Dan couldn’t remember much of the night. When he woke up, his sides hurt as though he had slept on tree roots. His arms were nicked and scraped like an animal had clawed him. The sunlight was too strong that morning. He pulled his hat down over his eyes, breathing in short, low breaths. He lit a cigarette, sitting up. For a time, he sat on the ground, sucking at his cigarette. Breathing in the smoke and tobacco, letting it rest on his tongue. His head felt foggy.

“Hair of the dog,” said Jason. He opened a can of light beer and toasted the day. Michael sat on a plank of wood propped up between two tree stumps. Dan blinked. The tobacco tasted distant, like he was watching someone else smoking. Maybe, an actor or a commercial.

“Where’d the others go?” Dan asked. He spoke slow, sounding each word before letting it from his tongue.

“You were wild last night,” said Michael.

“Crazy. You passed out in the woods. We had to carry you back to the fire,” said Jason. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Dan put his thumb in his mouth and bit down until it hurt. His brain felt like so much smoke. So much pounding smoke. He felt a reverberation pulse through him. The three sat nursing the morning. Laughing, but this came at a price. They sighed and groaned, holding their heads. Hours passed, and slowly, Dan felt the fog lift from him like poison sucked from blood. That was when he felt it the first time. A pang in his stomach. Like knives. He nearly doubled over. He opened his mouth, gulping a gasp of air. Tenderly touching the spot of his stomach, he stood.

“Let’s not waste all day,” said Dan. 

They set to the task of cleaning up camp. With the three of them working at it, it didn’t take very long. They kicked dirt over the embers of their fire, bagged up what empty beer cans they could easily find, then headed back home towards the city.

“Still hungover?” asked Jason from the backseat of Michael’s car. He grabbed Dan’s shoulder and squeezed. Again, Dan felt something sharp inside his stomach.

“Just some scrapes. Must of fell in the woods,” said Dan. He lit another cigarette. The greenery slowly fell away, as the colors turned muted. Steel, iron, and glass, replaced trees and open land. The three stopped off at a beach. Dan sat a moment poking at his flabby stomach. It felt like he had a grater in his intestines, and it sent an electric current through him when it scrapped against the insides of his stomach lining. He had no sense that this thing inside him was consuming. He had no knowledge that this invisible thing had an invisible mouth, and a greedy, greedy, stomach.

The three made their way along the sandy shore, joking like good friends. The day’s heat had already broke, and waves could be seen rising off the tallow sands.

“Snake! Snake!” screamed a girl in a pink bathing suit. Dan’s eyes naturally went to the voices. From a distance, he saw what looked like a stiff snake in the sand. But the creature was too still. Its body more stone than rubber. Two children were screaming while a third boldly poked at it before picking it up. The boy held it like a spear, jumping at the girls, thrusting it towards them.

“Hssss!” he yelled laughing wildly at the fright on the girls’ faces. Dan bent down in the sand. His stomach ached. The sharp stones in his belly were grinding, pinching folds of his stomach. He felt like a clock wound many times in the wrong direction. The gears slipping, chewing on its own parts. What was strange was that this pain did not carry with it the sensation of being empty. The need to fill the gut with breads and meats. Rather he felt quite full already. He caught up to Jason and Michael.

“Are you guys ready to head out?” said Dan at a jog. “All this salt air is getting to me.”

“Coffee?” asked Jason.

“I could use some food as well,” Michael agreed. They left the beach and were back in the car. Soon they entered a diner, The Captain’s sand deck. The diner consisted of many timber beams, posts, and shining metal.

“Did you see the snake those kids were playing with?” Dan asked.

“The driftwood, yeah,” said Michael.

“Why? Did you think it was a real snake?” said Jason. He gave Dan a smile. There was a line of sweat was on Dan’s forehead, and he gulped a glass of water.

“I’ve been feeling rotten this whole morning,” said Dan.

“That’s what drinking does to you,” said Jason.

“Keep drinking water, you’ll be alright,” said Michael. The three ordered breakfast. Dan blinked slowly. He felt he could feel some extra presence. It was like he had discovered his heart for the first time, and became aware of its beating. Its thumping against his ribs. How he felt powerless to stopping its relentless drive. He drew quiet and looked to the windows. The afternoon sunlight slanted down into the high spaces of the restaurant. Light reflecting on hundreds of thousands of metal objects, alit and aglow. Like eyes brightly staring and searching through vast jungle wood. Oceanside knickknacks hung on the walls. One that caught Dan’s eye was a picture of a very large rat standing on the deck of a ship, rapier swishing through the air like a conductor’s baton and commodore hat cocked. Dan felt the pain in his stomach and looked at the pointed face of this rat. He felt a terrible worry in him.

Trying his best to focus on eating, his mind began to worry there was something inside him. His mind raced, and he felt his hands begin to sweat. What if, he thought, I fell asleep in the woods, mouth wide open? What if some creature seeking darkness crawled inside me? Burrowed deep into my stomach? A snake. A rat. He closed his eyes and clamped down on his mind. The thought was too much.

“How long was I asleep in the woods for?” Dan asked. His eyes jumped between the faces of his friends.

“Maybe, half hour,” said Michael.

“You did a pretty good job of hiding on us,” said Jason.

They finished breakfast and paid for the bill. When Dan was dropped off back at his apartment, he raced inside without so much as a goodbye. He turned on all the lights in his apartment, and took a small mirror and flashlight. Lying on the couch he opened his mouth wide.

Damn, he thought, I can’t see past my tongue, the light won’t reach all the way to my stomach either.

He felt the pain shift in him. He placed a hand on the pain. Making a fist he hit the spot. I’ll make it uncomfortable for you, snake. He punched his stomach until he could not take it anymore.

He jumped and shook. His head felt clear of smoke, but the pain in his stomach lingered. He went to his kitchen. Opening, the refrigerator door he looked about. His mind ran down long hallways of thought. Jumping and racing with new ideas sprouting like wild vines. Each thought a new window to look in on.

After he scoured his refrigerator for remedies, he went to his medicine cabinet. That’s where he stopped. He felt stupid he had not thought of it before. After all, if you’re sick, you see a doctor. An x-ray would show an extra set of bones in him. A set of blind eyes, he knew it. All things must have bones, he thought. He felt a deal of excitement, as though he had bested the hiding creature in him. He dialed the phone.

His appointment was made for tomorrow morning at nine.

“Well,” he said aloud. “Let’s see what I can do to get you out myself!” Then he was pulling foods from his fridge, lining them along the counters. Orange juice, lemons, garlic, onions, the hottest peppers he had, a grapefruit. He was soon chopping and dropping these into a blender. Feverishly, he worked at it. Now when he felt the grinding of gears in his stomach, he felt a satisfaction. The thing must be scared, it must know what’s coming. Perhaps I’ll not need the appointment tomorrow at all, he thought. He made his concoction and blended everything to a liquid.

He poured his potion into a glass. Looking at the drink in the light, he admired the colors mingling together. The orange yellow, the red pepper juice, the translucent onion juice. He pinched his nose and drank. He struggled getting it past his tongue, and already he felt something clawing at his insides. A frantic creature stirred to life. He doubled over in pain. Grabbing his stomach, he dropped the glass on the floor. Struggling through the blinding pain, he went for a second glass, and poured himself another drink. He had the thing on the run now. He must not let up. The thing in him chewed, gnawing, bumping blindly in the dark into walls. Striking out in all directions. Dan’s eyes welled with tears. Sweat poured from his face. He managed to drink the glass of mixture. Then dragging himself through the pain in his gut, the frantic hysteria of a creature trying to escape, he laid out on the couch.

Opening his mouth wide he tossed his head back and felt the sensation of movement within him. He knew he must not throw up. He wanted the thing in him to feel the pain, to struggle. He wanted to drown the creature in him. He wanted it to suffer!