Ben stirred from a deep sleep to a centipede scurrying up the slope of his cheek. The bug turned toward the entrance of Ben’s nose before retreating and tickling along his lips. Ben tried to move only to realize he was chained at the wrists and ankles. The vile thing crawled from his face to his ear, vanishing off the ledge of the rock altar which Ben lay on.
He glanced around. Dirt walls surrounded him, illuminated by a string of dim bulbs woven throughout the ceiling. It looked as if he was in an old mining shaft. A subway train approaching and then passing somewhere beyond the dirt shook debris from the enclosing.
A rickety wooden door opened. Several darkly-cloaked figures stood at the entry. Their faces were consumed by the shadows of their hoods. It took two of them to move a large stone funnel. A few others followed in tow, holding a cauldron of foaming vomit-like-slop. Though their shape appeared manlike beneath their robes, the group’s movements were non-human and rhythmically in unison.
“Where the hell am I!” he croaked with a desiccated throat. “Who are you people?” He strained to fight the chains but was too weak, discovering that fear was masking starvation.
“Answer me, damn it!” There were no words, only the sound of crawling from the darkness of their cloaks.
They circled him as did the crawling. Ben’s mind blanked with terror and his heart screamed from his chest. The captors held his head still while the funnel was aligned with his mouth. The tip was crammed down his throat. Ben tried crying out but it was corked by a rush of blood, teeth, and stone. The cauldron’s contents were emptied next. The clumpy liquid tasted like a warm meat and shit milkshake. The slush filled his gullet and then gushed from his nose before he passed out from over-consumption.
Ben awoke with his stomach turning and to the realization that he was not in a nightmare.
The crawling throbbed from behind the walls, followed by the subway train screeching in a tunnel nearby. Through the fear, he remembered taking the seven-thirty, five mornings a week to work for the last decade. Ben felt a bit of hope for escape surface in the sea of sickness tossing in his gut.
If I could only break these, he thought, tugging the bonds at his wrists. The action made Ben aware his limbs were discolored and swollen. The pain was fading, quelled by a hunger erupting in his stomach and surging throughout his body, consuming everything like a dead-star. Thoughts of his children, Laura and Rose, fought back the darkness from fully taking his mind.
The door flew open. The cloaked figures carried in the feeding apparatus and cauldron of muck.
“Why are you doing this?” He wanted to rattle on about how his family needed him, but they plugged his mouth with the funnel and began the dispensing.
The train moving behind the dirt woke him. He realized the chains were gone. His body had ballooned. Merging with his torso, neck, and head, Ben’s hands and arms were gone, rendered useless flattening stumps. His legs were fleshing together, left fat pegs that felt close to nonfunctional. The hunger raging in his stomach was suppressed by an overwhelming feeling that Ben no longer felt like himself. He searched his mind for something to hold on to.
Memories of Rose and Laura smiling and laughing, pierced like light into the void. If I could find the train tracks, he thought in that moment of clarity, I can follow them home. Ben rolled from the altar, throwing his lower half around to position what was left of his legs to the ground. He landed stumbling before wobbling his plump form toward the door. He fell short and his blubbery body planted face first in the dirt. The hunger grew, devouring the thoughts of his girls, keeping Ben from acknowledging he was thirsting for the taste of the shit they were pouring into him.
The door opened. The cloaked ones entered as did the crawling that pulsed from their bodies. They turned him on his back. Ben shamefully opened his mouth ready for his daily dose.
Ben woke to the hunger tearing at his insides. He still lay in the dirt. His head and torso were now one round mass connecting to a long curled posterior. Though he had lost most control of his physical and mental self to the hunger, he had gained a new sight in his transformation. In his mind, hearing and feeling became panoramic images of his surroundings. The ability revealed the crawling to be trillions upon trillions of legs to arthropods moving within the dirt.
The hooded ones returned one after the other in their rhythmic synchronized steps. They were empty handed. Ben shouted for more muck from a tongueless and toothless hole where his voice once belonged. The sound came out like the whine of an insect in the dark. Their cloaks dropped, showing their true forms to be mass groupings of centipedes. They fell to the ground in clumps where a rising-tide of their brethren met them.
Ben found himself swept away by waves of centipedes through the door and down the hall. He was pulled into a massive chamber with a mountain of dirt erected at the center. Keeping Ben afloat, the ocean of centipedes filed into the chamber as if it were their synagogue.
Beyond the reach of his newly found sense, the train roared from deeper in the earth. The ground exploded with a colossal creature emerging. The beast flopped its corpulent frame onto the mountain of dirt and nestled into its throne.
The congregation of arthropods swelled beneath Ben, lifting and presenting him to their emperor. Claws the size of bulldozer scoops clamped him from the sides, relieving the centipedes of their offering. A pair of blank, black, eyes, disproportionately tinier than the beast’s head, stared atop a mass of fur. The creature snarled and probed Ben with a nose equipped with nineteen digits in the shape of tendrils, groping and enveloping Ben’s enlarged state. Ben’s last thought before being shoveled into the creature’s salivating maw was a craving for the slop.
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