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

15. Maniac

I'm woken up by Maria leaving the house to turn in her work. She returns an hour later. Apparently, if I’m going to go through with this plan, I’m going to have to forget about going to class. For how long? She doesn’t know. She spends her day in the kitchen, fussing the dogs and dancing to the radio. I spend mine watching her, scowling whenever her face twists sideways in pain, her fingers clench around the fabric of her skirt or the sofa or the curtains. By the time she’s gone upstairs, at six-thirty, as dusk bruises the sky, I can tell she’s in terrible pain. Now I know she’s just the same with the blood as I was to the whisky, I know what to look for. She presses her fists into her stomach instead of her head and chest. She grits her teeth with her mouth open instead of closed, obviously unafraid of displaying her discomfort to the world. But I can tell.

She wants to kill. There’s a unique terror that comes from living with someone who wants nothing more than to kill. It coils in the pit of my stomach, trying to rush me upstairs, wanting me to pretend I can’t see what’s wrong with her. Go to sleep and wake up and go downstairs and find nothing more than my friend standing there. I wish she was normal. But I don’t hate what she’s become—and what I believe from her warnings I will become—enough to leave. Not yet.

The next day is the same mindless jumble of events. At dusk, Maria’s worse. She tentatively asks me if I want to watch TV with her, but I decline, because I can see the darkness in her eyes and the pain in her mouth. She’s deteriorating, slowly becoming unable to think of nothing else but the kill at the end of this… week, and I can’t stand it. The week passes too quickly. A couple of times, I try to leave to go to my classes, but she manages to dissuade me. She mostly uses threats. But it works.

On Wednesday evening, over five days after she confessed her addiction, she announces she’s going out. I don’t ask why, but I know.

She comes back happy, and I shudder when I see her humming and swaying her hips. The way she avoids my eyes and grins and giggles, the way she seems too calm, too loose. She tries her best to make jokes about the man she’s just murdered. And God, it nearly works on me.

By the time I lie down to go to sleep, the hunger’s started to dig its claws deep into my head. The moment I start to dream, my brain’s a cacophony of muttering and screaming, fingers clicking and cymbals crashing, and the dream I have is fifty times worse than the one in the alleyway with the purple fire and green sunlight. It’s worse because it makes no sense; it lurches me around like I’m on a rollercoaster. But it’s okay. I can handle it. It’s nowhere near as bad as I thought it’d be.

By lunchtime on Friday, a week after her confession and two weeks—only two—after she first bit me in that fucking alleyway, my arms are jerking every time I raise a hand. I clench my elbows, shake out my muscles several times a minute, but it’s no use. I sit as still as I can on the sofa, frightened to move in case I collapse into a fit on the carpet, and as the sun goes down, I watch it with a parched tongue, intoxicated by the way it drenches the clouds blood-red.

Maria goes out at midnight the following Wednesday, and this time, she asks if I want to come with her. I tell her I’d rather die. She shrugs, tells me that’s a little overdramatic, and then leaves. I go back to watching the sky.

She doesn’t come back till three, but I’m still awake—I’m getting better at being a vampire. That, or I’m afraid of how much worse the nightmares’ll be if I go to sleep. I might wake up in the kitchen again. Or worse. I drift off at five, and don’t wake up till two in the afternoon, when the dogs start barking and barking and barking for no reason at all. I snarl at the back of my throat. I dare to spend the rest of that night and most of Thursday sitting in the living-room with Maria, and watch the dogs potter around and around and around in stupid circles on the carpet. I’m mindless as the breeze of crazed voices in my head churns up and up into a whirlwind. Then, I have to tug myself up and leave for my room. Maria comes back to find my door locked. She asks if I’m okay. I tell her to go away. She does.

The next day, I wake up in what feels like a clammy sweat, even though it’s my imagination and my skin’s completely dry. I was jerked awake not by fear, or anger, but exhilaration—I’d had a dream I was following a lone black shadow down an empty orange street, walking in step with the clicks their footsteps made on the tarmac till I was close enough to bite through the black and let loose the red liquid. The molten gold. The hot euphoria. Nothing to my body, but to my mind, everything. And as I sit bolt upright in my bed, panting pointless grey breaths as the orange sky melts into soft pink, I swear I can taste it in the air. Even though there’s nothing there.

I have the same dream the next night, but this time, when I wake up, the darkness is a little thicker, a little blacker. Then, my entire world turns blood-red and I scream as a dizzying hack of pain contorts my body out of shape. It’s over as soon as it’s begun. Maria comes knocking on the door and asks me if I’m okay, so I lie through my aching teeth. As soon as she’s gone, it comes again, and this time, it’s blinding; it’s got tentacles that lash my eyes and my mouth and my ears and my spine and pull them inwards, slowly. It comes again, and again, and again, and eventually, I stop screaming and lie down to bite my pillow. I blink, and blink again, but the scarlet filter doesn’t dissolve from my vision. The explosions of pain don’t stop for half an hour. When they’re over, I’m drunk on the agony. And when they come back again, I jerk on purpose. Choke on red. Suffocate on it. Because the longer I put up with the agony, I’ve learned, the quicker I become used to it. Because it’s only going to get worse.

And oh, God, does it.

By the end of the day, my world’s a neon flashing rainbow, turning upside-down and inside out and twisting backwards and forwards and rippling like a mirage. Every time I scream, it bleeds to black, and doesn’t come back for minutes at a time. Every time it does come back, it comes back a little brighter. I start to open my mouth wider every time I scream, delirious, like there’s something on the air that’ll make this stop. I can taste it still; it’s powerful, but it’s not real.

My jaw aches. There’s something on my tongue that reaches out a little further every time I open my mouth. I tell myself the hunger isn’t real but still it grows and grows inside my head, furry like a wild animal, clawed and fanged and spitting and yowling and rabid. I clutch at my face from the outside every time he does the same from the inside. He wants to get out. Maria knocks on the door again before it’s even fully dark, and we both answer at once. I speak, but he snarls. He’s louder.

“What?”

“I’m going out again.”

I lick my lips, which still somehow ache from where my fangs shot out and split them earlier, filling my mouth with blood. I growl, “It’s only Sunday.”

“I know.”

“It’s barely been… four days.”

“I know.”

“Just go out, greedy bitch.”

“Alrighty then.”

Once she’s gone, I roll over, then howl with pain as another scream in my head arches my back. It wasn’t a scream, actually—more like a whisper—but it was the final straw. “Come on. Come on. Come on. Come on.”NO!” I bellow, pulling the duvet over my head with my shaking, aching hands and pressing it into my face till my eyelids explode with neon pink stars. “NO! LEAVE ME ALONE! LEAVE ME ALONE! LEAVE ME ALONE! LEAVE ME ALONE!”

It’s not till Maria returns, and starts talking quietly on the other side of the door, that I realise the voice in my head isn’t hers at all. It’s mine. He repeats into my ear the long string of words she just said to me, then adds words of his own. “Hey, how you doing? I’m back. I can’t bear to listen to this. I can’t bear it, Scotty. It’s difficult. I want you to be happy. You’re only going to be happy… if you let this go. I want you to give up. I want you to admit you’re never going to be strong enough to beat this, because you weren’t before, and people like you—addicts like you—never change. You KNOW you’re going to rebound eventually. Why not now? Why not now, THREE DAYS IN, you pussy?

“Remember that summer you were sixteen, when you tried to quit drinking so you could afford to move out of your parents’ house after your exams? Remember the hours you spent pressing your fists into the walls and biting your lips till you bled all over your chin like a vampire and taking cold showers, punching the tiles till your knuckles were purple and numb? Remember the day you thought you were strong enough to throw away your stash of bottles? You smashed one on the wall because you stumbled on the way down the stairs. The panic set in. You’re panicking now just thinking about it. And you SCREAMED so loud the neighbours called the police? I don’t remember how all that glass ended up in your hands and arms, but I remember the way they found you, wiping your bloody fingers down the walls and sucking the whisky off. You gave up then. You’ll give up now. And this time, it won’t be drink dripping off the walls.”

I roll over and stare up at the ceiling, clutching the corners of my duvet so tightly my knuckles turn white, till the pain knocks me sideways into another neon dimension.

I’m woken up, yet again, by Maria’s knocking. She spends the vast majority of the day asking me to unlock the door, but I won’t do it. She tries jokes, bribes, pleas, threats. She goes out to the playground without me that evening—I tell her to tell them I’m sick. I miss Sam and Greg. I miss the way they appeared in my dream last night—on the bench, and the top of the slide respectively. Dead. I woke up screaming, but only because the dream wasn’t real, and I was still starving.

When I was younger, I had nightmares all the time. I always knew better than to trust the world I woke up in, even when it seemed real, because more often than not a shadow would lurch onto that wall, a thick smoke of spiders flow over that ceiling, some clammy ghostly creature press up against that window. I’d keep waking up again, convinced I was back, but the entire bloody thing would just repeat over and over and over and over, an endless vortex that kept on going till I’d so given up on ever finding my way home that I’d start crying and get shaken awake with real tears drying on my face. Funny, really, since I was always told there were only seven layers to Hell.

Maybe this is a dream. Maybe it’s all a dream. That’s what all the characters always say.

One drink of blood would dissolve this hunger like dust in the wind, and I’ve never, ever, ever hungered for something more. The only thing keeping me inside this room’s the lock on the door and the promise my other mind made to my other body five days ago.

I dream again the next night, and the night after that, and the night after that. I start napping, sleeping most of the day as well as the night, forcing myself under the surface when necessary, so I can spend as much time as possible steeped in golden euphoria. Scarlet euphoria. The dreams grow clearer and clearer, the pleasure grows more and more potent, and the foul black pain that fills every last second of my waking moments grows worse and worse. I’m rotten to the core, a corpse, a dead man walking. Whenever I dream, I wake up on the floor. On Saturday, when Maria’s out killing again, I manage to unlock my bedroom door and throw myself down the stairs. On Sunday, I make it all the way down into the kitchen. Monday, I wake up standing over the dogs’ bed. Tuesday, I’ve got Tricky in my arms. After the third week of my cold turkey—God, has it been three weeks? It feels like three minutes and three years at once—is over, I can’t even blink without leaving the planet. My head screams. The cymbals crash. The thunder bellows. And I don’t care, because in my head, I’m spattered with scarlet rain.

On what I think is the Monday of my fourth week, I wake up in my bed, eyes and mouth already wide like my muscles are locked in place. I’m soaked with imaginary sweat and imaginary tears, and I claw at my eyelids in a frantic attempt to salvage some of the imaginary blood. I sob whenever the pain jerks me. In the evening, I go to lock my door only to find Maria’s removed the lock, and I scream at her—she stands and takes it like a champ. I call her a greedy bitch again. I call her a slut and a whore even though it’s not true, and a demon and a monster and a murderer even though it is. She soaks it up and explains to me she needs to be able to get to me. I tell her she’s already done it enough and sob, suddenly empty. Then, I collapse like a pile of rags on the ground and wake up with my fangs out. Maria tries to help me get them to go back in, but they won’t. She hugs me. I push her away. She starts hurting at four o’clock and goes out at five. She doesn’t come back till eight in the morning.

I don’t miss my classes. Greg still calls sometimes. I never answer. I just scream my curses at the ringing phone till the music stops. I can’t close my mouth. Whenever I bite my lip, it shreds and knits itself back together again. I can’t close my eyes. I’m permanently awake, and I sting all over like I’m livid with acid or sunlight. I jerk and cry and scream and roll around on the floor like I’m fitting, even though I’ve got control over it. Maybe I want to go mad. There’s every chance it’ll hurt less.

There’s an advantage to not needing air. Whenever the pain comes for me, I can make my screams as long and as high as I want. I press my fists into the wall. On Friday, when I think Maria’s still out, I punch the plaster till it buckles and spatters the dresser like hail. She’s not out. She runs in, screaming my name like anyone’s going to hear it, and as I turn to pound my fists into her, she grabs hold of me and shakes me, hard.

“Scotty!”

FUCK off!”

“What are you doing t—”

“I can’t… I can’t—”

“Then eat, you MANIAC!” she yells, batting away my flailing fist and slapping me across the face. “Do you see yourself? This is NEVER going to get better!”

“And whose fault’s that?”

“Mine!”

“What? I can’t hear you.”

MINE!” Maria bellows, so loudly the chandelier jangles, making the little iridescent circles of light on the walls shiver. “MINE! MINE! MINE!”

“Louder.” I sniff.

“IT’S ALL MY FAULT! WHAT are you going to do about it?”

“I’m going to hit you,” I say half-heartedly.

She sighs. “Come on then, superhero.”

I aim a punch for her stomach, but she grabs my fist in a flash, digging her fingertips into me with impossible strength. We stare at each other for a second. I raise my other fist and she grabs that too, twisting it behind my back and kicking my shin to send me down. I slowly haul myself back to my feet, but she raises an eyebrow and I decide against trying again.

“Do you see yourself?” Maria says softly. “Can you see… what you’re doing to yourself? Do you see where your nobility’s brought you, Scotty? It’s brought you to hell. You have to eat. You’re going to go insane before you’re clean. Do you understand that?”

“Yes,” I say. My face twitches. “I’d rather… rather go mad than give in. Rather go crazy than kill, Maria. Rather… rather die.”

“You…” She sniffs, and squeaks with a sob. “You’re going to die.”

“Good.”

“Please,” she says. “Please, please come out with me tonight. You need to see this isn’t right. You need to see nobody deserves to suffer this way.”

“I do,” I say, going stiff, holding my arms out and letting myself fall backwards onto the bed. “I deserve it all. Fuck you, Maria, you greedy bitch. Fuck you for giving into that hunger. Fuck you to Hell. Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you for choosing yourself. Fuck your selfishness. Fuck you. Fuck you.”

“Better one person a week in an alleyway late at night…” She says, shooting a million intoxicating images into my head. For a fleeting second, I wonder how the police are getting on with all these murders. About as well as they’ve been doing all year, I suppose. “Than an entire streetful when I snap.”

“I’m not…” I whisper. My imagination licks my lips for me. “I’m not going to snap.”

“Yes, you are. You’ve been denying yourself the blood for a month now, Scotty. A month. D’you know it’s December now?”

“Who gives a fuck what month it is?”

“Don’t you see? You’ve been torturing yourself for a month—and it’s only getting worse. Trust me—I’ve tried withdrawal before—you will snap at the end of this all.”

“No I WON’T!” I scream, throwing myself up from my bed and making her step backwards in shock. “I’ll never give in. NEVER! I’m NOT weak like you, and I’m NOT weak like my Mum and Gordon and Olivia and the WORLD thinks! I’m going to beat this, and if I don’t, I’ll gladly go MAD before I drink a drop of blood!” My tongue sparks, and I choke it down. “I’ll DIE first!”

“You WILL!” she weeps. “You WILL! Scotty, God damn you, I will FORCE you to eat before I let you die!”

WHY?”

“Because I can’t STAND to lose you!”

There’s a slight pause.

“Do you hear yourself?” I drawl. “It’s always about you. About what you can’t stand. You don’t care about me. Selfish again, Maria. Selfish selfish selfish. You’re rotten. You’re done for. You’ve got a black heart and a rotten mind and your soul’s not there. You did this to me. You.”

She chokes back a sob. “God damn it, I know.”

“Then leave me to rot.”

“I’m never leaving you.”

“I’ll make you!” I yell, starting to cry. “I’ll make you leave me. I can’t…” I break down and start to sob without tears, sinking down and pressing my knees into my chin, my back against the bedframe. “I can’t bear this.”

“You can’t,” she says. “You can’t bear it alone.”

“I can’t bear myself like this.”

“Me neither.”

Maria sits down next to me. Then, her arm snakes around my shoulders and she leans in, her hair tickling my face. I jerk—voluntarily this time—and shove her away from me. “Get out.”

“Okay, fine!” she says, standing up. “God, fine!”

Five or so minutes later, she comes back. She has to. The first thing I know, I’m lying on my bed, thinking I might be getting better and looking down to notice that my right leg has started kicking by itself. The next thing I know, everything’s turned from black to white and Maria’s over me on the floor, her hands pressed into my arm and stomach, screaming and sobbing my name as every inch of my body pops and starts to deflate. The world flashes and goes dark. Stars explode behind my eyes and we both scream.

I wake up again as a fat, cold droplet of blood falls onto my face. It’s real this time.

Maria’s sitting up on my stomach, staring delicately through me. Her face and neck are shredded, the skin ripped raggedly and covered in red, dripping scribbles. Her sleeve’s hanging off and there’s half-dried blood running down her arm. I stare at her in horror as my thoughts slowly return to me, one by one. I had a seizure. And she ran back in to hold me down, even after everything we said. And I hurt her for it.

“Scotty?” Maria whispers. The gashes on her skin knit together and vanish, but the pinstripes of blood stay put. I look down at my free right arm. It’s spattered with blood and the tip of each finger sparks with hot electricity as the wounds close. Shakily, I breathe out.

“It’s fine,” Maria says before I can say anything.

As I wait for her to roll off me and she doesn’t, the strength leaves my neck and my head hits the carpet. I cover my mouth with my hands and let out a sigh.

“We…” I whisper through my fingers. “We have claws?”

Maria laughs through her sob. “Mm. Yes,” she says. “Did I forget to mention that?”

“Might’ve skipped over it.”

With her mouth pressed and her eyes narrowed, she reaches for my hand and I let her take it. Her face is still crusted with blood, but she doesn’t seem to care.

“I’m sorry,” she mumbles. “For everything I’ve done to you. You need to do this, and whether you want me or not, I’m here for you. And whether you like it or not, God, you maniac, are you going to need me.”

When she comes back in later, she finds me curled up on my bed upside-down, my entire body taut, my head pressed into the duvet. I know what she’s going to say, and I no longer hate her for it.

“I’m going out.”

I wait a few seconds before responding. “Didn’t you eat this week already?”

“Yes, I did. I think you ought to come with me still, Scotty. I…”

“Piss off.”

She laughs huskily.

“You know something?” she says. “Any other girl who gets called slut and whore, and greedy bitch and glutton and monster and coward would throw the one who said it right out her door. But not me. Because it’s all true. And I think, after all this time, I needed it.”

Her shadow leaves the doorway. Her steps sprinkle the stairs, and then the kitchen tiles, and then the hallway carpet, and then the path outside. I don’t say a word. I can’t bring myself to stop her. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

Then, I become obsessed with thinking of her, and the person she’s about to kill to satiate herself. I imagine a night-shifter heading to work, a college student out to unwind, a young woman walking home alone. I imagine late night road workers and joggers and dog-walkers. I imagine Emma and Izzy. I imagine Olivia. I imagine Sam. I imagine Greg. I imagine a black cut-out shadow walking alone in a solid rectangle of white, putting one foot in front of the other in an endless attempt to reach the other end of a two-dimensional street. I imagine the demon-eyed jagged-mouthed silhouette blocking out the light. I imagine the screams and the blood and the heat and the madness and the shrieking euphoria. I imagine.

I imagine a translucent shadow darkening my doorway. A girl, frizzy-haired in the backlight, the wide curves of her body thinly sketched into the black landing wall. She walks towards me, her footsteps silent on the carpet. Then, she hardens, and at the other side of the room another silhouette flickers into existence. This one doesn’t have a face, but it doesn’t need one. Hallucination? Nah. I’m over the hallucination phase. I’m getting better. I am.

Maria’s out in a street somewhere on the other side of Aberdeen, but how can that be when she’s here? The two silhouettes grow closer, and as she walks, my vision twists the girl I know into someone else—someone with hair that hides her face and dark eyes that flicker with shards of crimson and a mouth rammed with broken-metal teeth. She pounces on that man and slices him down and as he disintegrates under her, her eyes roll back into her skull and red warpaint scribbles her face. Her mouth stretches into an impossibly wide grin as her mind leaves her to rot and she throws her head back and laughs at the sky in dumb greedy delight. Suddenly, the walls and floor and ceiling of my room and my sheets and my clothes are all alive with blood. Covered in it. Dripping in it. Real or fake? I gasp, like I’m drowning. Real or fake? I stuff the duvet into my mouth and try to chew it. Real or fake? I jerk in my bed and fall to the ground with a jarring thump, crawling over to where that blonde-haired demon’s devouring that blank-faced man, reaching out to wipe blood onto my fingers only for the vision to disintegrate in my hands. Run through my fingers. Spiders in my head. I fall backwards on the carpet and listen to them crawl.

A few minutes or hours later, Maria appears in the doorway, for real this time. I can tell she’s real because she’s weighing the air down with molten gold. I gasp again, bolt to my feet at the sound of her voice, and before I know it, I’m standing in front of her. She’s got brown strings clinging to her hair and sticky residue between her fingers. She looks at me in fear. Then, I jump at her. Quick as a flash, she grabs my arm. Then, my other. I struggle and thrash, screaming that I want it, I want it, I have to have it. I think she’ll understand, but to my shock, she doesn’t. She screams back at me, pushes me back into the room with an iron grip, and, when I try to fight back, she slaps me across the face, curls her fists into the shirt fabric at my stomach, and shoves me down onto the bed.

DON’T give up!” she screams at me, leaning over me and shoving me down again as I sit up.

Then, I hear my voice chattering away without my permission. “Please, Maria, PLEASE! Take me with you next time. I want it. I need it. You were right. I need it; I NEED it! WHY WON’T YOU LET ME HAVE IT?”

“DON’T give up!” she screams again, pointing at me with one blood-slick finger and slapping me hard when I try to grab her wrist. There’s something unfamiliar in her voice—something that freezes me solid. “Don’t you DARE give up now, you hear me? Never. NEVER!”

My voice shakes. “But—”

“I’m not LETTING you let it take you!” she says. “NOT anymore! You were right. I was wrong; you are strong enough. You’re stronger than the world. You’ve been beaten down by everyone around you but you keep getting up and that means NOTHING should be able to break you now. You hear me? NOTHING!”

I clear my throat; even that shoots darts of scarlet through my eyes. What the hell did she do out there? “But I—”

“FIGHT it!” she yells. She takes another step towards me. I stand up and raise my arms, but she grabs me to hold me still. “FIGHT it! FIGHT it! Don’t you DARE let it control you and define you—don’t you DARE! D’you know what sounds cool before you are one? Being the bad guy. And d’you know what makes you weak? D’you know what makes you weak? Giving in to being the bad guy. And d’you know what makes you strong? STAYING GOOD when the entire world’s trying to FORCE you to snap! DON’T give in. How DARE you give in? How DARE you give in, Mary-Ann?”

She drops me and takes a step back, clapping her hand over her mouth. Her eyes widen.

“Sorry,” she says. “I… I…”

“It’s okay.” I manage. I don’t quite manage to take my eyes off her, though.

 

 

The next week feels like a few minutes—a few-minute-long seizure. I spend it on the floor, and the only parts I remember are the parts Maria’s there for, holding my hand as I jerk and scream and cry and talk to myself. Apparently I switch voices and everything. I’m not getting better. It’s not been longer than three weeks, but it sometimes feels like an age. It feels like there’s never been a world beyond this bedroom—like I could jump out that window or walk out that door and fall forever in white oblivion. Like everything else was a bad dream. I can’t take it much longer. It’s not just going to kill me. It’s going to destroy me.

That Saturday, I decide I’m feeling better, so, for the first time, I try to sit up. The first thing I hear is my back cracking and the second is the dull THUD-thump of my face hitting the wall as I run into it and collapse. I don’t get up again. That urge to run isn’t leaving, so I let my body go numb, in the thin hope it won’t disobey me if I finally manage to fall asleep again.

Maria finds me like that, lying on my back with my neck bent out of shape by the skirting-board, my legs spread out like a doll’s. When I look over at her, she’s clear for the first time since the night she broke down. The girl from my nightmares is gone, and so’s the demon. She smiles, and I melt. Slide a little further down the wall.

“How’s it going?” she says.

I drag a long breath from my throat. “I think it’s working.”

She sniffs, folding her arms. “Bullshit.”

When I look at her again, her eyes are full of misery and she’s hugging herself. This last week, in my deliriums, I’ve been cursing her to every Hell I can think of, calling her worse names than greedy and coward, and I thought she was soaking it all up with ease. My gut twists with guilt and I want to tell her I’m sorry.

“I… I… I wanted you to know.” Maria hiccups slightly. “That I know you want me dead. And I—I’m going to think about it.”

Fear ripples through me and I sit up, my muscles protesting but obeying. “What?” I say. God, what have I done? What have I done to her? “Are you mad?”

She sighs. “You’re right about me. I’ve just been alive so long I couldn’t bear to let it go. That’s all. But I probably have been here too long. I haven’t got much longer left, anyway. I—”

“No,” I say. “Are you mad? That’s not what I want. Maria, I need you.”

She looks at me, wiping her face. “Selfish selfish,” she says with a tired half-smile.

“I do.” I start to panic, imagining my life without her. My life like this without her. “No. No. Maria, no.”

“I… I’m so desperately sorry I did this to you!” Maria hiccups again. “I’m a villain through and through. I crashed, in case you can’t tell. Nothing works anymore. I guess that’s what addiction does to you, huh? Makes you feel like you’re soaring and falling into Hell, all at once. Call me if you need me. Promise.”

“I… don’t want to hurt you.”

Yesterday, I had another fit—one that lasted ten minutes. She told me that as she fussed the dripping bite marks all over her arms, and I wordlessly swallowed the blood on my teeth, which tasted of nothing. I’d somehow managed to get on top of her as she tried to hold me down, pin her to the ground by her shoulders and shred her arms as she held me off. Is that what she means? Am I her hell?

“Why not?” she says softly, turning back to look over her shoulder. “I deserve it.”

That look she gives me sparks something in me. Something hot and sweet and ludicrous and dangerous. Something that makes me run after her, want to run down the stairs, and then slam the door between us before I can. I want to say no no no you don’t deserve it you mean everything to me and more please don’t leave me I think

I think what?

You think nothing.

In my frustration, I shove two fingers into the hole in the wood where the lock used to be, writhing my hand till the splintered edges dig in deep. The pain makes me gasp. Suddenly, I’m back. Back to that summer I was sixteen. Blindly, but not quite as blindly as usual, I run to the dresser and yank it open. There’s a belt in the top drawer. I don’t know why the hell Frank left so many of his clothes. I grab the belt, run back to the door, and loop it around the handle. It’s strong, thick leather. I loop the other end around the handle of the wardrobe, which is right next to the door, with shaking fingers, unsure if I’m about to do this again. The hot urges in my head are telling me yes. Yes.

I’m shocked I have this much control over myself. Maybe I am getting better. I run across the room, drag a chair up and wedge it under the handle. I roll my sleeves up. Stare down at my arms—at all those scars I let Maria believe Gordon gave me with a broken bottle. With one clenched fist raised, I turn to stare at the utter emptiness where my reflection should be and then shatter the mirror. I scoop my hand along the top of the dresser to gather up the glass. I press my forehead to the door.

Within about four seconds of the mirror smashing, Maria starts to pound on the other side of the door. I jerk away and run to the other side of the room.

“Scotty? Scotty? Are you okay? What…” I sob as the handle rattles. She does too as she realises what I’ve done. I don’t want her in here. Well, no… I do, but I can’t have her. Never. Never. The belt isn’t going to give way. Two of the mirror shards are spent and I’m covered in pain like I’m sinking to the bottom of the sea, even though there’s barely any blood inside me to come out. I throw a mirror shard onto the ground and sob again, listening to Maria screaming my name hysterically. “SCOTTY! SCOTTY! SCOTTY! What the HELL are you doing? Open the door! Open the DOOR!”

Whenever I relapse, I relapse hard, and that’s the truth that’ll never change. What can I say? Addictive personality. Maria screams and cries and the THUDs on the door grow sharper and heavier. I turn my back on her. She’s trying to break it down. I feel almost proud of myself as I look down at the clean skin of my arms. It heals beautifully. I’m not going to give up on quitting the blood. I’m going to bite the urges back and back and back till they kill me. I’ll quit the only way I know how: by replacing one habit with another. And this… this is the most monstrous habit I’ve ever kicked. I’m sure Maria will understand by the time I let her in and-

CRASH. I look up in shock as a huge chunk of the door comes flying off the hinges. The chair topples over and the belt slumps, hanging useless. Then, Maria’s in front of me, her face twisted with rage and worry. She forces her hand into mine, wrestling the last mirror shard out of my palm and then throwing it away so it clatters against the wall. She stares at me. I stare at her. And then her arms are around my neck and she’s calling me stupid.

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