Posted on October 1, 2008 by Flames
The Monster Madness begins here at Flames Rising with a new creature from author E. E. Knight (Fall with Honor, Dragon Strike). Knight brings us a nasty little creature called Cob’s Ladder, quite the scary parasite.
Stay tuned for more monsters from your favorite creators everyday this month here at Flames Rising.
Created by E.E. Knight
This dreadful little body-snatcher starts out as a spore form resembling a dandelion tuft with jellyfish-like tendrils that look as though they’re made out of spider-web. It will float on a breeze until it lands on vegetation, then wait for something to pass beneath or eat it vegetation. It seeks out brain tissue and nerve ganglia for food and camouflage. Early in its development, it relies on gravity or wind to move and find a host. If the spore doesn’t find a host in two to three days, depending on moisture, it shrivels and dies.
When it comes across a likely host it attaches itself and slips in through an orifice (ideally, by its perch being chewed) or by falling onto the prey and running down looking for cuts, sores, or ruptures in the skin by which it can enter the host. Once inside, it follows nerve tissue to larger nodes, and ultimately to the brain. Once in a host it lives as a parasite while it gets acquainted with the host’s nervous system, growing all the while. When it has developed enough it takes over the organism and imitates its actions, either to get among others of its kind or ensure that it falls prey to a larger organism, repeating the process, gradually growing into something that looks like an enlongated spiderweb. Thus it may move from leaf to rabbit to wolf to man, running under the skin from nerve to spine and spine to brain. This creature is always looking for the “bigger, better deal” in terms of brain tissue and size. It can survive a certain amount of rending and loss through bites and such in order to pass on to a larger predator.
The smarter the host, the smarter the organism, as it makes use of the prey’s brain tissue just like all the other senses, organs, and muscles. An organism carrying the parasite will behave oddly as it learns, and often have a swelling about the head where the central node is residing. In a human, it quickly becomes canny enough to camouflage the swelling with a hat or scarf.
The “takeover” process may take less than a day for a small organism like a mouse, or a week or more for a human being. A human will feel a strange lassitude (the parasite is drawing energy as it grows), a swelling or presence at the base of the skull, then confusion. Eventually the host becomes clumsy and incoherent as the creature takes over. The strange behavior will be attributed to everything from demonic possession to a brain tumor, depending on society and medical understanding. But in a day or two the symptoms will disappear and the host will become “normal” again (if a little odd, with either absent or inappropriate emotions and communication) – except for the swelling.
When it decides it’s among many others of goodly size, it has the host seek a high place. An effect like a fast-growing cancer will run the nerve ganglia of the host (the process kills it eventually) and shortly after death the host will sprout cottony tufts as more drifting spores emerge and launch themselves into the wind.
The host, unhappily, retains a good deal of its former consciousness throughout the process, though it can no longer control its own body.
It is possible to remove the parasite. Sometimes primitive pack/clan animals like rats or wolves or apes will chew at the swelling on a clan-mate’s head, destroying it, though if it has long inhabited the body the parasite may regrow from nodes on the spine. A skilled surgeon can remove it, but care must be taken to get enough of the creature out so regrowth is impossible. Of course, the most reliable cure is a good, old-fashioned, witch burning…
About E.E. Knight
National bestselling, award-winning author E.E. Knight is best known for his Vampire Earth and Age of Fire novels. He now resides in Oak Park, Illinois with his wife, three cats and piles of books in every room. He suspects the books are becoming self aware and developing defensive psychic powers that prevent him from doing long-overdue collection management. So when a Borg cube of old Ace doubles and yellowed DAW mass-market originals erupts on the west side of Chicago and shambles toward the used bookstores using firearm catalogs as treads, you’ll know who to blame. Find him online at www.vampjac.com or ridicule him through his blog at eeknight.livejournal.com.