” He picked up the hammer again.

The woman stood looking at him for a while before turning to leave. He really didn’t look very well, she thought.  

She hoped it wasn’t anything serious. There were far too many things to worry about these days.


After weeks of travel, at last it had reached the brain. No longer was it constrained to flow in one direction only. All around, now, in all directions, it had cells to take over and exploit, to turn into factories making more clones of itself.

Like a victorious warrior host taking over a great city, it settled down to for the sacking and looting. Cells crumpled to empty sacs as the fresh soldiers erupted forth, leaving toxins to leak out as waste. Neurotransmitters sputtered and began to misfire.

The beast was where it wanted to be. At last, it was feeding.


How is your son?” the old man asked. “Is he any better today?”

The woman’s face was lined with worry. “He says he is,” she said. “But I don’t know. He isn’t like himself at all.”

“His fever has gone, hasn’t it?”

“He didn’t have any fever these last few days,” she admitted. “But he’s acting strange, as though he isn’t really here. When I speak to him, it’s as though he’s listening to someone else talking inside his head.” She sighed. “It’s like he doesn’t fully know where he is, or anything.”

“He’ll be all right,” the man said, reassuringly. “Don’t worry.”

The woman nodded. “I’m sure he will.” She tried to smile, but couldn’t quite manage it. She glanced in the direction of the workshop. It was dusty and silent. He hadn’t touched his tools in weeks.

She shivered, despite the heat. She had never known him not to work.

It was almost as though he were possessed by something.


The beast was feeding.

By now, the changes it had forced in the brain were so marked that entire sections had been damaged beyond recovery. The toxins that the dying cells had drained into the system were wreaking their own havoc, too, poisoning the chemical flows and disrupting messages.

Slowly, but inevitable as the rising tide, the disease was spreading through the brain.


The fever had passed. Even the headaches had gone. The man felt better. He felt more than better. He was full of energy and drive. He thought new thoughts like he had never thought before.

The man felt superb, powerful and great. He felt that he could do anything in the world.


He’s gone.” The woman’s voice was flat. “He just walked out this morning, and I haven’t seen him since.”

The old man looked at her. “Did he say anything?”

“Nothing that made sense.” The woman dabbed at her eyes. “He was ranting like a maniac. I don’t know what he’s going to do.”

“Um.” The man ran his fingers through his beard. “Should I alert the authorities?”

“No!” the woman gasped. “There’s no telling what they might do to him, the way he is now!”

“It’s difficult,” the man said. “I’ll send out a couple of my men to look for him. Once they find him, we’ll see what to do.”

“Thank you,” said the woman. “Oh, thank you.”

“Thank me later, when we’ve got him safe.” The man turned away so that she could not see the worry in his eyes.


A crowd had gathered around the sick man. Some came to yell abuse, some came to gawk. Some came to listen and try to make sense of his raving. Soon enough, a good few of them began raving too.

Violence was probably inevitable. It did not take long to begin.

Sometime after that, the authorities came.


Some said the death sentence was too harsh. Others said it was far too good for the likes of him.

The law didn’t care what people thought, so the sentence was carried out anyway.


The beast was dying.

It had devastated the tissues available to it, and now, starved of fresh cells to infect, it was beginning to shut itself down. Particles had migrated away from the brain to try and find routes to exit the body. A great many had succeeded, but once outside, they had sunk back into non-life, until they could live again.

Suddenly freed from the constant inundation by toxins, the brain stuttered and paused. It needed to heal itself, as much as it could. It decided on desperate measures.

Like the shadow of an eclipse swooping over the landscape, a coma slipped down on the brain.


I’m sorry.” The old man’s face was lined with dust and sweat. “I really am very sorry.”

The woman said nothing. Her face was as of stone.

“I’ll see to his burial,” the old man said.

The woman still said nothing.


The beast was dead.


The man blinked and opened his eyes.

It was completely dark, and the air was thick and stale. He could taste dust on his lips and in his mouth.

His head and body ached appallingly, the pain most intense in his wrists and feet. He tried to move, and groaned aloud. The noise echoed around him.

“I must be in a room of some kind,” he thought. “Have I been sick?” He could not remember being sick. He could not remember much of anything.

Groaning again, he tried to sit up. With difficulty, he managed it. Someone had covered him with a cloth, wrapped tightly around his torso and legs. Slowly, laboriously, he managed to strip it away.

“Where am I?” he asked, plaintively. “What is this place?”

There was no answer.

Stumbling to his feet, he staggered across the floor. His hands encountered stone, rough and crudely finished. He didn’t remember any room like this. Exploring further, his fingertips encountered a crack. He could feel a faint trickle of fresh air round the edges. A doorway, he realised.

Leaning for a moment on the stone to gather his strength, he pushed. It yielded slightly.

Taking a deep breath of the increased flow of air, he ignored the pain and pushed again.


He saw the woman a long time before she saw him.

She was making her way up the path to the opening of the cave where he had been interred. For it was a cave, he had realised in the dawn’s light, and he had been buried. He had no idea why he’d been buried when he hadn’t died. He had no idea about a lot of things.

But he was hungry, and thirsty, and he ached all over, and he needed help.

Climbing stiffly to his feet, he shambled down the slope to where she stood, peering into the cave. Hearing him come, she turned, uncertainly.

A faint memory came to his mind when he saw her face, a memory attached to a name. Mary, that was it. Mary.

“Mary,” he whispered through his parched lips.

“Rabbi!” she said, and ran towards him, arms outstretched. “Yeshua! You’re alive!”

“Don’t touch me,” he said, suddenly terrified. “Don’t touch me.”

Copyright B Purkayastha 2014


  1. Great stuff. Very great on the ending. Enjoyed reading this.

  2. Bill, great story. I thought I saw the ending coming, but said to myself, no, he wouldn't do that story, or would he? Yes, you did, and a fine job of it sir.

  3. Very entertaining read, I was really sucked into the story. But..... a virus that turns a man into someone who preaches love and tolerance?? oh if only :-)

    1. I never said he preached love and tolerance. I only said he ranted :D

  4. As soon as I saw the carpenter reference, i started sort of hoping that's where you were going. I don't even know why I considered it, in light of the virus story up until that point, but I did.

    You could do a lot more with this. Religion is sort of a virus (that's the whole idea behind the concept of "memes," really), and the revealed religions really require more explanation to justify than the so-called "natural religions."

    Viruses would do it.

    I like it.


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