Bloodsuckers

Something happened to him last night, and he’s desperate to figure out what. What are his nightmares trying to show him, with their formless colours and half-remembered faces? Where did this sickness come from? Why can nothing quench his rabid hunger? And, most urgently of all, why does he suddenly feel so… inhuman?
He doesn’t remember much about that night, but one thing's for sure: this is no ordinary hangover.

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4. The Purple Girl

“Purple?” Keith asked, drumming his fingernails on his mug of coffee. “You’re sure they were purple?”

“No, man.” Scotty muttered, staring down at the limp, untouched sandwich on his plate. “I’m telling you, I don’t really remember anything. Just that she was really weird-looking and she, uh…”

“Bit you.” Keith grinned.

“Uh, yeah, mate.”

Scotty shook his head and tried to suppress the flashes of anger. He’d gone back to his flat after four hours of walking around, trying to calm himself down. Had it worked? Well, sort of.

“Dude, she sounds crazy.” Keith took a long swig of his coffee, then wrinkled his nose as he put the mug back down.

“What’s wrong with your coffee?”

“Nothing. Just tastes like bitter chemicals without milk in it.”

“Right. So, uh…” Scotty paused. “Can you help me or not?”

“Depends.” Keith raised his eyebrows. “Are you going to eat that or not?”

Scotty looked back down at his plate and tried to work out how it was possible to be so hungry, and yet find any given food so completely sickening. This sandwich had lettuce in it, for fuck’s sake. Fucking leaves, that grew out of the ground. Who the hell could possibly find that appetising? Bread, too. It was just a spongy layer of tasteless nothingness, just there to fill up space that didn’t need to be filled. The empty cavern of his stomach was digging itself deeper and emptier by the second; he wasn’t just starving, he was ravenous, and yet every time he looked at food he found himself disgusted.

Scotty’s existential crisis over a cheese salad sandwich had lasted long enough to add a suspiciously large pause to the conversation.

“Uh, Scotty?” Keith’s voice broke through the livid fog, somehow softer and more sensitive. “Are you okay?”

Scotty looked up. “Yeah, I’m fine. I just feel really sick. I dunno why.”

“Right. Do you think-”

“I’m not going to the nurse, before you ask. There’s nothing they can do about it.”

“Why not? If you-”

“Because it’s not something wrong with my body, okay?” Scotty choked out with venom. “It’s something wrong with my fucking head!”

He rubbed his eyes, then rested his chin on his hand and looked up at the ceiling. He could feel Keith’s eyes on his neck and the scab on his spine was still burning.

“Well,” Keith said eventually. “I dunno, but maybe you should try and eat something. It might make you feel better.”

“Right.” Scotty rolled his eyes as he snatched the sandwich from his plate, wadding it up into a flat chunk and shoving it into his mouth. He chewed a couple of times, then swallowed half, then got up and went over to the other side of the room.

“Y’know,” he mumbled through crumbs, “I lit’rally just wanted t’talk t’you to see if y-”

“Can’t understand you, man,” Keith said.

Scotty stopped, then squeezed his eyes shut as he swallowed the rest of the weirdly tasteless mush. His throat was still drier than ever. “I said I just needed to know if you knew this girl. Didn’t need a health intervention.”

Keith paused, then looked down at his mug. Scotty shuddered as he watched him tip the rest of the bitter black dregs down his throat. He’d drunk coffee once, and couldn’t find any difference between it and the deliberately disgusting crap his mum had used to make him put on his nails to stop him from chewing them. How people could down entire mugs of it and find anything in the taste other than excruciating agony had always been a mystery to him. It was almost irritating, watching Keith drink it like a fucking idiot.

“Well,” Keith said eventually, shrugging as he saw Scotty staring at him. “I dunno what to tell you, Scotty. I mean, from what you said about her- you know, purple lipstick and all that crazy shit-”

“Purple eyes.”

“Yeah, contact lenses. Anyway, from all that shit, and from the fact she apparently tried to literally bite your fucking head off, she sounds a lot like one of those weird goth-punk dudes that hang out in the playground.”

“Who?”

“You know. You must’ve seen them around.” Keith grinned and stood up to wash his mug in the sink, unable to deal with dirty crockery even for a split-second. “They all wear, like, studs and spikes and weird Victorian shit, and even the blokes wear white shit on their faces and black lipstick. Not that I’m judging. They can do what they want, but hell, if it ain’t noticeable.”

“Yeah, no.” Scotty paused, thinking. “Do you mean the playground round the back of the campus?”

“The one near the primary? Yeah. I used to go out there for a smoke, but then those weirdos claimed it.”

“What do they do?”

“I dunno. I think they’re all arty. Y’know, art and drama and poetry and shit. But as far as I can tell, they just sort of stand there and look creepy.”

“Right.” Scotty rolled his eyes in exasperation. “But-”

“And I’ve never seen a single one of them at a party before,” Keith said. “Never. Not even one. This girl you met- was she by herself?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, that’s weird. I dunno,” Keith said. “It’d be a first, one of those goth assholes hanging out with normal people.”

Scotty frowned. “I thought you said you weren’t judging.”

“I’m not!” Keith finished washing up and dumped himself back into the kitchen chair. “They just fucking freak me out.”

“Right.” Scotty put his hand on the wall as a needle of sickness stabbed into the back of his throat. “Right. Okay. I’m going out. See you later.”

Keith blinked. “But it’s twenty past midnight, Scotty.”

“Yeah. So if these assholes really are all darkness and misery and shit, they’ll be out there now, right?”

“I dunno. Maybe.” Keith looked at him. “Take care though, won’t you?”

“Whatever.” Scotty regretted not bringing a coat before the door had even closed, but it was too late now. The nausea was collecting in his throat like stagnant water and got worse and worse no matter how hard he tried to swallow it. He tried desperately not to think about food as he hurried down the corridor, every single tangible memory making his stomach twist sideways, but the more he suppressed that feeling, the more painful his burning hunger got. As he got closer to the front door of the apartment building, the bloodless grey shadows in the corridor started twisting and changing colour like some drug-fuelled nightmare and he swayed on his feet, almost fainting as his skin tingled and started to boil. After a couple of seconds of leaning against the wall, he swore and knocked himself back onto his feet, then stumbled through the door and out onto the pavement. Cold winter air pressed itself flat to the bare skin of his arms and he nearly sighed out loud in relief, sucking in freezing breaths to hold in his mouth till the sickness dissolved. He wanted to drink this air. He wanted to drown in this air. But he couldn’t even breathe it in.

Scotty stumbled to the corner of the street, managing to reach the alleyway with the skip before doubling over and throwing up behind the bins for the second time in twelve hours.

He straightened up, and just like that, the sickness was gone. He wasn’t ill; he just couldn’t eat anything without losing it within the hour.

Which probably wasn’t normal.

“Fuck this,” Scotty murmured, his voice dissolving in the rancid air, softer than a childish whimper.

He stumbled out of the alleyway, managing to regain his composure just in time for another knife of hunger to claw through his ribcage. He whimpered slightly, feeling his face crumpling like paper from sheer agony, then forced himself upright again and carried on walking.

Stop it, was the only thought he could squeeze out of his mind as a cyclist whipped past him; he imagined sticking his foot out and tripping him, then snapping down and letting blasts of scarlet consume his thoughts and the pavement. Stop it. What the fuck’s wrong with you? In the distance, someone was whistling as they walked; Scotty could just make out the sound, and their shadow, a black cut-out against the illuminated orange of a storage building, betrayed the fact that they were all alone. Completely and utterly alone, in the dark. Nobody would hear them scream. The red on the pavement would look black till morning. Scotty let his thoughts spiral out of his control and, with them, his anger. The sound of that whistling was boring into his skull and making the blood in his head hiss and spit like a wild animal; what kind of a selfish good-for-nothing prick did that asshole think he was? Whistling. Someone ought to teach him a lesson. A painful one.

Stop it, he thought, yet again. This time, though, something in Scotty’s head answered back.

No.

The hunger bled through his body, soaking through every nerve and every vein and every organ like a flood of electricity; it set his teeth on edge, tugged every last scrap of hair away from his skin. He licked his lips in thought, tasting the dryness of his mouth, feeling every other thought losing its voice and drowning in the endless cavern of his empty stomach. It had been two days, at least, since he’d eaten anything he’d been able to keep down. He was going to die if he didn’t eat something. Those were the notions fluttering idly through his head like confetti, but they weren’t staying in his head anymore. Somehow, the more he thought about his hunger, the more furious the bouts of crimson ringing through his body became. His violent thoughts weren’t just thoughts anymore; they felt real. He could practically hear the shouts, feel the fabric ripping past his fingernails, taste the blood at the back of his throat. And all over his tongue. He was starving, but so what? What could he do about it? How could he stop it? What did he want? What did he need?

He blinked, and the sky and the stars and the trees and the ground blazed with bloody scarlet. Whistling. Whistling. It mutated into a metallic scream that widened his eyes and turned his walk into a sprint. The trees blurred into red smears and he stopped thinking. He forgot everything.

Everything except his hunger.

All of a sudden, that whistling stopped. Scotty stopped running, and looked over at the other side of the street to see that the other person- whoever he was, whatever he’d been doing- was gone.

And, just like that, so was his anger. The nightmare vision disintegrated into orange and grey, touched lightly at the edges by that soft purple glow that soothed his senses. He remembered why he was here. He remembered who he was. His name was Scotty, and he wasn’t a feral animal. He was a twenty-year-old student, and he was going to the playground by the primary school to find a girl, and that was it.

He was starving, but that was irrelevant.

Scotty blinked the last shreds of blood away and looked down at the ground. Jesus Christ, he was a long way away from where he’d started; the storage building where he’d seen the whistling guy was now little more than a tiny smear on the horizon behind him. He must’ve been running faster than he’d ever run before, and yet, he wasn’t panting. His heart wasn’t beating any faster than before; in fact, he could barely feel it at all.

He was almost at the main road now, and beyond that was the playground. It was the dead of night, and the fence and play equipment were nothing more than lazy grey scribbles against the dirty black sky. Why the hell would anyone be out here now? It was pitch-black, and bloody freezing. And yet, as he got closer, the dull hum of voices grew into a low buzz, and a couple of flurries of laughter jumped up into the air. Keith was right. There were at least three people in the playground: one sitting at the top of the swing set, one at the bottom of the slide, and another spread out on a bench. All of them were wearing black.

Scotty stopped at the crossing. Did he really want to speak to these people? If they were really as weird as Keith reckoned, they might corner him or indoctrinate him or sacrifice him to a fucking demon or some shit; maybe, they’d just make him feel stupid and embarrassed. Besides, what if that weird feeling he’d got when he heard the whistling- the mad anger that threw him into a sprint and made him forget everything but his hunger- came back?

He backed into the shadows, craning his neck towards the playground in an attempt to spot someone who might have been the one he was looking for. The person at the top of the swing set was definitely a girl, tossing her frizzy scuff of long hair around in the wind and swinging her legs so furiously it was a wonder she hadn’t fallen backwards, but the other two were both blokes. At least, he thought they were. He’d need to get closer to know for sure.

As he stepped out into the road, the side of Scotty’s vision was suddenly blindsided by a huge sheet of yellow light and he jerked his head round to see a car lurching to a halt right at his side. Without thinking, he flipped the driver off with both hands and yelled “Watch where you’re going, you WANKER!” at the top of his lungs, his voice slurring and wobbling like he was still drunk. The driver didn’t say a word and drove on as soon as he’d stepped onto the pavement at the other side of the road, but when he looked back up at the playground, the three kids in black were all staring at him.

“Are you alright?” the guy on the bench said after a long pause.

Scotty blinked, slightly shocked. “Uh, yeah. Sorry about that. I’ve been having anger problems.”

The girl above him giggled.

“So, uh, what are you doing here?” the other guy asked Scotty. “We don’t normally see other people.”

“Oh, um…” Scotty paused, trying to hazard a glance up at the swings without attracting too much attention. “I was just, uh… looking for someone.”

“Who are you looking for?” the girl asked from above him. Scotty looked up and jumped as she pushed herself off-balance, falling backwards to swing upside-down from the top pole by her legs. She laughed again when she saw him watching her.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” Scotty said, squinting at her and trying to figure out if her pale hair just looked pale in the white sting of the moonlight. He looked around, noticing that the other two guys had gone back to what they were doing- the dude on the bench was necking something from a glass bottle and the dude on the slide was staring down at his clasped hands like he was contemplating the great mystery of existence, a thin thread of smoke trailing from the cigarette between his fingers. He turned back to the girl and noticed with a slight prod in his chest that she was watching him too, still upside-down, her eyes narrowed into slits and her lips pursed. Scotty tried to look away, sure she wasn’t the girl he was looking for, because even though her hair was probably blonde and her eyes could easily have been purple in any light other than this grey haze, he wasn’t feeling any sort of surge of recognition for her.

“Oh, it’s you,” she muttered quietly.

Scotty turned back. “What?”

“It’s you!” the girl squeaked excitedly, grinning and widening her eyes. She reached up to grab the pole she was hanging from and neatly detached her legs, swinging down and landing on her feet next to him without so much as a stumble. Scotty jumped backwards, watching as the girl’s sharpened features broke into a delighted grin which was massively at odds with her thick black eyeliner and thicker black lipstick. The braces on her teeth glinted orange in the streetlights, like the twin studs in the bridge of her nose and the ring in her lower lip. Her blonde curls were tangled and frizzy, done up in a mad collection of braids that fell past her shoulders, but the fringe that overhung her eyebrows was thick and dead straight, striped with the same dark streaks of dye that framed her face and ran through her braids. Did he recognise her? No. Was he inexplicably drawn to her, even though she was the maddest-looking girl on campus? Yes, he was. And that feeling was what felt so familiar.

“Um, hi.” Scotty said. “I think I…”

“You know me!” the girl said. “I know. I know you! I met you at that party on Thursday, right?”

Oh. Well, that was easier than I thought it’d be.

“Uh, yeah.” Scotty said, glancing back at the other two guys in the park, who were acting as though the two of them didn’t even exist. “Look, do you, um…”

“I know!” She said. “I know everything. This is so cool! Did it work? Do you know if it worked?”

Scotty frowned. “Um, did what work?”

“Come on.” The girl grabbed his arm, then let go. “Sorry. Hey, guys, I’m leaving.”

Bench guy grunted. Slide guy didn’t even look up.

“They love me really,” the girl said cheerfully. Her voice was buttery soft, just like he remembered, and dissolved the delirious anger and vicious hunger in his mind. “Come on, let’s go somewhere quiet.”

The two of them walked across the road and back into the campus, and as they did so, Scotty couldn’t stop himself from sneaking sideways glances at the girl, waiting for a white light so he could see what colour her eyes were. She saw him looking and laughed again.

She stopped halfway down the path and turned back to him. “So, anyway. My manners are buggered, right? I’m Maria.”

Scotty blinked, slightly dazed. “Hi. I’m Scotty.”

Maria grinned. “You’re just as quiet as you were the other night, Scotty! I thought it was just because you were drunk!”

“Uh, no. I’m always this quiet.”

“Cool, cool.” Maria brushed her fingers over his arm, then wrung her hands together.

“So, look, uh… Maria.” Scotty started. “I- I wanted to find you becau-”

“You remembered me!” Maria said. “That’s unbelievable! Normally you don’t remember anything. Normally I have to go and find you. But, like…” she looked up at the sky and flicked her tongue over her teeth, twirling a piece of hair in her fingers. “I give you a few days to, like, adjust. And sleep. There’s normally a lot of sleeping. You been sleeping a lot?”

He blinked and tried not to shudder. “Uh, yeah. And-”

“You tried to eat yet?” Maria grinned.

“Um, yes. It-”

“It doesn’t work!” she said. “I know! What about the feelings? Like, y’know…” She wiggled her eyebrows. “The urges.”

Scotty blinked. “The urges?”

“Y’know, like, the anger. And wanting to chase people. It’s really vicious before you’re used to it, right? They’re all messed-up to start with. It must be really weird. Sorry, I should have come to get you before.”

“Before what?”

“Before now.” She said. “Oh, shit. You know what?”

“What?”

“I just realised something. Turn around, would you?”

Scotty turned around, then froze when he felt one of her fingers tracing the ring of scabs on the back of his neck.

“Oh, bugger me!” she said in dazed wonderment. “Shit! That’s a bloody mess and a half, isn’t it? Sorry. The braces make it a nightmare.”

Scotty turned back to her. “What the hell is it? I mean, I thought you-”

He stopped talking when he saw her grinning wider, baring the little gaps on either side of her upper front teeth.

“You bit me, didn’t you?” Scotty said, his blood turning to ice and tweaking more pangs from his spine.

Maria stuck a finger into her mouth and chewed on her nail. “Yeah, course I did. I can’t believe you remember!”

“But-” Scotty trailed off. “But why?”

She widened her eyes, the moonlight glinting off their purple tinge. He’d thought her lipstick was black, but that was purple too, a smear of bloody violet that matched the coloured streaks in her hair. Yeah, she was definitely the girl from his nightmare. The girl who’d bitten him. The girl who’d set off the mad sickness and the mad hunger and the mad anger and everything else that’d stopped fitting together after he woke up in that skip. He already knew the answer. Of course he knew the fucking answer. He’d watched enough horror films in his life.

Maria smiled, looking like she was suppressing a burst of laughter at his stupidity.

“Because I was lonely.”

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