I buried my dog last month, I think. There was so little left of him, and his once golden rich coat was so faded and sallow that this empty, sickly canine corpse hardly seemed to be the same cheerful, energetic good boy who had run after the neighborhood cars so quickly, who retrieved that red squishy ball so playfully, and who had served so loyally as a companion in the park when I needed to display his inherent cuteness to act as my “chick magnet”. Loki, I called him, simply because his pointy little ears evoked the classic helmet of the Marvel incarnation and he always seemed to have a knowing grin fitting of the god of mischief. It was not a name selected, I must emphasize, with any idea of the hell his death would send me to or that from his depth I would be tormented by my own personal Jörmungandr.
I awoke that morning with an odd, undefined sense of dread. It was the sound of silence that stirred me out of gray, troubling dreams. There was none of Loki’s jubilant, early morning barking, nor his hungry scratching at my door, and the pitter patter of his padded paws could not be heard. I sensed intuitively that something was wrong. There was a draft in the house, and I came down to find the front door open. I cursed in incredulity. I ALWAYS locked up. But somehow the door was open and the dog got out.
Imagine my shock when I stepped onto the front lawn, looking for my missing dog, and found that emaciated, discolored corpse waiting for me. My throat sunk into my intestines as I looked at that dead lump of sickly flesh that had once been my best friend. I turned pale in shock. My skin felt tight and cold, and my jaw gaped open. I didn’t even notice I was standing, barefoot, in his last shit.
I was not only shocked, but puzzled as well. The boy hadn’t been sick. There was no visible injury. How had it happened? What killed him?
My cousin Ivor is a veterinarian. I was saddened by my dog’s death, and perturbed by the mystery of it. A rational mind might tell me there was nothing supernatural or uncannily strange about it. An undetected brain tumor or maybe he ate something he shouldn’t have. Ivor empathized and offered an autopsy to assuage my curiosity, if nothing else. Using a shovel, albeit gently, to pick up my friend and put him in a black garbage bag, felt so inglorious and disrespectful. Driving to my cousin’s clinic, I felt that no explanation would be sufficient, no combination of words and condolences would replace the gap in my life and the hole in my heart.
The autopsy took a couple of hours. Ivor told me the results would take a few weeks and looked perturbed by what he had seen already. I didn’t ask him any questions and he handed me my best friend in a small, unmarked box. I buried him in the backyard and resigned myself to a life without Loki.
People grieve differently, and, I suppose, we react differently to different kinds of deaths. When my mother killed herself, I lost all appetite, and the food I forced down my throat tasted of ashes. Yet in the days and weeks following Loki’s passing, I found I was struck by a strange, insatiable hunger. I naturally assumed this was a coping mechanism, and wondered if I would return to normal, if I ever was, when I got the results of the autopsy. “Closure” is such an odd, human concept and I wonder if any of us ever truly find it. Not in this life.
The strange thing was, as much as I ate, I couldn’t seem to fully fill my belly, and I hungered still. My friends were shocked and concerned by my weight loss. They knew about my dog and would also assume I was growing thin out of grief. I didn’t puzzle their minds and perturb them by my strange, nightmarish fancy that it wasn’t just my mouth that demanded sustenance. That I had a thousand appetites within me all calling out for more, more, more. Something that could never be satisfied or even questioned.
I started to eat things I never had before. I always found escargot disgusting, but now I was scarfing down plate after plate of snails, craving them in the middle of the night. Part of me even wanted to try them raw. I couldn’t even taste the slimy squishiness. There was no pleasure in eating anymore. I just knew I had to have it.
I actually lost weight. I spent my days inside with the curtains closed. I avoided the sun and often let the phone ring and ring until my friends left messages I deleted without listening. Sleep was slow in coming and filled with unsettling dreams I forgot by the time I fully regained consciousness. Sometimes I was awakened by nothing less than the rumbling of my own empty stomach, demanding that I go to the kitchen for a bowl of cottage cheese, week old pizza from the freezer, that bruised apple that looked a day from spoiling. Or yes, more of those awful snails. It didn’t matter. Nothing tasted like anything and nothing could fulfill me. My bowel movements were prolonged and painful. I would instantly flush, because I didn’t want to know if there was blood in my stool. My skin was pale and pasty. There were black rings under my eyes and I didn’t recognize the face in the mirror looking back. I think I was falling apart.
I didn’t want to go to a doctor. Nothing they could tell me would be any comfort, and there was no cure for…whatever this was. There was something new in me, but what I initially thought of as a gape in my life didn’t feel accurate. It had been filled, unmistakably, with…something. The thought, a question as unanswerable as the hunger, kept me up at night. Had I caught it from Loki? Was it death? Was it…something worse?
In this life, there are questions we don’t really want answered. I got mine last night, and I don’t know if I will ever sleep again.
I woke in pain, a terrible pain I had never felt before and could not define. I sat up and found blood on the sheets. A dripping red stain, but no wound. To my horror, I realized it was coming out of the back of me. I gasped for air as the foulness of the situation I still didn’t understand, not at all, washed over me. There was so much blood, I felt weak and drained. I don’t know if I had anything left in me for tears, so I just howled for how unfair, how painful, how senseless it all was.
My dry, self-pitting sobs were broken only by the ringing of my phone by my bedside. It was Ivor, of course, pretty much the only number I would answer these days. He normally wouldn’t call at such a godless hour, but he knew I was suffering, just waiting for an answer. If he knew that I was not only waiting to hear the results of my dog’s autopsy but afflicted with something indescribable myself, he would have spoken with more alarm and caution. If I knew what he had to tell me, I would not have picked up the phone.
“I know it’s late,” my cousin said tiredly, “But I got the results.” He paused with anticipation. “Would you prefer I call back tomorrow and talk about it then?”
“NO!” I snapped quickly, perhaps louder than I should. I took a breath and tried to calm. “I’m sorry, I’d just, like to know now. Please.”
“Yeah,” he responded agreeably. He had no idea what I had been going through. He hadn’t seen me since the day I dropped off my dog. “It turns out, Loki had parasites.”
“P-parasites?” I swallowed as that ugly word rolled over my tongue and let it settle.
“You taken any trips to Indonesia recently?” he asked with a more than intellectual curiosity.
“Indonesia?” The question baffled and annoyed me. What was he on about?
“Taenia padoha,” he announced. “Indonesian tapeworm. I knew it was worms, but I had to send away to find out this deadly variety. Very rare. Almost extinct in the wild.” He sounded unsettled. “Apparently it’s typically found only in the intestines of orangutans.”
“Orangutans,” I repeatedly dryly, rubbing the bridge of my nose. “Nearly extinct.”
“God knows how it got in your dog.”
“So it’s um,” I caught my breath as I tried to gather my thoughts. “it’s bad, right?”
“Haven’t been many studies,” he admitted. “But it does appear to be the kind of thing that drains the host. Spreads from the intestine to parts unknown. Reproduces internally, latches onto the digestive system, growing and growing while the body its in shrinks and weakens. They even get into the brain, adjust the behavior so that the host eats what they want. Stays until there’s nothing left but a dry, empty husk.”
I felt a chill come over me. I could barely ask this next question, but I had to know.
“H-how…” I took moment. “How do they spread? You have to eat the host or what?”
“That’s one way. Or you could step in the host’s feces. That’s where they lay their eggs.”
That was it then. I had forgotten all about that detail, which at the time I thought was just a gross little annoyance of a day of tragedy. I was more concerned with laying my dog to rest than washing my feet. Now I knew that one misstep I had blocked out of my memory as soon as I was clean had damned me.
I dropped the phone without thanking my cousin or saying goodbye. I was so beyond such niceties now. I didn’t even care that my screen cracked on the hard wooden floor. I didn’t care about any of that anymore. I wanted to withdraw from this foul world. I wanted to be alone.
But I wasn’t.
No sooner had the phone dropped than I was struck with a sharp, searing pain in my backside. It was like I was being torn apart. My insides were on fire. I ran to the restroom, even though I knew it was futile to try to drain this evil out of me.
I sat there for hours, dry sobbing and hoping for some relief that wouldn’t come. Then I heard it. A faint sound, coming from within myself. It started with a strange hiss, like steam escaping, Then it started to talk.
“He’s right you know,” came an uncanny, high-pitched voice I could only describe as inhuman. “We are inside you, and we’re not going anywhere. We like it in here, crawling around, eating what you eat, draining you from within, making our home here. It’s not just your intestines. We’re all over. We’ll be in your brain soon. You won’t be able to think for yourself. You’ll just be a vessel. You will waste away while we grow stronger and legion.”
Then I felt a squiggling come out of me. I jumped up in shock and was more disgusted than I had ever been in my life when I looked in the mirror and saw the king worm, thin and slimy, poking out to taunt me. I will never forget its beady little eyes or sharp fangs as it grinned and told me, “So eat hearty,” before withdrawing back into my bowels.
I don’t know how much time I have left. I don’t care. My thoughts are getting hazy. All I do now in my last days is eat and eat, feeding those monsters inside me. It won’t be long soon. When they crawl into my brain, I hope they make me okay with it. I am their slave, but maybe my horror will fade into complacency as I am eaten alive from within. They will leave me an empty shell like the last time I saw my dog, if it was even him anymore.
Until then, I am in hell.
Where the worm does not die.
Credit: Brian Carmody
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