Deep Cough

A light cough. Then a heavy, throaty cough. I still go to class. Still do sport. Still have too much to drink. The pain starts. Itching and a scratching sensation inside my chest and throat. The cough syrup makes my throat explode in flames of pain. A morning with a throbbing headache; two or three weeks after the first cough. I am eating cereal rings. Another cough. Something liquid and the taste of iron in my mouth. Another cough. The red slowly mixes with the white of the milk. Two hours of plastic chairs and blood in my mouth. I open my mouth and he presses the wooden ladle so hard on my tongue that I gag. “Wow.” Doctors should never say “Wow.” “That looks really bad. Do you smoke?” “No.” “Did you eat anything hard? Dry bread? Burnt pasta? Shards?” I cough. “Why would I eat shards?” “You wouldn’t be the first.” “I don’t.” “Sure?” “Very sure.” “I’d like to x-ray you anyway.” Twenty minutes drive and an hour’s wait to use the machine. Twenty minutes drive back. The image, he says, is clean. Then he says that word again. “Wow. I really don’t know what that could be.” “You don’t know?” “I guess it will heal by itself.” “Can’t you do anything?” “You can get some cough syrup.” “Syrup made it worse.” “Oh,” he says. “Then tea with honey. Honey disinfects.” Three days. Two glasses of honey. 15 pots of tea. For my meals only soup. I never shat something that liquid before. The pain continues. The cough gets worse. The honey is not enough to cover the taste of blood. I stay home and spend the day cleaning my dorm room. Never knew that there could be so much dust in a carpet or behind a wardrobe. A morning. Headache again, like every day. If you think tasting blood is bad then try tasting something clotty that vaguely tastes of flesh but comes from inside your own throat. “This is serious,” says the doctor. “But this really looks like physical damage. I’ll send you to a colleague. I’ll brief him about you. He’s a specialist.” The door sign says “psychiatrist.” He asks me whether I’m happy. He asks me what I eat. I cough and a small piece of red lands on the carpet. He doesn’t notice it, but he asks me whether I ever hurt myself before. I leave. That night my stool was not just liquid. There was something in it that looked like dark red grains of rice. Two other doctors. They saw my file on their system. They saw my throat. “So,” says the first. “My colleague thinks you are hurting yourself.” “Yes.” “Are you?” “No.” “Are you sure?” I left. “That’s unusual,” says the second. He feels my chest and stomach, then my back. He watches me while I cough. He takes a blood sample. “Are you wearing braces at night?” “No.” “Anything else in your mouth?” “No.” “It’s not a disease,” he says. “This is definitely physical.” “Physical?” “Something is scratching your throat.” “Something?” “I don’t know,” he says. “Probably you do it unconsciously.” “I don’t.” “It must be you. Or is there somebody else sleeping in the same room?” That night I have a camera targeted towards my bed. In the morning I cough red clots onto the pillow and scramble towards the kitchen to make tea. With a hot tea burning into my throat I open my laptop. I fast-forward through the video. I see myself rolling from right ot left and from left to right. Even in my dreams I see what looks like gagging and coughs. At 2 am two young men enter my room. They look like students but I’ve never seen them before. One presses a white cloth onto my mouth. My body doesn’t move. They both take their shirts off and fold them neatly at the end of the bed. One of them, the blond one, pulls a piece of string from his pocket. There seems to be some sort of metal or hard plastic attached. He sticks something onto the piece of metal. The second, the dark haired one, places one hand on my forehead and the other on my chin. He pulls my mouth open. The blond one dangles the piece of string into my throat. “Careful,” whispers the dark haired one. “I know,” whispers the other. They stand above me for about ten minutes. The dark haired one keeps pressing on my face, sometimes harder, sometimes softer. The blond one pulls the string slightly up and down, over and over again. Then he smiles. “Got it,” he whispers. He pulls the string out of my mouth. Something dangles off the string; a dark red. About as thick as a thumb but two times the length of my face. It wriggles from side to side. “Perfect,” says the other. The blond one quickly grabs the wriggling red thing. He pulls it off the hook and drops the hook on the bed. He smiles while he presses the wriggling thing to his own chest. He moans, then he releases his hand and the thing keeps hanging from his chest while the lose part keeps wriggling. “So good,” says the blond guy. “Why do you always go first?” asks the other. The blond guy moans. That dark haired guy stares at him. “Not fair,” says the dark haired guy. “It was my idea.” “Oh, fuck off,” says the blond guy. “You tried to put this thing in me.” “Not true,” says the other. While he turns around he grins. After about two minutes the blond guy moans again. “Okay. I think I have enough. I feel the buzz already.” He plucks the wriggling red creature off his chest and hands it to the dark haired guy who greedily grabs it from his hand. The dark haired guy too attaches the thing to his chest, but at a higher spot than the other, nearly at his throat. He has a big smile on his face while the creature’s end waggles from side to side. The blond guy stares at my limp body. He pulls the blanket down to my feet and sticks a finger into my mouth. “Shame,” he says. “We should really have gone for a girl.” The dark haired guy moans. “You don’t know if it works the same.” The blond guy shrugs. “We should try.” “We can’t risk losing this one too.” The dark haired guy plucks the creature from his chest and looks at it in his hand. “It’s still pretty weak.” The dark haired guy holds the creature back over my mouth and pulls my chin down with his left hand. The creature starts moving more vigorously. The blond guy tries to push his hand away. “Oh, come on. We need to switch soon anyway.” “This is our last one.” “Look how thin it is anyway. This guy is far too used.” The dark haired guy releases my chin. “Hm,” he says. “Maybe we need a bigger host.” “Yes,” says the blond guy. “A fat chick.” The dark haired guy hesitates. He looks at the wriggling creature, then at the other guy, and then at me. “Fine,” he says. “Let’s try.” The blond guy pulls a plastic bag from his pocket and they place the creature inside. The bag shakes with the creature’s movements. They place the bag near my feet and put their shirts back on. “Thanks man,” says the blond guy. He slips the string and hook back into his pocket. The dark haired guy picks the moving bag off the bed and walks towards the door. “It’s okay.” He holds the bag high in the direction of the window. “Look, she’s pretty slim anyway. Maybe she laid eggs.” “Cool,” says the blond guy. “Then we can harvest the young ones in a few weeks.” “Hope so,” says the other. They walk out of sight and for a moment light shines into the room. “Looks clear,” whispers someone. The light disappears. More than a month and the police haven’t found them. I don’t think they tried very hard. They think the video is fake but they refuse to give it back. Every time I come in the whole station seems to laugh. My coughs have stopped fully and the doctor says my throat has mostly healed. He can’t find anything else in my body and even the blood tests came out fine. I lock and wedge my door every night and most nights I also move a shelf behind the window. Still I can’t sleep. I think too much and roll around from side to side. I wonder why they do what they do. I wonder where they might be now. But most of all I wonder whether it’s just in my head or whether my chest is really itching.

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