Raymond felt the first symptoms on Saturday after eating an extra-large, stuffed-crust pizza and two pints of chocolate ice cream: a tingling rush in his stomach, a triumphant coursing of a million miniature mouths.
The part of him that kept others from seeing him was now disappearing.
By Monday, he had already lost six pounds.
These really are miraculous little creatures, he thought, remembering Dr. Tilly’s description of the CRISPR-engineered Arachperis: “Eight mouths and a conical head for burrowing, little miners happy to excavate all that’s weighing you down.”
The doctor chuckled, and Raymond noticed the protruding black tendrils of Tilly’s nose hairs.
“They’ve proved efficacious for other patients,” the doctor said.
At first, Raymond pictured the Arachperis as cartoons with big twinkling eyes and licking-lip mouths; an army that he might command, that would grow to love him.
But Thursday arrived with another fourteen pounds dropped, and he began to have visions of miners with spinning shark-toothed mouths, furiously cutting into walls built of bacon burgers, colossal nachos, meatball carbonara, and German chocolate cake.
He called Dr. Tilly to ask if this was normal.
“Perfectly fine,” Dr. Tilly said.
“What if they get into my heart?”
“And chew through all that plaque? You would consider yourself lucky to avoid the bypass surgery.”
The doctor chuckled again.
“There’s nothing to worry about. They’re designed to live only in fat. They hate muscle, especially a vibrating muscle. Just maintain the high-fat diet, and when you’re down to 180 pounds, we’ll kill them off with the cleanser.”
Raymond started Friday with two grand slam breakfasts, asking for eight extra butters, which he pressed onto his pancakes with shaking hands. He tried not to think about the cleanser, how the Arachperis had so little time left.
To be enslaved and then die? To be so hungry while alive?
And as he thought this, he felt a surge in his stomach—millions of suffering mouths gnashing in frenzied speed.
He ordered another grand slam and a double fudge sundae.
They’re going hungry, poor things. Why would I want to kill them off?
The food at the pancake house was not coming fast enough, so he left and found a Burger Buster two blocks away. He began circling through the drive-thru, consuming one Double Buster meal after another.
His phone vibrated. It was Tilly: “We’ve had some concerning results with one of the other patients using the same batch you are. You need to get in here immediately, and until you get here, keep feeding them.”
Raymond pictured them now as addicts, their mouths slack, their eyes dilated—heartbreaking in their bottomless need.
The fat wasn’t coming fast enough. He felt their agony, their misery for always being hungry.
And he felt something else.
They were climbing out of his stomach, creeping on their black-bristled feet. Their mouths gaping with the hunger of the world, painfully empty and growing emptier with every bite.
My poor, hungry children.
Seeking, he knew now, the organ that is over fifty-percent fat. The mind where he had lived alone all his life, waiting amongst feasts unending for some guests to arrive.
What will it feel like?
And how fast will I disappear?
Niles Tomlinson lives in the Washington DC area and teaches American Gothic fiction and writing at Georgetown University. His scholarly publications explore human/animal crossings in Poe’s “The Black Cat”, Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”, and The Ring. He loves animals, so-bad-they’re-good horror films, all things carnivalesque, and The Replacements.