an inward battle

An Inward Battle

Laurie enters his mouth through the parting of his lips. Easing between his front teeth, he skirts his tongue, careful not to slip on the soft wet floor of his gums. At the back of his throat he stops and stares into blackness. The breeze of his breath draws over him. Though it’s warm and humid, he’s cold inside. The sound of the wind wrapping around his molars does nothing to mask the thudding of his heart.

He straightens his shoulders and reaches out to take a fistful of tonsil. He pauses only for a moment before hauling himself up, grabbing his uvula and swinging out towards the dense slime drooling down his windpipe. He leaps into that slime, snatching at the minute hairs of his trachea, and begins his descent into the dankness of his chest.

As he passes through his voice box, he hears himself whispering, ‘No.’


Loud knock. A woman waits in front of Laurie, her palm spread against the reinforced glass separating them. She frowns with thick eyebrows, pale face aggrieved.

‘Didn’t you hear me?’ she says towards the microphone. ‘I said the car at pump number three! What’s the matter with you?’

Laurie looks across to a small red car parked on the concrete forecourt. He turns to his till and touches a sequence of buttons, then says to the woman, ‘That’s £10.06 please.’

Those thick eyebrows bounce above a look of utter disgust. She tosses a screwed-up note into the night pay-tray and goes muttering back to her car. She drives off, leaving the station silent. Laurie pulls the lever and brings in the money and smoothes and places it into the till. He creaks back on his chair, twisting to stare past the stacked shelves and empty aisles of the station shop, out into the bare Berkshire night.

The stillness the lady left lasts until just before five, when traffic begins to trickle eastwards toward London. People stop for cigarettes, coffee, diesel or petrol. Laurie had sat and stared at that silence for the whole night, without hearing or speaking another word until dawn: he haunted the foyer, a ghost in a green uniform.

Laurie’s boss, Mo, arrives at exactly 7.58 as he always does, shuffling in making small talk, cap pulled tight over his bushy black hair. Laurie doesn’t linger – as he never does – and as soon as the night’s takings have been exchanged he leaves and heads home.

He passes a lively world on the pavement but when he arrives at his estate he finds it deserted. He makes his way up an echoing flight of stairs and through heavy doors and into his poky one-bed flat. He locks himself inside.

In the kitchen, Laurie surveys the remnants of food hugging the plates in the sink. Opening his crumby cupboards he finds nothing good to eat. He skips supper and goes to his bedroom where the curtains remain drawn, the bed unmade. Laurie strips to his underwear and kicks a pile of loose laundry against the foot of the bedroom door, blocking out the slither of daylight trying to slide inside. He gets into bed and rests, motionless. Sleep surrounds him.


The skin on Laurie’s palms is burning from the strain of gripping the acidic hairs of his trachea. They sting like he’s uprooting nettles barehanded. He’s been struggling down the length of his neck for what seems like hours. Spit falls as rain on his bare shoulders, matting his curls and dripping itches down his back. He looks upwards, squinting into the splattering spit, estimating how long it would take to return to his mouth if he were to retreat. But the opening is lost in the black above, so he continues down. After a while, the dark by his feet expands. He stops to listen and can hear a change in the depth of his surrounds. He’s reached his chest cavity.

He digs his toes into the wall and slides downwards and lands on the top of his ribcage. He sidles along to his left, being careful not to slip. A rivulet of throat-water forms a trickling waterfall at the base of his windpipe, spilling out over the top bones before falling away into the darkness below. The floor he stands on is treacherous. If he falls here he’d surely break something and he needs to be at his full strength. He bends and grips the bony ledge, swings a leg out over the void and begins lowering himself down, rib by rib.


A beeping recalls Laurie to the waking world. He stretches, sleepy. The twisting visions of his dreams dissipate at the sound of the alarm. Behind the curtains the sun sets, bleaching Britain a tranquil yellow. The light doesn’t penetrate into his room. He sits and feels for his clock, switching off its high-pitched call, then gets up and heads to the toilet. Turning on a light as he passes through the hallway he sees there’re no missed calls, no messages, no post.

He empties his bladder then splashes cool water onto his face. He looks into the mirror and watches with blank eyes as drips trickle over his cheeks.


Laurie touches down on his diaphragm and a tremor shakes through the ground. It’s been a long descent and he leans back against the muscle between two ribs to rest. His breathing slows until he breathes in time with the hollow, rhythmic gusts which fill the cavern he waits in. He strains his eyes to see what lies ahead. He can make out a narrow path leading along the fleshy ground into the gloom. A shallow stream of toxic bile pulses down the pink path, coming from some unnatural source somewhere beyond. Now he stands, feet sinking for a moment into the ground as if into a marsh, and he follows the stream towards the centre of his being.


Laurie runs a bath. He looks again at the mirror but steam obscures his face from view. Rubbing a hand against his stubble, he takes up his razor and lowers himself into water which cradles him as his mother had, caressing his body with that same maternal promise of peace. He sinks below the surface, squeezing his eyes shut.


Laurie creeps through the darkness, his pulse growing louder about him. And now he comes upon his heart. It sags, weak, beating in flinches, straining under the huge burden it carries. A massive parasite nests there. Its many jagged limbs thrust into Laurie’s heart like black roots, digging down into its sides, piercing deep to drink from his sadness. The parasite’s thorny skin is pallid grey; its eyes, evolved to the darkness, are two oval shadows beneath a slimy film. Its mouth leers at him, odorous and deadly. Its hatred seeps into his heart’s chambers and spills out to infect all of his body with a bleak indifference.

Laurie stands revolted. He detests this creature. It’s soured his whole world, numbing him of any definition, ruining all outlooks. He longs to kill it, but he can’t get close: it’s too entwined, too tangled in his vessels to be removed without placing himself right before its jaws. There’s only one way by which he can be liberated.

He lets out a yell and plunges his fist into the centre of his heart. The parasite shrieks as his blood sprays out into the waters all around. The creature squirms and snaps its teeth but he fights on, his blood gushing over his wrists until his heart heaves one last, tainted beat, and the monster slumps lifeless before him.

Originally published by Fat City Review, 2013 – journal no longer online

©James Bruce May 2013

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