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

17. Joker

SAM AND GREG look surprised to see me the first time I appear in the playground after almost a month’s absence, even though I sent Greg a text telling him I was coming back. If it hadn’t been for that text, they probably would’ve thought I was dead at the bottom of the river with half the campus. This is my third time out again after dark, but I’m planning to go back to my lectures tomorrow.

Sam, Greg, Maria and I chat to one another like normal. A couple of hours in, Greg brings up the double murder yesterday and Maria and I are too scared to catch one another’s eyes. None of us knew either of the two victims. Sam and Greg don’t know how they died.  Thankfully, the conversation doesn’t continue for long. It fades off into awkward silence. I notice Sam hasn’t brought any alcohol with him, and is talking a lot more, which gives me a warm fuzzy good feeling that nearly makes up for the cold illness in my gut. Maria ate this morning, but from next to her on the swings, I can see her balling her fists into her stomach, wincing and biting her lips. Once, she looks up and catches my eye, giving me a look of dread that makes me wring my hands together. Then, after an hour, she gets up.

“I have to go.” She announces loudly, cutting Greg off mid-sentence. I look up at her. She ignores me. “Early night.”

“Oh.” Greg says. “Okay. “

“See you around!” Sam adds cheerfully.

“Bye.”

She throws her hair over her shoulders, then walks off, tripping and cursing as she pushes open the gate. I watch her leave, and suddenly, I don’t want to be here anymore. Maybe it’s because I know full well she’s going hunting again, or maybe it’s because of the evenings we’ve started spending together, sitting feet apart on the sofa with the dogs between us and the TV blaring, saying nothing at all. I don’t know why the hell I haven’t moved out yet, but I will, now I’m safe. I don’t need her anymore. My eyes leave her shrinking black shape in the distance and instantly find Greg’s. He’s watching me with one eyebrow raised.

Before I can stop myself, I get up from the swing. I take a step towards the gate, but Greg stops me. “Scotty.”

I turn. “Yeah?”

God, it’s nice to be able to talk to him without wanting to kill him.

“Are you… Sam and I were wondering something. About you and Maria.”

“Oh.” I swallow. “Yeah?”

“Are you… now… you know.”

I blink, feigning innocence. “What?”

“You know.” Greg says, his mouth twitching slightly.

“Together.” Sam pipes up. I look at him in shock. “You know, a thing. A couple.”

Greg turns back to me.

“Um.” I say, laughing nervously. “No. God, no. We’re just friends.”

Greg frowns. “But you’re living together.”

“Yeah. She, uh… she’s letting me sleep on her sofa coz I lost my job and couldn’t pay my rent, Greg. You know that.”

“But she…”

“We’re not!” I say, trying to laugh. “We’re not. Honest to God. We both just broke up with our old relationships, for God’s sake.”

Greg grins. “Exactly.”

“Shut up, Greg.” I stuff my hands into my pockets.

“Alright, alright!” Greg holds his hands up. “Sorry. No need to get defensive! I was just wondering.”

“Yeah.” Sam adds, smiling as I cautiously sit back down. “Because Maria did always have a thing for you.”

“Oh, well we’re…” I stop, seeing them grin as my expression changes. “What?”

“Oh, she…” Greg trails off, then turns to Sam. “You tell him.”

“Oh, okay.” Sam looks at me. “She wouldn’t shut up about you. After she first met you- after Greg brought you to meet us.”

“Right.” I’m still frowning- my face’s starting to ache. “But she could’ve just felt bad for me. Or found me hilarious. That’s sort of what people tend to think about me. It’s nothing new.”

“Well, you’re not wrong.” Sam thinks for a second. “I mean, at first she was calling you cute.”

I blink. “Cute?”

He giggles. “Yeah.”

“Maria calls everything cute. Literally everything. Everything’s adorable to her.”

“Yeah, but… I sort of don’t think she meant it like that this time.”

“She must’ve.” My chest’s twisting slightly- I don’t know why. Well, that’s a lie. I sort of do.

“At first it was like she just thought you were sweet, and, like… kind.” Sam says. “Which you are.”

“No, I’m not.”

Greg frowns. “Uh, yeah, mate. You really are.”

“Right. Whatever.”

“And then I realised she literally never shut up about you. Like, ever.” Sam grins. “Like, I’d actually physically have to tell her to stop going on about you. It was sort of sickening.”

“She had a… boyfriend.” I say. “For literally that entire time.”

“Oh, really?” Sam’s smile wavers. “I didn’t know.”

“She broke up with him.” I lie, thinking of Frank. For the first time in three weeks, I wonder where he is. I hope his new life’s shit. I hope he never comes back. “Right, so…” I breathe out. “What was she saying? About me?”

“Oh, she thought you were cool. And cute. And, like… she wanted to rescue you.”

“Rescue me?” I blink, and Greg giggles. “From what?”

“From Olivia. She stopped talking about you in that way for, like, a week when we told her you had a crazy clingy girlfriend.”

“Oh.” I should probably tell them to stop talking about Olivia that way, but I don’t. “You thought she was crazy?”

“We knew she was crazy, Scotty,” says Greg.

“Yeah.”

“She was, right?”

I lick my lips. “Yeah.”

“Right.” Sam grins, looking at Greg, then back at me. “I think he likes her back.”

“What?” I say. “No.”

“Either that or he’s lying to us and he’s already with her.” Greg adds.

“Shut up, guys,” I say, genuinely angry this time.

“Scotty, you can tell us.”

“I don’t want to tell you!” I say. “Jesus Christ! Besides, I don’t like her back. And she doesn’t like me. For God’s sake, she’s Maria; you’ve known her longer than any of us, you idiot. Can’t you tell that’s just her mucking around?”

It does sound like she was being stupid. She’s always been a joker- she used to act flirtatiously with all of us to tease us, even Greg, and make stupid jokes about our friends and girlfriends and boyfriends. It’s her brand of humour. I know now it’s something to do with the life she leads, too. I should dismiss it all, but it’s irritating me too much. I need them to stop, now.

“I mean, I guess.” Sam falters.

“Thank you.”

“But I’m also pretty good at telling when she’s not joking, you know.”

“Stop it, Sam. It’s not funny anymore.” I cast my eyes along the empty black street, only drawn back by the spark and click of Greg lighting another cigarette. “Seriously.”

“He’s blushing.” Greg mumbles through his cigarette.

Sam looks up.

“What?” I splutter.

“You’re totally blushing.”

“I’m black, you pillock!” I say, incredulous. Greg bursts out laughing. “And it’s dark. Besides, I…”

“You what?” Sam giggles. I want to rip his head off now. I should probably leave. I’m a vampire. I’ve got no blood in my face, or anywhere else.

“Nothing.”

I can’t help wondering whether it’s true. Whether Maria did have some kind of infatuation with me. And if she did, maybe… maybe that’s the real reason she decided to take me into that alleyway and turn me. I remember the nightmare- how it ended, with the ghost of her lips pressed against mine. She didn’t need to do that. Not since I was so drunk, and she was so hungry. She could’ve just turned me quick. Besides, there always was something about her explanation for turning me that didn’t quite make… sense. What did she say? Actually, she never gave a reason at all. She just thought it was something I’d be down with, apparently. I don’t know why I never asked her for more details.

“Look, guys,” I say. “I have to go home.”

“Alright!” Greg says cheerfully as I get up to leave. “Have fun! Both of you!”

I flip him off as I push the gate open and start to walk back down the path. I don’t know why they’re suddenly making me so angry- must be the remnants of the bloodlust. It’ll leave me, soon enough. Then, I’ll be free to start again.

The red chipped front door’s unlocked and every single visible light is on, spilling gold out onto the dirty orange street. I suppose that’s why the blind panic sets in so quickly when I call her name to no avail, then spot the note stuck to the kitchen counter.

“Maria?” I call again, eyeing the small white square of paper. There’s a ghost of a blue scribble on it- I’m not close enough to see what it says. For some reason, my veins are already cold as ice, even though I haven’t read it yet. Maria doesn’t answer. She’s not back yet.

Nervously, I walk towards the counter and peel the note up with two fingers. The blue cursive scratch doesn’t immediately mean anything to me, even though it’s perfectly legible.

 

I’M SORRY

 

That’s all it says.

Silently, I stick the note back down onto the counter and sit down at the table, trying to figure out why my head’s going crazy. Why my mind’s filling with images of Maria’s bedroom ransacked, her pink fairy lights torn down, the clothes and sketchbooks gone from inside her dressers? I’m sorry. Why the hell would she write me a note? She knew I knew where she was going.  What’s she sorry for? Going out hunting again? That doesn’t seem like her. And she knows I don’t resent her for it anymore. I don’t know why I’m so upset by this. In a minute, she’ll come home, and everything’ll be fine.

Besides, I’m leaving tomorrow.

I need to get out of here. I know that now, and after last night, I decided I couldn’t wait anymore. The conversation at the playground shot doubt into my mind, but only because I knew I needed to ask Maria one more thing. Right? I stare down at my clasped hands on the table. What the hell is she sorry for? Why’d she leave the door unlocked? The lights on? Where are the puppies? They’re gone from their bed in the corner of the room.

I stand up suddenly, my chair squeaking hideously across the floor before it sticks, nearly tipping over. I grab it. I shove it back into place and stand there with one hand on the back, frozen, shaking.

Something tells me Maria’s not coming back.

Wherever Frank went…

Has she gone rogue?

The three weeks I was going cold turkey, Maria was getting worse and worse. She started eating more and more often- sometimes twice a day. And then, last night… Oh my God. She didn’t mean me to think it, but what she did to those two people was my fault. I drove her insane, didn’t I? I could see it in her eyes all those times I came round from seizures. She can’t stand to be around me anymore. She’s had enough. She’s left.

Maria’s gone, isn’t she?

I don’t know why I’m so upset. Well, no, I do- she’s my friend, and I’m scared of what’s happening to her. But I was going to leave her tomorrow anyway. Wherever she is… she’s gone there so she can kill without the remorse I bring her. She’s gone.

I dig my phone out of my pocket, but there’re no texts from her. Just a few hundred from my parents. I scroll down the list, hoping I missed one, but I didn’t.

Maybe I’m overreacting. I breathe out, and that’s when I hear the front door opening.

I run into the hallway and see her closing the door, her back to me. She’s got Tricky and Bounce on leashes, and nudges them inside with her foot as she wrestles with her keys in the door. The relief that loosens my muscles is so powerful I have to put my hand on the wall, and I still don’t quite know why.

“You came back.” I say as she crouches down to unbuckle the leashes. Then, I regret the tone of my voice. She looks up, surprised.

“What?” She says.

“Nothing.”

“You, uh… oh.” Her face falls. “The note.”

“Yeah.”

“Go on.” She says to the puppies, pushing them away from her. She looks back up at me as she stands. “You… What? You thought I went insane?”

I say nothing. I look down at the ground and kick the skirting-board, watching the puppies running into the kitchen.

“Sorry.” She mutters once we’re alone.

“No, it… it’s okay.”

“How’d the rest of it go? With Sam and Greg?”

“Oh.” I swallow, remembering our conversation for the first time in a few minutes. I try to laugh, but it comes out scratchy and wrong. “Good.”

“Sorry I had to leave.”

“No. No… it- it’s okay.” I say to her, trying my best not to think about what she must’ve just done. Even as I do, though, I’m taking her in as she walks into the light of the kitchen behind me- she’s completely clean. Her hair’s a freshly-washed, unsullied cloud over her shoulders, not tied back. She’s still wearing the same outfit she was at the playground- the figure-hugging black dress with the lace on the front and the black ankle boots. Her makeup’s immaculate too. She couldn’t’ve gone hunting in that, could she? I mean, maybe. Would she have taken the dogs? The truth is maybe. To distract myself, I start to speak, then immediately regret it again.

“To be honest,” I say, willing myself to shut up or change track. “The guys wouldn’t’ve said half the shit they ended up saying if you’d stayed there.”

I try to laugh. She grins at me, confused.

“What… did they say?” She asks.

I clamp my lips shut, wishing I’d never said a word.

“Why… the face?” Maria’s smile widens. “What… Scotty? What?”

Her face makes me snort with laughter. She walks up to me. “What? Scotty, what? C’mon, I’m worried now. Were they bitching about me?”

“What?” I say. “No! Of course not! They just said some weird stupid shit about us.”

“Oh.” Maria says in a silly voice. “I see.”

“Like, asking if we were… together.”

“Don’t sound so surprised.” Maria giggles as she picks up Tricky, who’s pressing against her feet, to fuss him. “You know full well that’s a fair assumption to make. We are living together. Alone.”

“Yeah, but…” I trail off. “It’s still weird.”

“What? Why? Am I weird? You find me weird? Well, that’s insulting.”

“You… no, that’s not what I meant.” I sigh, thinking of the insults I was hurling at her two weeks ago. “You know that’s not what I meant.”

“Aw, were they teasing you?” She says. “Sorry. I’ll tell Sam to cut it out.”

“No.”

She sees my face, and her eyes widen slightly. I can tell when she’s making jokes to cover something up. “They were teasing me, weren’t they?”

I clear my throat nervously. “They, uh… they were saying some stupid shit, yeah.”

“Like what?”

“Like you’ve apparently got a crush on me. They think that.”

“What?” She smiles. “That’s ridiculous.”

I breathe out. “That’s what… I said.”

“Yes, exactly.” Maria says. “I call everyone cute. No offence, Scotty. You’re cute, but you’re not that special.”

I nod. “Yeah. Yeah, I know.”

She averts her eyes from mine, looking down at the dog as he starts to lick her face. “No. No.” She says to him, craning her neck up. “For God’s sake, Trick.” Then, she puts him down. Her eyes hit mine when she straightens up.

We stare at each other for a while. Her eyes are guilty. Mine are accusing.

She bursts after about five seconds.

“Okay, okay, fine.” She says. “I may have had a tiny bit of a crush on you when we met. I just thought you were funny, and really sweet. Loads of guys are sweet. It’s not anything to be freaked out by.”

I raise an eyebrow, my insides freezing for a second. I can’t work out if it’s in a good or bad way. “I’m not freaked out.” I lie.

“You so are.”

“I’m not!” I say. “If it went away when you got to know me, that’s fine. And if not, then…” I blink and try to force my voice to sound joking. “I guess we’ve finally got a sensible answer for why you turned me into a vampire, haven’t we?”

She snorts. “What? No. No, of course not.” Then, her eyes turn even guiltier and she grins. “So what if I did?”

Instead of being afraid, like I thought I’d be, I find myself laughing a little, at the back of my throat. She bursts into hysterics that sound a little too hysterical, if that’s possible for her, and I smile at her absently. Then, slowly, her demeanour starts to change.

Her eyes turn dark and her smile flattens as she slowly straightens up. She loudly breathes out, like she’s trying to calm the laughter, even though I can see it’s already gone. I watch her turning to look vacantly over my shoulder as she covers her mouth with her hands, hiding nothing, and I watch her start to grip the edge of that counter tighter as her eyes come back into this dimension. I look at her, my insides unclenching, wondering what’s about to happen. What she’s about to say. I wonder if I’m going to like it or hate it.

When we finally lock eyes again, she takes approximately ten seconds to crumple again. This time, with sobs.

“What?” I say, going up to her. “Are you okay?”

“Get away from me.”

I stop, taken aback. “But I-”

“You’re relieved!” She weeps. “You’re relieved I turned you because I liked you. Aren’t you? Aren’t you?”

“Uh…” I say. “Maybe. I mean, I’m just glad it’s not a-”

“You’re relieved! Oh, god, I need to tell you something!”

“Oh, no.” I say, remembering what happened the last time she broke down on me and told me a secret. “What?”

“You’re a genius, Scotty; you know that?” Maria says shakily. “But a selective genius. Only with the stuff you- you want to believe’s true. You can see right through my act and know exactly why I do the things I do, exactly how I feel, every minute of every day, but- but… You never… even questioned why I ever turned you in the first place. Or did you? Did you know?”

“I…” I shake my head. “N-no. I wondered. But only after what the guys said.”

“So you know it was because I had feelings for you.”

I waver, my head suddenly heating up. “Uh, yeah?” I say softly. “Maybe. Although I wasn’t sure after they’d said it why turning me into a vampire would’ve helped, so I wasn’t-”

“I wasn’t TRYING to turn you into a vampire at that party!” she weeps, and I freeze. “I was trying to kill you, you stupid ass!”

I stop dead, even though I never had anything to say. Even though my heart’s not beating, I feel it stop, and even though there’s no blood in my body, I swear I feel it freeze. My mouth falls open, and Maria sniffs, hard. Her eyes are dark and her voice is flat and dead when she speaks again.

“Remember what I said?” She murmurs. “About… about how I was crazy for a hundred years and then came back?”

My voice barely pierces my throat. “Yeah.”

I take a step away from her.

“And how… when I came back, I… I sometimes wish I was still mad?”

I click my teeth. “Stop trying to make me feel sorry for you.”

“I don’t have to try,” Maria whispers. “To make you feel sorry for me.”

“Well, you do now.” I blink. My tongue suddenly feels huge in my mouth.

She breathes out, her voice shaking. “I… I was sick of feeling sorry for myself, too. But I didn’t want to come back. I wanted to be evil again, black-hearted. I wanted to somehow go back to being utterly remorseless, and… and enjoying myself, because I’d started to detest it. The addiction was getting so bad I knew I couldn’t hope to stay human much longer. I wanted to be a cold-hearted monster- you know, a ruthless badass. Haunt the streets like a shadow. All that crap from the movies. I wanted to be a real vampire. And I wanted to laugh as I did it. But I couldn’t go mad. I’d just… started… to care too much.”

I wet my lips. I’m gripping the counter like it’s my only lifeline and my knuckles are purpling.

“And I was almost managing it,” Maria says- she doesn’t sound like herself at all. “I was in my second year of uni and the few friends I had, I kept at arm’s length. Frank and I were growing apart- he was a bastard, you know. Utter psychopath. He enjoyed this like hell. And I was sick of being a pussy. And then… and then you came along.”

“You’d better not be hoping to win me over.”

“I’m not trying to win you over; I’m trying to get rid of you!” She bursts out. “When I met you, I cared about you like I’d never cared about anyone before and I had no idea why! Somehow, you… you… I dunno, you were different. I dunno if it was in a good way or a bad. But I couldn’t stand you. I couldn’t stand the way you made me feel and I couldn’t stand the way it made me… you made me… weaker. At least, I thought so then. I wanted to leave Glasgow for good, take Frank with me. He was worth his salt as a lackey, but I was sick of using him so I wouldn’t have to kill so much. I wanted to make myself stronger. And I couldn’t leave whilst you… whilst you were still… there.”

“Still alive. You mean.” I choke out.

“Yep.”

“So you decided. To- to take me to that Halloween party. Because you knew I’d get drunk. And take me out back. And kill me.”

She sniffs. “Yes.”

My insides go cold. “But it didn’t work.”

I’m shaking so hard I can barely stay standing. I feel betrayed, and I don’t know why. This isn’t surprising. It just breaks my heart. All this time, she’s been making me stronger by convincing me she wanted me. By convincing me she needed me. And she was lying, all along- I was never meant to survive. Maria laughs bitterly.

“You just kept coming back, Scotty.”

I clear my throat. “Why didn’t you try to kill me again?”

“Because the regret was instant. I had a psychotic breakdown the night I thought I’d killed you.”

Without missing a beat, I say, “That’s because you were doped out of your mind on my whiskey-saturated blood, you stupid fuck.”

“Only half of it.”

“Oh, fuck off.”

“No.” Maria says, her eyes darkening. “You fuck off, Scotty. You thought I wanted you, didn’t you? You thought I wanted you here. You’re wrong. You ruined me. And now I need you to leave before you tear me apart. Tear both of us apart. If you stay, I- I- I’ll do something we’re both going to regret. Surely this is enough to scare you off. Surely.”

I sigh, looking up at the ceiling. I want to cry desperately. Instead of tears, spikes of empty air press the backs of my eyes. She’s right. This is enough. I was leaving tomorrow, anyway, but why not now? This is the last secret, the final straw; after everything she’s done, this is the confession she thinks’ll send me running. The sensible thing to do is pack and run before she rains a hundred layers of hell down on my head.  

I walk up the stairs as she watches, her lip curled, her eyes dark, and into my bedroom. I look at all the chaos I’ve caused in here: the broken mirror, the sprays of blood all over the carpet, the shattered door. I shove all my things into my backpack, and underneath the sound of the zip closing, I swear I hear a sob from downstairs, followed by the dogs starting to bark. This doesn’t make sense. I know she doesn’t want me to leave.

And… I don’t want to leave. Not now, anyway. Maybe tomorrow I will. Maybe tomorrow’ll be too late.

I sit on my bed. I stare at my bag. Maria never comes to find me. I wait to get up and leave.

But I never do.

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