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

18. Traitor

Pointless. This is all pointless. These words on the blackboard, Greg’s joking words in my ear, the notes I’m idly writing on this borrowed paper with this borrowed pen—they all mean nothing to me. It may only be the first day of term, but I already want to be out of here again. Where? Perhaps back at Maria’s, but most probably, somewhere else. I thought throughout my cold turkey, and then the Christmas holiday, I was itching to come back to my classes. I was itching for a change, but not this one. We’re studying villainous intent and motive, which I ought to find fascinating—maybe because I’m a tragedy nut, maybe because of all the shit I’ve done and had done to me this year—but it’s a drag. Maybe I’m just bored of being bored. Bored of being normal. Sweet. Good. Bored of being me. Two months ago, on a shitty riverbank, I willingly quit everything that made me me, just to spare myself a bit of pain. I became addicted again, and it was sweet; I quit again, and it hurt like a motherfucker. No matter how hard I try to do the right thing, it always ends up hurting me. So yeah, professor, you can talk all you want about how the good always receive their just reward and the guilty wind up paying, but you’ve lost me. Tell me more about how everyone’s a victim or a villain or a hero. Answer me this: If I’m sick of being a victim, but I’m not cut out to be a hero, what does that make me?

I clear my throat a little too loudly, and a girl two rows in front of me turns to stare. She’s got big square glasses that inflate her eyes into a bug’s. I don’t know her, but I hate her. I shake my head to clear the pulse of scarlet and bite my lip as she turns back around. Why am I so hateful? Maybe it’s because the world hates me. I’ve always clung onto being good because it’s all I’ve ever known—it was the thing that got me through day after day of whatever the hell I called life. But nothing ever did get better. I’m clean, but it’s getting worse. I’m pure, but it’s getting worse. I need to clear my head. I need a fresh start. And that means I need to finally leave Maria.

I sit in the library for five hours after the lecture, waiting for the sun to set as usual—I look around, taking it all in. This is my first time back here in two months. I thought I missed it, but I was wrong. I can’t help but marvel over how utterly disconnected I am from my old life. From my friends, the course, the play, the buildings. From the light I used to so desperately cling to. What am I still doing here? I’m not enjoying this anymore—I’m not the same person I was when I came here. I’m no longer that desperately alcoholic boy who needs his books to hide behind. I’m the boy who watched a girl die and another girl kill and spent two months locked in a murderer’s bedroom, rocking off the walls and wishing he could die or kill or get high enough to forget how low he’d sunk. I don’t belong in the life of the old Scotty Matthews.

The moment the sun goes down, I get up to leave. The sky above Aberdeen’s purple like an old bruise and the sunlight’s barely even died, but it won’t be long now.

On the way past the art block, something tells me to look up. When I do, my eyes fall on Maria. She throws me a glance as she walks past, her high-heeled footsteps clicking, her hair and skirt blowing in the wind. There’s a long smear of white paint on her cheek and her hand’s pressed deep into the curve of her waist. When she catches my eye, she stirs in me a deep, desperate surge of longing that clenches my fists inside my hoodie pockets. I don’t drop my gaze till long after she’s left my eyeline, and immediately wish I’d done something. Smiled at her. Spoken to her. Walked up to her and-

That’s it. That’s it. You have to leave.

I’ve got to go back to hers to get my stuff—she was walking in the opposite direction, so she can’t be going home. I can do it while she’s out, right now. I don’t know if I can face her, but I have to leave this hellhole somehow. Before—as she put it—we do something we both regret.

I look over my shoulder just in time to see her droplet of shadow merging with a tree’s, swallowing her up for good.

Ping.

I stop in the middle of the bridge to dig my phone from my pocket. The screen lights up again, with a call from my parents. Funny—they haven’t called me in weeks. Even though the wind’s cutting me deeper than a knife, I stand still on the bridge as the traffic tears past me, staring at the green screen, waiting till the call wears out. Ten seconds later, another slew of text messages begins. I click on the first and idly watch them pile up.

ANSWER

WHORE

IDIOT

SLUT

LIAR

COWARD

CRIMINAL

No. False. False. False. True. True. True.

Fresh start.

I dig my nails under the case of the phone and prise it off. I viciously yank out the battery; the screen pops and turns grey. These three pieces in my hand are all that’s tethering me to my last life, as I was the only piece tethering Maria to hers.

I sigh, stuff my mutilated handful of plastic back into my pocket, and turn to walk home.

As I walk, Maria comes back into my head. I’m letting her go too. Tonight. In less than an hour, another weight will be off my shoulders. I’ll no longer have to deal with her lies, her betrayal, her addiction, her crimes. I’ll start my immortal life well. It’ll be wonderful. I smile a little to myself.

That bolt of longing just barely pierces me again as I reach the house and clatter up the steps and into the hallway, barely noticing she’s left the door unlocked but all the lights off. This smell reminds me of her, but not in a good way. I won’t miss it.

As quietly as I can, but only because I feel like an intruder in this house now, I walk up the stairs and into Frank’s room, picking up the backpack I packed last night and shooting a glance over at Maria’s door, at the pink glow leaking underneath it. That’s something I am going to miss. Maria’s done so much for me, but we’ve grown far too close. I was stupid to forgive her for so much. I was stupid to stay here for so long. I have to leave before—as she put it—something happens we both regret.

I clatter down the stairs for the last time, but stop at the bottom, compelled to go into the kitchen and switch on the light. The puppies look up at me from their bed. I go over to the counter, where Maria’s note’s still stuck in place.

 

I’M SORRY

 

Without thinking about it, I open the nearest drawer, hoping to find a pen. I find a blue biro, but there’s something else in there too. Something that stops me dead in my tracks.

It’s a knife. A single knife, long and sleek and impossibly sharp, with white scraped edges on the blade and black-rimmed carvings of flowers on the handle. I pick it up, feeling its weight, and can’t help but smirk bitterly as the final piece of the puzzle slides into place.

There’s a hallmark on the blade, but I already know it’s silver.

I put it back in the drawer and slide it shut—then, with the pen still in my hand, I start to run to all the other drawers and cupboards, shooting the occasional nervous glance at the dark hallway as I do. I pull them open one by one. Empty. Empty. Empty. My eyes grow wider and my chest grows lighter. The entire kitchen is empty.

Of course it is. What would a vampire want with crockery?

I remember the night Maria was washing up at the sink. What night was that? I remember perfectly. I remember the dark-brown water frothing at her wrists; I remember the bubbles that dripped down her nose from her forehead as she froze at the words on the radio. I look down at the pen in my hand, then up at the hallway one last time.

Everything’s silent.

I walk back over to the counter. I have to leave before she gets back, but I decide to leave her a note, all the same. Notes can’t hurt, can they? I try to come up with something smart or reassuring to say, but can’t. Maybe I want to be sarcastic or cutting or witty instead. Or poetic. In the end, I just write two words underneath Maria’s, on the same piece of paper.

 

IT’S OKAY

 

There. Perfect.

 “Bye,” I murmur to the puppies as I leave the kitchen.

Surprisingly, I manage to make it down the hallway, through the door, and out onto the pathway without stopping a single time for a dramatic reconsideration or attack of nerves or soliloquy. I close the door behind me. Please don’t hate me, Maria, I think. Am I begging her not to hate me for leaving, or for doing it without waiting to say goodbye? I hope she’ll understand. She knows full well what a monster she is. And what a coward I am. The wind bites down on my arms, worming its way down into my bone marrow. The sky above me sags with bloated beige clouds and the pavement below me glistens with rain. I walk across the road, feeling more upbeat about my future and prouder of myself with every step. Once I reach the other side of the road, I glance back over my shoulder, just for the sake of reassuring myself that the house I’m leaving behind, the house from Hell, is just a house. That it’s in my past, I suppose. And when my eyes land back on it, I finally stop dead in my tracks.

The only lit window is Maria’s bedroom window; it’s pulsing with the warm rosy glow of her fairy lights, the muslin curtains drawn back over the cold street so I can almost see inside. The only thing blocking my view of the bedroom is… Maria, who isn’t out at all. She’s sitting on her windowsill, staring down at her lap—if I squint, I can make out the pale smudge of her hair and the dark smudge of her clothes. She’s drawing. She likes to sit there with her sketchbook, her cold skin pressed up to the cold glass. I never quite figured out why.

Out here, it’s black and icy and utterly miserable. In there, it’s colourful and bright and warm and safe. I don’t know how she can be there, when I saw her walking away from me as I headed for the bridge, but then, I remember there’s a cyclists’ trail near campus. She took a shortcut to the house—simple as that. Whether I like it or not, she’s there, and whether I like it or not, now, just when I was feeling so damn heroic about leaving to fulfil some greater purpose, I can’t force my feet to move.

I guess Maria senses my eyes on her through the misty glass. She glances to her right, and then turns slowly to her left. Her face is barely visible through the glass, but I know she can see me standing here with my backpack. I swallow, waiting for her to react with betrayal and trying to work out why I care so much, why there’s some stupid thing in my gut screaming at me to go back inside—maybe it’s just cold out here—but then, she snaps her head away.

I sigh.

Why aren’t I proud of myself anymore? Look at me, for God’s sake. I’m taking a stand—letting her go, but stopping her from destroying my life along with hers. This isn’t a bad ending, actually. I’ll eventually accept I did the right thing, even though it may hurt for a while. Actually, it hurts already. The misery twists in my ribcage like it wants to curl up and cry. All I’ve felt, from the day I was born, is misery. Surely I deserve better now; I deserve to hold onto the one shred of happiness I’ve found. Not that I’ve found one, of course—not in that bright window, not in that blonde girl, not anywhere. Going back in there wouldn’t be right, even though it’s cold and it’s raining and I hurt, and it looks so warm in there. I have to accept that this is goodbye.

You’ll never be able to accept this is goodbye unless you go back in there for a minute to say it PROPERLY, Scotty.

Oh, yeah. You know what? I shudder as a gust of wind cuts through me, and Maria twitches her head back to check if I’m still here. You’re right.

It’s a cheap excuse, but it’s the only one I need to walk back across the road and push the front door open.

Even though she saw me out on the road and was watching me the moment I changed my mind (no, I didn’t change my mind—I just came back in for a second), Maria doesn’t come downstairs to find me. I shut the red front door behind me and make my way back through the darkened hallway, listen to my footsteps echoing along the walls, the floorboards, the tiles. Each hollow syllable shouts my return up the stairs to Maria. I feel unwelcome here, but I’m not going to turn around. I climb the stairs and cross the landing to reach the doorway glowing pink, chewing my lip as I push it open.

She’s still sitting on her windowsill, one leg pulled up in a triangle, still bent over the sketchbook in her lap with her pencil scratching furiously like nothing else on Earth matters. The streetlight frames her in a spray of golden raindrops, making her hair crackle with electricity. The sight of her makes my insides twist—I can’t believe I nearly buggered off without telling her.

God, who was I kidding? I am going to miss her when I leave. I’m going to miss her like hell.

“You off?” Maria mumbles down at her sketchbook. When I don’t respond, she finally looks up at me, one eyebrow raised. I nod. I try to choke out the word yes but it’s stuck in my throat, so I swallow it.

She smiles. “I’m glad you finally got up the courage. I always knew you would.”

I frown. “That’s not what you said yesterday.”

“I know,” she says, scrubbing more intently with the rubber on the end of her pencil. “But I knew it, deep down. Honestly.”

I laugh softly. “Huh.”

“Honestly, you can think what you like.” She looks down at her drawing sadly, twisting the pencil between her fingers. “I’m just glad you’re not going to get me arrested or killed.”

There’s a long silence. I want to say something, but every word hits the thick barrier at the back of my throat and slides pitifully down into my chest.

She looks up, her voice playful. “You’re… not going to get me arrested or killed, right?”

I sigh. “No. Of course not.”

“Great.” She leans back and sighs again, the sketchbook slowly starting to slip off her lap. “Well. Since you’re clearly tongue-tied, I hope your, uh… life… ends up being everything you wanted. Promise me you’ll make it work. Okay?”

I laugh half-heartedly. “Yeah, I hope so too.”

Now. Now’s a good time to leave, isn’t it? Nice closing line there; simple, but sort of poignant in its meaninglessness. Go, you idiot. Move your feet. I don’t care they’re glued to the floor; find a way, damn you!

I turn towards the door and put my hand on the handle. I finally manage to cough something constructive up into my mouth, but when I spit it out, it’s not what I thought it was.

“I, uh… hope… y’know, with Frank. He doesn’t come back.”

Slowly, as her silence stretches out, I take my hand away from the door and turn back. She’s already staring at me, her mouth pressed, her eyes shining with a question. She knows I know, so she doesn’t need to say it.

Satisfied, I tear my eyes away from Maria for the last time and open the door to—

“Frank won’t be coming back,” she says to my back, her voice dark and bold. “He’s at the bottom of the river.”

I stop. My tongue swells up, stoppering my mouth, but somehow, I feel better. I’m not surprised, but I ought to be. Maybe I should say “What?”. I’m good at that.

“Why?” I say instead.

Maria doesn’t look up from her drawing. Then, she turns to face me, swinging her legs in their fishnet tights down from the windowsill.

“Told you. Lackey,” she tells her lap, starting to scrub with her pencil again. “He was my lackey. Turned him for that, let him use me in return because he liked to think he was in charge. Dumb as a brick. And a bastard to boot. You knew it. I knew it. Everyone who knew him living or dead knew it, and it was all because he loved killing for killing’s sake. He was a straight-A angel when I turned him. Y’know that? But it was clear he’d always been sick in the head, that he’d always wanted to hurt people deep down, and that what I did to him gave him an… excuse. He loved everything about being a vampire. I guess I envied him, most days, but Scotty… God, he hated you. God, how he hated you.”

I shudder. “Yeah.”

“God, how he wanted to kill you. He talked about it to me… constantly. I never considered it, I swear to you.”

“Except in that alleyway.”

“That wasn’t for him. That was for me. I didn’t want it. I just thought I needed it, and I was wrong. God, Scotty. Nobody deserved what I did to you less than you did. You deserve everything. I deserve nothing. I haven’t deserved a shred of the kindness or understanding you’ve given me. I—I’m glad you’re off to live your life with—without this. Without me.

“But I’m also glad you came back, for—for a second, because you deserve to know I did choose you over Frank, and it was the right decision. He—he talked about you like you were nothing. Like you didn’t even have feelings. He just wanted to hurt you, for the bloody hell of it; be—because he could. He talked about you… just like your parents and Olivia treat you. And—and—God. No.”

She scrubs harder with her pencil, drawing the same line over and over again; I watch it darken as my head heats up. I’m closer to her now than I was. My hand’s off the handle and the door’s far behind me. I don’t say a word. I need her to carry on. I need her to finish this off right, if this still is the end.

It doesn’t feel like the end anymore.

Maria breathes out shakily. “I need to stop talking. But I just want you to know, Scotty… whether or not you want to listen, I want you to know I see… I see now how much you deserve. And how close I came to tearing everything away from you you had left. That’s all you’ve ever known, your whole life—cruelty and bullying and people taking you for granted. You’ve been living for other people, when you should’ve been living for you, and in return, the world  beat you down even more. I did it too. I’ll never forgive myself for it. And I can’t even make it better now… there’s nothing I can give you to undo the shit I’ve put you through. The world’s hated you, Scotty… as it’s hated me, but I don’t want to hate you. I don’t want to. I want to… in fact, I…”

She widens her eyes and snaps her mouth shut before she says it. I want to say a million things, but I can’t. I need to get out of here, before I do something stupid that ruins everything. I’m even closer to her now. She’s done everything for me. Everything. She’s the only person who ever cared for me. She looks back down at her sketchbook and starts to dab lightly with her pencil, drawing a dotted line too thin to see.

“One—one day,” Maria says steadily, keeping her eyes rooted on the page. “Frank and I came home from a hunt while you weren’t here. Those nightclub patrons on the radio? That was us. Not just him. Us. Both of us. I had to do it to get him high, to get his guard down. I let it go too far, and he started shouting at me. To track you down, wherever you were; I think you were at the playground; and kill you.” Her voice turns deathly quiet, solemn. Angry, and yet proud.

“I’ve got a knife—a silver one. I sliced his throat from earhole to earhole and cut his head clean off. I dumped him in a rubbish bag and dragged him down to the bridge. I burned him and dumped him into the Don, with the rest of those poor people. I’d like to say I acted in self-defence, Scotty, or in a sudden flash of seeing the light. I’d like to call it my first and last act of heroism, which I suppose it might’ve been, but it didn’t feel like heroism. It just felt like common sense. I could’ve done it blind and dumb and drunk and deaf.”

I blink. My organs twist tighter inside me.

“And he died realising for the first time in his life…” Maria clenches her fist around her pencil. “He was nothing to me. He knew I was rotten, and then he knew he was so rotten even I didn’t want him. Though I suppose I am worse than him.

“You have to leave, because I’m never going to be able to shut myself up now you’ve let me start. I just wanted you to be able to leave this shithole house knowing there’s someone in this shithole world who thinks you’re everything. Everything. Someone who… even if that someone’s a bloodsucking, flesheating monster like me. I thought maybe… it’d be better than nothing.”

She looks up at me. I look down at her. The silence around us is blinding, deafening, choking. Buzzing like it’s live.

She stands up, I step towards her, and with a short moan and a gasp, our lips meet. Hard.

One. Two. Three. Four.

Oh, shit.

I plant my hands on her hips, but they don’t shove; they gather fistfuls of her skirt and pull her tighter against me. She grabs my waist with a force that stumbles us back against the wall and lets go of my mouth with hers to gasp. For a second, we stare at one another, like we can’t believe what we just did. I’m shaking, overwhelmed, and her eyes are wider than I’ve ever seen them.

Then, without a word, we kiss again. This time, I close my eyes and make no effort to suppress my frenzy or hers. After however long, our arms are going everywhere and so are our mouths; I find myself nuzzling her cheek, her jaw, her neck, as she cranes and whispers into my hair. At first, I only hear sighs, but then I realise she’s saying, over and over again, I love you.

Something explodes inside me. “God, I love you,” I burst out. My voice’s too loud. “I love you, Maria.”

“I love you too. I love you too.” She kisses my mouth again, running her hands down my front as I run mine up her back. Her touch sparks on my skin, piercing me all the way down. “Please—” she mumbles into my lips. “Please don’t go. Ever ever.”

I think hard. I try to remember why I ever wanted to leave her, but I’m all blank. “I’m not…” I say. I can’t focus on anything but her hands resting at my stomach, her fingers hooked into my shirt. “I’m not…” ‘I’m not going anywhere.’ Just say it.

Instead, I hold her tighter and kiss her again. She opens her mouth and presses her body harder into mine, grabbing my shoulders and pulling me against her to shrug off my backpack. Our kisses grow greedier. I wrap my arms around her; I should leave. I curl my tongue into her mouth; no, really, I should leave. I should stop. I don’t want to stop—God, I want to keep going and going and going. My pulse feels harder, my heartbeat faster, my skin hotter, my insides gooey and melted and my body dissolved into hers, all the way, all the way.

Her hands grip the hem of my shirt and she starts to pull it up, her fingers snagging on the right angle of my ribcage. I don’t stop her. It’s okay, though, because I will stop her, eventually—I’ll go over and get my shirt from wherever she just tossed it. I’ll stop plucking at her clothes, too, yanking up her shirt, even though she’s yanking it harder than I am. And if it does somehow come off her, after it’s gone, I’ll get my mouth off her jaw, her neck, my hands off her waist, her hips, lower, higher. I’ll shut up my moans and hers, my gasps and hers. I’ll push her away, rid myself of the rigid pain of the wall pressing into my spine. I won’t let her spin me and push me down onto the bed, and I won’t pull her with me, breaking a lamp on the way down, knocking us into rose-tinted darkness and spraying the ground with broken glass.

Somehow, I’ll find a way to untangle our limbs, to pry apart our chests and stomachs and hips in the places they’re moulded together like one. I’ll have to figure out another way to feel whole again—this isn’t the right way, even though it feels so good. I’ll stop it—wait and see. Wait until our hurricane drops us. Till I’ve had enough. I’ll turn that light back on, I swear; all I need is a little more time.

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