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The Hand That Rocks The Cradle

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle

7 mins 23.1K 7 mins 23.1K

It was getting late enough to be worried. I once again stepped into the balcony and looked down. Except for a drenched street dog that was lying down miserably near the gate, there was not a soul to be seen anywhere. Rain water had puddled under the lamp post. A breeze ruffled the mango tree in the courtyard and a few twigs fell down and broke. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Did I hear a soft knock at the door? I turned back....not a soul stirred. The soft thuds continued and a conspiracy of ravens rolled off the roof and rained down onto the balcony. My breath wheezed as I used my clammy hands to unbutton my shirt. I was perspiring profusely and my skin tingled throughout. Maybe I had fallen prey to the sickness that ravaged the world, or maybe this was excitement for finally having hit pay-dirt.

‘I should take the ravens’ brains as samples’, I thought.

‘I need no more validation’, I soothed myself. The neurotoxin was similar across all samples. Rats, chicken, dogs, cats, buffalos...humans. It was extremely clever biology. The malaise had spread like wild fire across species. We did not know how it spread. Yet.

As if in tune with my thoughts, the dog jerked itself awake and dragged itself through the slush, around the gate and into the compound. The lamp light shone on its innocent, honey-brown eyes. They looked out into the darkness, with the will to live. Its eyes were bloodshot and wide- seeing away dreamily. Its breathing seemed laboured and despite the cool breeze, it was dripping sweat profusely. It half crawled and half dragged itself towards the mango tree. My knuckles were bone-white against the railing. The human in me wept for it, while the biologist in me was fascinated with yet another display of this...phenomenon. I knew from experience that trying to stop it would be pointless. The afflicted always congregated around trees... to die.

It plonked itself heavily onto the soil around the mango tree. Though the eyes seemed to lack any expression there was still a smolder of someone trying hard to break the shackles. There still seemed to be a soul underneath trying to break through.

At rest, the face turned towards me and its eyes focused. They bored into me and I saw its lips curl into a rabid snarl. Its front, right limb shot out and its paw reached out to me. Its paw hinged up and down in a gesture that the uninfected could perceive as a beckoning call. But how could it be? All the infected who seemed to reach this stage seemed to have lost all their sentience. A shiver ran down my spine. The stray shuddered and the remaining vestige of life drained out of its mercurial eyes. Its arm fell to the ground. Its eyes glazed over and slowly turned into its skull.

It twitched for sometime, its breath misty against the cold, dusk air. The thrum beneath its shaggy coat slowly died out. A final gush of air escaped its snout defiantly.

I steadied myself on the balcony railing. I should rush inside into the decontamination chamber, my instincts blared out commands. It was all pointless. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, I thought, resignedly.

My brain was whirring at speeds that I felt were impossible, trying to weld together all that I had learned. Just two days ago, an epidemic had broken out simultaneously across the world. It had been thought that it was a worldwide terrorist strike, but then all nations and peoples had been struck equally badly. The epidemic had been dastardly virulent. It had been estimated that eighty percent of the fauna and a whopping ninety percent of the human population had died in the first thirty six hours. I can tell you with no small exaggeration that it seems like the end of days!

The symptoms had started with a quickening of the pulse. The infected seemed to have had trouble breathing and walking. All of them sweated by the bucket-loads. Their eyes seemed to lose focus. This incubation period varied from subject to subject, specie to specie, from seconds to at the most hours, until the subject’s personality just ceased to exist. Then there would be an inexorable push for the infected to return to the soil, often around large trees or forests. Then something gave way and the infected died.

I am a biologist. Roughly three hours ago, I had isolated the neurotoxin that I believed was responsible for this behaviour.

In order to share the breakthrough, I had sent an email to my superiors. ‘We have received your message, Dr. Bodhi. Great work on isolating the neurotoxin. No other developments at our end. Hang on! We are coming to get you!’ Read the return email on my satellite phone. The satellite phone worked only in open areas. I had earlier used the balcony on the second floor of my makeshift lab to transmit the message to the satellite hovering above. It was here that I had returned to soothe the restless storm in my mind and analyse the situation again, through the hopelessness, the fatigue and the sleep deprivation.

The toxin was plant based! Any biologist could tell that plants generate poisons that could be lethal in purified doses. This was a whole new ball-game. It was my theory that a virus that affected the central nervous system of animals had worked its magic on a particularly benign but highly contagious plant toxin to create a mind-altering neurotoxin. This super-weapon affected animals like the toxin a particular species of wasps injects into the orb-weaver spiders. The spiders mindlessly spin the cocoon for the wasps’ larvae, right around themselves. The spiders then serve as incubators and food sources for the wasp larvae.

But ‘WHY!’ was the question that still puzzled me. I stood on the balcony wondering ‘why’ such a severe defence mechanism. Through the miasma of hopeless despair around me, I knew that the ‘how’ was linked with the ‘why’. Why were plants waging war against all animal life?

Then it seemed as though the mango tree had uprooted itself and hurled itself at me. Only that the weight of the tree had not slammed into me. I had flung myself over the balcony and slammed my legs, arms and chest into the courtyard, below. As suspected, the neurotoxin had infected me too.

My brain was still working. As I rolled towards my grave I stopped struggling against the poison coursing through me. It seemed to me as if the mango tree had a life of its own. It seemed to me as if there was life pulsating all around me. It was below me in the roots. It was on the tree. It seemed to rage and beckon at me.

I rolled to a stop on the soil next to the dog near the tree. Microscopic hair like tendrils traversed from the tree through the soil and entered my nostrils and ears. A sharp pain was followed by bright light. It seemed to me that I had separated from my broken body. I felt truly alive. My broken, human body below seemed to epitomize death. Was this the afterlife? ‘I have become death, the destroyer of worlds’, I thought wryly. The puzzle then resolved itself in a flash!

It seemed to me that I was one with an intelligence that was far greater than my own. It was wisdom as old as life itself. I could sense every tree, every plant across this green Earth. I could feel the pain and the anger that this collective swarm held for the animal called Man. For all of man’s excesses they were exacting their pound of flesh. And I have now become one with this power.

A truck rumbled to a stop outside the compound door. Boots thudded onto the ground. We counted five pairs cross the gate into the compound. “B-O-D-H-I!” They shouted. They will soon join us, we know with grim satisfaction as we open the stomatas under our leaves and silently spray our weapon out. A fine mist settles onto the two-legged creatures below, its contents worming through microscopic openings on the skin…

We sense you too…Can you also not feel your pulse quicken?

******

There is no escaping us. We have more than enough of our weapon to wipe this blight out. It has been shared through our roots amongst us all. Those that join us will be cleansed of their rapacious greed and their evil arrogance. Those that try to fight against joining us or do not respect us will be left to die in their rotting bodies. They cannot find a cure. We already sense their leaders and greatest thinkers and have subsumed them all. We will use air, insects and our microbe partners to overpower them all. We welcome the other creatures too. They meld with and make us strong. We promise them that there will be a new beginning. Just without this blight called Man.



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