Manakin_12.jpg

I have a dead man inside me and he is hungry

Carson Markland

This is how his story ends, the man who haunts my bowels:

He returns, after many years, to the hospital he was once banished from. Something is wrong with him, he says. He’s swallowed a golden fork, can feel the tiny prongs skewering his intestines. If he could just get it removed, he feels certain he would be healed. The doctors recognize in an instant: he’s dying of tuberculosis. But they play along with this dead man who is not dead yet. They tell him, “Right this way.” 

***

This man—I expect you’ll want to know who he was. His name will probably not mean much to you. But I can tell you this: he was the hungriest man who ever lived. I don’t mean hungry like fitness influencers with a self imposed ban on carbs or hungry like it’s been an hour since the flight attendant last handed out little pouches of pre-crumbled cookies. I mean hunger that can’t be fixed. Hunger that leaves you dried out and exhausted. Hunger that consumes.

He was, and here I quote loosely from Wikipedia, “the subject of a series of medical experiments to test his eating capacity, in which, among other things, he ate a meal intended for fifteen people in a single sitting, live cats, snakes, lizards, and puppies, and swallowed eels whole without chewing. After being suspected of eating a toddler he was ejected from the hospital.”

And now I have that hunger too.

***

I have a friend (lucky bitch) with Richard III inside of her. Can you imagine having a villain of that caliber inside of you? Someone with flair. Panache. Someone for whom evil is the work of careful plotting and not the result of a bodily function. Someone who has an aim with their schemes, an end goal that is not, merely, to fill themselves. It would be nice to have a king inside you rather than a medical anomaly. It would be nice to have a king, and not an anonymous, eighteenth century Frenchman. But alas, too bad so sad, c’est la vie, as the man inside me might say. 

***

 

He started life as a spy. Not a very good one, though. Not much of a brain. It was his stomach that guided his action more than any rational thought. His parents kicked him out early on—they couldn’t afford to feed an appetite of that enormity. So he joined the army, and was given quadruple rations just so he didn’t starve. The army decided: we’d better get what we’re paying for. They decided to fill him up with secret documents and send him across enemy lines where he would then excrete the documents and pass them into the appropriate hands. But he was captured almost immediately, and on his first mission. 

One thing he did do, almost admirable in a way: while being held captive, the documents came out the other end. Shit covered though they were, he ate them again to avoid discovery.

***

Dinner ideas: 

  • Cats puckered with lice, cats who, when you cut them open, have thin white worms laced inside like shoe strings.

  • Whatever fur and meat combo is half-crusted into the side of the road, hit by a carriage or an SUV.

  • Handfuls of earthworms. Or, the more delicious of the legless creatures: snakes that you can slurp down like one long spaghetti noodle.

  • The frozen carcasses of lambs born in winter by misguided ewes. They will not be of any use anyways. And if you are quick, they may still be warm.

 

***

Doctors could not explain what was wrong with him. Doctors then were not as smart as they are now. Possibly, it was a problem with his thyroids, or brain damage to his amygdala. But these are sort of unimaginative diagnoses. They take the fun out of the story. Forget I said anything.

***

My friend—the one with Richard III inside of her—says that sometimes she gets headaches, and she knows they are from the dead king, that they are the headaches of preparing for battle at Bosworth. She has horrible back pains that don’t cease until she hunches over and makes her spine as close to crookbacked as possible. She says that sometimes she looks at her nieces and nephews and thinks she would have them killed for a whole lot less than a kingdom.

Me, I just hunger. Always and endlessly. I feel opening inside of me a thing that needs to consume other things. I pull into drive-thrus and say, “Give me all the hamburgers you have, and hold the buns.” 

 

***

Can you picture me devouring a cat alive? Disemboweling it with my bare teeth and drinking the blood from its veins and then chewing those veins like bubblegum? Can you picture me vomiting up the skin and fur, the delicate bones of a paw? I’ve done it. I would do it. 

 

I am the thing with teeth. I am the thing with the bellyful of raw meat, the man inside of me probably felt at some point. 

***

 

Some time in his life he said: “Take this hunger away,” and the doctors got to work. They tried laudanum, tobacco pills, and wine vinegar. All the heavy hitters of the medical community back then. Can you imagine if I asked for a break like that? If a woman said, “Please, I can’t take it any longer and I need you to fix what’s broken inside of me.” They would laugh her off the stage, and throw a few tomatoes while they were at it.

Regardless, nothing worked for the man inside of me, either.

***

 

My friend—different friend, home only to herself—says that I should feel honored. That not everyone is lucky enough to be a vessel for the dead. Some people, she says, will never feel the blister of another’s soul chafing against their own. Some people will never be the living shell for a death that refuses to stick. Some people, she says, are completely alone.

I can barely hear her over the grumbling of my stomach.

***

Crave day-old wine; crave a perfectly toasted bagel; crave your tennis coach’s touch against your bare thirteen-year-old shoulder. Crave nuts; crave nut butters; crave your own brilliance when you recognize that minor celebrity from that other thing they did. Crave the weight of foreign words from history class; crave glasnost; crave perestroika; crave lebensraum. Crave handing a baby back to its rightful owner, secure in the knowledge that you are not responsible for, or even up to the task of, keeping something that snappable alive. Crave being a person who holds babies, but does not have them. 

 

***

 

His worst crime was the one I mentioned at the beginning to get your attention. The whole toddler thing. When the child went missing, they suspected him immediately. Probably because before this, he’d been drinking from patients who were being bloodlet. Probably because before this, he’d been down in the morgue trying to nibble on the corpses. It’s hard to put up a defense with that sort of behavior. 

But fret not: men are allowed to eat like this. If I ate a toddler, they would burn me at the stake. But the man inside of me—they told him to leave and never come back.

***

 

What would make you eat a child? I have heard of females who eat their young. Mostly animals, but still. Proof that this is in our nature.

The toddler is there, in its crib. So tender. So young. I think the thought. Once I get an idea in my head to eat something, I can’t stop until it is persuaded into my jaws.

***

 

When you fall into bed with women—although some will refuse, no matter how many francs you offer, because of the smell you emanate, like every unwashed whoremonger, like every pubescent boy who has yet to discover Axe—take discreet bites out of them. Gnaw off pieces of their calves, chunks of their shoulders. The parts they won’t miss.

 

***

I eat pins. Buttons. Loose threads. Glue from the spines of books. Napkins (linen and paper). My own fingernails. The heels of socks. The beads of a fan switch. Lightbulb filaments. Long-dead beetle husks. Pencil tips. Pencil erasers. Baby teeth. Bars of soap. Mulch. Rubber bands. Music box ballerinas. The tabs of soda cans. Crayons (all colors except seafoam green). Bottles of nail polish. Tiny crystal figurines. An entire set of china. Dishwashing detergent. Cat food. An electric toothbrush and each of the replacement batteries. Pennies. A refrigerator, piece by piece.

Nothing is enough.

 

This is how his story ends, the man who haunts my bowels: ravenous and wasting, hoping for one last pound of flesh. Eventually there is not enough of him to sneeze at. You could fit a napkin ring around his waist.

You must wish for a death this ironic. You must hope for such poetry in your own passing. To die of consumption.

 

***

Nobody wants to go near the corpse. Nobody wants to touch the thing, afraid that it might swallow them whole. But eventually, I guess, medical interest outweighs disgust. Inside, he’s filled with pus, decorated with ulcers. They do not find the golden fork. They do not find snack-sized pieces of a toddler.

***

His eulogy might have been something like this: “He was a shadow behind the butcher’s shop, scrounging for offal. He was a waif fighting alley dogs for a hambone. He was alive once. And he was hungry.”

***

 

He was hungry. I am hungry, too. Hungrier than he was because I have the hunger of two people inside of me, his and my own.  

This is how our story ends, me and the man inside of me: I try one toe. And then a finger. I chew on the gristle behind my knee and I cannot stop. There is a male fantasy, I know, of being able to suck your own dick. I am living it in my own way—ha ha!—tonguing the tender flesh of my own uterus. I parse the meat from each of my ribs. As a palette cleanser, I use first one eyeball, then the other.

What the man inside me never considered in all of his eating: the world is not a good thing to want. The world is tricky and it is not enough and all the cats and cow livers and babies in the world will not fill the hole inside of you.

But me, what I want is not complicated. It is this: to taste every part of myself. To keep eating until there is nothing left.

CARSON MARKLAND is a writer and filmmaker from South Carolina. She studied English and Creative Writing at Wake Forest University, where she was the recipient of the DA Brown Award in Creative Writing. She is nominated for Best Microfiction 2021 and her work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly and Laurel Moon.

Header art: "Manakin" by Roger Camp.