It burned on his tongue and scraped down his throat, leaving behind a deep, smoky aftertaste. The heat exploded in his stomach, made him cough.
Chris Grogan refilled his glass and found his voice above the music in the next room. ‘That’s some serious shit.’
Jerry Long – bulldog face and protruding brows – acted as Grogan’s bodyguard, to prevent certain people getting too close to Grogan; a necessity in the dark, slimy underbelly of prostitution and drugs.
Grogan held up the bottle of Mezcal. ‘Genuine stuff from Mexico. Got the dead grub at the bottom, look.’
Long winced. ‘What the hell is that thing?’
Grogan peered at the blanched creature curled at the bottom of the Mezcal bottle. From the strange dark claws lining the length of its belly to the weird, flat shape of its head, it fascinated him. ‘Looks like a witchetty grub.’ He laughed then, his mind fuzzy with the alcohol saturating his veins. ‘Dare me to swallow it?’
Long recoiled. ‘That’s disgusting.’
‘It’s just a grub,’ Grogan said. He put the bottle to his lips and the dark honey-coloured liquid sloshed down the bottle neck, taking the grub with it.
Long’s face creased as he watched.
Grogan swallowed the Mezcal, felt the grub against the tip of his tongue. Then he sucked it through the opening and into his mouth. He felt soft malleable flesh rub against the inside of his cheek, hesitated at the sensation, then he tipped his head back and swallowed.
It slithered down his throat, unhurried.
Grogan took a last swig, emptied the bottle. The swill glanced down his gullet and hit his stomach. The warmth rose up his throat and he belched. ‘Nothing to it.’ He gestured to Long and wandered into the noisy front room. ‘Let’s see who’s working hard.’
Grogan had almost a dozen girls working for him, and between them they made thousands a week for him, but his latest girl, a 17 year old junkie called Natalie, seemed almost disconnected from her reality, and certainly wasn’t making Grogan nearly enough money.
He approached the girl hunched on the sofa. She sucked hard on a cigarette, exhaled with detached slowness. Two other women sat opposite, flirting with a client.
Grogan looked around the plush, city apartment at the men who had paid to attend the party, with the expectation of sex and satisfaction and money well spent. Men that Natalie should have been entertaining.
He found her face. ‘Why aint you with clients?’
Her eyes moved; empty. Thin trails of smoke wafted around her face. ‘I’m tired, Grogan.’
‘Tired? How you going to earn me money when you’re sat on your skinny arse doing jack shit, huh?’
She croaked. ‘I gave you everything from last night.’
‘A hundred and twenty aint much,’ he retorted. He pointed to the other women. ‘These girls pull in almost a thousand a day.’ He kicked Natalie’s shin, watched her shrink back from him. ‘Get your act together, bitch, and start earning some money.’
She held her shin, peered up at the galvanised look in his eyes. ‘But you keep making me sore…’
‘Sore?’ Grogan grabbed her hair and yanked her from the sofa. He manhandled her across the room and down the hallway. He kicked open the bathroom door and shoved her against the sink.
Fear scratched dark lines under her sullen skin. ‘Look, I’ll make more tonight, I promise.’
Grogan slapped her across the face; not too hard so that he didn’t leave any marks that would put clients off. ‘Damn right you will.’
‘I’ll do whatever it takes…please, Grogan…anything, just don’t hurt me like this morning…’
Grogan grabbed her throat. ‘You’re the youngest here; you should be making a mint for me. If you don’t deliver, you’re dead, understand?’
A strange sheen masked her expression; her fear stalked the toxic silence. She nodded, silent.
He pushed hard against her larynx. ‘You need to learn some respect, bitch, so you better get used to this, ‘cos you don’t ever get to go home to mommy and daddy, understand? You belong to me and you do as I say. This is how it is. You’re here to provide a service, ‘cos that’s all you women are worth.’ He ripped at the button on her jeans. ‘Gonna have to teach you some respect, again.’
A tear edged its way down her face from mascara smeared eyes. She knew what was coming. How she desperately wished she could be back home with her parents, how she regretted turning to the wrong crowd of people, simply to rebel against any authoritarian hint. What had been perceived as cool, insurgent behaviour to her friends now appeared asinine and stupid.
Because now, she couldn’t escape.
She had become one of many sucked into modern slavery, forced to perform day after day, bending to the whim of others, succumbing to the endless assaults so often that she would blot out the pain with whatever drugs she could get her hands on. It wasn’t a life, it was simply an existence.
Grogan snorted, yanked her round and bent her over the sink. He pulled at her knickers, fumbled for a moment before inserting himself into her backside.
Natalie didn’t scream, wouldn’t, for fear of showing him any weakness, but inside she felt the burning fire scorch up the small of her back, and in her head she heard the shrill sound of her voice splitting her conscience. Mouth contorted in a primal, silent shriek; she saw her distorted reflection in the chrome taps, thought how grotesque she looked. But she would rather be dead than suffer this day after day – it was Grogan’s preferred method of subjugation, more painful, more terrifying. Each day the pain grew worse, each time it felt as though her insides would tear open, and each time she would soak up the pain and dream of a painless end.
When he was done, Grogan hauled her back through the hallway and into the main room where a group of men loitered, waiting. He shoved her. ‘Get to work.’
She glanced over her shoulder at him; face smeared black with makeup. ‘Sooner or later this will come back and bite you, Grogan. That way you treat us. The way you treat me. Aint you ever heard of karma?’
He waved her away. ‘Whatever, bitch. Shut your hole and get back to work.’
Natalie watched him head towards the kitchen, her misery pooling in the pit of her stomach, the sharp soreness from her backside like an echo trapped in her body, a reminder of her pathetic life.
She did as she was told.
Grogan had felt unwell for days following the party.
Almost a week had passed, and he began to experience strange abdominal cramps. The sensations came and went in waves, his distended insides pitching like a vessel stranded on an ocean. Nausea rippled through his stomach in explosive episodes, usually when he was tired and just wanted to sleep, and the feeling of movement would make him run to the bathroom where he would expel any undigested food and drink. And even though his stomach had been empty, he heaved up urine-coloured bile in relentless streams.
Then it would ease for a while. But the sensations always came back.
On Thursday, Long dropped off the money the girls had made. ‘Bet it was that curry you had on Saturday before the party.’
Grogan stared at the panoramic view of the city, smoked. Dark, mauve-tinted clouds gathered in the distance, undulating and swirling with spite. ‘We ate the same food. You’d be affected if that was the case. But this is constant; it’s been almost a week. It’s not the curry. It feels weird, like my guts are pulling.’
‘Constipation,’ Long muttered. ‘That’s what that is.’
‘I aint never felt anything this bad before.’
‘Maybe you picked up a bug or something,’ Long muttered. ‘You should get it checked by a doctor, make sure it aint serious.’
Grogan mused, secretly hoped it wasn’t anything untoward. It was possible he could have picked up an infection from one of the girls, but they had regular screening and all clients had to wear protection. All except Grogan.
Long sat down on the sofa and arranged some lines of coke on the table. ‘You gonna be okay for Saturday?’
Their next soiree. Grogan had lined up some bankers to attend. They would make some serious, easy money.
‘Yeah,’ Grogan said, watching the darkness approach. ‘Keep an eye on Natalie. She needs to make a thousand or she’s dog meat. Saturday is her last chance. If she don’t come up with the goods, then you get rid of her, cut her up, no traces. Got it?’
A strange, heavy darkness pressed against the city that Saturday. Fine streams of rain threaded down the large panes of glass of Grogan’s spacious penthouse, like pulsating, reflective veins.
Grogan looked up as Long came through the doorway leading to the open plan kitchen.
‘Christ, you like shit, man,’ Long said, staring at Grogan’s grey, waxy complexion. ‘You don’t look right.’
Grogan’s clammy hands trembled as he smoked a cigarette. ‘I’ll be fine. It’s just some viral infection. Probably caught it off one of them bitches in there.’
Long handed over a large bundle of cash. ‘So far so good. Those new clients of yours are enjoying themselves.’
‘What about Natalie? She earning?’
He nodded. ‘She’s in the gym with a client. Don’t know what you did to her, but she’s not doing too badly. All the men seem to like her.’
Grogan half smiled with a hint of derision. ‘I told them she likes it up the ass. We won’t have any more trouble from her.’ His guts rumbled, as though full with gas. Something pushed against the intestines and he jerked.
Long saw it.
Grogan moved. ‘I need the bathroom…’
Long watched as Grogan rushed from the kitchen. Perplexed, he followed Grogan through the throng of people crowding the front room.
Grogan made it to the bathroom, slammed the door, but the weakness in his muscles made it impossible for him to get to the toilet bowl and he collapsed by the door, enveloped by the heavy sensation of his anus bulging through his trousers.
Perspiration leaked from widening pores and salty streams dribbled from his face and stung his eyes. The strange cramping in his guts made the fear in his veins spill into the rest of his bloated body, made him think that it wasn’t food poisoning or an ulcer or a virus.
Day by day, hour by hour, his body had inwardly spasmed and had weakened him and it dawned on him then that perhaps it was a tumour in his stomach or guts, that maybe it was cancer. And if it was, the amount of pain and discomfort meant it was too late. It would kill him, he would die.
‘You okay in there, Grogan?’
Grogan pushed against the bathroom door, made sure it was locked. Sweat droplets stung his skin. ‘I’m fine…I’m okay…it’s just the booze…’
‘You got to stop drinking that Mezcal shit,’ Long said from the other side of the door.
Grogan’s guts contracted and another wave of discomfort pushed copious amounts of perspiration from straining pores. Something that sounded like a growl crawled up his throat, something foul and odorous. He gagged, contorted and stiffened until the feeling subsided.
Then he took in a deep, entrenched breath, tried to control the tremors.
But the reprieve was short-lived and the sensation returned, felt like something was crawling through his bowels towards his anus, like a parasite. Slimy, solid. Moving around and burrowing through soft, supple flesh, eating from the inside out.
The colour of fear eclipsed any discomfort in his stomach. The cramps grew intense, the waves of pain now just a minute or two apart, rippling through his abdomen. He felt something wet around his crotch, feared that he’d peed himself. He loosened his trousers, yanked them down, but rather than urine, he saw that his underwear had stained red.
‘Grogan?’ Long’s voice, seemingly distant.
Grogan’s entire body trembled and jerked. The sensations worked down until he could feel it crawling towards his backside, the movement like a giant centipede. His breathing became laboured as the pain intensified, and something much larger than the opening of his anus pushed through soft tissue, tearing and slicing.
His vocal chords exploded in a scream.
Long banged on the door. ‘Grogan! What’s happening in there? Grogan?’
A dirty red pool oozed across the tiled floor; thick and gloopy, like syrup. A terrible odour filled the air, foul and torpid. There was nothing he could do to stop it; he could barely move from his squat position, but he felt it about to emerge.
Grogan barely heard Long’s voice through the piercing throngs on pain. He curled, foetal-like, let out another piercing shriek, felt the flesh around his anus ripping, then something finally pushed through, wriggled.
His breathing became rapid as blood and green tinted mucus seeped across the floor. He balked at the bilious odour, yet somehow managed not to vomit through his terror.
Something writhed from within and eased forward.
Grogan screamed again, tears and perspiration merging, muscles trembling, veins bulging and sliding beneath his puckered skin.
The creature finally emerged from Grogan’s torn backside and crawled across the floor.
Through the blur of pain, Grogan recognised it – the grub that had been at the bottom of the Mezcal bottle, but now it was the size of a cat, with large pincers at the front of its head – the means of eating and gnawing through his flesh.
Blood and mucus along its body reflected the stark bathroom light. It scuttled towards the laundry basket, hid in the shadows.
Grogan’s senses buzzed; frenzied heartbeat loud in his ears. He was screaming above the din.
Long kicked at the bathroom door, split the frame. He kicked again, and the door gave way.
A rush of people crowded through the door, then instantly recoiled among curdled screams and fled down the corridor.
Long bent down. ‘Jesus, Grogan…’
Natalie had heard the screams and the commotion. She pushed through the crowd gathered by the bathroom door, heard whispers about a large maggot.
She stared at the sullied mess on the floor. Stared at Grogan’s cold, deathly gaze, stark beneath the bathroom light, the remains of his backside smeared thick with blood.
Long searched the laundry basket for the creature.
Natalie should have felt something, but didn’t. She leaned over Grogan. ‘Now you know what it felt like every day for us.’
Long, on his knees looking for the creature, never even noticed Natalie.
And at that moment, Natalie saw her chance to escape.
‘Karma,’ she whispered then to Grogan, before calmly turning away and leaving through the unguarded front door.
A J Humpage has short stories and poetry published in anthologies like 6 Sentences, Pill Hill Press, Static Movement, Carillon and many e-zines. She dispenses writing advice at http://allwritefictionadvice.blogspot.com and is on Twitter: @AJHumpage
Her first novel, Blood of the Father, is available on Amazon Kindle.