Melissa looked from the gaping wound in her chest to the still-beating heart in her hand, and said, “Fuck.”
There was a blur and the heart was gone, leaving only a bloody palm. Melissa looked up in surprise, and shrieked, covering her naked body with her hands.
The man in front of her was beautiful. Tall, lean and elegantly dressed in a black suit that nearly disappeared against the darkness that involved them both. The heart in his hand was beating faster, spitting blood and staining the suit, but he didn’t care. His blue eyes were on Melissa, examining her, amused.
With a soft, young voice, he said, “Good evening”.
The man patiently waited as Melissa looked around, finding nothing but pitch-black dark. She looked down at her feet, and they seemed to be stepping in vacuum.
Chuckling humorlessly, she said, “This is a dream.” But it didn’t come out nearly as confident as she’d hoped, neither did it make her feel any less vulnerable.
The man nodded in cheerful agreement. “Yes. But not your dream.”
She scowled angrily at him, but her stomach was cold. He frightened her. More threatening and hostile than the utter dark that framed his figure. His smile was sincere, but not directed at anyone but himself.
“Who are you?” she said, trying to be firm. “What did you do to me?”
Instead of answering, he turned his eyes to the heart in his hand, examining it with an expression that deeply unsettled the girl.
“That’s… that’s mine,” she said hesitantly, turning her nude body sideways to keep it as hidden as possible from his view and reaching her hand out to receive the heart. But the man didn’t give it back.
“Yes,” he said happily, his eyes still on the heart, moving it around in his hand like a diamond. “It is.”
Melissa remained frozen in the same position, her outstretched arm waiting to have the heart handed back. But the man stayed where he was. His thumb started caressing it as thought it was a small pet.
“Give it back!” shouted Melissa, but it came out as a desperate plea instead of the command she had intended.
The man seemed amused by her efforts. He smiled even wider when the heart started to beat faster in his grip.
“No,” he said simply.
“Please. Give it back,” she asked, hoping he’d return the politeness.
For the first time, his smile disappeared. “Nice try, but no. I want you to do something for me first.”
“I don’t… I don’t have to do anything for you.”
And the smile returned, like he had been hoping she’d say that.
He raised the heart so she could see it clearly. And squeezed it.
Melissa gasped blood. She collapsed to her knees unable to breathe. She forced herself to look up, beg him to stop, but she couldn’t say a word. He was walking closer, a tall blur to her darkening vision.
She felt his breath on her ear and a terrified scream died in her throat.
“You will do as I say,” he whispered softly.
The man grabbed Melissa’s chin and gently raised her head so she’d look at him.
He showed her the heart, and loosened his grip.
As if emerging from a long time underwater, she collapsed on the unseen dark ground, gasping for air and crying. She felt the man’s hand, wet with her blood, on her shoulder, turning her belly-up. Every hint of a smile gone.
“I want another heart,” said the man softly. “I’ll give you an hour, and there is one more condition: it must be someone you love.”
And that fucking smile came back as he added, “Who can you get to, within the hour? I’ll admit I’m not giving you many choices,” he chuckled briefly to himself.
He sat next to her and stroked her hair softly. She didn’t dare slap his hand away. He let out a disturbing chuckle as if he could sense her wish to hurt him, and at this point she didn’t doubt he could.
“If you fail,” he continued calmly, “I will eat it.”
With those words, he licked her heart. Not only she saw him do it. She could feel his tongue.
“Please,” she begged. “I…”
Melissa’s eyes opened to darkness.
But there was the sound of her ceiling fan, the soft rhythm of Ethan’s breathing next to her, the light sheets over her skin, which, strangely, wasn’t sweaty. Only the fear followed her back to reality, and the relief of awakening didn’t come to ease it.
She quietly slipped out of bed and went to the bathroom, closing the door with as little sound as possible. She switched on the lights, but that didn’t make any difference. Sitting on the edge of the bathtub, Melissa wept in silence, her hand caressing the skin on her chest where, minutes ago, there had been a gaping hole.
Minutes later, with her eyes itching, Melissa still felt like the night was never going to end. She resented Ethan for his failure to wake up and confort her, perfectly aware it was an unfair thing to expect of him, but at the moment she didn’t care. Panting, she leaned down, resting her elbows on her thighs, her hands massaging her neck.
She realized she couldn’t feel the neck pulsing.
Melissa pressed two fingers against her carotid. And then her wrist.
The first call was a mere echo in Ethan’s dreams. The second was loud enough to make him jump out of bed and trip in his hurry to get up in the darkness. He saw the light from beneath the bathroom door as he blinked to clear his vision. “Mel?!” he called.
“Ethan, come here!”
He walked fast into the bathroom. “Sweetie, what happened?” he exclaimed, kneeling in front of her and holding the sides of her tear-washed face.
To his surprise, Melissa grabbed his head and brought it to her chest, forcing his ear against it. “Tell me you hear it. Please,” she pleaded.
“I hear it.”
“What do you hear?”
“Your heart, Mel.”
Melissa grabbed his wrist and put his hand against her neck.
“Do you feel it?”
Ethan furrowed his brow in utter confusion. “Mel, of course I do. Your pulse seems fine. Are you feeling any chest pains…?”
Melissa put her own hand back on her neck.
“I don’t feel it. Ethan, I don’t fucking feel it!”
“Mel, you’re frightened, let’s go back to…”
“I can’t feel my fucking pulse, Ethan! I can’t, I swear to God I fucking can’t!”
She screamed this so loudly Ethan got back on his feet, not knowing what to do. Holding her desperate gaze, he had to accept this was beyond him, and raised his hands for calm.
“Mel, I’m calling doctor Farrow.”
“Don’t leave me!” she begged.
He kneeled in front of her again and held her hands. “I’ll be right in the next room, Mel,” he said softly. “You need a doctor. I won’t be a minute.”
Melissa hesitated, but finally nodded.
“… Okay. Okay.”
Ethan kissed her forehead and left the room. The tears came back in choking gasps. She lowered her head, shut her eyes and interlaced her fingers behind her neck, rocking back and forth in an effort to calm herself. There’ll be a doctor here soon, she tried thinking, but again the image of the man in the darkness continued to be all she could think about.
She opened her eyes and let out a loud moan upon seeing her own skin.
“Oh God,” she muttered. “Oh my God.”
Ethan’s worried voice on the next room was a distant echo to her as she got up from the bathtub and looked at herself in the mirror. Every inch of her skin was pale. It wasn’t just fear. She was chalk-white, almost translucent.
“Mel, the doctor’s coming,” said Ethan, walking back into the bathroom.
She barely heard him. “Ethan, what’s wrong with my skin?”
Looking at her through the mirror, Ethan raised his hands for calm again. “Look, let’s just…”
She furiously turned to face him. “Answer me!”
Ethan dropped his hands down and let out an impatient sigh. “There’s nothing wrong with your skin, Mel!”
“Stop lying to me!! STOP!!”
She grabbed a glass of perfume and tossed it against the mirror. Both broke into pieces, showering the sink in shards and liquid.
“Mel, for God’s sake!!” shouted Ethan, involving her with his arms to stop her from breaking anything else.
“Let me go!! LET ME GO!!”
She pushed Ethan away and grabbed a shard of glass. Ethan stumbled backwards, expecting her to attack him at this point.
He gasped when Melissa slashed her own forearm.
Ethan ran back to her and grabbed her wrist, but she’d dropped the shard already, ignoring his exasperated shouting as she examined the cut on her forearm, waiting for the blood to seep out.
But there was no blood. And it didn’t hurt. At all.
“Mel…” said Ethan, his voice practically begging for some sense. “Mel, please…”
Melissa wasn’t paying attention. The cut was visibly deep. But there was no blood. Several seconds later and there was no pain and not even a fucking drop of blood.
“Mel,” said Ethan, “let me bandage that, please.”
Continuing to ignore him, she kept staring at the dry wound, speechless. Ethan watched her do that for a minute, waiting to see if she’d do anything insane again. Then he opened the cabinet below the sink.
“Where are the fucking bandages…?” he complained, pushing stuff in the cabinet aside while searching. “Ow, FUCK!” he shouted, stepping on a glass shard.
Melissa lowered her arm and looked at him. Why was he acting like this? She’d just cut herself up and there was no blood. She was pale as a corpse. She had no pulse. Why was he acting like this was just a cry for attention? Why was he patronising her like that, lying to her so blatantly, pretending there was no reason for panic?
What would it feel like to have those teeth sink into her heart, if a mere tight grip had managed to hurt so much?
Who among her loved ones could she get to now, with forty or so minutes left…
… but Ethan?
The bathroom lights seemed to dim, and it was like that man was right there with them, staring at a watch, counting down the time with that terrible fucking grin, his other hand holding her heart in anticipation.
Melissa saw a particularly sharp shard sticking out from the sink and grabbed it without thinking.
He turned his head.
He staggered back and hit his head on the wall with sickening force, blood streaming down his bare chest. His legs gave out from under him and he slid down the wall. Sitting there, almost falling over, his hand weakly touched the shard lodged in his Adam’s pome, and he let out a terrified gasp, spitting blood. His wide eyes set upon Melissa’s. He tried to say something. But only faint gurgles came out.
“I’m sorry,” cried Melissa. “I’m so sorry, Ethan.”
He blinked, slowly. When he opened his eyes, they were still looking straight at her. She looked away.
When she turned her eyes back to him, his were still open, but finally gone.
In the faint hope it would eventually sound true, Melissa kept repeating it in her mind. That he’d have done it to himself if he could understand what was going on, if there had been any way to explain it to him. And what felt like an eternity knelt down on the cold floor was no more than a minute. And not for a second of it did it sound true.
His cheek was still warm when Melissa caressed it, knowing what she’d have to do next. It was no longer an option. If she gave up now it had been for nothing. She owed him more than that.
There was still no blood seeping from the cut in her forearm when she wrapped her fingers around the kitchen knife. Her skin looked as dead as before. She didn’t bother checking for a pulse again.
After gently laying Ethan down on the bathroom floor, she knelt next to him and stared at his still chest. It shouldn’t have come as a shock to her, how still it was. But it did. She shut her eyes as if that could help her push the thoughts out of her mind. Failing, she opened them again, and tried instead to concentrate on what she’d have to do.
Very little idea on how to make the incision and on how deep it should be. She remembered how corpses in the morgue had vertical cuts running down the torso, in movies. The bigger the better, perhaps. Melissa placed the blade near the base of Ethan’s neck, put her weight on the handle, and ran it down the torso, shutting her eyes when the blood started to seep out. It took a minute for her to open them again.
Keeping his face out of her field of vision, Melissa gritted her teeth as she stuck two fingers in the cut. It was deep, but didn’t seem deep enough. She hooked her fingers around the edge of his skin tissue, and pulled it to the side. It didn’t stretch too much, but enough for her to see the exposed ribcage.
Melissa felt her insides contract, and made it to the toilet in time. After the vomit, came the tears, once again in gasps. She gave herself a minute and crawled back to Ethan, using the kitchen knife to remove the skin and exposing the ribcage in full. The smell was faint, but strong enough for her to gag. She doubted she could cut through the bone. And she’d done enough damage.
Closing her eyes, Melissa slid her arm underneath the ribcage. Her hand passed through a meaty surface, but she couldn’t close her hand around it. Finally her fingers found a fist-sized organ surrounded tightly by what she presumed, gritting her teeth, to be the lungs. She took as deep a breath as she could with that immense urge to vomit, and pulled with all her strength. But her hand slipped, coming out with nothing but a layer of blood.
She staggered back to the toilet and vomited again. Choking in tears, she collapsed on the cold floor, staring at the ceiling and wishing it would crumble over her. “Get back up, you fucking cunt,” she muttered. “Get on your fucking feet.”
Crawling back to Ethan, she tried again, squeezing the organ with her fingers from every angle she could, and pulling. On the third pull, she could feel it rip free and felt her throat contract again, but held it back.
Slowly, Melissa slid her arm out from under the ribcage, and stared at the heart in her wet hand, blood seeping out of the severed aorta and dripping over Ethan’s open torso.
She gradually realized the cut in her forearm was now hurting.
Melissa pressed her free hand against her neck…
There. There it was.
The bathroom lights seemed to dim again. And this time, they gradually kept dimming until Melissa found herself surrounded by nothing more than that familiar and total darkness.
For a while, just blessed silence. And then, she heard steps. When she turned, she saw him. A horrible grin in his beautiful face, Melissa’s heart pulsing weakly in his grip as he walked up to her.
She examined the still heart in her own hand, barely noticing that her own chest was once again wounded with a large but painless hole.
The man reached for Ethan’s heart. “A fair trade,” he said, satisfied.
Without thinking, Melissa punched him as hard as she could. But once was far from enough. She went for it again, but this time the man grabbed her wrist before it connected. Melissa was shaking in fury, but didn’t move. He drew his face, impassive, closer to hers.
“I’ll let one slide,” he said. “But just one.”
He let go of her hand and rudely snatched Ethan’s heart from her.
Calmly, he held the other, beating heart up, and literally punched Melissa’s chest with it. She stumbled backwards and fell, clutching her thorax.
Laying on the dark ground, she realized her hand was resting on a perfectly intact chest, pulsing with a steady, strong heartbeat.
She didn’t bother getting up again. She just laid there, staring blankly into the darkness. For all she knew, the man was already gone, but she could care less.
Then it occurred to her, and in the faint hope of an answer, she asked weakly.
A few steps were heard. The man appeared in her field of vision, and sat next to her gently, caressing his new heart with his thumb.
“A heart carved out of a loved one in betrayal,” he answered, smiling. “To me, it’s all the sweeter.”
“It should have been me,” she muttered, barely audible. “I should have stuck that shard in my neck.”
“If you truly believed that,” said the man, “you wouldn’t have killed him.”
He got back on his feet and licked the heart with delight. He closed his eyes and savored the taste before continuing.
“But you will truly wish it had been you when you wake up strapped to a bed in a cell, doped up on three different medications. While Ethan has gone into blissful inexistence, you’ll still be trapped in life, with no way out.”
He leaned down on her.
“So if you really believe you should have suffered instead of him, don’t worry,” he grinned. “You will.”
He turned around and walked away, his steps gradually vanishing until everything was silent.
Except for the faint beat of a heart.