I am filled with regret about last night. I regret grinding on smelly men, drinking strange mixed drinks and I mostly regret being born. I don't even know how I got to work this morning. I hope I didn't wreck the car. My headache is starting to dwindle, it no longer feels like something is clawing out the backs of my eyeballs. All I want right now is something fatty, something greasy, something salty and bloody rare. Hunger is gnawing in the pit of my stomach. I have to eat something soon.
Thank god for scrubs. You can sleep in them and still look presentable for the next day. Looks like I chose a coordinating set, but nothing really matches these neon purple gloves. My hands are running on autopilot. Rinse, soak, scrub, dry, pack for autoclave. I can see my reflection in the chromed steel of the sink fixtures. I look bad. Not just hungover, but drawn thin, the skin of my face is too tightly stretched over my skull. The dark circles under my eyes wouldn't be the first things people saw if I wasn't wearing brown colored contacts. My stomach growl is loud enough to startle myself from staring at my reflection.
"I heard that one! Do you need a granola bar?" says, Zola, my bleached blonde co-worker in the sterilization department, chirpily like always. She is the reason I feel like warmed over crap. If she hadn't forced me into going to that horrible concert that her boyfriend's band was playing at, I wouldn't be shaking like a leaf. I need to learn how to say no even if it means listening to her whining at me for a week. "You really had a great time at the concert. We should do that again! Maybe they'll get a weekend gig instead of open mike Tuesday, that would be really fun. I think that he's really coming into his own artistically and I think the world will start to notice that he has this beautiful soul and the clips that we put on the net will give him so many opportunities to make wonderful music and you look like you're going to throw up. You really can't hold your liquor, can you? That's really sad. If you throw up in there we'll have to replace all the enzymatic cleaner." I wasn't thinking about puking, but now I am. Thanks again, Zola.
"I don't remember last night." Deep breaths. "Did I do anything... stupid?"
"Naaaaaaaaah." I'm flooded with relief, but then she continues, "You kinda bit this guy but he dared you to do it, so you're okay. You know, there's always that guy who's like "Come on! Hit me!" so you did. So he deserved it." Crap. I snap off my gloves and grab a dental floss pick from my scrub pocket. I have to floss any part of that guy out of my teeth, I just have to. I glove up again and lean against the sink, woozy with hunger.
Zola rolls her eyes at me. "Do you need the mouthwash too? Probably not with what you were drinking. Look I'm going to go clean operation room number 4. Get yourself together."
She leaves and I carefully look around the biohazard bins. Oh sweet jesus thank you, they did a lipo and it hadn't gone to the incinerator yet. Carefully and casually as I can, I swipe an acorn sized chunk of blood-streaked human fat from the bin, invert my glove and stash it in my scrub pocket. "Zola! I need to get some fresh air for a moment. I'll be back in a bit!" I holler down the hallway to room four then I walk to my car, trying not to sprint to the door.
I slip into my car, parked under the shadows of the overgrown oaks planted around the rundown self-storage lot, and fish the glove from my pocket. I pop the morsel of fat into my mouth and it is better than the most succulently seasoned steak, sweetest ripe peach or most expensive French champagne. I roll it around in my mouth and suck on it like a lozenge before chewing it 35 times exactly. It runs down my throat with one indulgent swallow and my hand tremors stop. Looking in the rear-view mirror, I see my dark circles are fading. I want more, I want to bury my face in the biohazard vat and eat until I make myself sick, but I can stop. I can stop at anytime. That's what I tell myself.
I thought I was discreet enough but I notice too late that there is a man sitting in the overgrown hedges and shadows. Probably just a transient, going through the dumpsters. The medical complex was built as part of a gentrification program and isn't in the best part of town. I get called out to remove used needles and syringes from the landscaping all the time. I'm tempted to suck on the bloody syringes from time to time, but I don't want to ingest the random drugs too. Booze or drugs affect me so much faster than anyone else I've known, I think I'm the cheapest date ever. No, it's much safer to sneak a few bits here and there from the bio-bins, generally they've done a pretty good tox screen prior to surgery.
I head back into the building, making sure I have my pepper spray keychain in my hand. I join Zola in room four. "Puke?" She asks me and I nod. "I always feel better after throwing up too," she takes a breath and I zone out while she starts talking about her boyfriend again. I should be good for another 48 hours or so, but I still have to restrain myself from drooling at the blood stained drapes.
"What?" I honestly wasn't listening at all. I was thinking about licking the droplets of blood on the surgical tray. No more drinking, never again.
"Did you hear that there was another death?"
"What? Another one? Was it post-surgical or during?" I'd have heard about anyone expiring during a procedure, that's some major gossip right there. Deaths in the clinic were really rare because we mostly did cosmetic surgery, colonoscopies and other day surgeries. Most people don't croak during plastic surgery unless something went horribly wrong with anesthesia and they just never wake up.
"Died at home. Massive infection after a excess skin removal. It's really sad. They had to get bariatric surgery and recover from that, then change their diet permanently and give up cheeseburgers and then when they lost all that weight, " she clucks her tongue, "Poof! They die getting the extra floppy, flappy skin cut off them. It's really sad." Zola sighs and starts talking again about her man.
That is really sad, I have to admit. I quickly shut down my almost sensual daydream about hunks of pale flabby skin excised from fleshy limbs and the texture of that taut membrane squeaking between my teeth. I start to think about what I will make for dinner tonight, probably very rare pork chops. It won't be the same but I'm used to making compromises. I just can't steal a body and store it in the freezer like leftover pot-roast. I'd probably get bored of the same person anyways.
I pile my groceries on the sticky black conveyer belt and blearily watch them travel to the overly cheerful cashier. Her name tag says Betty. Betty always has to comment on my food because I never tell her not to. I still haven't told her that she needs to have that growth on her neck looked at. "Doing the Atkin's diet still?" She bags my pork chops, beef marrow bones, protein powder and soluble fiber laxative. You don't want to know how backed up you can get on a pure protein diet.
I nod while fishing my wallet out of my overstuffed bag. "Honey, you don't need to lose any weight! You're positively skeletal these days. You need more fat on your bones. Did I tell you that I have this nephew? He's just gotten out of a relationship with his baby-momma and he's got a job at the shipping container plant, works odd hours just like you and I was thinking that you'd really hit it off-", her voice grates in my ears and her jowls shake while she prattles. Fat on my bones, I'd gnaw the fat off her bones, crack the marrow, suck out the innards... No, no I wouldn't do that... I swipe my card so hard in the machine that I accidentally drop my purse on the floor. It explodes on the grimey supermarket linoleum.
"Crap!" I quickly stoop down to pick up my scattered purse droppings and knock heads hard with the man behind me in line. We connect hard enough to make me fall on my ass.
"Mother love a freaking goat! God that hurts! I'm sorry!" I apologize, inhaling hissing breaths through my teeth and gather up as much of my stuff as I can. Before he can speak, I grab my bagged groceries and bolt out of the store.
In the car's vanity mirror I see that I have an egg-sized bruise on my forehead. The angry red spot already is starting to turn purple and green at the edges. My injury should be healed by morning. It seems like accelerated healing is the only benefit of my dietary quirkiness. I lean the car seat way back, grab the plastic-sealed styrofoam flat of pork chops and put it on my forehead. Didn't even talk to that guy I head-butted, I guess he was kinda cute. I bet Betty doesn't want to set me up with her nephew now. Ha! Looking on the bright side, are we Mirri? I've decided that I want a full refund on today.
I startle awake at someone rapping their knuckles on my window. My pork chops land on my lap. It's Mister Headbutt. He's smiling at me with big white teeth and the beginning of a nasty black eye. He's dangling my phone in one hand and my pepper-spray in the other. I roll down the window half way. "You dropped these." He's older than I thought, lightly tanned with black hair that looked like he cut it by himself without a mirror. The whites of his brown eyes are yellower than his teeth. Probably some kind of hepatitis, I think absently. I'm always noticing these small physical signs of health and illness in other people. It's like I can tell if they'd be tasty if I ate a part of them.
I hold out my hand for my stuff and he shakes his head, "Nope! You owe me a cup of coffee for this shiner. How about over there," he gestures at the greasy spoon truck stop across the parking lot. "You've always wanted to hang out with truckers. You know you have." He grins winsomely and I think, why not? It's not like I'm looking for a relationship, I'd probably wake up in the middle of the night literally nibbling on their ear. I nod okay and he hands me my phone and pepper spray. "That stuff doesn't really work very well by the way." he casually mentions.
We meet at the truck stop. Half the neon in the sign has burnt out and it now offers H-O F-O-O. This overly amuses both of us and we chuckle while sitting down in the cracked red vinyl benches at the far end of the dining area. He sits across from me and studies me carefully. I feel like he's looking for something. I don't really drink coffee, it makes me too hyper, but I hide behind my cup and tap my fingers nervously on the stained porcelain. "Is it everything you thought it would be? " he gestured expansively with his arms. "It could be the scene of a nature documentary with an overly serious old British guy narrating, ' And here we observe the native Truckercanus Americana in their habitat'," he laughs a little too loud at his own joke. "My name is Adam. Adam Forbo." I'm close enough now to smell his sweat, yep he's a drinker. Great. He's in the process of killing his liver so the yellowed eyes make sense. Well who am I to judge?
"Mirrianna Shelley." I await the inevitable joke and I'm pleased when he doesn't make it. He cocks an eyebrow. "Yes, I know it rhymes with marijuana. Just call me Mirri." He's not wearing a wedding ring and there's no tan line where a ring should be. His hands are calloused and the nails are clipped short.
"So what do you do when you're not fending off the supermarket matchmaker, Mrs. Mirri? And her nephew seems like quite the catch."
I roll my eyes. "Oh I'm not married." It feels very important to emphasize that, extremely important. I point at my scrubs. "Medical sterilization and biohazard cleanup tech. I take care of the nasty bits that are left over after surgery. It's not the most glamorous of jobs, but it pays well enough. What do you do?" He's not wearing a suit or any specialized clothing. Just a broken in baggy leather jacket, work boots and jeans.
"I'm a consultant. I travel a lot for my job, talk to people, take care of problems." He grins, "It's also not that glamorous of jobs." He leans in close as if to tell a secret, "Can I ask you something?" I nod, my cheeks are flushed red and I add another packet of powdered creamer to my cold coffee just to occupy my anxious fingers. "Do those hurt? Your ear plugs." He asks with guileless curiosity. He seems fascinated by me and that is strange. Nobody is ever that interested in me. I'm not a pretty woman, no matter what my parents tell me. I'm too skinny to have any boobs and I usually look like I'm on chemo. I won't eat more biowaste than I need to fend off the cravings. I won't be a slave to my urges. Sure, I look so much better after I've indulged in my disgusting treats, but I'm stronger than that. Maybe I just don't know if I could stop.
I worry the small stainless steel taper in my earlobe gently, "Well not any more. You have to work your way up slowly, stretching the tissue. I just wanted little ones. My earlobes were a little, funny looking, and I wanted to make them look more normal." He nods, leans even closer and suddenly stares into my eyes so intensely that I feel like running for the exit.
"Contacts too. Brown ones, I see." I sink back into my seat and try to stand up, to flee. He grabs my wrist and pulls me back down to the seat with a big smile. He's stronger than he looks. "So, do you know what you are? Are you just playing stupid?" His grip feels like he could pulp my wrist bones with one squeeze.
"You're hurting me and I'm going to scream. Let go." My voice is stronger than I expected, I'm vaguely proud of that. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Pointed earlobes, orange eyes, replaceable teeth like a shark. Oh and yes, an unstoppable appetite for human flesh." My denials freeze in my throat. I must have looked much more stupid than dangerous because he let go of my wrist and laughed, derisively. "Oh this is rich. You don't even know what you are. You're a ghoul, you dumbass."
"A what?" I whispered, my mouth suddenly desert-dry. I ran my tongue over my teeth. They felt normal to me. I'd never lost one, ever. I floss!
"A ghoul. A monster that eats human flesh. I'd say you're only a half-ghoul though. You still can pass for human without trying. Do mommy and daddy eat babies? Did they teach you how to pass?" He unzips his jacket and he's armed with a shoulder holster and a huge knife. "You can't be that stupid or that lucky to figure it out yourself. Don't worry. I'll hunt them down too. I was thumbing through your voicemail and 1-2-3-4 is not the most secure passcode Genius. They are camping out and selling their newest self-published book at a Christian revival. I'll just go visit them and get rid of a few more monsters. Monsters tend to hang out in places like that. Nobody pays attention to your deviant freaky ways as long as you say enough "Hallelujahs!"
"I'm adopted!" I blurt out. "My parents are good people-" He raises a doubting eyebrow, "They are good humans. I was born in Romania during the fall of the Soviet Union. They adopted me from an orphanage. They are innocent!" I pleaded in a fierce whisper, the line cook and waitress were starting to look at us. "What do you want from me?"
"Oh I don't want you at all. You're nothing. You're going to help me catch the pureblood ghoul that's munching on the patients at your clinic. Or I'll kill your parents and then I'll kill you." He smiles again with too many teeth and cold, dead eyes and I know that I'm not the only monster in the room.
"The problem with you ghouls munching on living people is that your filthy dirty mouths are filled with nasty bacteria from eating carrion. You're no better than a turkey vulture or one of those giant lizards-"
"Komodo dragons." I interrupt his ranting. "They're called Komodo dragons." He's digging into a plate of eggs and bacon while detailing exactly why I am an abomination. He is utterly insane, and utterly certain in his convictions. In spite of myself, I want to hear more of his ideas. I've never had any diagnosis about my disease, no clue as to what I am, but I know I'm not normal. I have no illusions about that.
"Exactly. Scavengers, disgusting beasts. Nature's trash cans." He swills his whiskey self-spiked coffee. "Your bite infects the poor bastard that you gnaw on and then they die from infection. I bet you just love that. They are sick and dying and easy targets for more snacking with less effort. It you lose a tooth, then another one drops down to replace it, like a shark."
I don't believe that. I've never actually lost a tooth. Well my baby teeth, but everyone loses those. I have excellent dental hygiene. Floss, mouthwash, sonic toothbrush morning and night. I can't stand the feeling of anything on my teeth, be it plaque or pieces of food. I can't imagine snacking on a living person. Well, maybe just one person. He's killing himself anyway with booze and he did threaten to kill my parents.
I nod because it seems like he wants me to pay attention, like he's schooling the village idiot. I'm thinking about how I can get back to my car to drive straight to the police. What's he going to tell them? That I'm a monster and he's going to kill me? I cannot believe I thought he was cute.
"Well, what do you want me to do?" I wish I'd headbutted him so much harder.
"You're going to do a little recon inside your clinic for me. I want to know who is treating the people who are dying. The way I figure it, someone in there is either a pureblood ghoul or working for one." He wipes runny yellow yolk off his plate with a piece of toast, smacking his rubbery lips.
"Just in case you're thinking about how you're going to escape and run straight to the cops, " He smirks at me and chews on some charred bacon. "I wouldn't recommend that. You know, poor mommy and daddy all alone out there in the wilderness. Accidents have been known to happen, especially to old people on their own. Don't worry, I'm not going to hurt you if you do what I say." I know he's lying about that. There's too much venom in his voice when he talks about 'my kind'. He's been killing for decades and getting away with it, probably getting off on it.
I feel quite hopelessly screwed. If I'd known that some crazy person was going to hunt me down and kill me over my human offal addiction, then I'd have taken much, much bigger bites. Hell, I'd have had human flesh for breakfast, lunch and dinner and taken home doggie bags of tender bits for midnight snacks. My stomach starts to growl just thinking about it.
"I've been watching you for weeks now, especially your little lunch breaks in that landboat of a car." Great. I was thinking about dating my own murderous, insane stalker. I have terrible taste, not only in food but in men too. At least I'm consistent.
"So use that tiny brain of yours to find out who is the common thread in these deaths. Then I'll leave you and your parents alone and you can go back to eating out of hospital garbage cans." He laughs when I flinch at the mention eating out of garbage cans. They are biohazard bins, moron. I don't eat out of dumpsters!
"Isn't that cute, you're blushing. Go on home to East Aspen Drive and get some rest in that pretty four-poster bed. You've got a busy day ahead of you." Of course, he already knows where I live. I nod assent, my shoulders slumped in defeat. "Good girl. Or rather, good ghoul." He laughs too loud and too long at his pun. I stare daggers at his reddened face. I had never truly hated anyone before, but this evening has been full of revelations.
The first thing that I do when I get home is to deadbolt the door and call a 24 hour locksmith on my landline to change the locks tonight. The jackass kept my cell phone and he's probably going to run up a huge bill on phone sex lines and drunk dials to his buddies, but at least I'm still breathing. I don't have a window in my bedroom, so how would he know that I have a four-poster white wrought iron bed? It came with the apartment, don't judge me.
I call my parents, who are out of the service area again, and leave a message to call me at work in the morning. Mom and dad are going to be a little pissed that they have to move to a new campground, but I'm sure they'll enjoy continuing breathing just as much as I do.
After the locksmith finishes, I draw up the hottest bath that I can stand and pour in half a bottle of bubble gum scented Sudsy Bubbles. My teeth are chattering. I shiver in the steaming hot water with scalding tears flooding down my face. I'm in serious danger and yet I'm relieved. I know what I am now, I know there's more of my kind out there. I'm not alone anymore. The hard, brittle shell of isolation and despair that I built up during years of hiding cracks with every chest wracking sob. I stay in the tub until the bubbles pop and the water is tepid, then crawl into bed to sleep until the start of my shift.