Eating Our Hearts Out

"If I'm sick of being a victim, but not cut out to be a hero, what does that make me?"

Scotty Matthews is an alcoholic- he’s used to waking up miles away from his university campus with no memories to explain where he was or who he was with. As he tries to recover from one night of drinking, though, he realises he doesn’t feel quite right. He has nightmares he can’t explain, sickness he can’t suppress, anger he can’t control, and- worst of all- hunger he can’t satisfy.

Scotty needs to know what happened to him that night, but he only has two leads- a neck wound that probably came from a broken bottle, and a vague image of a girl, taken from a dream and friends who aren’t sure what they saw. Scotty tries to convince himself she was just another drunk student at a party, but he’s soon forced to accept the far darker truth. Not only is she a monster- she’s turned him into a monster too.

And if he wants to get his symptoms under control, he’s going to need her help.

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Author's note

Hello!
This is a little trigger warning. "Eating Our Hearts Out" is a vampire story, but there isn't any sparkling or ballroom dancing, and the violence goes a HECK of a lot farther than a bit of vanilla stalking. This story is packed with blood, guts, violence, pitch-black humour and an unhealthy amount of cannibalism alongside themes of alcoholism and drug addiction. Also, both my protagonists make morally questionable decisions to say the least. If you're squeamish, proceed with caution. If none of that bothers you, then please have fun reading! Jem :)
AA

16. Animal

IT TOOK LONG enough, but the voices in my head are gone. The anger’s gone. The hunger’s not gone, but the sick urges it forced on my body are, and I think, in time- a lot of time- I might be able to learn to live with it. Shockingly, I think the three weeks of cold turkey actually worked, but something inside me doesn’t care. Maria’s out at one of her lectures, but she should be home soon. Without her, and without the blood, the lust, the anger, the madness… all I feel is empty.

I rub my face as my insides crumple with misery- a sensation I haven’t felt for three years or more. I get up and go to the window, opening it and leaning against the sill to inhale the musty stink of ordinary life, see the rooftops and aerials and houses and walls that belong to ordinary people, wondering if anyone else in this city’s lost the will to live as well. I grip the handle of the window and shove it all the way open, leaning out, feeling my arms screaming as the evening air bites down on my face. When I close my eyes, I feel nothing.  I lean further, turning sideways to pull myself up onto the windowsill and tuck my legs under my chin, and then look down at the pavement and imagine it rushing up to punch me in the face. The wind scratches my ankles as I hang my legs over the edge, pushing myself closer, closer, wondering how far I dare lean out, or whether I dare lean too far out this time. The sharp edge of the windowframe bites into the backs of my thighs and I imagine letting go to rid myself of the pain- not pushing backwards, into the room, but forwards, into those fifteen short feet of sky. The thought scares me, but I don’t get down.

I’ve got a million choices. None of them involve staying here. Know why? Because I’m an English Literature student, and I know how these stories always go. Assuming I’m the protagonist, of course, which I have to admit is starting to look slightly doubtful. Maria’s the antagonist; no doubt about that. And that means at the least, I’d better get ready to leave her and never see her again. It’s going to be hard, but if she stays in my life she’ll muddy its waters. I think I might be clean. It’s all I’ve ever wanted for all of seven years. It’s a chance to start again, and I’ve learned better than to pass up chances when they’re given to me. I’m going to have to leave. I try not to think about the novel we studied last term, for our Crime Fiction course. The one where the hero fell in love with the villain and then killed him. Used their love to get close to him. Cut his throat. As I look out onto the dark purple-and-orange street, I wonder how my story’s going to end. Shame I can’t skip to the end now, huh? Or maybe not. It’s probably either unrealistically happy or stupidly miserable. I look down. Miserable all the way down.

Back in high school, I spent almost every second of every day thinking about taking my own life. That’d been when I was going through the worst of those debilitating fits of numbness that made getting out of bed feel like climbing a mountain and the simplest of tasks most people take for granted feel plain impossible. They were another habit I managed to kick. Now, though, I’m once again imagining what’ll happen if I lean a little too far over the edge of this windowsill, letting gravity snatch me up and smash me against the concrete like a bug. With my arms pushed out to either side, I lean further out of the window, further, further, till my muscles start to strain and gravity tugs my legs. I wobble, and a cold stab of adrenaline jerks me backwards. I gasp, then pull myself back inside and let myself down from the windowsill. I close the window and breathe in again, even though I don’t need to, feeling the warm air and the solid ground under my feet.

Coward.

I have to remind myself that even if I did fall, it wouldn’t kill me. Why does that make me want to do it less? Nervously, I look over from the window at the broken mirror-frame, still on the wall, the various spatters of brown blood on the faded coral carpet, and the shattered door. I haven’t left this room since I started sleepwalking. Two weeks ago. I head for the door and leave the room, fussing a splinter as I walk down the stairs and into the darkened kitchen. I switch on the light.

The bigger dog, Tricky, looks up at me from his bed as I leave the doorway. He’s the one I nearly hurt the last time I sleepwalked. I expect him to whimper or run away or maybe growl, jump up and rip my head off, but he scampers up to me and presses against my feet affectionately. The littler dog- Bounce- follows him and starts to squeak. I smile as I crouch down to pet them. I’ve always loved dogs. Mum hates them- hates all animals, actually. The most I ever had as a kid was a pet earthworm in a box. He didn’t last long.

Eventually, I walk over to the kitchen counter and swing myself up onto it, looking up at the acridly bright ceiling lights and cautiously enjoying seeing the world in regular colour again. The bout of misery’s nearly over. Nearly.  I think it was brought on by the crushing fear I could relapse at any moment, couldn’t control my own body well enough to know for sure it was all over. But I’m okay right now, and that’s good enough for me.

I jerk my head up as footsteps dance up the path. I walk into the hallway as the front door’s flung open and Maria stumbles in, covered from head to toe in blood. I freeze. She thrusts her keys onto the sideboard with a tightly clenched fist and looks up at me with gritted teeth through dark-brown ropes of hair.

“Shit.” She says, her voice slurred more than I’ve ever heard it before. “You weren…. Weren’t suppos’d’to see me like this. Y’know I thought you were still in your room.”

“Oh, my God.” I say, draping my hand uselessly over my mouth. “Oh, my god.” My focus isn’t on the blood, but the agonised look on her face. I walk up to her. “Are you okay? What the hell happ-”

“Ssh. I’m good. I’m good.” Her voice sounds wrong in her mouth. She must be ten times higher than I’ve ever seen her before. When she pouts at me, I notice she’s not wearing her braces. The heaviness of the blood in the air fogs my head, but it’s nothing. “In fact I’m wonder… wonder-fucking-ful.”

I breathe out shakily. “Oh, God, Maria, what the hell have you done?”

“Got high,” she says. “Like- like- like usual.”

“No.” I say. “It’s not like usual.”

“Sure it… is.” She says, her words hardening as her face grows desperate. “Listen. I’m high, right? Look at me. I am. I am high. I can’t- can’t feel.”

“You sound high.” I falter. “But it’s never… it’s never worked like this before.”

“Really?”

“Yes, Maria.” I fold my arms. God, the air stinks, but it’s nothing. In fact, I’m finding it kind of disgusting. “You told me nothing got you high anymore. Now tell me truthfully what you did.”

She looks at me for a couple of seconds, folding her arms.

“It’s true,” she says, the slur completely gone from her voice. “I’m sober again now. But for- for a- a while, I felt it. I swear I did.”

I blink. “You were- you were pretending?”

“Yes. It doesn’t work, does it?”

“So you…” I trail off. “What did you do?”

She stays silent for a long time, pressing her bottom lip. Then, her eyes go wide and she looks down at herself. The hallway light’s bright white, and she seems to see the state she’s in for the first time. Her black jeans and blouse are plastered to her white skin, her hair’s so sodden it looks auburn and the curl’s almost gone. A fat spider of blood covers her face, its legs oozing out from her mouth and running down her chin.

She starts to shake as she sees it all. She grabs two fistfuls of hair and pushes them away from her face, but they fall right back into place. “Oh…” She sees her hands. “Oh…” She looks up at me, but her voice stops wobbling as she fixes her dark eyes on mine. “Oh, my God.”

I look at her, waiting for her to explain herself. I don’t know why, but I suddenly get an overwhelming urge to hug her.

Maria.”

“I felt awful after everything you’ve been saying these past few weeks.” She says quietly.

I nod.

“And… and…” She says. “I tried- to- to starve myself.”

I widen my eyes. “What? Are you mad?”

“No. But you were, and you managed it. Didn’t you?”

“I’d been a vampire for a week.”

“I know!” Maria yelps and wipes her nose, spreading the blood. “I went mad. Mad after a day. I went mad… after a day. Less than a day. Twenty hours without eating and I was gone.”

I cover my mouth with my hands, trying to take her all in.

“Gone?” I whisper. “But you… but you were at a class.”

She laughs, grabbing a fistful of her shirt and pulling it away from her stomach with a sucking sound that twists my organs. “On the bright side,” She murmurs. “I found a way to get high again.”

“Wha… what…” I say back. “What… did… you do?”

“I killed a couple.” She says. “Nice boy and girl out for a stroll on the common, near the storage buildings. I killed them. Nobody saw me do it.” I stare at her in horror. She breathes out, and I know she’s not done. She tries to wrap her mouth around the next phrase, but doesn’t quite manage. “And then… and then… then… Iathem.”

I blink, my veins shrinking in fear, the hunger forgotten. “What?”

“I…” Maria says slowly. “Ate. Them.”

My muscles turn to water and I start shaking. My hands go back to my mouth as I see Maria’s face crumple; she sways on her feet and stumbles, nearly collapsing. I step forwards to grab her, but she suddenly stands up and hits my arm away, looking up at me with blind fury in her eyes. “Go away.” She says. “I’m fine. Don’t you dare come near me with your bloody sympathy, Scotty! DON’T you dare!”

“But-”

GET away! This is NOT something you’re allowed to forgive me for, you stupid ass!” She feebly hits my arm again, pummelling it with her fists till I drop it back to my side. “Get angry. Get disgusted. DO it! Do it!”

She’s right. She killed two university kids- two- and ate them. This is it, isn’t it? The final straw that makes me leave. I wait for the resentment and fear and hatred to fill me up.

Nothing.

“I’m… not… going anywhere.” I tell her quietly. She stares up at me through all that blood. “Maria, I’m here for you.”

“Then there’s something seriously wrong with you.” She goes to push past me. “I’m taking a shower.”

“No shit there’s something wrong with me!” I call after her. To my surprise, she stops, and I’m suddenly unsure. “There’s something wrong with you, too.”

“Well, yes. I’m a murderer and a cannibal, you stupid shit.”

“I forgive you.”

“Well, STOP!”

“I… I can’t.”

She stares at me. “Well…” She says. “I…”

I look down at the floor and kick the skirting-board. Her face crumples and she starts to cry again, stifling it with her sleeve. When she drops her arm, she’s only managed to spread more blood on her face.  “But you can’t stay here, Scotty. I won’t let you. You have to leave.”

I know.

“Why?” I walk up to her. She holds her arms up like she thinks I’m about to hit her.

“Because I won’t let you. You need to go have a normal bloody life. Leave me to rot in the-”

I wrap my arms around her.

“Stop talking.”

She stiffens and shuts up.

“Why?” she mumbles into my chest. She doesn’t hug me back, but I don’t let her go. I sigh.

“Because you’re right, but you’re not being helpful.”

Slowly, her arms snake around my waist. I don’t know why I need this- I don’t know why the notion she ate two kids suddenly makes me see her more as a victim than a villain. It doesn’t make any sense. I don’t know why I feel better whenever she’s in my arms. I feel her starting to cry into my shirt; she’s getting blood all over me. For the first time, as I loosen my grip slightly and look up over her shoulder, I feel the smell starting to prickle my nerves. I pull away, but she holds onto me for a split-second longer. Our eyes meet, and I don’t know how to tear mine away.

But I have to. Soon, I’ll have to.

Slowly, not knowing what’s happening besides my brain growing heavier in my skull, I dip my head, and she raises hers till our foreheads are pressed together. She lets loose a shaky breath that runs right through me like water, makes me shudder, not with fear. I jab my chin forwards, touching the tips of our noses. Then, her hands are on my shoulders. She closes her eyes.

But then, my resolve kicks back in. I almost gave in to the blood… the blood on her face. Didn’t I? No, not now. Not now I’m so close. I pull away from her, and she lets go of my shoulders. I turn away, shaking my head and dragging in breaths in an attempt to clear the fog.

“Just…” I say, feeling her eyes on my back. “Remember to have that shower. You’ll get blood everywhere. Okay?”

There’s a long silence.

“I know what I’m doing, Scotty; I’ve been a vampire for a hundred and eighty years.” Maria laughs sadly. “Besides, this is my house. I’ll spread blood wherever the hell I want.”

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