Elegance

by Dave Pickering
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The Tramp shuffled down the street towards them. Plastic bags hung from his arms like baubles on a dying Christmas tree. He wore a long navy blue coat. His hair was a mess of scraggly clumps. His beard filled his face and was long (wizard long) and wispy, a rusty orange colour. He was puffing on a rollup and he glared out at the world around him.

“BOWIE!” Jake shouted as he clocked The Tramp.

Mike took a swig from his can of Red Stripe and turned to look.

“It’s fucking Bowie! BOWIE!” he yelled in surprise.

Jake and Mike had met The Tramp before. He’d tried to sell them drugs at half eight in the morning, outside Clapham North tube station two days previous. Because they’d been carrying their guitars, The Tramp had decided they must sound like David Bowie. He’d stood in the middle of the street shouting “Bowie” at the top of his voice over and over again. The lads had left him still yelling, laughing at the crazy old bastard, and glad they weren’t like him.

And here he was in Camden. The same man. The same coat. The same beard. An identical rollup. But this time Jake and Mike were different. This time they were out of their faces on cheap lager and hyped up with adrenaline. Their band had just come off stage. It was party time.

The Tramp inserted the roll up into his mouth. As he puffed in, he dribbled saliva down his beard and it hung there sleek and wet.

“Gentlemen, I am going to smoke a joint. Would you like to buy some weed from me on this fine evening?”

Jake watched The Tramp’s hands. They were encrusted with brown and grey dirt. It lined every crack of skin, bringing out the fine detail. Every fingernail was a half moon of grime.

“I’m incognito. Best not to draw attention to myself,” The Tramp said.

“Yeah okay, I’ll buy some,” Jake said. “As long as it’s good quality.” “Fair enough my friend. Well, why don’t we try before we buy?”

The Tramp pulled out a battered pouch that had once contained Golden Virginia and he started to pluck green fuzz from inside it. He placed each crumb in a carefully balanced rizla paper. He added tobacco from inside another Golden Virginia pack; it was old tobacco, knocked into dust. It was practically snuff it was so fine.

Jake looked at the man’s face. Spit was running through his beard: rivers of saliva pouring down. It was oily and gelatinous, thick and sloppy. Jake looked away disgusted.

The joint seemed almost entirely fashioned from The Tramp’s spittle, every millimetre of the paper seemed to have been slobbered on, but somehow, amazingly, it still managed to hold its structural integrity.

“What’s your name?” Jake said, wanting to remind himself that the man was just a man the same as him.

“That would be telling,” said The Tramp. He smiled and offered the sopping paper tube to Jake.

“I’ll take that,” said Mike, reaching across and zipping it out of The Tramp’s hand. Mike put it in his mouth and held his lighter to it.

Jake was amazed that the thing managed to burn. The juices in his stomach sloshed about, making him feel queasy.

“What is your name?” Jake asked again as he pulled in smoke from the spliff Mike passed him.

“I have every name. I’m all names. But I prefer to be thought of as a ghost.”

“A what?”

“A ghost. The ghost inside you. It makes you fly. I am your ghost.”

The smoke swirled about inside Jake’s cheeks and he sucked it down. He imagined it curling down his throat. It made him think of cold winters at his Grandmother’s house, smoke from the fire moving softly into her chimney. He smiled and looked up at the night sky, the haze of the city lights. The smoke was becoming part of him.

He exhaled.

“You got any coin?” The Tramp said, breaking the spell. Jake was standing beside a filthy bagman. It was Jake standing there, not someone else. He was sharing drugs with a homeless man for fuck’s sake. He was sucking on a tramps spit.

“Pass it on then,” said Mike.

“You got any coin?” said The Tramp.

“Look mate, we’re gonnna give you a twenty for the gear, what more do you want?” said Mike, grabbing the joint from Jake’s fingers.

“How about the rest of this?” said Jake, offering The Tramp the last third of his can.

“I don’t touch that shit,” said The Tramp.

“A discerning drinker.” Mike raised an eyebrow.

They smoked more cigarettes. The Tramp rolled another joint. Linda came out, had a toke and then went back inside to dance.

Jake wished The Tramp would go away. The more he smoked the more dribble soaked his beard, dribble that dripped off in globules onto his clothes.

“Can I buy that weed now, please?” Jake said hoping that once money changed hands The Tramp would leave. He cringed at his own voice. He always managed to sound ultra middle class when buying drugs. It was the same tone he used when teaching his students.

“Twenty?” said The Tramp.

“Um…yeah… okay.”

The Tramp broke off a small square of weed and thrust it into Jake’s hand. Jake looked around nervously. He was standing in plain sight on Camden High Road buying drugs from a tramp.

“Shouldn’t we go somewhere private?”

“Nowhere’s more private than this,” said The Tramp. He smiled at Jake. His mouth was full of rotten teeth. His gums were weeping sores. Jake looked away.

It was later. Jake wondered where Linda was. He peered through the pub window. She was still dancing to whatever shit band had followed them. She loved to dance.

Mike passed him a blue plastic cider bottle with no label, it was so dented it was hardly a bottle shape at all anymore.

“Have a swig,” said The Tramp.

“What the fuck?”

“It’s not as bad as you’d think,” said Mike licking his lips. He winked at Jake.

“But what is it?”

“A mixture of White Lightning and Red Label, offered to you in the spirit of friendship. Seals the deal.”

Jake breathed it in. It didn’t smell that bad. It didn’t smell like disease. Just cider. He didn’t want to drink it. He didn’t know where it’d been. But Mike had had some and he seemed alright. Jake didn’t want to offend The Tramp. He’d just bought drugs from him. He couldn’t disrespect him now. And the drink didn’t smell that bad. Alcohol kills most germs. HIV is a very unstable virus; it doesn’t live in saliva. Even if there was blood in the mixture it dies when it isn’t at body temperature. But a lot of other things could live in there. Fuck it. Jake was drunk. He was young. He’d played a great gig. It really didn’t smell that bad. Life was for living. And living, really living, was about risk.

He lifted the bottle.

The sweet stale flatness made his mouth water. He imagined The Tramp’s spittle sloshing around inside. It was stagnant in there. It was a churning and belching thing. The stomach of a dragon. Bubbling. Thick and dark. As it touched his mouth, as it went down his throat, it left a slug trail behind it. He could sense it, see it moving down his throat, smearing down into his stomach, making his insides spin and his guts clench up. His mind flew away from him, watching from outside, trying to disassociate itself from the actions of his hand, his mouth, his stomach, his stupid body going through this grotesque action. STOP! Stop now. Why are you…? Oh God. Oh my God. What the fuck are you doing? WHAT THE FUCK …

His skin is covered in small insects. He can feel their legs crawling over him. They are pinching him. Crawling inside him. They are burrowing through his skin, through his muscle, they are cracking his bones, slitting them, sucking out the marrow. Something is hollowing him out. He is being emptied.

He is an animal on a taxidermists table, his entrails ripped out, his insides liquefied and poured away through every orifice and then his flapping, open skin, expertly stitched up. There is nothing inside him but space, waiting to be filled.

He is screaming but something has taken his tongue. Suddenly he feels the insects inside him, their feet pricking the inside of his body, swimming in his blood; each breaststroke is white pain across his nerves. The little fuckers are swimming in his flesh. Where did they come from? What are they doing? How did they get in?

In front of him are shapeless creatures. They are watching as he is devoured. They are smiling even though they have no mouths. They are like rags. They are like rags in a breeze. He can’t define them. But they have teeth. Suddenly he knows they have teeth. They bite. They are biting him, they are drinking his skin.

It’s a dinner party. His flesh and bone on plates, being passed round.

“Where’s the brains,” someone says, “I like the brains best. When are they going to be served?”

“They’re for dessert,” says someone else. “That comes later; we haven’t got that to that part yet. But we will.”

He can feel the things – are they ants? – crawling up his insides. They are scrawling over the back of his eyeballs, they sever his optic nerves. His eyes fall from their sockets and they squelch as they bounce on the concrete. Something crosses to where they have landed. It crushes first one eye and then the other under its boots. They squirt out their juice as they are crushed. They have the texture of lychees.

He feels the vomit rising in his throat. It is thick. The ants are crawling around inside it. They are laughing. They are talking to each other. The rag creatures are back again, or maybe they were always there, maybe they were sitting around the table having dinner, maybe they were crushing his eyes. His body is wrapped around with rags. He’s being mummified. They’ve taken out his insides and now they’re wrapping him up.

It explodes from his chapped lips. It pushes out everything he has ever eaten in swift, hard heaves. He is retching out his self. His memories. His dreams. His whole life is exploding from his face and seeping into the bandages.

…ARE YOU DOING?

Jake woke up in bed in his boxer shorts. Linda was lying across him wearing only her Mickey Mouse knickers. He couldn’t remember anything after… NO! He didn’t want to remember that. The night was over. It’s a new day. It’s a new day. He had to get some breakfast. He had a thesis to write. He had to get on with things.

Linda stirred.

“Morning,” he said.

“I was flying. It was lovely. Flying through warm air…” she said softly, still part asleep.

“Bastard,” he hit her with his pillow. “You always get the good dreams. I had a fucking horrible nightmare.”

She pushed him harder than she could usually manage in the morning. He fell backwards and found himself tangled up on the floor in the duvet. Linda stood up on the bed and jeered down at him, laughing hysterically.

“Right, that’s it.” He gathered himself and leapt at her, catching her in a rugby tackle and knocking her over. They play-fought for a bit. They liked to fight. Sometimes it served as foreplay. But not that morning. They didn’t feel lust at all. They were simply amazed by the physicality of their bodies: the shapes they could make, the things they could do. They were very aware of being alive.

It was Saturday morning. No reason to rush into the day, despite Jake’s earlier attempts to push last night’s memories away with sensible activities. Being silly was a good enough distraction.

They didn’t have headaches. They didn’t have hangovers. They felt young. They felt alive. They felt 15 not 30. After they’d thrown each other around the room for a bit they found themselves just jumping up and down on the bed, seeing how high they could go. Bouncing up again and again. Jake felt his hands brush the ceiling. He was surprised he could touch it. He must have jumped half his own height. Maybe he should do sports or something. If he could jump that high he could probably clear a hurdle, a long jump, a high jump. He’d never been into sports but suddenly he found himself wondering if he was missing out on something.

Linda grabbed his arm. “Let’s go for a run.”

“It’s like you read my mind.”

Running together. Like each of them was a separate foot on a larger body. First one in front, then the other. They feel like they are more than just lovers. They feel that they share the same blood, they beat the same heart.

They are moving.

The squeak of trainers on pavement. A calm fastness. A fast calmness. And it feels like the start of something. Some new phase of life. Of existence. Of their relationship. Of everything. They are going to have all the things they have always dreamed of.

Muscles moving of their own accord. Eyes seeing the world in more detail than ever before. Every texture. Every molecule. Everything is pure.

Jake was supposed to walk through the door and sit down at his desk, say hello to his students. But he was just standing there. Part of him wondered what was going on. But the rest of him was thinking about running. About moving. All he wanted to do was move. He had to keep moving.

A student brushed past him. It was Cathy, she was hurrying to his seminar. He was supposed to be talking to her, to all of them, about the first virus ever discovered. Martinus Beijerinck discovered the Tobacco Mosaic virus in 1898… Jake realised he was jumping up and down on the spot.

One of his students was stood in the doorway of the seminar room looking at him, confused.

Jake kept jumping. He needed to move.

More of them were at the door now.

He found that the disease was caused by something even smaller than bacteria. We’re now talking about molecular structures. Although he, of course, thought viruses were liquids; that they flowed. But we know now that they are particles. They get in. They work their way in.

His whole class was staring at him. Donna pushed her way to the front. She walked towards him. She moved cautiously as if approaching an unpredictable animal.

“Um… Jake. Are you… are you alright? The seminar started five minutes ago… um… are you…? Er… Jake? You do know you’re jumping up and down, don’t you…? On the spot?”

“He forced himself to speak. “Of course.”

“Right.” She stared at him for a while. “So how about stopping it then?”

“What?”

Clearly and slowly as if he was partially deaf, “Can you please stop jumping?”

He concentrated.

He stopped.

“Thank God. You were making me nauseous.”

“Right.”

“Look, are we having a seminar or not, because I’ve got better things to do than deal with this sort of shit.”

He stared at his students. They stared back.

“Fuck it! Class dismissed,” he said.

Donna looked shocked. Then she shrugged.

Some part of Jake, somewhere in the distance, was appalled. But the rest of him just wanted to move.

“See you later.”

Some of the students began to file out of the room.

“Jake, what’s going on?”

He gave up. He turned and ran down the corridor. The sun shone in through the doors. In a moment that sun would be shining on his face. His feet scuzzed against the threadbeard carpet tiles. Friction. Friction. Friction. Movement. He pushed the double doors aside as if stepping out of a saloon. He was ready for a gunfight. He stopped for a moment to breathe in. Opening his mouth and lungs, sucking it all in.

“Tobacco Mosaic virus is an RNA virus that infects plants, especially tobacco and other members of the family Solanaceae.”

A woman was staring at him.

“Did I say that out loud?”

She nodded.

“Sorry about that.” He walked off, swinging his arms a little higher than he normally would. Once he’d turned the corner he started to run.

Linda walked slowly into the room with three mugs of tea balanced on a breadboard. She stopped in the middle of the room. She raised the breadboard above her head.

“Wow!” said Jake nearly spilling a half rolled joint on the floor. Linda took one of her hands away balancing the board and the three steaming mugs on one fully extended arm. It was as if she was a circus performer.

Mike looked up. “Holy SHIT!”

“Check this.” She carefully raised her left leg off the ground until she was standing there in an arabesque position.

“You’ve got it going on,” said Mike.

“Do you want to go for a run?” Jake asked.

“I just made tea.”

“Yeah, but do you want to go for a run?”

“What about Mike?”

“He can come too.”

The three of them stood in silence looking at each other for a few minutes. Then they left the house.

“One,” said Mike.

“Two,” said Linda.

“Three,” said Jake.

“Go,” they all said together.

Then they were running through the streets. Running, running, running as fast as they could, faster than they’d ever run in their lives. They moved like a pride of lions, each aware of the others’ movements. They were perfectly coordinated.

Jake ran out of Clapham North tube station. He hadn’t been to work in days, but he didn’t want to miss band practice. Playing music was movement. And afterwards he would go running again with Mike and Linda.

In the corner of his eye, he spotted a familiar blue coat, a long red wispy beard, a shuffling man.

“Bowie,” he said.

The Tramp looked at him. Looked right into him.

“You seem to be much improved,” said The Tramp.

“What?”

“I can feel the heat within you now.”

“What do you mean?”

“You are becoming us.”

Jake was startled. Confused. Suddenly scared. He tried to replay the last few days in his mind, but his thoughts couldn’t keep still. He grabbed The Tramp’s arm. He looked into The Tramp’s eyes. There was something else there. There was something inside this man. He knew something.

“Let go of me,” said The Tramp.

Jake held on to the blue coat. The Tramp squirmed out of it. Jake threw the coat onto the pavement.

In the distance someone was shouting.

Jake pushed The Tramp to the ground. The Tramp was laughing. Jake kicked him. He kept laughing. Jake kicked him again. Blood flew up from The Tramp’s broken face but he kept on laughing. Jake kicked again. And again. The laughter didn’t stop.

Someone grabbed him. He fought back. He was pinned to the ground. It took three of them to hold him down.

Was I always this strong? He thought to himself. I don’t think I was. I don’t think this is me.

Lying on the pavement The Tramp was still laughing.

There’s something following him. He turns to face it. It’s him. He’s chasing himself. He stops running. He looks into his own eyes. He blinks. The other him blinks. They circle each other. They kiss. He feels his own tongue against his tongue. He is mating with himself. He is mating inside himself.

“Who else?”

He opens his eyes. A man is staring at him.

“What?” he says.

“Who else is like you?” The man has a mask.

“Like me?”

“WHO ELSE IS LIKE YOU?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Another man steps out of the shadows and stands over him.

“We don’t have time for this shit,” says the second man. “We need to contain it. We need to contain it now.”

“Who else can run like you?” says the first man.

“Yeah. That’s it. Who else runs like you?” says the second man.

“Run?”

“Yeah, you like to run. They all like to run.”

“I’ve been running with Linda. With Mike and Linda.”

“Last names.” The second clicks his fingers. The first man is scribbling in a notebook.

“I… I… don’t know.”

“Okay. Let’s go through this from the start. When did you meet the tramp?”

He can’t move his own mouth.

“FOCUS!” The man slaps him round the face.

“You hit me.”

“I need you to think. You have to think. We need details. It’s important. I’m sorry I had to hit you.”

“Right.”

“Where did you meet the tramp?”

“Outside… outside a pub.”

“Okay… good. Where was the pub?”

Jake looked around the room. Everything was white. His bed had hospital corners. There was a running machine by the window. He moved over to it. Stepped on. Pressed some buttons. He started walking along its never ending, always circling road. It was easier to think when he was moving.

He put his hand up to his neck. There was a pockmark there. He half remembered someone injecting him with something. Fuck knows.

He could run and run and he didn’t break a sweat. He reached up and felt his brow. It was dry. He felt dry inside. Where was his life? Where was his mind? He couldn’t really feel it like he needed to. He was watching himself on a distant screen.

He put his finger between his lips. There was wetness there. He wiped it off. It was sticky on his fingers.

The door opened and a man came in. He was wearing a lab coat. He had thin-framed glasses and grey hair. Like everyone else who came into the room, his face was protected by a mask. He stood by the running machine and watched Jake run.

“The first thing you should know is you’re completely safe here,” he said, in a rich and authoritative voice. “And don’t worry you aren’t in any trouble. You haven’t been arrested. Though I’m afraid we can’t let you leave. You need to stay here so we can make you better. You’re sick, you see, that’s all.”

Jake didn’t say anything, he just kept running. He didn’t feel sick. But part of him trusted this man. He could have been one of his colleagues from the University.

“My name is Dr Dave Buckle by the way. But please, just call me Dave.”

“Nice to meet you, Dave.”

“Nice to meet you too, Jake.”

Jake managed a polite smile.

“Interestingly you and I share a discipline. I’m a virologist… amongst other specialisations. And that’s where your studies seem to be leading. If the rock band doesn’t take you away from academia all together that is.”

“You seem to know a lot about me.”

“I don’t want to mislead you. Your illness is a threat to society, and here we take that sort of threat very seriously.”

“What is this place? Who are you?”

“I’m not at liberty to discuss who or where we are. You’ll have to draw your own conclusions. Now let’s put small talk aside for the moment. What I need you to do for me, one biologist to another, is diagnose yourself.”

He came back later. Jake didn’t know how much time had passed.

“So what are your symptoms?”

Jake pressed an A4 page of his spidery handwriting into the doctor’s hand. The doctor scanned down it.

“Yes. Well you seem to have hit on most of it. Sadly nothing new here.”

“You know what this is don’t you?”

“I can’t tell you anything, Jake. I’m still waiting for clearance.”

When Dave Buckle arrived at the facility the next day he was very excited. He’d never discussed the illness with any of his patients before. But since Jake Finch was a biologist, it had been agreed that possibilities outweighed the dangers. Jake could study this thing from within. He could be Dave’s eyes on the inside.

Jake followed Dave into the room. A slide projector was set up on a table and there was a whiteboard fixed to the wall. It was the sort of room that in a different life, Jake had taught students in. One of the masked guards brought in a running machine. When Jake had relaxed into his movement, Dave began to explain the situation.

“Okay, Jake. There’s no nice way to put this. What you have is a parasite.”

“A parasite?”

“Yes.”

Jake increased his speed. It calmed him.

“Parasites are fascinating organisms. Elegant in their design. Have you heard of Ampulex Compressa?”

“Um… is it a type of virus?”

“No. This is one for the insectologists amongst us. The Ampulex Compressa is a parasitic wasp. It’s incredibly macabre but also incredibly impressive in its adaptive behaviours. What’s that Darwin quote…?”

Dave Buckle paused for a moment, searching the filing cabinet of his mind and bringing up a well used folder:

“Ah that’s it… ‘I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars.’”

“I don’t have wasps inside me. I know that.”

“No. We’re taking the scenic route into your condition. Considering comparable organisms.”

“So these Ampulexes live in caterpillars?”

“No. No Ampulex makes use of cockroaches.”

Jake’s skin crawled as he imagined unpleasant images. Just the word cockroach caused a shudder deep inside him. He wasn’t a big fan of wasps either. He had a flash in his mind; a fragment of something. Maybe a dream. Insects in his flesh. He shivered.

“What they do is they sting the cockroach in its belly, paralysing it. Then the wasp moves up to its head. It stings it a second time. This time the action is precise, like a brain surgeon. It stings precisely in the area of its head that controls the escape reflex. As a result of this second injection the coackroach loses its instinct to escape.”

Jake ran faster and faster. Part of his mind was listening to Dave speak but he felt like he was at the bottom of a well. Dave’s words fell like coins through the air and clattered at his feet.

“The initial paralysis wears off and the roach can move. But now it’s the wasps slave. It becomes a zombie cockroach if you like. And the wasp can control it. The wasp makes it crawl into a grave it has prepared for it. Then the wasp lays its eggs on the cockroach’s stomach and seals it in.”

Jake closed his eyes. Got to keep moving. Got to keep going.

“When the eggs hatch, the larvae burrow up into the cockroach’s body. They live there, feeding on the insides of the roach for eight weeks. Then they break out of the cockroach and it finally dies.”

Dave paused. He was enjoying himself. It had been some time since he’d given a lecture. He was enjoying the process of creating a scientific narrative, leading Jake’s thoughts into the light. He licked his dry lips, safe behind their protective mask, and then continued.

“The Ampulex Compressa does all this with no sense of morality. To us it’s repellent: brain surgery, mind control, using another’s body as both womb and sustenance. But to the wasp it’s simply the way it reproduces. The way it creates more wasps.”

“So I’ve been infected with something that’s controlling me, that’s what you’re saying?” Jake looked at Dave Buckle. The doctor shook his head.

“It’s affecting you but I wouldn’t say it’s controlling you. It’s changing the way you feel and altering the way you respond to different stimuli, sure, but we are conscious and so ultimately we are in control of ourselves.”

“Toxoplasmosis,” said Jake.

“Hmm?”

Jake spoke through gritted teeth. “Toxoplasma reproduce sexually in the guts of cats. Eggs are excreted. Cat shit gets eaten by rats. Toxo goes to the brain. Short circuits the Amygdala. Crosswires things. Rats get turned on by what they fear. Infected rats get attracted to cat urine. Get eaten by cats. It all starts again. It’s… fascinating. When it’s not happening to you.”

“That’s right, Jake. Very good. That’s exactly the sort of effect the creatures inside you appear to have on their hosts.”

“Appear?”

“As I’m sure you’ve gathered, we don’t really know as much as we’d like about all this.”

“What do you know?”

Dave smiled and clicked the button on the projector. An insect-like creature appeared on the whiteboard.

“Say hello to one of them. We think these are the males. They infect their hosts through the digestive system and seem to be spread through saliva to saliva contact. They’re changing your mind. They’re moving things around up there in ways we’ve never seen before. They’re truly revolutionary organisms.”

Jake ran faster. He was struggling to hold himself together. He knew Dave was just telling it like it was. How could he not be excited by such a find? Jake would give anything to discover something new. But it’s different having it inside you. Being taken over by something unknown. Bugs inside your body…

Dave pressed the button. A new slide clicked round. This creature was very different. It looked like a clump of rags, a strange, folded-in-on-itself, jellyfish-like thing

“This is the female. Or so we believe. This lovely lady is transmitted by inhalation. Or at least its entry point appears to be the lungs. From there it travels across the body’s whole system. It manages to affect everything, from balance, to the auto-immune system, to the muscles. This is what’s making you run. This is what’s making you strong. This is what makes you want to move. It seems to be mostly benign without its mate. Hosts only infected by the females are stronger and faster but are quite sane.”

Jake looked down at his pounding legs. He sucked spittle into his mouth. His chin was dripping wet.

Dave smiled. “Just as some people cure allergies and asthma using hookworms, so we can see some really exciting medical possibilities with these creatures. If we can learn to harness and control their powers we can… well… we could cure illnesses. Improve stamina. A new step in human development. ”

Jake tried to mop up the saliva that was dripping down his chin by pressing it against the top of his gown. Something inside him was looking to climb into another body. He shuddered again.

“We don’t know their origin yet. They appear to be made out of completely new substances. They’ve never been seen before. Some of my colleagues rather fancifully hypothesise that they were created in a lab somewhere by some genius Frankenstein looking to unleash new life into the world. People discover new life forms all the time, monkeys in remote jungles, worms in artic caverns, trapped in fossils. Perhaps it’s of extraterrestrial origin and came here on a meteor; there are many places surprises may come from. But wherever it’s from, one thing is definite; the creatures inside you are both a fantastic puzzle for us to unlock and a terrible danger to us all.”

The door opens. I look up. I am walking on my treadmill staring at the wall. I stop the machine. I cross the room. The other smiles at me. I follow the other out of the room.

One of the guards who used to guard my door jolts about on the floor. It is in the middle of a fit. This will pass. It will join us soon. I walk with the other past the spasming man. We do not look down at it.

A different guard walks through the double doors at the end of the corridor and comes towards us. The guard isn’t looking where it’s going; it’s in a world of its own.

The other leaps at the guard and before it can reach for its tranquilliser gun it is knocked to the floor. The other holds it down. It struggles, shouting for help.

I walk over to where the man and the other struggle. I crouch down and stare into the man’s face. It is scared. It is pushing against the other as hard as it can but the other is stronger. The other shouldn’t be stronger and that scares the guard even more.

The other keeps the body still for me. I remove the facemask. I close the guard’s nose with my fingers until its mouth comes open to bite in air. I move my open mouth onto the guards. I feel the saliva dribbling down. Threads of it dropping into the space. I spit into the guards mouth. It tries to scream.

We are running together and it feels good. We are moving out. All the doors are open. The fresh crop has been planted. The men who put us in a prison are now part of us.

I open the door and a woman stands there.

“Jake,” it says.

“Linda, it’s so good to see you again,” I say.

“What’s going on? We’re not allowed to…”

“I’ve missed you,” I say, cutting it off.

“Me too,” it says.

It throws its arms around me. I hold it close. We kiss. Its hand touches my chin.

“You’re so wet,” it says.

“Let us in. Let us complete you.” I kiss it again.

Part of me breaks off and goes to join another. Inside this creature’s body we will mate and set it free.

We are all together. We are preparing. Soon we will split apart once again. Carry out our individual functions. But for the moment we are joyful because we are together. We are movement and we are moving.

But one of them is missing. The doctor with the elegant mind. The man who sees some of what we are. It knows too much. Where is it? It must join with us.

I see the doctor through the window. It stands under a sycamore tree. I walk towards it, across the brown and yellow and orange leaves that lie on the ground. A green helicopter spirals down from the tree past my face. The world is calm. We feel calm.

The doctor stares out at the city. It leans against the tree trunk with one hand. A cigar softly smoulders in its other.

The doctor turns, sensing someone.

“Jake?” it says, confused.

“You are elegant. And that is why we fit together. It is all elegance.”

“Jake? You aren’t supposed to be out here. What happened to… how did you get out?”

“Shhh. We are face to face. Mouth to mouth. What do you want to know about us?”

“You are supposed to be in your room?” it says. Then its eyes widen. It knows.

The doctor turns to run but realises it’s surrounded. The others have come with me to greet it. None of us speak. We look like people the doctor knows, patients the doctor studied, colleagues the doctor worked with, cleaners and guards and admin staff who the doctor saw everyday. The whole building has been absorbed in the time it took to go out and buy some lunch. The doctor exhales cigar smoke.

“You understand things,” it says. “You are more like us than I ever realised.”

“We use you. We don’t waste anything. You become part of us. And when we move on, we take you too. By living inside you, we make you immortal. Isn’t that what you want?”

The doctor inhales smoke from its cigar.

“We are giving you a gift,” I say. I smile.

“What happens now?” says the doctor.

“Everything starts and everything ends with a kiss.”

The doctor closes its eyes, opens its lips and surrenders.

Saliva moves like a river from my mouth to its, carrying the first part of the package. It drinks me down. I move, move, move, inside and split apart. I flow into it. It becomes me and I have broken myself in two. I have formed another.

We hold each other close. Enjoying being together.

The man who used to be Jake shuffled down the street. His beard was long. His hair was a mess. He couldn’t remember his name. He had all names. He was all people. He needed people. He needed to keep moving.

There was no one else about. It was the middle of the day. The houses all seemed deserted.

He put a square of tobacco in his mouth and chewed it. He spat it out into his hand. He pushed the wad back into his pocket. He kicked an old newspaper down the street. Its headline warned of a disease. Of a terrible outbreak. A global pandemic. Anyone suspected of being a carrier was to be destroyed on sight.

Inside the man’s body lived things that wanted to live. They wanted to live and they needed us to do it. They didn’t want to hurt anyone. Far from it. They just wanted to continue. To expand. To develop. And they could understand. They could hear through your ears. They could see through your eyes. They could read the papers. They could make plans. They could play any part needed. They could argue with themselves. They could back each other up. They could spread rumours. They could create hype. They could hide and they could seek.

They could adapt.

2 Responses to “Elegance”

  1. Helice says:

    Freaky and awesome! I loved how the “virus” was given a powerful personal voice that was also part of a hive mind.

  2. Wow. Serious head trip. Nice viral P.O.V. This one will stay with me.

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