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I have always been a sick child. It was never bad enough to warrant a trip to the hospital, but it was always something that was hanging over me. I was smaller and less energetic than most kids my age. While they preferred to run around and play outside, I chose to stay inside and read. The slightest bit of activity was enough to exhaust me for days on end. It wasn’t a bad life, but I can certainly see how it made me into the introverted person I am today. I took comfort in books and I experienced the world through them.
It wasn’t until I turned twenty-three that I began to question myself. Everyone around me seemed to be getting married and settling down, but I wasn’t. I had a few friends at work, but no one who I really hung out with in my free time. My family was gone. I lost my father at a very young age to a heart attack brought on by a lifetime of high cholesterol and my mother passed away shortly after I graduated college from an extremely malignant form of pancreatic adenocarcinoma.
My mother clung onto life for a few weeks before her body shut down. I remember my last memory of her in the hospital. She was so thin that it looked like the slightest breeze would take her from me, her eyes were bright and feverish, and her skin was yellowed like the pages of an old book. The palliative (Demerol) they were giving her to ease her into her final moments robbed her of any coherent last words. She just stared at me with her glassy eyes as the end came for her. I clutched her hand in mine, but it was like she wasn’t even there. I told her I loved her, she didn’t respond. She just closed her eyes and let everything go. I decided that it was time for me to do the same.
I had no close family nearby or any real friends. I was alone in the world. I put in my two weeks' notice at the small company that was gracious enough to hire me fresh-eyed out of college and left town shortly after my mother’s funeral. In all honesty, I didn’t want to stay there any longer. Everything reminded me of what was gone and what I was missing out on. After selling our house and settling the matter of her will, I had enough to get far away.
I chose the countryside. I wanted to be alone with my thoughts for a while. I felt like I needed some time to work through everything and decide on my next course of action. My inheritance afforded me that privilege. In hindsight, I realize that this was the worst possible choice in my life. Living alone, with only my thoughts to keep me company, a mile away from my closest neighbor, only served to deepen my sense of isolation. I was alone with my thoughts, and I quickly realized that none of them were good.
I think my mental state only quickened my descent into sickness. It began when I noticed a small mass on my left upper arm just underneath the skin. It was about the size of a pea and I could move it around under my skin about a quarter of an inch or so in each direction. At first I told myself that it was a fatty deposit and nothing to be concerned about. Under palpitation, I experienced a slight discomfort but no more than when manipulating any other section of my body. It wasn’t until I noticed that it was slowly growing that I began to get concerned.
I eventually broke down and went to see a doctor who assured me that it was likely a lipoma or xanthoma and was nothing to be concerned about. He reassured me that it was more likely a symptom of high cholesterol rather than a sign of cancer. He explained that while family history and genetics had given me a bad hand, that didn’t necessarily mean I couldn’t live a long, healthy life. I was still unsure about the lump which led to me asking if we could biopsy it.
He reasoned that there was no real need to do so, that they were harmless. Since the mass was movable under my skin it meant that it was encapsulated and was likely benign. He said that getting a sample would only confirm what we already knew and would cost me about four hundred dollars. He advised me to cut back on my red meats and to come back if I noticed any change in the lipoma. I thanked him and left the hospital feeling comforted. That reassurance lasted about a month.
For the first days, I was constantly poking and prodding the small lump. After about a week when I was confident that the mass hadn’t grown any, I went back to my usual life of solitude. I woke up late every morning and read. I did some minor chores around the house and thought about what direction I wanted my life to go in and what field I wanted to work in. Sometimes I would go days without talking to anyone. Looking back, I now realize how unhealthy it was to isolate myself after my mother’s unexpected death. I was stagnating and I didn’t even realize it.
About a month after getting my lipoma checked out, I began to experience a stinging pain in my upper left arm. That discomfort brought back the memory of my visit to the doctor. The mass on my arm was now dime-sized. I could still move it, but now the slightest touch felt like I was being poked with a needle. I left it alone for a few days, hoping against hope that it was all in my imagination, but the pain continued.
I think some sad part of me thought that it would go away if I ignored it long enough. To be honest, I was afraid of going back to the hospital. That was partially due to the fact that I was afraid of what the diagnosis would be (a growth can be a symptom of cancer); my mother’s experience in the hospital also kept me from going. I lived with the slowly growing mass for about a week before I realized how dire the situation was.
It wasn’t until I woke up one night with a stinging pain in my arm that I decided to go back to the doctor. I rolled out of bed and went to the bathroom to look at my arm. I figured that I had slept on it wrong or possibly struck it against something and that was what was causing me pain. I realized I was wrong when I flipped on the light switch and saw a small bit of caked blood around the area on my upper arm. I hopped into the shower to wash away the silver dollar-sized splotch of blood and had a startling realization.
There was a fingernail sticking out of my arm. At first I thought that I had inadvertently rolled over and accidentally jabbed a clipped toenail into my skin, but as I went to pull it, I experienced a sudden tearing pain that actually made me gasp. It felt like I had grabbed a nerve ending and pulled on it. I rinsed off the area and examined it. The nail appeared to be sticking out of my skin rather than piercing it. When I painfully shifted the lipoma, the nail wiggled and receded further into my skin as if it was part of the mass itself. I made up my mind then and there to go to the doctor first thing in the morning.
At first the doctor tried to rationalize it the same way that I did. He said it was likely a lipoma and my constant worrying was just making it more pronounced. It wasn’t until after I showed him the area that he began to take me serious. He concluded that the skin ruptured outward instead of inwards which meant that it had come from under my skin and poked out. I asked if he would excise the lump so we could examine it and he agreed due to possible risks of infection and identifying the cause for the growth.
I turned down his offer for a general anesthetic. He tried to convince me that it would be easier with one, but I asked for a local anesthetic instead. I remembered my mother’s final moments. Even if it was going to be a simple procedure, I didn't want to experience anything like that ever in my life. A part of me realized that it was my fear of being in the same situation as her that made me so stubborn about the anesthetics. After he explained the procedure to me and its risks, I followed him into an operating room, laid down on the table, and waited for him to begin.
I did my best to look away while he worked. I imagined turning my head to see what was happening only to sneeze into the open wound or faint from the mere sight of the surgery. I did gather up enough courage to look towards the end. I looked up into the mirror to see about an inch of skin peeled away with a slightly red mass beneath it. It didn’t look nearly as grotesque or sickening as I thought, instead it looked clinical and clean. He set an object in the tray and proclaimed:
“Think I got it, now let’s just see what we have-”
I heard him drop the heavy tweezers on the ground as if something had shocked him. I went to look but he told me I needed to stay still until he could suture up the area. He reassured me that the utensil had just slipped out of his hands and it was nothing to be worried about. I waited for ten agonizing minutes of uncertainty as he sutured the area and swabbed it down again with Betadine. When he finished, I sat up and looked at what he had set in the tray.
It was a grayish mass that was about the size of a misshapen marble. Through the antiseptic scent of the hospital, I smelled something like spoiled meat. I felt my stomach turn as the realization that this had been inside me and had just begun to rot. One end terminated in what looked like a fingernail that had broke through my skin. It wasn’t until he asked me if I knew what the term fetus in fetu meant that I connected all the macabre pieces of the jigsaw. Fetus in fetu, a parasitic twin.
We went into the examination room where the doctor explained what he thought was happening as he gave me a complete look over. He posited that I had started off with a twin, but somewhere along the way, I had absorbed my twin into my body. It had likely siphoned off nutrients which explained my lethargic activity and smaller stature when I was younger. He assumed that the mass had been re-absorbed by my body over the years and there was likely nothing left except that small piece we had just removed. As he palpitated my back and his face turned cold, I knew that that was not what had happened.
The doctor said he felt something just above my right kidney and that exploratory surgery was necessary. He told me that the sooner they performed the surgery, the better. I agreed and he asserted that I would need to be completely anesthetized for the operation. It was then that I was forced to accept my worst fear. I would have to be sedated like my mother was. I tried to talk my way out of the situation but my doctor explained that this was a life-threatening issue that needed to be resolved. I eventually relented and consented to the surgery.
I spent a sleepless night in the hospital with my stomach growling at me the entire time. I prayed it was my stomach growling at not having eaten all day rather than the partially formed fetus of my twin inside me. The anesthetist arrived about an hour after I woke up and talked me through the process step-by-step. She put the catheter in my arm and connected it to an IV bag. She asked me if I was ready and I nodded, terrified about what was happening and horrified about my prognosis. She told me everything was going to be alright and then hung the IV bag filled with saline, Ativan, and an anesthetic. My last coherent memory before going under was of my mother and her final moments.
What happened next was the worst five hours of my life. I remember hearing music in my daze. At first I thought the surgery was over until I heard the surgeon talking over the music asking for a retractor to hold the surgical area open. I had two horrifying thoughts in that moment. The first being that Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” was one of the most discomforting songs to hear playing in an operating room. The second was that I was going to be conscious for the entire surgery.
They had taped my eyelids so I couldn’t see anything, but I heard everything. As I laid there, unable to move during the gruff chorus of “X Gon’ Give It To Ya” by DMX, the head surgeon asked if what he was seeing was really what made up the mass. I heard one of the assisting nurses gag as he set the excised material into a pan. She excused herself and someone joked that she wasn’t good when situations got hairy. The people around him groaned at the pun that I wouldn’t understand until they showed me what they extracted.
I was in surgery for five hours, conscious and paralyzed for the entire experience. Luckily I felt nothing, but I heard every joke, jab, and bit of gossip. I heard the sizzle as the Bovie (I looked it up later) cut and cauterized my wound at the same time. Those three hundred minutes were the most excruciating moments of my life. It felt like I was on that table for an eternity listening to music, puns, and the sound of my own operation. The worst part of it was the realization that I couldn’t see what they were doing and I had to imagine what was happening to me.
My faculties returned a while after surgery. I didn’t say anything to the attending nurse; I wanted to believe that what had happened hadn’t actually occurred. The nurse was hesitant to show me what they removed, but I explained that I needed the closure. She told me the surgeon would show me when he gave me an update. I waited for thirty minutes, imagining the horror that they had removed from me before he arrived.
He took me to a backroom where he showed me the mass floating in formaldehyde. It was the size of a baseball and covered with hair, tiny teeth, and graying flesh. It looked like something pulled straight from John Carpenter’s The Thing. He told me the surgery had been a success and they had removed most of the growth. He reassured me when he noticed my concern by explaining that a small mass had fused to my spinal column in utero and that it would be dangerous to attempt to remove it. He explained that my body had walled it off and encapsulated it and there was no danger. To attempt to remove it could have left me paralyzed from the waist down.
I thanked him and recuperated in the hospital for a few days until I was able to go home. As soon as I got home, I looked into the mirror. There was a small line of stitches on my stomach and a divot on my back where they had removed my parasitic twin. I just wanted to put everything behind me and forget about what I had growing and rotting inside me. I wanted to forget about what I remembered from the surgery. I failed on both of those fronts.
I spent the next month in a chemical daze. The doctors prescribed me Oxycontin for the pain. At first I was hesitant to take it given my history, but the pain soon forced my hand. To be honest, it was pleasant. It felt like a ball of warmth at the center of my core that spread out throughout my body thirty minutes after I took a dose. Those four weeks drifted by as a fuzzy and warm memory without anything interesting happening. It was so pleasant that I even pestered the doctor for another regimen of Oxycontin under the pretense of pain. It was about two weeks after I finished the bottle that odd things began to happen.
At first I assumed my increased appetite was just me getting back to a normal diet after surgery and a month of opioids suppressing my hunger. However I was eating more than usual. Usually I would cook myself something to eat and sit down with a book. As I got lost in the book, I would eat. Sometimes I would finish a couple of chapters before I realized that I had eaten multiple plates of food. I didn’t think anything of it. I just assumed that the excised mass had cleared up some space in my stomach.
The stomach pains were harder to explain away. I eventually broke down after the pain continued and went to see the doctor. He felt the area and we talked for a while before he explained that it was likely a side-effect of repeated opioid usage. He said it was common for prolonged usage to cause feelings of nausea, discomfort, and sometimes even anhedonia. He looked at me in a way that implied I was going to ask for another prescription. I wasn't, to be honest, but the implication was enough to keep me from pressing the issue. I agreed with his explanation and left without discussing my discomfort any further.
The discomfort continued for a few weeks before the breaking point. I woke up in the middle of the night screaming in agony. There was a sharp pain in my side and in my confusion I came to a sleep-addled conclusion: I had been stabbed. I looked frantically around my room for any sign of an intruder, but there was nothing. I made my way to the bathroom to look at the area. I wish that I had been stabbed, instead, there was a quarter-sized chunk of skin missing from my back. I had been bitten. There was no mistaking the wound for anything else, I could see the area where teeth had scraped and cut into my skin as if it had been pinched and torn into a ragged hole from the inside. I tried to block out the memory of what the mass that was removed from me looked like. It was an amalgamation of hair, graying flesh, and teeth.
I won’t lie, I had a complete mental breakdown when I connected all of the dots. I curled up in the fetal position and began to weep uncontrollably. It was too much. A recurring thought bounced around in my head like butterflies in the stomach. “Why me?” I started to have a panic attack on the cold tile of the floor. “Why me?” I began hyperventilating and couldn’t catch my breath. “Why me?” I think I went crazy at that point, because the next thing I heard was:
“It’s okay. We’re going to be okay.”
I looked around, half-expecting someone to be in the bathroom with me, but no one was there. It wasn’t until the voice repeated those words that I realized where it was coming from. It was coming from the hole in my back. Whatever was inside me was talking to me. I got up. I had to go to the hospital. I was having a psychotic episode and likely suffering from another mass. As I headed towards the door, it spoke again, its voice no louder than the wheezing of a respirator, “Don’t go. They hurt me.”
I don’t know why I responded, if I had to guess, I would blame it on the ridiculousness of the situation and my complete mental breakdown moments earlier. Something was growing inside me like a creature from Alien that could talk. I should have sprinted to the nearest hospital screaming, but instead I spoke in a shaky, uncertain voice, “I have to, you’re hurting me. If I don’t, you might even kill me.”
“What if I didn’t? I can shift while I grow. I can make it so it doesn’t hurt until I’m ready and then we can work together to make it as painless as possible so we both can live.”
“Ready for what?”
“Until I’m strong enough to leave your body. Right now, I’m not strong enough to survive outside you. I just need you to sustain me for a few months. Please. They’ll kill me at the hospital. Brother, I can be your friend. I want to be with you, I don’t want you to be lonely. Please don’t kill me.”
To be completely truthful, I don’t know what made me agree. I can only try to explain my mindset at the time. I had just had the worst experience of my life in a surgery room. If I had it my way, I would never return to a hospital ever again. I didn’t want another repeat of what happened to me the first time occurring again; I also didn’t want to relive the memories of my mother’s glassy stare as I held her hand and waited for her to die. The thing growing inside me had promised it wouldn’t hurt me. I don’t know, but listening to that quiet tone was reassuring. It spoke in a way that reminded me of dogs whimpering and babies crying. The voice sounded weak and scared. I promised that I wouldn’t go to the doctors. I think those reasons were what made me agree to the stupidest decision I have ever made in my life.
The first few days were the most awkward moments I have ever experienced in my life. Every now and then, I would feel it shifting inside me and apologizing when it moved in a way that brought me discomfort. It explained that the surgery had only mangled it. It would need some time to heal and regrow as it was still in the fetal stage and could produce fetal stem cells to regenerate. It held up its promise and the pain I had been experiencing for weeks went away. A large part of me was still driven to go to the doctor and have my parasitic twin removed. I think the only thing preventing me from doing that was how frightened the voice sounded and the realization that I would be murdering a living, breathing person.
It wasn’t until dinner one night that I felt any real sense of connection with it. I had just sat down to have a cheap microwave dinner when the voice spoke, “What are you doing?”
I was taken aback as it had previously only spoken when it was apologizing for shifting. I responded that I was eating and reading a short story, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” from an anthology. He asked me to read the story to him and I did. I would read a paragraph to him in-between each bite of food. When I finished both the meal and the story, he asked if I could read him another story.
We spent the entire night reading and discussing various stories. As I enjoy multiple genres, I read a wide range of stories to the voice as it quietly listened. It wasn’t until the sun crept in through the blinds that I realized how much time had passed. I had lost track of the time while talking to my twin. We had read dozens of short stories and spent hours talking about the ones we liked best. I went to bed after I promised my companion that we would continue this later.
It became a daily fixture of our lives. Sometimes the voice would talk to me as I did chores or cooked a meal. I would always sit down for the meal with a book and I would read it aloud while I ate. Sometimes I would have to stop and explain an event to them, but most times they just listened quietly and waited patiently. Afterwards we would discuss our feelings on the book or what we thought was going to happen. A sad part of me realized that this was the closest thing I had to a friend in almost a decade. I found myself looking forward to the discussions we would have after each meal.
One night a few weeks after their discovery, I heard the voice talking to me. I can only assume that it thought I was sleeping when it spoke those words. I had been asleep until I felt them shift inside me. What had once unnerved me, now reminded me of a baby turning in their mother’s womb. The voice twisted in my stomach and began talking.
“Soon I’ll be with you, soon I’ll be able to touch you with my own hand. Soon. You’ll love me. I was so lonely all these years. No one to talk to, I experienced the world through you. Now I want to experience the world with you. I want to feel the sun on my skin and the wind in my hair. I want to be by your side.”
I kept those words to myself. A sad part of me realized that I now wanted the same thing. I wanted to be able to look at them while we talked. I wanted to take them outside and show them the world. I wanted a friend. Those words filled me with a warmth similar to Oxycontin and made me realize how lonely and depressed I had actually been up to that point. I had no one I could talk to, no one I could relate to. Now I had a friend.
Those words were lies. Subterfuge to convince me that it actually cared about me and make me suffer through the growing pains. The veneer of fraternity and friendship sloughed off to reveal the decay underneath. I woke up early one morning to find that the owner of the voice had gone still inside me. It was asleep. I quietly made my way into the bathroom to do my morning duties when a macabre whim drove me to look at my back. The small hole in my back had almost quadrupled in size since it first spoke to me. I had treated and disinfected the fistula in the hopes that I could slide them out of the canal when they were strong enough to survive outside me. Through the fistula, I caught my first glimpse of my ‘twin’ as it slept inside me.
It is not my twin. It’s not even human. It has multiple eyes on its face that look more like a fly than a human. It is still in the process of development and in the thirty or so holes that pocked its face, only a dozen were filled with actual eyes. Its skin is cracked, mottled, and gray like maggoty pork with tiny hair-like cilia breaking through its body. The thing’s mouth looks like a Lamprey Eel, a concentric circle of needle sharp teeth with a grotesque, sucking appendage in the center. I stared in horror for a few minutes before I realized that it was starting to stir. I moved away from the mirror and did my business before it could fully wake up. I left the bathroom knowing that this thing was not to be trusted.
It had grown faster than any organism should. In a few weeks, it went from the size of a softball to the size of a watermelon. It has swollen like a cancer inside of me and only now do I realize how thin I’ve actually become due to it siphoning off my nutrients. I don’t know where I contracted this thing, it isn’t an absorbed fetal twin. It is a parasitic entity growing within me; looking to be birthed into this world so it can infect others and perpetuate the cycle. It’ll find the weak-willed, the weary, the wretched and it will take advantage of them. It’ll promise them false friendship and hollow hope as it incubates inside them.
It is not human, it is nightmare incarnate. How else could it re-grow so quickly after being torn out of me by doctors? The growth they removed was a bud likely ejected to seed another part of my body. I can now feel dozens of other lumps on my arms, legs, and groin. Embryos in development. I am a hive. Now its every movement sends waves of agony through me. It is strong enough to survive on its own and it doesn’t need its wretched host anymore. I try to hide the pain for fear that it’ll realize how much of an advantage it actually has now.
I know that the time of parturition is soon upon us and there is only one choice left. It will likely kill me on its way out to prevent me from trying to stop it. It is too late to go to the hospital. I am beyond help. The creature will realize what I am trying to do and stop me. It will either twist and constrict my spine, leaving me as a paralyzed nest for it or simply debilitate me with pain until I can’t move; both are less than pleasant options. Even if I could make it to the hospital to remove them, what’s to stop the host from casting off more migrating buds to grow into those fiendish things? It wants out and I can’t allow that.
I have my own option. The thing likely won’t see it coming until it is too late. Onto why I’m writing this. I always wanted to write. I spent so much of my life reading that it seemed like a logical progression. I don’t know if it’s irony or if it’s just the fumes from the gasoline I poured around the house that have now soaked into the rug, coated the walls, and furniture, getting to me but it seems comical that the only piece I write is basically my suicide note. I have to share this story before I strike the match. I can feel it stirring inside me as the fumes permeate the house, unaware of what I’m planning.
This thing; it breathes, it bleeds, it breeds. And soon, it’ll burn. We’ll burn.
I know what will happen when the end comes, and it tries to break free and wriggle out of my shredded body; I’ll hold it to me in my final moments. It will likely snap my spinal cord like a dead branch and paralyze me from the waist down. My legs won’t matter though as I have no intent on escaping. It’ll scream, seethe, and shriek as the flames crackle and snarl around us. I will look into its horrifying visage and I will smile. Even if it’s maliciousness made flesh, it is still my only friend left in this world. As the flames lap at us, I’ll press it against me and whisper platitudes into its malformed ear. I’ll tell it about how lonely I had been since my mother died, I’ll tell it how glad I was to finally have a true friend that understood me.
As we burn together, I’ll tell them how much I love them.
Written by EmpyrealInvective