Arnold wept as he ran.
He wept from the near transcendental agony that coursed through his innards like tidal waves of needles and broken glass.
He wept when his tongue, already stretched beyond its natural limits, rubbed against his splintered teeth to taste the grisled chunks of his infant daughter, whose soft flesh he had been forced to consume an hour ago.
He wept as his knuckles shifted of their own accord to grasp at the matted clump of blood-soaked hair that had once belonged to his wife.
He wept, and ran, feeling his rebelling muscles contracting and swelling under his battered skin with each painful movement. He wanted to stop, needed to stop, but he was no longer in control, he was a prisoner trapped and suffering within his own skin.
His legs took him over a fence and carried him onto a weed-choked lawn. Arnold felt the impact send tremors through his twisting bones. His head tilted downwards, allowing him a view of the twin horrors of raw flesh and jutting bone that his legs had become.
Arnold screamed in his mind and fought against the invisible shackles that bound him, but he couldn’t free himself, and he knew, despite the anguish that the knowledge brought, that he was not going to wrest control of his faculties from whatever held the reins now.
It—that’s all his body was now—hopped another fence and bolted past a grimy mirror that sat, alone, in a backyard much like the previous one. Its head twisted towards it as it looked for a new meal.
Arnold floated in his own mind like a rotting piece of trash in a dark pond, deaf and mute, but not numb or blind. He could see the vulgar mockery that had been made of his own face.
The eyes, formerly green and full of human emotion, now swollen with red blood and rolling madly. The lips which he had kissed his wife with now strips of pink meat dangling before a dribbling maw full of teeth, like wood splinters set in gums slathered in enamel and the blood from his own family.
He couldn’t close his eyes, and the moment in which he saw that obscene thing seemed to stretch on into an infinity.
Then the moment finally ended and Arnold floated down into the depths of his own memories.
He first remembered all of the happy moments that he had shared with his wife and daughter, even if the former moments had been longer than the latter.
Linda’s beaming smile as he proposed to her, their first lovemaking session and the feel of her warm skin under his hands, the delighted tears that had welled up in her bright blue eyes as she told him that they were going to be parents...
Arnold’s body had made its way into the woods, the change in terrain—from soft grass and flat concrete to hidden branches and sharp stones—redefining pain.
Linda’s bright blue eyes, the scent of her hair, the way she giggled when he prodded her toes...
The mutilated body raced across the ground on all fours. Even as his knees inverted themselves with a tearing of sinews, Arnold felt his spine press through the skin of his back, splitting it as cleanly as if the wound had always been there.
Meredith's birth, the pain in Linda’s face, the tears, then her screams being joined by the harsh wailing of the baby…
The body leaped upwards, higher than humanly possible. It landed in a thicket, the small thorns of broken bone that jutted out from its raw fingertips reaching out, grabbing at a faint, furry form that huddled in the undergrowth.
The long hours spent tending to the baby, her tiny lungs producing shrieks that seemed to belong to a far larger person than she. The looks of annoyance that he and Linda shared, looks that would be forgotten when Meredith smiled benevolently up at them from her crib…
The small creature, a rabbit, judging by its long ears and hind legs, squealed as it raised its tiny body to its maw. Then came the crunch of tiny bones and the gush of hot blood.
Linda calling to him as he went off to work, feeling in equal parts; guilty for leaving her with the baby, and envious of the time that she would get to spend with her. Then the dull grind of the office, in which a subtle pain began to prick at his stomach…
The last of the rabbit slithered down the monstrous body’s gullet to join Meredith and what little of Linda it had been able to stomach.
The pain in his innards grew steadily, but slowly. First a rapid-fire of tiny jabs, then a lingering ache, then a burning pain, and he, in all of his foolishness, had ignored it, had kept it away with painkillers until it blossomed into a type of agony that he had never felt before…
Arnold’s body, now flayed by and impaled on thistles and splattered with even more blood, scuttled deeper into the woods, treading shards of broken bottles and old shell casings. Arnold briefly caught a glimpse of a dented truck with muddy wheels.
The silent trip to the hospital after he had pissed red. The fearful looks shared by husband and wife, and the deep nausea roiling in his gut, copulating with the pain. Then the arrival, the stink of antiseptic, the long wait and then the doctor’s words…
Arnold watched from inside of the tomb that his body had become as its fingers wrapped around the throat of the hunter, pressing the tiny spears of bone into the meat of his neck and pulling the flesh apart with savage slowness.
Those words, spoken by a man who had said the same words a thousand times before. “I’m sorry, but we discovered several tumors in your stomach and kidneys, and we believe them to be malignant.”
The hunter tried to struggle, tried to fire his gun and Arnold silently prayed that he would be able to pull the trigger, to end the nightmare that was his existence.
But his own body proved stronger, and it pulled the poor man’s throat open, tearing apart carotid and jugular, and laying the spine bare; Arnold screamed within the blackness of his mind and wished for it all to end.
Linda’s hand had gone to his when the news was broken, but either her skin was hot or his was cold. He felt a buzzing in his ears and his eyes grew watery as the realization washed over him.
The next year had been spent searching and begging and wasting time and money on a cure that both knew to not exist. He found himself, more often than not, in Meredith's room, trying desperately to staunch the flow of tears at the sight of her uncomprehending, bright-eyed gaze.
The body finished its grisly meal, allowing the man within to feel its stomach burst under the sheer quantity of meat.
His hopes that its hunger would be sated were snuffed out when the body turned and spotted the hunter’s partner, standing a few feet away with a look of primal horror written on his paling features.
As the days passed, the pain grew worse.
The tumors became like a boogeyman to Arnold, haunting his dreams and waking him up in the dead of night with their painful stings. Soon the trips to the nursery lessened as trips to the hospital grew more prevalent.
Linda began to stay up with her husband, comforting him through the pain as best she could, but what little of their hope that they had left was shrinking with each night spent in agony.
And then, as if to rekindle their hope, Linda received news of a new medicine: a concoction of exotic and untested chemicals that went under the working name of Tritohypnol and the manufacturers needed test subjects...
The second hunter was faster to react than his partner had been. He had raised the gun and fired before the Beast had fully closed the distance between them. Arnold felt the buckshot tear into his body, but the force that controlled it refused to buckle.
The office that they met Dr. Morgan in was as neat and pristine as any other doctor’s office that they had seen, and they had seen many. Dr. Morgan was a short, robust man with smooth skin and eyes that seemed endlessly compassionate.
He asked them a few questions, took his blood pressure and then escorted him into a bland, white room where a single table and cot sat with their metal parts gleaming like diamonds in the harsh fluorescent light...
The hunter screamed as the same talons which had killed his friend aimed for him.
The Tritohypnol was a clear liquid, like water and it burned when it entered his bloodstream. It was only after the burning spread to every limb, every digit, and increased until it felt like he was sweating hot oil, that he realized that he had made a very serious mistake.
It had taken a few hours to become truly painful, and the two had returned home in that time. Looking back on it, Arnold wondered if things could have been different if he had been somewhere else. Anywhere else.
The fingers plunged into the second hunter’s stomach and began to pull outwards, the barbs and the full weight of the body making sure that escape was impossible.
The Tritohypnol started to twist his body a few minutes after the pain had become almost unbearable. His muscles tore, his skin ruptured, his teeth ground together until they cracked, his ligament stretched in the throes of his spasms and his mind grew hazy with hunger.
The body limped away from its latest kill, gazing out at the world with Arnold’s eyes, looking for new meat.
Arnold felt the body’s hunger roll through his imprisoned mind like thunder, but he didn’t care, he had found an exit, a way to block out the horror of what had happened to him.
He turned his attention away from the present and plunged headfirst into the sea of the past, knowing that he had a lifetime of memories to return to.
And, if they ended before the body gave out, he would just start all over again.