by Zoe E. Whitten
Laurie Morton stared down at her blood-soaked hands. She thought, It’s not mine. I’m okay. It’s not my blood, and I’m fine.
She didn’t feel fine. Hands pinned her arms to her sides. They pushed her down into a crouch, and the position made her chest feel constricted. Her heart was beating too fast, and her skin felt slimy and itchy at the same time. All she could smell was blood, and all she could taste was bloody sweat.
The hands gripping her upper arms bit into her flesh, and veins stood out on her forearms, wrists and hands. Her fingers tingled, cut off from blood circulation. Her head felt numb, but there was an odd sensation of pressure at the nape of her neck.
Along the right edge of her field of vision, she saw her husband, mutilated, his throat and face missing ragged chunks. One eye closed, forever closed. The other hung on a bundle of nerves off of the ravaged cartilage that used to be the bridge of his nose. Both lips and most of his cheeks were gone.
Her heart sped up, and she thought , You don’t see him. He’s not really there.
She started to hum, raising her hands to stare at them more intently, trying to make her hands her whole world. Her fingers became trees in a forest, their pale white bark covered in a rust red moss in the Autumn. Her palms filled with leaves of red, orange and pink. Laurie hummed louder, moving her fingers to cause the trees to sway in her hallucination.
Beyond the lighter-colored tree fingers, though, she still saw a dark forest of legs, and she could hear a chorus of screaming voices. The riot was still going on around her, and the jumble of legs moving to and fro was too confusing to follow. It happened too fast, and it felt to Laurie like she was watching selected cuts of video from a badly edited movie.
Every two seconds, two or three frames were dropped between each splice. Was the lighting in the building going crazy? Or…or was it her? Did she have a head wound?
She tried to reach back, and the hand gripped in her hair shook her violently. The room blurred around her in a kaleidoscope of laser lights, screaming cops, bellowing rioters, and blood.
The blood was everywhere, and Laurie, a trained nurse who worked for five years in the emergency ward of Bexar County hospital, had still never seen so much spilled blood in her life.
She lost track of time, and when she became aware again, the screaming singers had change to a chorus of shocked moans. Through the blurring of her head being tossed from side to side, she saw bodies littering the floor, and the strobe lights on the wall had been turned off.
The white fluorescent overhead lights revealed every gory detail. Bodies of rioters and police lay tangled in piles, creating a maze of gore-slick pathways. Laurie thought, And every direction, a dead end.Almost every gap in clothing that should have offered a view of dead pale skin instead revealed ragged tear or bite marks. Every body looked like the victim of a wild animal attack.
Those people that weren’t laying on the floor were either held down by uniformed officers, most of whom were dressed in riot gear, or they wandered grimly around the carnage, looking like drunken revelers for the way they staggered. They weren’t dressed like detectives, but Laurie wasn’t sure if they were real or not. Some of the shuffling upright victims appeared to be too gruesomely injured to be survivors.
Laurie assumed that she was still hallucinating until she saw cops acknowledging the victims. Only a handful of officers could be dedicated to rounding up the sleepwalkers, people who were so dazed that they wandered unaware of their surroundings and their injuries.
Sobs and moans filled the air, creating a wretchedly haunting sound. Despite all she heard and saw, Laurie smiled. Laurie looked down at the blood drenching the floor, and then she started to laugh.
The fist clenching her hair froze, and she looked at her husband’s body again. What was his name? She frowned, trying to reconnect with him.
Instead, she looked away at a deep, seemingly endless puddle of blood. She said, “Bio-hazard. Hate to be the clean-up crew.”
Behind her, a man shouted, “Sir! I think she’s recovering.”
Legs scissored closer to Laurie accompanied by the sounds of wet sloshing. The grey slacks were mostly clean, though there were already specks of blood staining the bottom hems from the heels of the detective’s dress shoes splashing.
No one working the riot would be able to leave without burning their clothes. Laurie thought of everyone walking home nude, and she laughed again.
The detective who knelt down in front of her pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and flipped open the box to pull one out, along with a slim lighter shaped like a wide cigarette. The filter hinged down on a swing-arm, and a flame sprang up from the white body of the lighter. Laurie’s eyes trailed the cigarette from the pack up to his mouth, and then she curled her lips to nibble on them.
The detective’s gaze remained on Laurie’s face as he rested his pack on his knee, and he regarded her with an expression of sympathy. His yellow fingertips suggested that he’d been chain-smoking for a while. His grey tweed jacket had patches on the elbows that were applied as repairs, rather than as a fashion statement.
An older detective in his late fifties, he was bald, and from the top of his pate to the collar of his stiff blue dress shirt, his skin was green.
Laurie wasn’t sure if she was hallucinating, or if the detective was ill from standing on an inch-deep layer of blood.
“Hi, honey,” he said around a plume of smoke. “Can you tell me your name yet? Do you remember who you are?”
“Laurie…Morton.” Laurie pouted. “Did I get hit on the head?”
“Yes, I’m afraid you did get hit, several times. You might have a concussion, Laurie, but you’re going to be okay. No one else is going to hurt you, and my men want to let you go. But you’ve got to prove to us that you’re calm now, okay?”
“Now, tell me what happened to start this riot.”
Laurie blinked at the detective, looking like she’d just been asked to give an oral exam on diseases of the liver after she’d just spent all night studying the pancreas.
He pushed the cigarette to her lips, and she inhaled, thinking, I wonder if I smoke?
Deeply inhaling brought no punishment from her lungs, the action habitually familiar to her. She reached up to nip the filter between her index and middle finger. The filter was sticky on her lips, but there was no sting from split or swollen skin. She felt no pain in her face, but the back of her head felt like an anvil chorus performance was being conducted.
The filter came away deep red. Laurie noted this, and then she took another long drag. Blood was everywhere tonight. Making a big deal out of it being on her lips seemed pointless.
She thought while she smoked, but instead of her recent memories, she had something more distant bubble up. I quit smoking two years ago.
She held up the cigarette, stared at it, and took another drag.
At last Laurie could remember how the chain of events started, and she nodded before she blew out a smoke ring. “Fruit punch.”
“Come again?” The detective leaned closer, already taking out another cigarette for himself.
“First thing we had when we got through the door.” Flicking away a long ash with an agitated stroke of her thumb, Laurie waved her forearm, slinging it out sideways as far as the uniformed cop would let her go before he reined her back in. “It was hot as hell outside waiting in line for the rave, so of course we took advantage of a stand offering free fruit punch. Except, it tasted funny. Like, acidic and with a tingle on the tongue. Used carbonated water to hide it.”
Laurie paused to take several long drags. She was slow to come down from the drug, and from her concussion.
The events in her head had to be reconstructed from multiple fragments of memories, but at last she assembled enough pieces to make a mental movie that she understood. “Scott, my husband, he noticed it right away and threw his cup. But I was so thirsty, and I got most of my drink down before he slapped my cup away from me. And…and then I got mad.”
The detective nodded, waving over a uniformed officer. “She didn’t get the full dose. Cuff the punch vendors and load them into the van. Everyone else needs to be quarantined until the drug wears off.”
The uniformed officer shuffled off to comply with the order, and the detective turned to stare at Laurie with a sick expression. “So, that drug started to kick in really fast, huh? I mean, you ate your husband’s face?”
Laurie’s expression fell into blank, dumbfounded slackness. She wanted to object, but the note of disbelief in the detective’s voice made her pause, uncertain of her drug-addled memory. She wanted to ask how he knew, but then she looked down at her hand, at her wedding band.
Then she glanced over to the wall of video screens, where a half dozen detectives crouched to watch the action.
Twenty-two cameras, all of them live, all of them streaming the party out to the world. And now the stream was being reviewed as evidence. Laurie scanned the horrific scenes on each screen until she found herself, her face buried in her husband’s throat.
Despite this overwhelming proof, there was still confusion in Laurie’s voice as she asked, “Did I?”
She turned her head to stare at Scott’s wounds again.
Not an animal attack, but a human, someone lost in an animal frenzy. New memory fragments turned over in her mind, glinting like bloody shards of glass under a streetlamp. In each glimmer, she caught a few seconds of the truth before her conscious mind resisted the full horror of the event.
Within the flickering progression of snippets, she saw enough to know that she had indeed attacked Scott, biting and tearing away greedy mouthfuls of raw, hot flesh. Too many of the memories surfaced, and she panted, her mouth becoming slick.
Laurie nodded as she looked back at the detective, her hazel eyes glazing over. “Yes, I guess I did.”
The detective nodded too. “Okay Laurie, I think you’re still feeling the drug, so we’ll have to hold you down for a few more minutes, at least.” Puffing from his cigarette, the detective debated with himself before he asked, “Why did you eat the other guy?”
Laurie’s head swiveled where the detective gestured, to another man who was also missing parts of his face and throat.
She shrugged indifferently and said, “No one can eat just one.”
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