Short Story – My Transgenic Nightmare

Here’s an attempt at epistolary science fiction horror flash fiction (that’s quite a mouthful). I haven’t been able to find a home for it in the greater interwebs, so I’ll post it here.


by JM Williams

The following letter was discovered in the room of a Baltimore hotel, some time after the Dragon Crisis was finally resolved:

I must apologize to the world for what I have done. And to the dead, who lay scattered across what was once a bright and lively neighborhood. I have done many things in my time on this Earth, many of them bad, but none so reckless and damaging as this. I write this confession with literal blood staining my hands.

It was an innocent experiment. Driven by a sense of wonder for the power of science. We never intended for things to go so awry. Who could have expected it? And who, given the chance, wouldn’t want to recreate those fantastic creatures of their childhood dreams?

The origins of dragon myths have long been debated. The image of the dragon is almost a human universal, spread across the globe in the form of Asian serpents, European flying lizards, and South American gods. They were something etched in the deepest corners of our collective psyche.

One prominent theory was that they came out of our evolutionary fears. Studies of vervet monkeys showed those creatures to have heightened anxiety about certain types of predators—specifically lions, snakes and eagles. If you fuse those three creatures together, does the hybrid not resemble a dragon?

So the theory goes, by the time our small ancestor monkeys in Africa evolved into humans, the creatures already had formed in their heads a mythical predator that haunted the ground, attacked from the trees, and ruled the skies. The concept of the dragon has been with us since the very beginning of our species.

Modern science has allowed us to manipulate life in ways even my father’s generation alone could imagine as science fiction. But the technology exists now—CRISPR and other gene editing tools—to allow us to combine one creature with another. We to tried to create that very hybrid in our labs, and I was given lead of the team who were to make this first attempt. Of course, we never expected it to work. The technology for gene-mixing was amazing, but still young and volatile. No one had been successful in creating a chimera like this. It was all just theory, but we tried our hands at it anyway.

And we succeeded. Beyond our wildest dreams.

Snake, lion, eagle—fused together to create a flying, reptilian beast.

At first our specimens were small, about the size of a country dog, like a retriever or sheep hound. The males were also sterile. And yet, instead of ending our work there, instead of being satisfied in our god-like success, we continued, pressing on to make our creations more like the magical beasts in our fantasies. We tweaked the genome to make them larger. We solved the sterility problem. Then things quickly escaped our control.

Our selection of subjects for genetic material had been flawed. We had not paid attention to the real-life peculiarities of our genetic sources. One of the snakes we chose was venomous, a trait the dragons inherited but mutated in a most vicious way. The new creatures were able to both produce more venom and eject it from their reptilian mouths with great force. The toxin was so powerful, even skin contact could be fatal.

We discovered this when one of the aggressive males spat into the face of my assistant, Alan Cross. The venom, which we learned contains a powerful cytotoxin, caused his skin to break down, as if rotting away in real time. It also utterly destroyed Alan’s eyes. But that was only the immediate result. Once inside his body, the toxins began to eat away at his internal organs. Alan was in so much pain, and there was nothing we could do to help him. He died within hours of exposure.

That should have been enough to convince a sane person to cease these experiments. But we had all left sanity aside long ago in favor of fantasy, and perhaps fame.

In addition to our failure to address the creatures’ venomous nature, we had also failed to consider the breeding conditions of our DNA hosts. The dragons inherited the friskiness of their cat ancestors and the instinctive behavior of gathering in prides, but not the drive for males to kill the young of rivals in their conquests of territory and mates. No, the dragons mated often, and with any willing partner of the opposite sex, completely without rivalry or jealousy. They were the ultimate Communists, sharing everything, an entire race of creatures cohabitating and cooperating.

It was the Red Scare, but far worse than real Communists could have ever hoped to be. It was a threat which waited behind every corner, dropping from the sky without warning. They killed without hesitation or remorse. And still we refused to see the clear and present danger.

As should have been expected, the dragons broke loose of the lab. In their reptilian prides they waited and plotted, until on day, in unison, they sprang upon their handlers and escaped our laboratory. This lab was a secret facility, hidden in the basement of a squat and uninteresting building, located in the middle of residential and commercial district in downtown Baltimore. Upon their escape, the beasts flew off and hid themselves away like rats among the surrounding rooftops and attics and atriums.

We should have called in the army then and there to hunt the creatures down, but the company refused to risk their stock values or risk the inevitable lawsuits. So they sent the staff, armed only with tranquilizer guns—so as to not harm their investments—to bring the dragons all back to the lab. Of course, that was an absurd plan. But we wanted to believe it possible to quickly undo the harm we had caused. We did as we were told.

For me, I did not realize the horrific truth of what we had done until I was with a team of ten, on night shortly after the escape, hunting for dragons. We were climbing the atrium stairs of a nearby office building and heard a shrill, heartbreaking scream from the upper floors. The atrium had tall, arcing beams, which met at the underside of the six-story roof, creating an attic-like catacomb of small tunnels and spaces. Perfect for the beasts to conceal themselves in.

Until that moment, the creatures had resisted attacking people, had favored concealment over aggression. But an animal can only go so long without a meal. That night the moon was about full, and shone in through the clear glass wall of the building, filling the atrium with a white glow as we ascended a set of stairs open-air stairs. We were dressed in hazmat suits, thus necessitating the privacy of night so as to not cause a public panic. We could barely see ten feet or more in front of us. I remember that scream, how it made my heart pound in my chest, and made my breathing so heavy that the plastic faceguard of my suit all but fogged over.

We rushed to the top floor, only to find a group of the dragons feasting on the corpse of a young woman, her entrails scattered across the floor. We would later learn that she had been working late on an important project. Oh, how that poor woman’s driven and hard-working personality had been so ironically turned against her. No one should have been there so late at night. Crowded around her body, I could identify a clutch of young whelps, being fed by what I recognized as one of the adult males from the lab. Only days from their escape and already they had birthed a new generation.

The male turned to us and let out a soul-shattering screech. One of the handlers beside me raised his tranquilizer gun but could not tame the trembling of his hands enough to get his gloved finger around the trigger. The adult male charged us, spitting his venom wildly as we fled. Our suits protected our bodies well enough, but not our spirits. Only then did I realize the box of chaos we had so willingly opened.

We tried to flee to the lab, but the beasts, hundreds of them, took to the air above the surrounding streets. The corralled us in on all sides except one, a small alley that could only fit one of the hazmat-suited team members at a time. To make matters worse, several innocent people were outside as we came out of the building, and they too, were caught in the dragons’ trap. We fled down the alley, as acidic hellfire rained down on us from above. One young man, no more than a teenager, was grabbed by two flying beasts and pulled into the sky. I cannot forget the sound of his screams.

The alley ended at a main thoroughfare, across which were the doors to an old hotel. We pushed our way through the doors, as dragons burst through the glass around us, clawing and hissing and spiting their vile toxins. Making for the main stairs, I glanced back to see a pile of bodies writhing in the streets, the creatures feasting on the dead, and the living. Hundreds of people dead, in mere minutes.

Myself and a few members of the control team have survived. We made it to the third floor and barricaded ourselves in a room, piling furniture against the windows and doors. Here we remain. Trapped. It’s all our fault. My fault.

Every hour we are assailed by the ravenous howls of our hunters, calls that are like the shrieks of damned harpies. Outside, we can hear the police firing their guns futilely at the flying horde, and the screams of those to bold to run away. Someone looking at their phone says the army has been mobilized and will be here soon. Not soon enough.

The sights and sounds outside are terrible, but worse are those stuck inside my head. The scream of the young man in the alley. The mess of bodies dispersed along the road in front of the hotel, the carnage of which I saw with my own eyes. The stench of death seems to filter in through every crack and crevice in this old building.

I feel I have earned this torment. I wonder if the others here have some dark shame that makes them feel the same. They do not know what I have done, and I don’t think I have the courage to tell them. Not while we are still living through this hell.

All I can bring myself to do is write this note, on a pad of hotel stationary, so that those who come to sort out the holocaust in this city know I am ashamed and repentant. I only hope you can do that which I could not bring myself to do—destroy these beautiful, unnatural creatures.

Do not hate science because of the mistakes of a few, foolish men. But let this old stone sanctuary stand as a memorial, an eternal warning to not let the sirens of your dreams drive you into the rocks.

Condemn me if you wish. If I survive this, I will stand willingly to face your judgement. But also pray for those lost here. They did not deserve the fate I have delivered them.                                            

With My Deepest Apologies,

Dr. David K. Morley

Thanks for reading!


11 thoughts on “Short Story – My Transgenic Nightmare

  1. oh wow this was good JM. compelled by ambition and aided by science, human compassion prevented him from destroying the defective creatures. love this sentence that seemed to connect every part of the story “But we had all left sanity aside long ago in favor of fantasy, and perhaps fame.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is not the best example of the form, but good practice. I’ve become more interested in the epistolary format recently. The novel I am currently working on is a very complex epistolary-sort of book. It features letters, a translated text, and translators notes in the form of footnotes (which add a whole meta layer to the narrative). It’s called The Fierce, and the first chapter is featured in the anthology I just put out. I could send you a copy, if you’d like.


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