For my STEAM project I wanted to go back and look at the immune and lymphatic systems again and help myself understand it better by presenting it in a narrative structure that follows the short life of a monocyte in a body afflicted by viral infection. Learning to explain the systems at work here in context of a story helped me understand it more clearly and I hope it gets those points across.

It was a solemn, heated, and yet coldly efficient place he was thrust into. Where there was once simply an ancestor stem cell, he and millions like him were birthed in this canal of bone. In no time he was swept up in the motion of the others, pushed and pulled along a path he had never known. Pressed against their cage, they made it past the seas of marrow that had given them everything.

On his side stood an elder cell, rushing just as fast through these new passages, although she must have been days old. “Ye look outta the loop, junior. Don’t know where ye are?” She spoke to him, eliciting a silent nod.

“Of course not, why should ye? We’re in lymphatics, see? Active defense, when the folks up top with the mucous and all that garbage can’t take care of things, we clean house. They’re just too broad with it, our job is to be on target and professional. That’s a node there, let’s move. Stick with me and move when ye hear the signals, you’ll know when it happens.” 

The old cell pressed itself against the wall of flesh, letting the youngling follow its lead. There they waited with countless others, waiting for their call, a signal to their intuition.

The old one can’t take the silence. “You’re not like me, eh? Let me guess, lymphocyte? No, wait, monocyte? Don’t tell me I can get this. You have to be one of ‘em, ye don’t got the bits like I do. Granules and such”

“I don’t know what I am, elder. Please let me be.” He mutters.

“Now now, don’t have such a long face on. At least you’re not one of them neutro-phil-fellers. Those ones are the real nuts. I mean, we all have our job but they’re ruthless. Like they were built to destroy these things. They’re everywhere too, don’t tell them I said nothing. Me, I’m basophil. A bit of a messenger, I don’t like getting my hands dirty, I just find the trouble spots and let fellers like ye know to inflame it.” She squints at the youngling, as if trying to make up her mind. He is lost.

“Definitely monocyte, look at the size of ye. That’s good, good leaders your kind makes, works with those hoity-toity leukocyte types, bossing us around, huh?” A dusty laugh echoes through the vessel. “Something changed a while ago, though. Things were fine and natural ‘round here but then some new ones came around. Like they just got bunched up and shot right in here, but not from the marrow like us. Got to say, they’ve been helping quite a bit, just strange having these folk from outside that it isn’t our job to end. Most of the time when things are getting in here we’re to stop that. Can’t complain about the help, though. Lately we’ve been running into some scoundrels we’ve never been up against before. Their techniques, their style, we’ve never had a chance to see it before it hit us hard a while ago. We’ve been reeling since. Probably why the behemoth went and got stuck full of these new guys.

The youngling feels sickly, and falls to his side, gripping the lymphatic pathway while the elder ponders.

“I don’t feel right, ma’am.” He sputters.

“Hmm, ye don’t look right either. Better hope it passes. If not, this behemoth won’t be long behind. And if you’re sick, it’s viral. Maybe parasitic, even. Not good news either way. It’s funny how us small fries just know, isn’t it?” He’s not a great conversationalist.

“Maybe it’s time kid. I’m old as dirt and still nothing is ringing us besides your sickness. Least we can do for these folk is do something useful on our way out. Leave ‘em a message for why we went and keeled over, I heard it’s painless. Maybe they say it just to keep us going. But we can’t anymore now, can we?” 

She cackles, he shivers, and they both return to the body they never left.


Eck, Allison. “Scientists Capture a White Blood Cell’s Death For the First Time.” PBS, 15 June,2015,

“White Blood Cells: What Are They, Normal Ranges, Role & Function.” Cleveland Clinic, 23 July 2021,

“Receptors of the innate immune system – Immunobiology.” NCBI,, Lynne. “Types and Function of White Blood Cells (WBCs).” Verywell Health, 19 September 2022,

This image is here as proof of me writing the short story.