A sick man coughs – An anthropomorphisation of an influenza virus

Hey guys, this week I was thought I’d write some original material for a change, rather than just reposting old stuff that I’d submitted to On Dit. This is a  short prose on the point of view of an influenza virus that I’d written in the last couple of weeks. I’ve tried to make sure that some science was still in there in some easy-to-understand format, but if something doesn’t make sense, either send me an E-mail or comment in the thread.

(Picture taken by Thomas Tu)


She is torn away. Like the snapping of a ripcord, her proteinaceous ties to the undulating surface of the cell surface are clipped. She is freed to be jostled violently by the Brownian currents of the syrupy extracellular fluid. They get her nowhere, not that it matters; she has nothing to do, no one to meet, no place to be. Circumstances have pulled her together; they will probably break her apart. 

The tides are particularly rough now. Jumping, tossing, turbid waters. For a moment, she doesn’t even notice she is airborne. Things resolve. She is trapped in a gluey droplet of water, floating through alveolar space. Dozens of other prisoners are here, deaf and mute. They occasionally bump each other, but remain oblivious to the outside. They are refugees in their own world, each pregnant with their own story. Boredom reigns.

An uninterested gaze from the watery ship sees endless fields of cells, bowed down in a valley. Pastures of the vibrating scrublands of cell surface molecules seem to churn and turn themselves inside out continually. Looking closer, like clusters of mushrooms pushing up through the warm soil, thousands of viruses reach the surface. They are freed, gasping like sea-wreck survivors, and engage in their lost, wandering dance. Some join their lonely armada, now hundred thousand strong. 

Convection currents push her forward in a drunken meander. As they flit like a leaf caught in the breeze, the acute curvature of the valley underfoot eventually flattens out as they travel up into the bronchioles. Scrublands are replaced by a flooded forest of beating villi. Each finger beats in synchrony with its neighbour, so that at this height they look like sheaves of wheat in a gusting storm underneath an ever deepening lake of mucus. 

By their hundreds, water droplets are cast into the lake by the wind currents. Viruses are trapped by the burrs of antibodies and weighed down by mucus. Their useless bodies either are swept up by the motion of the villi or sink to be devoured by the occasional immune cell. Waves of mucus push forward, building up until a nervous trip-wire snaps… 

A sick man coughs in a crowded elevator. 

Slingshot forward. The forest transforms into a pane of scratched glass, planed flat by velocity. Droplets yield, deform and split. She looks around; they are still mute, still blind, still deaf despite the chaos. They are whipped up past the bronchus, trachea, larynx, pharynx, uvula, tongue. 

It’s less crowded out here. Huge groaning mountains of saliva have joined them on the way. As they all shed speed, the boulder-like droplets are baited away by the gentle force of gravity like migrating whales; their condemned Jonahs to die on the dry ground. The formation is dispersed, three sheets to the wind. The majority spread off into the distance, forgotten and doomed to a vast holocaust of evaporation. 

An abusive gust jerks her droplet violently. She is swept down a moist chimney with thousands of others. Tongue, uvula, pharynx, larynx, trachea, bronchus. Flashbacks of tangled and mangled bodies of viruses act out in front of her. Diffusion steadies its hand on the rudder and slowly… eventually leads them deep down into the lungs. They finally beach. 

Almost immediately, she is arrested and strapped to a cell surface. The thick tarpaulin of cell membrane swallows her. The room bubbles with acid and caustic substances. The cut of the acid drives her to burrow hard into the walls. So hard that she tears her skin off and emerges on the inside of the cell, naked and disoriented. All she wants to do is leave her story so that she is not forgotten. This is all that she thinks of as the cell tears her apart, limb by limb. A message slips out of her. It is stumbled upon by a curious cellular factory manager. He translates it out of curiosity… 

6 hours later, a daughter virus buds from the surface of the cell. She is torn away.



(Picture taken by Thomas Tu)


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