This story is by Frannie Tull and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Her mind is a painful, horrifying place to be. A tangle of racing thoughts and fractured cognitions spiraling out from the depths of her synapses to the farthest reaches of her existence, exigent and unwavering.
She can feel it gnawing at her consciousness with every thought and breath. She can’t recall when it started or what it was like before it began. Maybe it has always been growing inside her, a malignant state of being expanding at an imperceptible rate since the day she was born. Or maybe she picked it up somewhere, an ill-starred acquisition.
However it came to be, it was getting worse. Something was wrong and people were starting to tell.
Nothing she does is ever enough. Everyone speaks of her potential, because she was gifted and talented and ahead of her peers as a child. So they expect more.
She can no longer expect herself to function at all.
“You were late for class again.” Her principal towers over her in his office. “We’re just trying to understand what’s going on.”
The thing inside her rumbles and cackles. There is no explanation. Having a mess in your brain isn’t an excuse.
“I’m trying my best,” is all she can mumble.
“Well, you need to try harder.”
What if I don’t know how to try harder? The voice that is her wonders in her head. What if I don’t know how to try at all anymore?
“I’m sorry.” Is what she actually says. “I promise I’ll do better.”
The thing inside her roars, endless echoes of putrid laughter that ricochet off the broken corners of her mind.
She knows she won’t do any better.
She isn’t processing things correctly. Everything comes through jumbled, if at all. Sound. Time. Flavors.
In some moments things come through too intensely. Like the volume is turned up on her senses to the highest click of the dial, spearing feedback through her veins.
She finds herself comprehending the strangest things. The crack in the ceiling. The place where the floor and the wall intersect. The plant in the corner and the way it leans over sideways just so.
“Are you paying attention?”
The cords for the blinds are all tangled together. She can picture exactly which strings to tug at to unravel them.
“This is going to be on the test.”
The thing inside her roils in her gut. Sometimes it is in her head and sometimes it winds through her intestines. And sometimes it’s everywhere at once.
She needs to be excused. She goes to raise her hand. Her fingernails are bleeding.
“I need to leave.” She asks, though it’s a statement.
“You’ve already used the restroom once this period.”
“Please. My fingernails are bleeding.” They’re dripping over the desk now. Her blood is turning black. It’s sizzling through the wood with an audible hiss.
The people sitting next to her look scared.
They have no idea.
Everyone looks at her differently now. Even her parents look at her like she’s something else.
Please just look at me like I’m me.
The next morning she vomits out her entire digestive system. It happens during Home Ec.
Her intestines flip and flail across her desk like raging tentacles, and her stomach slaps her sewing partner in the face.
There’s a ghastly amount of fluid. Some of it is slimy, some more acidic. Thick splatters of ungodly swill for every surface.
Slowly her insides begin to retract, like a measuring tape of sausages reeling inward, centimeter by centimeter until everything has squished back into place.
The x-rays look fine when she gets to the hospital.
She can’t be missing class this close to midterms. This is what haunts her in the car on the way home.
“What do you do if there’s something inside you?” she asks the psychologist.
“There are supposed to be things inside you.” He replies unhelpfully, a cross-stitch adage framed as a resolution. “There are many things inside us all.”
Her tongue feels like it’s longer than it’s supposed to be. It winds like a rancid eel in her mouth. She worries that it’s moving on its own accord. “But what if there’s something inside and it isn’t me?”
“How do you know it’s not you?”
Something goes dark in her eyes.
“Your wife is fucking your tax preparation specialist.” The words fly out. “His dick is so much bigger than yours. He’s touching places inside her you’ve never reached.”
He doesn’t have an adage for that one.
“Maybe that’s why you like challenging me with your stupid questions.” One of her pupils has fully dilated and the other has completely disappeared into a bloodshot web of leaking pigment. “Because it makes you feel less like a little bitch who can’t outfuck Sean from H&R Block.”
Every hair on her body straightens into a needle one by one, across her legs, up to her arms, over every corner and crevice. She holds very still and prays for it to stop.
Her parents are on the phone. Her psychologist won’t take her back. And her school is suspending her for poor attendance. Funny how the punishment for not being there enough is that they won’t let you show up.
She tries to breathe. That’s what the doctors and her school counselor told her to do. Just focus on her breath and it will all go away.
You can’t breathe me away, you useless slut. You stupid bitch. Do you really think you can stop me with air and silence?
I FUCKING OWN YOU.
All at once the needle-point hairs pierce her skin, like a porcupine compacted.
When she screams it knocks over all the furniture in the room.
SOMETHING ISN’T RIGHT HERE.
Her head rings out with the sing-song voices of the damned.
THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN DO.
Her right hand is prying off the fingernails of her left, one by one, tearing until they hang from their nailbeds by wispy shreds of flesh.
Her existence is chaos. Blaring, rampant chaos and pain. She’s pulled out hair. She’s pulled out teeth. The thing inside her makes her laugh while she does it.
How does it feel to be taken apart?
Thick ropes of cackling laughter.
Piece by piece. Bit by bit. Until you’re so broken that no one can fix you.
She’s trapped. A passenger in a crashing vehicle she can’t control.
Nobody will want you.
She keeps trying to scream.
Nobody wants broken things.
Now the thing inside her won’t even let her scream.
Her parents call some men to fix her.
The thing inside her cackles so violently it breaks her rib.
“The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!”
“SAYS WHO?” The thing inside her chortles back.
It’s not going well. The water they’ve thrown is unholy now, pooled on the floor with the blood and other rancid fluids oozing from her openings, previously existing or otherwise torn into her skin.
This was supposed to work, wasn’t it? This was supposed to do something. The juice that was her eyes, now boiling in her sockets, pours out and melts away her lids and lashes. And she can’t even feel it anymore.
The men start reading from their little books again. Quotes from their stories.
“I’ll tell you a story!” The thing inside her screeches as her tongue snakes down to the floor. “I’ll tell you a story that’s actually fucking true!”
Her tongue begins to split and fork into separate tendrils. One encircles the closest man’s ankle. The other winds its way up the leg of his pants.
“Once upon a time…”
The men scramble to pull him away. But there is no use. Her tongues burn with the fires of hell itself, and now they’re splitting off again, multiplying left and right until her jaw breaks.
“In the beginning of the end…”
The men grasp to free themselves.
Her tongues disintegrate their hands, leaving skeletal remains to claw uselessly at the floorboards in a pathetic attempt at retreat.
“The fools of this earth had piteous audacity.”
At least it was only their hands. The first man was much less fortunate.
“For they envisioned themselves capable of meddling with that which lay beyond the confinements of their mortal state.”
Her ribs begin cracking and expanding outward, like a ghastly Spinosaurus formed from broken human flesh.
“Because they had forgotten!” The thing inside her booms, the sheer sound eating at the walls. “The power of Christ means nothing to the synapses of the damned!”
The house was on fire now, what remained of the men cower on the floor.
“A thought can’t fix the fractured place it came from, you fucking bastard fools!”
The last thing she would recall was the charred taste of the first man’s incinerated flesh.
“It IS I WHO COMPELS!”
The last thing the men would recall was the scorch of guts as she exploded.
None of them lasted long enough to see what it was that burst free.