A few years ago in 2026, legislation came into effect making it illegal to be what I now am. If you are discovered with my condition...well, let’s just say your future would be very brief and very bleak indeed.
I understand the logic behind the legislation. I even support it, really. With people like me around, you are compromising the safety of countless innocent people. If I were a braver man, the type of man we all want to be, I would have turned myself in long before now and accepted my fate with dignity. But no matter how bad things get, self preservation is such an innate instinct that it never really leaves you. Sometimes, though, I think I would rather be dead.
It all began three months ago. My fiancée and I had been arguing over something stupid, as was tradition for us. I had never seen her so mad in our seven years together and I can’t even remember what we were fighting about. I do remember how it ended. She threw her ring (which was far less expensive than she believed it to be) at me, her brown eyes raging. She broke up with me for the fourth time and stormed out of my flat.
According to tradition, I was meant to run after her and beg for forgiveness. She would shout, she would cry, but after an hour or so all would be back to normal. That time, though, I had had enough. Seven years I had been with that woman. I had been good to her, loved her, spoiled her, and got no thanks at all in return. The fact that I had never been unfaithful, not once in approximately 2556 days, didn’t seem to count for much.
I threw her ring in my sock drawer and fumed, thinking about our relationship and how much of an idiot I was. Where had being an honest, decent, hardworking man got me? Where was the unwavering, heartfelt gratitude of my loving girlfriend? Things, essentially speaking and without wanting to sound like a sulking teenager, were unfair. Life with that woman had become thankless and frustrating.
That night, things would change.
That night, I, Jonathan Elton, would be with a woman who was not Tina. She would be nothing like her. She would be spontaneous and reckless and carefree. Beyond that, I didn’t care. I didn’t even need to know her name.
I chose the nightclub with the worst reputation around. The type of place that would have horrified my mother and that I never would have set foot in before because I was such a good boy. I smiled bravely, thinking of it as step one in becoming the new, exciting, interesting me.
The air smelled sickening, almost like rotting rubbish. The floor was sticky and I felt stupidly overdressed in my suit and tie. I wasn’t there long before I began to lose my nerve. I had provoked many derisive glares from my fellow club-goers for merely walking in the door, and I kept nervously checking that my wallet was still in my back left pocket. Feeling like I was just recovering from a mad, brief, quarter life crisis, I turned on my overpriced heel and made for the exit.
I didn’t get very far. A woman of about thirty appeared in front of me, smiling what my mother calls an ‘obvious smile’. I smiled back, somewhat bashfully. She was pretty, certainly, but her sheer confidence and determinism made that pretty face irresistible. She introduced herself and asked me to dance in a manner that didn’t allow for refusal. She moved inexpertly but boldly. I had never felt so wanted in such a short space of time.
“Let’s go somewhere more private,” she whispered, and that was it. That was how my life effectively ended.
When I remember that night, I recall her intensity more than anything else. It was like nothing in the universe mattered to her in that moment. I knew with equal certainty that I would be completely removed from her thoughts the following night. It was extraordinary.
When I woke up in the morning, the knowledge that I had made a huge and idiotic mistake hit me like a brick to the head. I picked up my mobile before I even stirred and dialled Tina’s number.
“Come home,” I rasped, before she could even finish saying hello. “I’m an idiot. I love you. Please, please come home.”
But things were over between us. It felt like hell then, but looking back I am so glad she told me where to go and blocked my number. The thought that I didn’t have the opportunity to hurt her again in any capacity is the only silver lining I have in my life right now.
For the first month following that night, I was blissfully aware that something inside me was changing. Looking back, there were certain hints, but I put my extreme emotional schizophrenia down to my heartbreak. I looked for solace in the arms of many beautiful women. I had never been that kind of man, but without Tina I felt lost. I craved human interaction more than I ever had before in my life. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was just the beginnings of my decent. Every human need, urge or feeling seemed to magnify within me. Love, lust, envy, depression, hunger. I couldn’t eat enough. I suppose that should have tipped me off, but it didn’t. I suppose denial was magnified, too.
In the second month, though, even my strong, determined denial began to waver. I knew I was changing. It was gradual, but certainly noticeable. Hunger was starting to hurt. It felt different. My insides felt stretched. It is so hard to describe adequately now, because the pain was unlike anything I had ever felt before. The closest I can get is by saying it felt like skin being ripped in two, slowly and unrelentingly. The thing was, nothing looked appealing to me in the slightest. When I was around food, I felt sick, but I was fading quickly because I was unwillingly depriving my body of what it needed.
The gradually worsening pain meant that I had to stay home from work. Something prevented me from going to the hospital. I would spend hours curled up in bed, shaking slightly, desperately missing Tina and human contact. I wanted the comfort of a warm body next to me, to hear the steady pulsing beat of her heart. She would have been so annoyed if she could see me then, in obvious pain but refusing to accept help from an actual medical professional.
The pain got so bad it began to disorient me. I don’t remember how many days I spent cooped up in my bedroom, rolling around in agony. I don’t remember how I left and forced myself into the outside world for a bit of human interaction, but I think it had something to do with an unhealthy amount of painkillers. I was losing my mind. Nothing made sense anymore and noises were too loud for me to cope with. I was falling apart and had no idea how to put an end to it. I walked the streets at a stupid hour of the morning, encountering no one but the occasional group of drunken teenagers. I didn’t know where I was walking to or what the point of my outing was, exactly. If I were to meet someone, it’s not like I would have made amazing company. All I could feasibly do would be groan and cry and frighten them to death. This realisation hit me thirty yards from my flat, and as I turned to go home, I collapsed suddenly. I couldn’t carry my own weight anymore. I was exhausted, hungry, and so in pain. I sat down on the pavement, sweating profusely, and didn’t even hear someone walking up behind me.
“Hey mate, are you okay?”
This guy can’t be from London, I thought to myself and laughed feebly. Anyone from London knows to ignore crazy sweaty men who collapse on pavements at one in the morning. He remained next to me, though, awaiting a response.
“I...my stomach, it hurts...”
“Oh my God you look terrible,” he gasped, crouching down in front of me. “Do you want me to call an ambulance?”
“No!” I replied quickly. “Thank you. I’ll be...”
“Are you sure?” He asked, concerned. I had met the nicest and stupidest man in all of London.
He couldn’t seem to be able to leave me. “Do you have a home?”
I released yet another weak laugh. I sounded insane even to myself, and wondered how this man had not bolted yet. He thought I was a crazy homeless person. I nodded my head weakly, clutching my stomach, as if by simply holding it securely I might relieve some of this pain.
“You can’t stay here,” he said firmly. “If you refuse to go to the hospital, you need to get home where you will be safe. I’ll help you.”
He grabbed my arm and pulled me to my feet. He was a foot smaller than me, and about the same age. He wasn’t as well built as I am, though, so I have no idea how he managed to half drag me through the street, me distractedly giving occasional directions.
The man smelled good, I realised with a shock.
I stayed close to him, wrapped my arm around him for support, and breathed in the strange, compelling smell as I slumped next to his chest. Life on the streets of London quietened suddenly, and the pain in my stomach halted briefly, almost like it was hoping...like I was finally about to relieve it.
Which was crazy.
I looked at the man, who had his eyes fixed firmly ahead, and suddenly everything fell into place. I remembered the girl from the club. I remembered everything I ever heard about the condition. How it was transmitted. How it increased your libido, how it made you ravenous...and the denial lifted. I understood my aching then, and what had caused it; and how I could end it.
I pushed the man aside and shook my head violently.
“Whoa. What was that?” He asked. I had shoved him into a wall, and he looked genuinely hurt.
The collision had torn open the skin on his elbow and I could see the blood. I turned away, and felt horrified tears burning in my eyes. I shook my head more adamantly. I couldn’t do this.
“I should call an ambulance,” said the man, rubbing his elbow, spreading the blood. I could smell it now, and wished he would just run away. I couldn’t do this. I had never intentionally hurt another person. It just wasn’t in my nature. But that was before. Now my nature was changing and my instincts were telling me to do something I really didn’t want to do.
The idiot took a step toward me, a cautious hand outstretched. “I’m just going to pick up my phone and dial 999, okay?”
He really thought I was insane. And I suppose I was insane to even consider doing what I was considering. I shook my head again.
“I have to,” he said firmly, and slid open his phone.
Then I snapped. It was a lapse of a mere second. I lurched forward, pushing him against the wall and dug my fingernails into his fragile skin. His heart sped up, but before he could fight or even shout, I had killed him. I instinctively sank my teeth into his flesh and banged his lifeless head against the concrete. I can’t even tell you what I did to that man then, to the kind, clueless idiot who stopped to help me when he really didn’t have to. All I can say is that after that night, the insufferable pain disappeared entirely. For a few seconds afterward I just lay beside what remained of him on the pavement, reeling from what felt like a year of starvation. My stomach felt looser, my nerves were less strained...and then the reality of what happened dawned on me.
I started at him, the remains of him, and was violently sick. What had I done? I got to my feet and ran home as fast as I could, denial returning to me fast like an old comfort blanket. It didn’t happen. That didn’t just happen to me, and there was nothing wrong with me. I wasn’t turning into one of them. I had just had a wild dream and would wake up the following morning and everything would be normal and I would have my old, boring, normal life. I was tormented. But also, horribly, unforgivably...I was content. Part of me was so thankful, so relaxed and so extremely happy.
I threw up again once I got home and couldn’t put the memory of his still, staring eyes out of my mind. I hadn’t even hit anyone before. I thought of what would happen the next day, how the police would know exactly what had happened. The teeth marks, the scratches, the exposed bone couldn’t possibly point to anything else. It would be in the newspapers, because even though killings like this were becoming more and more common, public disgust for them hadn’t lessened in the slightest. What horrified me even more was the knowledge that it would happen again.
It is almost funny now to look back at the horror films I watched as a teenager. We were depicted as groaning, barely human and bloodthirsty. In those films, we spread our disease by biting, and didn’t seem to possess any human emotion or intellect. They were so wrong about so many things. In reality, we are still ourselves. I’m still me and can think and feel the way I used to, and feel complete disgust for doing what I need to do to survive. I wish I were like the monsters from those films, so I could enjoy sublime ignorance and be far removed from this impossible and disgusting situation. Now, I’m in the position where I know what I need to do to stay alive and keep the agony at bay, but I also know I have no right to be alive if this is what I do.
I wish I could let myself die, or give myself up. But in my position, could you honestly say you would do the right thing and completely give up your life?
I went back to work the following day. Tina’s picture was still on my desk, and she stared back at me with her fresh, flushed cheeks. I could feel the need for human comfort and interaction increasing within me, and with a cold, dawning certainty I knew that come nightfall, I would be out and looking. I would find someone, a woman, not out of a desperate need to relieve my hunger but rather to feel normal, needed and loved if only for a short space of time. I knew I shouldn’t. It was stupid and irresponsible and perhaps, if you think about it, evil. I suppose I’m not half the man my father brought me up to be. But really, I’m not me at all, not anymore. I’m not the well mannered, eager-to-please twenty-seven year old I was a few months ago.
I’m not dead, but may as well be. All I was now was a prisoner to my new, base instincts.
I looked at Tina, her eyes stunning and enamoured, and I desperately wished I could go back to that night and relive it. In the alternative, I desperately wished that she had moved, that she ran away and set up home in another city far, far away from here. Because tonight, I am going out. And tomorrow, someone else will be walking around, looking just as happy and alive and sweet as they always have, but really they have changed irrevocably. Really, they will be like me.