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

4. Cheat

Maria left me, didn’t she? If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t’ve woken up in that skip. Before I drift off to sleep, I curse her to every Hell I can think of, even though I don’t really blame her for pissing off. I can feel the throbbing jar of the mattress against my tailbone, and the stabs in my collarbone and the throbs in my head, but I feel seasick, like the air around me’s slowly heaving back and forth. Once I’m suspended between reality and dreaming, too far from the surface to swim up, too far from the bottom to swim down, everything’s silent. In that silence, voices start to whisper, crawling over each other like they all want to be the one to reach me first. I focus as best I can through the drunken fuzz, trying to hear them.

All I hear is, “Come on.”

There’s a flash of light—a blinding explosion of green that drives stakes of agony down through my spine and makes the wound on my collarbone fizz like it’s dissolving. I jerk awake and catch a glimpse of the room around me, the blocky silver-grey smears, the black square blind doing its best to hold back the sunlight pressing through the cracks. I wipe the drool from my chin and let the bottle in my hand fall to the ground, empty. I close my eyes, but only for a second. I’m too afraid to sink back down.

“Come on.”

There’s another explosion of light—purple this time—and suddenly I’m falling, down down down through my mattress and the floor, into an endless black-and-neon expanse that blazes with green sunlight and violet fire. The space above my collarbone spits and erupts with hot, filthy agony; I feel something tearing free from the wound, and hands letting go of my shoulders. When I look down, I see eyes. Eyes and teeth, smouldering red, a blazing bloody furnace in a mess of black and crimson. There’s a snarl followed by some sort of chattering sound—a grotesque, mechanical approximation of laughter. It blinks, and its eyes become blinding flashes that punch me in the stomach and send me hurtling sideways into the rational world.

I open my eyes in my grey bedroom, fresh agony dripping from the scab on my collarbone. Hideously exhilarated by the nightmare, I pant, even though I’m not out of breath. There’s a strange stillness to the air, like something’s missing. A sound. I sit, breathing hard, pain leaking into my body from a million different places, and that’s when I realise I’m clutching the side of my neck, my hand clamped over the scab. My fingers are wet, but that might just be the sweat. I’m shirtless, but I’m burning. At least I’m out of the nightmare. I’m not going back. I’m not. Even though I can feel myself slipping away again.

As I shift to lie down, the pain in my tailbone sickens me to the core. I think about going to the mirror to fix my fear, the bathroom to fix my pain, or the kitchen to fix my hunger, but instead, I roll over and mash my face into the mattress, sucking in yet another useless breath as my eyelids start to droop. No, I think. No, not back there. Don’t make me go back there. But the darkness swallows me up.

For a couple of seconds, that’s all the new dream is—darkness. Oh, it’s not so bad, I think vaguely as I let myself drift. Relaxing.

“Come on.”

I open my eyes in a flash, but the world they open on isn’t grey and white. It’s not purple and green either. It’s brick-red and bright blue, and the soft weight of the mattress against my back turns into the hard, scratchy press of a wall. There’s someone in front of me—she’s invisible in the darkness, but I can feel her. She’s the one who spoke. The one who said come on. I stay calm, my conscious side fighting for control of the dream in case it gives me a clue. I know this place. That splash of blue—it’s one of the skips behind the community centre. I hold my eyelids open on this new world as they start to sag, willing the girl in the dark to come out into the light.

Suddenly, the window behind me lets loose a shaky burst of blue light and I see the shape of her, thinly sketched onto the night sky. Then, she’s closer, and her eyes catch the light, shimmer turquoise. I feel her body pressed to mine, trapping me against the wall, but I’m not afraid. I feel her leaning in, the tickle of her hair against my chest. I still can’t see her face, but I crane my head up as she traces her lips along my jawline and down my neck and along my collarbone, filling me with sweet and sour shivers. I feel myself sinking into pleasure, forgetting my preinstalled fear, and letting her—

Suddenly, my collarbone explodes hot with pain and I grow hotter with panic. The shivers vanish and I look down to see that same monster staring up at me, its bloody eyes shining with glee, its bloody teeth glittering, its bloody face blackened and mangled. It raises a finger to its face and traces a curve along its jawline, slowly, slowly, slowly, rolling my blood around its mouth. I don’t hurt anymore. I watch. Then, the monster becomes the girl, but she doesn’t give me any comfort; she giggles with glee at my face, seizes both my shoulders, and buries her head in my neck again. I don’t hear her laugh, but I feel her giggling into the mess she made. Her nails dig into my skin and her teeth dig into my flesh as she slowly breaks me into pieces and scatters me bit by bit to the wind. The dream stops making sense. I’m forced downwards, my strength oozing away. She pushes me to the ground, makes me lie on my back, straddles my stomach, plunges her head back into my neck. My throat’s stoppered; I couldn’t scream even if I wanted to. I look up at the sky as it cracks like glass and rains down on us like hailstones. It’s gone. Then, I turn my head to the side and realise she’s gone. I’m left alone in a black, feverish world that curls at the edges as it slowly calms into grey.

“Come on.” That beautiful voice whispers into my ear. As I wake up, the last thing I feel is the ghost of her lips pressed against mine, shy, sweet, before they blow away like dust in the wind.

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

I wake up half-in, half-out of my duvet, barely managing to keep hold of a single shred of the dream as it rapidly fades into nothing. I still hurt, but the sticky sheen of sweat on my skin has dried up and my mouth and eyes aren’t burning anymore. When I stand up, I realise I’m not dizzy either. Okay, that’s the good news. The bad news is that I might have found a memory.

And I guess I did make a fool of myself again. Sure, most of my drunken nightmares are ludicrous, but they often turn out to be at least loosely based on fact. Once I’ve cast aside all the ridiculous bits, I think I’ve been left with an idea of what happened. I’ve gotten drunk at parties filled with students countless times since moving to Aberdeen, but this is the first time I’ve ever been afraid I cheated on Olivia.

“Come on.” I mutter to myself, blinking back the jagged mess of nightmarish images that come flooding back to me- eyes and teeth and claws and eyes and hair and lips. I don’t deserve to feel sorry for myself—I broke a solemn promise. I went to that party, I got drunk… and I might’ve been with a girl. It’s not Maria’s fault for leaving me. It’s all mine.

I roll onto my back, listening to the shrieking of my head. When I sit up, the pain bleeds down into the rest of my body, making my muscles throb, my bones ache, and my stomach growl as it reminds me it’s empty. I swing my legs out of bed and force myself to my feet, catching my own eye in the mirror as I do so. I brush back my hair and see the huge scab on my neck has shrunk and turned black—when I press it, it’s hard and dry. At least it’s not infected. Probably. It’s not the first time I’ve fallen asleep on a broken bottle, and it won’t be the last. This isn’t the time to worry about it—right now, I’m too hungry. I barely remember to put on a shirt before leaving my room to find something to eat.

I get halfway down the hallway, then clamp my hand over my mouth as hot nausea gushes through me. Like I’ve done it a thousand times before, which I have, I change course, barrel into the bathroom, lean over the toilet and throw up as neatly as I can. My mouth and gullet burn; my eyes water. That whisky’s strong stuff. I wait a couple of seconds, even though I know the sickness is gone, before walking over to the sink to drink some tap water from my cupped hands.

Feeling negligibly better, I walk into the kitchen, expecting to find it empty. My heart sinks as I see Keith sitting at the table, listlessly fussing a cup of coffee as he reads his textbooks.

“Oh, hey.” He says, looking up at me.

“Hey.”

I look down and scuff my bare foot against the cold tiles. I know he heard me vomiting.

“You, uh… feeling okay?” Keith asks.

“Yeah.” I lie. I try not to wince as my head and stomach start to throb. “Just gonna make some breakfast.”

“Breakfast?” He says, looking back down at his textbook.

“Yeah.” I go to the cupboard. “We got any Frosties?”

“It’s two-thirty in the afternoon.”

I pause for a second, my hand on the open cupboard door as I survey the distinct lack of anything edible. Of course it’s the afternoon.

“We don’t have Frosties.” I say, slamming the cupboard door and going to the fridge. My stomach lets loose another vicious growl, and I bite back a groan of pain, trying not to double over. I know Keith’s watching me with half an eye. I open the fridge; it only contains two pints of milk, an empty ice cube tray, and a plastic carton of olives. Probably leftovers from Keith’s latest cookery experiment. He’s studying culinary arts. I think he’s doing well. I don’t ask.

“Hey, can I have these?” I ask, shaking the carton at him.

He frowns up at me like he thinks I’m going mad. I probably am, but damn it, I’m hungry. I don’t want to eat olives—I can’t pinpoint what I want to eat—but I have to eat something. Right now.

“The olives?” He says. “Yeah. I guess.”

“Cool. You’re the best.” I say, grabbing one and popping it into my mouth. I chew it once, but it tastes wrong—it leaves a vinegary, chemical residue in my mouth when I swallow. My stomach growls again, but I discreetly toss the carton into the bin as I leave the kitchen. There’s nothing. There’s nothing to eat, so shut up. A stitch tightens in my ribs, knotting around my insides like wire. Jesus Christ, it’s only been a day since I last ate—I don’t think I’ve felt this hungry since I was starving myself at sixteen. Still, I’ll put up with it and get some breakfast on the way to my lecture. Or lunch. Whatever.

I go back into my room, slamming the door behind me and resisting the urge to dive into the last bottle under my bed. I’ve got a class in… I check my watch. Half an hour.

I spend ten minutes cleaning up my room, throwing six empty bottles into a plastic bag and barely remembering to add last night’s blood-stiff shirt before I tie it up and leave the flat to toss it into the skip. Then, as I’m about to walk back into the building, I stop.

Even out in this freezing street, I can feel my skin burning and the fever coming back, harder than before. I turn sideways as my insides contort and throw up, again, on the ground. Barely anything comes up, but I instantly feel better—the fever fades and I’m left with nothing but the tingling of my skin. I go back inside, and that vanishes too. Weird. But still not weird enough for me to care.

The moment I’m back in the flat, I hurry into the bathroom and lock myself in. I decide to try to make the shower work, still fully dressed. Keith must’ve been concerned about what was in the plastic bag, though, because he starts to knock on the door. Every knock sends a pulse of anger down my spine.

“Scotty? Are you alright?”

I clear my throat and rub my face. “I’m fine.”

“What were you taking out?”

“None of your business.”

“Scotty.”

I don’t reply. Instead, I busy myself with trying to punch the shower into submission. I’m not sure why; maybe I just want to drown him out.

“Scotty.” He repeats. I sigh angrily—I thought he’d gone.

“What?”

There’s a long pause.

What?” I repeat, the anger finding its way into my voice.

“I, uh… just… you know you can talk to m-”

“Sod OFF, Keith!” I suddenly shout. “How many times do I need to tell your nosy arse to mind your own BUSINESS?”

There’s a long silence, but I know he’s still there. I stand in the middle of the floor, looking down at my feet, the anger leaking away. Great. Now I feel bad. With another defeated sigh, I cross the floor, fumble with the broken lock and open the door. He’s halfway down the hall, his back to me. Slowly, he turns back and looks at me.

“I, uh… I’m sorry.” I say.

Keith says nothing.

“I just…”

I give up on talking. I don’t know how to explain myself—the anger just hit me. And then it left. Something about today feels wrong. Like there’s a part of me missing besides a chunk of my neck. As Keith turns his back on me and sits down at the kitchen table, I decide to go back into my bedroom, giving up on the shower. It was never going to start anyway.

I sit back down on my bed and bury my head in my hands, rubbing my face. Olivia’s going to come and find me sometime soon. That’s good, isn’t it? She always turns up on my doorstep after I spend nights out with my friends. I guess she’s worried. Worried and jealous. Last night, I proved her right, didn’t I? I close my eyes, resisting the urge to fall back onto my pillow, and try to think back through that dream.

I remember a girl. With me, behind the community centre, next to the blue skip I woke up in. We were alone, and we kissed. Maybe more than that. That was what happened in the dream, anyway. Maybe none of it really happened, and there was no girl, and Maria actually did stay with me all night. If that’s the case, a phone call should clear it up. I check my watch as I switch my phone on, noticing I’ve got twenty minutes left till my lecture starts. I’ve got fifty-two new texts, too. Not a lot of people in my area had mobile phones when my parents bought me this, so I suppose I ought to be grateful, but it wasn’t intended as a present. It was intended to keep me tethered to them. Olivia’s parents bought her one too, and I reckon the majority of those fifty-two are from her.

I dial Maria’s number. Her phone rings once. Twice. Three times. Four times…

My heart sinks. God, does that girl ever answer her phone?

Eventually, the ringing cuts out, and Maria’s voicemail kicks in. It’s her, singing some ridiculous song—it usually gives me a good laugh, but I hang up as soon as it’s started. She’s probably in a lecture, or at the workshop with her Walkman turned up far too loud.

Why am I so desperate to know what happened, at any rate? The amnesia’s most likely a blessing. Surely I don’t want to know the gory details of any drunken affair I might’ve had. Assuming nobody saw me leave with her, and nobody I know knows her, the memories are probably gone forever. That’s good, isn’t it?

Something makes me pick up my phone again, even as my mind insists it’s a bad idea. Instead of Maria’s number, I dial Sam and Greg’s. Sam picks up after the sixth or seventh ring.

“Hello?” He says. My heart sinks as I hear the sleepiness in his voice. He’s hungover.

“Hi, Sam. It’s me.”

“Oh. Hey.”

“Is Greg there?”

“No, man. He, uh… went out. To a lecture?”

“Oh.” I pause, knowing I really ought to be leaving too. “Listen, I was wondering, uh… About last night. About the party.”

“The party?”

“Yeah.”

“Which one?”

I sigh. “The one at the… the one… at that guy’s house.”

“Oh.” He pauses. “That one.”

I resist the urge to throw my phone across the room.

“Yeah?” Sam continues. “What about it?”

“I, uh… was wondering if you knew what happened to, uh… to me. Did you see me with a… with-”

“Sorry, man, I was off my head!” Sam laughs, and I hear a static crackle as he takes the phone away from his ear, softening his voice into a buzz. I sigh, my heart sinking.

“Right. You don’t remember… anything?”

“Nah, Scotty. Why? Something wrong?”

“No.” I practically growl. I’m frustrated with both of us. “No, everything’s fine.”

“You sure?” Sam laughs again. “Coz you sound like something… happened. Something bad. Or maybe good.”

His laughter stirs up another wave of anger in my gut. I try to choke it down, but before I can stop myself, I spit, “Oh, yeah? Well, nothing good happens when you get drunk. Ever. Have fun nursing your hangover.” Then, I hang up.

Hypocrite.

Yet again, I instantly feel bad. I want to call him back and apologise, but it’s too late now. I sigh, and then turn, shoving as many textbooks as I can carry into my backpack. I may as well leave for the lecture now. I can get a good seat or sit in the library for a while, try to figure out what the hell’s wrong with me, maybe borrow a new book or two. I’ve been meaning to read that new fantasy book, the Harry Potter one all the papers have been raving over.

As I pass the kitchen with my backpack, Keith murmurs something to me.

I turn back. “What?”

He shrugs. “Nothing. Sounded like a hectic call.”

I deflate. “Yeah. It was.”

“You’re not fine, are you, Scotty?”

“Leave me alone.” I say, turning and leaving the kitchen. I push open the front door and walk out into the corridor, closing my eyes against the painful flickering of that light-bulb and the flashes of the nightmare it dredges back up. I stop and lean against the wall. It was probably just a dream, and if it wasn’t, I don’t want to know. I take a couple of breaths, trying to calm myself down. It’s nothing. It’s nothing. Next time they ask me to go to a party, I can say no and that’s the end of it. Easy. Okay, back to normal. Calm. Normal. Calm.

I push myself off the wall; then, I hear a shrill voice shout: “Scotty!”

I look up as Olivia grabs my shoulder, red in the face and scowling. She’s an immaculate mannequin of a girl, with red hair braided tight over one shoulder and perfect makeup—pink cheeks, blue eyeshadow, enormous silver hoop earrings. She’s shorter than me, even in her platform shoes, but only noticeably so when I stand up straight. Before I can speak, the anger drops from her face and she sobs, flinging her arms around me.

“God, Scotty, I thought you were… I thought you—you didn’t return my calls!” She says into my shoulder. I tentatively wrap my arms around her waist, but she wrenches herself out of my grip.

“I’m sorry, Livvy.” I say. “I, uh…”

“Doesn’t matter.” She says. “You’re safe now. Look, I’m sorry to go on. It’s just… I need to know you’re okay! You can’t go out wandering with your friends without telling me, babe!”

I sigh. “Yep.”

“Don’t yep me. And then you wouldn’t answer me? I thought you—I thought something awful happened to you, Scotty! You know? With all this… with all these people who’ve been going—who’ve been going missing I thought… I thought someone’d killed you! Dumped you in the fucking river!”

I sigh, rubbing my face. She’s right—people have been going missing. Yesterday, my friend Emma didn’t show up for a lecture and was reported missing by her roommate late in the afternoon. Everyone assumed she’d gone home, but then her parents got involved. A few days before that, another girl—a third-year student from Keith’s culinary arts class—went missing too, and they found her backpack floating down the river, overflowing with a mush of wet paper. It’s not a sudden surge or anything—people go missing in this city all the time—but it’s mostly been people from the university lately. I’m confident they’ll show up eventually, but Olivia’s right to worry. She needs to know where I am, who I’m with, and what I’m doing, every minute. Of every goddamn day. That’s the type of person she is, and keeping her happy’s easier than the alternative.

I clear my throat. “I’m sorry, Livvy. I—I know you need to-”

“You got shitfaced again, didn’t you?” She says.

I sigh. “Uh… yeah. I’m so sorry-”

“Right. You promised me you’d cut it out, Scotty! You’re pathetic, you know that? If you’re gonna keep getting shitfaced and humiliating me in front of the entire city and fucking around with random girls you find in the street, fine. But don’t lie about it.”

“Livvy, I… I never lie about it. And I never-”

“I don’t care how often you lie about it; why not stop doing it? How hard can it be? You know, you’re lucky I don’t call your parents.”

I sigh and say nothing. Olivia’s threats aren’t empty—she’s friendlier with my parents than I am. She followed me to university—she says she’s here to study drama, but she could’ve studied drama anywhere in England she wanted with the grades she got. I’m sure she’s really here for me. Perhaps because she loves me and can’t bear the thought of us being apart, or perhaps because she wants to keep an eye on me. Act as a spy for my parents.

“Maybe I should call your parents, if—”

My heart jumps into my mouth. “No. No, please…don’t… please don’t call them.”

Olivia smirks at me. I try to hide my sigh. “See what I mean, Scotty? Pathetic. You got any more alcohol? Under your bed? Ain’t that the hiding place?”

I rub my face. “Yeah.”

“You got any more?”

“No.” I lie.

“Good. So are you gonna stop this time? Or am I gonna be inundated with more humiliating stories?”

“I—I’ll stop.”

“Good.” She says.

I frown. “Wait.” I add. “Stories? Did you hear something? About last night?”

She looks at me, her eyes narrowed. I falter, and try to suppress a wince as another shard of pain digs into my stomach. I still don’t know if I want to know.

“How… drunk…” She says slowly. “do you have to be? To not remember a damn thing?”

“Extremely.”

“Yeah, no SHIT!” Olivia shouts. “God, you’re disgusting!”

“Then why are you still with me?”

Her head snaps towards me, a furious glare written on her face.

“Actually?” I say slowly, looking through the rest of my memories till I find the last one with her in it. I remember her shouting a lot. And then dramatically slamming the door behind her. “I thought you did break up with me.”

“Don’t be an idiot.” she says. “You need me, Scotty.”

I say nothing. I don’t know why I’ve never broken up with her. Maybe I do need her. Maybe I deserve everything she says to me.

“Anyway.” I say, one eyelid flickering shut as my stomach-ache comes back. I swallow and try to finish my sentence, but she interrupts me again.

“No, not anyway.” She says. “I’ve had it up to here with your dodging the-”

“Livvy!” I say a little too loudly as my stomach throbs again. “I’m so sorry but I think I cheated on you last night.”

She stops dead, mid-sentence. Her brown eyes narrow, and her lip curls at the edge as she glares at me. I swallow.

“Just—just kissing. I just… kissed her.” I say. “It wasn’t anyone I knew, and I—I’m not sure it even happened at all, but I thought you deserved-”

“Who was it?” she says softly.

I breathe out. “I don’t… I don’t know.”

“Well, then, why the fuck did you kiss her? That slut.” She jabs me in the chest. “You slut.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Anyway, I already knew.”

I look at her, noticing her smirk. “You… you did?”

“Yeah. Jason told me, stupid. He saw you.”

I sigh. Of course he did. Of course Jason, that stupid pompous twat from Olivia’s drama class, just happened to be in the right place at the right time to see us. To me, the saddest thing about Olivia’s affair with Jason isn’t the fact that it exists, but the fact she doesn’t even try to hide it from me. I’ve seen them kissing at parties; I’ve heard him boasting about it to his friends in my earshot, probably on purpose. I’ve seen the sad looks I get in the corridor, and the hateful ones, too. I guess what they say is true: whether a man cheats on a woman or a woman cheats on a man, it’s always the man’s fault. Olivia’s latest game has been sending Jason to parties to spy on me. She loves knowing all the details before I do.

“What did he see?” I ask her.

She smirks. I hop onto my other foot, trying to suppress my violent anger as it suddenly starts to burn me. I’m desperate. And she likes it when I beg her.

“Livvy, babe, please.”

“Like I said, Scotty, babe, pathetic.” She says, as the smirk drops from her face. “Jason was outside the house smoking and he saw you go down into the alleyway with this blonde girl.”

Blonde girl? My first thought is of Maria, but the dream… no. I don’t know who that girl was, if she was anyone at all, but she sure as shit wasn’t Maria. “What—what else?” I ask Olivia. “Did he see… did he see anything else?”

“No. Dumbass. I asked him. He said he wasn’t about to get involved in whatever disgusting shit you were doing. His words. Not mine.”

I remember her kissing me, and then feel a tight pulse of pain at my collarbone. Broken bottle. I swallow.

“I didn’t… Oh… okay. Fine.”

“It’s not fine.” Olivia says. “And now, because I had to come check you hadn’t been murdered, I’m late for my class. Well done.”

I sigh. “I’m sorry.”

“Good.” She smirks smugly as she leans in to kiss me on the cheek. Then, she turns and storms off down the corridor. Relief floods through me once she’s turned the corner. The pain in my stomach keeps growing. It feels like a wild animal, tearing my insides to shreds. I double over as soon as Olivia’s out of sight, clutching myself with both arms. I’ll be okay. Drag yourself up. Go back inside. Get your books and go to class, like you do EVERY day you wake up drunk. This is what being an alcoholic’s like, Scotty. Don’t like it? Tough. You’re in it now.

I take what must be six steps along the corridor, then clutch the wall as the world sways and turns black. I blink till my vision returns and the boiling fever calms. I force myself to walk normally, straightening up despite the urge to hunch over, pressing my fist into my stomach. I need to get something to eat on the way to the lecture or I’ll pass out. I walk out into the street, and instantly, boom. The pain hits me. A hideous acidic burning sensation wraps around me like a blanket; I look down at my arms and see nothing’s happening, even though my entire body’s suddenly on fire. I take another step, and the pain intensifies. Okay, you know what? Nope. This isn’t normal. Screw this. Go back inside.

I walk smartly back the way I came, re-enter the flat and collapse onto the sofa, dumping my backpack onto the ground. A few minutes pass as I drag my nails down my arms, trying to subdue the itching. I just have time to spot a little patch of blistered skin on the knob of my wrist, and start to prod at it, before I hear footsteps and Keith comes in. He doesn’t say a word to me, though I’m positive he must sense something’s wrong. He must have heard the phone calls I made, and Olivia’s shouting, too. Poor Keith hears everything.

“If you…” I whisper. “Ask me if I’m… okay again I’m going to scream.”

Keith doesn’t look up. He’s busy rearranging the books on the bookshelf.

“Well, that doesn’t sound like you’re okay,” he says softly.

“No.” I say. “Sure doesn’t.”

“Okay. Then I don’t need to ask, do I?”

I close my eyes and don’t reply. Then, something occurs to me. My mind tells me, one last time, to leave it the hell alone, but I squash the thought and sit up.

“Hey, Keith?” I say.

He doesn’t look at me. “Yeah?” he says.

“Do you, uh… No, it’s stupid.”

“Okay.”

We sit in silence for a few more seconds.

I swallow again and say, “You know that Jason guy?”

Keith sighs. “So it’s not stupid after all.”

“Keith, please.” I try not to growl as my stomach throbs; every pulse of pain hurts more than the last. It hurts so much I feel sick.

“Which Jason?” Keith asks.

“The, uh…” I sigh. “The one in drama.”

“Hm, not sure. Sorry.” Keith puts a book down particularly hard. The thud sends pain through my head.

“Keith, the Jason who’s sleeping with my girlfriend.”

“Oh.” Keith looks up at me, his eyes wide. There’s a long pause. When he speaks again, his voice is softer. “That Jason. Yeah, I, uh… I know him. Why?”

I sigh, heavily. “I need to talk to him. D’you have his number?”

“Why would I have his number?”

“Damn it, Keith, I know you do! You two are in that weird club together. Please. I wouldn’t be bugging you if it wasn’t important.”

Keith looks down at his feet as he digs his phone from the pocket of his jeans. He hands it to me without a word. “Warhammer isn’t weird.” He murmurs as I scroll through his contacts and press Jason’s name. Jason, thank God, actually picks up his phone when it rings.

“Hell-o?” He says after the second trill, in his stupid plummy voice.

“Hi, Jason.” I pause. “It’s Scotty.”

There’s a long silence. Then, Jason says, “Oh.”

“Yeah. I’m using Keith’s phone. Are you busy?”

I ball my fist into my stomach as I wait for him to answer.

“Yeah, a little.” Jason says, sounding unsure. Maybe he’s scared of me. Maybe he thinks I’ve finally snapped. Maybe he thinks I want to fight him. Good.

“Okay, well, this’ll only take a minute. Maybe two. Maybe five. Or maybe even ten.” I say. “I need to know everything you saw at the party last night.”

“Uh…” Jason says, a slight smirk in his voice. “Everything?”

“Yes.”

“Uh… right, okay. So there was a guy there dressed as Spongebob Squarepants? In a onesie. And there was also a girl dressed as a palm tree and at one point this older guy tore a chandelier down and put it on-”

“Jason, you KNOW what I mean!” I growl. Keith looks at me in shock from the other side of the sofa. “Everything you saw me doing. With a… a blonde girl? In the alley?”

There’s another long pause. I’m getting damn sick of long pauses.

“Right. You… uh…” Jason says. “Yeah. Okay. I was outside… uh… smoking. I wasn’t, like… following you or anyth-”

“Jason, it’s okay. Tell me what you saw.”

“Right.” He sounds annoyed, but I don’t care. “Okay, yeah, I’ll tell you what I saw. You came out of the side door, blind-arse drunk, with this hot blonde chick dragging you by the wrist.”

I swallow. “Okay. What did she look like?”

Jason sighs, heavily. “Hot.” He says. “And, uh… and blonde.”

I sigh. “What was she wearing?”

I’m thinking it must have been Maria. I’m clinging to the hope it was Maria. “All black.” He says. “And she was wearing, like… a cape.”

“A what?”

“A cape. Like, some cheap red and black satiny thing.”

“You mean like a costume?”

“Yeah, I guess. I guess she was a superhero or some shit.”

“Oh.” I frown as my chest tightens a little. I remember Maria’s joke about costumes, but then remember she said she didn’t have one. “I think…” I say to Jason. “I think it was just my friend.”

He laughs. “Oh, no, mate.”

“But…” I stop. “What?”

“No. There’s no way she was your friend.”

“How do you know?”

“I just… just… trust me, okay?”

I cover my face with one hand. “What? What did you see us doing? What?”

“No. Nothing else. It was too dark.”

I sigh. Of course it was. “Okay. Well, what… what else did we do?

“Well, uh… she—uh—took you behind the bins, into the dark, and I, uh… you… you were back there for a long time.”

“How long?”

“Uh, maybe… twenty minutes?”

I rub my face. “Jesus Christ.”

“Yeah.” He sniggers. “And then I heard a noise. I didn’t want to, uh… to interfere or anything—you know, I mean… cheating on Olivia, it’s pretty awful, even if you… okay, whatever. But I followed you. I heard someone making a weird noise, and I called out. And there was sort of a scuffle.”

I breathe in, my blood running cold. “What kind of noise? What do you mean, a scuffle?”

I look over at Keith, who’s still watching me. He looks worried now.

“Like… I dunno. The noise… it was like… moaning.”

“Shit.”

“Not that kind, though. It sounded like someone was in pain. I know it’s a lame thing to say, but I dunno what else to tell you. I just… I thought something might be wrong, that’s all. Y’know, big city, dark alleyways, all this crap that’s been going on-”

“Yeah, I know. What did you see?

“So I thought I’d go see if everything was okay, but when I got there, you were both gone. I couldn’t find either of you anywhere. But there was… there was a, uh… no, it’s probably nothing.”

“It’s probably not,” I growl.

“Okay. Well, okay, fine. There was a pool of blood on the floor next to the skip. It could’ve been beer, or—or something else, but you were both gone.”

“I was in the skip!” I say. Keith stares at me, but I narrow my eyes at him till he looks away. “Jason.” I say. There’s a long pause.

There was blood by that skip.

“Jason. Are you still there?”

Blood. Unless you’re the worst hookup on Planet Earth, you don’t bleed from kissing.

“Yeah, man. I’m still here.” Jason says eventually. “But I’ve gotta go-”

“Why didn’t you call the police?” I say. “Don’t you think that was pretty suspicious?”

“Well, no. I mean, well… yeah. But I was pissed, Scotty.” Jason laughs. “And, I mean… you don’t think nothin’ straight when you’re pissed, am I right?” He laughs again—not with me, at me. I don’t care. Eventually, perhaps because I’m not laughing back, he sobers up. “But I thought it was probably fine. You know? It was probably nothing. Plus, there was shit going down at that party. We didn’t want the police-”

“Okay. You know what? I appreciate the information, but I’m done with you now.” I say, biting my lip as I hang up the phone.

I hand it back to Keith. He and I look at each other, but say nothing.

“Okay. I’m going back to bed.” I say, getting up and dragging my heavy bag back into my room. My head’s not spared a single inch of space for the class I’m missing—it’s filled with images of a girl I never saw, pale skin, pale hair, dressed all in black. Then, before I can get it under control, my head—and the fallout from a nightmare I barely even remember—mutates her into that monster, her blank white eyes rolled too far back, her yawning mouth crammed with broken-metal teeth, her white skin patterned with bloody warpaint. Her impossibly wide grin and her fingers running all over her face. I’m not sure where the images come from, but they’re coming from somewhere, damn it—maybe the place in my head that’s got everything else right so far. You want to know what I’m thinking, as I collapse onto my bed hoping I’ll be better in the morning? I’m thinking about that cape. Well, no—more accurately, I’m thinking about vampires.

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