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She sat in a tub of warm water, cautiously turning the razor blade over and over in her hand, careful not to cut herself. For some reason, she found it very stressful to cut herself accidentally. She slipped down in the water some and held up an arm, looking with some distaste at the lines of horizontal scars that covered her forearm. She never wanted to cause such marks, but the ritual had become so necessary to her day that she felt unable to cope without it. She flipped the blade one more time and then slipped it across her wrist in one practiced motion. Almost immediately, blood welled from the wound, quickly falling in a stripe of red on her bare skin, until it made an almost imperceptible “plink” as it cascaded from her elbow into the bath water. As she watched the blood fall down her arm, she began to relax.
She never knew the reason, but cutting always made her relax. Maybe the reason didn’t matter. Maybe all that mattered was the ceremony that kept her sane. She had been told how dangerous it was to do this, but the addiction was too strong. The action seemed so much more important.
She watched the blood drip down her arm for a few more minutes and then reached for a towel. Just as she was about to wrap it around her wrist, she saw something. She wasn’t sure what she saw, but it looked almost like a drop of the blood protruded from the wound and moved on its own, apart from gravity. It was only a second, but it seemed to flick around a little, almost like a snake tongue, before disappearing back into the wound. She closed her eyes for a moment and shook her head. She was tired. That must be it. She wrapped the towel tightly around her wrist and then began to get out of the tub.
She slid down into the tub. It had been a horrible day, and she could barely keep the tears from welling in her eyes. It was days like this when she most needed this release. She picked up the razor with a slap and slid it against her wrist, without the habitual relaxation and ponderings. She cut deeper than she had intended, and the blood came out in a gush, dripping into the tub with a plop. She wanted to be scared by this, but she didn’t care. All that mattered was that the appearance of that red, escaping her body made the tears begin to fade. She squeezed her fist and watched the blood flow quicken, covering her wet skin in a red coating. She watched it fall, thinking about the day and all that had gone wrong. At least she had this. She could… There it was. She was sure that she had seen it this time. As the blood was flowing from her arm, something red… almost like thick threads… slithered from the wound. It waved around for a moment, experimentally moving around in the air, before slipping back into the wound. As it moved out of her flesh and slid back inside, she felt an aching pain, even over the pain from her cuts.
The hand holding the razor shook slightly, and she immediately relaxed her fist. What was she seeing? She placed the razor onto the side of the bath tub and put her fingers on her wrist. She could feel the cut in her skin, the blood mixed with the water on her skin; but she felt nothing out of the ordinary. She tightened her fist again, and as she did so, the thing… the thread, began to slip out of the wound again. It waved in the air slightly and began to slide further from her flesh. As it did, she felt an ache that spread from her wrist, all the way down her arm. As it emerged, it thickened; and the pain reached further up her arm.
She snatched it almost like you would an annoying fly, and she felt a deep throbbing inside it. She pulled slightly and felt an excruciating pain. At the pain, she let go of it, and it slid back into her wound. Tears began to fall down her face. What was this thing? Did she have some kind of a parasite? She considered going to the hospital, but how could she explain the wounds? They would lock her up. What was she supposed to do? Maybe she could…
She took a deep breath and cut the middle of her forearm, making a long vertical cut. She held it in the hot water of the tub and squeezed her fist, watching the blood cloud around it.
“Come on,” she thought. “I know you’re in there. Come out, come out, wherever you…”
She cried out in pain as it emerged from the wound. She took a deep breath, trying to hold back her panic and pain. She could see that it wasn’t a thread. It was a larger tube, and long threads spread from it. It moved the tendrils around like antennae, moving slowly through the water to the edge of the bath tub, pulling its length from the wound as it moved.
The pain was excruciating. It felt as if something inside was ripping itself free of her flesh. Without thinking, she grabbed the razor and sliced at it. It wasn’t tough. The razor cut straight through it. The mass of it fell limp into the water, blood emptying from it into the water. She pulled her damaged arm from the water, just in time to see the stub of the thing slide back into the wound. She stifled a scream. How could it still be alive?
Blood began to gush from the wound. Her arm was covered in blood to the elbow, and it dripped off in a rhythm that matched the beat of her heart. She stared at it for a moment, before she remembered that the severed thing was still in the water with her. She leapt to her feet, stumbling out of the tub as her head began to swim. She grabbed a towel and wrapped it around her arm, holding it against her naked body. She took a few deep breaths and then slowly unlatched the drain.
It was hard to see through the water, with all of the blood mixed with it. It quickly drained from the tub, gradually revealing an empty expanse of porcelain tub. She bit her lip. She knew she hadn’t imagined it, but where was it? Could she be having some kind of hallucinations? She leaned closer to the tub as the last of the water went down the drain and sighed in relief. It was there. Curled around the hair screen at the drain was the thing. It wasn’t moving, and it looked pale.
“That section must be dead”, she thought. “It bled to death when I cut it off, but what was it?”
Tentatively she reached toward it and then pulled away, unwilling to touch it. She glanced at her arm and realized that she had almost bled through the towel. She needed to do something about her arm, before she bled to death, and that thing was probably some kind of parasite. She wanted to be done with it, to make it go away. If she couldn’t see it, it didn’t exist, right?
She grabbed a huge handful of toilet paper and snatched it up, throwing it into the toilet and quickly pulling the lever. She watched the paper go down the drain, and she smiled a little to herself. She felt rid of it.
She grabbed a first aid kit out of the cabinet and ran into her bedroom. There was no way she could explain these cuts to the emergency room. She felt crazy enough without being admitted. It had been over a month, since she had last cut herself. She’d had so much stress, so much pain in her stomach. She craved the razor like a drug, but more than that, she feared that thing. She’d almost convinced herself that she was having some kind of hallucinations induced by the blood loss, but every time she placed her fingers on her skin, she could feel it. It was subtle, but she could feel a small tube-like shape. She told herself that whatever it is must have died when she cut off the end of it, but she knew that she felt subtle little movements, when she placed her fingers firmly on the skin. It was there. It was there.
The tension in her head was so strong that it felt like it would crack her skull. Work had been Hell lately; her classes were a nightmare, and her boyfriend… Don’t even get her started on her boyfriend. She had never been good with dealing with stress. She had always relied on her ritual, and why shouldn’t she? It was hers. It was personal. It made her feel better. It was better than wasting time in yoga, like her friend had suggested or getting drugs at some head shrink’s office, like her mother suggested. A little bloodletting was all it took to do the trick. It was all she needed.
She sat on the side of the bath tub and almost unconsciously turned the water on to fill the tub. She held her arm in her lap and stared down at it. It was covered in horizontal scars and cuts, in various stages of healing, from her hand to her elbow, with one long cut that ran vertically down the center of her arm. It was about three inches long and hadn’t fully healed yet. It had a thick lump of pink tissue, where she had used gauze and butterfly bandages to hold it closed. She’d worn long sleeves for a long time, but the last month, she made sure to keep it covered. She could sometimes laugh the scars off as old wounds from old habits, but it would be hard to explain that kind of bandages.
She didn’t know what that thing was, but it was definitely inside of her. Maybe if she let it out, she would feel better. She didn’t feel better with it inside her, and it obviously wanted out. She looked at the razor, sitting next to her on the tub, and she shivered.
“Maybe it’s my inner demon,” she thought, trying to make herself relax. “Let it out, and we’ll both feel better.”
She undressed slowly, in no hurry for what she was about to do. She lifted the window by the tub to allow fresh air into the room, to cut down on the steam. She brushed her hair and tied it up, to keep it out of the water. Before she could change her mind, she slipped into the warm water of the bath. She lay there for a few minutes, staring at her legs, protruding from the water. She wondered if the parasite was only in her arm or if there were creatures through her whole body. They had to come out. She couldn’t stand to have them there any longer. She’d start with her arm. She knew it was there. There is where she would start.
She took the razor and held it firmly in her fingers and took a deep breath. She was going to need to cut deeply, give it a good exit. She pressed the corner of the blade to the top of her forearm, the only expanse of flesh that wasn’t marred with scars, and dragged it through her skin, digging as hard as she could. The blade went in deeply, and the blood welled out of the wound, before she was even done cutting. This time she cut almost four inches, until the pain made her hands shake. The razor slipped from her fingers, toppling into the water.
Despite the pain, she could feel the tension beginning to slip from her body. She laughed once, watching the blood run from her arm, down the side of the tub, and making clouds of red in the water. That was when it appeared. At first it was just a thread, like the first time. It flicked around the outside of the wound, almost like it was looking for something.
“Don’t worry,” she murmured. “I’m not going to hurt you anymore. You can come out.”
At her words, it slid further from her arm. She tried not to pay attention to the pain.
“Go on now,” she said, her voice strained. “I don’t want you in there, and you don’t want to be here either. Get out of here.”
It slipped further from her arm, tentacle like, with threads sticking out from it in places, almost like hair. The pain intensified with each of its movements. She whimpered as it pulled itself free six or seven inches from inside her arm. She watched the blood drip down her arm and wondered how there was room for any blood with that thing in her arm. She was beginning to feel dizzy and nauseated.
“Hurry,” she whispered. “Hurry. You’re hurting me. I can’t keep doing this.”
Her arm fell limp on the side of the tub, and the thing surged out of her arm. Blood gushed with a small splash into the water, and she screamed in pain. It kept crawling, getting thicker as it moved, unwinding and beginning to slowly move toward the window. She continued to scream, and within a few moments, she could hear her neighbor banging on her apartment door. He sounded scared, saying something about calling the police. She screamed again and felt something begin to tug insider her shoulder and neck. It pulled harder, and she felt a ripping that crossed her chest, into her heart.
It was then that she realized what she was freeing. She had spent years telling her blood that it made her feel better to see it emerge. She had told it with a hundred little cuts that she felt better when it wasn’t in her body. When she was forced not to let it out, she hated her life. Now it was giving her the only thing she ever asked of it. Her circulatory system was crawling out of her body. It had started with the blood vessels of her arm, but now it was dislodging itself further. When it pulled hard at her heart, she knew that it would be over.
Her scream suddenly stopped, as she felt the pressure and movement in her chest. She gasped once, before she lost the ability to bring in anymore air. She felt her heart break free of its position, and she watched as the wound in her arm begin to rip itself open, higher and higher on her arm. The last thing she thought before she died was to wonder what it would do now that it was free. If she were to be honest, she did feel better with it gone.