The framed picture

The definition of a symbiotic relationship is:

"A close, prolonged association between two or more different organisms of different species that may, but does not necessarily, benefit each member"

The definition of a parasite is:

"An organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host's expense"

Just because two organisms have had a symbiotic relationship for a long time, a sudden change in conditions can force one of the organisms to become a parasite. The mutual benefit is gone, and the organism will become parasitic, taking what it needs from the host no matter the cost.

Jack was a young hopeful, with a keen interest in science. He had finished university, studying human biology at a decent university. He was one of the lucky ten graduates who had been chosen to go on a tour of Professor David Jones' labs. David was an older man, whose work was considered pioneering when it was published. David specialised in parasitic organisms and, more specifically, their uses. Jack had looked up to David when he was younger. He had always wanted to be like David, a scientist respected and acknowledged around the world. David hadn't published or even talked about his work for around 7 years now, and Jack hoped that during this tour, he would find out what his big, secret project was. And to some extent, he did.

The group was mostly made out of university students studying human biology, and one reporter who had essentially sneaked on to get a good story. The other important people on the trip were Rebecca and John, two of Jacks closest and oldest friends. The professor had arranged transport for the group, as the location of his workplace wasn't really common knowledge. After a fairly long bus journey from the university, the group arrived at the lab.

The building was considerably larger than Jack had imagined. The drab walls and tinted windows seemed to fit perfectly with the dark clouds visible overhead. This didn't exactly set the tone Jack was hoping for, but he didn't really care. He was going to meet his childhood hero, it didn't matter where or what the weather was like.

The group were greeted by the tour guide, a tall man wearing a dirty lab coat. The way he spoke made it obvious to the group that he did not want to be there. He spoke with a bland voice, although not uninterested. He sounded very interested about the work the lab was doing, but almost as if he didn't want to be involved in it.

"Just because you like something, it doesn't mean you want to be doing it every day" Rebecca whispered as the tour guide talked about new discoveries they had discovered.

Two other men appeared behind the tour guide as he was talking about parasites found in marine life. He announced that the group would be split into three groups, and each would be shown an exclusive experiment or research. They would then meet again at the lobby, where they would finally meet Professor Jones.

This was extremely exciting for Jack. While the tour had so far been vaguely interesting, he knew this was the moment they would see the exclusive research the labs had been working on. However, he was disappointed that he would not be able to see what the other two groups were seeing. Sure he could talk to Rebecca and John, but it wouldn't be the same as seeing it himself. He decided he would sneak away and see everything by himself.

Jack was placed in group one with two other students. John and Rebecca were placed in group two, and the reporter and three other students were placed in group three. A depressed looking man led group one along a smelly corridor, explaining that he was leading them to a waiting room while the experiment was being prepared. Jack took the opportunity to slip away from the group. The leader didn't even notice, and the two other students didn't care enough to tell him. He walked back towards the room everyone was split up in. When he got there, it was just a case of choosing where to go next. His memory allowed Jack to narrow down his options to two doors, although he couldn't remember which group went through which. It was a heavy, black door he decided to go through first.

The door opened without much struggle. After around two minutes of aimlessly walking down corridors, he saw an old sign that read 'Viewing Room'. It seemed only logical that this is where the group went, so he began to follow the signs. They led him to an old wooden door that seemed to be falling into disrepair. It was not locked, and Jack found himself standing in a room with a large window making up one of the walls. It was rather dark, and Jack couldn't really work out what he was seeing. After around a minute of thinking, the lights turned on. And immediately, Jack wished they hadn't.

He was standing in an extremely dirty white room. There was a table with old papers on it, although most of the paper was on the floor. The room looked as if it the occupants had rushed out quickly, and had not returned. The window mad multiple cracks in it, but they did not obscure what was on the other side. It was almost like a mirror image, the room seemed to split perfectly in half, although the contents of the other room were different in an extremely disturbing way. The room had splats of dark, crusty blood, presumably coming from a body pushed face down in a corner. However, that wasn't the worst part of the room. In the centre of the room was the reporter.

She had her legs chained to the floor, so that she could move around fairly easily, but not enough to allow her to escape. Not that there was anywhere to escape to. The room seemed to be devoid of any door or point of entry. Jack could only watch in horror as the events unfolded. He shouted for help, but there was no response. He shouted to the woman, but it appeared as though she could not hear either. The cracks in the glass seemed to be the only option, and tried to smash it. He tried pushing it, throwing the table at it; he even punched it until his fists began to bleed. None had an effect. Suddenly, a loud voice came from speakers hidden in the room.

"Test number thirty four. The subject one has been stimulated to escape, while subject two has been stimulated to survive. We have provided necessary equipment and we hope for a more definitive conclusion than last time. Stimulant gas is being released now, and the experiment is being recorded for later examination. Begin test"

The reporter had clearly heard the voice too, and looked up at what Jack assumed was a camera. She appeared to be more alert now, and a look of terror crossed her face when she saw the corpse. She spun desperately, eyes scanning everything for a way out. Then she picked up something Jack had missed. She held it in her hands as if it would turn against her at any moment. She turned to the glass and Jack saw she was holding a long, wide knife. It had a slight red tinge to it, which Jack decided not to think about. She swung the knife towards the glass, bit it just bounced off with a loud bump. The reporter looked confused and shocked when a look of pain crossed her face.

She fell to floor in agony, clutching her shoulder. Tears streamed down her eyes as she writher around on the floor. Blood began to seep through her clothes around her left arm. Jack looked in horror and realised that he must do something. He began to punch the glass again. Blood streamed down his knuckles, but he didn't care. Something awful was happening to another human being, and he had to help them.

"To stop it, you must use the knife"

Jack froze and looked through the glass gingerly. The reporter crawled over to the knife. Jack screamed at her that she mustn't do it, that he would help her escape. But she did not hear. Rooms like this were intended for people to watch and listen without being seen or heard. And that was all he could do.

The woman picked up the knife and immediately began stabbing at her own shoulder. Blood poured from her arm and she cut through her own flesh. Her lips began to bleed due to her biting them so hard. Jack knew the pain must have been intolerable, but she just...kept...stabbing. She screamed and screamed until no sound came from her mouth, only faint groans and whimpering. She fell down and stopped moving.

"Even with preliminary stimulus, subject two was still not able to escape subject one"

Jack turned and heaved. A woman he had talked to mere hours ago was now lying opposite him with her arm almost detached. He collapsed and wept. His hands were bloodied and painful, but he barely noticed. After around five minutes of silence, he heard a loud bang. Then strange groans. Then a sound he couldn't even describe. He got up and wiped the tears from his eyes. The sound was coming from behind the wooden door.

He backed away slowly, as the noises reached a point where they were just behind the door. They then grew more manic. Whatever was on the other side of that door, it wasn't human and it wanted to get in. It scratched and banged until a hand punched through. Jack looked in terror as a long, white, shaking hand grasped and shook. The hand shook so much that wood from the door cut into the arm, but no blood appeared. There were cuts and holes, but no blood. Jack turned and pushed against a rusty metal door on the opposite side of the room. He seen it earlier but after a light shove discovered that it was difficult to open, but now he knew it was his only option. He pushed and shoved at the door desperately, as the noises grew yet again more manic and deranged. The door finally gave, and Jack found himself in yet another corridor.

He ran and ran, not caring where he was going. He knew he had to find Rebecca and John and he had to get out of this terrible place. He ran until he physically couldn't any more, and even then he still heard noises behind him. He stumbled over to a wall to catch his breath. He looked up and saw a large, dark sign. 'Professor Jones'. Jack knew this must be where his hero was. Even after everything he had seen, he still had a sliver of hope that David would not know what was going on, and that he would help him escape.

Jack walked over to the door under the sign. He summoned his courage, and pushed it open. Although he didn't really know what to expect, it certainly wasn't this. The room was dimly lit with papers and tables in random sections of the room. There was a single source in the room, a large candle placed on a table in the centre. At the back of the room sat David Jones. I was difficult to see what he really looked like but Jack could see that he had grown and beard and was losing some of his hair.

"So you've finally made it, Jack" he said in a low, raspy voice. "I'm sorry you had to see all of this, but there's not much I can do about that now" he said as he stood up and walked towards Jack.

"What's going on here? I've seen...I've seen things nobody should have. I just...don't understand what's going on" Jack said in a frightened, confused tone.

"Why I've just been doing my job. I research parasites. You see Jack, I've found something huge. Most of humans have a parasite living in's...networked itself in our nerves. I don't know how or when, but at some point, it's got into our bodies and attached to our nerves. It speeds up our reaction time by a few milliseconds, and in return it takes some nutrients from our blood. Quite a relationship we have..."

Jack sat down in one of the chairs strewn across the room. He waited for around two minutes before looking back at David.

"I suppose you want to know what's going on here then. Well, you can't really do any tests on the parasite without human test subjects. That's why you're here. Everyone on this trip has the parasite, and we need them for testing. You were separated because we wanted to test different things. That reporter you saw was an experiment to see which organism would survive if the parasite tried to escape. But that's not the most exciting test. Those things you ran into earlier? They're what you get when the symbiotic relationship breaks down. The parasite uses the nerve cells to control the movement of the human host. Everything dies apart from movement. The parasite sucks up all the nutrients from the body. The human withers away, leaving only a husk. I realised this thanks to my great grandparents. See that framed picture? It's the first picture of one of these husks."

Jack looked over at the picture. He saw what appeared to be a man standing by a tree, with something pale standing behind him. Jack was entranced by the picture, but was snapped back to reality when he heard banging against the doors.

"They followed me, shit; they've followed me back here. You have to stop them and you have to help me find my friends and-"

"There's a reason you didn't run into any employees when you escaped your group. There aren't any. The work was becoming too dangerous, and so it's just me and a few scientists who are left. Nobody can help us now. I run this place pretty much by myself, it’s a lot better that way. Your friends, they were called Rebecca and John right? Came in with you? Well, they’re right outside that door”

David motioned for Jack to come and see what was on his computer screen. Jack saw that the entire facility was under surveillance. David pressed a few buttons and a live feed from the camera outside of the room appeared. Jack looked in shock as two pale, hairless, animals crashed and banged against the door. One of them turned towards the camera and screamed. And Jack recognized it.

It had no eyes or nose, and it moved around with horrible co-ordination, but he still recognized it. John was standing outside, with Rebecca furiously beating against the door.

"What do we do now" Jack said in a quiet, terrified tone.

"I bolted the door shut while you were thinking a minute ago. I knew they'd come, because they...they remember your smell. Ever since they escaped, they've been heading towards you. They will chase you forever if they have to. I bolted the door shut while I was explaining everything, but it won't hold for much longer. It appears research will die with me. Although...that is probably a good thing."

The screams began to get even louder as the hinges became weaker. They had around ten seconds before the husks broke in and...Jack couldn't even think about what they would do.

"So what do we do. I don’t want to see what the parasite has done to my friends again. I just...I can't bear to see those...pale fucking faces again" Jack said in a more manic tone.

David looked over at Jack, and then to the candle.

"Now...we blow out the candle"