Biological Conflict by K.T. Roth
I was born shortly before my eighteenth birthday, and I’ll die soon, a decrepit man at thirty-five. I’m not being melodramatic or self-deprecating, and I certainly don’t believe every thirty-five-year-old is deterministically decaying into rot. This is simply the reality of my shambled existence. Most humans who’ve roamed the Earth for almost four decades are not incorrect in referring to themselves as middle-aged. But while I might be a man, I’m definitely not human, and my life is well past its halfway point.
My skin has been simultaneously hardening and dehydrating since my teenage re-birthday. At this point, I’m coated in such a thick patina of beef jerky, I’m more aged meat strip than man. About a year ago, the outermost layers began scattering off me in a powder aerosol, a perma-dust exfoliation clouding me in particulates. Like Pig Pen from The Peanuts, forever drowning in my own effluvia. I can no longer remember a world without epidermal motes swarming my immediate airspace, blurring my reflection into an angelic smudge, fuzzing my perception of everything outside my personal Oort cloud.
Recently, small clumps of my ancient flesh—like teaspoonfuls of astronaut ice cream—began dropping off my bone limbs. The first desiccated cheesy poof plopped from my forearm to the floor a few weeks ago, with more body crust dive-bombs quick to follow. My disintegration now seems to be in end-stage acceleration. I’ve lost the ability to cohere, like one of those foam cores found at the center of a long since dried-up floral display.
My hands haven’t had much flexibility for years, but I’ve managed to retain some typing ability. It’s mostly just poking the keyboard with chopstick fingers. Nowhere near as fluid as before I was Affected, but feasible enough to complete my task. Unfortunately, much like my BMI, the efficacy of my starchy pecking has similarly plummeted off a cliff in recent weeks. It’s defeating in the way I imagine Stephen Hawking must have experienced taking ten minutes to input a single sentence to his voice-modulator at the end. To feel there’s vital information trapped inside an increasingly failing delivery structure… I’m terrified my digits will snap off as I attempt to get my story down, crippling me before I finish telling it.
Let me take a step back. It might be better re-framing my existence as one man whose time on Earth was subdivided into two separate lives, each less than a couple of decades long…
Things have always gone bump in the night, and many such bump-goers are beings like me. There is no mutually agreed upon species name, but I use the moniker Affected. I suppose Infected would work as well, perhaps better even, given that the origin of the change is bacterial. The crassness of that term simply never called to me.
Once a person is exposed to the Affecting bacteria, the transformation is rapid and unimaginably horrific. First comes the body’s expulsion of all food, along with the human apparatus required for ingestion. Namely, it will be that person’s last and most terrifying defecation. The most aptly named of bowel movements, including the actual bowels themselves… as well as the stomach, pancreas, liver, spleen, etc., etc., etc. The reproductive organs wash out too. They simply no longer serve a purpose, and blood flow will quickly be at a premium. One can’t go wasting liquid on vestigial tissues. An everything-must-go evacuation cleanse for the torso, except of course for the heart and lungs. Imagine your most violent human intestinal flu, and know that that experience was a mere tummy frown compared to the intensity of an Affected’s transitional evisceration. After this monster of all shits, it’s not uncommon for an Affected’s anus to close up altogether. The area simply becomes dead space.
So, despite the bacterial source of what essentially boils down to biological warfare, reversal is simply not a possibility, even with antibiotics. Once changed, an Affected’s body can no longer support a human existence, and medical science can’t bring back or recreate those necessary organs and associated plumbing structures.
The next and most obvious alteration is the thirst. Ever unquenchable, the dehydration sets in almost immediately. When liquid evaporates from the Affected’s flesh, what remains grows sluggish. One must always stay ahead of the thirst. Once an Affected is too slow to feed, time becomes a borrowed arrow. The body first hardens, then crumbles into dilapidation. Much like the ruined husk I currently inhabit.
It’s therefore fortunate for the Affected that most of Earth’s creatures emit a scent which, for lack of a better analogy, inspires a dental hard-on. These elongated teeth allow an Affected to puncture skin and drain blood, taking life-sustaining hydration for one’s own needy, greedy heart to distribute to wasted limbs and an increasingly failing brain. And as evolutionary luck would also have it, the bacterial infection creeping through the Affected’s system emits an odor causing humans (albeit not other animals) to enter a kind of fugue state. By taking advantage of this stupor, an Affected may leech fluid from its human bounty without struggle. Most drained individuals awaken the next morning assuming they merely blacked out.
As you might now be concluding, not all fed-upon creatures become Affected. There’s periodicity to the bacteria’s communicability, and times of flare-up are actually infrequent. Unfortunately, an Affected’s thirst is never quenched, and that unslakable need dominates one’s arid existence. Practicing safe draining techniques isn’t exactly an Affected’s top priority; I know of none who time bites to the least infectious cyclical periods.
I apologize if I’m constructing what appears to be an overly bleak tableau for humanity. I should interject here that all is not lost. Because amid all this chaos of viscera and blood, there has always existed a Hunter.
When the bacteria evolved a millennium ago, a man possessed two characteristics that made him incorruptible, and he took it upon himself to wage war against the Affected.
Firstly, this man did not emit the odor allowing an Affected’s teeth to extend and thus drain blood. As such, no matter how much an Affected might want to feed from the Hunter, there was only impotence. But that alone would not have permitted his hunting. The smell emitted from an Affected would still have rendered the man useless were it not for the second of his traits. Because as luck would have it, the Hunter had no olfactory sense himself. His nose was entirely decorative and fully functionless. In the random probability game of life, this man rolled biological snake eyes.
The exact story of how he came to start hunting has been lost to time. What I do know is he made sure to beget a male offspring also gifted with the same two traits of odorlessness. Neither a sniffer nor a sniffee be, the child trained to become the Hunter upon his father’s passing. As an adult, this second Hunter also ensured a dually gifted male progeny existed to be trained. And so on and so forth through the centuries. It’s not clear, but it’s suspected that over the years, female babies were likely slain at birth. Those earlier, sexist times held notions that women were too delicate to lead lives of such violence, and the Hunter role was deemed too valuable to permit the line’s demise before reproduction could occur.
It clearly never dawned on any of these moronic men that even if the females didn’t hunt, they could spawn additional children to increase the Hunter population. A community or even an army of Hunters might have eradicated the bacterial strain long ago. But Hunter-zero was not known to be an intelligent man, and for better or worse, the rule he passed down of a single requisite male child was quickly adopted as lore.
I know all this because my father told me, and he knew it because he was the Hunter. Just as I, his son, was Hunter after him.
Over the past thousand years, my relatives developed a kind of biological instinct—imperative even—for hunting. A deeply ingrained genetic need to destroy the feeding Affected. As such, I’ve always wondered what would happen if I could achieve an Affected’s dental erection. Would I somehow feel compelled to take my own life?
It’s an interesting theoretical quandary, but moot nonetheless. I have no sense of smell, and thus my teeth cannot be aroused by other living creatures’ scents. You may wonder how I’ve survived so long with no apparatus by which to feed… The truth is that my mission is non-negotiable, and I’ve simply had to make do. Admittedly, this existence has been horrific and has felt interminable, and the thirst has been excruciating beyond language.
Throughout the ages, Hunters have often sought companionship with canine sidekicks, and I too found benefit from a pet dog. And although it broke my desiccated heart, that animal also unwittingly served as my primary source of sustenance. I of course developed humane methods to gently anesthetize the creature and safely extract blood with minimal invasiveness, but my best friend’s enervation the days after her drainings always made me despise myself.
So strong is the Hunter’s urge to destroy the Affected that, in the early days after my change, I continued hunting. But I quickly acknowledged that my mission must take priority. I simply couldn’t risk my own death. So, to satiate this hunting need, I would instead buy rodents from pet stores to deliberately turn, then kill. During a flare-up, I once put some of the fluid from my mouth (saliva is not an apt term for this gelatinous wad of viscous material) on the end of a pin and stuck a fly. The insect swiftly escaped my grasp, and I feared it would find an outlet from my apartment, potentially creating a mass epidemic. My windows were luckily sealed, and I managed to destroy the bug, but not before terrifying myself with the thought it might discover freedom by slipping through a vent.
I know what you’re likely asking yourself at this point. You’re wondering how I could ever have been turned into an Affected given my natural defense.
It’s a reasonable question.
The truth is that while I have never felt myself to be anything other than masculine, my body was born with two X chromosomes and a uterus. It was the 1980s, though, and my dad certainly wasn’t about to kill a child, for goodness’ sake. He raised me and trained me as he would any human destined to become a Hunter, although I suspect he might have been grateful I identified as male. He left my mother not long after I was born… I think perhaps he never quite felt comfortable with women.
Just as my ancestors before me, I was born with both of the Hunter’s traits: a lack of smelling sense and an absence of the aroma that coaxes forth an Affected’s teeth for feeding. What was new for me in the long chain of Hunters, though, were extenuating circumstances surrounding my biology which temporarily opened me up to the bacterial infection.
My father died when I was fifteen. By the time I reached seventeen, I knew it was time to reproduce and begin anew the training process. A Hunter’s lifespan is sadly not long.
I went to a queer bar downtown and met a gorgeous boy whose pretty face and skinny body dazzled me. He took me from behind while I bent over the back bathroom sink, and I left clenching my kegels to keep his seed inside me.
Luckily, I was young and fecund, and the fertilization took. Unluckily, I very quickly rode low and heavy, impairing my hunting abilities. During the seventh month of my pregnancy, I encountered an Affected and was knocked down. I then watched as my attacker’s teeth grew, ready to sink into my flesh. I still managed to disable the creature, but retreated to my apartment deeply shaken. Something had shifted in my body’s chemistry. My most cherished and taken-for-granted gift of odorlessness was seemingly abandoning me.
I could no longer rely on this once invaluable trait to protect me, and I still had ten weeks until my child would be born. I barricaded myself in my apartment, only opening the door for food deliveries. Unfortunately, while the internet had begun blossoming around this time, it was not yet in full bloom. Necessities arose that required me to occasionally emerge.
In my eighth month, the taps in my building shut off, and I needed bottled water. I tried to make the shopping jaunt quick, but an Affected found me. By then, I felt as though my odor had become a beacon, perhaps more powerful even than that of most humans. At least my lack of ability to smell in return allowed me to keep my wits. I fought as powerfully as I could, but I was so large by then, I might as well have been gestating a four-year-old.
The resulting expulsion of all my innards naturally included the gift I’d been carrying in utero. When I finally regained consciousness in that back alley, I was covered in my own entrails, and my thirst was already kicking in. But I saw the two cooing babies and knew I must deliver my premature darlings to an ER. In terms of external physiology, one had a vulva and the other a penis, but I have no idea how either has since chosen to identify. I found a nearby hospital and left my disgusting bundles of joy out front by the ambulances. Most newborns are slathered in biological detritus, but I believe mine must have truly repulsed the on-duty medical staff. Aside from the copious smears of fecal matter, they would have also recognized tissues from myriad internal organs. God only knows what they thought had become of me.
Forgive my ramblings, but I’ve finally arrived at my narrative destination. For you see, my task these last seventeen years has been to document the information conveyed by my own father. A book to compile, explain, and detail the knowledge acquired by centuries of Hunters.
I’ve done this because I know you’re out there. I have begun sensing you two, the way I used to sense my father when he and I would hunt together. Your biological instinct has clearly kicked in, spurring you to kill the Affected. I can feel it in you, just as I can feel you seeking me now. You must be so confused. I had no idea it would take me so many weeks to complete such a short preamble. I’d have preferred to communicate verbally when you arrive, but my tongue recently crumbled to powder in my mouth. It had been nothing more than a thick flap of sandpaper for years, but I never thought I’d miss it so much. Not nearly as much as I missed Fleck after she died, of course, but still…
Everything has become so challenging. My once quite formidable brain fails me more often than not. One of my eyes has been reduced to crumbs, and the other’s vision is painfully dim. I just want it to last somehow until you get here so I can look at you, my beautiful children, just once. I hope you’re as pretty as that young boy from all those years ago. I hope my arms remain intact as well, so I may hold out my manuscript when you arrive. So I might even touch you, perhaps, and you’ll know that I’m your father.
Despite strong mathleticism and a Masters degree from MIT, K.T. Roth embarked on a career path in television and theater production. K.T. identifies as pansexual and genderfluid, and resides with a partner in Brooklyn, NY. Before becoming sick in 2010, K.T. was months shy of black-belt testing in taekwondo and had just obtained a motorcycle license. Unfortunately, chronic ill-health forced K.T. to give up on the dream of one day becoming Batman and instead now maintains a Twitter account.