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

6. Monster

I don't know why, or how, but my mood changes so quickly once Maria’s left it’s like a switch was flicked inside me. I stumble up the front steps of the flat block, scared. I slam my body into the door, paranoid. I fumble my way down the corridor, one hand on the wall to steady myself as the pain in my stomach throws me off-balance, and I’m angry again. How can I be angry… with her? I am. I’m angry with her for talking me into going to that party, for leaving me just because some boy looked her way. It’s not her fault I drank myself into ignorance, nor her fault some crazy girl decided to pick me out for…

A late night snack.

A snogging. A using. That’s all this girl wanted me for. It is. It is.

This girl. I should be angry with her, not with Maria. Whoever she is, when I find her, I’m not going to let my patience or my illness—however much worse it gets in the few hours before daybreak—get in the way. I’m going to knock her against a wall and demand she tell me what happened. What she saw. What she did to me. Who the hell did she think she was? How dare she take advantage of my state, decide to screw with me for a laugh? I know I was drunk. I know I probably said yes. But surely biting me—wait, no, that didn’t actually happen, remember? Broken bottle—was taking it a step too far. I lost so much blood after she threw me into that skip I should’ve bled to death. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with me—maybe it’s the wound. Blood poisoning? Yeah. Go see a doctor—he’ll tell you what’s wrong in no time.

A loud BANG echoes from the flat next to me and I jerk like a puppet on a string, growling at the back of my throat and clenching my fingers into claws. No. Stop. Shake your head. Keep walking. Nothing’s wrong with you. Nothing.

My front door’s ajar, as always, but as I reach for the handle a stab of pain ripples out from my stomach and knocks the floor askew, making me stumble. I finally make it into the flat, hoping upon hope that Keith’s out even as I remember it’s the middle of the night, and shoot a longing glance towards the kitchen before staggering into my room and collapsing on my bed.

God, your stomach hurts. It hasn’t even been that long, has it? Since you last ate? So why do you feel like you’re on the verge of utter starvation?

The pain’s like a knife wedged between my ribs, twisting tighter and tighter the more I think about it. I force my eyes shut, but I’m not tired. I lie still for half an hour at least, refusing to move and jamming my head deeper into the pillow every time the pain spikes, but sleep refuses to take me away. Is this blood poisoning? It doesn’t feel like blood poisoning. It feels like my sanity’s slowly leaking away, drip by drip, drip by drip.

After half an hour, I manage to sink down into some sort of grey limbo, but it’s shot through with bolts of purple and green and red that blast me awake every time my body jerks with agony.

Eventually, I swear and tug myself out of bed. I’m ready to pace the room—from the window to the door and back again, over and over till I pass out or fall asleep standing up—but I stop and stand there, frozen with my hand on my neck, staring at a black smudge on the white wall.

There’s nothing interesting about that smudge. It’s just I can hear Keith moving around on the other side of the wall.

I stand there stiffly, rubbing my fingertips across the remnants of the scab that stupid bitch gave me, listening as he opens a drawer, closes it, and then lets out a breath of annoyance. Then, the door opposite mine creaks open and Keith’s shadow stabs through the light spilling onto the hallway carpet. He’s leaving his room, probably for the kitchen. I watch, still frozen, even as my muscles scream at me to move. Move. Move. I don’t know why. Just do it. I don’t move, though. It’s not because I can’t. It’s because that mad, electric violence is creeping back into my nerves.

Move. Just move. You won’t be hungry for much longer.

He’s an easy target.

For what?

We both know.

“No.” I mutter to myself, but the word grates in my throat and trickles out as another low growl. I turn towards the hallway and listen to the clattering of cutlery and slamming of cupboard doors, each stab of noise dragging me further away from the spot I’m standing in as I imagine walking into the kitchen after Keith, waiting till he’s turned his back, and—No. Stop, freak. God, I’m hungry. I’m ravenous. I can’t breathe for it. Can’t think for it.

I suck in a breath of air I don’t need and dump myself back onto my bed, curling up inside my duvet, wrapping myself in stifling heat and trying to forget about the noise.

But Keith’s fiddling keeps getting louder.

And my hunger keeps getting crazier.

The longer I lie there, the more my thoughts tangle, and the more I sink back down into my fuzzy approximation of sleep. This time, though, my limbo’s not grey; it’s all red. It’s not peaceful, either. It’s lively and angry and lurid. The more I focus on controlling my mind, the less I think about what my body’s doing. Suddenly, the darkness flashes orange, the doorknob’s metal sear lets go of my hand, and the carpet hardens into plaster under my feet. My feet. I’m on my feet.

I open my eyes, and I’m in the kitchen.

I stumble backwards into the hallway, widening my eyes and thanking God for the carpet, but I don’t have to worry about making a sound—Keith’s got his headphones on. How did I end up here? I don’t remember moving.

My stomach mutters again and my body, still half-asleep, takes another step towards the table. I drag myself back, but deep inside my head, that stray voice that doesn’t quite belong to me is whispering no.

I watch Keith in the kitchen for a couple more minutes, the pain in my stomach igniting, burning, smouldering as I stand numbly, waiting for nothing. I’d go back to bed, but I’m scared if I dare kick my legs back into action, they’ll stop obeying me altogether.

My hunger digs its claws into me and pushes me forwards, but still, with my fist balled into my stomach, I hold on. No. No.

Yes.

No.

Keith gets up from the table. I watch with irritation as he starts messing around in the cupboard again, organising all the mugs, each little crack and bump of noise sending shivers of anger down my spine. My fingers clench and unclench at my sides and my teeth grind tighter and tighter, the roof of my mouth starting to tingle, like my mouth’s full of red ants. Then, I feel something larger starting to crawl through my gums. I force myself back from the kitchen wall in terror and hurry back into my room, shutting the door as Keith switches off the kitchen light and goes back to bed.

Lucky for him, says that voice in my head. If he’d stayed in there another minute I might just have murdered him.

Wait, what?

I sit down hard on my bed, beyond disgusted with myself, shaking my hands and trying to unwind the tightness in my jaw. When I do, though, a pulse of energy shoots through my gums and my teeth start itching and aching like mad. I squeeze my eyes shut and shake my head, lying back down onto my pillow, curling my body up around that molten ache at my core and trying to fall back asleep. Trying to forget that something’s destroying me from the inside, ripping its way up through my ribcage, trying to escape, and that if I fall asleep I might never wake up again. Or wake up wrong. Terribly, horribly wrong.

Suddenly, Keith knocks something over in his room. The dull THUD coincides with a furious bolt of hunger that shoots me bolt upright in bed, followed by a mad blast of agony in my mouth that bends me double over my lap. I growl under my breath, managing to muffle my scream into a whimper, and clamp one hand over my mouth as hot blood starts falling over my chin and dripping down my neck. It fizzes and bubbles on my tongue, making my nerves seize up and crackle, and I find myself swallowing mouthfuls of it rather than spitting it out. I blink, trying to numb myself to the pain, and poke around in my mouth with my tongue.

What the fuck?

I leap to my feet and open my bedroom door. With one hand over my mouth, blood trailing through my fingers, I stumble across the pitch-black landing into the bathroom and lock myself in. I switch on the light and walk to the mirror, shaking, swallowing more blood and ignoring the hunger as it retreats from my stomach. When I look up at my reflection, my chin’s faintly smeared with dark red and my teeth, when I bare them, are scarlet.

But they’re still there.

Which is strange, because when I poked around with my tongue back in my room, I could’ve sworn they’d all… vanished.

It was as if they’d all been sucked away, up into my gums, leaving bloody fleshy gaps and the taste of molten metal behind.

Hallucination. Hallucination.

That’s the excuse all the characters use at first.

I force myself to look in the mirror again, licking at my bloody teeth with my bloody tongue till they’re clean again. The metallic taste in my mouth is overwhelming, amplified, like I’m drowning in it. It shouldn’t be that strong, and I know it.

Then, I peel my lips back and see what’s happened to my gums.

My gums, and the roof of my mouth behind my teeth, are full of holes. I can’t tell how deep the holes are, and they all seem to be different shapes, but they’re arranged in neat rows, and when I explore with my tongue, I realise they feel just like the gaps left by lost teeth—soft, squeamishly sensitive when I run a fingertip along their line, and full of blood. It’s still dripping all over my mouth. I swallow it.

Something’s happening to me.

And it’s not waiting. It’s happening now.

Shaking, I tear my eyes away from my blurry reflection and sink to my knees. I can’t support my own weight anymore; my legs are too thin, my stomach and brain too heavy, like solid chunks of lead inside me. It hurts. I’ve had enough of pretending this is all a normal illness. I know that girl did this to me. I know what she was. I screw my face up, try to cry, but it doesn’t work. All I feel is hunger. I lie there, breathing hard, even though I don’t seem to need the air, trying to squeeze out tears I know aren’t going to come. I poke the gap in my teeth with my tongue. I know what’s going on. I do. My teeth are hurting again- my entire mouth’s on fire again. Good. Excellent. Wonderful.

After lying on the floor and staring up at the ceiling for half an hour, I realise I want Maria. I don’t know why, but I do. Not Sam, or Greg. Not Keith. I want Maria. I sit up and dig my phone out of my pocket, the voice inside my head starting to mutter ideas for conversation starters. I know Greg would listen better. But Maria knows more.

I dial her number.

The phone rings. Once. Twice. Three times. I choke back wave after wave of angry sobs as it keeps on ringing, and ringing, until…

The phone’s picked up, and a slightly strange-sounding voice says: “Hello?”

My mind jerks with relief, but instead of pouring out of my mouth, the words get stuck in my throat.

“Hello?” Maria repeats. I realise what’s wrong with her voice. It’s bitter, damp, wobbly. I jolt with irrational fear as I realise she’s been crying. She’s not crying over me, is she?

I bite my lip. There’s an unbearably long pause.

“Maria?” I say.. I choke on my words again, and spend several seconds trying to retch them up. “I… I… I’m… scared. Something’s wrong with me. Really, really wrong.”

She sniffs. Oh, God, she is crying.

“Want me to come over?” She says. “Or call an ambulance? Oh, God. Oh, God, Scotty.” She starts to weep, properly, on the other end of the phone—her voice, smothered in the static, sounds like the voice of someone drowning.

I take the phone away from my ear and stare at it in shock, freezing fear bleeding through me and rotting me from the inside out. What’s wrong with her? I’m just her friend. I’ve never even seen her anything but cheerful before, let alone crying, like this. Over me, of all things.

“Maria…” I say. The line’s gone quiet. “Maria?”

Then, there’s the tiniest of rasping breaths.

Could have been background noise.

“Maria?”

There’s no reply. But I think she’s still there, listening. For some reason, the thought of that—and the thought that sneaks into my head as the silence stretches out, blinder and stranger than any I’ve had yet—makes my blood run cold.

What if she’s lying to you?

“I’m… sorry.” I say, half-expecting her to reply. I hope she doesn’t come over. “Look, I’m okay. I think I’m delirious. I feel… ridiculous. Dunno why I called you. But you know me… weirdly… you know. I do a lot of things that don’t make sense. I’m drunk, too. Again. That’s probably what’s wrong with me. Maria? Maria, are you there?”

She’s still silent. The tiny thought in my head grows stronger and stronger.

“Look, I’m going to go now. If you’re not going to reply.” I growl, then shake my head. “I’m sorry. Fuck. I’m so sorry. You’ve been so kind to me… trying to help with this mystery, right? And I’ve been shit. Like always.”

I hang up.

I let my arm slide to my side.

She probably dropped the phone. Or maybe I accidentally muted her. Maybe her battery ran out, or there was a glitch. So many possibilities. All of them probably right.

Twenty minutes pass and I’m still on my back on the bathroom floor, this time with the phone lying next to my head in case she tries to call me back. Then, I jump in agonised shock as a dog starts barking outside. I don’t even have time to think before the sound paints everything red and my mouth explodes with fresh agony, this time making me groan out loud. I jump to my feet and by the time I open my eyes I’m pressed tight against the locked door, my limbs splayed, my cheek to the wood. My full mouth smarts and throbs, and I feel it starting to leak again. I push myself away, and have to grab the sink to keep my balance. I look down into the bowl, watching as solid circles of scarlet spatter the white porcelain. One. Two. Three.

When I twist my lips up to spit, I realise my mouth feels wrong. It’s not empty of teeth this time. Instead, there’s something in there that shouldn’t be. I raise my head to look in the mirror, opening my mouth as wide as I can till the hinge of my jaw cracks, and right there, clear as day, or maybe vivid as a nightmare, I see them.

My teeth are gone. Well, my old ones are, anyway. In their place, dripping red and jagged like snapped metal shards impaled in the flesh of my gums, are new teeth. They’re filling the holes. There’re six rows of them. Three on the top, three on the bottom.

I pant at my own reflection, dazed. Then, I gasp. I clamp both my bloody hands over my bloody mouth and stagger back from the mirror, still staring at my reflection. I don’t dare remove my hands; I don’t want to see the teeth again. I manage to lift my tongue from the bottom of my mouth to prod at one of the teeth, and suddenly cry out in pain as they’re sucked back into my gums. Gone, just like that. I brace myself, but still grunt through my clamped hands when the pain comes again. Lowering my hands, I’m relieved to see my teeth are back to normal, and horrified by my relief. I stare at my own face for a few more seconds. And then, I start to sob.

Vampires don’t have reflections, you idiot. The voice is feeble.

Maybe this is a nightmare. Maybe I’ll wake up.

I cough, and the cough tastes of blood. After I’ve done my best to wash my hands and face in the blisteringly cold water from the tap, I unlock the bathroom door and stumble back into my bedroom, collapsing onto my bed, yet again. Then, I jump up, run across the room, and lock the door before I forget. I pause in the doorway yet again, tuning into the hunger, even though it’s weaker now.

“No,” I murmur to myself.

I turn. Instead of getting back into bed, first, I get down onto my hands and knees and scrabble. A few panic-stricken seconds pass before I manage to find the bottle, and when I do, I don’t uncap it. It’s nearly empty, anyway. I fall onto my bed and hold it to my chest, sighing as I nurse the pain. My security. I should be more frightened than this, I think. But I’m too shocked, which means for a few hours, I’m going to behave like everything’s normal. No hunger. No pain. No crazy girl, no monster, no blood, no bite, no teeth. Just me and my bed and my last few drops of whisky.

“No.” I murmur again. To myself. The word’s slurred and mangled by the gap in my teeth and the blood in my mouth. “I won’t. I won’t.”

It’s half an hour later when I roll onto my side to bury my face in my pillow, and when I do, the bottle rolls off my stomach and falls and smashes on the ground. Pow. I’m jerked awake again, but after that, I ignore the sounds of dripping liquid and Keith calling my name. I stare up at the ceiling. I try to think of Maria, but instead of feeling safer I only get angrier and more and more afraid.

I try to think of that girl from the party, from my nightmare, but it makes no damn difference.

My thoughts are humming at me. Blonde girl. Wearing black. With you. And slowly, as I stare at my phone on the bedside table, and remember the way she sounded when I called her, the image of the girl in my head starts to change.

“No.”

At a quarter to eight, as the ugly orange morning starts to smatter the sky, my phone starts to ring. I stare at it for a while, wondering whether I need to answer it at all. I’m so expecting the name on the screen to say Maria I growl under my breath before I’ve even rolled over to pick it up. But it doesn’t. It lights up green with the words Sam / Greg. I’m sure it’s Greg, not Sam; only Greg would get up this damn early. Before I can stop myself, I accept the call.

As I hold the phone to my ear and say, “Hello?” I’m greeted by another wave of silence.

“Hello?” I repeat. No. No. He has to answer. I need him to tell me. Tell me I’m wrong.

Silence.

“Hello?” I say, so frustrated I nearly hang up to spite him.

Then, Greg says, “Scotty.” His voice is hard to make out.

“Yeah?”

“Listen.” He says, completely solemn. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

I say nothing. There’re a few seconds before he speaks again.

“Listen, Scotty…” He says. “I’m so sorry. I should’ve told you before, when we were all there. I should’ve called her out. I’m surprised Sam didn’t say something first, but I guess he was too drunk to remember what he saw.”

“On Sunday, you mean?”

“Yeah. On- on Sunday.”

I swallow. The swallow tastes of blood.

“Scotty, I don’t know why, at… at all, but Maria… she’s lying to you.”

Even though my stomach twists up with sickness, I nod, sobs swelling up.

“What do you… mean?” I say, even though I know what he means. Something inside me’s still refusing to believe it.

“Maria lied to you about the party.” Greg breathes in steadily.

I interrupt him. “No. She… wouldn’t.”

“I know, she’s the worst liar I’ve ever met.”

“Me too.”

“But she did, Scotty. She lied. I know she was probably embarrassed, about… you know. But I can’t believe she went that far to cover her ass, especially when you… when you worked yourself up that much over her. Scotty, all that crap about her leaving you for the storage cupboards and her mate Brooklyn and this crazy mystery girl hooking up with you? You know all that stuff she said?”

“Yeah.”

“She made it all up. There was no crazy mystery girl. She was the girl with you on Sunday night.”

The cold bleeds through me like it’s been injected. I nod again, biting my lip hard, but my face screws up with sobs. I can’t believe it. Don’t want to.

“She can’t have been, Greg. She was off in the…”

“Mate. No, she wasn’t.” Greg says gently. “I know it must be hard to believe she’d do something like that to you.”

Oh, you don’t know the fucking half of it. “I know she wouldn’t, Greg.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but she did. She left with you, Scotty. She took you round back.”

“You—you… actually saw me leave with her?” I demand.

“Yes.” Greg says.

I choke on a scream. “You sure?”

“Scotty, come on.”

“But are you sure it was her?”

“Scotty…”

“If it was really her, and you were so damn sure about it, why didn’t you say anything before?”

There’s a long silence on the other end. Then, Greg says, “Because… she asked me not to.”

All the words die in my mouth.

I shouldn’t take his word for it. He was probably drunk too. Pissed drunk, like Sam and like me and… like her. You know it was her, Scotty. But I don’t. I’ve been thinking it ever she went silent at the other end of the line, but I still can’t believe it. It can’t be. Not her. Not her.

I still shudder as I think of her in her flat in the dark, her phone to her ear, crying. I’ve never even seen where she lives, I realise.

After the longest silence I think I’ve ever known, I thank Greg for finding the balls. Then, I hang up on him.

 

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