I don't know how a lot of you feel about 'creepypasta' stories. That's a creepy story that gets cut, pasted, and shared with others. I wrote this last year and never did anything with it, but I came across it by accident and decided to share. It's a casual and light-hearted attempt to give people the creeps, sort of like the modern internet equivalent of ghost stories around the camp fire. So, enjoy!
If fish have nightmares, I know what they dream about. They dream about Cymothoa exigua, also known as the “tongue eating louse.” It’s a parasite, a kind of tiny crustacean. The creature enters a fish through its gills, and attaches itself to the base of the tongue. Tiny claw-like legs dig into the tongue, choking off the blood supply. The muscles of the tongue atrophy and die, and the tongue rots away and is eaten by the parasite.
What’s unusual about Cymothoa exigua is what happens next. It stays latched onto the sinew and tendons of the tongue, still getting nutrients from the blood of the fish, and actually functions as the fish’s tongue. The fish continues to eat normally, and the lifespan of the fish does not appear to be affected by the presence of the parasite. Whether the fish’s quality of life is affected is unknown. It seems to me that even a fish must be cognizant of such an invasion. I can’t imagine any creature not knowing that its tongue has been replaced by a parasite.
While there is only one parasite that can eat and replace the function of a part of the body, there are multiple parasites that can, subtly or completely, influence the actions of the host. The Guinea Worm starts off as a microscopic egg, floating in the water. It enters into the pores of the skin and creates a large, burning blister. The desired effect is to get the host organism to dip the infected appendage into water to cool it. Once this is achieved, the worm pushes itself to the surface and releases a putrid white fluid. The fluid is full of millions of eggs, thus contaminating the water.
Other parasites are more drastic. Gordian worms control the mind of their hosts directly. They live in water, and infest most damp areas. It’s unknown how they enter their host beings, but they enter their hosts as larvae. They grow to many times their original size, shedding their skin many times while inside the body of their host. When they are ready to return to the water, the parasites then infect the mind of the host organism, compelling it to drown itself. Science is unable to explain how the parasite is able to accomplish this. Once the host is drowned, the worm then exits through the mouth or the anus. Their ability to escape the body of their drowned host has proved quite inventive in some cases.
The thing that these parasites that manipulate their hosts have in common is a desire to return to their element of origin. They are born in water, their hosts take them out of this element, and they must return to water in order to reproduce. As we all know, there really is no stronger drive than the drive to propagate our own species. So, evolution has given them ways to find their way back to their element.
To go back to the issue of the cymothoa exigua, one was recently found off the coast of the United Kingdom, in the mouth of a snapper. This was unusual, because the creatures are usually found off the coast of California. In Puerto Rico, a lawsuit was filed by a person who claimed to have been poisoned by eating a fish with the parasite inside of its mouth. This lawsuit was dismissed, as it was determined that people who eat fish likely consume cymothoa exigua all the time and never realize it, and that the parasite was not harmful to humans.
In 2008 a young man by the name of Anthony Tatum was found dead, floating face down in the Colorado River in Needles, California. The police ruled his death an apparent suicide. There was no note, but there was no struggle. Witness said they saw him jump off the Colorado River Bridge of his own free will. It was as open and shut as suicide can be. Except, Tatum’s mother swore that her son did not commit suicide. She swore that he was a happy, well adjusted young man. He had a job he liked and a girlfriend he loved, and that he’d never exhibited any signs of depression of mental illness. He had no history of drug or alcohol abuse. His girlfriend too came forward and confirmed all of this too, that Anthony had been a content, normal person. Most people speculated that he must have had a secret life that no one knew about. Maybe he’d had outstanding debts to someone who would do a much worse job on him than he did on himself. No one really knows for sure. Everyone expected some dark secret from his past to emerge, but none ever did.
The autopsy confirmed the girlfriend’s and mother’s statements that Tatum had been drug-free. There were no illicit substances found in his system. The only damages done to his body were the massive fractures in his skull and facial bone structure when his head hit the rock as he jumped off the bridge, and the broken right arm and leg. Most people assumed that these occurred as the current took him downstream.
Most people also assumed that his missing tongue was due to the head trauma. It had probably been caught between his teeth and bitten out when his head and face hit the rocks. That was the only logical explanation. Everyone just assumed, when it never turned up, that something in the water must have eaten it.