A fiction piece by Jason Branch, sophomore Psychology Major
Kel’s mouth tasted like ash and blood, the cuts all over his body burning as hot as the fire bringing his hometown to dust. If he closed his eyes, he could see the absolute nothing of his prison: the mildew and mold, cold and wet stone walls and floors, his wrists raw and red in his shackles. The hunger, the pain. He hardly closed his eyes anymore, even to sleep.
The bane of his existence stood passively in front of him, blue fire in one hand and a ghostly blade in the other: Eros.
Down the road, his childhood home was gone. The houses next to it, Redd’s roof already caved in. Cynthia’s place may well have never been there. The pub and the library, buildings where Kel made both the best and worst memories in, cinders. His quarrel with Eros only
brought pain, but he was too far deep to give up. No, he couldn’t turn back, not after losing everything to Eros. Kel had nothing left, not even family to go back to. Eros had taken everything.
His eyes felt dry from the smoke, despite the tears and snot staining his face, Eros’ all-white figure unmoving despite the raging storm of fire, rain, and wind. Kel hiccuped past the immobilizing anger, pushing past the lump in his throat.
“I hate you.”
Eros’ blank green eyes stared through Kel, making his blood curdle and his skin crawl. He didn’t know now, in retrospect, what he saw in Eros.
“So it would seem.” Eros’ voice was even, monotone. No indication of his mood. “Are you satisfied? Did you get what you wanted?”
Kel screamed, gripping at his broken arm, which barely held onto his soot-blackened pistol. “This isn’t about what I want! I need this, I need to rip your stone-dead heart from your chest!”
No reaction, no indication of his mood.
Initially, this was what attracted Kel to Eros. Kel’s life had been rife with misfortune and rejection. There was something about him, others would say, something about the way he looked at someone and seemed to stare right through them, how he would speak but say nothing at all, nothing they could understand. His family left when he was young, but Kel could never track them down. Where he ended up squatting, where he would call home after years of trial and error and figuring out the hard way how to avoid attention, which unsurprisingly was to avoid eye contact and pretend he didn’t speak, and eventually became true to a point, it was passable enough. When he hid every authentic part of himself, he made friends. If one were to attribute an adjective to this phenomena, they may even say that he was happy. But with glass that breaks when struck, those so-called
friends would comment how they loved the things about him he faked, how they hated the things that he was. All that time, he had suppressed the peculiar hunger that no food nor drink or any kind of sex satiated, and how the warmth of every body he embraced was still too far away despite being skin-to-skin.
It was that hunger that Eros saw in Kel, and what united them in their time together. Eros would teach Kel things, explain the origin of that hunger they both felt. He taught Kel how to quiet the rage behind his eyes, to stave the hunger away. He told Kel what they
were: some kind of ghoulish fiends, a biological anomaly. Eros said they weren’t entirely human, that the circumstances of their birth were sacreligious, the work of demons tainting their mothers before conception, to create a conduit for their own evil. He also said that
was what made them superior, their unique abilities that gave them an advantage over others.
Despite the chaos and uncertainty this life left in the empty space, Eros was unmoved by it. His lack of fear or trepidation lent Kel confidence of his own, it felt as though there wasn’t a reason to be afraid. The arrows of scorn stuck themselves in the skin of acceptance, and that dichotomy trapped Kel. Eros offered him a way
out. After all, why worry about anyone’s opinion when they’ve already decided they hated him?
Eros’ sweet blasphemy made him feel a surge of energy he’d sorely been missing, a hope he hadn’t felt since he naively set off to find his family, who had abandoned him for his corruption, a poison he had no control over.
Guided by the night, he would come and go, taking life from those he fed from, leaving them nearly dead and alarming villages and cities to his presence. An agent of satanic origin, blood-sucking and flesh-eating and deflowering, and while Kel greatly enjoyed all of the benefits which he reaped from this lifestyle, his hunger still simmered at the pit of his belly, at it reared like a wild beast in Eros’ scent. Kel called it love. Eros called it a mistake.
He thought that Eros could have been fairer, except that wasn’t how Eros did things. Eros was cold, calculated, never did anything he thought was unworthy of his time. For a moment, Kel was worthy: then he was not. After his support and guidance, stoic encouragement and a bulwark of self-assurance, Kel thought he had a permanent ally in this world, perhaps a true friend. He supposed he should have known better.
Their sins had caught wind of hunters, fairly notorious ones at that. Those who would take away people like Kel and Eros and torture them so terribly that they would beg to die, only to be kept alive like a macabre examination of how far they could be pushed until they
snapped. But people like Kel and Eros had long since snapped, and to be pushed further would destroy their will, and the hunters knew that. Eros knew that, but Kel did not, and Eros deliberately failed to teach him of that fact. Eros had led them dangerously close to town, a choice that at the time Kel assumed was an oversight. His plan, he had said, was to initiate an altercation on one side of town so that the banker was too distracted to notice all of the money was gone. Kel was assigned as the bait, and Eros would pilfer their spoils away.
“Why am I the bait? Can I not make them fight amongst each other and join you later?” Kel had asked then, foolishly.
“You are not that useful. Do what I told you.”
Foolishly. Foolishly, Kel obeyed, hurt by Eros’ words but still blindly following him, his adoration of his mentor taking away his logic. He took his position outside the clinic, striking those who got too close, yelling about how he would take them apart limb by
limb and string them up by their intestines. He surely did gain an audience, and per his instructions, he allowed himself to get captured. But then, where he long since should have realized he was played for a fool, his connection to freedom was cut off. Kel was banished under the earth, his hunger unacknowledged, his mortal coil weakening with each passing day. After a time, Kel stopped counting the days, and he knew with this surrender that no one would come back.
Kel himself was lost for all the time he was imprisoned, barely able to recognize his own hands in his metal cuffs, his nails jagged and grimy. But he was, at his core, a fiend. And his beast was hungry, with more than just the need to feed. This hunger, still directed at
Eros, was of a different nature. Kel craved his heart before, but now, he craved his heart. He couldn’t recount how he escaped, except that he broke himself in every way to get out, and left a trail of decay wherever he went.
Now, he faced Eros with all of his power, months upon years of tracking him down, burning every bridge and trampling everyone he ever knew to find this one man.
And he did, and he felt the gnawing hunger flare up with a sickening toxicity he’d never felt before.
Eros didn’t move, didn’t even try to avoid Kel’s grasp as he lunged for his heart, a deathly grasp plunging into his chest. He’d simply said, “do what you want”, and no more.
Kel didn’t care for honor or equity, or the fairness of his victory, or the fact that it was freely given. He wanted Eros’ heart, and once he saw his former master crumple to the ground, impassive face now his death mask, he achieved his goal. He became a monster, and that fact he didn’t mind. His heart had become broken, and that wasn’t so bad, if it hadn’t been Eros.
The man’s heart bled down his forearm, dripping off his bare elbow. Kel raised it up to his lips, tongue darting out to taste it, before he took a bite. It tasted like ash.
Kel missed the taste of Eros’ sweat, the sound of his voice when he rarely let his guard down. Now, he had nothing of Eros except the weight of his flesh in his stomach and the memory of something else. He didn’t feel better, not at all.
He kneeled after Eros, holding his cold corpse close to himself, trying to chase after the remaining warmth it had. Kel felt like throwing up, but when he heaved, nothing came. In that moment, he felt like he figured out what Eros knew all along: what it felt like to be completely, truly alone, how not even people like them could trust one another.
Simultaneously, Kel both regretted and didn’t regret what he had done, only that he let himself be used for both his body and mind. He became Eros. He was no longer himself.
The new Eros stood slowly, the blood, sweat and soot staining his already dark clothes. He walked towards the fire still consuming his former hometown, right into the middle, where it burned hottest. He stood, impassively, and waited.
Eros waited for the phoenix he was told would rise.