'Devour the Heartaches' by Chris Pearce
This guy has been following us, driving around our street in his beat up sports car for at least a week now. I bet the car is stolen. I bet that if I called the cops and told them the license plate they’d say, yeah it was stolen and they’d show up and haul his ass away and that would be that. It’s a pretty cool car, even if it is pretty dirty and even if the paint is peeling away and I can see three long scratch marks running down the door, real deep ones, the kind you can’t just buff out or paint over or whatever. It was a pretty nice car still, especially for somebody who couldn’t’ve been older than nineteen. I wonder how he had made it to nineteen in the first place. I hadn’t even thought I’d make it to sixteen and living to nineteen seemed as unlikely as living to be a hundred years old. I wondered if this would mean that we’d have to leave soon, if somebody had finally put it together, picked up the broken pieces and figured out how they interlocked and lead right back to me.
My mother hasn’t noticed him yet. She’s usually too busy watching me, or watching my brother. Or she’s watching the news, trying to figure out if they’re talking about me. I told her that I hadn’t done anything newsworthy here but she doesn’t believe me, which I guess is for the best. I might’ve done something and not even remember it but I haven’t woken up with blood on bedsheets in months and I haven’t tried burning my bedsheets when that happened since I was thirteen and it happened the first time.
I hope we can last here a little longer than the last place. We’re near a playground which my brother loves and I can walk to school which means that when I don’t want to go to school or I don’t want to go home it’s a lot easier. When I get home the first thing my mom does is give me a once over—make sure I’m not overheating or that my eyes aren’t dilated or that I don’t have blood on my mouth or under my fingernails or fur coming out of my ears and I haven’t had any of those things since we moved here. Then I go up to my room and she locks the door and I pretend to work on my homework or watch TV or stare up at the ceiling thinking about what my life would be like if there wasn’t an APB looking for me.
The last friend I had I was fourteen. I still keep a piece of him with me wherever I go. It’s all I could find of him afterwards. And when I’m at school and somebody comes up to me and starts to try to talk to me because I’m the new kid, even if it seems like they really want to talk to me for whatever reason, I reach for the piece of him dangling right by my heart and I get up and I walk away.
My mother says that one day we’ll figure something out. St. Humbert’s keys and wolfsbane and colloidal silver and something has got to work even if nothing has yet unless you count me getting sent to the hospital to have my stomach pumped because I wouldn’t stop throwing up. After that my mom bought the heaviest deadbolt she could find and figured that would have to do until they started doing gene therapy on werewolves. But probably it’s too late for me anyways, and I think mainly I function as a guinea pig for my brother.
Eventually, he’s going to figure out why we have to move so often. Why he never makes any friends, why he doesn’t have any pets, why mom locks my door from the outside. Right now though—I guess I’m just his brother; eight years older than him and I must seem like an adult, a giant but not yet a monster. Not yet.
The first thing I killed was my dog. Maybe I had killed stuff before that but that’s the first thing I know for a fact that I killed because when I woke up in my bed with the sheets covered in blood and chunks of hair and then when I threw up I saw his dog tag shining in the vomit in the toilet. Mom and dad thought that he had run away or a car had hit him or maybe that a coyote had gotten him but he was way too big for a coyote to have hurt him. After about a month of putting up posters and calling his name in every park in town my parents sat me down and said that Rover wasn’t coming back but they could get me a new dog instead. But I said no. No pets.
I don’t know how long I’ll last here. This whole place is too nice, everything perfect and orderly and that is what makes it so easy for everything to go wrong and it’ll make it worse when it does. I tried out for the football team and I even made it which is going to make it suck when I have to go tell the coach that I’m not going to be playing. I have an arm for football, always did, and my dad was always so proud of that but right after we had our first practice I remembered why I never did this shit. I was hanging out with these guys, wondering how I could make it all work—mom would find out what I was doing sooner or later but maybe by then it would’ve been long enough that I could convince her that it was alright. Maybe it would even be true. Maybe I could finally date someone.
I was looking over at the quarterback, watching him talk about something, not really listening to him, when one of the other players shoved into me. Probably it was an accident or maybe it wasn’t but I felt a flash of heat all over my body and I looked at him and the way he looked back at me like he thought maybe I was about to rip out his throat—but I ran off before that happened, across the field, under the bleachers, waiting for the moment to pass, waiting for school to be over and the sun to set because maybe then I could make it home without anyone seeing me.
The first person I killed was my father. Back before we knew what was going on, back when we thought that it was okay for anybody to be alone with me without pack a gun loaded with silver bullets—not that we were even sure that would work, or if it would be overkill—my dad had taken me on a hunting trip, way out in the woods, far from civilization, where nobody could hear you or see you or find you if you ever want missing because while you were out there you couldn’t bring yourself to shoot your son even when he started to eat you. He was declared a missing person and the search went on for months and wherever we went to look for him my mom would look at me and I knew that she was wondering how he had disappeared and nothing had happened to me.
I’m not a serial killer. Yet. I’m just a murderer. I think one more and I will qualify though. If mom can keep me alive long enough I might break a record. Eventually it loops back, right? First you’re a murderer, then a serial killer, then you end up a hero, right? Right.
I was walking from school one afternoon—not walking home, there was a creek—really, it was a drainage ditch but hanging out in front of a drainage ditch after school makes it seem like you’re looking for drugs or looking to jump and I wasn’t looking to do either, not yet. As long as I got home before mom did she wouldn’t care. Better for me to not be alone with David anyways. But I was walking and I noticed a car was following me. He was trying to be subtle about it but that’s actually kind of hard to do when you’re in a car and you’re following somebody’s who’s walking since you have to slow to a crawl. There was also the fact that I had seen this car driving by my house far too many times to be a coincidence. Guess this was it.
I walked a little a faster; the car matched my speed with ease, and I started to look for an alley or something that I could duck into but the problem with suburbs is that they aren’t prone to alleys. So I picked up the pace, breaking into a sprint, and the car sped up so it was ahead of me, the driver giving me a smirk as he did before pulling in front of me and stopping me in my tracks. I looked over at the ditch and back at the car and instead of making a run for it I bounded over to the car just as the driver rolled down the window.
“You’ve been following me,” I said, curling my fingers around the edge of his door and leaning down so I could get a good look at his face.
“I have,” he said, grinning at me, showing me a mouth full of crooked teeth. I reached up to my own teeth—I used to have braces, back before we had figured out what was going on, back when there was a lull and we thought that maybe it wouldn’t happen and I ended up having to pull little bits and pieces of metal wire out of my mouth and my throat and I ended up losing one of my back teeth entirely. And that’s far from the worst thing that I’ve pulled out of my throat.
“Since I got here,” I said, giving him the once over, the same way my mother always did to me. I was right about how old he was, there was no way that he could’ve been older than eighteen, tops, which still seemed pretty ancient to me. His hair was dyed blonde with the roots showing and he had a scar that ran all the way down his face from his eyebrow to his chin and I thought maybe, maybe some of the stuff that came up in old horror movies was true. Maybe he would know.
“What’s your name,” he said, grinning up at me, crooked teeth in a crooked smile.
“Nothing,” I said, pulling back from the window and walking away from him. I heard him put the car back into drive and start to follow me again, pulling up beside me so he could keep talking to me.
“That,” he said, “is a terrible name and a terrible lie. If you’re going to lie than at least pick out a better name. You seem like the type who would’ve, maybe something like Raven. Or I can pick one for you. Maybe Liam? You kind of look like a Liam.”
I snorted at that; there was no way in hell I looked like a Liam.
“Erik,” I said, because I figured that as long as I didn’t give out my last name it wouldn’t matter.
“Erik. I guess I can see it. Bet you’re middle name is Liam though,” he said, smiling the sort of smile that made my stomach churn.
“You gonna tell me yours?”
“Currently, it’s Max,” he said, hesitating between it’s and Max. And he said I was a bad liar.
“What do you want with me? What’s so important that you need to stake out my house?”
“I’ve kind of been waiting to see if you’d wolf out. Looks like you’ve got a pretty good grip on it though. Impressive for somebody who’s on their own.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, trying to pick up my pace despite the fact you can’t actually outpace a car.
“C’mon, don’t play that game. I can smell it on you,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. I stopped trying to get away from him and he stopped the car just a few yards passed me, forcing me to walk to catch up to him. “You can smell it on me, too. You must’ve known the moment you walked into town I was here. I’ve been wondering when you were going to come looking for me.”
I knew I couldn’t be the only one. I knew it wasn’t possible, that God had looked down on the planet and pointed his finger at me and said, you and you alone are going to turn into a wolf monster whenever you get angry or hungry or maybe just lonely. I had heard stuff about a boy in Michigan and another in Oklahoma but we had never been to either of those places and I had never been able to track anything down, but here was somebody else, somebody like me staring me right in the face.
“I knew it,” I said.
“Sure you did,” he said, possibly the only instance of that phrase being said without sarcasm. “There’s lot of us. People like you and me. You just have to know where to find them.”
“I can show you. I can get you out of here. Take you to places where the world’s still wild. I know it must be killing you. Knowing what you are. What you might do.”
“I,” I started, not sure what I wanted to say. I thought about mom. About David. About what would happen if I left. About coming home covered in blood, about mom finding me and washing it off and holding me in her arms and crying. I ran away once, because I thought that was what she wanted, after she had tried to stick a nail in my palm while showing me pictures of the moon. But she searched for me for days, plastering my picture all over town and calling the cops and finally somebody saw me and dragged me home and then she cried harder than I had ever seen her cry. “It’s not just me. I can’t just leave. There’s people I would hurt. More than I already have.”
“If you didn’t have anybody you could hurt,” he said. “Would you come with me then? If you were the only one left? Or would you just off yourself? Jump into that ditch you seem so fond of?”
I didn’t answer him, but saying nothing was as much of an answer as anything else. Without a word he shifted his car into gear, nearly running me over as he sped off going exactly where I didn’t want him to go.
“Wait!” I shouted as he drove off. Towards the direction of my house, driving faster than I could ever hope to catch up with even if I had wolfed out right then and there but I still ran as fast as I could anyway, skipping down into the drainage ditch and hoping that it didn’t flood right then and there—it was the fastest way home and maybe I’d get lucky and get there before he did.
When I got home the door was already open, shifting back and forth and forth with the wind and there was some mud on the floor, tracks leading across the room and out the back door. I could smell something, something familiar, something like me, all over the place, the smell of the wolf, the hunger, the fear.
“Mom!” I screamed as I slammed open the door, running into our living room, nearly barreling straight over a chair as I did. Nobody answered me as I ran up the stairs and pounded on David’s door and it fell open and there wasn’t anybody there either and I thought that he must’ve already been here, that he must’ve already gotten them and that was when I started to scream and I knew that it was too late anyways. I let myself fall to the ground because I knew what was happening; there was no way to stop it when it started so I didn’t try to.
But I wasn’t the only one in the house, because he hadn’t gotten them. I heard a door opening and somebody clambering up the stairs and calling my name, Erik Erik Erik because it was David and—
He saw me. He saw me, rolling on the floor, foam on my mouth, blood on my fingertips as I ripped at my shirt, mom trying to get him out of the room so she can lock the door, so she can run to the car and hope that I don’t follow them. I could have followed them if I wanted too—I have their scents. I’ll always have their scents, no matter how many times they change clothes or scrub themselves clean or roll in the dirt or whatever—wherever they go I’d be able to find them. Maybe they’d have a chance, since they’d know I’d be coming. Since they knew exactly what I was not. Not like my dog. Not like dad. Not like Luke.
We had agreed to meet, after dark, at the playground. There was a little community pool that we had planned to break into; I had no idea how to pick a lock but he swore that he could and I wanted to at least see him attempt to.
I waited until mom was asleep and then I picked the lock on the liquor cabinet and picked out the bottle that looked the coolest and headed out to find him. He had the same idea and we crawled under the jungle gym and looked up at the stars, not that there were that many to look at, their lights drowned out by streetlamps and glowing suburban homes, passing the stolen alcohol between us.
I could feel my heart pounding and I could hear his pounding too and I had started to sweat, which I had expected, when I reached over to him and put my hand on his stomach and pulled up on the hem of his shirt and ran my hand up and down his bare skin. I pulled myself up and leaned over him, a line of sweat forming on my brow, my hand still on his stomach, my fingers pressing into his skin, my mouth around his neck, his blood in my throat.
There was no denying it this time when I came home covered in blood, my clothes in tatters and bits of flesh stuck between my teeth and we packed up everything we needed that night without saying a word and moved on to the next town. And I didn’t kill anybody again but only because we were never in one place for too long and only because I had learned how to make it so it wouldn’t happen again.
I found him this time. It was just like he had said—once I had his scent it was easy. He was hanging out just at the edge of town, where the suburb gave way to a wall of trees that looked like it must’ve gone on forever, like it was big enough that you could’ve gotten lost in it as easy as nothing even though I knew that wasn’t true, there was another town just a few miles down the road, and farms and streets and everything. You can’t just vanish, not just once. It’s something you have to keep doing, again and again.
“You should get in and act like you already know me or people will start to talk. Or are they already talking about you?” he said with a smirk as I walked up to his car.
“Shut up,” I said, but I got in the car anyways. We were both quiet as he drove, and he flipped the radio station to something playing what I would’ve considered oldies though my mom when I called them that. I thought he was just driving around; he wasn’t taking me out to the country so he probably wasn’t taking me somewhere to finish me off but then he turned a corner and I realized where we were going.
My house. My mom’s car was in the driveway and I could kind of see her and David in the living room, watching something on the television, her arm wrapped around his neck. I looked over at Max and he shrugged his shoulder and smiled that same way that made me want to scream at him because it made me feel weak in my knees.
“Why?” I asked.
“I figured this would be the best way. If you see them, you can know what you’re missing. You won’t have any second thoughts after.”
There was a moment of quiet; I thought about thanking him for the ride and getting out of the car and going inside and slamming the door behind me but—
“How many?” I said.
“None,” he said.
“You’re lying,” I said, because if he wasn’t that what would that make me?
He shrugged his shoulders.
“Maybe one, way back. He might’ve survived, though. I didn’t stick around to find out. Bad luck man. Bad luck,” he said, and I must’ve made a face because his smile finally went away. He reached over and put his hand on my shoulder and I tried to pull away from him but I couldn’t make myself do it so instead I just looked away from him because there is no one in this world that I want to see me cry.
“It’s easy. When it’s not just you.”
“You think?” I said and he smirked back at me. He reached across to me, placing his hand on my chest and slipping it under my shirt and I shuddered as his skin touched mine and he took that little piece of my friend in between his fingers and snapped it off of my necklace; I flinched but I didn’t stop him from taking it.
“What was his name?” he said, holding it between his fingers before tossing it back to me.
“Luke,” I said, catching it and shifting it back into my pocket. And I knew he was dead.
“Would you?” I said, glancing back at our house. I could see my mom and brother sitting on the couch, watching TV; a nature documentary, a lion chasing down a gazelle. It ends the way these sorts of things always end, teeth plunged through skin, mouths covered in blood, and then someone being eaten.
“If I don’t,” he says, “then one day you will for me.”
“What should I do then,” I said, looking away, straight ahead, towards the edge of town. There’s an argument to be made, that I should kill myself. I’ve killed people, more than the vast majority of people ever will, and there’s nothing that I can ever do to make up for that. I might kill again, one day, on accident, or I might reach the point that I don’t even care any more and I do it because I want to, because I’m bored or because I’m hungry or because something. At the very least, things would be better for mom and for David that way. Maybe David would forget what he saw and he’d just remember the big brother he’d loved until he’d slipped and fallen into a creek, not a drainage ditch.
“Swallow your sorrows. Devour your heartaches. Leave it all behind and maybe one day, maybe then you can come back to it and put the pieces back together or sweep the last bit of it into the dust.
“Okay,” I said, and he shifted the car into gear, heading for the woods this time, past the moon, going somewhere new.
Chris Pearce is an aspiring author living in the central United States. He has been previously published in Sanitarium, Body Parts, Mirror Dance, Tales from the Lake and Werewolves Vs. You can find him on twitter @chrispearc1.