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

8. Junkie

"Yeah, and then she told me I could go fuck myself.” I rub my face and glance up at Maria yet again. “So, yeah. That was good fun, I guess.”

“Man, Olivia sounds like she’s getting worse, Scotty.” Greg fumbles with his lighter, even though it’s raining. “Why don’t you… y’know.”

“Tell her how you feel?” Sam interjects.

“I do tell her how I feel,” I say. “She hates it.”

Sam looks down at his clasped hands. “Well, then, leave her.”

“Again, I’ve tried. Not that easy.”

My friends and I talk about Olivia constantly on our nights in the playground, but I only bring her up myself whenever Greg brings up Josh. Olivia found me this morning right as I was leaving the art block—pinned me against the wall by my shoulders and demanded to know what I was doing. I told her to leave me alone. I think we’re broken up again now, but God help me if she finds out what’s happening to me this evening.

“Have you ever tried…” Maria says slowly. “Getting drunk and severely embarrassing yourself and, by consequence, her, in public?”

We all laugh, me hardest of all. Somehow, whenever I’m with my friends, the topic of my girlfriend is comical. Even though I’m hanging out with vampires. I look at Sam as he avoids my eyes, at Greg as he grins nervously whenever he catches Maria’s. Eventually, I sigh.

“Y’know, you two can go ahead and stop being so cryptic about it,” I say. “Maria already told me everything.”

Greg looks up at me, his eyes narrowed. “What—what? You mean us?”

“Yeah, you.”

“Cryptic about what?”

There’s suddenly a racket above us; we all look up at Maria in surprise as she dissolves into a raucous coughing fit. I should be scared she’ll fall, but I can tell she’s pretending. I stare at her, confused.

“Uh. Sorry,” she says, catching my eye as she taps her chest. “Some, uh, air went down the wrong way.”

“Right.” Greg laughs nervously, looking back at me. “Sorry.”

“No,” I say, looking up at Maria as she just barely shakes her head. “Oh, no. It’s nothing.”

“Right,” Greg repeats.

“Anyway!” Maria says, with a yawn. “I think we’d probably better go… home…”

“Oh, okay,” Greg says, looking up at her as she swings off the pole and drops messily back to the ground. She dusts herself off, shaking out her hair. “Yeah. You’re right. None of us slept last night.”

They stare at each other for a couple of seconds. I wonder if they’ve talked in private since last night. Greg hasn’t brought up Friday again, so I assume they have.

Another shard of hunger claws through my ribs. “Greg,” I say.

He tears his eyes off Maria’s to look at me. “Yeah?”

“Sorry. Nothing.”

“Nothing again.”

“Nothing again.”

He laughs, turning to Sam. “Hey, get your drunk ass up. We’re leaving.”

Sam, who’s spread out on the bench on his back, doesn’t make a sound.

“Sam.” As Greg walks over to him and shakes him, a stab of cold runs through my blood. My stomach’s still hurting. I need them to leave. Then, Sam groans.

“What?”

“We’re leaving.”

“Oh. Okay.” Sam heaves himself to his feet and stumbles; Greg grabs him. When Greg speaks again, he sounds exhausted.

“See you guys.”

“See you.” Maria and I chorus. As soon as Sam and Greg are out of earshot, Maria turns to me.

“Alright,” she says. “You ready?”

I sigh. “Does it matter?”

“I think so,” she says thoughtfully. “I once read something in a big fancy mythology book that said you have to be willing to become a vampire. Otherwise it doesn’t work.”

“Oh,” I say. “You need books?”

“Yeah. It’s not like I know everything. I didn’t invent vampires or anything. Are you willing?”

I shrug. The truth is, I am. Even though I’m a little used to it now, the hunger’s still crushing me from the inside, and I want it to stop. I’ve been trying my best to detest Maria, but I can’t. The world hates me; I haven’t got much to lose.

“Uh, yeah, I guess so.” I look over my shoulder at the tiny speck of black of Sam and Greg’s combined shadows getting smaller in the distance. “Willing enough for the spell to work, anyway.”

Maria grins at me. “You thought Sam and Greg were vampires too, didn’t you?”

 “Uh, I mean, yeah, I guess.”

Maria giggles. “What a cruel person you are. Don’t even trust your own friends.”

I scowl at her. It makes her laugh harder. “Maria, you told me they were.”

“What?” she says. “No, I didn’t!”

“Yes, you did. I asked you if they knew you were a vampire, and you said yes, and I put two and two together and figured they were vampires too.”

She snorts. “Scotty, I thought you meant did they know about your alcoholism.”

“What?” I say, trying to remember the conversation. “Oh. Right. I just thought… y’know, because of the clothes and because you were all so together, that—”

“Aw, Sam and Greg are amateur goths,” Maria says. “I’ve only known them for a year, like you.”

“And you didn’t… you never thought about…”

I look at her. It genuinely confuses me—why she cared enough about my happiness to turn me, and not Sam or Greg. I didn’t think there was anything special about me, but now the thought’s occurred to me, I can’t help feeling warmer for it.

“Turning them?” Maria says, turning on her heel to push open the gate and starting to walk down the road. I follow her. “Why would I?”

“Because, y’know, they were… like you.”

“What, goths?” Maria snorts. “You think everyone who wears black’s a vampire? Bloody hell, Aberdeen University’d be crawling with them if that was the case!”

I look at my feet and say nothing. We turn a corner at a junction, and start to walk alongside the main road.

“You know,” she says. “I’m a goth because I’m a vampire, not the other way around.”

I shrug.

“And plus, can you imagine those two as vampires? They’re already pretty miserable. They were all about writing poetry in graveyards a year ago. If they both became vampires they’d just become so depressing they’d glitch out of existence.”

I force my smile flat. I follow her up the road, further away from the university and towards the Don bridge—a big ugly five-arched stone thing that straddles the muddy slump of the river’s final leg. She turns left to duck into a tiny path through the trees. The sign at the entrance says it’s a nature reserve. I eye it nervously as I follow her in. She, in her killer heels, hops neatly over every single branch and fallen tree, following the narrow path and batting leaves from her face.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“Oh, just a little spot I frequent.” She sighs, throwing her hair back over her shoulders. I quicken my pace to keep up, my legs starting to ache. “It’s nice and isolated. A nobody’ll-hear-you-scream type of place.” She turns and sees my face. “Sorry. Too much too soon?”

“You think?”

“Sorry.”

“So, uh…” I say as I run up alongside her, nearly tripping over a fallen log. When I straighten, a branch hits me in the face. “Do you… um… kill people down here? Or anywhere? Do you kill people?”

She looks at me, her expression dark. “The killing’s Frank’s job most of the time.”

“Oh.” I falter. She does kill people, then. Why aren’t I horrified? “Who’s Frank?”

“Oh, I forgot to mention? He’s my boyfriend. He’s the only real other vampire.”

“Oh. Okay,” I say. “Is he gonna be there?”

“Not yet. He’s at work. He’s coming down later, though.”

I swallow, rolling the name Frank around in my head. “Do I know him?”

“Nah, he doesn’t go to the uni. Well, I mean—no. You might know him, if you’ve ever ordered a pizza from the place down the road. This way.”

She leads me sideways, off the path and through a scuff of bushes. I stumble again as we start to ascend the steep bank, which is wet and slippery near the bottom and completely dark under the thick trees. The dirt softens into sludgy mud under our feet and she snorts with laughter as I stumble again, putting my foot in a puddle full of dead leaves. “Watch your step. Everywhere’s wet.”

“Right. Maria, where are we actually going?” I say again as she turns back on herself.

“Back towards the bridge,” she says, running her hand through her hair. “Not the pretty part. The crappy part.”

I force out my mouthful of cold fog. “There’s a pretty part?”

She giggles and keeps walking.

“So…” I say. “Your boyfriend… Frank?”

“What about him?” Maria pushes a branch out of her way, hurling it behind her. It hits me in the face.

“He’s… what? A delivery driver?”

“Mm.”

“Did you know him? Before you turned him?”

She glances over her shoulder. “Nope. Not even a little bit. Why?”

“So why, uh… why’d you pick him?”

She slows her pace to a walk and looks up at the sky, threading hair through her fingers. “I fancied a takeaway, okay? I was feeling lazy. Food right to your door. Whoever thought of the takeaway system’s a damn genius, don’t you think? And then, I thought maybe I could use him as a lackey. He could help me with the killing.”

I try not to shudder. “And then… what? Fell in love with him?”

She turns back, smirking at me slightly. I feel awkward for asking. “Yeah. Something like that.”

I quicken my pace to walk alongside her, listening as she starts to sing under her breath. I can see the river now, a glittering navy ribbon by our sides. During the day, it’s filthy brown to match the sky, and thick with rubbish. I look sideways at Maria, who catches my eye and smiles, sleepily, to herself. I wish I hated her. I wish I’d had the strength to tell her to go to hell the moment she started making her stupid vampire jokes. And then what? Starve to death? As I listen to her sing, a shudder runs through my body and the rest of the lazy blood drops from my face. Letting her drag me out into a dark shitty spot in the middle of nowhere was a bad idea.

“So, um,” I say after a few more minutes of walking.

“You ask a lot of questions.” Maria stops just as she’s about to disappear into the dark space under the bridge. She flops down onto the ground and stretches her legs out. “This is it.”

“Right.” Against my better judgement, I walk the few more steps and sit down next to her. “So, since vampires are real?”

“Yep?”

“What about all the other supernatural shit? What about werewolves? Are they real too?”

Maria raises an eyebrow, her eyes shining. “That was not the question I was expecting.”

“But d’you have an answer for it?”

“No, Scotty, werewolves aren’t real.” She looks up at the sky, twisting her mouth sideways. “At least, as far as I know. If they are real, they’re just as good at hiding as us. I’m a vampire. I wouldn’t know about werewolves being real any more than any human would. There’s no society of mythical creatures we’ve all got membership cards for. We don’t have any laws, vampires. We just… do our own thing.”

“Which consists solely of eating people,” I say, “And lounging around at the side of rivers looking decorative.”

Her face breaks into a grin. “Yes! I found this spot the first day I moved here. Jumped down from up there.” She points up, and I crane my neck to see the edge of the bridge, twenty, thirty feet above us. I swallow. When I look back down, Maria’s busy spreading her fluffy skirt out on the grass around her legs. She smiles at me. “It’s nice, isn’t it?”

I look around. It smells funny here and the ground’s littered with beer cans and old downtrodden plastic bags. The grass is painted with a faint wash of yellow light from the lanterns on the bridge above us, and apart from that it’s pitch-dark. It’s cold, too, but I don’t hate it.

There’s silence for a couple of minutes.

“So what’d happen if a vampire bit a werewolf?”

Maria looks up at me, pressing her mouth. Then, she dissolves into a fit of giggles. I try not to smile.

“Okay, okay. What about if a werewolf bit a vampire, then?”

“Scotty!” she gasps, laughing harder. This time, I can’t hold back the grin.

“Stop laughing, Maria. This is serious,” I say, but she laughs harder, clamping her hand over her mouth. A thin chill runs through me. I don’t know why; it’s just her laugh.

All the time we were in the playground, I was sneaking glances at her, trying to spot things I’d never noticed before in the year I’d known her. But other than the pale skin and the braces, there weren’t any clues. She’s still just her.

“Seriously, though,” I say after she’s sobered up a little. She snorts, finally managing to stop laughing.

“Oh, God, you’re my… favourite idiot,” she says, looking up at the sky.

“Wow. That’s the nicest compliment anyone’s ever given me.”

Silence swallows us for a moment. I wrap my arms around my stomach as another wave of chilly sickness splits me in half. Maria sees me screwing up my face and puts her hand on my shoulder. I twitch to shrug her off, but she doesn’t let go.

“I promise I’ll make you better, Scotty,” she says. We’ll fix my stupid mistake tonight, okay?”

I nod, the focus in my mind turning red as the river darkens and the sky shrinks in around me. I feel sick. I can internally monologue for as long as I damn well please about her being a monster, but I’d do anything to make this pain stop.

“Scotty?” she says to me, softly. I look at her.

“Listen. If it means anything to you, which it really shouldn’t… I’m so sorry.”

I raise an eyebrow at her, shocked by her sudden sincerity. “For what?”

She swallows. “For—for—for… turning you into a vampire.”

“It’s fine,” I say, instantly. This time, it’s her turn to blink in shock. But I don’t mind. Maria smiles at me, and I smile back, weakly. It’s not like this has made my life any worse. Once the pain’s gone, everything’ll be better, right? Being a vampire doesn’t mean I’ve gotta be an alleyway-skulking predator, or a murderer; I can find other ways to stay alive. I’ve seen the movies. Animals. Blood banks. All that crap. Being a vampire doesn’t make me evil.

“Hey,” Maria says. “I guess we may as well, uh… do it now.” She tucks her hair behind her ears and turns to me. I stare at her, afraid again.

“Woah. Woah,” I say as she leans forwards. “What are you doing?”

“Doing the… the thing,” she says, shrinking back. “The—”

“At least explain it to me a little better first, would you? Okay, so I’m a half-vampire, because I didn’t… drink any of your blood. Right, so I—”

“Yep.” Maria plants her hands on her thighs. “Basically, the way you make a vampire is you have to drink all the person’s blood out of them. And, specifically, it has to be the lot. If you leave any in there, they’re not going to turn. And then, to finish the ritual, the new vampire has to drink some of the old vampire’s blood. Just a bit.”

“So I… have to drink… some of your—”

“Some of my blood. Yes.”

I look down at her feet. “Right. Okay, let’s do it.”

“I need to drink more of yours first,” Maria says, putting her hand on my arm. I stare at her as she listlessly starts to fuss her hair, not quite looking me in the eye. “I do. We got interrupted before I had time to, uh… finish you off. And in the few days since, your body’s been alive enough to… make more. All your blood… it all has to come out. I need… I need all of it.”

We look at each other for a second.

“Y’know, Maria…” I say eventually. “When I met you a year ago, that was not something I thought you’d ever say to me.”

She smiles quickly. “Sorry. Though. I do. I do need it.”

“Okay, okay, calm down. You can have it.” I brush my hair away from my shoulder. “But how much more, uh…”

Fear strikes my chest as her eyes darken and her mouth drops slightly open. For a second, she does nothing but stare emptily at my neck. Then, she sees me looking at her and shakes her head, pulling a face.

“Oh. I nearly forgot to mention,” she says cheerfully, hooking the braces from her mouth with one finger and placing them carefully on her lap.

“Yeah?” I ask, as the look in her eyes turns mischievous.

Her clipped English accent slurs as she keeps talking. “Oh. It’s… you know. You’re going to read stuff, about… about this. And I want to be the first to tell you I’m only doing it because you need me to. A favour.”

I narrow my eyes, recognising the sly tone in her voice. “What d’you mean?”

“I mean… and this is rather funny, because if anyone knew it’d be utterly scandalous, even though we would know there’s nothing—” She clears her throat to stifle a laugh. “About it. At all. But this, um… vampires… sharing blood? It’s generally, or at least sometimes, seen as a sex thing.”

I start. “Uh, what?”

She snorts. “I mean, it doesn’t count. Not really. It only counts between vampires—I just thought it was amusing because you’re three quarters a vampire. So we’d be kind of three quarters… Oh, no. I shouldn’t have said it.” She laughs again. “Now you’re not going to do it, are you?”

“Wait, so vampires…” I wince, looking down at the ground. “They can’t…”

She snorts. “What, have sex normally? Course they can. All the important parts? They still work, don’t you worry. It’s weird, since we’re all dead inside, but I’m not complaining. It’s just… that’s… the sharing blood thing’s just something I read once. It might not even be real. Probably isn’t. It’s really weird. I’d never do it, obviously. Obviously.”

I sigh heavily, realising I was stupid to think the girl I knew was nothing more than a façade for a monster. She is a monster, but she’s still just the same as she’s always been.

“How can some parts work but not others?” I say.

She snorts again. “Magic?”

As she dissolves into quiet giggles, I squint at her. “How can you find this such a bloody joke?”

“Because to me… well, it’s pretty much all I’ve ever known,” she says, her smile wavering a little. “It’s just normal to me. I suppose whenever I stop to think about it, it is kind of depressing. So I have to make the best of it. And like I said earlier, I don’t know everything. It’s sort of odd—uncomfortable—to know full well you’re some screwed-up supernatural amalgamation and just have no idea how or why you’re working. It’s beyond bizarre to know that according to every scrap of science you were ever taught, you should be dead. It’s scary. Even after all this time, I still feel like I could drop dead at any moment. So I have to embrace the funny side, or I guess I’ll just start panicking. You’ll understand once I’ve turned you. Once you’re like me.”

I wring my hands awkwardly in my lap.

“It’s the only way to stop the pain?” I say. She nods.

“And you have to do it like… like that? On the…” I wave my hand over my neck. “There? With your… mouth?”

She nods again. “Yep.”

I wave my hand. “Then do it. Anyway. It doesn’t matter.”

“Thank you. You’re a great sport,” she says, leaning towards me till she’s so close her hair tickles my neck. Awkwardly, I reach up and try my best to push the neckline of my shirt out of the way, baring my shoulder. “I’ll try my best not to make it weird.”

“Oh, how could this possibly be weird?”

She mumbles into my shoulder, her lipstick sticky on my skin. Her voice sounds deeper, more focused.

“Oh, you know. I’ll try my best. This’ll be just like a jab. Shouldn’t hurt a bit.” She chuckles low in her throat, and I try to stay still as a shudder runs through me. “Well, actually, it will. A lot. But you’re the one who signed up for this.”

Stiffly, I nod, then pause. “Wait. No I’m fucking not.”

Then, she buries her head in my neck and digs all her teeth into my flesh. I yelp at the sudden flash of pain, managing to stifle the sound before it turns into a shout and stay rigid. A couple of seconds pass as she stays frozen there, attached to me with both jaws, wringing agony from me like water from a sponge. Her fangs leave my skin, but she doesn’t pull away. Then, she starts sucking, sickeningly hard, and swallowing, sickeningly loud. I get dizzier and lighter. Her bodyweight heaves back and forth against me and I try to stay still, to keep my balance as her desperation forces her forwards and me backwards. I’m tempted to lie down, especially as the dizziness starts to spin and warp my head, but the thought of her pinning me to the ground sends shivers down my back, so I plant my hands firmly on the ground to hold myself still.

I squeeze my eyes shut and clench my jaw as she tightens her grip on my shoulders, digging her fingertips hard into my flesh through my shirt. She forces herself closer to me, letting out a quiet moan. The moan, and our closeness, and the way her mouth feels on my neck… it’s making me want to squirm. This must be what she meant by making it weird. Yep. Okay. This is very weird.

How much blood do I have left? How much was in me as I walked around these past few days, oblivious to the fact I was dead?

Maria sucks in a breath, pulling away for a second. A hot trickle runs down my shoulder. I make to sigh, but the relief is only momentary—I crane my head down just as she latches back onto me. She keeps going.

She breathes again, moans again. I’m frightened now. She’ll have to stop when she’s drunk it all, but how long’ll that be? She sighs again, and only then do I hear in her voice a fraction of the monster from my dreams. The one who tore me in half and laughed like a maniac into the mess. Her. I have to remember, however she acts, whoever she is, however much I stupidly continue to trust and even like her, she’s still a monster. What am I doing, letting her at my blood a second time? What am I doing, letting her turn me into what she is? Her mouth’s all over my neck and her hands are all over my arms and I’m too weak with squeamish, ticklish shivers to try and stop her. I try to at least spit her hair out of my face, and bat it from my chest, but there’s too much of it. I listen to her catching, giggling sighs, feel them rumbling through me. She’s losing control of herself.

“Maria,” I say softly. She doesn’t reply. I’m dizzier than I’ve ever been before, but not wrong. Just weirdly empty. There can’t be much left in me, but something in the way she’s gripping my arms and pressing herself into me tells me she’s not going to pull back till she’s had every last drop. “Maria,” I repeat, trying to push down the fear in my voice. I flick away her hair again and stare desperately up at the red blinking light of a plane passing overhead till it disappears behind the silver clouds.

“Maria.”

Then, her mouth leaves my neck. We both sigh with relief at the same time.

“Yeah,” she says softly.

I look down. Why hasn’t she pulled back? I want to move, but don’t.

“You quite done there?” I ask her shakily.

“Mm.” She jabs her chin over my shoulder. Then, she pulls away from me, and my heart shrivels at the sight of her face, her white skin marbled with a mess of lipstick and blood. She looks up at me with dark, clouded eyes.

“Yeah, I’m done. You’re…” she says, her voice thorny. “Allll empty.”

I try not to shudder. Now I think about it, the pain in my stomach is a little lighter, and my headache’s letting up too. She daintily dabs her mouth with the back of her sleeve, then wipes her sleeve on the grass. I swallow.

“Cool. Thanks.”

“I think…” she says. Then, the clouds clear from her eyes and she comes back, grinning at me guiltily with her normal teeth. “I made it weird.”

“Uh… nah,” I say, rubbing the new ring of punctures in my neck. It already aches like an old bruise. “Nah, you did fine.”

“It was weird. It was very weird.”

I ball up my sleeve in my hand and try to pat away the mess she left, wincing as the fabric grates on my raw skin. “Ah!”

Maria looks up. “You’re brave. Frank cried like a little bitch when I did him.”

“Mm.” I stifle another whimper.

“So I guess it’s time for the next part, then. Whenever you’re ready. We can wait a few minutes if you need to.”

“Nah,” I mutter, dropping the fabric from my hand and wiping blood on my jeans. The wound smarts whenever I move my left arm. “Whatever. No point in stalling now, is there?”

“You’re right.” Maria bends over her legs and grabs her backpack, yanking it onto her lap with a dull, wet thud. She pulls out a black plastic water-bottle and holds it out to me. I look down, confused.

“It’s for you,” she says. “I figured it’d be enough. To finish the job off.”

I take it, feeling its weight. “This is… your blood?”

“Mm. Drained it specially. You’re welcome.”

“Uh…” I trail off. “Thanks?”

“Yeah, you should be thankful. Otherwise you’d have to drink it right out of me like I did you.”

“Oh,” I say, trying not to picture it. “Yeah, okay. Thank God.”

“So you’re welcome. I can’t believe I was so nice to you.”

“Yeah…” I eye the bottle. “I thought you liked to watch me suffer.”

“To get the job done… you barely need any at all. Just one mouthful, and you’re made. But I thought that since I waited so long, and you’ve not eaten for so long, you might appreciate a little extra. You don’t have to drink it all if you don’t want it, but keep in mind it took a long time to drain. I heal like lightning.”

I don’t say anything. I stare down at my first meal in three days, thanking God Maria picked an opaque bottle so I won’t have to see what I’m drinking.

“Oh, one more thing,” she says. “This is my blood, which means it’s dead blood. Dead blood’s disgusting, compared to human blood. Living human blood. It won’t taste awful, but it won’t taste as awesome. It won’t get you high, either.”

I look at her sideways. “Get me high?”

“Oh,” she says. “I forgot to mention? Yes. Drinking blood gets you high. As a space rocket.”

I swallow, my gut pricking with fear. “Kinda big detail to leave out.”

“Mm. But this blood won’t do that. So you don’t have to worry about any of that until your first real drink.”

I say nothing, staring nervously down at the bottle like it’s about to eat me. I raise it to my mouth, but stop again.

“This is weird,” I say.

She giggles. “Oh, you think so?”

I smile back. This is all so ridiculous I’ve got no choice but to smile. Screw it. Drink it. I tip the bottle towards Maria, raising both eyebrows nervously.

“Cheers,” I say, my voice full of sarcasm.

She giggles again, wiping the last traces of my blood from her mouth. “Cheers.”

I squeeze my eyes shut, then yank the cap of the bottle up, tip it to my mouth, and start to drink. I feel like I’m ready to get drunk, but I’m sure the blood won’t taste anything like whisky, and as the first mouthful of freezing liquid runs over my tongue, I realise I’m right. It’s tasteless in my mouth, like thick water. I swallow, and then, slowly, my face breaks into a frown as an utterly bizarre warmth spreads through my muscles, piercing my length and flooding my body. It doesn’t feel bad. It feels…

I look at the bottle, rolling the taste over and under my tongue. The longer I swill it, the more I can taste molten metal. I breathe again. Molten gold.

My head starts to fizz with excitement.

Without thinking, I tip the bottle up and drink another mouthful, swilling it for longer as my body shudders with warmth again. Yes, yes, this is what I wanted to eat all along. Yes. Yes. God, it’s like I’m scratching an itch that took years to locate. My chest pulses; my nerves sharpen; my bones strengthen. Best of all, as the taste spreads to my stomach, the thorns of pain fall away. Bit by bit by bit, the hunger’s dying; the agony’s leaving me behind.

My head doesn’t feel heavy anymore, and as I take another gulp, swallowing it all at once and closing my eyes to drown in the feeling, it starts to lighten. Sing. Sparkle. What did Maria mean, it’s disgusting? It’s the best damn thing I’ve ever tasted. This is a million times better than whisky. As I gulp another mouthful, this time big enough to bulge my cheeks and drip a little from the corner of my mouth, I’m sure I’ll never need whisky again.

Once I’ve swallowed, I lower the bottle for a second and hang it between my knees, feeling her eyes on me.

“Ohh…” I say softly, too nervous to look up at her. “Oh… my God.”

She chuckles. “Intoxicating, huh?”

“Yeah.”

I roll my wrist, swilling the rest of the liquid around. I can tell, from the way my body’s warm and singing, every last scrap of pain long gone, that I don’t need it. But I want it. I want to taste it again. As Maria watches me, the lightest smile playing at her mouth, I tip the bottle and drain it completely, revelling in the way the electric, fiery warmth spreads through me when I swallow, filling every last cell and nerve to the point of bursting. I wipe away a thin trickle that’s run down to my collarbone from the corner of my mouth, no longer caring how I look. I only care about the thirsty, mad joy coursing through me. It rings in peals through my head, like I’m an iron bar and the blood was a hammer. I’m not just cured. I’m stronger, somehow. Braver. Stupider. Freer. I’m… immortal.

And this, according to her, isn’t even a real high.

I’ve lost the battle with the smile on my face. When I turn, she’s grinning back at me. My hands are clenched into fists, my jaw’s clamped tight and every muscle’s seizing up. I must look ridiculous. As the delirium slowly fades from my head, I drop the empty bottle onto the ground and let loose a long, deep sigh. “I…”

Maria laughs softly, sadly. “Feels pretty damn gorgeous, doesn’t it?”

“Mm.” I blink, my eyelids impossibly, delightfully heavy. “I just… drank blood.”

“You sure did.”

“A whole bottle of it. What’s wrong with me?” I smile a little, remembering she drank my blood too—started and couldn’t stop. “What’s wrong with us?”

“Oh, nothing’s wrong with us.” Maria shrugs. “Something’s wrong with whoever made it taste so damn good.”

I say nothing.

“So…” She continues. “You’re a vampire now, Scotty.”

“Yeah.”

“How do you feel?”

I think about it for a second. There’s no point in lying to her. “I feel… fucking amazing.”

She laughs again, and murmurs: “Of course you do. That’s the dilemma, isn’t it? It’s hard… To exercise any kind of restraint around humans. When feeding feels that incredible.”

I nod, dazed. My mind rewinds through what happened. That was just dead blood. What must living human blood taste like? I imagine every one of those sensations amplified. Burning, heart-stopping, searing heat in my veins instead of pleasant warmth. Blinding, electric white light behind my eyes instead of a soft gold glow. My cells not only brimming, but exploding. My nerves not singing, but screaming. A shudder of delight runs through me at the thought. I want it.

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