The cut of the razor blade into his skin hurt no more this time than previously. With surprisingly light pressure, he cut through the existing scar forming an almost straight incision in his wrist. He sat on the toilet lid dull-eyed, chin resting against his chest. His twitching right arm lay flat over his thigh. A tubular light attached to the wall-mounted mirror flickered in prolonged spasms casting warped abstract shadows on the walls of the otherwise dark room.
Kevin closed his eyes to heighten the experience of the blood flowing out of his body. It pumped slowly through the tear in the artery. His hand was bent down, dangling over his knee, blood streaming from his wrist over the palm of his hand down over his middle finger and dripping into a puddle on the floor. One ragged stream broke off and crept to the wall of the bathroom.
The heroin masked most of the pain. He felt like he had separated from his body, floating out of his head, hovering in the air above watching himself die.
Growing lightheaded, Kevin started to laugh, but it quickly turned to tears. His body wracked with sobs, he leaned to his left to rest his head against the wall.
"I'm sorry, Mom and Dad." The words escaped in a rough whisper. "I've never been the person you said I could be. And I don't even know why."
Kevin's eyes closed again, his thoughts turning dark. The anger that welled in his gut rolled over him in waves. How many times was he going to quit? How much did two people deserve to be put through? His father's visage, ragged and opaque, appeared to him. Kevin opened his eyes to wipe the vision away, but it remained. The smiling face spoke in a slow, distorted voice.
"You've got everything going for you son, just reach out and take it."
Kevin turned away violently, smashing his mouth into the wall, blood from his wrist spraying over the bathroom counter and mirror.
"Oh shit, Dad," Kevin shook as he cried and rubbed his face over the wall as if it were his father's shoulder.
"Your mother and I will always be here to help you."
"You can't help me, Dad. Only one thing can, and I don't think it's coming this time."
"What are you going to be, Kev? Stand up." Kevin looked at the door. The ghostly face was gone, but his father's voice still resonated in his head.
"Who are you?" Dad's favorite question. Who are you? Do you fight through your problems or run away? Do you want to learn something or just drift through life looking for the easy way out? Who are you? Kevin stared down at his wrist, his life emptying onto the bathroom floor.
"I’m a liar Dad. I’m weak and no good." He started to laugh again. It exploded, ringing hollowly through the cramped room, dancing around his head as if he were a cartoon.
"That's who I am," Kevin said through crying hiccups. "There's nothing of you and Mom in me. If there ever was, I drove it out." Kevin rolled to his right on the toilet seat until his back was lying on the lid, his head propped awkwardly against the wall and his feet dangling over the bathtub. His left arm lay over his midsection, the blood soaking his shirt.
The mirror light flickered one last time, and a loud pop made Kevin turn his head. The light went out for good, leaving the room completely dark. But there was a glow coming from somewhere; a pale light hung in the air. Kevin swallowed hard.
"It is coming again."
At the base of the bathroom door a laser beam of light cut up a few inches from the floor and then, widening, cut to the left opening a rectangular hole. Kevin was familiar with the eater's entrance.
Through the hole crawled what looked like a vermiform insect. Several inches long but as narrow as a piece of twine, it slid gracefully across the floor, consuming the trail of Kevin's blood that had grown thick by now. It made no sound, but Kevin could see its body expanding as it gorged itself. When it reached the puddle at the base of the toilet, it stopped moving. Starting at one edge of the irregular circle, it slowly drank every drop drawing the warm liquid into its body with a steady undulating motion.
Just like last time and the time before, on the verge of death the eater appears and takes it away. Almost unconscious, Kevin had thought it was not going to show up this time. He watched the creature inch its way up the toilet bowl. It was out of sight for a few moments. Kevin waited and then felt it crawling up his stomach and onto his arm.
Engorged with blood, the worm was thick now. It found the wound on his wrist and burrowed inside. Kevin watched the bulge in his skin as it moved slowly up toward his elbow. Then the door opened and the keeper entered.
He was tall, robust, with eyes like charcoal. He neither smiled nor frowned and rarely spoke. His body was a featureless light gray color, shimmering like asphalt in the heat, and he always arrived after the eater had entered Kevin's body. Looking into his eyes, Kevin could not read anything.
The eater was at the base of his brain now. Kevin could feel it crawling inside his skull.
"This is the last time we can come, Kevin," the man said, trying to distract him.
The eater found the black spot in Kevin's mind again and drilled inside. Kevin winced then arched his back in pain.
"We can’t help you anymore."
Like a caterpillar methodically consumes a leaf, the eater chewed through the diseased part of Kevin's brain. There were still holes nearby from previous visits, and this time it had spread farther. Kevin squirmed on the toilet as the arrows of pain shot through his body. The keeper stood by quietly until it was finished.
The eater left Kevin's brain and made its way out of his body the way it had entered. When it crawled through the slit in Kevin's wrist, it secreted a slimy yellow substance that sealed the wound. The keeper picked it up then and placed it into a small wooden box. After meeting Kevin's eyes one last time, he left the bathroom.
Kevin was on the verge of passing out but thought he heard the keeper walk down the hallway towards his parents' bedroom. He listened carefully and was sure he heard another door opening.
Falling off the toilet to his knees, Kevin crawled out of the bathroom. He stopped and listened, hearing voices coming from another room. Lying down, he crawled on his belly across the hallway carpeting until he reached his parents' bedroom. Pushing aside the door, he saw the keeper at his father's side of the bed. His father was rubbing his eyes and putting on his glasses. When he had them on and looked at the man, he didn't jump away or yell, but the fear was evident on his face.
"Not again," his father breathed.
"Yes. He tried again tonight. We just finished."
"Why does he do it?" Kevin's mother, fully awake now also, held her husband's shoulders tightly and began to cry.
"This was the last time," the keeper continued. "We can no longer help him."
"I see." With tears in his eyes Kevin watched his parents clench hands as they sat helplessly in their bed. They looked like children's dolls; bodies limp and so small next to the keeper's large form.
"I have one more task before I can go," the keeper said.
"Yes, yes. I know," Kevin's father said with resignation.
"The eater must have healthy brain matter to counteract the disease it has consumed." The keeper took the now bulbous insect from its box. Kevin watched his father lie back in bed, his wife wrapping both of her hands around his and squeezing. The keeper dropped the eater onto the bed. Greedily, it crawled into Kevin's father's ear, winding its way to his brain.
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