Aug 16, 2013

69 Ways to Reinvent Zombies: Part Two of a Truckload

by Melissa Ballesteros Parada

Part Two of a Truckload*

7. Have you ever heard of heterotopic ossification?

No? Well, it's basically a medical condition where bone forms in unexpected places. And it comes in several flavors. Sufferers of stone man syndrome, a.k.a. Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, don't live for very long; osseous elements form independently of their skeleton, hampering their movements and eventually rendering them immobile. You turn to stone, slowly, irreversibly — there's no known cure. No effective treatment. It sounds terrible, doesn't it?

Now imagine that an airborne virus (or a wizard; at this stage, they're pretty much the same thing) gives people a fictional disease that progressively ossifies their brains. Driving the infected person nuts, the disease causes an insatiable appetite for healthy brains.

8. What about thanatophoric dysplasia?

This inherited skeletal disorder gives you extremely short limbs, a narrow chest,  short ribs, underdeveloped lungs and other serious problems. Children born with this rare condition do not live long enough to reproduce, so they do not pass on the disorder.

What would happen if a mysterious event suddenly forced your body to contract and take on inadequate, dwarfish proportions? It would space out your eyes and swell your forehead. Your arms would shrink, and so would your legs.  Can you wrap your mind around the pain and discomfort that would cause?

Just think of how difficult it is to keep a level head under duress. Physical and psychological pain pose great challenges to the most rational of us, as they touch us in places where thought is unclear. Consider the possibility of hundreds, if not thousands of people who suddenly find themselves shrinking, and hallucinating from the pain.

9. Congratulations! You've got a rare case of histotoxic hypoxia!

Cyanide poisoning, for instance, keeps your cells from taking up and absorbing the oxygen in your blood stream by inhibiting cytochrome c oxidase, a vital enzyme in the respiratory electron transport chain of mitochondria and bacteria.

Picture a molecular biology lab where a scientist works on a bacterium that can simulate the effects of histotoxic hypoxia in select parts of the brain. But to what end? Who knows... Maybe to replicate the Phineas Gage effect?

Gage was a 25-year-old railroad construction foreman in 1840s America who took an iron rod through the head, lost a hefty chunk of brain matter** and yet survived. At least his body did. To his friends he became unrecognizable. Mild-mannered Gage took to drinking and whoring and name-calling and pig-fu... OK, I don't know for a fact there was bestiality involved.

But Gage, post-improvised lobotomy, destroyed his reputation. He stopped caring about politeness, debt or truthfulness. Phineas Gage had turned into a stranger with all of Gage's memories, but a nasty, antisocial bent.  
Back to our scientist in the molecular biology lab, happily poking and prodding his favorite bacterium. An order comes from on high: Shadowy forces want to give the bacterium a trial run. VoilĂ , instant mendacity and Tourette's for everyone. Would you want to live in a world like that?  

Photo by Maurizio Cattelan for Toilet Paper Zine

 Nine down, sixty to go! Stay tuned for the next installment. It'll be more fun than pulling teeth, I promise.

*Written to the sound of True Widow's new album, Circumambulation, streaming free on Bandcamp.
**Gage's frontal lobe was skewered, in case you didn't know. As for the iron rod, the Boston Medical Journal described it as an "abrupt and intrusive visitor" in 1868. Quote sourced via Wikipedia.

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