Short Fiction - Chomp

Benjamin Britworth

I had to get out of my mind. I was eating myself alive, truly I was.
It begun a few days ago when the football season started. I don't usually watch football you see, but my mates badgered me into joining them. While we were in front of the television the team I was supposed to be supporting scored their second goal of the game. My friends went wild at the sight, hollering and screaming around me. One of them near-on took my eye out he was jumping about so much.
All the while I just sat there, thinking. Something about the game made me retreat into my mind. The way the ball passed from one player to another with no errant skill irritated me; it was like the players enjoyed their showboating more than playing the game. All the teams were doing was dancing for the crowd, the ball going here and there in an elaborate masquerade. None of them ever scored a goal without deliberate intention; intention that was both strict and flowery at the same time. Through that deception disappointment registered in me; disappointment at the lack of verisimilitude, and in the player's lack of trying.
It was such disappointment that begun my decline, I'm sure of it.
Once the football game finished, and my friends were all suitably plied with alcohol, I left. The sun had started slipping away by the time I closed the front door, and an evening chill was settling in. I drew my coat close around me as I walked down the street in the direction of home, thinking all the while. What went through my mind was simple: If a game so basic in its intentions as football cannot be played without a slicked layer of subterfuge, deceit and skulduggery how is it possible for us to ever contemplate completing complex tasks like running the world. How can humans, a foolhardy, silly species, begin to imagine they have the knowledge by which to self define their own existence? I suppose the honest answer I gave myself, an answer which added to my misfortunate gloom, is that humans cannot do such things; not when a game, such as football, can be extruded from mere goal scoring into an elaborate ballet of ulterior meanings.
At such an inextricable thought I sighed, a deep rattling sound that shocked a passing mother and her daughter. Their wide eyes glinted ferociously in the evening twilight and both of them became intensely young for a moment, like rabbits caught in the glare of a car's headlamps.
Shortly the mother's expression settled from shock back to relaxed and drew out in an indefatigable determination, therein her true age returned. I paused as they passed and their eyes rolled back to look at me; no longer did they show fear, instead their gaze had turned to unwarranted loathing.
I arrived home. My modest flat was an oven and a freezer at the same time, the heating had been broken for quite a while.
I settled onto the couch and listened to the world around. The only noise I heard came from above where the neighbors were playing. A whole family was up there; two sets of grandparents, two parents and three children, all crammed into four rooms. Their lives were a constant game of shuffling, moving things from one place to another with an incessant need to find some personal space for themselves. Nonetheless right then they were playing in a rare moment of unified peace. Their enjoyment was genuine, their emotions real. Why can't they be the players on the football pitch, I thought, Why can't they be the ones running the world? Why indeed?
Whilst listening to the family enjoy themselves my mind turned to revolution. Why didn't the people, like the family upstairs, rise to take liberty off-of those who endlessly lied and cheated and danced? Why ever not? Such an act would be simple in its orchestration. The French did it and so did the Russians... Then I remember what happened to those fair countries; nothing changed, the good people simply became the bad, and so the world turned.
In that moment, thinking those thoughts, I begun to chew. A turning, twisting sensation fighting through my mouth as my teeth chomped away. Only after several minutes had passed did I realise how much my teeth were actually grinding. My jaw had begun to ache with the effort.
I tried to stop; it took real concentration, I had to will my teeth to stop gnashing. In the end they did, and then I rested.
Lack of control is a terrifying thing. The personal body, the place in which we inhabit, is the center of an individual's world. We are all individuals, or at-least we hope we are.
A day later and I was in the park with my friends. Different friends from yesterday. Friends that didn't think about football or play it. No, these friends were all couples, and all calm. All were also, dare I say it, Godly. Not that any of them would acknowledge this were I to ask; no-no-no that would be far too obvious a confession for them. No, their beliefs was strung behind a curtain of shame. They would much rather have bitten off their own nose to spite their face than confess to such a thing.
Two of these friends were sitting on a picnic blanket when I arrived, their arms grasped around one another. They smiled sycophantically as I approached and asked me to sit. I did so. After a short while we were joined by the others. The conversation spun from how I was doing to how I was coping. I didn't want to talk about the past, but I did. These friends were very good at getting me to talk; they were always good at making me talk. If the government was at war and needed interrogators in the prisoner camps I'd have suggested these friends in an instant. In all honesty I'd probably have been happy to just get them off my back for a while.
At no point in the afternoon did we talk about their lives. I wish we had at-least touched base on such a subject instead of talk about me the whole time. As such I'm not sure if I know them at-all, not with their innate ability to remain closed lipped.
We whiled away the hours in the sun and they jack-clawed my secrets out of me.
Once again it was when I was leaving that I really got to thinking about things. To be blunt the situation was nothing if not unpleasant. I don't know about you but I feel when someone is questioning and interrogating me I feel drained. That was how I felt after that picnic lunch: drained. It was like they'd sucked all the lifeblood out of me with their questions, like I'd been physically depleted by giving up all the juicy gossip they'd requested. I was like a library that had been pillaged; all my carefully stacked books scattered open and read by careless readers. None of the information that I gave them would go to good ends, I'm sure of that.
I was grinding again. By the time I got home my jaw throbbed with pain, locked into a twisted mesh of irritation and annoyance. I tried to pries my teeth apart with my fingers but was unable to. It took several hours for them to stop gnashing that time, several long hours of tombstone grating. The moment it stopped I willingly slipped into sleep.
I awoke several hours later. The first thing I noticed was the blood soaking my pillow. Oh Jesus! I panicked. It's not every day that you awake to the cold red-red of blood in your bed, no, that's a once in a blue moon type thing. Straight away I noticed the reason for the blood; I had bitten through my tongue. Some time in my sleep I had managed to start grinding again and my tongue had obviously been in the way, no doubt I'd retracted it quickly as only the tip hung loose. Nonetheless, it was a bloody mess, literally.
I cleaned myself up as best I could. The cut wouldn't stop bleeding though, so after a long stem of trying to fix it with the medic-kit in my bathroom I headed into accident and emergency at the local hospital. Several more bloody hours later and they stitched up the cut. My tongue was fresh and new, or as best it could be with a chunk missing from the tip. And yes, I had a lisp, a Goddamn lisp. The doctor'd tutted and said that it was likely I'd lisp for the rest of my life. Go figure, thanks doc, thanks very much. How about a serving of shit with your ass-wipe words next time.
My mother was 'worried' about me of-course. She wanted to see me the very next day and was utterly regardless when I told her how worn out I felt. She wanted all the hot details and none of the suffering. That was my mother, a caregiver to the end.
When we met she told me how my brother was doing; how he was working for a bank now; how he was a hotshot of his profession; how he was thinking of proposing to his girlfriend; how he.... yada-yada-yada, you get the picture. When I finally got back home I changed my bedsheets and threw out the bloody ones. What was the point in trying to clean them when a new set was only going to cost seven pounds, oh, that and the life of a Bangladeshi child.
It took me a couple of days to really understand the problem of my teeth grinding. A couple of days and six pints of blood.
The evening after the whole tongue thing I was out with friends again. This time they were sympathetic work colleges, the sort of people who I'd not known long enough to get under the grill. Guys that I'd spent the better part of three years getting to know over a water cooler and a brewing cup of coffee. All of them asked me about the stitches, some wanted to see and I obliged them by sticking out my tongue. They asked me how I'd done it. I replied that I wasn't sure. I wasn't, not then at-least, I had no idea what had really happened. After a while the subject was dropped and we spoke about something else, lots of other things in fact. It was a good evening, probably one of the best I'd had in a long time. I left on a high, a happy mood elating me as I wandered to the bus shelter.
On the bus home I was met with a less appealing atmosphere. It was past the witching hour and the evening revelers had turned into night demons; devils with forked tongues and twisted manes for hair. As the bus rounded bends and meandered its way home the people rounded with it, falling and stumbling in their efforts to keep upright.
I had picked a seat at the back of the bus, a seat which I thought no-one would bother me in. I was wrong. About twenty minutes into the journey a man, who stood in the gangway before me, stumbled and fell. In his tumble he hit a woman who, in turn, shoved him off and threw him onto me. I pushed the lolling moron away. The man didn't say anything, not even a slurred apology. Without so much as a word he stood up and acted as if nothing had happened. A right fine mess he'd made and he wasn't even sorry.
The woman shook her shoulders out and rubbed her neck.
Me, I licked my wounds. My teeth didn't start grinding then thank God, though they might as well have done, for a second later the bus swerved again and he fell onto me a second time. I thrust him away and glared as he clutched for the hand rails. He looked at me, pulling out his earphones. He swayed where he stood, alcohol oozing from him like sweat. “It's called gravity, calm down,” he slurred.
“Twice,” I replied quietly. That was all I could muster before my jaw knotted shut and my teeth began to grind.
At my stop I stormed off the bus and back home. I was sick of it all, sick of everything, sick of everyone. My teeth ground all the while.
When I got home I calmed down and made myself a cup of tea. My jaw unstuck long enough for me to gulp it down, and then I made my way to bed.
That night, last night, I remember my vivid dream. A great bear was clawing at me. I climbed a tree to escape it. It roared, its breath stinking of meat and death. I climbed higher and higher while the bear climbed behind me, methodical in its progress. When I reached the top of the tree I stopped, unable to go any further. Briefly I could see the sky above, the clouds a deep, blood red, the moon grinning down with Cheshire teeth. Panic struck me as I realised I was about to die. Really die. The crunch of the bear's teeth ripped through my leg and I awoke with a gargled scream.
The sight that greeted me on awaking was one of pure nightmare. My bed sheets were matted in blood again, real blood. I squirmed. I writhed. Agony set in and I immediately knew the point of pain – my foot, my damn foot! I looked down and in the half dark I saw the tendons spread out like spaghetti, the bones visible ice burgs beneath, and the blood leaking out like a river. A great chunk of flesh had been cleaved from my ankle.
I swung about, looking for the culprit, looking for the bear, the man, the murder, who had done this. Only then did the metallic taste of blood arrest my tongue. It took a few seconds for me to notice, yet now I realised, in horror, that I was the one to have caused myself so much pain. It was me who had bitten through my own leg like a lamb shank and ripped the flesh from the bone. My teeth had greedily chomped away, and there was nothing I could've done to stop them. They were ravenous, inexplicably so.
I tried to scream out and spit away the wad of flesh clamped in my mouth, but I couldn't. My jaw wouldn't unlock. It just wouldn't. Nothing in the whole world could unwire such a thing, and for all my trying it was pointless.
The blood trickled down my throat and begun to choke me. I coughed, yet with every cough more meat would slip down my gut and block it further, making me choke more. I was red in the face and near suffocation before my teeth finally gave up their prize, my jaw unlocking inexplicably and suddenly. With a mighty wretch I hacked up the meat, bile and blood in one, spewing it onto the bed with a sickening squelch. Then I inhaled, sucking the air like I'd just been born.
I fell back, my body recoiling into itself with shock and fear. What am I?! What am I doing to myself?! Should I call an ambulance?! Should I risk it?! Will the doctors think I'm mad?! Am I mad?! What the hell?! What in screaming hell?!....
I passed out.
Blackness. Nothingness.
I heard a siren.
A siren meant I was safe, didn't it...? Didn't it?

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