Title: Hungry Business: A Short Story
Author: Maria DeBlassie
Genre: Horror Short Story
From the multi-award-winning author of Everyday Enchantments: Musings on Ordinary Magic & Daily Conjurings comes a cozy Gothic short story about searching for soul, meaning, love in a world that's forgotten the power of everyday conjuring.
Looking for love can be deadly…
You know how it goes. You go out, hoping to meet someone. You wade through your fair share of brainless automatons, lifeless bodies, and ravenous undead good at passing as human.
The more you go out, the less hope you feel and the colder your body gets. But you keep at it. All you need is one beating heart to match your own before yours stops pumping altogether. How hard can it be to find one living, breathing human in a city full of bodies?
It’s hungry business.
This one looks a little better, you think optimistically.
You sit across from each other at the dinner table. The white tablecloth is as smooth and unblemished as his collared shirt. He has dressed for the occasion, taking care to hide the evidence of his affliction as best he can (though truly there is only so much he can do with a missing ear and half a brain). Still, the tuxedo and carefully applied makeup are enough to create the illusion of pumping blood beneath his pallid, blush-stained cheeks—in the right light. Which is another reason why you chose this place. Candlelight can hide a multitude of sins.
His manners are studied and smooth, as if he has spent a lot of time practicing more human-like movements and behavior. You admire a man who makes that kind of effort. He watches you as much as you do him, as if he is trying to remember what it was like to be alive. When you reach for your wine glass, so does he—only his thick decaying fingers almost crush the stem, whereas your nimble live ones carefully bring the dark red liquid to your mouth. You try not to notice how he stares at your lips—stained now from the wine—wondering, perhaps, how you taste.
* * *
At home, you take a bath as hot as you can stand and read an old bodice ripper until the warmth returns to your veins, and the flames of hope have been fanned enough that you can crawl into your flannel jammies and be grateful you are still alive. The light in your apartment slowly seeps into your chest, and you settle into your perch on the window.
You inspect the damage to your pinky finger as you wait for the cat to appear. The bath stopped the spread of the decay but the tip is gray and blue. There is puss where your fingernail should have been. You smother it in aloe vera, grated ginger, and bandages, hoping it will be enough to bring life back into your appendage. You don’t really know how to treat something like this. You sigh and lean back against the window frame. Your orange tabby cat has made its appearance—yours, yes, thought you know you shouldn’t feel so possessive about a creature you only know from a distance. It’s just nice to know it’s there.
Here’s the thing you love about the cat across the way: It’s proof that there are other beating hearts out there. Cats won’t settle where Hungries live. Perhaps their feline instincts tell them they’re easy prey for the things that are never satiated. That’s why you never see alley cats in the humanless neighborhoods. In fact, it was their strange mass exodus from certain parts of the city that first alerted officials to the virus now plaguing them. And this cat—bright orange like a flame with a soft, full belly—seems happy enough in its home. You wonder what kind of human it belongs to.
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It’s the perfect cozy Gothic story to read for some halloween thrills and chills.
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Maria DeBlassie, Ph.D. is a native New Mexican mestiza blogger, award-winning writer, and award-winning educator living in the Land of Enchantment. Her first book, Everyday Enchantments: Musings on Ordinary Magic & Daily Conjurings (Moon Books 2018), and her ongoing blog, Enchantment Learning & Living are about everyday magic, ordinary gothic, and the life of a kitchen witch. When she is not practicing her own brand of brujeria, she’s reading, teaching, and writing about bodice rippers and things that go bump in the night. She is forever looking for magic in her life and somehow always finding more than she thought was there. Find out more about Maria and conjuring everyday magic at www.mariadeblassie.com.
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