I was still feeling the effects of the tequila, even after most of it ended up in the toilet. I had really been hoping all of the gratuitous vomiting was over with after I changed my diet, but lucky me, I couldn't hold my liquor. Just as my stride slowed and I decided this spot was as good as any for my millionth emotional breakdown, I felt something grab me from behind.
I tried to scream, but a strong hand was covering my mouth. The person, who was apparently a good foot taller than me, had a firm grip around my head. His other arm came around my chest, his hand gripping me painfully. I could tell it was a he, because as I started struggling, he held on tighter and spoke into my ear, his breath hot on my face.
“Hush now, baby,” he said, amusement in his voice, “I won't hurt you.”
Somehow, I didn't believe him.
My stomach was heaving again, even though there was nothing left in it to lose.
“Looks like you had a little fight with your boyfriend,” he said, licking the side of my face.
I started struggling harder, but he had adjusted his grip to pin my arms to my sides, and I couldn't get a good kick in.
“Probably couldn't handle a little spitfire like you,” he continued, his voice taking on a husky quality that made more fear well up inside me.
He released my arms to rub his hand down to my waist, and I used that opportunity to reach back and grab a fistful of long, greasy hair, pulling as hard as I could.
“Shit!” he swore, letting go of me in surprise.
I spun to face him, my hands held up as if to shield me, a clump of his hair still caught in my fingers.
“You little bitch,” he growled, revealing a knife that had been hidden somewhere inside the dirty army jacket he was wearing.
I quickly scanned my surroundings, but all I saw were the dark shapes of trees. My mind was still foggy, and I was suddenly unsure of which way to run to safety. Running right past him seemed like the best bet, but he had recovered from his surprise at my attack, and the glint in his eye as he held the knife up convinced me that getting any closer to him was not the best idea.
I took a step back, hearing the leaves crunch under my boots. I had the momentary thought that maybe screaming for help would bring the large biker staying next to us running, but it was just as likely to make someone call the cops, and that wasn't really the save I was going for.
The knife glinted as a stray bit of moonlight broke through the thick tree cover and hit it just right. The man was moving closer, his breathing heavy, and I could finally see in the dark well enough to come to the conclusion that he must be homeless. My first hint was that he smelled worse than my vomit. Even standing a few feet away from him, as I was, the smell was drifting over to me in the light breeze that shook the trees and created a constant sound all around me. The second hint was that the clothes he was wearing were dirty and torn. In fact, the only clean thing on him was the knife, which he was holding up in front of himself, like he was waiting to decide where he wanted to stab me first.
I backed up another step, and that was the end of the line. I could feel a tree trunk behind me, thick and completely blocking my escape backwards. The man smiled at me, now standing directly under a small shaft of light, his face dirty and some of his teeth missing. Just as I decided that maybe I would take the chance on the police, he stepped forward and slashed at my arm, cutting it deeply. I looked down in surprise, seeing a large gash and a small amount of blood dripping out, but I couldn't feel anything. I was either in shock, or I had just gained the upper hand, zombie-style. The man was still looking at me with the smile on his face, he didn't seem to be seeing me anymore, just something that he wanted to stick the knife into. This time he stabbed out, the knife plunging into my stomach. I quickly grabbed onto his hand, squeezing as hard as I could, and forcing him to let go. I pulled the knife out as he cradled his hand to his chest. He was looking at me like I was the crazy one. I was willing to go with it. I repeated his action, but when the knife went into his stomach, he let out a groan and doubled over.
I made sure to keep a grip on it, pulling it out and stabbing it in again. He was on the ground, shielding himself, but I was beyond the point of no return. Something broke inside of me and all the grief and pain came rushing out. Tears were running down my face as I dropped the knife to the ground and collapsed onto my knees next to his prone form. He was making a high keening noise and curling his body into a ball.
I was about to pull myself up and run away to the safety of my room and maybe a 911 call for the man before we beat a hasty retreat out of town, but then the wind shifted. This time, when the smell hit me directly in the face, I breathed it in as hard as I could. The wind was carrying the most tantalizing odor I had ever smelled, and my mouth was instantly watering. The blood in the air went straight to my head, making me feel completely drunk again, and I swayed towards the man, who had grown still. I could see the ground around him glisten in the meager light, and I fell to my knees, giving in to the sensations. I crawled over to him, my hand landing in a warm wet pool of liquid. I lifted it up and held it to my face, breathing in. My head was filled with a static louder than the wind rustling the trees, and I crawled all the way to him, reaching my face down right next to his chest and breathing in. The blood was flowing out of him, and I pushed my face up against his body, feeling the warmth on it now, the smell overpowering all of my senses. My surroundings fell away, and all I could focus on was the hot blood right in front of me. I pushed his jacket out of the way, then grabbed onto his shirt, ripping it open more where the knife had cut it open, and putting my teeth right over the wound, as I bit down, the warm liquid flowing into my mouth. It was the best thing I had ever tasted. I bit down harder, grabbing onto his body with both hands, ripping the flesh away as fast as I could. I swallowed it down, and I felt a rush in my head. The drunkenness was gone, replaced with a buzz of power. I kept chewing, eating my way around the wound, ripping the flesh away and feeling it slide down my throat. I could hear the wind rushing through the trees and the bugs having conversations all around me. There were sounds of cars on the highway somewhere behind me, and the lights grew brighter. I never wanted the feeling to go away. The ache in my stomach was dying down faster than it ever had before. I kept chewing my way around the flesh until it started to grow cold. I had lost all track of time, it could have been 5 minutes or 5 hours. Finally, I slowed down my frenzy. I sat back, my eyes closed and a content smile on my face. The ache was gone. For the first time in days, I actually felt good. I was full and awake, the blood and flesh buzzing through me.
I sat there for awhile, just basking in the feel. When I opened my eyes, the world was back to its normal darkness, but the feeling of fullness hadn't gone away. I never realized how wonderful it was until it was gone. I looked up at the sky, and the moon was visible every few seconds through the swaying treetops.
The liquid on my face was cooling as I came back to myself. I looked down, and got my first glimpse of the man who had attacked me since my body had taken over. He was still on his side, but his clothing was missing from his chest, as well as most of the flesh. I could see bones poking through the huge gaping wound where his skin had been, and suddenly my stomach heaved. This time it wasn't from hunger.
My eyes widened as I realized what I had just done.
I had eaten him. He attacked me and I fought back, and then I ate him. When I looked down at myself, I could see blood covering my shirt and arms. I held my hands up and they were also covered with blood and dirt, chunks falling from them back to the ground.
I backed away from the body frantically. I had been looking to take a breather and had ended up killing and eating a man. My life had gone massively off track, and I was suddenly hit with the despair of knowing that it would never be the same after this. I had killed someone. My mind had gone on autopilot at the scent of his blood, and I had attacked and eaten him. I couldn't even trust my own mind anymore.
I pulled myself to my feet and spun around, trying to figure out which way was back to the motel. If I didn't wash the blood off of myself in the next five minutes, I would either go crazy or start bawling, probably both. I finally forced myself to take a deep breath and focus, ignoring the dark shape of my attacker beside me. I listened, and faintly heard the cars on the highway, heading toward the sound, crashing between the trees. After a short distance, the trees thinned out, and I could see the lights of the motel shining through them. I stopped and peered around, looking for any signs of movement at the back of the building.
All of the windows in the back were curtained, some of them lit up from within, but none of the curtains were open. There was no one that I could see hanging out behind the motel, and I walked quickly to the corner of the building, pressing myself against the wall and sliding along it, willing myself invisible until I managed to get back into my room. I took the keycard out of my pocket, holding it ready in my hand. If anyone saw me now, they would probably scream, run away, and call the police, in that order. When I reached the front of the building, I peered around the corner, quickly smashing myself back against the wall as I heard an engine start. It was late enough that no one should be wandering around, but someone was pulling out of the lot in their car. The lights flashed around the edge of the building, and I tried to make myself as flat as possible. If I could have sunk into the wall at that moment, I would have.
The lights turned away from me, and led the car out of the lot and in the other direction, toward the highway. I waited until the noise of the engine died away, and peered around the corner again. This time, there was no movement. I took a deep breath and turned the corner, running as quietly as possible to my door and jamming the keycard in. It took two times for it to work, and I had practically started hyperventilating with the panicked need to get inside and out of sight. Finally, the door swung open, and I hurried inside, slamming it shut behind me.
Jason sat up on the bed and looked at me, his eyes bulging as he looked me over.
“Shit!” he exclaimed, jumping up and running over to me.
He grabbed my by the shoulders and held me at arms length, “what the hell happened? Are you okay?”
I nodded, unable to form coherent words.
He pulled me toward the center of the room, closer to one of the bedside lamps. The blood stood out against my pale skin, covering my chest and arms. I was sure it was even thicker on my face from where I had dug it into the man's skin. I was reminded of my first look in the mirror after I had woken up in that alley. I wondered if my eyes had the same dazed look in them. Probably.
Jason gingerly lifted up the bottom of my shirt, and I let him, my arms hanging uselessly at my sides. He sucked in a breath, and I looked down, expecting to see more blood and another gaping wound where he had stabbed me. The blood was there. The wound wasn't. In fact, there were no wounds. The stitches that had held up for so long were gone, possibly ripped out somewhere in the scuffle without me even noticing.
“What the hell?” I said, rubbing a hand over my stomach where the gaping hole should have been, “he stabbed me.”
“Who?” Jason asked, looking at me warily.
He was holding it together well, the panic barely apparent as he followed the path of my hand, rubbing up and down over my now flawless stomach.
“The guy. There was a guy in the woods.”
“The woods behind the motel?”
I nodded, meeting his gaze. “I killed him.”
Jason stared at me for a moment, processing the information behind his concerned blue eyes.
“What do you want to do?” he asked, dropping my shirt back down.
I sighed. I didn't want to come up with another stupid plan.
“I want to shower,” I replied.
Jason nodded. “Okay, go shower. When you get out, we'll figure this out.”
I walked around the bed toward the bathroom, and Jason stumbled after me. The attack and... everything... had sobered me up, but it looked like he was still feeling the effects of our impromptu party.
“Drink some water,” I said, as I grabbed my bag and disappeared into the bathroom.
I turned the water on warm and stripped off my bloody clothes. The blood was tacky, making the material stiff. I looked down at myself, but the view was the same. A layer of blood, but no wounds. My skin was smooth, as if I had never been stabbed. I stepped under the warm spray and started washing myself clean, wondering if any of the blood pooling by the drain was my own.
When I emerged from the steamy bathroom, Jason was sitting on the bed, a glass of water in his hand. He was facing the TV, but it sat dark and silent.
“Hey,” I said, pushing my wet hair out of my face with a huff.
I had changed into my pajamas, which consisted of a worn t-shirt and sweatpants. He looked up at me.
“What happened out there, Trish?” he asked, putting the water down on the bedside table.
He was able to focus on my face, some of his drunkenness apparently having worn off with the shock of my appearance and subsequent confusion. I sighed and sat on the bed next to him.
“I don't know exactly,” I began, wondering how I could possibly explain it, when I barely had a grasp on it myself, “a man attacked me and I fought back.”
He was still watching me, waiting for the rest of the story.
“I think I killed him, Jase,” I said, in almost a whisper.
He nodded, his expression somber, but determined, “we should get out of here before someone finds him.”
“We can't just leave,” I said.
I had put some thought into while I was washing away his blood. I had formed a plan, but I wasn't looking forward to executing it. Everything I did just got us deeper in.
“If we run, and they find him, they'll look into us. I used my fake id to check us in. It's the only thing we have keeping us safe.”
“What do you want to do, then?” Jason asked, seeming resigned to letting me take the lead, “this is getting out of control.”
“You think I don't know that?” I snapped back, immediately regretting it when I saw the hurt look on his face.
Just a short while ago, Jason was professing his love to me, and it had set me on edge. I was hoping we could pretend it never happened, or blame the tequila, and move on, but I knew Jason. I knew he wouldn't be able to just let it go.
“Sorry,” I muttered.
He nodded, but the hurt look was still in his eyes. He was like a wounded animal, and it was making me feel worse.
“We should make sure no one can find him,” I said, hoping he would be willing to just go along with it.
Somehow the idea of being caught had become larger than anything, looming over my head, and even killing a man paled in comparison. I kept reminding myself that it was self defense, and that made it a little easier. Seeing his body again was going to be hard.
This time, Jason sighed, “Fine, let's go bury him or something.”
He got up without looking at me and headed for the door, grabbing the dropped key card on the way. We wouldn't be able to bury him, that was unrealistic, but we could at least drag him further into the woods so that it would be harder for the cops to pin it on someone staying at the motel tonight, if they didn't automatically assume it was an animal attack or something. It would at least buy us some time.
I got up and followed him, grabbing his shoulder and indicating that he should wait. I eased the door open and looked down the front of the motel, both ways, to make sure no one was hanging around. Most of the rooms were dark by now, but I could hear the TV on in the biker's room. I motioned for him to follow me, and he closed the door as quietly as possible, walking behind me to the corner of the building and around toward the back.
There were less cars on the highway as the hour got later, and the night was oppressively silent. I could hear crickets coming from the direction of the woods, and was starting to feel like I had wandered into a bad horror movie. I led the way across the area of gravel behind the motel and to the edge of the woods. It was darker now, some lights in the parking lot next to the motel had gone out.
I stopped and turned back toward the motel, trying to find approximately where I had stepped out of the woods after the attack. Everything had been brighter and more alive then, seeming to happen in slow motion. Finally, deciding that the spot I had decided on was as close as we were going to get, I led us into the woods.
“Be careful,” I whispered to Jason, subconsciously keeping my voice low, not willing to break the silence in the air.
I could hear Jason's breathing behind me as he followed me deeper into the woods. Just as the light completely disappeared behind us, I saw him. A dark shape on the ground, unchanged from when I had left. I slowed my pace and trudged over to his body, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the almost total darkness. The light had shifted, and he was no longer being illuminated by the moon through the clearing at the top of the trees. I couldn't make him out clearly, he was just shadows laying on the forest floor.
“We should move him deeper into the woods,” I said, going around to where his arms lay, spread out a bit from his body.
He had been curled up into a tight fetal position, but in death, his limbs had gone slack, and lay splayed around him. I reached down and grabbed his arms, looking up at Jason, who I could see more clearly in the darkness. His face had gone pale and he was gazing down at the body, unblinking.
“Jason,” I hissed at him, from my crouched position.
Jason's head whipped up, as if he had forgotten I was even there, and he took a step back. His mouth opened, like he was going to say something, but then he turned abruptly, leaning over and heaving. He vomited onto the base of a nearby tree, holding his arm out for support. The stench was strong in the air, and the breeze brought it directly into my face. I grimaced and waited for him to finish emptying the contents of his stomach. At least he would sober up more quickly.
When he was finally done dry heaving, the food and alcohol having come back up before he could stop it, he stood up straight, wiping his mouth off with a shaky hand.
“Sorry,” he said, and I had to smother a hysterical laugh that was threatening to bubble up.
He was helping me hide a body of a man I had killed, and he was apologizing to me. It was insane. The whole thing was insane. I stayed silent and waited for him to grab the man's ankles. He did so hesitantly, pausing with his hands hovered over the bottom of the dirty jeans, before steeling himself and grabbing on.
“We'll pick him up and carry him on three,” I said, tensing my legs to stand, “One... two... three!”
We lifted simultaneously, and the man came reluctantly off the ground. His body was heavy, and his shirt flapped open, hanging off his back, revealing the gaping hole where I had basically eaten his entire chest. Jason froze, and looked like he was going to vomit again, but he quickly got ahold of himself, giving me a slight nod, telling me to continue. I started walking slowly backwards, and Jason followed. I walked us past more trees, trying to stay in a straight line, so we could find our way back out. Jason was sweating from the effort, and my arms were starting to cramp up.
I didn't know exactly how far we had gone, but when my arms were about to give out, I stopped. Jason stopped a moment later, and we both bent down, trying to put the man on the ground as gently as possible. The forest was thicker here, and when I looked up at the sky, it was completely blotted out by the treetops.
“This will have to do,” I said, rubbing my arms, trying to get them to stop cramping.
Jason looked like he would fall over at any moment, so I made my way over to him and put an arm around his waist. He tensed up for a moment, but then relaxed into my side, putting a lot of his weight on me.
I squeezed tighter, “let's go back to the room. We can head out tomorrow and leave this behind.”
I knew that neither of us would ever be able to leave this behind. I had a feeling we wouldn't be getting much sleep that night, either.
I led us back in a straight line the way we had come, and emerged from the woods more or less where we had entered. All of the windows in the motel were dark now, and the traffic from the highway was almost nonexistent, just the occasional 18-wheeler roaring by. We headed back to the room as carefully as we had left it, not relaxing until we were back inside, away from prying eyes.
The light seemed brighter after being in the darkness of the woods, and I could see some wetness still on Jason's face. He went over to the sink to rinse out his mouth, swishing and spitting a few times. He was leaning over the counter, his back rigid, and his arms shaking, when he finally spoke.
“What really happened out there?” he asked, his voice strained.
“He attacked me,” I replied, knowing that wasn't what he wanted to hear.
He walked over to the bed and sat down heavily.
“I'm serious, Trish, that guy was messed up, and you don't have a scratch on you.”
He really thought I just murdered someone in cold blood. I knew I had been a little off, but I hadn't expected this. I felt betrayed, but knew I really had no right to. I would have to tell him the whole story, for better or worse. If he decided to abandon me in this motel, well, I kind of deserved it.
I took a seat next to him, staring ahead at our reflections on the dark TV as I told him the whole story.
“After we did what we did,” I began, ignoring Jason shifting in his seat with discomfort, “I needed to get some air.”
He was silent, saving that conversation for another time. Thank goodness for small favors.
“I went out behind the motel to the woods, thinking I could hide in them for a little while and pull myself together. I guess the guy followed me. I wasn't really paying attention to anything going on around me, and, well, I was pretty plastered.”
Jason laid back on the bed, and I joined him, moving a little closer. My gaze moved to the popcorn ceiling, stained and cracked from years of disrepair.
“He grabbed me from behind and I couldn't get away. He had a knife.”
Jason's intake of breath was audible from right above my ear. He had turned toward me, and one of his hands was stroking my damp hair, helping to ground me enough to tell the rest of the story.
“I managed to get away, but he was blocking the only way out. He stabbed me in the stomach.”
I had to take a moment here, absently rubbing my shirt over my now unblemished stomach. I looked over at Jason, and he was watching my hand, a confused crease on his brow.
“I know he stabbed me. I saw the knife go in, but I couldn't feel it. I don't think it even really bled.”
I looked back up at the ceiling, tracing the cracks with my eyes.
“I grabbed his hand and squeezed, and the guy freaked. He dropped the knife and backed off. I pulled the knife out and stabbed him in the stomach.”
My voice had begun to take on a monotone as my emotions detached. I was probably in shock. My head felt foggy, but I pushed on, wanting to get the whole story out.
“I stabbed him again, to make sure he wouldn't get back up, and I was going to run, but then the smell hit me.”
Jason was still silent beside me, but his hand had stopped stroking my hair, and now lay still, a warm weight at the top of my head.
“It was the best thing I ever smelled. I think-”
My voice cracked, and I could feel all of the emotions rushing at me all at once.
“I think it was the blood. It was like I was outside of my own head, watching. I couldn't-”
I broke off again, this time with a sob. The hand started stroking my hair again. I couldn't finish the story, my chest felt tight, and I could feel the hot tears beginning to run down my face. I took in a ragged breath and the ceiling above me grew blurry.
“You did that to his chest,” Jason said, more of a statement than a question, “you bit him.”
“I ate him,” I replied, turning away from Jason and curling my legs up, making myself as small as possible, “I ate him, and it felt amazing.”
“It made all of your cuts go away.”
I had been thinking it, but when Jason said it, it sounded less crazy.
“I think it did,” I replied, and I felt his arm wrap around me and his body curl up behind me.
Jason voice was low as I cried silently, the occasional gasp breaking through.
“It's okay, Trish,” he said, holding me tighter, “the guy was going to kill you. It's okay. We'll figure this out.”
I didn't believe him for a second, but his voice was helping me relax, and before I knew it, I had fallen asleep, tears cooling on my face, and a warm body pressed against my back.