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

5. Creep

When I wake up, the sky’s blue with morning and I’m so crazy with hunger I’d eat just about anything. When I look at my phone, I ignore the usual swamp of texts from Olivia and my parents and find two voicemails from Greg. The first makes me growl: “Hiya. Uh,  I was just calling to ask… where were you last night? And you remember there was a catch-up class yesterday too? Sam said he talked to you, but he was drunk, so I wasn’t sure… Maria was really worried. Said she lost you at the party.” The second, left five hours after the first, makes me feel guilty. “Please call, dude. Getting worried over here.”

I don’t have the energy to reply, and throw my phone onto my bed as I get up to stretch. Everything cracks at once. My headache’s still there, hissing somewhere deep under the agony in my stomach. I don’t know why, but when Keith’s bedroom door slams, followed by the familiar yet somehow stomach-churning clank-clank-clank of him washing dishes in the kitchen, I clench my fists. The sound is louder than usual- at least, it feels louder than usual. Instead of prodding at the edges of my mind, it now cuts deep, like a door slamming right in my face.

If I go into the kitchen, he’ll probably try to start a conversation. My stomach twists with misery as I remember there’s no food in there anyway. The more noise he makes, the more I picture him standing there at that sink, bobbing up and down to his music, oblivious, alone, the more I want to…

Never mind.

God, I’m hungry.

I look out of the window, noticing the sky’s heavy with grey clouds and most of the street’s completely in shadow. It’s ten in the morning—I’m late for another catchup class. It’d be less painful to stay at home and miss it, but I can’t just sit here, fail my course and starve to death because I’m frightened of the sun. I get up and change into clean jeans and a semi-clean shirt, dumping the clothes I slept in into the corner of the room as I grab my wallet from the dresser and leave the flat. Keith shouts “Morning!” to me as I pass, a little too loudly over his headphones, but I don’t reply. As I walk out into the street, I wait for that burning sensation to flood across my skin, but it never comes. Dazed, I stand outside the flat block for a split-second, but I feel normal.

Huh. So much for vampires.

When I reach the corner shop, I walk down the aisle slowly, running my eyes over everything they’re selling, trying to figure out what I want to eat. My stomach tells me anything, but my head, as I neurotically start to pick up sandwiches and put them back down again, tells me nothing. Everything here’s disgusting. You don’t want egg or salmon or ham or chicken. Put that cheese salad down—you hate it, remember?

I thought I liked cheese salad. But I guess my head’s right—the more I look at it, the more I want to throw up again. Eventually, I scrape the remainders of change from the bottom of my wallet, panicking as I realise I haven’t even got enough left for one more bottle, and buy chicken and bacon. I don’t know why—my head told me it’d taste the least awful.

I stuff half of the roll into my mouth on the walk back to my flat, waiting for a taste that never comes. It just tastes like… Chicken. And bacon. I apparently wanted it to taste like something else.

A woman in a green jacket turns to look at me nervously as I pass, probably because I’ve frozen mid-chew with my cheeks bulging like a hamster’s, and another solid throb of anger wracks my gut as I catch her eye. Someone across the road starts to laugh, and the sound cuts through me, a hundred times louder than it should be, and then it feels as though the whole street’s laughing at me. I want to… I want to… march over there, and…

Never mind.

God, I’m hungry.

And why am I still hungry? I stuff the other half of the sandwich into my mouth, but it does nothing besides sicken my stomachache. In fact… sick… Yeah, that’s the right word. The burning fever makes me sway as it comes back, and I duck into an alleyway as bile rises through my throat again. I double over and vomit on the ground, in front of the whole street. I cough, wipe my mouth, and straighten up. Well, there goes the sandwich I didn’t even want in the first place. And the last of my change. I want to scream. Or cry, or collapse and shake. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I eat?

And why is everything so damn loud all of a sudden?

As I stand up, I register another thin giggle from the other side of the road. They’re laughing at you. No, they’re not. Yes they are. As I emerge from the alleyway, kicking the ground, I’m numb to everything but the pain in my stomach. It’s digging deeper, and when I swallow, it starts to jab at my chest, my throat. My mouth. I start to shake with anger. That bastard’s still laughing. Whether or not he’s laughing at me, the obnoxious sound makes me angrier and angrier. And I’m so sickeningly, crushingly hungry my mind flashes scarlet. I have to keep walking, ignore the stares. I can’t let them know.

Let them know what?

This: Every time someone talks to me, makes a noise, even looks at me, my thoughts turn scarlet and my mind tells me to grab them, slash at their throat or their chest or their face or their stomach—something—anything—and spill their blood all over the ground. The thought of it prickles my senses like I’m on fire.

I crash back through the door to my flat with a bit too much gusto, desperate to escape the people on the street before I do an irrational thing like tear someone’s head off their shoulders with my bare fucking hands. I don’t know whether Keith sees me lock myself into my bedroom, because I’m not looking at him. I don’t know whether he hears the clanking glass as I yank my last full bottle from under my bed, uncap it, and pour a burning stream of whisky down my throat like it’s going to solve all my problems. As the pain in my stomach grows worse and worse and the violent, bloody anger in my head grows crazier and crazier, I can at least numb myself a little, right?

Nope. After less than ten minutes, I run to the bathroom again, throw up my last thirteen quid and fifteen pence into the toilet, and flush it away. The burning fever subsides, giving way to a clammy chill that grabs my arms and won’t let go. I’m sober. So, so fucking unbearably sober. I can’t bear it much longer.

 

 

I force myself to go to my class, even though I feel ten times worse today than I did yesterday and now have the added dilemma of wanting to kill everyone who so much as glances in my direction. Greg comes to sit next to me in the corner of the library. Despite myself, I sigh at the sight of him.

“Hey,” he says.

“Hi,” I grumble, my arms clamped around my stomach.

“You alright?”

“Yeah. Stomach-ache.”

Greg looks down. “Oh.”

I laugh and rub my face. The laughter sounds sarcastic, even though I’m not sure I meant it to. “Yeah.”

“You tried eating something?” Greg says. The innocent concern in his eyes makes me want to scream and run and hide. He met me back when I was barely eating at all—probably thinks I’m having a relapse.

I sigh. “Yeah.”

“Oh, really? Well… did you try eating nothing?”

“Yeah. That too.”

He looks surprised.

As the library gradually fills, I get my books out and try to ready myself for the class, but my head starts to fill with a painful mess of noise. Everyone—the other creative writing students at our table, the people sat studying or reading, the librarian, even the people walking past the windows outside—sounds like they’re shouting, even though they’re not, and it hurts.

“Emma…” I whisper to Greg, who’s busy reading through some notes in his miniscule Super Mario notepad. I assume they’re from yesterday’s class. I’ll have to ask to borrow them. “Emma’s not here.”

Why on Earth did I say that? I know she’s not here. I’m just hoping upon hope that I’ll see her somewhere, and find out she was fine all along.

Greg looks up at me. “Emma? Oh.”

“You know. The girl who went missing. My friend.”

“I didn’t know you two were friends.”

“Yeah.”

We weren’t really friends. We chatted a couple of times about books and Star Trek, and that was it. Where is she? God, I can’t stand the thought of her still being missing. Being dead’s one hideous thing, but being missing, having nobody know where you are or what happened to you… I couldn’t stand to be her family right now. Or Jane’s.

I look down in surprise as Greg puts his hand on my arm and says: “I’m sorry.”

I frown and yank my arm away. Another blink sends the pressure in my head skyrocketing and my thoughts off on a mad trajectory I can’t control, like it’s flipping channels. I’m on my feet before I know it. “I can’t do this,” I say, pressing an arm into my stomach as I shove my books back into my bag. “I have to go.”

“Oh.” Greg looks up. “But the class—”

“Fuck the class. Tell Professor Hunt I’m sick. Please?”

“Okay. You coming later?”

“What?” I ask. Oh—the playground. “Maybe. Yeah. No. I dunno.”

“Useful answer.”

“Yeah. I have to go.”

I swear a hundred rounds of laughter hound me out of the room, but it’s probably just my imagination.

 

 

Keith finds me in my room later that night, hugging my last half-full bottle of whisky to my chest. I forgot to lock the door.

“Scotty,” he says, his voice full of sadness. All I can think, as I look up at the black ceiling, is that he deserves better than this. Better than me.

“Yeah?” I roll the word over my tongue as sickness cripples me again. And again, and again.

“You… you need help.”

“Oh, you reckon?” I burst out, wiping my mouth. “You reckon? That I need help? No shit, Keith. I’ve got hunger I can’t control and the sunlight burns me and I feel violent towards everyone! And all because I was left for dead by some vamp bitch who gave me THIS!” I flash him my scab, which is harder and smaller now.

You know, when you lay it out like that, it’s pretty obvious what’s happened to you, Scotty. Pretty fucking obvious.

Keith swallows at the sight of the scab, but all he says is, “I meant for the alcohol thing.”

I choke back a sob. “I know.”

Then, sickening heat floods through me again and I bolt to my feet, push past him to get to the bathroom, and throw up again. I’ve got to stop trying to drink—drinking and eating don’t work. Everything comes back up. I don’t know why, but that’s the way it is. Instead of going back into my room, and having to walk past Keith again, I decide I have to go out. So I leave, without letting him know or even stopping to put on a coat.

I shiver as I walk along the hallway, but the moment I’ve stepped outside, freezing wind slaps me in the face like a wet dishcloth. It makes me feel better, even though it’s seeping right into me and making me ache. It makes me feel more alert. Where am I going? To meet up with my friends at the playground? I think so. I need to talk to them. Maybe one of them knows that girl.

I stop and double over as another knife of hunger punctures my ribcage. I want to throw up again, but I’m empty. Oh, God—the pain’s getting worse. I’ve been hungry before, but I’ve never felt this way before. This isn’t normal. The agony builds and builds inside me; after a heart-stopping crescendo that makes me cry out as my eyes and nose and mouth flood with heat, it subsides again. I straighten up, cold, sick fear collecting in my mouth like stagnant water.

“Screw this,” I murmur, my voice dissolving in the rancid air, softer than a whimper. I sob again, my face crumpling like paper. My friends won’t be able to make me feel better—nothing could—but I keep walking anyway.

Stop it. That’s the only thought I can squeeze out of my mind as some cyclist whips past me, nearly running me down. I knew he was there, somehow, even though he was silent. I thought of sticking my foot out as he came past to send him flying, snapping down and letting blasts of scarlet consume my thoughts. And the pavement. It was despicable, but I thought it. And I don’t know why. Stop, you fucking freak.

I can’t stop. I swear the thoughts aren’t mine.

In the distance, someone’s whistling as he walks. I can make out the sound, but even though I’m at the top of a hill, with a view that stretches several hundred feet in every direction, I can’t see him. Wherever that whistler is, I’m sure he’s all alone in the dark, like me. Nobody’d hear him scream. You know it. You know it, Scotty. The red on the pavement’ll look black till morning. I let my thoughts spiral out of control and, with them, my anger. That whistling bores into my skull, making the blood in my head hiss and spit like boiling water—what kind of a selfish good-for-nothing prick is he? Whistling. Someone ought to teach him a lesson. A painful one.

Stop it, I think, yet again. This time, though, something in my head answers back.

No.

The hunger bleeds through my body, soaking through every nerve and vein and organ like a flood of electricity; it sets my teeth on edge, tugs every last scrap of hair away from my skin. My ears prickle as the whistling gets louder. All around me, even though it’s dark, the edges of buildings and puddles and pavements grow harder, and a little brighter too. My nose becomes filled with a strange smell—a human smell, cologne and washing powder and sweat. I lick my lips in absent thought as I walk towards the whistling, tasting the dryness of my mouth, every other thought losing its voice and drowning in the endless cavern of my empty stomach. It’s been two days since you last ate something you managed to keep down. You’re going to die if you don’t eat. You need to eat. Now. My violent thoughts don’t feel like thoughts anymore. They feel real. I can practically hear the shouts, feel the fabric ripping past my nails, taste the blood at the back of my throat. And all over my tongue. I’m starving, but what the hell can I do about it? What could my body possibly want, if it doesn’t want food? What does it need?

Whistling. Whistling. Whistling. Whistling. It mutates into a metallic scream in my head that cuts me in half, destroys my sense, widens my eyes and turns my walk to a sprint. The trees blur into red smears and I stop thinking. I forget… everything. Everything but the hunger.

I’m running. I’m running. Like mad. I can’t breathe and I can’t think and the only thing on my mind is blood even though there’s none to taste at the back of my throat. I’m running, I’m running, and then, suddenly, I let out a shriek as I run headlong into somebody on the path and knock them flying. I snarl, raise my fist, drink in their yell of shock, and then… I look down as I recognise the voice.

“Scotty! Scotty!”

I stop.

The girl on the ground under me… I recognise her. She’s got messy blonde and purple curls and her eyes, wide open and staring up at me, are black-lined. Not the man. Not the whistler. Maria. I look around, hideously self-aware again. Where am I? Where did I go? What did I do?

Shaking, I lower my fist and collapse onto the ground. Maria jumps to her feet and stands still, staring down at me. I’m scared to get up. If I do, what’ll happen? Something… bad. That red glow might snatch me back. I’m crying. My eyes are dry, but my face crumples and I start to sob. Everything hits me at once, like a freight train. What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with me? What in hell’s name’s wrong with me?

“S…Scotty?” Maria says shakily.

I sniff. “Maria, I’m okay.”

“Are you… sure?”

“Yeah.” I know what I would’ve done if she hadn’t called my name. I would’ve hurt her. “I… I’m… fine.”

I sit up and slowly pull myself to my feet. The hunger burns less when I’m lying on my back, but I can’t lie on that path forever. I can’t break down in front of her.

“Hey…” she says shakily. “It’s good to see you.”

“You too.”

She’s staring at me like she can’t believe what she’s seeing. “Where were you… going? Were you coming to us?”

“Yeah.” I rub my hands together. “I, uh… yeah.”

Sprinting. Sprinting to you. I just love you all that fucking much, I guess.

“I—I came to see if you were okay… I was going to drop past the flat. Greg… Greg said you were ill and I… I couldn’t…”

She gasps and grabs me as I sway, hot sickness flooding my head. As it subsides, I manage to straighten and slap her arms away from my waist.

“I’m okay,” I say groggily. God, what must she think of me?

“Scotty… Jesus Christ,” she says softly. “What’s wrong with you?”

I wipe my forehead, and as the heat comes back, I answer: “I need to sit down.”

“Okay,” she says dejectedly as I sit down on the path. She stands and stares at me for a couple more seconds.

“What happened to you?” she says. “At that party?”

“I don’t… I don’t… remember.”

“Oh.” She laughs shakily.

“It’s not a joke.”

“I know it’s not a joke, Scotty.” She laughs again anyway. Then, her eyes flick down to my neck, and widen at the sight of the scab. “I… I just… my God, you look… awful.”

I look up at her, rubbing my neck. “You prick.”

She grins. I grin back, tiredly.

After a few more seconds of silence, she says, “You feel like standing up?”

“No.”

“Oh, come on. It’s cold.”

“Get fucked, Maria.”

We go silent again—I want to explode at her, but I’m too afraid. Too afraid she’s afraid of me. Too afraid she’s about to tell me she did leave me, that she saw me with that girl and all of it’s real.

I look to my left as she sits down beside me. “Go away,” I whine.

“I’m trying to help you, you stupid ass.”

“Real helpful, Maria.” No matter how hard I try, I can’t get my voice to sound cocky. “You left me! How could you? You… you… it wasn’t your job, I guess… but you promised, Maria! You promised.”

I try to cry, but the tears don’t come out, so I end up coughing. I try to stop myself, but I can’t.

“I know,” she says softly, looking down at her lap.

My heart sinks.

“Why did you leave me?” I say. “Did you lose me, or did you leave? Or did you find someone?”

“I…” She sighs, rubbing her face. “I found a guy, yeah.”

I laugh bitterly. “Doesn’t really matter now, does it? Doesn’t matter why you left me… you… Now I…”

“Scotty, what’s wrong with you?”

I rub my face again. We’re sitting in the middle of the path, at the dead of night. It’s freezing, but the worst cold’s inside my body, sitting in a chunk at my core. I shiver, wrapping my arms around myself. “I don’t know,” I say softly.

“Are you… sick?”

I nod. I want nothing more than to ask her to help me. I hope she will.

“What’s wrong? Scotty? Is it…”

“’S’just something to do with getting drunk.” I lie. “But there was… I was… I was with someone at that party. Olivia told me. Jason saw me with this girl.”

“Oh.” Maria looks at me, crossing her legs. “You… you cheated?”

“While I was drunk. Yeah.”

“Scotty, I’m so sorry.”

“No, don’t feel sorry for me. I’m a fucking disgrace.”

“No, I mean I’m sorry for… leaving you.”

“It’s… it’s…” The word okay won’t leave my mouth. “I think I need help.”

“Oh, you reckon?” Maria laughs shakily. “Listen, Scotty… Olivia, she… she… I mean, I don’t blame you.”

“No,” I say. “Course you don’t.”

She laughs. “Suppose I cheat all the time. I’m a bit of a lightweight too, a bit of a… you know. An S word. I sleep around and stuff. I’m the worst girlfriend in the world.”

“What?” I say. “You have a…”

She looks at me. “Yeah. I’ve got sort of a boyfriend.”

“Well, then, why the hell do you…” My words slur and waver as another surge of hunger takes me over. “I’m not judging you. Whatever.”

“See? You’re not so bad.” She smiles.

“No. That’s not the point,” I say. “This… this… girl. I was with. I—”

“Can we get up off the pavement now?” Maria says, uncrossing her legs and making to stand up. I don’t move. “My ass is cold.”

I don’t say a word.

“Scotty? You okay to stand up?”

I sigh, trying to make sense of the mess in my head. I won’t tell her everything from the dream. Of course not. The only real part of that dream was the part where we kissed.

When I stand up, a stab of adrenaline pulses through my stomach and makes my head light. I look at her, pretty sure I look drunk all over again, even though I’m painfully, painfully sober.

“You okay?” Maria says. “You want to go to see the others?”

I nod. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m okay.”

“Or do you want to go home?”

I think about it. I’m safer at home, sure, less likely to pounce on random onlookers and devour them or whatever. But Keith’s at home. And if Maria can’t help me, maybe Sam or Greg can.

“No, let’s… let’s go to the playground. I need to ask you guys some things.” I tell her.

“You sure?”

Yes, Maria!” I burst out. She looks at me in shock. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re sick, Scotty.”

“Yes, and I need to figure out why I’m sick before it gets worse!” I sob. “I need to… I need to—”

“Well, how’s asking us going to help? You need to see a doctor if you—”

“The girl I was with, Maria,” I say. “Behind the house, she… she…” bit me. Drank my blood. Ate a chunk of my neck. “Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t know what we did. But I know I’ve been sick ever since, and I need to find her.”

I must sound crazy. Random encounters with random strangers at random university parties aren’t usually followed by desperation for a reunion. That shit’s best forgotten.

She looks at me. “Okay. Okay, fine. Come on.”

I walk ahead of her, feeling her eyes on my back. She probably thinks I’m going to keel over at any second. Might be readying herself to catch me. Or call an ambulance. Or an undertaker. As we turn the corner, I spot the miniscule orange speck of Greg’s cigarette and hear the irritating—God, it’s irritating—sound of Sam clanking his empty glass bottle against the side of the bench. They both look up at me as I push open the gate.

“Hi,” I say, deadpan.

“Hi!” Greg says.

Sam grunts. But at least he’s looking at me today.

“Hey, guys!” Maria says, doing a weird little bouncing dance as she kicks the gate shut behind us. “I found him!”

Sam grunts again.

 “Get you. Is he okay?” Greg says, before turning to me. “Are you okay?”

I shrug. “Suppose so.”

“He’s lying,” Maria says, shoving me lightly from behind. “He’s really sick. Tried to get him to go home, but he wouldn’t listen. He loves us all that much.”

“Mm.” Greg’s eyes flicker between the two of us.

“I hate you all.” I grumble, sitting down on the swings. Maria sits down next to me.

“Why? What did we do?”

You,” I say to her, “left me.”

Greg clears his throat. “Maria—”

“I said I was sorry about that,” Maria says, bouncing her clenched fists up and down in her lap. “Look. Tell us about her.”

Greg’s voice comes from behind me. “About her?”

I don’t reply.

“Scotty was with someone Friday night,” Maria says. “He says he needs to find her.”

Greg stares at me.

“Why?” Sam says from the bench, laughing slightly. His voice sounds grated, like he’s got a sore throat, but it’s because he’s drunk again. I stare at him.

“Is Olivia the one who told you about this?” Greg says.

I look at him. “Yeah.”

“Did it occur to you she might be lying?”

I sigh, looking down at my hands.

“I suppose so,” I say after a long pause. I should be annoyed, but instead I sink.

“Didn’t you say Jason saw you together?” Maria presses.

“Yeah.”

“Hate Jason.”

I look at her. “You know him?”

“No.” She curls her lip. “But I know of him. He’s probably lying. They’re both lying to you, Scotty. I bet. You’d never cheat on her. Even though you should.”

“I should? Why?”

Maria sighs. “If she was my girlfriend I’d cheat on her.”

“Seconded.” Sam drawls.

Greg sticks up his hand. “Thirded.”

“Hey. Stop it,” I say. “Look, I need to find this girl, whether you think she’s real or not.”

“Why d’you need to find her?”

“Because I just do, okay, Greg?” I burst out. He looks at me in shock. “Look, I… I… can’t explain it. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I know it’s something to do with her. I know it. Please.” I look up at him. “Did you see me with anyone besides Maria? Jason says… she was… she was blonde. That’s all. And wearing black, and a weird cape. Like, a costume.”

“A cape?” Maria laughs. “What, you drunkenly hooked up with Batgirl?”

“No,” I say. “Well, maybe.”

“Uh…” For a second, Greg’s eyes drift. “No, dude. Sorry.”

“Really? Anyone? You didn’t see anyone wearing that kind of costume? But there can’t even have been that many people dressed up! You don’t even drink! You must have seen something.”

“No. I was outside most of the night.”

“So didn’t you see me… see us… come out?” I say desperately. “You’re sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure. I was round the side.”

“The side?”

Maria laughs behind me. “You were with Josh, right?”

He blushes deeper. “Yeah.”

Bloody brilliant. Greg was with his boyfriend and Maria was with someone who wasn’t hers and Sam was pissed out of his mind. None of them can help me.

Maria mutters, “Scotty, this is probably nothing.”

I look at her. She didn’t say it angrily. She said it as though it ought to be followed by a but.

“This is probably nothing,” she repeats. “But…”

“What?”

“I heard some people talking.”

I turn fully on the swing to look at her. She’s not looking at me; she’s picking at her fingers in her lap.

“What?” I say.

“Like I said, it’s probably nothing. I just thought of it as we were walking. There were some people talking inside the party, saying their friend—this girl—had, um… disappeared.”

“Oh?”

“And they were saying something along the lines of: ‘Oh, she went off with that seriously drunk guy.’ Like I said, it could have been nothing. Probably was. But now I think back on it they could have been talking about you.

I lean forwards, even as I tell myself there were a million and one seriously drunk guys at that party. And a million and one girls. “Yeah?”

“No. That was it.”

My heart sinks. “Really? Well, what use is that? Did you recognise any of them? Did any of them say a name?”

“Yeah, I knew one of them from art.”

“What was his name?”

“Brooklyn. Brook.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Brooklyn? Well, there can’t be that many of those on campus, right?”

“Actually, I know three.”

“Well, you know everyone.” I spit. “Everyone, apparently, except this girl. Didn’t you hear her name? I mean… are you sure you didn’t hear anything else? Or see anything?”

“I’m sure.”

“Well, where’d you go with this guy you were with? I say.

She wrinkles her nose. “Um, one of the storage cupboards.”

“Right. And you’re sure you didn’t hear her name?”

“Jesus, Scotty—”

“Please. I’m desperate!” I say. Sam’s and Greg’s eyes jab my back, and the sensation shoots more bolts of anger through me. I don’t want to be angry, but I’m not in control of myself anymore. These people—my friends—are driving me insane. What if what happened to me a minute ago—when I crashed into Maria on the pavement—happens again? My blood bubbles inside me, rising to the surface as my hunger digs further down.

“Well, I can’t help you, Scotty. Not any more than that.” Maria sighs, looking up at me. “I’m sorry.”

“Dude, are you okay?” Greg asks me. I nearly snarl. “You look awful.”

“Thanks.”

“No, I mean…” Greg struggles, but he’s not even close to shutting up. That boy can talk and talk and talk. He cares too much. “You look sick.”

“Yeah, man.” Sam looks up at me. “You’re grey. Like a ghost.”

I turn to leave. Then, I flood with heat and sway again. Maria bolts to her feet, but I turn and fix her with a look as she goes to grab me. “Don’t touch me.”

“Scotty—”

“Don’t TOUCH me!” I yell. She jumps back. Yet again, I immediately regret the outburst—I regret it before I’ve even seen the fear darkening her eyes.

“You leaving?” she asks, looking down at the ground as she wraps herself up in her arms.

“Yeah.” I can find out more about this girl tomorrow, or tonight. Right now, I’m just too afraid to stay near my friends. I’m crumpling with a desperation to cry that I somehow know will never be satisfied.

“Let me walk you home,” Maria says.

“No,” I say instinctively, scared I’ll hurt her.

Greg starts, “Scotty—”

“I SAID I’m fine!” I sniff, even though I can’t cry. “I have to go home. To bed. I’m so sorry. So, so sorry I’m acting like this. Just… understand… I can’t explain. But I can’t control this. It’s because…” I sigh, and rub my face. “It’s because of her.”

There’s a long silence. For some reason, I can’t force my feet to move. I’m scared to stay, sure, but scared of being alone too.

“We’ll help you find her,” Maria says.

“No,” I say. “Thanks. You’ve done enough, but this is… stupid. I can’t bother you with it anymore. I have to go.” I turn and walk towards the gate. As I push it open, I hear footsteps and turn back to see Maria following me. When she catches my eye, she folds her arms and sets her mouth.

“What?” I say.

“I’m not leaving you alone,” she says. “I’m walking with you.”

“I don’t need you.”

“Yes, you do. What if you pass out on the way home, for God’s sake? Who’s going to find you? Nobody, you ass. You’ll be face-first on the lawn till morning light, frozen in a block of ice. I’m coming to take care of you.”

“I don’t want you to come.”

“I know, but you need me. If you’re not going to the doctor I guess I’ll have to be your doctor. That’s what I was going to do for my degree if I didn’t get into art.”

I look her up and down. “You?”

“Yeah. Doctor McCammon, the best heart surgeon ever.” She grins, but she looks tired. “You need me and I… I’m not… going to leave you… ag—again.”

I can tell she needs me to let her do this. Even though it makes my head pulse harder with nerves, I shrug. “Okay, fine. Come walk me home, then.”

She grins. “I will.”

We turn and walk away, crossing the road and leaving the heavy gate to swing shut by itself. Our footsteps on the pavement are the only sounds after that. When we walk back into the campus, the world narrows in around us. There’s that tree again. I turn my head slowly. Maria’s gone from my side. Wildly, I turn, debilitated by the flash of fear that she’s gone, but then, she softly taps my shoulder, making me jump again.

She looks up at me through her hair, her expression serious, her eyes dark. “You’re jumpy.”

I say nothing and look down, at my fuzzy feet moving along the fuzzy pavement. I’m not sure whether I’m glad she’s here or not. Without her there to keep me anchored I’m sure I’d go flying off on some mad fantasy. I reach for my scab on instinct, surprised to find it’s nearly healed.

Another wave of giddiness shivers through me. I only slow my pace a fraction, but Maria notices; her hand brushes my elbow as she readies herself to grab me again.

“You okay?”

I shake my head, but only to clear the lightness. “Yeah. Fine.”

We keep walking.

After a few minutes, I can’t hold it in any longer. I know why I’m asking, but I won’t tell her. I’ll let her assume it’s because of something normal, sensible.

“Maria?” I say to the sky.

“Yeah?” she says after a pause.

I don’t say anything for a few more seconds. I eventually force the words out. “Do you have any friends… you know, who it might be?”

If she had, she would’ve told me. I’ll have to find this Brooklyn guy tomorrow, ask him about his friend. Because she’s a vampire. I shake my head again.

I expect Maria to ask what I mean, but instead, she says: “I’m sorry. I wish I could help you more. I will. But that’s all I know.”

“You don’t… you don’t have any friends like that?”

“Like what?”

The kind that can bite out chunks of your neck with their monstrous fucking teeth and laugh as they suck out your blood. “Uh, you know… who’d hook up with someone like me. Must be a pretty… limited list, right?”

She laughs nervously. “Yeah. Uh… I don’t know. I’ve got a lot of friends. Blonde girls… Blonde girls.”

“Blonde girls who’d dress up as Batgirl or whatever.”

“There’s Gigi. From my art group. I saw her at the start of the evening, not… not after that. Her friends were saying she got tired, though. And I don’t remember what she was wearing. And there’s Becky. And Simone. I think they were both there. Look, Scotty, I’m sorry, but there are just too many. We…” Her voice gets darker as I slow down to stare at the front door of my flat block. “We’ll find Brook tomorrow, and we can ask him. I promise. Go to bed. You need some sleep.”

“I…” I look down. “I can’t sleep anymore.” My voice sounds damp, defeated. I can’t stand being this way in front of her.

“Scotty, I’m sorry.” Maria and I turn to face one another. “Go inside, get some sleep. Please. Try. If you can’t do that, at least try to relax.”

I want to explode, tell her I can’t, not like this, that I’m afraid I’ll die up there or kill up there or go mad up there alone.

“Do you want me to come up?” she says.

I nearly say yes. I so, so nearly say yes I have to swallow the word back down when it comes up. I feel safe with her—there’s just something about her that feels secure, warm, unshakeable. But what would Keith think? Oh, and my room. The bottles. The blood. The smell. “No. Go back,” I say. “Don’t worry about me.”

“Oh, I’ll worry about you all right.” She grins, taking a step back from me. “Come see me tomorrow. In the workshop. I’ll help you then, I promise. But Doctor McCammon says get yourself some sleep, Scotty.”

“Okay.” I smile, but the smile twists with another round of pain. This time, the pain jams in my throat, too solid to push down. “See you tomorrow.”

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