TRIGGER WARNING: GORY. DISTURBING IMAGERY.
Carolina Jenkins was an average girl, with short blonde hair and gray-blue eyes. She shopped at American Eagle, Hollister, and Aéropostale just like anybody else in her grade. She hung out at the mall and had crushes just like anybody else. There was nothing unusual about Carolina, nothing that would make her stand out, and she liked it that way. Carolina watched the popular kids from afar, half wishing she was one of them and half glad she was so good at being invisible.
Carolina was a good girl; she never acted out.
Carolina’s mom was named Jane and her dad was Robert. Very normal names. Carolina’s mom worked at a law firm and her dad was an accountant. Very normal jobs.
But Carolina had a secret— a dark secret she was terrified of anyone finding out about. It was the reason Carolina kept to herself and never made any friends. If somebody found out, they’d report her and the authorities would take her away. She’d be locked up.
Carolina didn’t look up as her mom knocked on her open door.
“Sweetie, you’ve been in your room for hours, staring out that window. What’s wrong?”
Carolina did look up then. “I’m fine, Mom,” she said in a flat voice.
“Really. I’m fine.” Carolina’s voice sounded weird, even to her own ears. She sounded weak, strained. It was almost a raspy noise.
Her mom sighed. “Would you like something to eat, at least? You barely picked at your breakfast and you missed lunch.”
Carolina turned her attention back to the window. “I’m not hungry.”
Her mom came into her room and sat on her bed. “I read this article on depression—”
“I’m not depressed, Mom.”
Her mom sighed again and left, shutting the door behind her. Carolina could hear her talking in hushed tones to her husband. Carolina’s parents were worried about Carolina, but she knew there was nothing wrong with her.
A ravenous hunger swirled in her stomach, igniting her anger. There was a burning sensation at the back of Carolina’s throat, almost as if she was parched from being in the middle of a desert for too long. Carolina’s appetite only got worse, the more she tried to fight it off.
There was a knock on the door. Carolina ignored it, but it opened anyway.
“Carolina?” It was her dad this time.
“Go away,” Carolina said coldly. She didn’t want her father to see the desire and hunger in her eyes.
“What is it, sweetheart? Your mother says you’ve been refusing to eat.”
“Not hungry,” Carolina grunted. The hunger was getting worse. She had to get her father out of her room.
“You need to eat something.”
Her stomach rumbled. “I’m fine, Dad.”
“You must be starving.”
“I have to pee,” she said, abruptly. She stood, going into the bathroom at the end of the hall. Her bladder was fine, but she just knew she had to be away from her father. Her parents had no idea just how starving she was.
She ignored her father on the other side of the door. Finally, he left.
Carolina stood in front of the sink, staring at her pale reflection in the bathroom mirror.
“Stop it,” she said aloud. She wasn’t sure if she was talking to her resistance or her hunger. She had to get a grip before her little brother Edward came home from school. She couldn’t let Eddie see her like this.
“Carolina?” Her mother called up the stairs. “We’re going to pick up your brother from the bus stop. We’ll only be gone a second.”
Carolina didn’t answer. She braced her hands on the sink, sweat forming on her forehead.
Her reflection looked wrong in the mirror. She was too pale, too shaky. Her mouth had a feral twist to it, like a rabid wolf. Her eyes were too bright, almost feverish.
As she studied her reflection, her stomach growled loudly, demanding dinner. She opened the bathroom door and went downstairs, but when she saw that her parents had laid food out for her on the kitchen counter, she felt sick.
She turned away, trying the squelch the hunger.
There was a knock on the door and she went to answer it. Her neighbor, Mrs. Hucksbin, stood on the doorstep.
“Barbara,” Carolina said in a tense voice, using Mrs. Hucksbin’s first name. A fierce craving shot through her. It was getting harder to control it.
“Carolina,” Mrs. Hucksbin said with a bright smile. “How are you feeling, child? Your mother mentioned you weren’t feeling well?”
“Sick.” Carolina said edgily.
“Well, I brought you some chicken soup.” Mrs. Hucksbin held up a plastic container.
“Thank you.” Carolina took the container from Mrs. Hucksbin, her gaze lingering on Mrs. Hucksbin’s wrist for a moment too long. “I’ll put it in the freezer.”
“Hope you feel better,” Mrs. Hucksbin said, waving.
Carolina didn’t wave back as she shut the door. She tossed the container on the dining room table in revulsion.
Carolina was in her room, staring out the window, when her parents returned with Eddie.
She heard feet pounding up the stairs before her door burst open to show her grinning brother, holding up a piece of paper.
“I got an award today, Lina!” He said proudly, coming around the bed to thrust the paper in her face. “The teacher said I was the smartest kid in the whole class because I knew all about lions. I knew the females hunted first and ate after the males. I knew a whole bunch of other stuff, too, like adult lions pretend it hurts when their cubs bite them to encourage them.”
Carolina’s gaze fastened on Eddie’s neck, where his pulse throbbed. She wasn’t really listening to his words. Her hunger flared as Eddie reached out and touched her hand. She bit her lip, fighting the animalistic need inside her at the warmth of his skin.
Carolina drew back, wanting to get Eddie out of her room without touching him or hurting his feelings.
“Eddie? It’s time for dinner, buddy!” Their dad called up the stairs. “Tell Carolina she can join us if she wants.”
Eddie left, waving, and went to join their parents in the dining room.
Carolina’s stomach ached with huger. She wasn’t sure if she could control it anymore.
Carolina listened to the sounds of her family eating dinner downstairs. Finally she jammed in her headphones and turned the volume all the way up on her iPod to block out the noise.
She sat as still as she could, staring out the window. A montage of images assaulted her, covered in red.
Carolina was so hungry. She couldn’t even remember why she had decided eating would be a bad idea. She’d had this intense hunger building in her stomach for the past two months and her resolve was wearing thin. Just a bite…
Carolina pinched herself as she realized she’d started to gnaw on her own finger. She put that hand in her lap, between her legs, so she couldn’t see the teeth marks.
The salt from her skin was still on her tongue. She spit it out, the hunger almost unbearable now. She chewed on the inside of her cheek until it was raw.
Carolina moved to sit on the floor in the corner. She banged the back of her head against the wall several times, which lessened the hunger some. Bad, bad, bad, she chanted with each bang.
Her mother came into her room after dinner to find her like that, striking her head against the wall. “Carolina! What on earth?”
Carolina was only dimly aware of her mother’s presence.
“What’s bad?” Her mother asked and Carolina realized she was saying her mantra out loud.
“Me, Mom,” Carolina said. “I’m bad.”
Her mother laughed. “No, sweetie. You just need a little help. I’ll set up another appointment with Dr. Minggas tomorrow.”
Carolina went back to slamming her head against the wall.
“Honey!” Her mother cried in alarm. “Stop!”
Carolina stopped, but then the hunger came back. Carolina watched her mother leave, her gaze studying her mother’s arms. She had a bruise on the back of one, purple-yellow from the blood pooled behind the skin. Carolina subconsciously licked her lips.
“Go to bed, sweetheart. We love you. Goodnight.” Her mother shut the door.
Carolina stayed on the floor in the corner for most of the night. Just before dawn, she crawled onto her bed, curled up, and fell asleep.
But when she woke up, the hunger was waiting for her, worse than it had been the day before.
Carolina returned to her post at the window. It had been this way for weeks and weeks and weeks. Caroline couldn’t remember the last time she’d showered. It was just the same old routine, getting out of bed in the morning and sitting in the wood chair until nightfall. Then she’d sit up awake in the corner before climbing into bed before dawn and starting the whole thing over again.
Hunger clawed at her stomach, burning acidly in her mouth. Her throat was dry and scratchy, like razor blades being dragged back and forth across it. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could hold it off.
The door opened and Eddie entered, having just gotten home from school. He was holding an envelope. “Mommy said to give this to you.”
He held to letter out to Carolina. Carolina reached out tentatively and took it, accidentally slicing open Eddie’s pointer finger.
“Ow!” Eddie cried, clutching his finger. Blood welled on the tip from the paper cut, bright crimson against the pallor of his skin. He stared at the cut, tears washing his cheeks.
Carolina reacted almost instinctually, crouching down like a starving dog. Her eyes were fixed on Eddie’s hand. The smell of blood made her stomach growl louder.
Carolina’s eyes were fixated, staring at the cut in fascination. Eddie stuck his finger in his mouth, scrunching up his face in disgust at the taste of his blood. Carolina froze, transfixed.
Eddie took his finger out of his mouth and the movement held Carolina riveted. She watched, mesmerized, as he wiped his finger on the hem of his dinosaur tshirt.
Carolina’s stomach growled louder than it had before.
Eddie looked at Carolina strangely. “Are you okay, Lina?”
Carolina cocked her head as if she didn’t quite understand his question. The hunger rumbled inside her again.
Carolina moved closer toward Eddie. In her mind, she was screaming at him to run. The words wouldn’t quite force themselves through her lips and he was too young to know to back away. She wanted him desperately to get out of her room alive, but he didn’t know there was danger to escape from.
His uncomprehending face remained worried. His worry was misplaced, though. He should have been scared for himself, terrified of her, but instead he was just worried. Worried for her.
The hunger was a tangible, palpable thing, sitting in Carolina’s throat now. She could feel it uncurling in the pit of her stomach, yearning for a bite, desperate for satisfaction. It rose to her mouth, causing it to salivate. Ropes of drool dripped from her mouth.
“Lina…” Eddie took a step in the wrong direction, bringing himself toward her. He held out a hand.
Grabbing his small hand, Carolina felt his tiny fingers snap under her impossible strength. He cried out. Yanking on his short arm, Carolina had him pinned to the floor faster than his brain could catch up and tell him to run.
Eddie yelled and kicked, struggling against his older sister’s weight on top of him.
Clapping a hand over his mouth, Carolina muffled his shouts.
Silently, Carolina pleaded with him to find the strength to push her off and begged her body to let him go. But her hunger pushed her on.
Maybe she should have called the authorities and told them about the hunger, Carolina thought dimly. Now her secret was going to drive her to do an unforgivable act.
Carolina wrenched Eddie’s hand to her lips, ripping into his skin, pushing her tongue into his paper cut. His blood pooled, mixing with her saliva, and dripping from her mouth.
Carolina chewed his skin. Swallowing, she tore off another chunk of his flesh. Her hunger was blazing now, a wicked esurient beast inside her.
Carolina sat in the gore on her bedroom floor, the hunger raving, spreading to her brain. Her mind went completely blank as she continued eating. Her brother’s struggles grew weaker. Eventually his agonized screams stopped and he lay a twitching pile on the floor. As Carolina moved from his hand to his throat, his twitching stopped completely.
Vaguely, Carolina was aware of footsteps on the stairs.
“Hey, honey. Have you seen Eddie?” Carolina heard the doorknob turn slowly, but she was too far gone to react. Carolina’s mother opened the door, holding her cell as if she were in the middle of placing a call. Looking up, her mother’s hand shot to her mouth, her eyes wide with shock. Her phone slipped through her fingers to bounce off the hardwood floor.
Carolina let out a guttural snarl, hunched over her brother as if she were a lion protecting its dinner, blood smeared all over her mouth. Eddie’s lifeless corpse lay before her, his blood soaking into her rug, his intestines clutched in her hand.
Her mother made a faint noise, looking ill. Turning, she ran.
A chase, Carolina thought, a grotesque smile curving her lips as she moved toward the open door.
She wasn’t Carolina anymore. Now she was just The Hunger.