The Enemy Within

I was afraid of snakes, worms and all sorts of slithering bugs or creatures. Never had I bothered to seek serious treatment because something in the reptilian part of the brain warned me that if I did then I could get more messed up as I already was. I had a trust issue with psychology and their ways.

Due to that phobia it seemed that I attracted snakes in hordes; just like a person who is afraid of sharp objects, say knives. During the summer I’d find small snakes curled under the TV set or in the garage. The nervous tension that comes from the very fear of them would create fertile grounds for accidents around them. A woman afraid that knives would cut her in or that she would come to harm by any sort of use by them is more likely to be actually hurt by knives for the tension and mistrust around knives often creates situations where her shaky hands or jolty nature causes some sort of unpredictable injury by knives.

At least it was what I believed. It wasn’t until some weeks ago I decided to see a doctor regarding my, what at the beginning seemed not to be related to my mental state of mind, physical health.

The town I had always lived in wasn’t a very large one; after the factories that had been shut down under the environmentalists growing pressure coming from the fact that the powerful chemical toxins released by the exhaust shafts poisoned the wildlife and made people ill, many of its residents had moved away into some of the largest metropolises of the state. Now all we had was a rusted factory that leaked its murky, smelly liquids into our water, a run-down library that no one used, lot of below middle-class families and a dentist, who was at the same time a doctor, hairdresser and a vet. I chose to visit the doctor myself.

Lately everything seemed to wear me out. Working on my bike strained me like some tremendous task. Tiredness followed my every step like an extra shadow, constant headaches that I rarely ever had plagued my head and made my eyes sensitive to light. Worst of all, I always felt hungry, after a breakfast or lunch – it didn’t matter. Despite the distrust of that old man, formerly a manager of a funeral home, I believe, he was the closest thing to a qualified physician around here.

“Well, I don’t see what’s causing you these complaints by this examination, but what I could do is take a blood sample and send it to the lab. But it’ll take a week or so and you’ve got to pay the expenses.”

“Yeah, whatever.” The sun started to crash into the desert, producing distorting heat patterns on the low horizons. Once there had been a reservoir there – now the chemicals from the factory had wiped it clean of any biological life and all there were was sand, rusted metal and a scent of desolation. Occasionally the stronger winds blew the sand onto the town but thanks to the little greenlife we had it was able to stop the advancement of the ghostly desert.

“When did you say you started to have these symptoms?” Despite he’s would-be medical skills the doc was a good listener and a judge of character. I didn’t know him that well except that he had had a malpractice case in the city and he was forced to re-locate somewhere people wouldn’t care of his reputation as much as they did of their own personal health. That explained why he was, despite his old age, more agile and sharper in the thinking section than most people in this town. This rotten place hadn’t gotten to him yet.

“Right about five or four weeks ago. Five, I think.” The headache suddenly struck in making me rub my eyes that started watering due to the radiant sundown. It was hard to breathe. I had never noticed how hard it could be to breath. How much it took out of you.

“By what I can tell your symptoms just show that you are under considerable strain or pressure. I’ve had some firm executives come to me with that sort of problems when I was working up in the city – came from overworking and all that stress.”

“The thing is I haven’t even worked as much as I used to. It was, what, maybe six weeks ago that I did that camping trip up river with Tom? That was a vacation but with this bloody circus going on with my illness the vacation has been stretched too long.”

He put down his chart and sat before me.

“A camping trip? Around here?”

“Yeah I know. But how long can you labour at the body shop, y’know? Sometimes you just want to get away. Besides I had never went camping. I like all that getting away from the ordinary life stuff with the fishing and the campfires and nature.”

“Up river, eh? That area is supposed to be polluted all the way to the bay. Even snakes don’t go there.”

What a joker he was. Too bad I didn’t feel like smiling. I wiped the sweat from my brow.

“The river seemed okay. We even got a few fish. Is it possible I caught something except pike there?”

“Sure it is. I mean, you have heard about that strange fish they found near Chernobyl, right? It had two extra eyes and it was a better hunter than others from its species but it couldn’t multiply. Same thing with that giant rat pack at South Korea. We know there were chemicals that are now long due for decommission. That stuff from the plant could be gotten into the reservoir. I trust it is otherwise safe because none have come to complain about it. But when you have that weird stuff in your drinking water it could give you those symptoms you described. Speaking of that I should take a toxin test. I wouldn’t want another negligence case on my hands again, would I?”

That last sentence made me wonder what had brought him to this dump hole.

I had to go back next week for results. When reaching home I hit the sofa like a ton of bricks. The heat had gotten to me; I felt faint and weak. Just before seeing the doctor I had had a full meal and loads of coffee. Now I felt like I hadn’t eaten for days. What the hell had I caught on?

Should I have told him about that itchy feeling in my stomach? Weeks ago it was just a tickling sensation, whereas now I almost though I had some sort of bug bitten into me. I checked my whole body before the filthy mirror in my bathroom but there was no trace of any scratches or bite marks. Staring at my own reflection I was dazzled: dark circles around my eyes, slightly greyish lips and an overall look of starvation made me look as some sort of a scarecrow that had human skin drawn over it to disguise it as a morbid imitation of a man.

Stepping on the scale I tapped the display but it didn’t nudge – it still proposed I had lost about a quarter of my former weight. I couldn’t sleep that night.

During the next day I worked on a tractor that had broken down at the farm further away from the town. The weather was hot as the sun ominously reined the skies. Flies buzzed around me, which was quite unusual. I threw up on the front porch when having a cold beer on a break. My head started to catch the humming and the buzzing of those wretched flies that soon developed into a full-blown headache.

According to my watch I had spent two hours on the ground collapsed probably due to the sleep depravation, headache and the high temperature. I managed to crawl onto the couch but I couldn’t sleep. At some point I got delirious and stared out of the door where a garden-hose, for which there wasn’t any lawn anyway, started to move and slither, rattling its end and twisting itself into shapes and forms. Like waking up from a continuous nightmare I fainted.

The days between that and the doctor’s appointment wheeled by as one continuous day in hell. I could hardly sleep now and the scraping feeling in my stomach was getting worse. Stepping into his office made me feel as some sort of a long-expected visitor or royalty: he jolted up from behind his desk and with some files in his hands came to greet me.

“Jesus Christ – look at yourself! You look like a skeleton!”

“Gee, never too shy on the compliments, eh? Besides, flattery will get you nowhere.”

The long walk had tired me. Dropping into an armchair I must have looked like an empty bag collapsing under its own weight. I rested my eyes.

He didn’t look like he was in the mood for my usual antics.

“The results are back and I must say I am most disturbed by them. There are good news and there are not so good news.”

Right down to business.

“And the good news are…?”

“Are that I may have found out why you are in the condition you currently find yourself in. The bad news is that… I’m not actually sure what is causing it.”

An ominous pause followed.

“And?” Courtesy wasn’t the issue here; impatience was due to the splitting headache.

“And the results say your body is inhabited by a large number of toxins found in your blood cells. Which, I have to say, is not very surprising because of the slight pollution around here. Until now the patients have had tolerable levels of toxins that cause little harm, but in your case these toxins seem not to have come from the soil or the water. They are alien antibodies.”

“Alien? Not indigenous to my own system?”

“Roughly said, yes. They resemble more like residues or some sort of bacteria. I mean we humans as mammals emit them too but we release them after the digestion period. Your body’s blood structure, as the tests show, point out the fact that your system is almost clogged up with that toxic element.”

“How did it get there? Something I ate?”

“Not exactly. The toxins are left-overs. They have been created, they haven’t just appeared into your system.”

“Created? How?”

“What the blood test showed is that it was created by a parasite. But the readings were off the scale.”

Headache was pounding my brain away.

“By the numbers we got there should be hundreds of them in you but that can’t be true because the type of parasite emitting the toxins habitats the host alone.”

“What sort of a parasite?”

“Now I don’t want you to get yourself all worked up over this, I know how you feel about- “

I grabbed the files he had been gripping the whole time and flung it open. Inside were a couple of photos taken from some study book and a paper that had on its header the word ‘tapeworm’.

“Oh my fucking god! There’s a snake inside me?”

“Hey, not at all. Calm down, its not a snake, they are very small, although they tend to grow about fifteen meters long, but-“

“I’d call it a fucking snake any day of the week! Get it out of me!”

“I can’t! Not with this equipment I have here! You have to get to the Memorial up city, they have a surgical department.”

“Surgical? I thought these things were tiny?!”

“According to your charts that thing inside your stomach right now should be a pretty big whopper by now.”

“How? What the hell’s going to happen to me?”

“The fish you ate on that camping thing you did – you didn’t cook it through properly did you?”

“The fuck do I know!”

“I suspect the fish, who knows how they managed to stay alive in that polluted environment, had the parasite until you picked it up. But it is the size it shouldn’t be at all. Not by a long-shot.”

My mouth was dry enough to make it hard to swallow.

“The size?”

“It is too soon to make any preliminary judgements, but it should be… quite out of the ordinary. That would be the only way to explain the symptoms you’ve been having: the intense headaches, stomach pain, loss of appetite and/or weight, constant tiredness and so on.”

“A snake could do all that?”

When I was nine or ten my parents had taken me to their old summer home. They sent me to collect firewood near a thicket but when I didn’t return they started looking at me with flashlights. In the dark I couldn’t see a small opening in the ground that had at one point of existence been a burrow for a fox or some other furry creature. The small snakes that had just hatched didn’t do much harm but being trapped in a small opening with dozens of hissing reptiles had a devastating effect on my psyche.

For weeks I couldn’t talk without stuttering. Month after that an earthworm was thrown at me by a kid on the playground. I got a seizure from that.

Walking back home with the file in my hand that the doctor had procured me with shed horrid insight into that devilish crawler that had found a nest inside my, well, insides. Hold on, he said. We’ll get you help, he reminded me. At first being a bit frightened to guess he said that it would be at least the size of my pinkie.

Now I had to walk while being in a sort of a crooked position because my stomach had really started it up this time.

As I sit here and gently pet my hunting rifle that I got as a self-defence item once. You don’t know what its like: the fear and disgust you hold for a creature so high and mind-shattering that destroying it while wiping yourself out in the process would become an acceptable price. To feel it drain you like a mindless vampire, sucking you dry from the inside while getting fatter and greedier with every bite.

I raise this gun not against myself but against a being unholy and better unborn. It never should have, but we as a peculiarly non-caring race, unable to look up to the consequences of our actions, give birth to many sons and daughters that we are forced to call as monsters.

Oh my god! I feel it moving inside of me, I feel its hundreds of teeth ripping and moving against my skin and flesh! It feels my intentions; it knows what I plan to do – what hideous bond to hold! I cannot live on any longer like this – I feel my fear eating away inside of me.

Farewell.

“What do you make of it, Ed?”

The coroner pulls a shroud over a body on the examining table and wipes his hands into his wardrobe and yanks down his mask.

“Apparent suicide. Seems to me. Shotgun blast ripped half his head off.”

“What about his letter? The suicide note he wrote mentions some sort of a creature in him. Did you find any trace of it?”

The coroner gently slips his hand into his pocket.

“Now that you mention it…”

Suddenly in his hands something rubbery and long jumps out as he lobs it at the sheriff.

“For god’s sake, you’re grown up for that kind of shit!” The sheriff gives the rubber hose a good kick with his foot. The piece of hose slides into the drainage hole right under the table. Blood is coagulated around it and some hair is stopping the smooth flow of it.

“I certainly didn’t find anything, although I must say he looks like a skeleton. And what he said about his mouth being dry I have to say it’s like his body has completely been drained of all vital liquids. That’s why I noticed a small trail or… something slimy had come or gone from his throat. There was hardly a lot of his mouth and lower jaw left, if and I say if anything wanted to get out it has.”

“You didn’t see it?”

“Do you expect me to have lunch near a corpse? I was away for a good ten minutes or so, yeah.”

A silent splash occurs and as the coroner and the sheriff stare at the drainage opening the hose is gone.

“Say, how thick was that hose you threw?”

“About like your pinkie.”

Both men stare silently at the drainage opening. The coroner breaks off the silence with impatience in his voice: “And if there was indeed something then you shouldn’t worry. Come on, let’s go and get a drink. This hot weather is bringing out the smell real quick.”

“How come not to worry?”

“Don’t you know that the drainage leads to some old reservoir? And you know what’s in there, don’t you?”

The two men walk up the stairs and into the deaf ears of the corpse reach the relieved words of the sheriff.

“You’re right – that pipe system is chock full of chemicals. Nothing could survive there. If you keep hush hush about it then I won’t say a thing.”

The coroner laughs.

“Sure thing. By the way, are you hungry for any fish by any chance? Caught myself a huge pike last week. I couldn’t believe my luck!”


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