By Arpi Schlesinger
In the middle of the park, a girl sat alone on a swing set. She sat suspended above the mahogany bark dust like a sword hanging by a thread, slowly rocking back and forth in the soft but frigid breeze. Rust consumed the chains holding the rubber swing like an infection, creaking in a steady cadence that sliced through the silence in the rest of the park. Shadow covered the green fields of grass like a goose-down blanket, untouched by the sounds of crickets or field mice. No ducks paddled through the river to the west; no frogs croaked on its bank. But sound was not the only thing that escaped the park. Light seemed to as well. No street lamps guided wandering passersby, only darkness perfect for housing bats, raccoons, and other nightly monsters—not that this park had any. The icy air of winter repelled congregating fireflies and forced them to burrow in their warm nests. Like the fireflies, the people in the surrounding neighborhood burrowed as well; they shut their blinds and turned off their porch lights. The neighborhood was asleep, surrounded by the silent and lightless atmosphere and embracing it like a mother with her children.
But this park was not completely consumed by darkness and silence. There was the moon, and there was the girl. The moon beamed its harsh, white light onto the girl, revealing a thick head of raven-black hair that dangled in the air, almost touching the bark dust below her feet. The light reflected off the girl’s pale skin, giving her arms and legs a soft glow, a contrast to the darkness of her hair. Her head drooped and cast in shadow, avoiding the moonlight like the plague. She stared blankly at her bare feet in silence. The swing continued to sway back and forth, indifferent to the pale figure that sat on it. The creaking of the rust marinated chains was not the only sound in the park, however. The girl’s stomach spat out a symphony of howls and growls that masked a constant, low hum. But this sound wasn’t enough; the symphony was suppressed. The park was still quiet. The girl was still alone.
The emptiness of the park did not seem to bother Eric Wheatley. He walked through the park’s lonely, paved paths without a destination in mind. For his destination was the journey. He breathed in cool, winter air, filling his lungs with ice and coating his throat with frost. The darkness surrounded him like a pack of hungry wolves; it consumed his blonde hair and amber eyes, turning him into a creature of the night.
But a creature of the night he was not, or at least he didn’t feel like one. Eric was not a stalker among the quiet stillness of the park; he was as gentle as the ducks that once paddled through the river and as cool as the frosty air he was breathing. He never attempted to fill the void that was his surroundings and never had any thoughts of doing so. The park comforted him; it was his escape. It was his reward for enduring a long day at university, and a much longer day at the firm.
The firm. Eric Wheatley’s brisk pace halted when he thought of the firm. He hated it. He hated the long hours spent sitting in meetings, only tuning in when his supervisors needed a menial task completed. He hated filing through hundreds of meaningless papers and he hated the clutter on his desk. He–of course–hated the lack of pay he needed to support himself and how he knew he may never get it. But most of all, he hated that it was tied to his fate.
The firm was his uncle’s: Uncle Jerry the Prosecutor, self-proclaimed smartest-man-alive, slayer of dragons, and the best damn uncle anyone could ask for. Eric loved his uncle; he had no resentment towards him. No. Eric’s seed of resentment was planted by his father. Also a lawyer, Eric’s father instilled his concrete ideas of success into Eric’s developing mind. Eric felt constantly pressured to become a lawyer, work at his uncle’s firm, and make good money. All the scenery he wanted to paint, all the plays he wanted to audition for, and all the stories he wanted to tell were shut down and replaced with messages riddled with greed. Once he turned eighteen, Eric took off to university, starting his internship not too long after. He wasn’t surprised at this outcome, for the reality had always haunted him.
Eric shivered with the chill, his eyes sewn shut as he replayed these memories. But the park brought him back. The silence rang like a bell in his ears and the darkness that greeted him when he opened his eyes made him calm. Eric took in a deep breath and continued walking.
With each step, the negative thoughts that polluted Eric’s mind melted like ice cream in the sun. His skull became hollow. There was no brain. No thought, no care, no worry. He became the darkness; he became the silence. Eric Wheatley became the park itself. Then he saw the girl on the swing set.
Atop the short hill that housed the swing set, the frills on the girl’s black dress beamed in a brilliant white light, filling Eric’s empty mind. She was a torch, a beacon whose light radiated a comforting heat that gently passed through Eric’s body. He hadn’t realized how cold he had actually been. His fingers were losing feeling and his cheeks were a soft pink. He was shivering.
The light of the girl and the entrancing heat it seemed to produce drew Eric in. He was tired of the cold. Tired of numb hands, red cheeks, and endless shivering. Before Eric knew it, the warmth took him over. His legs moved without thought, and Eric Wheatley walked up the hill to the girl.
The girl did not respond. She remained on the swing, head and eyes glued to the ground.
“So, you live in the area?”
Eric did not know what he was saying. Words came from his throat and shot out of his mouth without passing through his mind. The girl didn’t speak, and Eric’s face turned from pink to red. He kicked the bark dust beneath his feet and stared at his shoes.
“Little late to be out by yourself, don’tcha think?”
The girl remained silent. Eric wallowed in her silence, eaten by embarrassment yet puzzled by her lack of response. Without thinking, Eric tried once more.
“You have a name? I’m Eric.”
But Eric’s efforts were futile. The girl was, once again, stoic in her lack of response. After what felt like hours, Eric let out a quiet sigh, leaned his back against the swing set’s metal pole, and slid to the ground. He looked up at the stars and the moon painted in the night sky. Specks of blue and white light dotted their way through long streaks of purple and black haze, filling Eric’s eyes with energy and wonder. Eric’s eyes moved to the right and were greeted by the moon’s enormous disc of white light that charged his mind and body and washed away any feelings of anxiety or embarrassment. He felt small. He felt like nothing else mattered in the grand scheme of things because he was just one person on one planet amongst an infinite universe that was corrupt with mystery so Eric said to hell with it and let out a deep, deep sigh.
His eyes still glued to the stars, Eric Wheatley chuckled and let his mind do the talking.
“I don’t know what I was thinking. You know, I was on my routine walk because I hate my fucking life and needed some fresh air. I saw you sitting on the swing set and, truth be told, thought you seemed interesting and was going to ask if you wanted to come to my place since it’s freezing but I’m awkward and can’t talk to people to save my life. I’m sorry, I just needed to get that off my chest. Work and school have been rough on me.”
Eric felt relieved. It was as if a crushing press was suddenly removed from his heart and his body became light as a feather. He put his hand up to his forehead before chuckling.
“I’m so sorry. I’ll leave you alone.” Eric stood up and took a step towards the pavement.
Underneath the shadow that was the girl’s face, she smiled.
Her voice was weak and barely a whisper, but Eric still heard it. He stopped in his tracks and looked over his shoulder at the girl who just spoke. He noticed that she was shivering slightly.
“What?” Eric said in disbelief.
“My name…is Maria.” Her voice was once again barely above a whisper.
Eric was frozen with her words. Maria. What a pretty name, he thought. Her voice was high, yet soft and soothing. The way she said those words had a certain crisp quality to them that made her seem gentle, kind, and vulnerable. Eric couldn’t quite decide on how those words felt so crisp or why they made his heart beat fast, but he didn’t question that feeling. Instead he spoke with his mind.
“Well then, Maria. Can I ask you to stay at my place for the night? It’s freezing out here.”
“Hungry,” whispered Maria. Her stomach buzzed a low hum.
“You’re hungry? I’ve got some leftovers at home. Scalloped potatoes and ham, good stuff.”
Maria didn’t reply in her newfound whisper of a voice. She hesitated a moment, then nodded her drooped head slowly. Eric stood watching Maria for a minute. She was motionless aside from her small shivers.
“We can leave now if you’d like,” Eric said.
“Carry me. I’m too cold.”
Eric was–once again–perplexed by this strange girl. Even though he was freezing his ass off, he could still walk without help. Just how long had she been sitting there? Eric thought. Well, if carrying her to his place would make that sweet voice of hers talk more, Eric wasn’t going to take issue. He moved in front of Maria and knelt down, his back facing her.
“Can you move enough to get on my back? I can carry you from here.”
“Yes,” Maria said in a crisp voice that made Eric’s blood rush.
She took her hands off the rusty chains and flopped off the swing onto Eric’s back, wrapping her pale arms over his shoulders and securing her bare legs around his forearms.
Maria wasn’t heavy. In fact, she wasn’t very light either. If it wasn’t for her pale skin glowing in Eric’s peripheral vision, he wouldn’t have felt her approach at all. Not that she was so light that Eric couldn’t feel her, but it was as if her weight put just the right amount of resistance on Eric’s back to make it feel like he was balanced. One more thing that makes her mysterious, thought Eric. After this thought, Eric stood up, stepped onto the pavement, and walked into the night with Maria on his back.
If it weren’t for the moon’s shining light sprawled across the paved walkway, Eric might have gotten lost in the darkness. The light gleamed in brilliance before Eric’s eyes, slashing a long, twisted scar through the green fields of the park that guided and pulled Eric along its path like a magnet. The darkness from before was gone and Eric knew exactly where he was going. Left at the great oak tree, right at the river bank, down the green hills and under the stone bridge; Eric knew it all. Once in the neighborhood, it was past the Donaldson’s and a right on Cherry Street, with possible shortcuts through Green Path Drive or Houghton Avenue. Eric decided against these shortcuts, however. He enjoyed the walk, but more importantly he enjoyed the feeling of Maria’s gentle breath on the back of his neck. It was warm, comforting, and gave Eric motivation to get this girl to some place warm. He kept on walking.
The ride through the park and neighborhood wasn’t bumpy for Maria. She could feel Eric’s swiftness and grace despite her eyes being closed. His body was warm, and the heat radiated through his jacket onto Maria’s skin; it felt good. Maria’s stomach rumbled.
She nestled her face into the groove between Eric’s shoulder and neck, and took in a deep, yet gentle breath.
“You smell good.” Saliva began to build up in the back of her mouth.
“Uh, thanks?” Eric said as he continued walking. He wasn’t sure what to say next. “I bet the potatoes at my apartment smell better.” His face turned beet red.
Maria did not say anything and continued to breathe deeply. Eric smelled really good. Her stomach rumbled again.
Eric picked up his pace. His legs were getting tired. He was hungry. He wanted to sleep and get this girl warm and comfortable. He cut through Houghton and trudged up a small hill until he got to Banquet Boulevard: the street where he lived. Eric dug into his pockets for his keys and walked up the stairs of his building. The building wasn’t anything special, but it had its charms. Eric liked it because the rent was cheap and it was within walking distance of the firm. After a while, the building’s raffish charm grew on Eric. He lived on the third floor, Apartment #13D, perfect for a nice view of town and not too high up to be bothersome. Eric hoped Maria would see the simple charms of this place. If she didn’t, he thought, it was at least a warm place out of the cold. Eric unlocked the door and stepped inside the apartment.
Like most things in Eric’s life, his apartment wasn’t anything fancy. The carpet was thick and clean, the walls were painted beige, and, most importantly, the air was warm. The living room had a large couch with thick padding and a TV set in front of it. The kitchen and bathrooms were worn, but they served their purpose just fine. Eric set Maria onto the couch, and she immediately curled up into a defensive ball like a pill bug. She buried her face in her chest and breathed deeply until the warmth of the apartment made her shivering subside. Eric stood watching her, smiling at her comfort.
“I’ll go grab you some food.” Eric waited briefly for a response, but didn’t expect much. He went into the kitchen to prepare some food.
In the kitchen, Eric reached into the fridge, pulled out a tray of cold scalloped potatoes, and set it on the stove. A colossal ham wrapped in foil was already on the stove and it emitted a cold, fleshy smell that didn’t make Eric’s stomach rumble. “Not my finest work, but it’s better than nothing,” Eric said to himself. He unwrapped the ham and sliced off a large chunk of the sweaty tissue before plopping it onto a plate half full of cold, hardened potatoes. Two minutes later in the microwave and the food was hot and smelled less like raw flesh, but Eric still wasn’t proud. He took the plate and walked into the living room.
Maria was still curled into a tight ball when Eric set the tantalizing plate of food on the coffee table next to the couch. She was still as a statue, taking no notice of the food in front of her and continuing to take deep breaths.
“You really should eat. It’s decent meat, promise.” Maria ignored Eric.
Her breathing continued, becoming slower and deeper with each breath. She fell into a steady rhythm; in and out, in and out, and Eric stood watching it all in confusion. She really was something else.
“Alright then. I’ll leave this here for you, but I won’t try and disrupt your sleep. Guess I’ll head to bed, too.” Eric grabbed a thick blanket and set it on Maria before heading through the kitchen into his room.
When Eric walked into his room, the weight of his day crashed down on him all at once and he nearly passed out then and there. This day was a strange one, he thought. He slid off his jeans and jumped into bed. The bed was warm and softer than a cloud. Eric’s muscles loosened and sunk themselves into the cushion beneath him. His eyes became iron weights, his skin melted away. Before Eric Wheatley knew it, he was fast asleep.
Eric awoke to a slight pressure on his knees. It started off small, nothing more than a slight fuzziness below his knees, but it quickly grew and spread like a disease. His legs turned numb and purple on the brink of explosion. Soon the disease spread to his elbows as they too received a crushing, copious amount of pressure squeezing the joint, turning everything below them numb and lifeless. Eric’s eyes shot open in pain and gazed at the shadow that was crushing his joints. A few drops of saliva fell onto his face.
Moonlight poured into the room from the window above Eric’s bed and revealed the shadow that was crushing him. It was Maria. Maria with big, crimson eyes piercing Eric through the heart. Her face was pale and soft, devoid of all emotion or expression, small and rounded. Drool cascaded from her mouth and down her chin like a waterfall through the two fangs that poked out behind her lips. Her stomach growled in visceral angst.
Eric looked at Maria’s face with both enchantment and horror. On one hand, the moonlight made her skin glow and defined the soft and round features in her face. Her eyes were a deep crimson and–although unusual–as large as the sun. A face as pretty as this was worth the wait, Eric thought.
But on the other hand, part of Eric was terrified by this predicament. He could no longer feel his legs and arms, and the anxiety in his chest was swelling. He seized the parts of his body that still flowed with blood, trying to create some sort of resistance, but it was no use; Maria was an iron press. The downpour of drool from her mouth didn’t help Eric’s mood. His breathing intensifying with fear, Eric squeaked out some words.
“A-Are you sure you wanna do this n-”
Maria’s right arm boomed to Eric’s neck, gripping it like a vise. Under her strength, Eric’s neck became as malleable as wet clay. He choked, he spat, he coughed, he gagged, he retched, and he struggled. Although his left arm was now free from the vise, it would not move. Eric tried to scream for help, in terror, in pain; it was all he could think of to do. But Maria’s grip tightened.
“Shh, don’t scream.” Her voice was clear, distinct, and lifeless. Her stomach roared. She was ready for dinner.
Maria started with the neck, a paradise full of thick muscle and soft tendons. Her teeth ripped out a chunk from the side, pulling out long, white ribbons of tendons and slurping them up like noodles. Eric’s eyes rolled into his skull and his head flopped to the side. After working through the muscle, Maria popped open the Adam’s Apple and munched on the chewy cartilage inside.
Once she finished the neck, Maria moved to the corpse’s right arm. Her nails became steel blades as she severed the shoulder from the body at the joint, tearing off the limb, sticking out her tongue as to make sure to catch any flying droplets of blood. She wrapped her gaping mouth around the shoulder and sucked the skin off the entire arm like a vacuum. The skin always came off easily. She tore through the muscle, down the arm and to the hands as if it were an ear of corn. The fingers weren’t her favorite part, but she crunched through those carrots as happily as any rabbit would. She treated the left arm no differently.
It was now time for the chest and torso. Maria pressed and cracked through the sternum before tearing the chest in half. She dug her face into the gap, drenching it in blood as she carved through the chest, lungs, and any meat sticking to the ribs. Her tongue spilled out of her mouth and swirled over her entire face, absorbing every last speckle of blood. The torso was always the easiest part. There were no bones to work around. This left Maria with a soup of blood to drink and soft organs to guzzle down. After her soup, she broke the spine and ripped out the tailbone from the lower body, shoving it down her throat and sucking off morsels of meat on the way up.
The appetizer was now finished. It was time for the main course. The thighs and legs contained the richest, most delectable meat and were easy to pick clean. Maria ripped off a thigh, gorging herself in the long, thick ropes of muscle that poured flavor into her mouth. She picked off the remaining muscle from the femur. The calves and feet weren’t so bad, either. Calf meat proved itself time and time again to be plump and juicy, and this time was no different. Maria enjoyed every fiber of the tissue. Though the feet provided little meat and had dozens of bones to work around, Maria didn’t mind. It provided a fun challenge and forced her mind to think instead of mindlessly indulging herself. She picked every bone clean, and repeated the process to the other leg.
Now, for Maria’s favorite part of her meal: dessert. The head remained at the front of the bed, the crown to the bag of bones that lay before it. Maria put her mouth up to the corpse’s lips and ripped out the elastic tongue, wriggling down her throat like a silverfish. Then she went for the nose; it was easily torn off and chewed on. Maria stuck her fingers into the cavity she just created and peeled open the head, splitting the skull in half with it. She removed the brain carefully and set it to the side; she would save it for last. The rest of the head was easy to eat now that it had been split apart and that there was no brain to worry about. Maria sucked off the rest of the meat with no problems and swirled the sweet, amber eyes in her mouth before popping them like balloons. Blood burst down her throat.
Maria was ready for the brain. She held it in her hands and brought it up to her mouth slowly before taking her smallest bite yet. Waves of intense flavor splashed in her mouth, lighting her tongue ablaze. The brain was sweet, salty, tender, moist, complex, hot, cold, sour, ripe, spicy, creamy, and rich all at once and Maria struggled with all her might to hold herself back. If she had taken bites any bigger than that, she might’ve lost her mind. She finished the brain with slow, euphoric pleasure.
Maria let out a great belch and leaned against the wall, admiring the pearly white castle of bones spread out on the bed before her. She took a deep breath and placed her hand on her plump stomach. She was satisfied.