Marcus St. Croix was jolted from sleep by an intense gurgling and sharp stabbing pain in his stomach. He rushed to the bathroom, hoping that whatever happened would at least be quick. Hunched over on the toilet, he tried to flip through the pages of the magazine stashed on top of the tank, but the pain was just too much.
He felt a sudden rush of relief as a torrent of solid matter slid into the water. The pain subsided quickly, only to be replaced by a heavy stench that hung on the air. Marcus leaned forward, flipping the switch for the fan, and feeling his throat tighten at the stink.
He glanced back at the toilet, and fell to the cold tile in front of it. There, in the rancid waters of his own making, sat a writhing mass of pale white worms. Their glistening bodies wrapped around each other, and for a half a second, he could swear that he saw small mouths with many rows of finely-serrated teeth. The smell of decay filled his nostrils, and Marcus promptly vomited.
The water in his toilet began to churn and froth, flooding the room with the worms’ horrible stench. Marcus stared in horror into the roiling waters in front of him. He fell backwards as one of the worms lurched out of the water at him. His reflexes sharpened by fear and disgust, he snatched the worm out of the air and flung it back into the toilet, shuddering at its cold, clammy flesh in his hand.
Forcing the lid down to avoid any other attacks, he flushed the toilet several times. After the third flush, the splashing of the worms was almost gone, and by the sixth flush everything seemed normal. A quick peek under the lid showed clear, calm water, and no trace of anything unusual.
“You imagined it,” he thought, trying to ignore the new round of gurgling in his stomach. “Or someone slipped something in your drink, that’s all this–”
His thoughts were cut off by another sharp, stabbing pain in his midsection. His brain immediately conjured up the image of millions of worms flooding his intestinal tract. He crawled from the bathroom, reaching for his phone. He started to dial–
There wasn’t anyone he could call. An ambulance would cost too much, and they’d never believe him. He couldn’t call his parents, who lived three states away and wouldn’t have been able to offer anything but moral support. He sure as hell couldn’t call Lucca, his girlfriend, who would happily have driven him to the hospital and then reported everything to the others at drinks that night.
“Fuck it,” he thought, gritting his teeth. “I’ll call a cab.”
The driver was a thin man, jittery and soft-spoken. He said nothing as Marcus clutched his stomach, which had swollen impressively in the time it took the cab to arrive, and told him they needed to go to the nearest hospital. The cab pulled away from the curb and merged flawlessly into the mass of cars headed towards downtown.
The awkward silence in the cab was broken by the quiet voices of NPR. The cab had a clean smell to it, not “new car”, nor antiseptic. It smelled cared for and well-loved. Marcus tried not to think about the poor unfortunate soul driving the vehicle. It was likely that he would either shit a disgusting mass of worms onto the seat, or explode from the pressure building in his stomach. Either way, the cab would no longer smell as nice as it did at that second.
He was sweating profusely now, and the cab driver kept glancing back at him in the rear view mirror. The man still didn’t say much, weaving in and out of traffic but always moving forward. Marcus didn’t know how long it took to get to the hospital from his apartment, but he was certain the route they were taking was not necessarily the fastest.
The cab finally screeched to a halt outside the emergency room, and he offered the man his credit card. The cab driver smiled, and for the first time Marcus noticed that he had yellow eyes.
“No charge, sir,” the driver said, his grin stretching beyond the corners of his mouth. “For you, it is always free.”
Marcus vomited in the back seat.
The driver said nothing. He just stared with a smile that extended well past the point of comfort. Marcus examined his vomit for worms, but found nothing. The pain in his stomach intensified, and he edged out of the cab before waddling off to the emergency room.
Inside, a solitary man sat behind a desk, staring at a computer screen. Marcus staggered up to him, clutching his now prodigious belly. The bored gentleman kept his eyes on the screen while asking a lot of questions about health insurance and where Marcus lived. He didn’t seem to notice, or particularly care, about the writhing worms now visibly pressing against the distended skin of Marcus’ belly.
Eventually, Marcus answered the bored man’s questions to the satisfaction of the hospital, and was ushered into a small curtained-off area. He listened to the cries and moans of other people while waiting for someone to come and explain to him what was happening. The pain grew so intense that he soon gave up even hoping for that.
When the doctor finally arrived, Marcus was huddled in the fetal position, his body wrapped around the gurgling stomach that had expanded even further during the wait. Troubled, the doctor placed a stethoscope on his abdomen before immediately jerking away.
Backing out of the room, beads of sweat glistening on his forehead, he promised that a nurse would be along shortly to help with this problem. Marcus nodded, trying to ignore the slap of leather on tile as the gibbering man sprinted down the hall, the footsteps followed by the slam of a heavy door in the distance.
His next visitor was a pretty young woman in green scrubs. Her honey-colored hair was pulled back into a loose sort of ponytail, and she had bright blue eyes that widened appreciably when she saw Marcus’ belly straining against his flesh. After staring at the undulating skin for several seconds, she smiled brightly and told him that she had an idea.
She left the room, and Marcus was certain he wouldn’t see her again. After what felt like an eternity, she returned with a wheelchair. Easing him into it, she steered him down the hall through a set of swinging doors and into an elevator, taking great care to avoid any bumps.
“When did the symptoms start?” she asked, staring at him with unblinking eyes.
“This morning,” he replied, wincing at another stab of pain in his stomach.
The nurse nodded, as if this were the most natural thing in the world. She pushed his wheelchair in silence down the hall to a dark room, and helped him climb up on a table. She had him slide his pants down, and offered a robe that was stretched tight over his swelling midsection.
He stared up at the round machine near his feet, while she walked back to the adjoining office. Following the machine’s instructions, he took a deep breath and then held it as the table slid him through the hole in its center. There was a moment when he was almost afraid that he would not be able to fit. The worms contracted inside of his stomach, his belly flattening out a little as the machine scanned him.
He went through three times before the machine stopped. Afterward, Marcus lay on the table in silence, wondering what had happened to the nurse. Sitting up gingerly on the table, he saw her through the thick glass of the control room. She was staring intently at a computer screen. Her hand covered her mouth, and tears streamed from her eyes.
She came out of the room to get him, still not blinking even as the tears ran down her cheeks. A smile stretched her mouth wide. The skin around the corners was torn slightly, exposing her first couple of molars.
Marcus eased himself back into the chair. The nurse giggled softly to herself as she pushed him down the hall to the elevator. He stared at the numbers as they descended, trying to ignore the pain radiating out from his stomach. Already his hips had begun to hurt and pressure had begun building against his spine.
The nurse wheeled him back to his space in the emergency room. She leaned in close as she helped him out of the wheelchair. Small lines of blood ran down from the ever expanding smile on her face.
“Thank you,” she whispered, tears mingling with the blood. “It was glorious.”
She left his room, closing the curtain swiftly behind her. Marcus stared in bewildered silence. Another round of pain coursed through his body. He clenched his teeth, trying hard not to scream. Something was wrong with this place, and he needed to leave. He eyed the wheelchair that sat several feet away.
“Might as well be a mile,” he thought, gripping his stomach. The worms churned faster inside of him, pushing out against his hands.
He had barely set his foot down on the cold floor, when a doctor entered the room, gingerly carrying a file. He was a tall man, with brown hair swept back in a wave from his forehead and the sort of tan that one only gets on the deck of a yacht. The doctor looked at him with a raised eyebrow until Marcus lay back down on the table.
“Well,” the doctor said, nodding to the quivering mass that used to be Marcus’ stomach, “this was not at all what I expected to have to deal with today.”
“That makes two of us,” Marcus said with a grunt before his eyes flicked over to the file. “Are those my medical records?”
“The results from your MRI,” the doctor said, with an obvious look of distaste. “To be honest with you, I don’t even want to look at them, given what’s happened.”
“What happened?” Marcus asked.
“Caroline, the nurse who did the scan. She…she cut out her eyes. Laughing the whole time. She told us that she had seen true beauty and that nothing in this world would ever compare.”
The doctor reached into his pocket and pulled out two glistening blue orbs. “You can have them, if you’d like. She won’t be needing them anymore.”
Marcus shook his head, and the doctor nodded before placing the eyes gently back in his coat pocket. “I guess not,” he said, sadly. “Anyway, your coming here was a mistake. We can’t help you.”
“I don’t have anywhere else to go,” Marcus said. “And aren’t you supposed to help me?”
The doctor nodded to a syringe on the counter. “We could overdose you on morphine maybe, but that wouldn’t solve the other problem.”
The worms in Marcus’ belly clenched together tightly, wrapping around his internal organs like a fist. He cried out in pain and closed his eyes.
When he opened them, the doctor was still staring at him. “No, I suppose not.”
Walking over to the folder, the doctor opened it and stared down at the images from the MRI. He tapped his finger thoughtfully on his chin and nodded. He then left very briefly, but returned with a small metal tray full of dangerous looking tools.
“You’re going to cut them out?” Marcus asked.
“Oh, no,” the doctor replied. “These are for me.”
He took a very sharp looking scalpel, placed it against the corner of his mouth, and began to slice along his cheek. His eyes were wide, staring straight ahead, and he made a similar cut along the other side of his face. He then cut several small strips of skin from his jaw, leaving them in a neat, bloody pile on the floor below him.
A buzz of excitement radiated through Marcus’ body from the mass on his stomach. He watched in silent horror for a few seconds as the doctor began to laugh. Marcus edged his way past the man and slowly waddled back through the emergency room.
Eventually, he found the exit. The cab driver still sat at the entrance, a giant smile on his face. With a sigh, Marcus heaved himself into the back seat. The pain had lessened, and that was almost more worrisome than anything else.
“Where to, sir?” the cab driver asked with a nonchalance that belied the manic gleam in his eyes.
“Just take me home,” Marcus said through clenched teeth.
The cab pulled away from the curb, into the darkened city streets, and Marcus frowned. He checked his watch, to see that it was barely noon. Leaning back to look up at the sky outside the window, he saw a shadow passing over the sun.
“It won’t be long now, sir,” the cab driver said, his voice almost a whisper. “Not long at all.”
Marcus’ stomach churned as the shadow passed closer to the edge of the sun. The skin around his belly was taut and on the edge of bursting. Livid red marks stretched along the sides. His gaze returned to the darkening sky above him to see that the sun was almost completely covered in shadow. This was when he realized the car had stopped moving. The driver had turned around expectantly and was waiting with an ever-growing grin.
“It is time,” he said, the edges of his face straining to contain the smile. “If it helps any, please know that you didn’t have a choice, Mr. St. Croix.”
Marcus was barely able to hear him over the sudden roaring in his ears. Every muscle clenched as pain tore through his body. Outside the cab, the world went dark. His stomach ruptured open through the middle releasing a writhing mass of worms that flew into the smiling face of the cab driver.
Marcus fumbled with the door before dragging himself out of the back seat. The front of the vehicle was filled with a mass of writhing worms. If he squinted, Marcus could just make out the driver, the worms burrowing into his body.
Clutching his stomach, he staggered the rest of the way back to his apartment. The streets were empty, and the sun slowly emerged from the eclipse. In the distance the faint echoes of screams carried through the air. Marcus fumbled with his keys before finally opening his apartment door and then collapsing in the hall.
He lay on the floor for several minutes, the room spinning around him. Closing his eyes, he quietly wished for the pain to end.
When he opened them again, the room was still and silent. He poked at his stomach warily, half-expecting to see the writhing mass of worms. It was flat and empty, no scarring or seams appeared anywhere. He felt weak with hunger, and realized that he hadn’t eaten that day.
Marcus wandered into the kitchen, pulling a box of cereal from the pantry and grabbing a bowl from the cupboard. Setting the bowl on the counter, his hand brushed against a small manila folder that sat harmlessly on the counter.
Marcus looked around his empty apartment for signs that someone else had been there. He knew this folder. Little bits of the doctor’s blood still flecked the outside of it. He poured some cereal into his bowl and grabbed some milk and a spoon, despite the fact that he was no longer hungry.
Doing his best to ignore the folder, he went to the living room and settled down on the couch, setting the bowl on the coffee table. He poured the milk onto the cereal and had the spoon halfway to his mouth when he saw it again.
The folder sat under the bowl.
He looked back towards the kitchen, fighting the impulse to get up and see if it was the same one. He set the bowl of cereal down next to it and stared, as though he could will the folder in front of him to disappear, taking its contents with it.
The heater kicked on, making him jump. A sudden blast of warm air filled the apartment, lifting the edge of the folder just slightly. A few sheets of paper riffled gently beneath its surface, a siren song that even now he was having trouble resisting.
Ignoring his cereal, Marcus leaned forward and opened the folder. He stared at the image on the paper for several seconds, hardly daring to breathe. A quiet giggle forced itself out of his mouth, and he reached for the spoon in the cereal bowl.
He raised the spoon to his eye, pressing the tip into the corner even as he felt something burst in his brain. The giggling grew louder as he drove the spoon into his socket, forcing the eye out with a satisfying pop.
©2015 Chris Page. All rights reserved.