Crud by Phil Monroe
The Crud was a tiny bit of cosmic dust. It came out of nowhere, sailing along on the wind, borne through the tall pines of Pebble Beach. The Crud was similar in form, to a number of other retroviruses. It was composed of two strands, made of ribonucleic acid, which held its genes. Somehow, these viral genes stored its hereditary history. These RNA strands also boasted a capacity for other wondrous powers. Some of these powers included a potential, which seemed to resemble an ability to think and plan. And it had a very nice covering shell, which also included a number of astonishing features. What exactly was it? This topic had, for years, caused a heated debate within the scientific community of Earth. One segment of the scientific community asserted that viruses were not alive. Those researchers held that viruses did not fit the definition of life. The other side was adamant that viruses were obviously alive, as these germs could reproduce, spread, and cause infinite numbers of infection and death. It seemed insanely preposterous to these doctors, that an innate object could seize control of a cell’s nucleus, fire out copies of itself using the mechanisms of the invaded cell, and then perform ordered havoc upon their host. The debate had reached a relative stalemate, about the time that The Crud came along. Most scientists had more or less agreed, that the definition of life would have to be changed. The new paradigm suggested that the very definition of life could be summarized by a simple definition: An object is alive, if it can replicate.
All this meant nothing to The Crud. In its own way, the virus was quite proud of itself. It had evolved spectacularly, and was the ultimate achievement of its family. Its genetic history allowed it to examine all that had made it what it was. It had originated from the great pandemic of bird influenza, which had made the jump to human beings. It came from the scourge of swine flu, which had also jumped to humans. It could further trace its origins to dog flu, which had also infected humans. However, The Crud was the one and only of its kind–an evolutionary combination of all three deadly influenzas. In their own primordial way, its ancestors had been seeking their favorite food–which was human beings. However, in its own way, The Crud’s top priority was a need for family.
Joseph Wurst was putting up Christmas tree lights on the eves of his home. The northwest wind was blowing from the direction of Santa Cruz, icy and strong. Nonetheless, Joe was sweating. “These blasted things are such a pain in the butt,” he murmured, as the stepladder tilted once again. He wobbled on, groping for the next colored bulb, and pulling a tangle of wires along with him. Then Joe heard the baby starting to wail, from her large playpen in the front room.
“All right. All right,” said Joe exasperatedly. “I’m coming. I’m coming. Cripes. Another diaper change, I suppose.” Joe climbed down carefully, step-by-step, until his feet met the grass. “Got to watch the old knees with these deals,” he said. Joe headed to the front door, pushed it open, and stood eyeing baby Tamatha. At that exact moment, The Crud lofted in on a gust of wind, passed over Joe’s shoulder, and by dumb luck, landed square on the baby’s face. Baby Tamatha was crying, and her tears washed The Crud down onto her lip. When Joe walked up and brushed her tears away, The Crud went into baby Tamatha’s mouth.
Joe lifted the little girl from her wood and cloth enclosure. “Oh, that’s a good baby,” he purred to the unhappy child. “Let’s get you changed, so that we don’t stink old Santa right out of the house tonight.” Joe thought that was a pretty funny remark. He laughed a bit at his own joke. But, oh gawds, he thought, turning his face distastefully to the side. The smell of that damned baby poop.
While Joe was changing baby Tamatha on the couch, The Crud was sliding down her tongue in a stream of saliva. The virus brushed against a throat cell, and a strange apparatus popped out of its shell. The apparatus looked like little feet, which grabbed hold of the cell, and began boring into it. The Crud was on its way. Within seconds, the boring feet had penetrated the cell’s membrane. Then, its little feet proceeded to pull The Crud right into the nucleus of the cell. The Crud’s RNA strands took over from there. The host cell now belonged to The Crud, and it began forcing the nucleus, to blast out replicates of the virus, by the tens of thousands.
Each replicate took hold of the first cell it encountered. The invaded cells began churning out Crud by the millions–then billions. Even as Joe closed baby Tamatha’s clean diaper, he noticed that she had stopped crying, and that her eyes were staring blankly at the ceiling. As he noticed this, baby Tamatha began to turn greenish in his hands. The Crud was moving so fast now, that its replicates were near to owning all of the baby’s skin. Joe put the baby into her crib, and stepped back a pace . He went for his cell phone, but before he could even dial for help, his disbelieving eyes watched in horror, as his beloved baby melted into a writhing mass of greenish mucus, mottled with brown, and buzzing like an insect swarm.
“Oh Jesus! Oh God!” he yelled. “What the flipping hell is going on here? This freaking can’t be happening.” He rushed toward what had been his little girl. But, suddenly, he felt violently ill. The overpowering waves of nausea, were not from the monstrosity which he had just beheld. He was sick. Really sick. And he wasn’t dreaming. It was happening to HIM! Joe fell onto the carpet. His weakening hand dialed 911. Even as he hit Call, Joe was staring at a hand growing greenish. And then he was swallowed up, more or less, as The Crud took all his cells, and reduced him to a mound of mottled mucus just like baby Tamatha.
The two mounds of ugly muck began creeping together. They melded, to become one greater mass. The Crud began to crawl across the floor, buzzing and churning. It was enjoying what was left of Joe and baby Tamatha. It crept under the Christmas tree, among the many presents, so gaily wrapped with colored paper and ribbons, to dwell in dormancy beneath the green branches.
Two sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to the 911 call. When they saw the open door, both sheriffs flipped the leather from their holsters, and drew their guns. They positioned themselves on either side of the entryway. One deputy bolted inside, followed by his partner. They went through the house, room by room, until the home was cleared. They had noticed the open cell phone on the carpet, but had not disturbed it. That was probably a matter for forensics. Nothing else was out of the ordinary, so they searched the woods outside. They came up empty. There was no one hiding in the trees, there was no path where a hasty perp might have made a getaway. Nor did they hear any suspicious noises. They met again at the door.
“What do you make of this?” asked one deputy. “An abduction? When‘s the last time we had a felony in golf city?” Pebble Beach was privately owned, and considered an unincorporated area. It was therefore under the jurisdiction of the County Sheriff’s Department, though its company employed private guards. The place was double-patrolled, and inhabited largely by well-to-do families
“Something is really off here,” said the first deputy. “Obviously. Whoever was holding that phone, dropped it without saying a word to the dispatcher.”
The two sheriffs went back into the front room. They were ready to call for backup, but one deputy knelt, to quickly check for bloodstains. The other carefully picked his way to the empty crib. He looked closer, and made an observation. “There was a baby here. There’s a dirty diaper on the sofa, and it looks plenty fresh.” He looked into the crib. “Jesus,” he said in partial-bewilderment. “There’s a new diaper lying in there. And it’s closed” He knelt for a closer look, and his hand briefly brushed the cloth of the crib. “This may be the work of a goddamned pedophile,” he was able to say. “Or pedophiles.” Then The Crud got him. He’d touched the baby’s enclosure. Bits of Crud which had shed from the baby, were mopping up bacteria on the cloth. When the deputy touched them, he was good for a better meal. Within seconds, the officer began to wheeze and gag.
“Oh my God,” he choked. “I feel really, really bad.” He fell to the floor, and his startled partner turned to assist him. But, the main mass of Crud under the Christmas tree, came out of dormancy, and jumped the deputy before he could take a step. He was immediately enveloped by the ghastly mass of mucus, and disappeared, screaming, “No!” The other deputy went green. He too, was dissolved and engulfed. The creeping crawling Crud, was taking over the world.
When the two deputies failed to respond to calls from their dispatcher, a virtual brigade of police descended on the house in Pebble Beach. They did not report back to headquarters. Another, bigger detachment of cops was sent in. They were not heard from again. Now, the Governor of the State was notified. There were suspicions of terrorism, perhaps gangsters–no one could be certain. The Governor called the National Guard and the FBI. As an afterthought, he put in a call to the Center for Disease Control in Georgia. Whoever took the call, had a hunch, and sent in biochemical units, equipped with the latest, cutting-edged equipment.
When these health workers arrived, they found empty military and police vehicles at the gates to Pebble Beach. They went in, yellow-suited figures with plasticized visors, ready for the worst. Incredibly, despite their protective suits, the first line went down. The virus was so small, that it worked through the molecules of their suits, and got them. The second wave of CDC workers fell back, but had the sense to take a soil sample into a glass jar, before they ran. The sample was rushed by jet to Atlanta. The contents were first tested robotically and behind thick glass, by placing a small amount of the soil sample with a lab rat. The rat disappeared before their eyes, turning into a rodent-sized glob of Crud. The scientists took another sample, and deep beneath the ground, examined the virus under an electron microscope. There was nothing to see. The Crud was smaller than the bandwidth of light. When the researchers realized this, they could only look around in stunned horror. It was the beginning of the end. The nightmare of nightmares was upon them. They wished each other a “Merry Christmas,” and said goodbye.
The creeping crawling Crud spread out very quickly after it gobbled up Pebble Beach. Next to go, was the Monterey Peninsula. Television and newspapers immediately picked up the story. Videos of it went viral on the Internet. The President spoke through all media outlets, and tried to calm the panicking millions. All to no avail. It ate the forests. It ate the fields. It spread out over the waters, and over the land. The viral mass sank to the bottom of the sea. It penetrated every nook and cranny of the bottom, infecting and assimilating every organism in its path. It killed other viruses, it killed bacteria, it killed the fish. The Crud spread out, multiplying exponentially in size and virulence. With every kill, the viral family assumed the genetic makeup of its victim. It absorbed all diseases in the world, and thus became more deadly with every passing second. It went into every underground bunker, even those designed against any attack. It slipped through the molecules of seals on any door or window–seals which had been so carefully constructed against such a scourge. It killed the President, and conquered America. Its victory was unlike that of The Beatles, and it killed the remaining two of them. It enveloped everyone, and every living thing. It completely covered the surface and seas of the world, with thick oozing muck. When every plane or jet ran out of fuel, it got them too. It went through the molecules of every can and jar of food on the planet. There was nothing of organic composition left. Even the astronauts in the space station, eventually starved to death, or committed suicide. When nothing was left alive, Earth looked like a giant dripping ball of emerald sputum, glistening in the sunlight of deep space. The Crud was master of the world. There was no life left, except for the great communal family it had created. The Crud was many, yet one. The scourge of scourges rose up in humongous triumph, rejoicing in its power.
And then it died.
I was an organ grinder man, with up to six trained monkeys. This show started out at Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey. Through many strange twists, the show ened up a concession with the California Dept. of Parks and Recreation. We advanced, and ended up holding the ground in front of California State’s Monument Number One – The Custom House. I’m not in the Salinas area. I’m in the Monterey Peninsula area. I didn’t graduate from Humboldt State University. I graduated from University of California at Santa Cruz. I’m a “Banana Slug,” and I’ve got a T-Shirt right out of “Pulp Fiction.” LOL. My website still offers various off-beat exotic animal connections, and odd treasures for sale. You can watch one of my former monkeys, picking a guy’s head, to barrel organ music. This is without-a-doubt, a must-see item. I’m still around, giving Milt Iskra indigestion, and generally just working on short stories, and The Great American Novel. That 36-year run as a California concessionaire–“Jack Tar–The Seagoing Organ Grinder with a Monkey–was pretty rugged. It ended in July of 2006. The three remaining monkeys, Goldie, Wendy, and Harpo, were given to a PET-approved sanctuary near San Antonio, Texas. Harpo lived 13 months, but died from cancer. Wendy died from old age. My beloved Goldie, a brown capuchin–the nicest little guy–was my last and best job of training. He is still alive, and doesn’t seem to have forgotten me. After the show was over, it didn’t seem fair for the monkeys to remain in their confined area. So, they got their retirement. It’s not a perfect world, but some of us try to do our best. That was one, long run, friends.
I’m a published writer. I have three or four articles with major fishing magazines. A screenplay I wrote, placed in the top five, of an annual contest offered by the Monterey County Film Commission. I’m doing short stories at this time, under the pseudonym, “H. Gurdy”, and struggling with The Great American Novel.