Read below the flash fiction story “The Phage of Heroes” by Iris Floria, shortlisted in the top ten stories for the #FEMSmicroBlog Writing Competition on “How Microbiology will Change our Future”.
Read on this link: all shortlisted stories.
The Phage of Heroes
“Won’t be long now.”
“I hope for her sake that it will be quick.”
They were standing at the edge of a cliff overlooking the carnage below them. It had been a hard-fought battle but not even the antis had been able to fight off the invaders. All that was left now was a sea of dead bodies on scorched earth.
“I don’t understand how anyone could turn into something capable of doing this.”
“I’ve heard they train them using antis. Most of them don’t make it out alive and the ones that do…well I can’t imagine the things they must have to do to survive.”
They paused, soaking up the scene around them. They had been the lucky ones; most of their friends and family had gotten caught up in the crossfire. Millions of innocents had lost their lives and the knowledge that it was all for nothing loomed above them now.
Darkness started creeping in, the ground below them shaking slightly. The two stood unmoved, unclear if because of habit or because of their defeat.
The shaking increased, the cliff about to collapse beneath their feet. Light was scarce now, the sky above them almost pitch black. They stood side by side, touching. In moments like these, where death is a slimy being circling its prey, taking small choices like holding hands is all that can be done. They looked forward with their heads held high, thunder echoing above them, and readied themselves.
Just above the horizon an army of powerful beings emerged. The creatures didn’t move as expected, they slithered forward in unison, a massive shield seemingly encasing them all. They watched them as they neared, their sickly forms coming into focus more and more. As they stood, unmoving, they thought the horror stories whispered as children in the dark did not do these creatures justice. Their movements, their size, their shapes were different than anything they’d ever seen before. They truly were monstrous.
Soon, they thought, it would all be over. Soon this place would become completely uninhabitable. Soon another being would be conquered, another person laid to waste.
Suddenly, the shaking stopped. The two looked around them in confusion. From beneath the cracks hundreds of tiny spider-like creatures emerged. Guided by instinct, they slowly backed away until they reached a wall.
“What are they doing here?”
“I have no idea.”Fear etched into their voices.
The thousand creatures crawled towards them at speed. Once they reached the figures huddled together against the wall, they stopped. In unison, all of them turned around and headed down the cliff and towards the army of enemies on the horizon.
“What just happened?”
“They… didn’t kill us.”
The tiny spider army and the fearsome shielded creatures were now heading towards each other. From above, the scene looked almost mythological, something a renaissance painter would have rushed to capture.
The small creatures, known by many simply as phages, darted towards the much larger enemy. Soon they were crawling up the impenetrable shield, swarming every edge. The shield shimmered imperceptibly in the low light and then suddenly came apart. The army now stood unprotected.
The phages crawled over the soldiers until they found a suitable spot. Once situated, a big needle-looking structure protruded from their slim bodies to stab the bacteria. The enemy got bigger and bigger as if inflated from the inside, until suddenly their body could stretch no further and exploded, their insides spilling out.
It was happening for thousands of bacteria at the same time. The friends watched in wondrous amazement as hundreds of phages seemingly emerged from the rubble of their exploded enemies. They were multiplying. Soon the enemy would be outnumbered.
The war echoed on for days on end until every single bacterial soldier had been eliminated. The phages then disappeared, most probably carried off by the immune authorities. They had won, and the few remaining citizens were grateful.
The two friends stood on the cliff once again, looking below. Light was shining now, although meekly.
“Now we rebuild.”
They made their way down and got to work.
Outside, unbeknownst to them, a doctor towered above their world observing with caring eyes.
“The phage therapy seems to be working. She should make a full recovery.”
The man sitting by her bed touched her hand.
“Soon, she will be well,” he thought with a smile.
ⓒ FEMS/the author
Iris Floria is a 4th year Microbiology student at the University of Glasgow. She’s interested in antimicrobial resistance research and is keen to share her passion for Microbiology through science communication in a written capacity and by creating scientific illustrations.