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

20. Runaway

When I wake up, the first thing I notice is that Maria’s gone. I suppose it’s just as well, since I’m spread diagonally across the bed, my arms and legs splayed. As I roll over and sit up to face the thin rectangle of sunlight oozing through the closed blind, I shake my head to clear the last of the nightmare. Olivia was in it. Maria wasn’t.

Cold fear ripples through me, but dies.

The radio’s blaring in the kitchen—some trashy song with ridiculously inappropriate lyrics is playing, but louder than it all are the sounds of Maria singing and the dogs running around on the tiles. Her voice makes me relax, remembering the night I came home to the note, but that nightmare’s still set doubt in. We can’t pretend what happened last night didn’t happen—we don’t have the excuse of being high or shocked or tired anymore. I swing my legs out of bed. The only piece of last night’s clothing I’m not still wearing are my jeans, so I stoop to pick them up and put them on.

I’m about to go downstairs, but right as I’m rubbing my eyes, Maria appears in the doorway, Tricky at her heels and Bounce in her arms. She grins at me.

“Look, he is awake,” she says to the dogs in a high, childish voice. I roll my eyes. “I told you the music would work. Eventually.”

I walk towards her, rubbing my eyes. “How long’s the radio been on?”

“Three hours,” she says. “It’s one in the afternoon. I only switched it to the tacky channel a couple of seconds ago, though. Before that it was heavy metal. We assumed that’d work the best.” She hugs Bounce, pressing him up under her chin so he can lick her, and giggles. “We were wrong, weren’t we? He sleeps like he’s dead, doesn’t he? Bounce, stop!”

“Why… why’d you need to wake me up?” I ask as Maria stoops to put the dog onto the ground.

She presses her mouth. “We need to talk. About… last night.”

I blink nervously, flashing the briefest glimpse of Olivia through my mind. In the glimpse, she’s not dead yet; she’s clutching her neck, wild-eyed and whimpering as she stumbles into my arms. That tiny snapshot repeats on a loop, like my mind is jammed.

“Yeah. Of course we—we do,” I say. “Has there been, uh… anything on the…”

“Radio? No,” Maria says. “Actually, maybe. I don’t listen to the news. Scares me.”

“Yeah.” I rub my face. “Me too.”

When she looks at me, she looks so guilty I want to hug her and tell her it’s all okay.

“Scotty…” Maria says, twisting her mouth sideways. “There’s something I have to tell you. I need to leave Aberdeen soon.”

I look at her, wide-eyed. My stomach drops and my insides crumple.

“You…”

“I’ve been here far too long,” Maria says. “I’ve been cleaning out the streets; it’s obvious something terrible’s going on. You’ve seen it on campus; the police are everywhere. It’s only a matter of time before I’m caught. Especially after last night…”

“Yeah.” I rub my face again, trying to disguise the misery in my voice. “Yeah. I know.”

“They’re going to connect us to her—to Olivia—soon enough. People know. People are going to talk about you, about the…”

“I know…” I say. “They’ll know it was me. Cause of the alcohol, the breakup, maybe if they even find out about the way she treated me… they’re gonna come for me and arrest me. You’re going to get caught if you don’t get out of here. And then it’ll all be over for you. You’re… you’re right. You need to leave me.”

She looks up at me. “No. Come with me.”

I look back, my insides jumping with hope.

“Please,” she says, reaching for my hand. “Come with me, Scotty. You can get away from the police, from all this, and… I don’t want to get away without you. You’ve not got much to leave behind. Like me.”

I try to look less eager than I feel. “I… Where are we going?”

“I don’t know.” She smiles. “I thought maybe some small town somewhere. Down south. With all the people who talk funny. Or maybe somewhere with a forest. Unless you’ve got a better idea.”

The way she’s looking at me lights me up. This is my last chance to back out—once I’ve disappeared with her, I can never come back to my old life. Why would I want to? This would be a completely new start for both of us. I could live with no drink, no reputation, no family, no friends. Just me and her.

I smile at her.

Maria smiles back. “We’d need new names.”

“Oh,” I say. “Really?”

“Yes; we’d be effectively MIA in Scotland.” She grins. “We’d need to pretend to be someone else. Better come up with new names. I think we should pick each other’s.”

I twist my mouth sideways. “That sounds like a recipe for disaster.”

“What?” she huffs. “You don’t trust me? What, you think I’d give you a stupid name?”

“Yes.”

“Well, if I give you a stupid one you can pick me a stupid one.”

“I don’t want a stupid name!”

“Well, tough.” She puts a finger to her bottom lip, thinking. “You look like an Ernest. Ernie for short.”

I frown. “What?”

“Yes, I like that.”

“You are not calling me Ernest.”

“Too late. What’s my name? What goes with Ernest?”

“I’m not called Ernest!”

“Yes, you are.” The look on her face as she hits my shoulder tells me she’s joking. “Yes, you are, Ernest.”

“Fine. You know what goes with Ernest?” I fold my arms. “Mildred.”

Her smile drops. “Oh, no.”

“Sorry, what was that, Mildred?”

She slaps my arm. “No.”

“Anyway,” I say. “What were you saying about picking each other’s names being a good idea?”

“Oh, I’ve got a better one.” She flaps her hands. “We should pick names that sound really vampire-y. And then laugh as somehow nobody suspects us of being vampires.”

A chill runs through me. I’m agreeing to give up my name by going with her. I’m committing myself to a life on the run I’ll never be able to back out of. “What if… they do suspect us?”

She shrugs at me. “Then we run again. Anyway, what’s a vampire name that’d suit you? Oh! Astaroth. Or maybe Hemlock.”

“Okay.” I smirk. “I think Esther suits you. Or Penelope.”

“They’re not dark and gloomy enough.”

“Okay, fine.” I think harder. “Lamia.”

“That’s not a name.”

“Yeah, it is.”

“No it isn’t.”

“Okay, whatever. How about Carrie?”

 “Carrie? How’s that scary?”

I stare at her. “You don’t read much, do you?”

“You’re such a nerd.”

I smile, but it comes out strained. Everything wells up in me all at once. “Maria?” I say.

She looks at me, still grinning as she tucks a lock of hair behind her ear. “Yep?”

“You… you’ve made me happy for the first time in my life.”

Frowning, she says, “What do you mean?”

“What I said. You’re the first person who’s ever made me happy. And you make me so happy. I… I just… all I want is you. It sounds dumb and melodramatic, but it’s true. I probably still ought to be frightened of you, and of the killing and the eating and… everything, but I’m not; all I can do is love you. You’re the only thing I need.”

She smiles, but she’s not used to being sweet. “Scotty…” She says. “I can’t be the only one. The only one ever.”

“Well, you are,” I say, realising how deeply I mean it.  Yeah, I’m going to give everything up for her, but she’s the only thing I still want. I look down at our clasped hands and pull her closer to me, wrapping my arm around her shoulders.

“Your… your family?” she murmurs, pressing her forehead to mine. “They never—”

“They can go the rest of their lives believing I’m dead for all I care,” I say. “Because I only want you.”

“Only me.”

“Only you.”

“Forever?” she whispers.

“Forever.”

“Well, that’s adorable,” she whispers into the centimetres of space between our mouths. “Because the only thing I’m going to need, for the rest of eternity, love… is my sketchbook.” She grins wickedly. “And my silver knife.”

I blink at her, wanting to laugh but pretending to be hurt. “Ouch. What a gut-punch.”

“What? It’s a family heirloom. You’re not all that special, Scotty Matthews. You’re cute, but not all that cute.”

She giggles and kisses me, and we melt together for a few seconds. I twist my fingers through her hair and feel her shiver. I don’t want to let her go. Is this too fast? I don’t care anymore.

Ping.

Maria stares down at my hands as I let go of her to pull my phone out of my pocket. I put it back together a few days ago, switched it back on. Just in case. It stayed silent all that time, never lighting up. And now, there’s a text. From Mum.

CALL

My heart leaps into my throat. Maria and I look at each other; we both know what this means.

Then, before I’ve even had a chance to call her, the screen lights up with a call. I breathe in sharply, and choke on the air.

“Don’t answer,” Maria says, clutching my wrist. I pry it away from her.

“I have to… If—if I don’t, they’ll know.”

Her eyes are full of fear. Hatred bubbles up through me and a stab of stupidity makes me hit Decline. We stare at each other.

“You were right,” Maria says softly. “You needed to answer that.”

I look down at the phone as she laughs. “I know.”

Barely ten seconds later, the phone rings again. I stare at it for a long time.

“I can’t,” I say, looking up at her as the panic sets in. “I can’t. I’ll break.”

“You won’t.”

“She’ll break me.”

Maria presses her hand into mine, taking the phone away. “She can’t. You won’t break,” she says, pressing a button. Mum’s voice crackles out of the phone, and I realise she’s accepted the call. She hands it back to me. Her eyes are saying you can do this. The way she’s biting her lip is telling me maybe I can’t.

“And Scott—Scott. Scott. Are you there?”

I bite my lip too as I hold the phone to my ear. Maria turns away, her hand to her mouth.

Not too nasty, not too nice. “Hi Mum.”

“Where the hell are you? How dare you keep declining my calls? It serves you right.” Mum’s voice quietens as she shouts to Gordon. “No—no. No. You’re absolutely right. Maybe we shouldn’t tell him. Probably doesn’t care anyway.” She comes back. “Maybe we shouldn’t tell you.”

Act like nothing’s wrong. No—act like nothing’s different. “Tell me what?”

“Like hell you deserve to know, way you’ve been treating her. I’d assume you already knew. But you’re too busy floundering round with random sluts and drinking yourself to death. Olivia’s dead, Scott.”

Say what you’d say if you were innocent. If you had no idea she was dead. I widen my eyes. “What?”

The what’s genuine, actually. I can’t believe even Mum could be so brash. She’s supposed to think I’m innocent.

“Yeah. She was murdered in the street on a night out with her friends. I’m sure you don’t care.”

“What the hell’s wrong with you?” I say, tearing my eyes away from Maria and digging my hand into my head, grabbing my hair. “Of course I care. Why—why—why would you tell me like this? Is it true?”

Maria looks at me.

Mum, on the other end, laughs. “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, Gordon! He thinks we’re joking!” The phone crackles. “Yeah, Scott, it’s a joke, you useless waste of space. It’s a joke.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“She’s DEAD, you piece of shit! She’s been murdered! When’s that gonna batter through your thick skull?”

“I think it’s doing pretty well, now, thanks! I got the message.” My voice thickens. “She’s… she’s… dead.”

Ripped apart on the street like roadkill.”

“Don’t talk about her like that.”

“Sorry, what was that?”

DON’T talk about her like that!” I sob. “Ripped apart? Ripped—ripped—okay! I get the message. Treat her with some respect, Mum. My God.” My voice grows higher. Maria stares at me, her mouth pressed. “She’s… she’s… dead.”

Olivia. Olivia’s dead.

I press my mouth.

“Talk about respect all you want, you shit. You’re the one who wasn’t taking care of her. You left her for dead. You were too busy with your new girl to look after her, weren’t you? You with her now?” I catch Maria’s eye. She reaches for my hand. “Or has she ditched you too? Rest assured. She will after this.”

I bristle with anger. Oh, I did more than leave her for dead. I want to scream down the phone. I did MUCH more than let her die! I gave the order! I shoved her back when she tried to escape! I watched as my NEW GIRL DEVOURED her! Is that what you wanna hear, Mum?

I wonder if Mum thinks I had something to do with it. She’d better not.

“What do you want me to say, Mum?” I ask, my voice low and shaky. Maria stares at me as I let out a sob.

“You? Say? Nothing,” Mum says. “Just have your arse down here next Wednesday if you wanna come to the funeral. Her parents mentioned it to us. Nobody wants you there. Nobody but them.”

A sick, cold spike of guilt twists through my stomach. Guilt, for the first time. God, it’s awful.

“Be there for them, won’t you? Wear something smart. And don’t bring that girl, whatever her name is. Even though I heard she likes to wear a lot of black.”

Maria and I lock eyes, and I want to scream at Mum not to disrespect my beautiful girl like that, but the words stick in my rotten throat and I remain guiltily silent. I shouldn’t go. Not to Olivia’s funeral—I killed her. Not Maria. Me. We stare at one another for a long, long time. The phone crackles as Mum sighs, waiting for a response.

Maria nods at me. I press my mouth.

“C’mon, Scott. D’we have to clear the cobwebs out your bedroom or not?”

“Scotty. You have to go,” Maria says. It occurs to me I’ll never have closure unless I go. Do I deserve closure? What if everyone there suspects me? Can I hold my tongue amongst that many people? Or will I break?

No, Maria said. You won’t break. Her eyes are repeating it now.

The truth is, everyone’ll suspect me more if I’m not there.

“Scotty,” Maria murmurs again. I swallow.

“I’ll be there,” I say to Mum. “For Olivia. Don’t bother clearing the cobwebs. I’m not staying long.”

“Good,” Mum says. Then, she hangs up on me before I have the chance to do the same to her. Silence floods me and I let the phone fall to my side. Instead of stuffing it into my pocket, I let it slip out of my hand and onto the floor.

“Damn,” Maria murmurs, leaning against the doorway. There’s not a trace of playfulness in her voice. “You’re a good actor.”

I nod. When I picked up that phone, I was so petrified I was going to break and give myself away, but there was no need. I didn’t have to fake a single word.

“Maria, can we postpone the plans? Whatever… whatever we were gonna do to get out of here. I still want to. But wait till after this. I have to do this.” I sigh. I want my old life gone, but I can’t just let it go. I need it to know it’s no longer wanted. I need it to watch me walk away. “I need to say goodbye, okay?”

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