From the Journal of Common Human Viruses
A virus that spreads through the entire body, visceritus manifests in the heightened sensation of each organ within the body. Sufferers become immobilized, acutely aware of each organ’s function and feel within the body, weights that anchor the afflicted to the safety of their beds.
Visceritus most readily strikes when humans push upon the surface of their own skin. A self-generated virus, one produced by the human body, visceritus is thought to be a pushing back, an assertion of massed cells that scream to be heard. In the silence of their darkened rooms, sufferers have reported hearing a soft chant: an almost imperceptible call, we are here, we are here.
- Sensation that the body is a sea, a multiplicity of drowned weights
- Necessity of laying perfectly still, maintaining equilibrium, in a dimmed room until the body-sea subsides
- Phobia of rolling over in one’s sheets and crushing the liver, the lungs, the heart
- Subtle massaging of one’s skin to coax cells into complacency, into receding like waves
Maintaining bedrest. Reading calmly. Drinking only cold liquids to calm a red sea. Pulling one’s hands softly across a wide landscape of skin to quell the roil beneath, a heaviness of hail that if calmed will melt back to the inconsequence of water.
A virus that gains strength over time, accumulosis is an affliction of the entire body wherein the sufferer experiences, simultaneously, every age he or he has ever been. Manifests in an aging process that correlates not to the breaking down of the body across time, but to the slow collapse of the body beneath the increasing weight of every person the afflicted has been.
Accumulosis attacks the lymph nodes, spreading illness throughout the entire body. As a result, the virus is experienced as a widespread aching, a uniform weight. Those most susceptible are those who hide regret in the folds of their memory, who attribute ages to sorrow, who would sooner strike certain calendar years from the spiraled trail of their lineage.
- An internal cacophony, the sound of so many voices shouting
- The sensation that one’s limbs bear the weight of seventeen, twenty-five, fifty-two, thirty-seven; every age that mattered, every age once thought forgotten
- The sensation that one’s limbs bear the weight not just of ages, but of tailored sorrow: the weight of one missed phone call, one dropped water balloon, one intentional slam down the stairs, one broken toe; the weight of everything one has ever carried within one’s pockets, within the curvature of one’s heart
Accumulosis can run its course, leaving the body with a sudden weightlessness that stills the breath of the afflicted. Ongoing treatment to prevent recurrence includes sweat baths, diuretics, exercise, even exorcism. The virus can be chronic, however, a lingering infection that weighs down the sufferer. In the end, can be fatal if untreated, the sufferer buried beneath the weight at last.
Rotola, an unassuming but bothersome virus, leads the afflicted to constant destabilization upon the earth, as though the planet were tilting off its axis. Manifests in the sufferer feeling too unsteady to walk, travel, eat. In rare instances, rotola erupts as a three-day delirium, wherein the afflicted believes that he or she riding a rollercoaster at an amusement park.
Rotola is an infection of the inner ear, where the body maintains equilibrium and balance. Rotola travels into the inner ear on the movement of soundwaves, and as a result, those most susceptible include those highly sensitive to sound. Incubates for up to three days after a concert cottons one’s eardrums or after a car alarm breaks one’s predawn sleep.
- Sensation that a seat belt is needed to strap oneself into armchairs, couches, stools at kitchen tables
- Peering through one’s window blinds at the world outside, incredulous that people walk upright, that cars roll over firm ground
- Urgency to lay for days in a darkened room, hands gripping the mattress edges, locking oneself in place with scarves or neckties to avoid flinging oneself beyond orbit
Rotola often passes within days, much to the dismay of the few who experience delirium. For those, the ride abruptly ends. Residual effects can last a lifetime, however, including frequent tripping, falling out of chairs, and the unpredictable but brief sensation that one is in constant need of restraints.
IV. The Exopath
A mysterious but hard-headed virus, the exopath invades human skin and hardens the exterior of the body. Sufferers find themselves suddenly unmoved by their surroundings. Try as they might, the afflicted remain toughened to the world until the virus runs its course and their skin slowly softens.
The exopath works in symbiosis with stress, commonly infecting those whose immune systems are already compromised. The virus maintains a gradual onset, wherein the sinking of the sun each day slowly becomes less striking. Sufferers report that the virus fully sets in across the span of five days, after which the afflicted no longer view the sun’s sinking and close their blinds completely.
- Irritability, quick to anger; as the body’s skin slowly hardens, the growing pressure that the internal organs might implode
- Tendency to view pictures of owls, kittens, baby walruses, growing pandas; any attempt to soften the skin and dull the virus’s slow spread
- Tendency to venture to big-box stores in the middle of the afternoon and travel to the aquarium section, often sequestered in the back, to stare at one lone puffer billowing silently through stilled water
Listening to love songs. Watching James Stewart movies. Drinking hot tea, letting steam soak through pores. Taking hot baths, steam baths, sauna trips, jacuzzi runs. Letting the skin soften of its own accord across a span of days, with the help of steam and sentimentality, until the body slowly thaws and the sufferer finds oneself moved. Until the sufferer gazes upon a baby elephant and feels the heart softly thud. Until the sufferer at last opens the blinds and lets the melting sun pool across the floor.
Brief Writer’s Statement: From the Journal of Common Human Viruses
This project began as a collaboration of surprise. I’d been thinking about viruses – less tangible ones, the small sadnesses that infect all humans – but in the same way that they are elusive and someone inexpressible, I wanted theses viruses to be equally obscure. I told Josh to draw a series of creatures without telling him what I wanted to do with them. Once he drew them, I mapped a virus for each creature based on what the drawings suggested to me. I then researched the taxonomy of virus names and how they are classified, and I created the form of the piece from that research.
Anne Valente‘s fiction appears in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Ninth Letter, Redivider and Copper Nickel, among others, and her non-fiction is forthcoming in The Believer. She is the author of the fiction chapbook, An Elegy for Mathematics (Origami Zoo Press, 2013), and the forthcoming short story collection, By Light We Knew Our Names (Dzanc Books, 2014).
Joshua Finnell is the humanities librarian at Denison University in Granville, Ohio. His work has appeared in Library Philosophy and Practice, Journal for the Study of Radicalism, and New Library World.