They aren't human anymore, something has happened to them. Their DNA has changed leaving them something much more sinister. Do you dare find out what in Mutate? The anthology featuring the following stories and authors:
Empath by Matias Andres Bravo Jara
Squirm by Kevin S. Hall
Driven by Jonny Graham
Under the Bed by Alex Winck
Blood Pool by Katie Jaarsveld
Sticks and Stones by Mckenzie Richardson
Formula 831 Dave J. Suscheck
Nostradamus by Kally Jo Surbeck
Mutation by Rae Desmond Jones
Mutatis Mutandis by Rick Eddy
Outback Attack by Noel Osualdini
A Christmas Miracle by Andy Lockwood
The Stoat by Anthony V. Pugliese
Gruesome Green Ghost etc by Debbie Johnson
Black Roses by Max E. Stone
Claire’s House Excerpt by Linda Heavner Gerald
The Darkness of Light Places by Andrew Darlington
The Regular by Rob Shepherd
Zoey Meets A Cresent Witch by Linda Jenkinson
The Path Of The Warrior by Cecilia H. Doldan
Gluttony by Samie Sands
Gluttony by Samie Sands
She’d always been a fat little girl, and her childhood had been rife with teasing and taunts. This had escalated much further when she’d hit her teens, puberty was so cruel and the mild bullying became beatings, abuse and a huge online torrent of her classmates begging her to kill herself. Quite predictably she’d spiraled into a depression which hung over her like a black cloud way into her twenties.
In fact, it wasn’t until her 28th birthday last year that she’d finally decided to take action. Still single, still stuck in a dead-end job and with her health rapidly deteriorating, Veronica decided to stop letting her past, others expectations, and food define her. She was young enough to turn it all around and if she didn’t, she’d surely regret it.
The boot camp therapist had advised her that the weight loss should only be the beginning of her transformation and that she should seriously consider other areas of her life that could be improved, which is why she started to form the plan for her worldwide trip. Sure, she wanted to fall in love, get married, have children, but she also wanted to escape the small town she’d spent her whole life in and take a look at what the rest of the world had to offer her, and she needed to do it now, before responsibilities tied her to one spot.
She had some savings, due to the fact that she went straight to work after school. Where everyone else progressed to college and university, Veronica wanted out so took the first job she could find in a greasy fish and chips takeaway. With no friends to socialize with and no desire for fancy clothes, all of Veronica’s earnings went into her bank account and sat there for years. Sure some of it had gone into her tiny, one bedroom flat (her pride and joy) but she had enough to at least go around Europe. After that, she could either decide that she’d had enough of traveling and return to real life, or she could get a working visa and continue her journey. For the first time in her life, Veronica didn’t know exactly what the future held and she was so excited about it.
Brian had worked with Veronica for years in the takeaway, and he’d always admired her from afar. Her weight had never been an issue for him, he was somewhat of an outsider himself, he liked her for her sarcastic put downs, her witty banter and the rare occasions she actually forgot herself and smiled. It became a personal mission of his to get this to happen as much as possible, and somewhere along the way he found himself thinking of her more than anyone or anything else.
Of course, she never noticed him, not really. He knew that she didn’t see him in the same way, but her indifference just seemed to intensify his feelings and their time apart when she went off to this boot camp had been more than unbearable for Brian. He’d been invited to her coming home party by her mother Marjorie because she didn’t want it to be only family members attending and she couldn’t think of a single friend that Veronica had. Marjorie was sure Veronica wouldn’t be grateful for the inclusion of her workmates but didn’t see any other option. Brian was over the moon for the opportunity to see her so quickly; he readily accepted the invitation fully armed with the knowledge that he would spend most of the night awkwardly stood by himself. After all, Veronica would be in demand and there wouldn’t be anyone else there that he knew. Still, he couldn’t miss it for the world.
As Brian watched Veronica salivating over the chocolate cake from the other side of the room, he felt a little sad. Sure she did look happier, healthier and a little less like the weight of the world was resting on her shoulders, but to deny herself something that she so clearly wanted was bound to bring about resentment in the end. He couldn’t help but feel that if she was going to struggle with her new diet that much, then she would never be able to come back to work at the takeaway. The smell of beef cooking on the fryer and salty chips was enough to get anyone’s mouths watering. Before he’d watched Veronica stuff food into her mouth whenever she felt like it, would she be able to resist just to keep her new shape?
The upset within him was already simmering away, even before he started to hear whispers around the room about a long European excursion Veronica was planning. Could that be true? His heart rate picked up and his hands started to drip with sweat at the thought. If she went again, who knows if she would ever return? If he wanted his shot with her, he was going to have to act quickly, but...he just wasn’t ready for that yet. After pining for her for so many years, to make her finally his he would have to do something spectacular, mind blowing. He began to tremble at the thought. Sure, he’d imagined kissing her, holding her, touching her many, many times, but only hypothetically. The possibility that this could become real was almost too much for him. The three beers he’d consumed already started to swirl violently in his stomach and he pushed his way to the front door, gasping for fresh air. If he could be certain of one thing, it’s that vomit certainly wouldn’t help his chances.
After everyone had left Veronica’s home that night, she immediately set about tossing out all the remaining food. The old version of herself would have polished off every scrap, and she wasn’t sure how far her self-control would last left to her own devices with all this temptation sat out in front of her. As her flat was finally clean, she got to thinking. Much as it was nice to be back, her little taste of another life (even if it had only been in a small confined boot camp) had got her desperate for more. She didn’t want to allow herself to settle back into her old, lazy ways, she wanted to act on her new found looks, confidence and attitude before it had the opportunity to wane. So with excitement still buzzing around in her system, she switched on her computer, ready to book her first ticket, confirming the trip she desired so badly.
As the sunlight started to stream through the curtains, Veronica was packed and ready to go. Sure, she knew her actions were drastic and nothing like the way she normally acted, but that just made them so damn thrilling. As soon as she had logged on, she started searching through travel websites and was shocked to see how good the last minute discounts were. Then, at some point around 3 am, she found herself mesmerized by photographs of Paris and her ticket was booked before she could think it through properly. In the grips of exhaustion and mania it had seemed like a good idea to go right away, and despite the nagging feeling that she was doing something a little naughty, she was still feeling good about her decision in the morning.
After booking her taxi to the airport, she fired off a quick text message to everyone that needed to know, before updating her Facebook status and switching off her phone. She didn’t need anyone telling her she was acting rashly, she didn’t want anyone putting doubts in her mind, she simply wanted to get on that plane and to escape to somewhere new and exciting. Slinging her backpack over her shoulder, she locked her front door knowing she wouldn’t be back for quite some time.
“Gone to Paris. Be back soon…au revoir.” Brian kept running over the status over and over in his mind. Was this some sort of practical joke? He’d been up all night planning how he was finally going to woo Veronica and just like that, she was gone?! Last night it was all just a hushed whisper, now it was somehow really happening? And so quickly. Brian couldn’t believe his bad luck. His heart shattered into a million pieces as he realized that he might just have lost her forever.
Italy, Holland, Germany...Veronica saw them all and each one filled her with fire and vigor. They all had so much to offer, so much culture, art, history and the food...mmmm the food. She was careful of course, she didn’t want to return home fat again, but she was certain to taste all of the delicacies each new place had to offer.
The trip did so much for her; it made her feel happy again, as if she was finally an interesting person, with something to offer the world. Armed with all the new knowledge, and the new bodily shape that she’d acquired, she began to feel a new sensation within her. She began to feel sexy, lusting; she finally began to notice the opposite sex. She threw off her self-conscious shell that she’d worn her entire life, and began to engage in some light handed flirting. It never led to anything, of course, she wasn’t quite ready for that, but it was nice to feel attractive, wanted. It was something that she hoped to get used to.
Most of the men she met were travelers like herself. Some alone, others in groups, but it seemed they were all trying to escape something or someone back home. A lot of people were heartbroken; some were running from their responsibilities. It seemed everyone had a story to tell, and that’s how Veronica’s light bulb moment came about, she was going to spend the rest of her life as a writer, and her story would begin now.
She began to travel to places she wouldn’t have considered before, just searching for that blast of inspiration, that unusual person, that risk she wouldn’t have even thought about taking before, all so that she could write it down in her journal that was slowly taking form as a story. It was for this reason alone, that the strange night in Albania occurred.
It had been recommended to her, by an odd fellow she’d met in a dive bar somewhere in Belgium and she’d finally decided to go and see what the fuss was all about. He’d ranted and raved about how unique it was, how she simply had to go there to see just what he meant. It was a beautiful place, much lovelier than she’d been expecting, full of historical building and white sandy beaches, but it just wasn’t as unusual as she would have liked. She wanted to stumble across somewhere quirky, somewhere like nowhere else she’d ever been...but it seemed like this wouldn’t be it.
As she checked into the B and B, she tried not to be disappointed, after all she was living the dream, finally doing something that others would be jealous of, and on top of that she had realized her lifelong desire at last, and she had the wonderful opportunity of time to follow it up. No, what she needed to do was make the best of her situation, so much had changed for her in the past year, she had so much to be grateful for, and finally so much to look forward to...and with that she resolved to make the best of her situation.
As she wandered the streets later that night, looking for somewhere to get the nightly glass of wine she had become accustomed to, things began to take the turn she had been asking for. As most unusual events do, it started with a man. A gorgeous, tanned, 6”2’ man with black hair and green eyes. It was the sort of man you simply couldn’t ignore, however much you wanted to. That wasn’t so much the unexpected part, Veronica noticed a lot of men these days, no, what was strange was despite the fact that the bar they were both in was filled with stunning, supermodel type women, he only appeared to have eyes for her.
Veronica had only just purchased her drink and he was already by her side, introducing himself (although she didn’t quite catch his name, the music was far too loud) and when she refused to dance on the basis that she couldn’t allow herself to embarrass them both, he dragged her over to meet his friends.
The night passed in a whirlwind of drinks, laughter, stupidity and googly eyes. The whole time Veronica was in a haze, blown away by the attention, not just from the guy she was now certain that she was falling in love with, but the whole group. They seemed almost fascinated by her, and for someone who had spent her entire life boring and hiding away, this was more intoxicating than the booze.
When they moved on to another bar, it was just assumed that she was going with them, and as the night became dawn and they descended into the forest for a campfire and more drinks, she automatically tagged along. The knowledge that she was probably completely and utterly lost in this foreign country no longer meant anything to her, she was following her heart. She finally had friends and a beautiful man who she couldn’t wait to kiss. If she did the sensible thing and left now, she just knew that she would be missing out on one of her life’s biggest adventures.
As the fire raged on, Veronica was slowly losing all of her senses. Having never been a big drinker, especially since losing weight, she thought the fact that she could no longer feel her legs and arms was normal, she thought everyone experienced a mad, never ending head rush when they’d had too many, she didn’t know that what she was drinking, wasn’t exactly normal...
And when her mystery guy leaned in, and his stubble tickled her chin as their lips finally met, the fireworks that exploded in her stomach consumed her and she knew she would never be the same again, she knew she’d changed irrevocably. What she didn’t realize was to the extent that this was true.
The next afternoon she finally awoke, surrounded by trees, covered in dirt and completely and utterly alone. Humiliated and with a throbbing head she forced herself into a sitting position and surveyed the scene. The remnants of the party were there; the burned-out fire, litter, cigarette ends, but not another soul. Grabbing onto the remaining clothes she had on, Veronica desperately tried to remember what had happened. The kiss that had felt so magical the night before was now tainted with humiliation, what she had thought was love (or at least lust) was just a simple ruse. Thank God she hadn’t had sex with him, as much as she did recall him trying; she refused to lose her virginity with other people watching. Being almost 30-years-old and still a virgin had made her a bit protective over her first time. How glad she was now in light of the fact that she was abandoned.
She stood up, trying to straighten herself out a bit. Much as she wanted to cry, she refused to let herself until she was safely back in the B and B with her belongings. How naive and stupid she’d acted in a strange country, in unknown territories, where she knew no one. Rubbing her face roughly, and becoming increasingly angry with herself, she started to walk. Trying to keep herself distracted so the fear that was bubbling away in her stomach wouldn’t consume her completely, she tried to analyze the flashbacks to piece together the events of the night; kissing, dancing, drug taking (she’d refused to take part in that having already been struggling to keep herself upright), vomit, more booze, singing, chanting....she shivered at the memory of the chanting. Although she could barely see by that point, she clearly remembered feeling eerie by the strange, demonic sounding words.
Someone had been spinning her, whispering in her ear...
And then nothing.
Although she was moving, seeming to function as normal, she felt very odd. Her limbs still felt stiff, frozen in position and her body felt tight, as if it had been through some weird changes. And she was hungry...hungrier than she’d ever been before. During the time that she’d allowed food to control her when she gave into every urge, and even during the first few days of boot camp when they were basically starving her, she’d never felt so hungry. She decided to focus on all the food she was going to order when she got back, choosing to ignore her diet for a day. After all she’d been through; she deserved a treat or two! But, for some strange reason, she didn’t feel like eating the things she usually loved so much; a fried breakfast, buttery toast, even thoughts of chocolate made her feel sick.
Deciding it must be the hangover, she continued making her way through the bushes and trees, growing gradually more distressed, wanting to make her way back. Animals scurried past her, and an odd sensation kept building up inside her, which she forced herself to ignore and push down. She didn’t want to...she couldn’t possibly...no, she mustn’t. All she needed to do was get back, everything else was just madness. This is why she’d never drunk before, it didn’t suit her. It made her act out of character, and this illness was just not worth it! If only she’d thought to update her mobile phone to work abroad before her hasty departure. If only she hadn’t acted so insanely...
Time passed, and Veronica still couldn’t find her way out. She was well and truly lost and it was starting to get dark. By this point, she was starting to get utterly terrified at the prospect of having to spend another night in the forest. She started to create unusual noises in her frightened mind, her imagination ran wild with terrifying possibilities and on top of this, she was starting to feel faint with exhaustion and hunger.
Collapsing to the ground, she allowed the tears to finally flow down her face. This rapidly developed from weeping to full blown body racking sobs. How had she allowed this to happen? She’d always been so careful, so sensible, and now she was stuck here, lost forever and she had no idea how to get herself out of the situation. She’d never been so out of control and it wasn’t something she enjoyed. A small furry rabbit crept up beside her and she felt oddly comforted by its presence. Much as she knew it wouldn’t defend her against any beast that wanted to eat her, at least she was no longer by herself.
The crying subsided as her eyes began to close, her brain and body finally giving in. It had been a long couple of days and she could only take so damn much...
The first thing Veronica noticed when her eyes finally opened was a bloody covered hand lay in front of her. She bolted upright, terrified, just to realize that it was her own. Then she noticed something else weird. She was no longer in the forest; she was back in her bedroom at the B and B. She pulled the duvet up to cover her, her heart pounding noisily in her throat. What had happened? How had she made it back here without even realizing it? That just wasn’t possible.
She ran her fingers through her matted hair whilst frantically trying to get her brain to remember. Surely the alcohol couldn’t have affected her that much, could it? She had an odd metallic taste in her mouth and it was making her uncomfortable. She grasped at the bedside cabinet, trying to locate the glass of water she always put there before bed, but instead found herself grabbing onto something hairy and squishy...
Veronica was still panting heavily as the boiling water rushed over her skin. She couldn’t believe what was happening, she had no idea how that dead rabbits’ head had made it into her room, and the more she tried to work it out, the more she realized that maybe ignorance was better. As the sensation in her hand had connected to her brain, the vomit had risen within her uncontrollably. She’d never been so sick in her life, and this time she was certain booze had nothing to do with it. The smell of the dead animal made her think its death had occurred long ago. Of course, she knew nothing about the death of animals. She bought all her meat pre-packaged from the supermarket. She never wanted to think about where it had come from, the idea of eating anything that used to live filled her with dread, but the taste of beef, pork, chicken...was just too nice to resist.
So many possibilities raged through her brain, each one more horrifying and less likely than the last. Veronica was certain that she was starting to go crazy and being alone was just allowing her imagination to wander freely. She needed to be out again, among people, in reality, so barely thinking she hurriedly shoved all of her belongings into her bag. She didn’t make a conscious decision to leave, but she had absolutely no reason to stay. She started to reason with herself that her location was the issue, that all she needed to do was get on the next plane and everything else would sort itself out.
She rushed out of the B and B, not daring to make eye contact with the lady on reception. She knew that the cleaning team was going to get one hell of a shock and she didn’t want to be there when it happened. She was so grateful that she’d paid for this room with cash so there would be no real way to trace her, who knows what would happen when the rabbit corpse and all the blood but she certainly didn’t want to be around to find out.
It wasn’t long before Veronica found herself standing in the airport looking blankly at the departure boards. She was feeling a little calmer now that she was in a more anonymous place, but all the oddities of the situation she had found herself in were still nagging away in her brain. How had she gotten back to the B and B? Why was that dead rabbit in her room? What had really happened to her in that forest? She knew she should stay to find out the truth, running away wouldn’t provide her with any answers, but she felt dirty, violated and all she wanted to do was escape.
Squeezing herself into the tiny seat on the short haul flight to Poland, Veronica noticed that she didn’t fit into it with quite the same ease as before. She looked down at herself, horrified. In all that had been going on, had she somehow forgotten to stick to her diet? There was certainly large blanks in her memory. Her nose started to sting as she held back the tears. She’d worked so damn hard, denied herself so much, how could she have just thrown it all away? But as she examined her body, she noticed that if anything, she actually looked slimmer than before. Deciding she was being paranoid, she settled down to shut her eyes. Getting a bit more sleep was the only way to put her Albanian experiences out of her mind for a little while.
Slugging back her fourth beer of the night, Veronica shook her head sadly. However much she tried to come up with any sort of rational explanation for her behavior, she just couldn’t. She wanted to put it all to the back of her mind, to forget about it and continue on with her journey (hence the quantity of alcohol she was putting away), but it was all far too overwhelming to forget about.
It wasn’t until beer number eight, when the bar was well and truly spinning, that Doug came up and spoke to Veronica. Just as she was standing up to leave, he swooped in a bought her another drink. Much as the humiliation from her previous sexual encounter still burned, the booze buzz was taking the edge off of it, and as the night wore on Doug’s wit and effortless charm started to bring down her walls. No one had ever made her feel so sexy, so funny, so exciting, not even the group in Albania, so as last calls were announced, she didn’t even hesitate when he offered her another drink in his hotel room.
As their clothes began to shed, Veronica was surprised to find that she wasn’t even nervous. She hadn’t told Doug that this would be her first time, not wanting to put him off and the way she expertly moving her hands up and down his body and kissing his neck, he would never have guessed. With each and every moment that passed, she felt bolder, more empowered so when he finally thrust into her she was more than ready.
Doug didn’t notice the pain, not right away. He felt Veronica bite him, but in a playful, sexual way. He was so glad to have found this girl, he hadn’t gotten laid for a couple of weeks and he was starting to get really desperate. It always gave him great joy to find a stumbling drunk girl, however hot she might be, because they were guaranteed to be an easy lay, and Veronica was no different. In fact, if the red spots hadn’t splashed on her eyebrows, he might not have noticed for a lot longer. Slowing down, confused, he tried to find where the blood was coming from.
When he finally noticed the large chunk missing from his shoulder, he let out a blood-curdling scream. What the fuck had happened?! Did this crazy bitch actually eat some of him? As he stared, panic-stricken into her yellowing pupils, he finally saw the piece of his skin sticking out from the corner of her mouth, the blood stained teeth, and what appeared to be fangs. Gasping for air he tried to make sense of what he was seeing, but it was impossible. Things like this just don’t happen in real life. Was he dreaming? Could that be possible? But the agonizing pain was so intense; he could never have just imagined it.
Sensing that Doug was going to die anyway, Veronica did the only thing she could and continued to eat the meal she’d started. She didn’t feel good about doing it...she didn’t feel much of anything really, she wasn’t even sure that she was acting of her own will. But never one to leave food unnecessarily (until more recently of course) she sucked all the flesh off of Doug’s bones with great vigor. It was a shame, he seemed like a nice enough guy, but resisting temptation had never been Veronica’s strongest trait, especially when it was so close to her. The scent of Doug’s blood had just been too overpowering. It had completely consumed her; she didn’t stand a chance against it. It wasn’t her fault...
Veronica woke up in the graying sheets of the hotel room she’d picked during her shell-shocked arrival to Poland. She wished she had spent more time over her decision, especially when she noticed pet hair all over the floor. She’d stayed in some grubby places during her travels, but this had to be the worst. She was also incredibly annoyed at herself for drinking again. When she moved she discovered that she had the same headache as last time. Why did people ever do this to themselves? It was madness. If only Veronica hadn’t been so desperate to forget...
Flashes of the night came back to her, all involving a handsome young man called Doug. She smiled at the memory of him; it was so nice after all this time to have men chatting her up. He couldn’t have been older than 22, and boy was he gorgeous, and interested in her...she still couldn’t get her head around it. It was only when she moved into a sitting position, and felt a painful sensation in a sensitive area, that the rest of the night came flooding back. The sex, her very first time had been a drunken one night stand?! She was all set to be disappointed with herself, when other, horrifying images entered her brain.
No, it wasn’t possible, she couldn’t have...she smacked her forehead hard, trying to get rid of everything she could see. She knew she’d been greedy, gluttonous in her life, but she would never ever eat someone. That would be insane! Not only that, it would make her a killer. Her breath got stuck in her throat as she considered the implications of this, a crime; she’d committed a very serious crime. She’d ended someone’s life! She tugged on the ends of her hair while she decided what her next move should be. What if she was found, arrested, locked away? She’d never survive in jail; she’d never done anything wrong before in her life, how on earth would someone like her be able to cope living around hardened criminals?
Pacing the room, trying to calm herself down and figure out an action plan, she tried to think carefully. No sign of Doug was here, they’d been in his hotel room. No one had seen her go there, unless they had CCTV. Maybe, just maybe if she went right away, she wouldn’t get caught. Of course, now she would absolutely have to go home, she couldn’t carry on like this, not knowing what was going on from one moment to the next. No, she needed to be in her familiar settings. Maybe some routine would bring her back down to normality. Maybe all this freedom was sending her insane.
Shoving on the first items of clothing she put her hand on she rushed out the hotel and crashed into a taxi. Her heart was thumping so loudly she was certain the taxi driver could hear it. Every noise, every bleep, every siren had her spinning around panicking. She couldn’t have looked more guilty if she’d tried. Because of her wild fears, it wasn’t until they pulled up at the airport that realized the clothes she had thrown on were blood stained.
Sliding the key into the lock she was utterly familiar with, fatigue finally hit Veronica. She was unbelievably happy to be back home. Whatever madness had consumed her in Europe, would no longer bother her now she was back. She never wanted to leave this town again; the travel bug had well and truly gone. All she wanted to do now was settle down into a steady routine, a life where she knew exactly what would be happening from one moment to the next. She’d experienced much more than she thought she would, and that was more than enough. Tomorrow she would go back to the takeaway and get her old job back.
Brian had scoured the Internet daily for signs of Veronica’s return. He would have even been happy with knowing anything about her whereabouts, but it seemed she’d been having far too much fun to update her Facebook status. So it was more than shocking when she stumbled into the takeaway on a cold, wet Thursday afternoon asking to come back to work.
Their boss was over the moon, Veronica had always been available to cover shifts last minute and she was a hard worker. He’d been so disappointed when she’d left so was more than eager to take her back on, especially when she said she could start work as soon as the weekend, but Brian was more dubious about her intentions. He’d seen how she’d struggled around food at her party and he thought after her travels she would be after more in her life. Why would she come back to this dead end job when she had the world at her feet? He would never leave, he had no confidence in himself that he could do anything else, but Veronica could. Sure she might not have the grades, but she didn’t lack the intelligence, the brain power. The fact that she had come back here with her tail between her legs wasn’t a good sign. Sure he was happy to have his shot with her, but he didn’t want her to be miserable.
However Veronica wasn’t miserable, she was numb, she felt nothing, she was like an empty vessel acting on autopilot. The more she thought about her travels, the less it seemed real. She started to become certain that she’d dreamt or made up most of it. Everyone was eager to know how she’d gotten on, especially since she hadn’t updated anyone since she’d been away. Her family were expecting to be bombarded with photographs and mementos, but nothing. It wasn’t even that she hadn’t bought them gifts; it seemed she didn’t have anything to remember her time by. It was weird, strange. For someone to go through such a life changing experience, just to change the subject every time it was brought up was more than unusual. Marjorie, Veronica’s mother, started to worry. The possibilities that she considered were terrifying. What if she’d been mugged, attacked, raped? What if someone had offered her drugs or something? The not knowing was worse, her imagination concocted terrible ideas, but much as she tried to reassure herself, to coax the truth out of Veronica, she simply wouldn’t say anything.
Then the first boy went missing. No one connected the two of course; no one assumed Veronica’s return could be linked to this boy’s disappearance, but she herself knew different. She’d thought returning to normal life would stop these strange occurrences, she’d tried so hard to keep to a routine so that she would be able to pick up on any changes in her behavior before they got out of control. But she hadn’t noticed, and now it was too late. Some stranger, a boy whose family had only moved to the town months before, was dead. And she had killed him. His severed head lay buried in the back of her wardrobe as evidence.
The moment Veronica had woken up she’d known. The familiar pounding headache had been there, merrily thumping away. As soon as she’d noticed this, her stomach had started to swirl with terror. She had walked slowly into the bathroom, unsure of what she would see, and when she looked in the mirror; it was worse than she could have ever imagined. Blood had been dripping down her chin, her pupils had a yellowish tint to then and pieces of skin were sticking out from under her nails.
She washed quickly, the headache making it a real struggle for her to think, to decide what to do. All the possible victims rushed through her brain. As she couldn’t remember, she had no idea who she’d killed and that was the most frightening thing of all. What if she had killed her own family? Her mother? Surely now she was in her hometown, she couldn’t hide from her crimes. She wasn’t anonymous here, and her victim wouldn’t be either. In her state of shock, she had rushed down the stairs, dripping wet and fully naked, just trying to make some sort of rational decision. She couldn’t work out whether she should run, turn herself in or just do nothing and wait to be caught. Much as the last option filled her with dread, the idea of constantly looking over her shoulder was very unappealing, but it took no bravery, and she certainly didn’t feel brave anymore.
Then she tripped over the head. The scream that ripped from her chest was piercing, loud enough to break windows, but luckily if anyone heard her, they didn’t come to her rescue. Wanting to buy herself some time, she’d hidden the unrecognizable head, and it was still there three days later.
A massive manhunt had started and everyone in the town had joined in the search. No one knew the family well so no one knew if this behavior was out of character. Whispers started to arise that maybe he’d simply run away and if they just left him to it, he would return in no time. Veronica refused to join in with the gossip that accompanied these theories, having a hard enough time keeping her secrets locked away inside as it was.
After a week or so, interest began to wane. The family were still upset of course, but everyone else felt that they’d done all they could—they still had their own lives to contend with after all—and normal life resumed. Well, for everyone except Veronica. She was now petrified, barely sleeping and constantly on edge and the change didn’t go unnoticed to Brian. This was made even worse when Marjorie phoned him up to ask him what he thought of her new behavior. The only time she had spoken to him, was to invite him to the party, so the fact that she was calling him now, meant that she truly was serious. He was frightened, but relieved to know he wasn’t the only one to have spotted it. The conspired together to figure out what was going on once and for all.
Veronica was more relieved than she ever thought she would be about being back to work. Being in a familiar environment, completing tasks that she knew very well was comforting. The monotony of the job brought her an inner peace she didn’t think she would ever be able to experience again and with no new events occurring, she started to allow herself to relax. Brian’s incessant questioning about her travels started off as highly annoying. Couldn’t he see that she just wanted to forget all about it? But soon she realized that she needed to give him some information, just to get him off her back. She knew her silence on the subject was suspicious, and she didn’t want any ambiguity surrounding her at all.
As she slowly opened up, the information began to flow. Soon she lost control of her tongue and even started to speak of her experience in Albania. She just about caught herself before she said too much, but Brian's ears were still pricked by the knowledge. The way she’d stopped her sentence in the middle told him that this was the clue he needed. Albania was the key. Whatever happened to
Veronica started there, he was certain of it.
He arrived home that evening, determined to research Albania. He wasn’t sure what he would find; cults, drug scenes, sex trafficking...he knew he would have to put his feelings aside for the time being to discover the truth. Whatever it might be could hurt his feelings, but this wasn’t about him. It was about saving the girl he was now certain that he was in love with.
Weeks passed and Brian’s research led him nowhere. Albania was a big place, full of all sorts of weird and wonderful things. With that as the only clue, he was struggling. He needed something else, anything, and he decided to turn to Marjorie for further help. She suggested that Brain follow Veronica. Her behavior hadn’t improved at all, if anything it was worse, and she was starting to get really desperate. She secretly thought about putting up cameras inside her daughter’s home, but knew that would be an unforgivable invasion of her privacy. Sending Brian after her was a step too far, but she couldn’t do nothing.
Brains sweat glands went into overdrive at the prospect of stalking Veronica. He was far more excited by the idea than he should have been. He knew that if she caught him, he would ruin his chances forever, but he simply couldn’t stand to see her the way she currently was. He wanted the old Veronica back, the one he loved so dearly. He decided to start as early as the next day after their shift together at work. The sooner things went back to normal the better. If only she had been happy with the way she was and hadn’t gone to that stupid boot camp, then the rest of it would never have happened.
As the work day came to a close, Veronica was relieved. She was finally starting to recognize the symptoms growing within her and they were coming. A small part of her was also convinced that she could trace the days back until when it was going to happen again, but of that, she wasn’t positive. She knew it was possible that she could be so desperate for an answer that she was finding things that weren’t there. She could have just been looking at the whole thing like a menstrual cycle; trying to link it all to something she knew for a fact was real.
She sighed heavily as she threw on her oversized coat. It was much too warm for this attire, but she’d taken to trying to hide herself under her clothes. She was so consumed by her own paranoia, her own thoughts that she didn’t notice Brian acting shifty. She was so concerned with her own behavior that he didn’t even register, which meant it was pretty easy for him to follow her all the way home. She moved a lot quicker these days, but of course, Brian was undercover, in his car.
He parked a little way down the street, but the urge to watch her inside her own home was far too tempting, so he edged his car closer, praying she wouldn’t see him. For the first time in his life, he was in luck. Maybe he was designed to do this. If he’d known how easy it would be to follow Veronica, he might have done it sooner to find out what he could do to make her notice him at last, to make her fall in love with him.
He watched her through the slats in her blinds, pacing the room wildly. She was rapidly biting down her nails and Brian wondered what had her so worried. This continued for hours. She didn’t stop to eat, drink or relax. It didn’t even look as if she was going to sleep; she just kept pacing up and down, up and down. Brian became weary. He considered going home to bed himself, after all, he was back at work at 8.30am, but something kept him there. He was troubled by what he was seeing, so he stayed.
The hours ticked on and Brian struggled to keep his eyes open, but he was so frightened of missing anything that he forced himself to stay awake. This was more important than his job, Veronica was worth it. He was rewarded for his persistence. At approximately 5am, Veronica stopped dead in the middle of the room. Brian sat up in his seat, surprised by this new development. He couldn’t see fully, but he could tell that she was shaking, changing. He gripped tighter onto his mobile phone, wondering if it was time to ring the emergency services if she was having a fit or something, but an instinct within him told him to just wait...
Soon she exited her house, looking for prey. Brian was frozen to his seat, unable to believe what he was seeing. His fingers trembled as he hit the buttons on his mobile, but he didn’t look away to see what he was doing. She was moving closer. She hadn’t seen him yet, but she had sensed him. Fear struck his heart, he felt encased in ice as she reached the car door. He gasped air, unable to keep quiet as she leaned down to make eye contact with him.
“Brian,” she smiled warmly. “What are you doing out here? Come in for a drink.”
He nodded meekly without replying and followed her indoors, his legs trembling the entire time. He knew he had to follow her inside, otherwise, he would be forced to explain his behavior, but he desperately didn’t want to. For some unknown reason, he no longer wanted to know the truth, he didn’t want to help Veronica anymore, he just wanted to get as far away from her as possible.
“I like you, Brian,” Veronica’s silky voice continued as she poured him a glass of red wine. “I’ve always felt that we’ve had a...connection. Don’t you think so?” She sat close to him as she handed him his drink. He nodded again, still unable to form a coherent sentence and before he could get his head straight, her lips had found their way onto his.
He didn’t kiss her back at first, but she persisted until another part of Brian’s anatomy started to make his decisions for him. His logical thought process simply disappeared as he realized that he was finally about to get what he’d been desiring for a very long time, and with no real effort on his part.
She stripped him sensually and he got completely and utterly lost in his lust for her. He had imagined seeing her naked for such a long time, but having her in front of him for real, was a whole new level. Her body was firm, tight and curvaceous in all the right places, not like he had imagined it to be at all. Her fingers traced up and down his body and he almost lost himself there and then. He closed his eyes, trying to pace himself, trying to calm himself down.
He kept that way until a searing pain tore from the top of his thigh. He snapped his eyes open staring down to where she was sat, panicked. He didn’t expect her to be into anything kinky and he didn’t know how he felt about it at all. But of course, what he saw was much more terrifying.
Seeing Veronica as something other than herself was confusing, hard to take in and process and dealing with that on top of the muscle and flesh that had been stripped from his body, made Brian became woozy. His vision blurred and he tried to focus on the yellow eyes of the hairy beast in front of him, trying to spot any sign of the girl he knew so well, the one he loved so deeply, but he couldn’t recognize her at all. Was it possible that this wasn’t Veronica? That this monster had eaten her? No, he was certain that this was her, he already knew something odd had happened to her while she was traveling, he just hadn’t expected to find her so very different, so badly changed. No longer human.
His mind swirled with all the new information, but he couldn’t make anything sink in. He knew he might die; the pain was reminding him that the possibility of death was a very real one, and if he didn’t make it, he needed the world to know what had become of him. He tried texting Marjorie again, but couldn’t see the screen or press the buttons. Before the panic made the thought process impossible, he decided to escape.
He could hear Veronica chewing on the section of him she had eaten, so he knew that meant he had a limited time to escape. He could feel the pool of blood collecting underneath him, but he had no idea what had become of his clothes so he chose to make a break for it and rush away naked. When people saw his injuries, they wouldn’t blame him for his indecent exposure, and if he got out quickly, he might make it to a hospital just in time to give himself a small shot at survival.
He pushed himself upright, trying to do it quietly, but Veronica was on top of him before he could get too far. She licked his neck, but Brian felt nothing but revulsion, he knew it wouldn’t be long until her teeth pierced his skin again, and he wasn’t sure that he could survive a bite so close to his brain.
“Veronica?” he coughed loudly, desperate to get her to stop. If he could just make her realize who she really was, and who he was, he might stand a chance. “Baby? Um...” He tried to act normal; he didn’t want to startle her. “Maybe we should...get another drink...and...” She stopped to listen and he maneuvered from beneath her. “Take this to the bedroom?” She allowed Brian to move, and he did so as quickly as his ailing body would let him, all the while trying to keep the natural expression on his face.
They stood staring at each other for a while, in a strange standoff. Neither moving, neither speaking, Brian too afraid to even blink. His heart was racing, almost bursting from his chest with the pressure. The sweat was pouring down his back, making him feel uncomfortable and stinging the large wound in his leg. He tried shuffling backward slightly, and when Veronica didn’t react he couldn’t stop the audible sigh of relief that passed his lips. He moved quicker, acting as if he was going up the stairs, before bolting as fast as his ailing body would let him towards the doorway.
Of course, he didn’t make it, he hadn’t really expected to. It had been more of a hope than anything. He wept as Veronica ate him, he didn’t fight back or take the pain like a man. He simply lay on the floor crying pathetically. He had never achieved anything great with his life; he had been a sad shell of a man since the moment he was born. His death was met with the same attitude he took to his life. Brian finally died as his heart was torn from his chest, leaving the world unfulfilled and having achieved nothing.
Marjorie watched the news panicked. Brian’s disappearance had caused more of a stir in the local community, not only was he well known, but he was also the second male to go missing in a few short days. This time she watched the report with a heavy heart. She knew Veronica had killed Brian (and probably the other victim) and she knew she had sent him to his death. But how could she report Veronica, her own daughter, for this crime? She couldn’t, she knew it wasn’t within her nature, she knew for a fact that there was far more to it than met the eye and she couldn’t bear to see her baby locked up over something she was certain wasn’t her fault.
She read the texts again, trying to decipher them. Brian was obviously terrified when he’d written them as they barely made any sense. “Veronica leaving the house. Albania happened.” Was the first baffling message she’d received. She had been asleep when it came through or she might have been able to do something. “Hairy. Blood, bitten leg. V#@+.” Was the second and last message. Could Brian have been onto something? If only he had survived to tell her what he knew.
Marjorie decided to do a little bit of online research before finally facing Veronica. She knew her daughter must be scared, confused, like a little girl at the moment, having killed one of her friends, but she wanted to be armed with some knowledge first. Who knows how far she would go, maybe she wouldn’t even recognize her own mother. She certainly didn’t want to end up dead too. The news continued in the background, spitting out stories of a burned woman seeking revenge on men as a possible theory. Marjorie tuned it out and tried to discover what she could from the little information she had.
Veronica sat by the bloody remains of Brian, shellshocked. The last thing she remembered was returning home and locking the door after work. She couldn’t remember Brian coming round or anything. How had this happened? She had been so desperate to contain herself, to stop herself from killing again, but she hadn’t. She no longer had any control over herself and that was an utterly terrifying prospect.
She liked Brian, not in that way, but he was a good friend. Sure he’d never dropped by before unannounced, but he could have been worried about her. She had certainly been acting strangely. If it wasn’t for the takeaway ID badge lay taunting her on her blood stained carpet, she wouldn’t have even known the identity of her victim.
Veronica didn’t move. She just waited. She didn’t turn on the television; she knew this would be dominating the local news. She didn’t hide the body. She didn’t contact anyone. She just waited for the inevitable knock at the door, the police arrest. Much as she hadn’t been in control during her crimes, she knew the punishment would be justified. People can’t just murder without consequences.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
It was almost a relief when it eventually came; Veronica rushed to the door, eager to get it over with. At least behind bars, she couldn’t cause any more damage. But to her great surprise, her mother forced her way inside quickly, slamming the door behind her. Veronica didn’t even have time to hide the evidence from her, but it didn’t seem necessary. It appeared that she already knew everything.
“Albania.” She only needed to say the one word, and Veronica crumbled to the ground. She’d changed in Albania, she knew that, and somehow her mother now did too. “We have to go back.” She shook her head violently. “I know you don’t want to, but they did something to you. A gang...did you meet some sort of gang?” The man with black hair, green eyes and the large group of friends. She nodded. “They’ve cursed you, worked upon your biggest weakness. In your case gluttony—I’m sorry to say that, I know that will upset you. But they have turned you into a beast obsessed with eating. You’re some sort of werewolf.”
Veronica tried to process the information, but she couldn’t make it sink in. She’d spent the entire plane ride going over and over what her mother had told her, but it still didn’t make any sense. Sure, it did explain her behavior, the feeding, the blood, the cannibalism, but there was just one teeny tiny fatal flaw in the theory. Werewolves weren’t real; they were simply a mythological creature. Much as she wanted to believe it, she couldn’t. And now she was back on the turf she’d internally vowed to never set foot on again. Not only that, she was with her mother.
Marjorie hadn’t mentioned the murders, now was not the time. That was something that they could deal with together once this whole mess was over. She had mental blinkers on, just concentrating on the task at hand. She was hoping once that was dealt with, everything else would fall into place. Her online research had given her the name and address of someone that could help her, and she was desperately hoping that it was accurate.
Veronica stepped into the taxi, still not saying a word. Since they’d landed, her mother had talked non-stop about what they had to do next. She didn’t seem to mind the silence, though; it was almost as if she was just saying it all to herself as a coping mechanism of some sort. She watched the streets whiz past the window as the car moved, not recognizing any of it. If something so significant hadn’t happened here, she would be starting to question whether or not she had actually been here. Finally, the emotion started to catch up with her and her breath caught in her throat. She tried to keep the tears silent but found it impossible to do so. Too much had happened, too much had changed, it was all too overwhelming. All Veronica wanted to do was go back to before she’d even gone to boot camp. Even fat and miserable was better than this.
Her heart pounded ferociously as her mother knocked tenderly on the conspicuous black wooden door. She had no idea what to expect and all of this was making it more real to her than anything else had. Even waking up with a corpse at her feet had felt like nothing more than a terrible nightmare. This was something else. Her panic levels began to rapidly shoot up; her neck and back felt sweaty, her mouth ran dry and her body began to tremble. The door started to swing, but before she could see anything, everything went black.
Veronica lifted her head gingerly, expecting a pounding headache which never made an appearance. She sat upright, taking in the strange, witch-like decor of the unfamiliar room. It took a few minutes for her to remember everything and work out where she was. Luckily, for the time being, she was alone, so she could take the time to figure out what her next move should be. She inhaled deeply, closing her eyes, allowing a weird tangy scent to infect her nostrils, which made her feel slightly dizzy. As she snapped her eyes open, she became convinced that she was dreaming, because there was no way the sight before her could be real.
Him. The mystery man, the one responsible for bringing her into the dangerous situation, for changing her, for leaving her. She wanted to be angry, she was certain that she was furious, but he was gliding towards her, his lips puckering and a warm, calming, loving sensation overcame her. Knowing she should hate herself, she let him in again, she was intoxicated by him, she let him kiss her.
Time passed, Veronica had no idea how long. After all, she’d been kissing the love of her life for what felt like forever, and to be perfectly honest, she didn’t want it to end. Anything before this meeting had vanished from her mind, she couldn’t remember his rejection, her misdemeanors, all that mattered was him and her in this moment. As he pulled away, she felt him take a part of her heart with him, but her head also cleared in the process. Her mother. She’d came here with her, looking for a cure. What the hell was she playing at wasting time?!
She hurried into the next room, pushing past her mystery man, not even taking the time to consider what his being there could possibly mean. Did she really expect to find a cure in the home containing the man that did this to her? She moved from room to room, each one as empty as the last. The house that had looked so small from the outside, was huge, never ending. And she was about to find out why.
Swinging the door open to the biggest room in the house, she found it filled with five beings. At first, she thought they were human, but as she moved towards them, it quickly became clear that they were not. It was as if the closer she got, the more they changed into their real forms. As she looked down at her hands and spotted the light layer of hair starting to cover her skin, she realized that she was too.
“Welcome,” a pretty wood nymph type girl stepped towards her, offering a comforting handshake. “Gluttony, it’s nice to finally meet you. I’m Greed.”
Veronica looked around the group in shock as they all introduced themselves. Wrath was a human-dragon cross, Sloth was an ugly troll, Pride had snakes cascading from her head, and Envy looked very similar to a Minotaur. But there was one missing, there were seven deadly sins, everyone knew that.
“Lust.” She span around, her heart constricting at the familiar voice. It was him, the love of her life. An incubus it would seem. From the reaction of the other girls in the room, Veronica certainly wasn’t the love of his life. Despite all the bizarre activities occurring around her, she still felt the sting of humiliation. “In case you haven’t already guessed, we’re the Devil's minions, forced to do his bidding because of the dreadful ways we lived our lives.” Veronica couldn’t help but be shocked by this. She was being punished for eating too much?! Her thoughts were quickly interrupted. “We all have our own methods of killing, obviously yours is via eating during the period of the full moon. Each soul you murder is destined to an eternity in Hell.”
She gasped at this. Brian, he’d cared about her and not only had she murdered him; she’d sent him to Hell. That was worse than anything she could ever imagine. “The previous Gluttony is dead—you aren’t the first. He wanted out, he tried to kill himself but of course, we can’t, so he told someone of our existence and now he and everyone he discussed us with is also in Hell, but I imagine his fate is much worse than anyone else’s. I’m just warning you, you can’t escape this...ever.”
But Veronica was no longer listening. “Mum?” she whispered sadly, already knowing the answer.
“Already dealt with,” Wrath snapped at her. “Now enough of this, we all have a job to do.”
With that they all scattered, leaving the room empty, leaving her to deal with her grief. So this was to be her new life now? She was a killing machine and there was nothing she could do about it? She didn’t want to end up in the pits of Hell, but she didn’t want to condemn anyone else to that fate either. She tried to debate her options, but something about this building, this place, made her feel empowered by her new power. She had never been anyone important before, and now she was one of the seven most deadly people on the planet. She looked down at the thick hair now completely covering her, knowing it was making her think irrationally, but no longer caring.
Instead, she started to follow her instincts. Something inside of her took over and she went where her heart took her. The next time she was aware she was feasting on the remains of what she knew was her mother, and she didn’t even care. She’d become cold, desensitized. Absolutely perfect for the Devil's work.