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

10. Layabout

I don't remember the last time I found it this easy to relax. I’m lying with my hands under my head, propped up by my pillow and wadded-up duvet, staring at the ceiling, and I’m smiling. It feels so strange, but so good, to be free of so much pain so suddenly. In fact, the difference is so overwhelming I feel like I’ve been rid of more than just the pain.

I forgot to ask Maria whether vampires need to sleep, but I doubt it. The last time I slept properly was the night I spent in that skip, four days ago, and I’m not tired at all. I feel almost too awake. My body doesn’t even want to let me close my eyes.

The strangest thing is this: despite how different I feel now I’m a vampire, the hunger isn’t gone. My body and head may be completely devoid of pain, but the desperate urge to eat hasn’t gone away. If anything, it’s worse now. Worse since I let Maria turn me, since I tasted her blood, since I watched poor Izzy die, since I smelled hers. I can hear Keith tossing and mumbling in his sleep on the other side of the wall. There’re no more stabs of fury in my stomach, no more desperate throbs in my gums. Instead, the thoughts of sneaking into his room while he’s vulnerable and tearing him apart are calm. Playful. I don’t feel mad or crazed or animal or monstrous or violent, and I don’t think I ever will again. But that doesn’t mean I’m at peace.

When I first came home, I found Keith sitting at the kitchen table, and the air immediately started tickling my brain, taunting me with the taste I couldn’t quite reach. Poor guy—he’s so worried about me. He was probably soothed by the fact I was no longer hunched over or wincing or balling my fists into my stomach, but he must’ve been unnerved by how much better I looked, and the way I bungled my words as I tried to come up with a reason for staying out until four in the morning. When I finally managed to sidle past him and escape down the hallway, my bedroom door swung right back open again, and I realised the lock was broken. Even if I still can, I don’t trust myself to fall asleep. Not with these voices in my head.

I know now that I can’t keep living with Keith. He’ll either find out, or I’ll snap before he can. Now the high’s worn off, I’m scared. Scared by the way it’s not just my body that’s changed, but my mind.

My senses bristle at the sound of a knock on the door. I stay rigid on my bed. Come in and I’ll kill you.

“Um, Scotty?” Keith mutters from the other side of the door. “I’m not coming in. Don’t worry. Listen, mate. If you’re awake, I just wanted you to know you can, uh… talk to me. You know, if you need anything. I know something’s going on with you, and I’m… here if you need me. Sorry. I know you think I’m a busybody. Everything’s probably fine.”

There’s a pause, but the hallway light clicks off and his footsteps recede. Then, his bedroom door closes.

I toss and turn for a few minutes, wondering whether it’s even possible for me to fall asleep. If I can’t sleep, eat, preen in mirrors, or coexist with human beings, maybe eternal life isn’t worth it. I don’t think that’s truly sunk in yet—the fact I’m gonna live forever. I always assumed I’d die young, so how am I supposed to accept that I’m never even going to get old?

After a while, I manage to sink down into a fog. As I start to let my thoughts wander, they turn violent again—purple, red, black, gold. I see the dead body. I see the blood. I feel Maria pressed up against me as she drinks; I hear her sighs, the pleasured lilt in her voice. The relief. And the desperation. I smell the molten gold in the air; I remember the way it warmed me, and then, I imagine the way it could ignite me. Burn me, smoulder me. I wake up again in the midst of a gold explosion. I want it.

But I can never have it.

Never never never. Even though Keith’s right next door, asleep, mumbling. He sleeps like a log. The end of the world couldn’t wake him. Nor me opening his bedroom door and—no. I force those thoughts down, down, down, deep inside me, all the way into the numbness of my stomach.

I won’t give in to this the way I gave into the alcohol. I had my first drink at the age of thirteen. Before then, I’d only heard rumours. The way it could make you forget. And I’d heard about alkies, too, the people who forgot too much—the people who drank away the pain, as my Mum put it. And I… I had pain. She’d given me pain. So when she locked me in the pantry as a punishment on Christmas Day, and I caught sight of the half-full bottle on the top shelf, it seemed only logical to drink it. I fell off the fourth shelf almost immediately after I’d grabbed it and bruised both my kneecaps and my tailbone. I drained the whole lot still lying on the ground. It tasted like bitter chemicals, but pure curiosity kept me swallowing. When Mum let me out, I was dizzy and hot and heavy and impossibly happy. I was numb, like the alkies.  And after that, I couldn’t stop. I swiped Mum’s bottles whenever I could, used the money I’d saved up from chores to buy more from Kenny, the sixth form kid behind my school’s bike sheds, when that stopped being enough. Then, when that stopped being enough, I started stealing from Mum’s purse. And supermarkets. The law and my morals became nothing more than obstacles to overcome. There aren’t enough words to describe how amazing the alcohol made me feel. I was strong, brave, free, for the first time since my dad left. Sober, I was a lost cause, but drunk, I was a fucking superhero. And then, gradually, as all things do, it stopped making me feel good. It stopped being a way of escaping myself and instead became all I could do to keep hold of myself. I didn’t want it anymore, but it seemed the less I wanted it, the more I needed it.

And that… that was just alcohol. This is the strongest drug in the world. I know I’m a sodding vampire, which means I have to drink it to live, but I’ve got to find a way to keep these urges under control, to eat only when I desperately, desperately need to. If I learn to live a life of restraint, perhaps I’ll finally feel right enough to stop calling myself an addict.

I tug myself out of bed and grab my backpack, stuffing it with my clothes and books. I don’t have much—it all fits, although the zip doesn’t do up. The only thoughts bothering my head are the ones insisting I’ve got to get away from Keith as soon as I can. I swing the bag onto my back and leave my room, walking almost all the way to the front door and only shooting the occasional glance back towards his bedroom. Then, though, I stop and turn around. I should at least wait till morning. I need to say goodbye properly, have a stab at explaining myself without telling a lie or the truth. He deserves that much from me, at least. I plod back the way I came and sit down on my bed again, conjuring and testing and rehearsing excuses in my head till dawn breaks over the city.

I’m moving out, because, uh… I found a cheaper flat. I’m going home to my abusive family. Across the road to my abusive girlfriend. I’m going to make an early start on the property ladder. I’m going to sleep on the streets. I’m moving in with this cool new satanic cult I found. I’m getting as far away from you as possible before I go mental and cannibalise you in your sleep.

Okay, bye!

Eventually, I hear Keith getting up next door. I bite my lip, waiting for him to head into the kitchen, but when the clatters and bangs finally come, my dead heart jumps up into my throat and I’m seized by a desperate desire to run full-pelt for the door and leave without saying a word. But I take in a breath I don’t need and hold it till it gives me courage. Then, I get up and leave my room.

“Hi, Keith,” I say as cheerfully as I can manage, walking into the kitchen to the all-too-familiar sight of my roommate washing dishes that probably don’t need to be washed.

“Hi,” Keith turns to face the doorway. He eyes me and my stuffed backpack with confusion. “You, uh, going somewhere? Again?”

“Yeah.” I scratch the space above my collarbone, trying not to wince as the fresh bite mark rings with a dull ache. “I, uh… I’m sorry, mate, but I’m moving out.”

Keith’s face falls. “Oh. You are?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.”

“So, um…” I look down at my feet as Keith turns back to the sink. “I guess I’ll… go, then?”

“Yep.” Keith pulls the plug out slightly too viciously. “Good luck, I guess.”

“Thanks.” I take a step towards the door. “And, um… thanks for everything. Look, you know it’s not you, right?”

“Course not, course not. You moving in with someone?”

I blink. It occurs to me for the first time that I’ve got nowhere to go, but I don’t need to sleep or eat, so I tell myself it doesn’t really matter.

“Uh, yeah.” I lie.

“You giving it another go with Olivia?”

I shake my head. “No.”

“Thank God.”

“Look, I’m sorry.”

“No, I’m sorry,” Keith says, turning back. “I’m sorry about last night, too. If you heard me. I’m just worried about you, you know?” He laughs, slightly bitterly. “But you’re right. It’s none of my business. See you around.”

I squint, confused, and suddenly find myself unable to hold in my questions. “What do you mean, it’s none of your business?”

He looks up again. “What?”

“You told Maria, Keith.”

He frowns. “Told her what?”

“About my drinking. You say it’s none of your business, but you went and told her about my drinking, and now she thinks I’m some kind of… liability.”

“How did you know it was me?”

“She told me.”

“Did she?”

I sigh. “Yeah.”

“Oh.” He shrugs and goes back to washing dishes. “Well, I guess her word is gospel.”

I scowl at the tone in his voice, but push it down long enough to deliver my final line. “Yeah… I’m off. Now. Bye.”

“Bye.”

I turn. Suddenly, I’m scared to leave, but I screw up my face in resolve and push the door open anyway. I walk along the corridor, conscious of a light warmth in my muscles, a quiet sort of pride at having done the right thing for once. Then, as I go to slam my body into the glass door, I stop and stagger back, yelping slightly. The white rectangle of sunlight on the carpet punches hot agony through my left arm and I snatch it back like it’s under a flame. Oh, my God, Scotty. You’re an idiot.

I look nervously out at the bright pathway through the glass which saved my life. I burn in sunlight, for God’s sake. I guess, after that proud walkout, I’m going to have to stay in the building till nightfall.

I dump myself at the bottom of the stairs, checking my watch. Nine o’clock in the morning. This late in October, the sun’ll be down by seven. Ten hours. Great.

I decide to kill them by reading the books from my course, trying and failing to wrap my head around some convoluted narrative theory with a name I can’t pronounce, and then awkwardly thumbing my way back through Anthony and Cleopatra, which I’m meant to have read by tomorrow. Greg and Emma hate Shakespeare’s writing, and I’m not the biggest fan of his comedies and romances—his characters all seem to act oddly at best and fall in love within five damn minutes at worst—but I love his tragedies. They always make my life seem slightly less awful. Yeah, I’ve got bad eyesight and I just broke my fifth pair of glasses, but at least my eyes haven’t been gouged out. Yeah, my dad wants nothing to do with me, but at least he wasn’t poisoned. Yeah, my Mum and stepdad pretty much want me dead, but at least they’ve not, at least directly, tried to kill me. Lock me in a tower and starve me to death. Yeah, I’m an alcoholic, but at least I’m not slowly and painfully—elegantly, in perfectly formed verses, but painfully nonetheless—losing my mind. I’m sort of fascinated by the way tragedies work—the way they trick you into caring about some relatable guy who’s good at heart, then hold your eyes open and force you to watch him transform into a bloodthirsty monster. I love how unapologetic it all is.

After I’ve read the entire play, I force myself to drag out and crudely edit the short story I wrote for an assignment last week, cringing as my mind compares my absolute shit with the absolute mastery I just read. The brief was; write about a meeting between two very different people. Seems everyone else wrote about diversity, prejudice, unlikely friendships… I wrote about an overconfident bloke trying to pick up chicks at a nightclub. He ends up having a platonic conversation with a grumpy punk girl who was dragged to the club by her friends, but the narrative never goes anywhere. Their conversation just meanders aimlessly till the word count’s fulfilled. I wrote the whole thing between one and two in the morning, drunk, and never managed to force myself to even read it back, let alone proofread it properly. After finishing my ‘edit’, which consists solely of crossing out random words and replacing them with synonyms and occasionally underlining sections only to cover them with a giant question mark, I resist the urge to crumple it, knowing it’s better than nothing and I’ll never redo it if I throw it away.

To my surprise, I’m not disturbed all day. A couple of times, I have to shuffle my books along to let people down the stairs, but they don’t give me so much as a second glance. Everyone in this block knows me. Scotty, the English raging alcoholic. From the stairwell, I watch the sunlight fade from the path and the sky turn yellow, then orange, then purple, then black. Once night’s more or less fallen, my phone rings. I pick it up, expecting to swiftly decline it as I see it’s Olivia or my parents, but instead, it’s Mike, my manager at work. Shit. I had a two o’clock shift today, didn’t I? I’ll have to quit. I work in a warehouse, loading lorries, stacking shelves, hefting boxes, all outside in the daytime. I sigh as I answer the call. “Hi, Mike.”

“Hi, Scotty. You remember you were meant to be here today?”

He sounds annoyed, as he should be, but not confused. I’ve called in ‘sick’ plenty of times before.

“Yeah.” I say. I can’t quite manage to feel bad. Everything about me seems to have changed. “I can’t come anymore.”

“Because I gotta… wait a second.” Mike pauses. “You can’t… what? Are you quitting?”

I sigh. “Yeah. I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright.” He sighs. “I knew it’d happen eventually.”

“Look, I wanna explain.”

“No, it’s okay. I get it. You can go. I’ve got a ton of other kids needing jobs who’re actually prepared to show up every shift.”

“I know. I—I—I’m sorry. For everything I put you through, Mike. I gotta go.”

“Okay. See you.”

“See you.”

He hangs up first.

I sigh heavily as I jam my phone back into my pocket. The only three reasons I had that job were food, rent and whisky, none of which I’ll ever need again, and I hated it, but the worst’ll come once Mike’s rung my stepdad, who got me the job in the first place. I sigh again, looking through the glass door at the dark empty pathway. I need a walk.

My thoughts start to buzz at the prospect of seeing Maria again. For as long as Sam and Greg are with us, I’ll have to look her in the eye and talk to her as if she didn’t help kill a girl last night. I may as well head to the playground now, wait the few hours before the three of them get there. As I shove open the door, the freezing bite of the wind catches me off-guard, but I bundle my hands into my hoodie sleeves and then my pockets. I quicken my pace, but don’t seem to warm up at all. I’ve got no blood to warm me, after all. I’ve got no bodily functions at all, actually. Maria was right—now it’s occurred to me I’m running on nothing, I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m a fresh corpse, nothing more logical than magic holding me up. I feel precarious somehow, like I’m on the edge of a cliff and the wind’s trying to blow me off.

I leave the campus. As another chill of wind cuts clean through me, I pull my hood up, finally understanding why I’ve never seen Maria outside without her fluffy coat on. As I sit down on a swing and start to rock myself gently back and forth with one toe on the tarmac, I realise this playground’s all I’ve got left. I’ve left my home. Quit my job. I guess I’ll spend the rest of eternity wandering around town, homeless. I can stay here all night, or near the river—I quite enjoyed being there last night, with the soft bubbling sound of the water and the few stars I could see. I can get into the English building for my classes every morning before the sun comes up—I guess that’s what Maria must do—and sit and study in the library till it goes down. I’ll get some weird looks. But I’m used to that.

Once again, I’m yanked from a deep, pointless flurry of thought of indeterminable length by the sound of my phone ringing. This time, when I dig it out of my pocket, I see it’s my parents, but the stab of anger I feel fills me with a bizarre sort of strength. I press the green button.

“Hey, Mum.” I mumble.

“Scott, what are you playing at?”

I rub my face. “What do you mean?”

“I mean quitting your job.”

I sigh. “Yeah.”

“Mike told me you didn’t even explain yourself to him. Well, you’re explaining yourself to me, Scott, right now.”

My Mum’s emotions are hard to understand sometimes. Her words can be pretty damn cruel, but her tone of voice is always mournful. Not sorry for me—more like she wants me to feel sorry for her.

“Mike…” I rub my face. “He didn’t ask me to explain myself. I tried to, but-”

“Course you did. Oh, yeah, I bet you did. But you realised you couldn’t quite manage to put into words that you’re a lazy, thick, freeloading drug addict who can barely lift his own arse out of bed in the morning, let alone a crate, and keep his sympathy.”

“I don’t want his sympathy, Mum. I just wanted him to understand-”

“You’re not worth any of it, Scott. You know that?” I hear Mum grinding her teeth through the phone. “You don’t deserve none of the kindness’s been given to you by Gordon and Mike and Olivia. You deserve to rot. You and your disgusting habit.”

I lick my lips, looking down at the ground as I kick off the tarmac and start to swing again. This swing’s squeaky. I wonder if Mum can hear it through the phone. “Love you too, Mum.”

“And don’t start on me with that smart mouth. Shut it up or I’ll drive up there tonight and slap it shut. How the hell’re you gonna pay for your disgusting dependency without a job, Scott? Did you even think about that? Huh? It’s the only reason we bothered to haul arse to get someone to employ you, y’know. So you’d stop begging and lying and thieving.”

“I…” I gulp. “I don’t steal anymore. Swear on my life, Mum.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“I don’t blame you.” I choke back a sob of frustration; even after all this time, I’m still hoping there’s a way to make her believe me.

“Oh, I don’t care. Y’know that? I don’t care. You’re five hundred miles away from me. May as well not be my son anymore. You can rob and shoot up all you want.”

“Mum, I… don’t rob.” I say quietly. “I’m not a drug addict. I’ve never even been high.”

The river and the black plastic bottle flash before my eyes. I wonder if I dare count that as a high.

“You’re an alkie, and it’s disgusting.” Mum says. “Disgusting, Scott. Don’t you ever forget that. Disgusting. Say it.”

“Disgusting.” I say obediently.

“Say I’m disgusting.”

“I’m disgusting.” I sound more confident now. I am disgusting. As well as the bottle, I remember Izzy. The taste. The smell.

Mum chuckles drily. After that, there’s a long silence at the other end of the line. Then, I hear her talking to Gordon and resist the urge to hang up.

“Mum?” I say after a pause.

The phone crackles, and Gordon’s voice grows louder. “How you doing down there, Scott?” He drawls.

I hold the phone further away from my ear, as if his breath and spit’s coming through it. “Not bad, thanks.” I spit back.

“So I hear you’ve kicked the old life of crime. Keepin’ the addiction nice and noble, are we?”

“Get a life.” I say. Then, I add, “As it happens, I’m not a boozer anymore.”

I instantly regret it.

“Sorry, what was that, Scott? Say it so I can hear you.”

“I said,” I murmur. “I’m clean. I’m not an alcoholic anymore. I quit.”

There’s a long pause. “Bullshit.” I hear my Mum’s voice say, distant behind Gordon’s. Then, he echoes her. “Your Mum says Bullshit.”

I grind my teeth. “Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, Scott. Bull. Shit. Absolute bullshit.”

“Why did you call me?” I burst out. “You wanna insult me? Again? You running outta people to beat up in London? What—you… you miss me?”

Gordon pauses for a long time. I cringe at the soft, wet sound of him licking his lips.

“We wanted to insult you about something, yeah. Olivia told us all about what happened the other night.”

I swallow as cold punches through me. “What?”

“You know… the Halloween party.” Gordon says. “With the hot blonde. Y’know, I always thought of you as a dishrag and a boozer. I never pegged you as a dirty slut too. You fancy telling us what that’s all about?”

“Nah. Not really,” I say, narrowing my eyes against the dark as I see a figure approaching from the other side of the road. It’s Maria, bundled up in her fluffy coat, her hair blowing in the wind. She grins and waves at me. Against my better judgement, I wave back.

Then, I vaguely realise Gordon’s still talking to me. I don’t know why Maria’s come so early, and I ought to still be pissed off with her, but I’m not. I’m so relieved I can’t help smiling to myself. Then, without thinking, I take the phone away from my ear and press the red button. Just like that, the hurtful insults and threats that used to rule my life back in London are cut off, replaced by a dead empty buzz. Ah, the magic of technology.

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