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Parasite

Part One

The name Parasite irritates me, for it is not what I am. I don’t harm my hosts. Well, not intentionally, anyway. The incident with the dog and the chocolate was quite accidental. It was a scrappy little scrounger; how was I supposed to know something as every day as chocolate could poison the little mooch? I miss dinosaurs. Nothing could kill them. Except for an asteroid, of course. But that killed almost everything. Luckily, I was in the body of a prehistoric roach at the time. It’s true, those things can survive anything. 

 

I’m the last of my kind, as far as I am aware. Not all of us had the foresight to hide in a hardy little pest during key catastrophic moments throughout history. Jimothy got caught in a human during an air raid in 1941. He was one of the good ones. His death hit me hard, and not just because it left me alone. If he’d stuck around, he’d have had a hoot borrowing a Beatle for a day or two. I certainly did. Although my meddling did cause an irreparable rift with the rest of the band. I’m not often sorry about my actions when I borrow a body, but I was sorry for that. And for the sick dog, I suppose. Yes, he survived - he was scrappy, after all. 

 

Alicia is my current host. She’s not in any pain. Hosts just fall asleep. Many report feeling incredibly well-rested and ready to take on all those things they’ve put off for so long. The most successful people on Earth started their path to success following a possession. Some things were great, some terrible, but they were all successful. So, again, I rebut the term parasite. 

 

Anyway, Alicia is a mess. She’s mean and conceited, and she hates herself more than the people who know her do. Her possession was an accident. She hit a hare I was quite happily hopping along in, and I jumped into her before the rabbit drew its last breath. She’s not even a bit sorry about that, more concerned with the dent it left in her car than the taking of a life. It’s not even a nice car. I’m desperate to escape her, yet part of me is reluctant to let go. The depths of her loneliness almost match my own. She’s horrid, yes, but she’s hurting. I could help. Or I could stand her in front of a moving vehicle and see if that tickles her empathy bone. With great power and all that. 

 

It’s a new feeling, however small it might be, wanting to help a host. I’m unsure what it is, why it’s surfaced now, and what to do with it. Do I stay and help or leave her to her miserable existence?

 

Options

Should they help?

Yes (100%)

No (0%)

Part Two

 

A large part of me wants to jump the moment I get a chance. I could take her to the forest and find a majestic owl or a sleek little fox. I could slink into their body and spend my time foraging, hunting, and sleeping. Animals live beautifully. Humans, on the other hand… Well, there is a reason I avoid them. But Alicia seems to be pulling me to her. And despite my millennia of experience, I find myself wanting to stay. 

 

She’s not evil. There are some that are. They are endless pits of darkness. Alicia is not that. She is a tangled web of conceit and self-consciousness. She is jaded, lonely, and confused. All the things she is supposed to be conflict with each other. Strong yet humble. Pretty but she can’t know it. Successful but with bags of humility. All that she is feels like a lie. So she’s not evil. She doesn’t know who she is. Maybe I can help her figure it out. 

 

We start at her place of work. It’s where she spends most of her time. The looks she gets as we enter the building are sharp enough to slash into her gut. So many feelings bubble up that I am momentarily overwhelmed by them.

 

Hey. What are you? What are you doing to me?

 

I look around for the voice so close to Alicia’s ear, but no one is nearby. In fact, people seem to be actively avoiding me to the point where I am fighting the urge to sniff myself. I can’t quite determine if they are all leaning away from me as I approach them or if I am seeing the world through Alicia’s eyes. That’s another thing I don’t like about humans. Their vision is distorted. They see the world as they believe it to be. It’s exhausting figuring out what’s real and what the human thinks is real.

 

Of course, borrowing a human has its perks - top of the food chain, speech, burger bars. But I also experience all their memories and residual feelings while they slumber. It’s a high price to pay. Alicia has been the highest cost so far, with little reward.

 

I sit at her desk and smooth down the dress that looked like all the others in her wardrobe. Grey, figure-hugging, high-necked, mid-length. Her shoes are shiny, black and incredibly uncomfortable. I wonder why humans seek out ways to torture themselves. I use Alicia’s memory to enter her computer password and open all the programs she needs to do her job. As I get to the emails, feeling a wave of frustration at the sheer number of them, the door bangs open.

 

“You,” the intruder shouts, “are late.”

 

I feel her body recoil, and then, that voice pipes up again.

 

Get out. Get out. GET OUT.

 

I shake my - Alicia’s - head vigorously. I don’t bother looking around me this time - I know no one is behind me. The voice is coming from within.

 

“It’s eight forty-five. I’m not late,” I state calmly.

Over an hour late. He’s going to blow his lid.

 

“You. Are. Late,” he says through gritted teeth. “Do it again, and you’ll be out. Don’t forget why you are in that chair in the first place. I’ll happily kick you out of it the second you give me cause.”

 

He storms out before I can respond. I notice Alicia’s heart is racing. Sweat is seeping through her dress. Why does she keep working here if it’s such a terrible place?

 

Where else am I supposed to go?

“Alicia,” I whisper, “You should be asleep.”

How can I sleep when a parasite has taken over my body?

 

I bristle at the word parasite. “Just rest, Alicia. It’ll do you good. I’ll take care of things here for a while.”

 

I’m not just going to check out while you ruin my life. Just get out.

 

“I don’t think there is anything I can ruin here.” I pause. Take a deep breath. “Give me a chance to help.”

 

Why? Why should I let you take the life I worked so hard to build? Why do you think you can do better?

 

“Because you are unhappy. And I’ve been around long enough to know what happiness truly is.”

 

Everyone is unhappy. If you’ve been around as long as you say, you should know that. 

 

She has a point. Most humans are unhappy - it’s one of the many reasons I avoid them. But some are as blissful as a sunbathing sea lion. 

 

“Give me a week. Let me try and show you what I know. What you could be.”

Options

Should Alicia let them help?

Yes - and she agrees to sleep (0%)

No (0%)

Yes - but she insists on staying awake (100%)

Part Three

 

I can hear her considering my offer. She calls me some horrific names; I am beginning to regret sticking around to help her.

 

Fine. One week. Although I’m not convinced, I’ve been me my entire life - I can’t possibly imagine what you think you can accomplish in a week. 

 

“I am looking forward to surprising you then.” I can do a lot in a week. She won’t recognise her life when she wakes up, and she’ll be grateful for it. I wonder again why I am taking the time to help her. I feel the soft glow of embers spread through me, well through Alicia’s body. But it’s not just me feeling her feelings. It is me generating this strange warming sensation. I’ve been alive longer than I can remember; I didn’t think I could experience something new at this point. It’s nice, if not a little unsettling.

 

“So you just need to go to sleep, Alicia. I’ll vacate your body in a week, and you’ll awake to a whole new, exciting, happy life.” 

 

Oh no. No. No. No. I’m not going to sleep. I’m not letting you take my body for a little joy ride, doing who knows what while I’m trapped in here. If you are going to do this, I am going to be there the whole time.

 

“That’s not how it works. Part of the whole experience is that you rest. You reset. Trust me on this.”

 

Trust you? You commandeered my body without my permission and then pipe up, telling me you can live my life better than I can. You are a condescending, overconfident thief, and I look forward to watching you fail. 

 

“I told you I’ve been around for…”

 

A millenia. Forever. Whatever. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve lived. You haven’t lived in my shoes. You can’t possibly know what it’s like; therefore, you can’t possibly know how to make anything better. You’re assuming I want to change. Maybe I am content with the way things are.

 

I am in her body. I see her memories. Feel her feelings. She is most certainly not content with the way things are. Would any of my other hosts have been as reluctant were they conscious during my stay? Probably. One thing I have learned over and over is that humans are both complex and simple. They are a mess, but they are the same type of mess. They all want the same things. They all do the wrong thing in their quest to achieve what they want and are too stubborn to change course. There are exceptions, of course, but those are hard to find.

 

“Fine. You can stay awake. But if you could stay quiet, that would be helpful.”

 

Ha. No chance. So, what’s up first, oh grand ancient being. Some meditation? Breathing exercises?

 

Her voice dripped with what I recognised as sarcasm. This is not going to be easy. Or fun. 

 

“Well, I’m going to storm into that angry man’s office and quit.”

What? You can’t!

 

“I’m in charge. I can do what I want.”

 

I need this job.

 

“You’d be surprised at how much you don’t need in this life if you stop to think about it.”

 

OK. Well, I worked hard to get where I am.

 

“And? You put some effort into something, so you have to stick with it? This place is awful. I can feel how much you hate it here. I know how much time you waste here. It’s time to let it go.”

 

I can hear her thinking again. I try not to listen this time; it seems wrong to eavesdrop when she’s not talking directly to me. Plus, she’s not very polite about me. It - surprisingly - hurts my feelings.

I can’t just quit. What would I do?

 

“Anything. Everything,” I reply. What a stupid question, though. What else would she do with her freedom?

 

And all my bills? 

 

“What about them?”

 

I thought you said you knew everything. They need paying, obviously.

 

“There’s that word again. Need. I’ve been in your apartment. Other than the roof, about 10% of the contents of your fridge, and some warm layers - not all of them, you could clothe the entire city with your wardrobe - and you’re all set. Do you really need the rest of it? And do you really need to be here to fund a place you are hardly ever in?”

 

I suppose not, no.

 

“Then can I tell that guy where to shove his job?”

 

She hesitates for a moment, her courage building. OK. But you have to repeat everything that I say.

 

She already has the speech prepared. I dig a little into her memories and see her practising in front of her bathroom mirror. A lot. The speech gets more scathing over time. I see snippets of her time here and completely understand why. He absolutely deserves every word, but this isn’t how it works.

 

“The whole point of me sticking around is so you can rest and reset. You taking over everything won’t allow you to do that.”

 

I’m not taking over everything. You’re in my mind - you can see how important this moment is to me. Let me do this one thing, and then I’ll take a backseat. Unless you decide to do something else outrageous. 

 

“I don’t have to listen to you, you know. Just because you’re conscious doesn’t mean you have any control.”

 

Oh, really? 

 

I can hear her mind whirring with an effort I’ve never experienced before. I’m so pulled into this tornado of concentration I don’t notice Alicia’s arm lift up, pull back, and swing. 

 

“Ouch!” The slap landed solidly on Alicia’s cheek. My cheek. This whole situation is so much more confusing when the host refuses to let go. I don’t know how she managed to take control of her arm, but she’s made her point. 

 

“Fine. I’ll say what you want me to. Then it’s my turn to work my magic.”

 

Fine.

 

I didn’t expect him to cry. She really went for his receding hairline, which I didn’t think was entirely relevant and was unnecessarily cruel. But I got to see more of who he was as a person through Alicia’s lens. Yes, human experiences are inherently flawed by their perspective, but even if only half of it was true, he deserved every word. 

 

Oh. My. God. That felt so good! What next? What next?

Options

What should they do next?

Pack a bag and jet off somewhere (25%)

Give away all of Alicia's belongings (50%)

Start living Alicia's childhood dream (25%)

Finale

Alicia takes to the donation of all her possessions better than I expected. Well, apart from the porcelain cat. We argue for over an hour over that.

 

“You don’t even like cats. Why hold on to it?”

 

Who said I didn’t like cats?

 

“Well, you apparently don’t like hares, so I figured that would transfer to other small, furry, defenceless creatures.”

 

Firstly, if you think a cat is defenceless, you’ve clearly never met one.

 

I shrug her shoulders. “Fair point.”

 

And why do you think I don’t like hares?

 

“I suppose mowing one down with your car was the first clue. The complete lack of remorse, too.”

 

Who says I don’t feel remorse?

 

“I’m in your mind, Alicia. I can see and feel everything.”

 

Your parasitic little powers must be on the fritz because you’re wrong.

 

I am about to chastise her for calling me a parasite - I’ve been nothing but helpful. But her accusation of me missing a feeling has me intrigued. I’ve never had a host awake before to tell me I’m wrong. Am I wrong? Have I missed things when I’ve borrowed other bodies? I dig deeper into her mind. 

 

Ouch! Whatever you are doing, it hurts! Stop!

 

“Ssh. Let me focus.”

 

I dig until I find a steel door buried deep in her mind. It’s barricaded shut, the little porcelain cat sitting on top of an old dresser, watching me. I move the items away from the door with a wave of my hand. The cat topples over and falls into an abyss beneath my feet.

No! What are you doing? Don’t open that!

 

I pull the door. It won’t budge.

 

“Let me in, Alicia.”

 

No. Just leave it. I’ll throw the cat away. Just leave the door.

 

“I can’t help if I don’t know what’s hidden away in there.”

 

AND WHO ASKED YOU FOR YOUR HELP? You took it upon yourself to take over my life. Did you ever stop to think whether or not I wanted your help? Thanks to you, I am jobless. I have maybe two months' worth of rent money. Then I’ll be homeless. But that’s ok, right? Because you’ve reduced all of my belongings to the point that I couldn’t fill a backpack. How is any of this supposed to make me happier?

 

There’s nothing I can say that will convince her that I am right. Not until I open that door. I pull again, harder this time. The door creaks open an inch.

 

No. Don’t open it. Please.

 

I pull again, and the door swings open. A tidal wave breaks over me. Guilt. Grief. Crushing loneliness. And fear. So much of it that it fills me with a darkness so complete that, for a moment, I lose my vision. But then the tide ebbs away, and my vision returns. Humans are terrible hosts. I thought I knew everything about their whirring minds, but then I find that they lock even more away. I don’t blame them - that was awful. So why do they hold onto it all? 

 

I touch my - Alicia’s face and find it wet with tears.

 

Why did you do that?

 

“Why did you have all that locked away in there?”

 

What else could I do with it?

 

“Feel it. Learn from it. Move on from it. When I first jumped into you, I was eager to leave. Humans are too complicated for me at the best of times, but you. I found you odious at first.”

 

She scoffed. I’ve been called many things, but odious is a new one. Why did you stay then if I was so offputting?

 

“I don’t know. A part of me insisted that I stay. I could feel the traces of your sadness, and, for some reason, I wanted to help.”

 

So, helping is not your usual thing?

 

“Not in the slightest. Hosts are supposed to be asleep when my kind take over. You are unique in that you were able to stay awake."

 

I like being in control. 

 

“Well, that’s obvious. But you can’t always be, Alicia. The things you can control are so small, so insignificant and likely to be thwarted by powers well beyond your control anyway.”

 

That’s terrifying. Thanks for that.

 

“Of course it is. But it’s also exciting.”

 

I don’t see how being destitute and giving up everything I’ve worked so hard for can be exciting for me. For you, yes, you can just leave and start over in someone or something else.

 

“So I won’t leave.”

You will. One week. You promised.

 

“No, I mean, I will leave eventually. But I won’t until you feel ready for me to.

I’m ready. Bye. Thanks for squatting in my mind. It’s been terrible. 

 

“You know I can tell you aren’t being serious, right?”

I should hope so. You created this mess. You can stay and fix it.

 

I nod resolutely. I don’t agree there is a mess needing fixing, but I know I can show her that this path is one of happiness. One of hope and endless opportunity. One day, she’ll see it. And then I can leave. Maybe I’ll jump into a cat next. Perhaps I’ll stick around for a bit afterwards to make sure she is doing okay without me. I’ll stay clear of her car, of course, but I’ll stay. Because I think she might still need that. I think I might, too. 

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