Hunger Pains – Part 2: Twenty Years Lost

“Care for some complimentary peanuts sir?” she asked.

“Sir?”

Brice turned his head from the small window. The young overly excited flight attendant waited patiently for an answer that Brice was slow to give. She held a smile on her face. She had a glow to her. It was a glow that many years of labor dims over time. She must be new. Nobody is this happy at work.

“Peanuts? Isn’t this first class? How about a Tequila sunrise?”

“Oh!” she said surprised.

Great job Brice. Sound like an a*****e, and a drunk right off the rip, he thought to himself. Still, she held her smile. She was professional.

“Yes sir. It’s five O-Clock somewhere right?” she giggled.

Brice wasn’t amused. He smiled out of courtesy. He hated that saying. “The largest glass you have please. Thank you.” he softly said.

He turned his head back toward the window. The cotton white clouds floating in a sea of blue promised optimistic opportunities for people who shared such views of the world. The plane hummed and vibrated softly as it fought against the wind around them.

James had given him his address in a text message. They haven’t spoken since. Brice didn’t want to anyway. There were so many questions, to many questions that needed to be asked. He wanted to go home. He had no interest in reuniting with his former childhood friends. There was a sense of dread so thick, it was palpable.

They shared a secret. One that Brice had almost forgotten about until he heard his voice. It was deeper than he remembered, but he knew. How could he forget? Brice buried it so deep it felt like a bad dream. He figured as long as he stayed far away from them, he’d never have to remember ever again.

The moment he heard the long forgotten voice from his past life, the memories came flooding in like a broken dam. The most vivid of them, were of Morgan, eating, chewing against the soft orange glow of the fire. The shame in her eyes was nightmarish. The glistening on her lips, and then there was the unforgiving taste of human meat. A wave of nausea overwhelmed him.

He swallowed hard, and cringed at the memory. The worst of it was the fact that had he not known what he was eating, he would have enjoyed it. Loved it even. He chalked it up to his body loving anything at that point. I mean, he was starving. He didn’t really enjoy it. Right? No. No way.

He couldn’t deny a darkness that lurked over him since. It was like a cloud that followed him wherever he went. It haunted him, reminding him of his frowned upon act no matter how many good deeds he had done to make up for it.

Donate to charity? Great! Give yourself a pat on the back Bricey boy, but remember that time you ate your friend? Stay late to help solve a murder case for the grief stricken family? You’re a good man for doing that Bricey boy, but remember Dillon’s eyes? Do you remember how mutilated his corpse was? Yeah… Yeah you do.

The guilt was like a noose around his neck, tightening every time he woke from a nightmare glazed with cold sweat. It’s going to be the death of you Brice. What’s worse, the fact you ate human meat, or the fact you hide it behind the pleasantries of daily life? There isn’t enough Ativan in the world that can numb a guilty heart.

Then there was a sick sense of humor that dark cloud often Teased him with. It just needed a little salt. Welcome back to Cooking with Ryland. How morbid. This isn’t funny. It’s sick. You’re sick Brice. You need help. Don’t blame yourself it says to him. It was life or death. But you enjoyed it. Didn’t you? Has the taste of human flesh somehow tapped you into some primal state of mind?

Do you want more? Then why do you salivate when you carefully carve into a fresh cadaver? Instinct? No. Something is wrong. Brice can feel it. The flight attendant returned with a large glass of orange juice, and a travel size bottle of Tequila. She smiled at him, and flashed a second bottle gripped within her palm. She winked as if doing something wrong. A little extra to take the edge off. Had he looked that rough? He nodded to her, and eagerly took them both.

He pushed the orange juice aside, and downed the first bottle in seconds. The flight attendant passed his seat a third time, making rounds as he finished the second. She glared back at him, and chuckled. She liked his behavior. What was it with young woman and bad boys? Why do they encourage such self destruction? She confused rebellion with self sorrow.

Brice then pushed the headache from his eye sockets with his thumbs. He had to mentally prepare for the sudden get together. He had a feeling there would be no nostalgic bonding. The ultimate question was obvious. What did James mean when he had said Dillon was still alive? It couldn’t have been literal. Or was it some sick joke? Maybe a ploy to get them to reunite. James was always the social one in the group. He wouldn’t do that.

Brice felt bad for his wife. Amy was so confused when he flew around the room packing the bare necessities for his trip. He was vague with her. Told her it was important he left. He had left out why but did tell her where. He was going home, back to Maine. James moved back to Portland. It was a surprise. He had figured none of them would return after that.

Brice tugged at his tie. He knew a suit wasn’t necessary for this type of trip. He had grown accustomed to his formal attire. He felt off in a T-shirt and jeans now. It was also a reminder of how far he had come. He earned those nice paychecks he received. He worked hard for them.

“Business or pleasure?” The young flight attendant asked, startling Brice.

“Oh.. Um… Neither actually.” he replied.

“Must be getting ready for something.” she said, pointing to the empty bottles on his tray.

“Yes something. Nothing good I’m sure.”

“Ever been to Portland before? It’s really pretty.”

“I have yes. I was raised in Portland. I’m meeting up with some people I grew up with.”

“Oh. I take it you’re not happy about it. Hope the extra bottle helps some.” she said. She turned to leave, and then stopped herself. She appeared nervous.

“So… I don’t usually do this but… I actually live in Portland. This is my last trip for the day. Do you maybe want to grab a coffee while you’re here?”

Brice was surprised. It wasn’t often he was advanced by flight attendants on his business travels, although it did happen to some. He figured the fancy clothes, and first class expenses made the younger females go crazy. Although his coworkers loved it Brice was careful. He wasn’t the type to stray. It wasn’t worth it.

He smiled, and flashed his ring to her. She blushed, waved the blonde hair from her eyes, and leaned down out of earshot. “I don’t care if you don’t.” she said.

“I’m humbled… Really… But my wife would kill me.” Brice said.

She reached into her flight vest, and removed a notepad. She scribbled on it, and then handed it over to him. “Well… Here’s my address, you know, just in case you get bored.”

He looked down at the sloppy handwriting. Jessica was her name. She continued her rounds as the Captain announced their arrival. Ten minutes out. He was home. Out the window, the daily local community looked like ants all moving in a synchronized pattern. He never thought he’d lay a single finger in Portland again. Yet here he was.

Although first class was vacated first, Brice decided to wait until all the passengers got off the plane. He knew the moment he stepped off the plane, everything became real. He had spent his whole life ignoring the sharp mental sting in his mind. Now he was walking into it.

He sat there watching an older couple shuffle off the deck. He felt Jessica staring at him, and ignored it. The look on her eyes were that of a lost school girl. Easy target. He could if he wanted to. He could pretend to be interested in her life while he sipped a black coffee. But why? S*x was the last thing on his mind.

No Brice wanted something else. He couldn’t pin it. He had a desire to explore something else. It was a feeling so deep in him it had grown roots inside his brain stem. He could smell the cheap perfume on her from a mile away. She was also wearing cosmetic cream, or maybe scented lotion. Brice started to salivate. He realized he was hungry. He needed to eat.

“Hope you enjoy your stay.” she said with a wave as he made his way down the ramp.

“Thanks Jessica.” Brice smiled back.

No. He would leave the urge to engage behind him. He had other ordeals to deal with. As always he was last to find his leather suitcase at baggage claim. The tequila helped him not care. A quick burger from the airport grill, and he’d be on his way.

Medium rare he had told the cook. Odd, was it the burger, or had his preferences changed? Next time he’ll ask for rare. Yeah. Rare sounded better. More flavor.

Outside the airport, people made their way to cars, hugging family members and loading luggage. Brice stood there taking in the Maine Air. It smelled different to him. He picked up a scent of coconut, and realized it came from the hair of a beautiful brunette beside him. She was waiting for her ride. He could smell a mist in the air. Wet asphalt. It must have rained recently.

Again he started to salivate. Was he hungry again? The burger he practically inhaled must not have been enough. It was bland to him. Needed salt. A shiver shot down his spine at that thought. Dillon. No. He would not think of such things. He needed to prepare for his meeting.

“Dr Miller?” A young man called out.

Brice turned his attention to a young black male. He was dressed in white button down, with a pressed black jacket. His black slacks ended at polished dress shoes. He was holding a sign with Brice’s name on it.

“Yes. That’s me.” Brice said, with a confused look on his face.

“I’m leroy sir. I’m your driver.”

“There must be a mistake. I didn’t schedule a driver.”

“Uh. No. No sir you didn’t. A Mr James did. He said you’d be here, and I was instructed to pick you up.”

“In a Limo?” Brice laughed.

Leroy didn’t share his amusement. “Yes sir.” he said.

“Well… OK then Leroy. Where we heading?”

“Pine Estates”

“The Pine Estates?” Brice asked shocked.

“Yes sir.” He said taking his bags.

James must be doing well. Pine Estates was the rich part of town. A slight ping of anger washed over him as he climbed in. It smelled of leather Polish, and pine trees. This ride must have cost a pretty penny. F*****g sell out. Brice thought. A Limo? Really James? How quaint. Had James turned into a pushover in his older age?

This wasn’t the James he knew. He remembers a time him and James would get drunk off of Mad dog 20/20, and sneak into Rich neighborhoods pretending to be like them. They’d watch uppity residents walking their poodles from a distance and lip sync fake conversations, and then laugh at their arrogant postures. They were cardboard cut outs, hardly real at all. This wasn’t how normal people behaved when they weren’t being watched. Right?

Brice had money as well. You’d never see him walking a poodle. Hell he still eats from Tupperware containers, an old habit from his days of youth. Amy would scold his habits. No Brice. We have a lot of money now. This makes us better people. Didn’t you know money transforms even the most single minded ball scratcher into a sophisticated aristocrat? It doesn’t have to make sense.

The drive was long. Brice had rolled up the divider window. He wasn’t interested in small talk with the driver. He’d compensate such rude behavior with a heavy tip instead. He peered out the window, and watched the trees pass by. Then for the first time he thought of her. Morgan. Oh my god Morgan! He was going to see Morgan again!

His heart started beating from his chest. It had been so long. Why was he so suddenly nervous at the thought? Why does it matter? Her smile flashed in front of his face. Her beautifully sculpted n**e body rolling over on it’s stomach on his bed laughing, and throwing popcorn into his mouth returned to him. She was so perfect it hurt. The softness of her touch, it was as if her skin were made of velvet.

F**k me Brice, She’d say. Her eyes peering deeply into his soul. F**k me. Her lips carving the words from her breath in a silky smooth tone. It was a soul lifting melody to hear those particular words escape her breath. He had memorized every muscle movement of her lips when she had said it.

He felt an erection growing. Stop it Brice! What are you doing?! You’re married you moron! It was only habit. No need to be ashamed. It was natural. It didn’t mean anything. This was just his body reacting to an old crush. She was after all, the girl who took his innocence from him. He would always be grateful for that.

Then suddenly the dark cloud intervened his fantasy. Morgan. Her beautiful milky skin had dulled. Her eyes dark and sunken in, starving. Her lips, dry and cracked against the orange glow of the fire. Her bouncy healthy hair, drenched in sweat, matted down against her face. The tears. The bitter tears of death as they held eachother at the mercy of the darkness. The cold sound of death cracking in their ears. Death wasn’t pretty. Death wasn’t forgiving. Death was cold, angry, painful, and frightening.

She had told him she loved him. Remember Brice? She told you she would choose you, should she chose a life of monogamy. Death has a funny way of revealing the true nature of a person just before the bitter end. A small window is open to the soul before the final flicker of life’s glow escapes into the darkness forever. He had seen hers that night. In those final moments he only cried. Said nothing to her in return remember Brice?

They had survived. Sure. It was only a taste of death. They had seen its face together that night, felt it’s grip reeling them in. They shared that together. Although he lived, he felt a small piece of him died on that cold wooden cabin floor. Had a piece of her died as well? Had they died together? Was this why Brice felt such a strong unspoken bond with her, even after all these years? What would she say to him after so long? What could you say?

He loved Amy. Cherished her, but Amy had only known the new Brice. She only knew what Brice allowed her to know. Morgan. She knew the darkness. She knew the part of him that died that night. She knew the part of him that was gone, and would never return. Even if he told Amy everything, she could only sympathize with it. She wasn’t living with it like Morgan was. This wasn’t fair for Amy. She never had a chance to know all of Brice. Brice understood this. So he made a point to always be faithful to Amy. It was the least he could do. It wasn’t her fault he was broken.

Brice shook away such dark thoughts. He placed his head against the window, and let the sweet melody of the rubber tires grinding over pavement lull him to sleep.

…………………………………………………………………………….

There was a field. On this field, and rooted into the dry soil were flowers. Rows of dead stems without pedals lay scattered about. Brown grass blanketed the field, swaying against the cold breeze. A dark rotted oak tree occupied the center of this field. It’s branches reached out like crooked broken fingers of an old widow. It was naked of leaves. The sky above looked down upon this field in a gray hue. Black clouds promised rain. There was an erie stillness. It was unnaturally quiet.

To the right of the oak tree lie a large square block of cement, and on it, were remnants of sloppy colored chalk sketches of stick figures, and hopscotch squares. What was left of a piece of green chalk rolled off the cement, and onto the dead grass with the last passing breeze.

Brice stood there in that field. He was looking out at its border, trying to understand where he was, and how he got there. An abandoned building lay North of the oak tree. It’s windows busted out. It’s double doors were thick with rusted hinges, and chipped paint. The handles were chained shut, and padlocked. An old bike rack was bent at its frame, and lay useless in front of the door. Debris, and trash, mixed with leaves blew across the cracked cement walkway that led to the front door.

The chain linked fence lined the building to the right, and wrapped around a playground. Weeds had grown, and wrapped around the links like tubeworms growing from the earth. There was no signs of life, only small footprints carved into the offwhite sand in the playground.

Brice took a step forward, and realized he made no sound as his foot stepped through the dead grass in the field. The only sound came from the oak tree. It barked out a rhythmic squeak. Brice quickly realized it was the sound of a chain as it was swinging. A little girl was swinging in a makeshift swing underneath the largest branch of the oak tree.

Her hair was as dark as the tree. Her face pale, and void of any emotion. She looked like a ceramic doll as she moved her legs in and out, with an almost robotic fashion. Her clothes were of a common school ground uniform, with a short black skirt, and knee high socks. A black vast covered a white shirt underneath.

Her Beady small eyes looked distant, and sad as Brice approached her. She continued to stare, and softly swing, letting her shoes scrape against the dirt with each pass she made. As he neared, she stopped. She looked up at him softly.

“I can’t dream.” she bellowed. Her low growl betrayed her youthful face.

“Excuse me?” Brice asked her, confused.

“I can’t dream mister. I can’t dream.” this time, her voice was soft, and sad, and more like the little girl she appeared to be.

“I don’t understand.” Brice said.

“YOU ATE MY DREAMS!!!!” she screamed at him.

Brice jumped back, startled, and to afraid to speak.

“DREAM EATER!” “DREAM EATER!” “DREAM EATER!” she chanted, each time her voice growing lower, and lower, until it was to deep to understand anymore.

She leaned her head forward from the swing, and the top of her cranium slid off, and hit the dirt with a sickening wet thud. Brice screamed out in utter horror as he watched long strands of blood trickle down her forehead, and down her milky white face. Her brain protruded from the top of her head, and a large chunk was crudely bitten from her brain.

Suddenly as if everything came to life, color flooded the field around him, becoming more vivid and alive. The sound of children laughing, and playing on a playground echoed out. Brice looked up, and saw hundreds of children, all in the same school uniform. They were running, and playing tag in the field. Some were playing hopscotch on the cement slab. Others swinging and sliding down slides. A small group of children were sitting against the brick building eating from their lunch boxes.

They were all pale, and what Brice saw next shook him to his very core. At the same time they all stood still, frozen in the steps they were taking. Frozen with smiles on their faces, and some frozen mid bite of the sandwiches they were eating. Simultaneously, their eyes began to melt from their sockets. Melting like marshmallows dripping from a campfire stick.

Brice heard the agonizing screams of children. Screams, cries, blood curdling begging. Yet none moved. Smiles were still pasted on them despite the terrible crying. All the heads jerked in his direction at once. Hundreds of empty eye sockets facing him.

The little girl stood up. Her face crimson against the white paleness of her skin. She casted a teeth bearing grin that was painted red. The children all advanced on Brice, encircling him. Closing him off. They began to chant. They chanted a tune to him.

“EATER OF DREAMS! EATER OF LIFE! EATER OF FLESH! CLAWS SHARP AS A KNIFE!

This was repeated over and over. Some broke the chant to giggle while others threw stones. They danced, the girls twirled their skirts, and some licked the blood from the children’s faces and spit it at Brice. Then finally… they all fell over onto the dead grass around Brice, like invisible strings to a marionette were suddenly cut.

All was still. Except the little girl standing in front of the swing. She was chewing. Chewing. She was breaking pieces of her brain off, tearing it, and eating it. Brice couldn’t move. He was frozen in fear.

She stepped forward, and then swallowed. She reached her hand out to him, and poked his chest.

“Wake up!” she growled

…………………………………………………………………………….

Brice jerked awake. Startled, he wiped the sweat from his forehead. He habitually reached for his anxiety medication he usually kept in his pocket, and frowned when he remembered he had placed it in his suitcase. Another dream. This one seemed even more alive. They seemed to be getting worse.

He slowed his panted breathing, and gazed out the window. The Limo was slowing down. They had arrived. The windows displayed large beautiful homes all around them. Large lush green yards, and expensive fenses hugged the property lines of each.

The limo rounded a bend, and approached a large gate with stone pillars at each end. Far off in the distance Brice could see the large home. This must be where James lives. The yard must be several acres at least. A wide cobblestone pathway winds the landscaped yard up to the home from the gate.

Leroy rolled down the window, and pressed the security button on the pillar. A static sound popped, and moments later the gate released with a metallic clang and gave way. Brice rolled his window down, and took in the air. It was beautiful. Whatever James did for a living, it paid well.

They made their way to the house, slowly following the path. Brice noticed a guest house to the right of the Main. It was half the size, but just as beautiful. In the center lay a large pool. The Crystal Blue water sparkled as it reflected the light from the sun. Many workers were tending the random gardens about the property, and took no notice to the Limo approaching the oval round about at the end of the path by the large french doors.

“Is that the front door or the gates to heaven?” Brice asked Leroy. Again he didn’t share his humor.

Beautiful black marble steps ended at the French doors. The limo stopped, and he made eye contact with the driver in the rear view mirror. Leroy tipped his hat at him as Brice stepped out. Before he could pull his wallet out, Leroy had already retrieved his belongings.

“No need for a tip sir. It was taken care of.” he said.

“Is there anything he hadn’t thought of?” Brice laughed.

“Good day.” was all he said. Then he was gone.

Brice threw his suitcase latch out, and took one last glance at the yard before making his way up the steps. This was it. Twenty years. It wasn’t long enough to Brice. He felt nervous. He hadn’t even made it up the steps before he saw the doors open wide.

Standing in the doorway was a tall, and muscular man in a Judas Priest T shirt, and jeans. His hair was exactly the same as he remembered. He aged well. James smiled at him. Brice struggled to do the same. When he saw him he didn’t see the well nourished man before him. He only saw sunken cheekbones and death.

Brice stood before him. The smile never left his face. It was warm, sincere, and less than inviting. This had to be fake right? They stared at eachother, taking in what twenty years of life did to them. Finally James nodded his head.

“Doctor.” he said erupting in an excited chuckle.

“Hey James.” Brice said.

James pulled him in, and wrapped his arms around him. He squeezed him like a long lost brother. Brice let out a moan, and let James’s laugher become contagious. He laughed with him despite the unsure feeling that entrapped him.

“Look at you!” he yelled. His grin displayed his perfect pearl white teeth.

“Still wear those silly band shirts huh?” Brice asked.

“Better than that suit. I hate ties man. You of all people… In a suit.”

“Had I gotten the memo I’d of worn a band shirt instead. Sorry.” Brice said sarcastically.

“Hell no. I wouldn’t let you in my house wearing a cranberries shirt.”

“I’ve been telling you for years… I f*****g hate the cranberries!” Brice laughed.

“Come in!” he said, waving his hand, and leading Brice inside the large foyer.

This was it. There was no turning back. Brice felt the sharp chill shoot up his spine like lighting traveling over a stagnant pond when the sound of the door closed behind him. How do you fake this? He thought to himself. The Tequila had worn off. It was only himself,and his dark cloud now. His cloud was unusually quiet.

Cherry oak floors, polished and well maintained reflected the high arched ceilings with recessed LED lights. A staircase led his eyes to a second story balcony that overlooked the entire floor. To his right was a rather large kitchen with grey granite counter tops,and an island with the typical bowl of fruit and Indian knick nacks that show his Indian pride.

A beautiful dining area lay West of him. A long expensive table rested on top a cream rug. Behind it a stone fireplace with a warmly lit log fire. Brice swallowed hard. His mouth was dry, and his palms were sweating.

In the corner of the dining room lay a rather large grandfather clock. It clicked rhythmically into the air. An arched hallway extended past the dining room into the unknown. How big was this house?

James gently placed his hand on Brice’s shoulder as he gazed off toward the clock. “It still looks new.” He said.

“When dad died, he left it for me. Everytime I look at it, it takes me back to the old days. It feels like a lifetime ago.” There was a sadness to him.

“James I didn’t know. I’m sorry.”

“You couldn’t have known.” He lightly smiled to him.

A wave of guilt washed over him. James was his friend. Dispite what happened he was still the same guy he lived his childhood with. The trauma was just to much, and he did the only thing that made sense at the time. He ran. He ran, and never came back.

You’re a terrible friend Bricey boy. You do know that right? You left him. You left them all. Do you honestly think anything good will come from this? By the way… I smell Morgan. She’s here.

Brice started to grind his teeth. His cloud was right. Morgan was in fact here. He could smell that familiar smell. It was softly lingering in the air around them.

” I know you have questions. I also know this isn’t a social visit, but before we get into the mess I’d like to have one day with an old friend. Can we have one night to just be us?” James softly spoke.

Brice looked down at his feet. It was hard to hear him say that. Harder than it should have been. It wasn’t fair. None of them deserved the hand they have been dealt. Brice could tell James was desperate for the nostalgia of companionship they once shared. How could he look him in the eye, and tell him he was no longer the Brice they used to know? He did deserve one day. They all did.

“I’ve set you up in the bedroom upstairs. It has it’s own bathroom. First door on the left. Put your stuff away, and let your shoulders down man. You must be tired. Morgan is taking a nap across the hall, and Ryland went out on a beer run. I have a hardy meal being prepared. Let’s eat and catch up yeah?”

“Sounds good James. Thanks. You said Morgans across the hall?” Brice said, trying to sound as casual as possible.

James smirked, ” Yeah man.”

He grabbed his bag, and slowly made his way up the stairs. James made his way back to the kitchen, and out of sight. Brice found his room rather quickly, one quick glance at the closed door across the hall,and he shut his door. He sloppily threw his bag on the bed, and made his way into the small connected bathroom.

A splash of water on his face to jolt the senses was nice, but what he really needed was sleep. His body had ached from the lack of any real sleep. His nightmares have been horrible, and rather frequent. He looked into the mirror, and hardly recognized the man staring back at him. His eyes were red with dark bags forming underneath them.

Brice went to turn toward the bed when he noticed his reflection hadn’t moved. It was still staring right at him, only now with a low smirk. Brice rubbed his eyes. Was he seeing things? It looked slightly to the right toward the direction of the bedroom door.

Go on Bricey. You know you want to, it said in a low growl. Do you smell her? I know you do. It’s nice isn’t it? I miss that smell. I bet she still sleeps naked. Just take a peek. Run your hands through her soft hair, take it in deep. Fill your lungs with her, and taste her skin.

“Shut up.” Brice whispered, pushing his thumbs into his eye sockets.

He sat down on the bed, and burried his head into his hands. He was going crazy. He could no longer ignore what was happening. He was hearing things. He was smelling things. Now he was hallucinating. He would have to reevaluate his medications when he got home.

Brice was to busy with his self examination to hear hear his door open.

” I thought you wouldn’t show.”

Brice’s head jerked up, alarmed. Immediately his heart started pounding to the sound of her soft voice. She sounded exactly the way he remembered her in his memories.

Morgan stood leaning against the doorway. Her thin body hadn’t aged a day. Her hair brushed her shoulders, and swayed slightly. Her eyes were like daggers piercing through his soul. He couldn’t look away. She was beautiful. Dangerous. She softly bit her lower lip, and looked to the ground in a soft blush.

Stop staring Brice. Say something, anything.

“You cut your hair.”

Smooth Brice. Smooth.

“Yeah. I got tired of putting it up. You look the same.”

“Is that a bad thing?” Brice nervously asked.

“No. That suits got to go though.” Morgan chuckled.

Brice was hardly on his feet before she was in his arms. She threw herself into him. Her small frame hardly budged him at all, it was the intensity that almost knocked him back onto the bed. His knees trembled to her soft touch.

Without realizing it, his hand was on the back of her head as she burried her face into his chest. She let out a long breath of air and squeezed him tightly. He was worried she may feel how rapidly his heart was beating.

“Brice… I’ve missed you more than you know. I’m so glad you came. It’s been way to long.” She softly choked.

She brought her eyes to his, and let out an embarrassed laugh as she wiped away the forming tears.

He felt his throat closing up. Morgan brought her hand to his face, and wiped away a tear he had shed. He hadn’t noticed he to was crying softly.

“You look great Morgan. I’ve missed you to.” He muttered.

She held on, refusing to let him go. They lingered in eachothers arms, not knowing at which point it would become inappropriate, and not caring. It felt nice, it felt… right.

“There wasn’t a day that went by you weren’t in my thoughts. I never knew if you were ok, or if you were safe. I know it’s silly to expect it… but I always waited for a call. Something.” She said.

“I know… I should have called. I just…”

“No. I know. I don’t blame you for running. I mean… we all ran. I just… I don’t know… there was so much more I wanted to say. You were just gone.”

“I know. I had to go. I never left you Morgan. I just had to leave Maine. I had to forget this place.”

“And did you?” She asked, sniffling.

“No.”

She stood up straight, and let him go. She took a few steps back and scanned his body, then softly smiled.

“I don’t think anyone will really forget. Not completely. It’s in my dreams. He’s in my nightmares. Dylan… I never know when I’m sleeping anymore, or when I’m awake. Everything feels like a dream now a days. Sorry I don’t mean to bomb you with my problems. I’m just a wreck.” She said.

“You’re not bothering me. I feel the same way. I have these dreams… I don’t know where they come from. They feel so real.”

“Like you’re actually there?” Morgan interrupted.

Brice paused, “yeah.”

Then it hit him. Why did James set his room up right across from Morgans? Was it just a coincidence, or did he do this on purpose? He couldn’t have known about them. There was something about the look on his face when he asked about her that was unsettling. It all felt sort of… staged. Nah. Can’t be. Unless Morgan had said something to them. Now wasn’t the appropriate time to ask her.

Then again who cares now? After all these years it really didn’t matter anymore. They had a fling. So what. It was young love. At least to him. It was bound to happen to one of them right? Four guys and one girl spelled trouble.

“Morgan… what’s going on? James told me Dylan is still alive. Please tell me that’s not true. Tell me it was just some sick ploy to reunite us.”

Morgan’s eyes shot to the ground. That familiar guilt washed over her face as she hesitated to speak. She knew something. Brice could see a brief panic in her face.

“Ryland and I got here last night. James was panicked. He.” She stopped, and her face went blank.

“Morgan what? What is going on?” Brice pushed.

“Hey!”

“Yeah I can point out that big a*s head from anywhere.” Ryland interrupted in a laughter from the doorway.

Ryland lingered in the doorway with a wide grin on his face, his eyes casted right at Brice. A thick black beard revealed his white teeth.

“Hey Ryland.” Brice smiled, trying to mask his frustration.

“Doctor.” He took a mock bow, and laughed.

He power walked over to Brice and quickly hugged him. It was hard, rough, and slightly awkward. Ryland’s hands were calloused. He had the hands of a blue collar worker. He looked his age, and had crows feet. He no longer looked the nerd with glasses. It seemed he had transformed into a lumberjack.

“You don’t wear glasses anymore?” Brice asked, not knowing what else to say.

Brice and Ryland, although friends, had the most static of the group. They both shared the leadership personality, and it clashed often on opposing sides that ended up in heated arguments when they were young. That was then, maybe now life had matured them better. It was unlikely.

“Contacts. I uh… had better luck with the ladies.” He laughed.

“You sure it’s not the beard?”

“Yeah you like it? All natural… homegrown.”

“I do. Impressive.” Brice laughed.

“Yeah… we all love the beard Ryland. So what’s going on?” Morgan said, passively.

“I got booze. Um… I don’t remember what you drink Brice so I got a little of everything. James has some single malt burboun I think.”

“Anything is fine. Thanks.”

“Well freshen up. James has cooked up a feast. Meet you guys downstairs in about thirty minutes or so? Cool?” He asked, peering at Morgan.

“Yeah. I’m starving.” Morgan barked, flashing a thin pursed smile at Brice.

“I really am glad you’re here Brice. I’m going to put on something more appropriate. I’ll meet you guys downstairs.” She said, retreating from the room.

The room felt slightly awkward now that Ryland and him were alone. He was grinning at Brice. His eyes casted toward him like he knew a dirty secret, and was having a hard time keeping quiet.

“So.. what was that?” Ryland asked.

“What was what?” Brice replied, playing dumb. It failed.

“I saw you two hugging. You were holding onto eachother for awhile man. Something going on I don’t know about?” He asked.

His smile dulled on his face. If Brice didn’t know any better, he’d say he looked a little angry. There was a ping of anger under his cheeky grin. It was hard to see, but it was there.

“Just catching up.”

Ryland scanned him for a moment, and then dropped his shoulders.

“She’s beautiful isn’t she?” He said.

“Arnt you married Ryland?”

“You really don’t know anything about us do you?” He said.

“Honestly? no man I dont. I feel like s**t about it.”

“Well if you had picked up the F*****g phone you’d of known.”

“Known what?” Brice asked, sensing the anger in his voice.

“I was married. She left me. She had an affair with a coworker.”

“S**t Ryland I’m”

“Don’t.” He interrupted. “It’s old news now.”

“Well for what it’s worth It’s great to see you man.” Brice said.

“You look good Brice. You’re doing well. You got lucky. We all didn’t share the same luck as you did. Amy is beautiful. Some advice though, don’t f**k it up. Morgan is fragile. She.. I see the way she looks at you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Cut the s**t. She obviously likes you. She always has. She almost had a heart attack when she heard you landed. She’s vulnerable right now.”

“What are you implying?”

“I’m just saying… don’t go stirring the pot.”

With that, Ryland left Brice standing alone in the middle of the room confused. What was that? Was he actually jealous of them? Ryland never showed Morgan any attention when they were kids. Wait a minute. How did he know about Amy? Brice never spoke of her to him. Odd. Maybe James had said something. Come to think of it, Brice didn’t think Morgan knew either. A small part of him didn’t want to tell her about Amy. But why though?

Brice had showered up,and changed into a t shirt and jeans. The shower was refreshing. He didn’t realize how much he needed it. One quick glance in the mirror, and he made his way down. A soft glow illuminated the dining room. Brice could hear the sound of glass clinking together. James had the fire going much higher now. The wood crackled against the soft giggles of his friends.

The sun had retreated, and been replaced by the moon. A soft white light casted through the windows around them. There was an erie stillness outside. It was supposed to storm in Portland last time he checked. It hadn’t yet.

“There he is!” James yelled, as Brice slowly made his way down the stairs.

They were sitting at the dining table, already drinking red wine in fancy wine glasses. The long table consisted of 4 sets of expensive looking china, with sparkling silverware. They were all dressed down, James still wore his band T from earlier. He looked tired. Morgan had changed into a casual black shirt,and jeans.

With such fancy tastes it was slightly offsetting atire. Brice was used to fancy dinners, but not with shadows from his past. He was nervous. Why did they all seem so casual? So uncaring, like this was some family reunion? He couldn’t have been the only one scared out of his mind.

James outdid himself. Brice was shocked at the feast that lay before him. Whipped mashed potatos, a mountain of glistening corn on the Cobb, random assortments of rolls, individual small plates of butter, pecan pie, wine, and large thinly sliced medium rare pieces of what looked like peppered flank steak all lay neatly placed on the table.

It smelled amazing. Brice was starving. He could feel his mouth starting to water and ache to the warm mixture of scents in the air. Morgan smiled when she saw him between sips of wine. She was wearing red lipstick, and lightly applied eye liner. She motioned to the empty chair next to her.

Brice softly took his seat, and whispered a nervous hi to Morgan between Ryland’s overly hyped banter to whomever was listening.

“Hey Brice you remember Sarah Fillmore? She was that dorky girl that had pet cockroaches remember?” Ryland asked laughing.

“Um.. Yeah sure. Her sister had Autism. I remember her. Why?”

“She’s dead. They found her, and her husband with their throats slit. They were sprawled out in the front yard.”

“Jesus.”

“That’s not the crazy part. Their neighbors told the cops her husband… Sam… I think his name was, apparently went nuts. He was going on about some scarecrow that came off the cross, and was trying to kill them. A scarecrow. Love it!” Ryland laughed.

“Yeah. It seems Portland has been under the spotlight lately. Be glad you left Brice, it’s crazy around here.” James chimed in.

“Florida is no better, believe me.” Brice said.

“That’s right, your a uh… what… medical examiner right? So you see the worst in people.” Ryland said, smiling at him with an almost devious grin.

“That’s right. I practice forensic pathology.”

“What’s the worst thing you’ve seen?”

” I’d rather not talk about it.” Brice said.

“Oh come on man. We’re all friends here. Share something with us.”

“Ryland. Stop. He doesn’t want to talk about work.” Morgan said.

Ryland shot a glance at Morgan, and then turned back to Brice. He scoffed, and then squinted his eyes.

“What’s the problem man, to good to get personal with us now?” He said, almost growling.

“It’s not dinner talk anyway. It’s best if we just changed the subject. I want to say something anyway.” James said.

Ryland sat back in his chair, and folded his arms but continued to stare. James held up his wine glass, as Morgan poured some red wine for Brice.

“I want to make a toast. I’m happy we could all be reunited, even under such circumstances. I sit here and see you guys, and what life has done to us these past twenty years, and I’m humbled. Although we may be strangers now after such a long time away, I still feel like family. To good health, family, and good fortune to come. I’ve missed you guys.”

“Cheers”

They all sipped wine, except for Brice, who downed the glass. Morgan giggled under her breath, and smiled at him. Brice met her soft gaze against the orange glow of the fire. She was almost glowing. She was stunningly beautiful.

He had a sudden overwhelming sense of panic wash over him. His heart started pounding as he saw Morgan’s lips shine against the flames of the fireplace. Flashback. Morgan’s chewing, she’s chewing with death in her eyes. Eat Brice. That’s what Ryland told him.

He came to. He was sweating. Nobody notices his panic, and he feels relief of that. Brice sat there controlling his breathing, reminding himself to remain calm, smile when appropriate, give short answers, and he would make it through this.

Morgan made his plate for him while he sat. He looked down at the plate. He was starving. Without realizing it, he had dug in. The flank steak was cooked perfectly. You can still taste the blood. Wow. Best meal he’s had in a very long time.

He looked up, reached for another piece of steak. He devoured it in minutes. Still hungry. Always hungry. Why? The others spoke like he wasn’t there. They laughed, shared stories from the old neighborhood. He just ate.

“Brice you ok man?”

Brice looked up, mouth full of food. They were all staring at him. Why?

“Yeah. Yeah I’m fine.” He muffled.

“You haven’t said much. You’re pale.” Morgan said, with a worried look on her face.

“Sorry. I.. I guess I’m just really hungry.” He nervously spoke.

“Obviously. Your tearing into that like a rabid dog bro.” Ryland laughed.

He feels Morgans hand slide on his knee from under the table. She’s looking at him. She looks concerned, but there was something else there. Something in her eyes. What was that? Was that lust? Yes. She’s biting her lip. It was subtle.

Bricey boy…. It whispers in his ears. Look at her Brice. Great. Not now. Why now? Why won’t the voices go away?

She wants you Brice. Be quiet. Listen. Tone them out. Listen to her. Do you hear it? Her pulse Brice. Look at her neck, do you see it beating faster? Do you hear her breathing? The signs are there. You animal. You’re hard Brice. If you don’t do something soon she’ll know you’re hard.

Morgan slowly slides her hand up his thigh. What is she doing? Is she really worried about his lack of conversation, or is she doing something else?

“Brice?” Morgan softly speaks.

She slides her hand higher, taking his stillness as a sign of content. She reaches his center, and pushes lightly against it, and when she noticed, she lightly smiled at him.

She wants you. The cloud is banging on his ear drums, insisting he let her continue to explore him. Do you wonder what she tastes like Bricey? Do you think she tastes as good as this steak? F**k her bricey, and while you’re f*****g her, you sink your teeth deeply into her flesh, and let the sweetness pour into your mouth.

LET HER TOUCH YOU!

Brice almost yelped out loud, and stood up so fast his chair tipped over making a loud knock as wood hit wood. Morgan jerked her hand away in a surprise. All heads were now staring at him.

“S**t! Sorry! I… I can’t do this! I need air. James, thank you for the food. It’s.. I just need to step outside.”

Brice made a B line for the front door, almost tripping over himself. He stepped into the cool night air before busting into tears. He bit the back of his knuckle to prevent himself from sobbing. It was to much. To much pain. To many memories. This was wrong. He couldn’t pretend to smile like the others.

The door opened. Morgan hesitated to step outside. Brice turned his head to her, and then back towards the yard.

“Brice. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. There’s just so many things rushing through my head. James told me you were married. I knew you were. I just. S**t… I’m so stupid. Please don’t hate me.”

“I don’t hate you Morgan. I’ll be first to admit things were in my head too. Your not the only one who’s confused.”

“So that wasn’t because I touched you?”

“Partly… but it’s everything.”

Brice turned around. Morgan stood there looking at him. She was worried. The light of the moon bounced from her skin, making her glow. Brice felt the anger inside him build up. Why was everyone avoiding the issue?

“I can’t do this Morgan! I just can’t sit there like everything is fine! Nothing Is fine!”

“I know.”

“Then why are we just sitting there pretending like everything is?! Where’s Dillon?! Huh?! Where is he?! James said he’s alive, as insane as it is, and yet here we are! Where is he?!”

“Please keep your voice down. Come inside okay? James will tell you everything.”

“Tell me everything? Wait… so you know? You already know?”

“Yes. James told me not to say anything until the timing was right. He knew you would be the hardest of us to understand, so he wanted to wait.”

“That’s just great! So I’m the fool! Everyone is keeping secrets now!”

“Nobody thinks you’re a fool Brice. Where are you going?!”

“On a walk! I need to clear my head! Don’t follow me Morgan!”

Brice stomped down the steps onto the cement walkway half expecting Morgan to be calling out his name. She hadn’t. She let him go. He needed to blow off steam. The night air sent shivers down his spine. It was cool out. There was a stillness to the air.

With hands in pockets he made his way across the huge well landscaped yard towards the unknown. His thoughts were of Amy now. Oh how he missed being home. Coming here was a mistake. What could he possibly of thought would come from this except pain. His cloud was right.

Brice approached the left side of what appeared to be a guest house. It was just a nice as the main, except smaller. It was dark. Brice guessed it was locked. He shuffled his feet in small movements. He was no hurry to return to the group after the embarrassing outburst.

He looked up from his feet, only to see a cellar door. It was made of steel. He would have paid no mind to it, and walked right by it had it been shut, but it wasn’t. It was wide open. It’s padlock was hanging from the door in a sloppy manner. It stood out. It looked as if someone were in a hurry, and left it open.

Brice looked around the dark yard. There was no movement. No sound. A soft breeze whipped past his ears. The moon lit the cellar door in an erie soft white. He squinted his eyes. He could see only darkness inside. He stepped up to it, not understanding why he wanted to explore, but he did.

Something felt off. Of all the beautiful decorative lawn statues, and lights, why was there a thick cellar door? What was in it that James felt needed to be locked? After all his property was fenced in, and locked down at night.

Brice stepped in, trying to adjust his eyes to the darkness. He slowly decended down into the earth. It smelled stale. Maybe James kept all his wine down here.

When his feet hit the bottom he felt cement. The moon’s glow was all that helped him see. If only he had a flashlight. He peered straight ahead. It seemed like a short tunnel that rounded to the right. He placed his hands along the wall and slowly made his way across as the moonlight disappeared behind him.

As he neared the turn he heard a faint noise. Someone was here. It sounded in distress. Brice picked up the pace until he almost ran Into a wooden planked door. He could see light from the other side. The sound of chains rattled the air.

He cracked the door open.

“Hello?” He said, confused.

As the door opened Brice’s guesses were right. It was a wine cellar. Large rows filled with dusty wine bottles lined the wall. A small light swayed from the ceiling casting erie shadows on the walls.

He had to adjust to the light changes. He squinted his eyes, and found the source to the sound. He felt his face grow cold at the sight. A young female lay on an old hospital bed. It was bolted into the cement. She was filthy, and pale. Her arms and legs were chained to the rails.

Multiple IV poles carried bags with tubing that ran the length, and ended in her arms. There was clear liquid in one, and what looked like blood in the other. She was half naked from the waist down. Clotted bandaged gauze, stained brown, were half strewn about.

Large neatly carved chunks were missing from her thighs and calves. She was young, filthy, and her eyes looked familiar to Brice. Yes. They had the same look his did that night at the cabin. She has seen him, the darkness. She has seen death.

“Oh my god!” Brice screamed.

The young woman took notice to his voice. Her eyes were open, darting left and right, not looking at him, but at the other side, at the darkness. Her face grew with a sudden fright. She opened her mouth to scream, and her voice cracked like an old worn out dog toy with its squeeker broken.

“Please.… please help me!” She croaked.

She held her arms out to Brice. She was reaching for him desperately, and all he could do was reach back with a pale, and confused face. He knows those wounds. He’s seen them before. Brice already knew before she said it.

“They.. they.. they are eating me!” She broke out into a sobbing panic. There were no tears to shed. They had taken those as well. They had drained her youth from her.

Brice felt a sickening feeling in his gut. It twisted in knots. Flank steak. That familiar tender protein. He couldn’t get enough of it. It wasn’t steak. No. It was the distinct taste of desperation to survive he had retasted. It was human. Human meat. He had eaten it by the mouthful. His body had thanked him for it to.

Brice quickly turned his head to the side, and made it in time to vomit in the corner of the room. He gasped, and hurled as her screams echoed alongside his dry heaving. He has to save her. He has to do something.

Time… time is ticking Bricey. What will the others say about you now hmm? Had you known what you were eating would you have stopped, or are you afraid of the fact you know deep down… deep inside… you wouldn’t have cared?

“Shut up!” Brice screamed, and grabbed at his ears. If the woman had thought he was talking to her, then she didn’t care. Her weak cries for help bellowed against the damp cellar walls until she had no air left in her lungs to beg.

Brice quickly jumped to her side, grabbing at the catheter in her veins. The taste of stomach acid tainted his lips. His hands clawed at the tape, searching for a way to unchain her from this insanity. How could they do this? How could anyone do something like this? Does Morgan know? Are they in this together?

He had to shake such thoughts from his mind. All that matters is her safety. He had to take her away from this place.

“Thank you… Oh god… thank you.” She whispered through her weak lips. Her eyes rolled back. Brice knew she wouldn’t make it very far without the blood infusion but he had to try.

Brice turned to find a key, or at least something to break the chains when he was suddenly met with a sharp bone cracking sting. Immediately he felt wet hot pain explode from his nose, and he hit the cold floor below.

The last thing he remembered was the sound of Ryland’s unmistakable voice.

“I’m sorry man. You really shouldn’t have seen this Brice. You f****d up bad old friend” he growled.

……………………………………………………………………………………….

Cold. Dark. Sound. A terrible ache in his jaw. Brice let out a soft groggy moan. The taste of hot metal swirled around his mouth. It was thick, coagulated, and unwelcoming. He opened his eyes to a small pool of his own blood, still dripping onto the hardwood floor below. His lip was busted.

He spit out the blood onto the ground to join the pool at his feet. He was sitting. His eyes couldn’t quite adjust. He saw only blur. He went to grab his face but couldn’t move his arms.

“We have to kill him!” A muffled voice yelled

“That’s not the plan Ryland. You know that.”

Brice picked his head up from his chest. The blurred figures came into focus. Ryland, James, and Morgan stood arguing in front of him.

“He’s awake. Brice? Hey. Are you Ok?” James said, leaning down to him.

“i… i can’t move my arms.” Brice moaned.

“We had to take precautions. It’s not what we wanted.” James said.

Brice blinked, and realized he was tied to a chair. He didn’t recognize the room he was in. It was a large study. The walls were lined with bookshelves. A large desk lay against the wall. Scattered papers, and photographs were sloppily skewed about.

On the wall above the desk were more photographs. They looked old. There were pictures of Indians, landscapes, crime scenes. Some of them looked familiar to Brice.

“This is pointless. I say we just kill him, and be done with it. He’s not going to get it James. He’s not one of us. Look at him! He’s not going to get it!”

“Stop it Ryland! He will! We can’t kill him, he’s our friend!” Morgan yelled.

Brice tried pulling his hands free. It was useless, the rope was tied to tight. His head started to throb. Confusion set in as he watched his friends arguing back and forth about his life.

“Let me go. Please. Morgan what’s going on?” Brice asked.

“We can’t do that Brice. Not yet.” James said.

“Why did you go into the wine cellar?” Morgan asked. There was a sympathetic tone in her voice.

Confusion, panic, and cold fear set in as Brice’s foggy memory slowly returned to him. Something was wrong.

“The girl. There is a girl in the cellar.” Brice moaned, his head was a fury of painful drum beats.

Ryland leaned in. “Was a girl, all Thanks to you a*****e.”

Brice’s eyes swelled up. The words pierced him like daggers to the chest. He looked to Morgan as she casted her eyes away in shame.

“Tell me you didn’t kill her? Tell me we didn’t eat her, and this is just some sick f*****g prank?” He begged.

“Use your head doctor. What do you think? It was your fault. You’d have never known if you would have just stayed the hell away. This is what happens when you stick your nose where it doesn’t belong.” Ryland yelled.

“You’re sick! You f*****g psycho! Let me out!” Brice screamed, shaking the chair as hard as he could. It didn’t budge. His wrists started aching as he struggled against the tight rope.

“Everything is f****d. Brice listen, we just wanted you to slowly understand what’s going on. We knew you’d be the hardest to convince. We didn’t mean for you to see that.” James said.

“Let me out!”

“I know your confused. I’ll let you out, but before I untie you, please try to understand what I’m going to tell you.”

“Brice” Morgan interrupted.

“Brice look at me. What do you remember about that night?” She asked.

“What?” He said, confused.

“The night at the cabin. What’s the last thing you remember?” She continued.

“What does that have to do with the girl you have tied in the cellar?!” Brice screamed.

“Just think Brice. What do you remember?”

“I don’t know I… we got rescued… we hardly made it out alive.”

“What else.”

Brice racked his brain, trying to remove the cloud that blanketed his memories of that terrible event. He had spent his whole life trying to forget. Had he? Come to think of it, what exactly did happen? His eyes shot back and forth at his former friends, all were staring in wait.

“It was cold. Wet. I remember laying on the floor starving. I remember white cold. We… we burried Dillon.” He choked, remembering his poor friend.

“We burried him. We carried him out into the snow, dug a hole and burried him. I… then I remember us inside, and being carried out by patrol.” He whimpered. Hot tears stung the scrapes on his face as he stared at Morgan’s blurry face.

“There was something with us that night Brice. It was there in the cabin.” James softly spoke. He placed his hand gently on Brice’s shoulder.

“I don’t understand.”

“Have you noticed something different about you? Any odd changes?”

“Do things taste different? Your sense of smell heightened?” Morgan chimed in.

“Any unusual cravings?” James spoke.

“No. You guys are crazy. You’ve lost it.”

“When we ate Dillon, we were cursed Brice. All of us. None of this is anyone’s fault. You have to know that.”

“No.” Brice shook his head.

“We were attacked. Do you not remember? At the burial site. We were burying Dillon when something attacked us. It was white, blended in with the snow.”

“Morgan thought it was a bear.” Ryland laughed.

Morgan shot him an evil eye. Ryland then plopped down informally in one of the leather chairs near the desk.

“We thought it wanted to eat us. It didn’t. It wanted Dillon. We tried to fight it. It was to strong. It grabbed Dillon, stood up on two legs, and walked off into the snowstorm.”

“No! No! No!” Brice yelled, refusing to look at them. Refusing to believe him.

“When we chased it down, it was gone. In its place stood a tall man. It was hard to make out through the storm. We didn’t know it at the time but his name was Swift Runner. He was as clear as glass.”

“A ghost… Brice” Morgan said

“When I was a kid, my grandfather used to joke with me. He said if I didn’t eat my food, the Windigo would take me away. He used to tell tales of an ancient spirt that our ancestors suffered from. The Windigo would prey on my people in times of starvation on that mountain.” He continued .

James dragged Brice’s chair to the desk. “Look” he said, pointing to the stack of pictures, and papers.

“After what we saw that day, I became obsessed with the truth. It marked us. All of us. When we woke up, we were on the cabin floor being dragged out by EMS.”

“Stop! Just stop it!” Brice yelled. He squeezed his eyes shut as if they’d dissappear if he closed them hard enough.

“Brice you mentioned dreams. Have you seen him in your dreams?” Morgan asked, holding an old faded picture of an Indian man.

“After countless digging I stumbled across an article in a paper catalog that talked about the first true execution at Fort Saskatchewan in the late eighteen hundreds. It was this man here” James said, pointing to the picture.

He leaned in close to Brice’s face. His eyes were begging him to listen. Brice peered at the picture for a moment before closing them again.

“He was an old Cree Indian Brice. He occupied that mountain years ago with his family. Just like us… he was caught in a terrible snow storm. He killed and ate his wife, out of desperation.”

“Windigo psychosis.” Ryland grinned from the chair.

“My people believed that, in times of starvation, a demon would take possession of your soul, and force you to turn to cannibalism. Once it got the taste for human flesh, you turned mad unless you continued to satisfy that hunger.”

“swift knew this. Once the storm passed, the police investigated his home. Swift showed them the remains of his wife. He told them his children had died during the storm. A team of 12 men were sent in to scout his home, and land. They found the remains of them all scattered about.”

“He finally came clean, and said the Windigo made him do it.” James said.

“They hung him to death for his crimes.” Morgan softly spoke.

“We think he was the first human to turn. When he was killed he came back to warn people not to eat human meat.” James said.

“When he died, my people packed their belongings, and moved to the west side of the mountain. They believed the ground turned sour. After a few generations the Windigo became a legend passed down by the Cree to scare the kids into behaving.”

“Everyone thought he was crazy. The doctors deemed Windigo psychosis as a condition where you crave human flesh but it’s not a disease Brice. It’s real.”

“No! You lie! You’re just sick! You’re all sick” Brice screamed

“It’s real. You can deny it all you want but it’s here. It’s in us all.” James barked.

Brice tried to control his frantic breath. His chest felt like it was going to cave in. His head was spinning. What now? That was the question burning in his mind. What did they want from him, acceptance for their crimes?

What should he do? Does he play the game? Should he agree with them, get on their good side, and then run for it? He has to be smart. It was obvious they believed in the madness they shared. Especially Ryland. He sat there, a washed over look in his eyes. It was hunger. It was death incarnate, encased behind two dark pools of black. His fingers played with the sharpened tip of a rather large hunting knife as he sat.

Brice shivered at the thought of him using that knife on him. He would do it. The man in that chair was no longer the 4 eyed dorky boy he remembered. Brice didn’t recognize any of them now. They had died too in that cabin, just as Brice did.

Then there was Morgan. Her beautiful crystals bouncing back and forth, begging him to accept their reality. Her glowing skin, her neatly sculpted cheekbones, her lips, the same lips that once shared lustrous passions against Brice’s own inexperienced body begged him.

A small part wanted to. Deep down he felt a hunger inside. It was his cloud. It only wanted skin, and s*x. Brice must use his head. They murdered an innocent woman and ate her. They forced him to eat her as well. It was a sickness within them all.

“We have to show him.” Morgan softly spoke, casting a glare at James.

James looked worried. “What if he can’t handle it?”

“It’s no worse than it already is James. I know your plan was to ease this on him, but that’s long gone.”

Ryland let out an exaggerated groan. They all ignored him as he swung his legs over the arm of the chair impatiently.

“Brice you have to trust us okay? Please understand what we did was for your benefit. You had to eat her. There was no other choice.” She said.

“And if I refused? What, would you have eaten me to Morgan?” Brice asked.

“No. They wouldn’t have eaten you Brice. You’d just end up like me. Lost to the ever growing hunger for blood, like an animal who’s only purpose in life is to kill.” An unfamiliar voice chimed in.

Brice turned his head to the doorway. His mouth dropped at the sight. It couldn’t be. It was impossible. A tall, lanky figure with his hands in his pockets stood there. He was so thin, he seemed to sink into his bones like his skin was crudely stretched over a skeleton.

His skin was as pale as a full moon’s night. His sockets were deeply sunken in, swirls of black, like he hadn’t slept in weeks. He had the eyes of a blind man, a murky grey blue, that stared past him. A sharp shiver shot down Brice’s spine.

What stood before him was monstrous. Small sharp jagged teeth were slightly noticeable through the slits of his thin lips as he spoke. He was completely bald, although he had the hood from his hoody pulled up to compensate.

“Hey Brice.” He hissed, a smile curved from the corner of his mouth.

“No. You’re dead…” Brice squeeked, shocked.

“Undead.”

“H… how?”

“What you see before you is a physical reincarnation of your friend. I may look similar to Dillon. I have his dreams, his memories, and unfortunately his feelings. I look at you dear old friend, and although I do not know you, Dillon knows you. I am inclined to grant you the respect he did. Do not take my kindness for weakness. That would be a mistake.”

“Who are you?”

“The question you are asking is what am I, not who. My name no longer matters. What matters is now that I am here, what are you to do with this newfound information? Now that i have inherited this physical form, I intend to use it.”

Dillon smiled, exposing his sharp inhuman yellow teeth. He slowly stepped forward. There was the stench of death hovering in the air. He moved his long boney fingers carefully, as if every move was cordinated.

“I see both this physical world, and the world underneath it. Lurking around you is a dark presence dear Brice. Even now it swims around your weak body. You cannot feel it, but it feels you. Like a parasite to its host, it feeds off of you. You have been marked by the Windigo. You… and your friends.” Dillon chuckled from his throat.

He shot a glance to Morgan. She smiled back to him as if she were proud to be noticed. He took her hand, and wrapped his long fingers around it. He then returned his attention to Brice.

“You see, it doesn’t just take. It also gives. You can have unbelievable power, strength, immortality, anything your flesh desires. The only thing you have to do is consume. Consume the flesh and blood that you fight so hard not to. I see the hunger in your eyes old friend. It saddens my heart to see you suffer.”

“I stand before you in my true form as an act of faith. I hide nothing from you. This fate befell Dillon because his body was simply an empty vessel. You and your friends still have your souls. You are allowed to be you, as long as you feed the darkness. In return you can be a god among humans.”

“At the expense of human life.” Brice muttered.

“Yes.” It croaked.

“Your blackouts, your strong desires to eat, the pain, it all stems from your refusal to give in. Eventually… you will no longer wake from your blackouts, and become what i am. The longer you’re like me, the more monstrous you become. There’s hundreds living within that mountain. Is this the fate you wish upon yourself?”

Brice didn’t speak. He only stared at Morgan. Tears filled his eyes. She softly smiled at him.

“It’s ok Brice. I was scared to. I fought it. We all did. But… to let go… it’s amazing. It feels so good. I want you with us. I want you with me. Forever.” She softly spoke.

“It’s wrong. I can’t… wont… kill people.” Brice squeezed his eyes closed. He was tired. So tired. His body was starving. The pain was indescribable.

When he looked up, the monstrous creature was gone. The Dillon he remembered stood before him. He was young again, looked healthy.

“You think you don’t already have blood on your hands man?” It said in Dillon’s youthful voice.

“During your blackouts, what do you think you were doing? When you consume humans you also consume their memories. Have any interesting dreams lately Brice?” Dillon continued.

The young girl popped into his mind. No. It can’t be. Did he?

“A little girl.” Brice started sobbing.

“It wasn’t you. It was the dark entity that did it because you refuse to let go. If you just let go, you’re in control of your choices. Maybe she’d be alive, and let’s say… a convicted killer would have taken her place instead.” Morgan said.

She walked up to him, and leaned down. Her lips brushed his, and he turned away. She gently turned his face back to her.

“Let me help you Brice. Please? I can help you. It’s why you’re here. I don’t want to lose you. We… don’t want to lose you. You can’t see us, but we see you. We see what you really are underneath.” She said.

“When you look at your friends, you see them in the way the humans see them. You’re not human Brice. Let go, and see them as you see me now.” Dillon said, returning to his monstrous form.

Brice turned his head to the table. A pair of keys rested on the desk. This was it. His way out. James’s car? He had to get them. He had to get out. He had no idea where he would go, but he would drive as far away as possible. He would die trying before he became one of those things.

“Ok…”

“What do I have to do?” He said in his best casual voice.

A relieved smile formed on their faces. Especially Morgan, as she bounced with excitement. She fumbled for a knife, as a wide grin spread on her face.

“You just have to feed. It has to be by your own hands. We can do it together. I’ll show you.” Morgan said.

“Wait! How do we know he isn’t lying?” Ryland barked.

All heads turned to him again. Morgan flashed a worried look briefly.

“Look. I see my options here. I’m not stupid. It’s either be like you guys… or… him.” Brice said, pointing towards Dillon

“No offense.”

Dillon smiled, and nodded his head.

Morgan cut the ropes away. His arms ached at the joints. He rolled his shoulders, and slowly stood up. He felt sick to his stomach. Morgan took his hand into hers and smiled.

“I’ll show you. It can be like old times Brice. We can do everything together.” She pressed her body against his. Dispite the situation, Brice still felt the butterflies from her touch. She placed her palm flat against his chest, and bit her lip. She took his heightened heartbeat as a compliment.

As she led him from the room, Brice quickly swiped the keys from the table, and shoved her back as hard as he could into Ryland. He fell backwards onto his rear end, and let out a yell. Brice pumped his legs, and made a bee-line towards the front door.

“Brice stop!” Morgan and James yelled from behind him.

He didn’t bother looking back. All that mattered was his escape. He had to try. Who knew how fast they were, or even if he’d get away. He had to go. Fast.

“I’ll kill you!” Ryland screamed out.

“Let him go.” Dillon calmly said to them.

“He’ll be back. His hunger is to much for him. Just let him process this.” He smiled.

Outside the thick air promised rain. Brice jumped to the bottom of the steps, and almost fell over. He turned towards the driveway, and picked the first car he could get to. A black Lexus. The door was unlocked. He dove in, and slammed it closed.

Please work, He begged to himself as he jammed the key into the ignition. Finally, the first sign of good news all night. The motor started. He peeled out of the driveway, and into the dark unknown. He accelerated as fast as the car would let him as the sky opened up, and poured rain down upon his windshield in think heavy drops.

Brice broke into tears, crying madly as he took everything in. It was to much. He missed Amy. He missed his family, his life back in Florida. He wanted to go home. Brice grabbed at his stomach. His jaw ached with a strong hunger. He could feel it inside him.

He fumbled in his pockets for anything that could help him, and only pulled out a piece of folded paper. Without even thinking about what he was doing, he was driving to the address scribbled on it. Jessica, the beautiful flight attendant with the doughy eyes. Brice started to salivate as he tightened the grip on the steering wheel.

“Oh God! Please… please help me get through this!” He cried into the darkness, as his eyes scanned the dimmly illuminated road in front of him.

  • teresa robinson

    Great story! Very captivating. I look forward to reading the rest of it:)

  • Zabrautanu Vlad Stefan

    Loved it again!

  • Daniel Di Benedetto

    Amazing. Fricken incredible. Once again, I was completely captivated. Great work.