's 2013 Horror Write-off:

" Cured "

Submitted by Daniel Saults

“Is it cancer?” As the words left his throat, Andrew Vox felt like a child from his perch on the chilly examination room chair. Dr. Jewel’s face creased with concerns that she clearly didn’t want to share with him.

“We can’t say for certain just yet. We’re going to need to do some tests.” Dr. Jewel leaned slightly forward, closer than Andrew would have liked, no doubt attempting to establish a rapport. “It’s not all bad news, Andrew. It’s in a readily accessible position.”

Her avoidant use of “it” rankled in him like an infection. “The tumor” would have been a preferable term to something so vague and menacing. She continued, “In the worst case scenario, we can excise it surgically and do a follow-up screening. You’ll be fine. Just make sure you take small bites for now, all right?” Over her shoulder, an anatomical model seemed to eavesdrop, its perfect organs on display with no sign of sickness, parasite, or tumor. Andrew swallowed his irrational rage against the inanimate object, and tried to do the same with the lump in his throat. He couldn’t.

The remainder of his visit was a sleepwalk of scheduling, long forms, and calls to his insurance provider, all between minutes-long stretches of coughing that left him on his knees, retching, inwardly furious he couldn’t simply tell his own spasming diaphragm that no amount of palpitation would dislodge the intruder. By the time he was finally able to make it to his car, he’d had enough trips down onto all fours, hacking up his lungs, that he finally felt his pride sufficiently eroded to break down and cry. By that time, however, he was far too exhausted for it. Andrew nearly fell through his apartment door, seized in the moment of entry by another dry heave as he instinctively gagged on that bulk deep in his throat, the abdominal clench leaving his muscles aching. He’d eaten little in the past several days, as his “condition” – a word he avoided, feeling it better reserved for fainting Victorian victims of consumption than for grown modern men – worsened, sticking mostly to soups, pasta, and other soft foods that could easily slide down his ravaged throat. He’d never been much of a housekeeper, but decay had begun to creep up as his symptoms worsened. Dishes teetered in the sink, and the stalemate against the bathroom mold had begun to turn against non-fungal life again. He’d fought as long as he could bring himself to do so, but the payoff of a deadlock with the housekeeping had finally fallen behind the exertion of motivating himself.

By sheer obligation, noting the hour, he threw open the freezer door to seek out something that would go down without a fight. As he did, his eyes fell on the thick, red mass in the back, covered in clotted white. It was a hearty steak, one he had bought almost exactly a week before his health took a turn for the worse. For a few seconds, he eyed it, his inexplicable resentment of an inanimate object swelling for the second time that day. Finally, he seized the bulky brick of meat, brushing off the mold-like growths of ice over the bag, and hauled it to the counter. Like hell he was doing to let a tumor get between him and his favorite dinner, he snarled mentally.

Andrew glanced back at the now mostly empty freezer as his dinner began to hiss and spit like an alleycat caught in a bear trap. He’d already had sick leave cleared for a while, but only enough to cover another two weeks. After that, it would be down to medical leave. If he wasn’t cured by then, everything beyond that point was a giant, fanged question mark. Each uneasy swallow as he distracted himself by the slow browning of his steak wriggled past the lump in his throat, threatening to send his body into another futile, wracking attempt to clear the blockage. He needed to go shopping, he reflected, once he could deal with the crowds again. And if his sick leave held out. And if the medical bills left him in any position to afford it. And if he even survived.

He finally settled, retrieving the one clean dish from the dish drainer and an iffier knife and fork. With a glass of water, his meal wasn’t the sort he would normally have considered anything special, but compared to his recent near liquid diet, it looked like a veritable feast. He cut into the meat, watching the juice trickle around the fresh wound as he sheared off a bite and tore into it. Delicious. For a moment, he was in bliss, rolling the seasoned beef in his mouth, teasing it with his teeth. Then, finally, he swallowed. The grinding of the chunk of steak against the foreign body inside him sent him into such a spasm he had to blink back tears. He straightened out again, all the more determined to have his way after being nearly thwarted once. A smaller bite followed, this one going down much more easily. Before long, he’d settled into a rhythm, sawing off tiny fragments of thick, pinkish flesh. But without warning, a fresh wave of coughing caught him off guard between bites, his muscles locking against the tumorous mass inside him.

It loosened.

For a half a second, a naive excitement overtook him. Perhaps he could simply cough it clear, he thought, like a cat forcing up a hairball. Reality swooped down like a guillotine. That wasn’t possible. This wasn’t a free-floating mass in his throat. He coughed again. Again, the growth seemed to inch upward, as his whole upper body strained to clear the blockage. He bent forward, childishly banging his palms on the table, the sting of confusion in his thoughts. With each retching gag, the bulk palpably moved upward - and it was becoming harder to breathe.

He seized his glass of water, pouring a gulp of it in hopes of forcing down the inexplicable exodus, but he couldn’t force it down. He merely sputtered it across the table, his throat completely dry. He coughed once more. It was the last one he could manage. His body continued to spasm, giving way to dry heaves, but the mass had somehow moved into the back of his throat. His airway was blocked completely.

What followed was a sense of slithering pressure, and a horrid, unnatural, metallic taste, as something slid forward along his tongue. The inescapable flavor was foreign to him, though it immediately called spoiled meat to mind. Even as it made its way through his jaws, the blockage in his throat didn’t diminish. He struggled in vain to breathe through his nose, mouth open wide in a pantomime of vomiting. Panic overcame his revulsion for a desperate moment, and he bit down. The rubbery matter merely compressed between his teeth, unbroken. Needle-like pain shocked his tongue in response, a sudden piercing agony like the sting of a bee. The coppery taste of blood began to accompany the inscrutable sensations. Nearly crazed, he bucked and thrashed in his chair, tears flooding his eyes as he pointlessly kneaded and scratched at his bulging windpipe. The thought that had just bitten him hardened his anxiety into full-on panic.

Then, at last, the front tip of the mass prodded past his lips, its anterior still wedging his throat closed. It pulsed visibly, once, and flexed. Its thick, asymmetrical form twisted back on itself, as if to look at him. His eyes, blurred with tears and unfocused as he struggled to view something so close to his face, settled on a dark, reddish, knotted shape like a torn off mass of muscle. Something at its tip pulsed and flexed. As it drew away, he could finally see it was a radula, like the toothed, rasping maw of a snail.

Andrew pitched forward, his cheek resting against the table as he prayed inwardly that whatever was making its way out of him would complete its egress and free him to breathe. As the room began to dim and his head began to throb, the only noise he could hear besides the ringing in his ears was the soft sound of tiny scraps of meat being pulled free of the steak by a tiny set of jaws.

“How am I going to explain this to Dr. Jewel?” This question, as his mind reeled, seemed strangely crucial. Fortunately, Andrew had only a few more seconds to worry about it.