Hello, folks... Periodically, I would like to post some of my short fiction here for you edification and/or nausea, and here I begin that trend with a grisly little tale of love and cannibalism: Hungry. I hope you enjoy it.
(Obviously, all rights reserved, do not copy/paste this anywhere, it's copyrighted and I'll be very, very cross with you if you do anything untoward.)
Despite having spent an entire childhood hanging his head in shame and loneliness due to a lifetime of chubbiness, a growth spurt the summer of his fourteenth birthday had blessed Matthew with an altogether new body. It was as though god heard his prayer and fulfilled his most earnest wish––almost overnight, he was tall and thin and even more than a little handsome. That Fall Matthew commenced his high school career with a confidence he never knew was possible. He held his head high in the hallways for the first time, and the other kids took notice. His old junior high buddies were confused, his former antagonists were impressed, and several fresh young girls recognized his existence as though they had never seen him before, which they probably had not.
It was like a dream; the best damn dream Matthew ever had. By the second semester of his freshman year, he scored a lead role in the school play––Mortimer in Arsenic and Old Lace––and actually turned the coach down when he asked Matthew to try out for the basketball team. He might not have been fat anymore, but he still loathed sports and just anyone who participated in them. Thinness did not change everything.
One thing it did change, however, was his relationship to the opposite sex. Just a year earlier, a blink of the eye on a cosmic scale, the only response he could ever elicit from a girl was laughter or contempt. Now they smiled at him. Genuine, entirely non-ironic smiles that conveyed interest in who he was and what he might come to think of them. Initially he played it cool. He maintained a veneer of indifference, a mask to conceal his persistent shyness. But that was before the party that followed the final performance of the play where Jacquie Koegler, Elaine to his Mortimer, dragged him into the garage for a half-hour make-out session. Looking back, Matthew would come to consider that the spark that lit the fuse.
Matthew and Jacquie had a thing for a while, a sort of hand-holding, necking, over the clothes foreplay kind of thing, but that came crashing down toward the end of summer. The longer these little private games went on, the more he wanted to advance them to the next level. Squeezing her small, pointy breasts through both sweater and bra had been nice at the beginning, but it was growing old and stale. There was more they could be doing, much more. And the more insistent Matthew became about it, the more upset Jacquie got in response. She wanted to wait until she was eighteen. He did not want to wait another day.
So he didn’t. When she showed up unannounced on his fifteenth birthday, he told her to get back in her car and go the hell away. Jacquie left in tears and Matthew began his systematic search for the easiest girls in school. Sarah was the first: an awkward, sweaty fumbling that took place in the backseat of her father’s station wagon. Matthew was so excited about it that he told nearly everyone in school the following term. Her reputation irreversibly ruined, Sarah transferred to another school district and Matthew never heard from her again. He never thought about her, either. By then he had gone from Jennifer to Tara to Candace, back to Tara and onto Emily, Sophie, and that red-haired girl from Delaware whose name he could not recall. He became more daring and pushy with each new experience, aware of the fact that for every girl who said No there were four more out there that were bound to say Yes.
Adolescence was glorious for Matthew. Whatever lay beyond that was the most inconsequential thing in the universe. All that mattered to him was the next lay, and whether or not he was going to experience something new and audacious, maybe even something no one had ever tried before.
He grew his hair long and pierced his ears. He acted disaffected and hip as hell and started smoking. He never had another girlfriend after Jacquie because commitment was nowhere when there were a thousand girls out there he had not yet tried.
Matthew turned eighteen the summer after graduation. Most of the kids he knew moved away, went to college, joined the service. The rest of them stuck around and took low-paying jobs, got apartments. A few went and got hitched. Matthew stayed at home, unemployed and disaffected in a very real way. Adolescence was at its twilight, a harsh reality he could do nothing about, and he was growing bitter about it. So he whittled the next year away in his room, alternately watching cable TV and reading paperbacks. And he ate. He ate a lot.
* * *
Corn chips with cheese dip, chocolate Ding-a-Lings, soda pop and beer. Ice cream when his mother brought it home from the supermarket, which was about once a week. He made sundaes replete with peanuts, chocolate chips, chocolate syrup and a ring of cookies around the three densely packed scoops in the bowl. Double layer nachos were another favorite, whereby he arranged a layer of corn chips on a serving plate, topped it with cheese and hamburger meat and jalapeños, and then repeated the process. He ate hot dogs three and four at a time and never got going in the morning until he had a full breakfast of fried eggs, bacon, hash browns with ketchup and heavily buttered toast.
Matthew ate and he drank and he smoked. Occasionally the telephone would ring and rarely did he assent to a visit from some old acquaintance, provided that they did not cramp his style and brought their own chow. Once, around Christmas, Tara called him up. She said she had been thinking about him and wondered what he was up to. She was preparing to move to Los Angeles, she said, and thought it would be nice to see Matthew before she left. It might have been an opportunity, perhaps even an invitation, but one look at the tower of polish sausages on the plate in front of him was enough to convince Matthew that he did not desire any companionship. He wished her a nice life and hung up the phone. After he finished off the sausages, he devoured a heaping sundae before waddling out to the back porch for a smoke. He fell asleep with the third cigarette in a row burning down to the filter in the ashtray.
* * *
At the end of his first year of legal adulthood, Matthew’s mother kicked him out of the house. He bummed around friends’ couches for a few weeks, but then the money ran out and he was hungry. Being essentially homeless was one thing, but missing meals was something else altogether. So Matthew took the first job he was offered, became a desk clerk at the interstate motel on the west side of town, and two weeks later he had his own place.
It was a crummy place, small and dirty and infested with cockroaches, but Matthew did not mind. It was a place to sleep. He spent most of his waking hours behind the front desk of the motel, anyway. That was where he met Carla.
She was tall and lean, her skin brown like tea and her eyes big and inviting. The first time he saw her, she was following a middle-aged slob in a trucker hat to the elevator, sashaying as she turned to wink at Matthew before the steel doors slid shut. He was not stupid––he knew what she was about and he expected he would see her again.
In fact, Matthew saw Carla quite a lot after that, two or three times a week. She always gave him a wink on her way to the elevator. Eventually, some four or five weeks into his job, Carla stopped at the front desk after her john went on his way. She wore pink leggings under a pair of tight cut-offs and an open back halter top that clung to her massive fake breasts. Nice, but not quite enough to sustain Matthew’s attention when there was a double bacon cheeseburger and a translucent bag of French fries in front of him.
“I’m Carla,” she said between gum-smacks.
Carla smiled wryly and spit her gum out into her hand.
“Yeah? How you know that?”
“Javier told me.”
Javier was the night janitor and, according to him, an occasional client of Carla’s. Upon hearing his name, she gave a short laugh.
“Javier,” she said. “That fucking guy.”
Matthew nodded and stuffed a handful of fries into his mouth.
“At fuh’ing ‘uy,” he agreed.
Carla arched one well-plucked eyebrow and smiled from one side of her mouth.
“You can sure pack away some food, huh?”
Matthew swallowed hard and narrowed his eyes at her. A hundred nasty retorts flooded through his mind but he did not utter any of them. He only stared daggers at her until she took the hint and slinked off.
* * *
Food was becoming a problem for Matthew. Things that used to taste wonderful were losing their thrall. Worse than that, even the heartiest, fattiest foods failed to sate his demanding hunger. He was unabashed in devouring six prepackaged frozen dinners over the course of a single night shift, refusing to pay any mind to Javier’s astonishment at his persistent appetite and expanding torso. The following night he ate seven of them. He had to force himself to repress his gag reflex, choking back barbequed chicken medallions and apple cobblers and one cheese covered potato spear after another. They all tasted like cardboard marinated on a public men’s room floor, but he swallowed every bite. Yet it was all to no avail. Matthew was still hungry.
Carla winked, glided into the elevator and went up for a session with a sour faced black kid who looked more afraid than tough. An hour later the kid went through the lobby with his hands stuffed in his pockets, doing everything in his power to avoid eye contact with Matthew. A moment after that, Carla appeared in front of him, her blonde-tipped brown hair a shambles and her make-up smeared all over her face like a Jackson Pollack.
She was loaded.
Matthew shifted uncomfortably in his chair, plunged his hand into an economy sized bag of cheese doodles, and watched Carla sway back and forth as he shoved the orange-powdered curls in his mouth.
“You wanta go?” she slurred.
“Upstairs, dummy.” She cupped her small hands under her breasts and heaved them up. “You want summa this, fat boy?”
Matthew ducked his head like a disapproving parent.
“I’m not paying you for sex,” he said.
He meant it. Ever since high school Matthew had gradually lost all interest in sex. It was not guilt; he did not feel one iota of pity for the girls he’d duped into bed during his magnificent teenage years. He simply could not be bothered with that sort of thing anymore. It did not satisfy him.
“Who’s paying?” Carla said, a little too loudly. “C’mon up. I’ll show ya how’s it done. On the house.”
Matthew looked at Carla’s amplified cleavage, still hoisted up with her hands, and then back down to his cheese powder stained fingers. The cheese doodles failed to satisfy him, too.
He plugged his thumb in his mouth and sucked the salty powder off, followed by the rest of his fingers, one by one. All the while he considered Carla’s alcohol-fueled proposal. It had been a long time since last he’d laid a girl. A good two years and somewhere in the neighborhood of eighty pounds ago. Matthew could almost hear his dead father’s voice, upbraiding him from beyond the grave: You aren’t queer, are you?
Matthew wiped his slimy fingers off on his slacks and scooted back in the chair. Carla smiled, but it looked more like a sneer. She gestured with her hand and cooed, “Come on, then.”
Matthew got up and quietly followed her across the lobby to the elevator.
* * *
In the nine weeks since he began working at the motel, Matthew had never once set foot in any of its twenty-four rooms. He had no reason to––Javier and Maria cleaned them up and there was a contracted, on-call maintenance guy for when the toilets overflowed or the water wouldn’t come on. The only thing they paid Matthew for was checking the rooms out and maintaining some semblance of order in the lobby and front parking lot. Mostly he just ate and tried not to nod off. Once or twice he’d brought some porn up on the internet, but predictably he attained no pleasure from it.
Carla always used the same room, number 24 on the second story at the end of the hall. She had her own key and Matthew never gave it to anyone else. It was an arrangement between her and the boss; Matthew just sort of got sucked into it. Now, standing in the doorway to the infamously licentious room, he considered that arrangement and what perks the boss doubtlessly reaped from it. That, in turn, led him to wonder if the boss had in fact instructed Carla to play this stupid reprobate game. Give the lardass a whirl, it’ll thrill his huge pants off.
The notion sent shockwaves of hot anger through his body. As far as Matthew was concerned, he refrained from sex because he was uninterested, not because he was fat and, possibly, unattractive to the opposite sex. That anyone would ambush him like this and consider it a kindness was enough to make him scream.
He did not scream, though. He merely shut the door, latched the guard chain and stood there in silence to see what happened next. Carla smiled lamely and staggered over to the unmade bed. Javier and Maria never entered the room, either. Cleaning it up was entirely up to Carla.
“C’mon,” she said, patting the bed with one hand while fumbling with the buttons on her cut-offs with the other. “Siddown.”
Matthew did as he was told. The thin, soiled mattress creaked noisily beneath his weight. Carla wiggled her hips until the cut-offs dropped down to her ankles, stepped out of them and then started working on her halter top. Matthew had never seen anyone have this much trouble getting undressed.
“Aren’t you gunna get your clothes off?” she asked.
“It’s a little cold in here.”
“I’ll warm you up.”
“There’s a lot of me to warm up and not a lot of you to do it.”
Carla screwed up her face, trying to process that one and from the look of her gaping mouth and narrowed eyes, it was not working out so well for her.
“I mean I’m fat,” he explained.
“I don’t mind. I’ve fucked fat guys. I just do it on top, you know?”
She laughed a little at that, but Matthew did not find it particularly funny. When Carla finally got her bra unhooked, she made a diving stance with her arms and let slide right off. Matthew frowned at her naked breasts. They stood at permanent attention and he figured that they were too far apart and looked like she had stuffed a couple of softballs into them.
“You like em?” Carla asked.
Matthew shrugged indifferently.
“Five thousand bucks I got here,” she said, once again hoisting her breasts with her hands. She made them out to be her pride and joy. Matthew could think of a lot of better ways to spend four grand.
“That’s a lot,” he said.
“Still payin’ it off, but that’s what this place is for, right?”
“I guess so.”
“Get outta your clothes, now. Let’s get to it.”
She sloughed off her panties and performed an awkward tiger crawl across the bed to him, fighting to keep her balance all the way. Unsurprisingly, her breasts did not sway at all. Matthew sighed. He was beginning to wish he never followed her up there in the first place. All the same, he did as she asked and pulled his shirt up over his head.
“Attaboy,” Carla cooed.
He unbuckled his belt, unbuttoned his doodle-streaked trousers, and let them fall to the floor. Carla kneeled beside him on the bed, rubbing her cold, dry hands all over his flabby torso and making weird moaning sounds that were anything but alluring. The only thing about her that he liked was her perfume, but she wore too much of it.
“Boxers, too,” she admonished him.
He obeyed, bending over with some difficulty to push his underwear down. Now they were both stark naked, he and Carla––her with the unpleasantly bad boob job and him with the small, flaccid penis he could not see for his own massive stomach. He sighed again, wondering what had possessed him to come up there when he knew damn well what he was in for. Shame and disappointment.
It got worse from there. Carla reached out with both hands and began fumbling with Matthew’s sex, tugging and rubbing and rolling it around like she was trying to make a worm out of clay. The muscles in his stomach and shoulders tensed up and he knitted his brow. A minute later Carla released him and gazed at his penis with bewilderment.
“Nothing?” she growled.
That was about the size of it. Nothing at all.
His stomach rumbled.
Carla leaned back against the headboard and frowned. She was still glaring at Matthew’s limp penis like it was some complex puzzle that needed figuring out. Matthew felt like crying. All he wanted now was to get out of room 24 as quickly as possible and go find something to eat. Something good, something that might finally stave off the hunger. He thought that maybe if he was not so goddamned hungry then something might have happened between him and Carla.
He reached down, grabbed his boxers by the gradually weakening elastic and pulled them back up to his waist. Carla let out a snort.
“I’m going to get back to work,” he said lamely.
“Yeah,” she said. She was sobering up now, her face a mask of dejection and humiliation. “You do that.”
* * *
He lay awake most of the morning, listening to the cockroaches skitter inside the walls and worrying about the pain in his abdomen. When he got back to his apartment around six AM, he had made two hoagie sandwiches with provolone, pepperoni, salami, mustard and mayonnaise. They tasted like the back of a postage stamp and left him hungrier than ever. Around nine he started to cry. He did not know what he was going to do.
* * *
The lobby phone rang at a quarter to midnight. The LED readout on the little gray screen informed Matthew that the call was coming from room 24. He groaned and stared at the phone, waiting for it stop ringing. It didn’t, and he picked up on the fourteenth ring.
“I need help,” Carla weakly complained. “Can you come up here, please?”
“Kind of busy,” Matthew lied.
“It’s serious,” she said. “Please come when you can.”
Matthew grumbled and cursed under his breath, but he went up anyway.
She was bent over on the edge of the bed, sobbing into her hands. The room smelled musty and astringent, like sweat and liquor. It was only when Matthew sat down on the mattress beside her that he realized that Carla had been cut up pretty badly. A dozen or more seeping red lines adorned her arms, her neck and her face. He gently took her left arm and turned it over. Her palm was split open, too. She had tried to defend herself and got slashed for her trouble. Matthew made a clicking noise with his tongue.
“Is he gone?”
She nodded. Her face was a mess of streaked mascara and tears and blood.
“You want me to call the police?”
“No,” Carla said softly. “They won’t do anything. Not for me.”
Matthew frowned, realizing that she was probably right. People who got hurt during the commission of a crime did not tend to elicit much sympathy from cops.
With a heavy sigh he lifted himself up, waddled over to the bathroom and ran cold water over a washcloth. Then he returned to Carla’s side and gently dabbed at her wounds, washing the dried blood away. She winced. And the wounds started to bleed anew.
“There’s a first aid kit in the office,” he said. “Take me five minutes to go get it and come back.”
He started to rise, but Carla tugged at his sleeve to bring him back down.
“No, not yet. Please just sit here a minute.”
“Got to stop that bleeding.”
“I know. But just a minute. I won’t bleed to death or anything.”
He sat back down and looked at her. She did not look back. It was an awkward moment; he did not know what to say. He wanted to ask who the guy was and what set him off, maybe he was just a psycho who liked to cut women up, but he kept his mouth shut. There wasn’t any benefit in analyzing the thing right then and there. She just needed the company, he reckoned.
Gently wrapping his heavy arm around her back, Matthew drew Carla into him. She buried her face in his chest, cried a little more and, after they flattened out on the bed, she fell asleep. Matthew listened to her breath in and out for a while, and it turned out to be the first thing to successfully lull him to sleep in a long, long time.
* * *
The furious roaring of his stomach woke him up with a start. He glanced at the digital alarm clock on the nightstand and blinked until the glowing red numbers came into focus. Half past two in the morning and he was supposed to be at his desk. Not too many people came into the lobby at that hour on a Wednesday––or was it Thursday now? ––but still.
Matthew sucked in a deep breath and stared at the yellow, banana-shaped water stain on the ceiling. He could have eaten fifty bananas and he knew he would still be hungry when he was done. This was not the first time it occurred to him that life had lost all its appeal, all of its rewards and pleasures. He was merely going through the motions at this point, like a cockroach that did not even know it was alive. It just did as it was programmed to do––eat, shit, sleep, breed. None of which enticed Matthew in the least.
He supposed the cockroach probably had a more gratifying existence than he did.
Carla shifted, moaned softly. She flung her arm over Matthew’s stomach and nuzzled her face into his neck. Matthew shivered slightly as she lightly kissed him, wondering if she was still asleep, if she was dreaming that she was with somebody else entirely. Someone thinner, more handsome; someone who could give her what she wanted. She moaned again and moved her hand up to his face, cradling his fleshy jowls with her soft, wounded palm.
Matthew turned his head so that his lips brushed against Carla’s hand. His stomach growled again and his abdomen cramped. The prickly stubble on his face had scratched away some of the soft scab of the cut and it was beading up with bright red droplets.
He darted his tongue out and licked the blood.
His mouth watered at the sweet, metallic taste of it. Carla kissed him on the neck again, hard and lingering. The wound continued to well up and Matthew lapped it up over and over again. And Carla kept on kissing him, making loud smacking sounds and quiet, sensual groans.
“Are you awake?” he whispered.
Carla said, “Don’t stop.”
* * *
The day before Matthew’s twentieth birthday he received an unexpected phone call from Tara. She wanted to wish him a happy birthday and see how he was doing and tell him all about the baby she just had with her new husband who was off in Korea with the Army. It was an awkward conversation but not at all unpleasant, and they were both sincere when they expressed well wishes and said goodbye. Matthew hung the phone up with a smile. Then he brushed his teeth and got dressed and went in to work.
He did not much mind working on his birthday, although his shift started at midnight so he guessed it was not technically his birthday anymore, anyway. It was a slow night, only three check-ins, none of them remarkable in any way. Just a few weary travelers stopping over on their way to wherever. By four A.M. Matthew had not seen another human being in an hour and a half. The quiet was making him feel a bit lonely. The thundering in his expansive belly reminded him that he was hungry, too.
Fortunately for Matthew, there was a single solution to both problems.
He got up, rounded the front desk, and headed for the elevator. He rode up the second floor, walked down to the end of the hallway and shoved his key into the lock at room 24.
Carla sat in the wingback chair by the heating unit, smoking a cigarette and patiently waiting for him. A broad smile spread across her face when he came into the room. The scars on her face had healed quite nicely; Matthew could barely see them anymore. She was radiant. Beautiful. He returned the smile as he shut and locked the door.
She did not get up to hug him––she’d already unstrapped the prosthetic leg and leaned it up against the bed. It got a bit uncomfortable after a while, so Carla liked to keep it off when she did not need it. The tissue around the stump, about four inches above where her knee used to be, was not as smooth and colorless as some of her other scar tissue, but that was only because Matthew was not quite finished with it yet. There was still good meat there, around her fleshy thigh, before he would get to work on her remaining leg.
He crossed the room and leaned down for a kiss. She pressed her full lips tightly against his and they kissed deeply for a while. He ran his thick fingers through her hair while their tongues met and mutually explored, exposing the gnarled strip on the left side of her head where there used to be an ear. Matthew had eaten it raw, cartilage and all. Carla reached around and touched him with her three-fingered hand. He had taken the ring and pinky fingers at her request, leaving her enough dexterity with which to operate on a semi-normal basis. He gently kissed the tips of her remaining digits, playfully snapping his teeth at them as though he meant to bite them off. Carla giggled and gave Matthew a teasing shove.
“I missed you,” she said.
“I love you,” he replied. “My little sweet-meat.”
Matthew then lifted her up and carried her over to the bed. He undressed her, slowly and sensually, and then he undressed himself. They made love, moving in rhythmic harmony with one another, climaxing at the same time.
When they were done, Matthew took a hot shower while Carla waited on the bed and smoked another cigarette. Steam rose from his naked body in curling wisps as he came back into the room, toweling off. Carla was beaming, her big brown eyes taking him all in, loving him wholly. Stubbing her cigarette out in the ashtray with one hand, she held up the rubber tourniquet in the other. His knife gleamed on top of the comforter beside her, clean and ready.
“Are you hungry, baby?” she purred.
Matthew grinned, nodded, and went to work.
Copyright © 2011 by Ed Kurtz