The price is paid for human arrogance.
|"Where's the bedroom?" He hissed, leaning in and groping her breasts through the thin fabric of her blouse. His fetid breath reeked of alcohol and onion rings; his stubble scratched roughly against the smooth skin of her neck as he nuzzled against her.
With a deep breath, she took him by the hand and led him through the house.
Laura and Clint met at a bar earlier that night, although it was hardly a coincidence. Clint was a mid-level claims adjuster at a mid-sized insurance company in the Midwest. He was completely unremarkable and unimpressive in every way, except maybe in his alcohol tolerance and obesity. He knew women only slept with him for one of three reasons – convenience, poor judgment, or pity – and he was okay with that. Being the guy they regretted in the morning all but guaranteed him a lay with no strings attached.
He had been staring at Laura all night, leering at her large, firm breasts, crammed into a tight, low-cut blouse. His eyes traced their way up her slender legs, to the skimpy leather miniskirt that barely covered what it needed to. He licked his lips as he noted her creamy white skin, and the way it contrasted with her curly, dark auburn hair.
If Clint had one talent, it was detecting a woman's desperation. And Laura had all the telltale signs – the trying-too-hard outfit, the way she sized up all the guys in the bar, and the hint of sadness and loneliness behind her eyes. Everything about her called out to Clint's inner scumbag... and he eagerly approached her, more than willing to take advantage before she came to her senses.
Laura was almost too easy. Either he was really on his game tonight, or she was good and desperate, because she played right into his hands... even ignoring the wedding band that Clint poorly disguised, having long since given up any attempt to remove it from his fat, sausage-like finger. After only a few minutes of idle chatter, Clint dispensed with the pleasantries and flat out asked if Laura wanted him to come back to her place. It was, without a doubt, the least amount of effort he had ever put into banging someone this hot... and was almost surprised when she agreed.
Now she was leading him through the house, toward the bedroom as he felt her up. Clint ran his sweaty hands all over her body, delighting in the firm contours of her physique. Unlike his own corpulent mass, he could feel her every toned muscle as he traced his fingers up her inner thighs and across her flat stomach. He kept returning to her voluptuous breasts, squeezing the soft flesh between his rough, meaty paws.
Laura broke away long enough to open the door for them. Standing right at the edge, Clint leaned forward and peered into the darkness of the basement.
"That's not the bedroom," he said, confused.
"I know," Laura replied simply as she shoved him down the stairs.
She closed and locked the basement door.
Moments after the lock had clicked into place, Clint's agonizing screams filled the house.
Laura spent most of the following day on her computer. She was a workaholic; spending every free moment in her study, which was half office and half laboratory. So far, all of the trials had been a bust, and she was eager to make a breakthrough. She wasn't sure how much longer she could go on like this. The lack of progress was heartbreaking.
She took off her glasses and pinched the bridge of her nose, trying to stave off the migraine that threatened to spread across her brain. She had been working on this project nonstop, and the effort was beginning to take a toll on her.
Then, she heard the familiar faint scraping that she always dreaded. She checked her watch and noted the time on one of the many spreadsheets on her desk. With some reluctance, she left the office and headed into the bedroom, where she quickly slipped out of her jeans and T-shirt, and selected a provocative dress from her closet. It was a shimmering, silky green, with a plunging neckline and a hem that ended mid-thigh.
Laura quickly completed her nightly ritual of donning the outfit, doing her hair, caking on the makeup, and dousing herself in perfume. She didn't bother looking at herself in the mirror. She knew she had the look of a desperate woman who was trying too hard.
But then again, that was the point.
She sat on one of the stools at the restaurant's bar, checking out her surroundings. This one was a little more upscale, and clearly catered to the higher echelon of corporate travel. This was the place where business class frequent flyers spent their nights away from home.
It wasn't until she was on her third drink that Dennis came over and offered to buy her another one. Laura smiled politely and invited him to sit down. She quickly learned that he lived in Scranton, Pennsylvania and sold high volume toner cartridges for a living. He was in town for a couple nights to see if he could drum up some business out here. Laura also learned that Dennis lived alone and didn't have much luck with the ladies, thanks in no small part to his short temper. In the thirty minutes they spent talking, he had yelled at the bartender three times for not fixing his drinks to exacting specifications.
It didn't take long for Laura to convince him to come home with her. With alcohol-laden breath, she had whispered all the things she wanted to do to him... all the things she wanted him to do to her. At that point, Dennis was practically dragging her out of the bar.
At Laura's house, Dennis met the same fate as Clint. The fantasy pleasures they imagined Laura would give them were quickly replaced by the real life horror in her basement.
Laura listened outside the door to the basement as Dennis' screams eventually died off, leaving only the sickening sounds of crunching bone and tearing flesh. When she could take no more, Laura retreated upstairs and into the shower, where she attempted to scrub the shame and guilt from her naked body. The scalding hot water steamed up the room, and Laura eventually collapsed onto the floor of the shower, crying until there were no tears left to shed.
With every passing day, Laura's desperation to find a cure increased... because each passing day meant another day that she would have to degrade herself... another day that she would have to bring someone home... another day where an innocent person would sacrifice their life for her mistake.
Today, she had a new trial. She prepared the syringes and headed for the basement. Before going downstairs, she steeled herself, never quite prepared for what she was about to see.
In the dark basement, she made her way slowly down the stairs.
"It's me." She called out. "Where are you?"
Something moved in the shadowy corner of the basement, catching her attention.
"Hey there," Laura said gently. "It's okay. I've got something else we can try today."
She reached the basement floor and made her way over to the corner.
"Don't come any closer." It said.
"Don't be ridiculous," Laura scoffed, trying to sound more confident than she was. "It's nothing I haven't seen before."
She moved closer, reaching for the light.
"You might want to close your eyes," she said softly. "It might be a little bright."
Laura knew the bright light didn't have anything to do with it. She switched on the bare bulb and recoiled at the sight. Sitting in the corner was a man... or at least what was left of one. Pallid grey skin hung off his emaciated skeleton like drapery; his stringy muscles and tendons visible through the holes in his flesh.
But what was worse than his desiccated body was the horror around him. Broken bones and lumps of rotten flesh... the remains of his many meals. His mouth was smeared with blood and strands of muscle and flesh dangled from his lips. Laura took a deep breath and forced a smile onto her face as the man's eyes fluttered open.
That was why she told him to close his eyes. Because she knew that her first, natural reaction was to process the monstrosity that he had become. And she'd be damned if she was going to let her husband see that.
After finishing the round of inoculations, Laura waited beside him.
"Feel any different?" She asked anxiously.
"I don't know," he replied, "I feel something, but I'm not sure what it is yet."
Laura's face brightened. Had she finally done it? Had she reversed the process? Would she finally have her husband back?
"Well?" She inquired, impatient. "What do you feel like?"
He looked thoughtful for a brief moment.
Then, his face fell. Disappointment registered and he looked up at Laura with sad, defeated eyes.
"I feel... hungry." He replied softly.
Laura's first instinct was to let her head fall in disappointment; to drop everything, run upstairs and dive under the covers of their bed so she could cry. But she fought back the tears and forced a weak smile onto her face.
"It's okay, baby," she reassured him. "I'll go get you someone."
Weeks came and went, and Laura still hadn't made any significant progress. What had started as the search for a cure to her husband's cancer was now the search for a way to reverse the decaying creature he had become. And while she searched for a cure, she was forced to go out every night and bring home an innocent person to feed her husband's inhuman appetite.
She longed for her husband's return. After failed marriages for both of them, they had found one another in the way that only soul mates could. Theirs was a fairytale love that Laura wasn't willing to give up on. He had begged her to let him go... to let him die as God had intended. It was meant to be this way, he had told her. But she couldn't accept it. Her scientific mind reasoned that there must be a way to beat his disease. To conquer nature's design. And because of that belief, she had created a monster that could neither die, nor was truly living. A monster that retained enough of her husband to compel her to help, rather than let him suffer through the excruciating, eternal hunger that consumed him whenever he didn't feast on the flesh of others.
Sometimes, Laura wondered if there would ever be a point where it would all be too much for her. Where she wouldn't be able to live with the reality that she was responsible for the deaths of dozens of people, just to keep her husband alive. The thing she feared most was that she would be tempted to surrender; to give up the fight to save her husband and admit that she had lost him; that she had been wrong and had caused him to endure an irreversible state of undeath.
But that hadn't happened yet. And until it did, Laura would continue her search. Her endless work in the lab. She would continue, as she did tonight, to go out and lure men back to the house, promising pleasure and delivering pain.
Laura wrapped her arms around herself, rocking gently back and forth under the intense heat of the shower. The running water mercifully drowned out the sounds of her husband devouring their latest victim downstairs. She could still hear the man's agonizing screams echoing in her ears.
After the shower, Laura slipped on her nightgown and went to bed. Sleep was the only escape she permitted herself, although even that was increasingly interrupted by nightmares of the realities of her life. As she settled into bed, she softly wept; for her husband, and for herself.
This was her burden to bear... her penance for defying nature's plans.