He cut a sliver of skin from his right pinky.
Carefully maneuvered the blade so as not to draw blood.
And opened his mouth and put the sliver of skin on his tongue.
The taste exploded through him. Hairs all over his body stood on end. The light of the world rushed through his head.
The stall next to him slammed shut. A belt unbuckled, and the groan of one sitting on a toilet. After a moment, a voice from the stall, gruff and tired. “That you, Rosen?”
Edward Rosen closed the blade and slipped it into his left pocket. “Just finishing up.”
“Good. I can’t go when someone’s in the bathroom.”
Edward Rosen slipped his jacket back on, the beige stall door glowing. The metal hook now exposed showed his every pore, every deceased pimple his face ever had. The elongated scar across his forehead.
That was before he learned to intake what can’t be seen.
He exited the stall and gave the neighboring one a friendly tap. “All yours to defile.”
The man sighed a thank you. As he opened the door, the voice said, “Hey, Rosen?”
Edward paused. “Yeah, Brett?”
“Nice to have you back.”
He returned to his desk, unable to contain the giddy jingling of his legs. He checked his right pinky. All this time and he still could extract skin without a drop of blood. He preferred it that way. Not only would it not leave scars, but the blood gave skin, or whatever, a tangy taste. Not that it was ever about the taste.
A quick glance around. Heads all bowed at their respective desks, lost in their respective work. That paranoia after doing something secret crept in. Did anyone notice the extra shine to his eyes, the uncontainable contentment spilling over his face?
The euphoria died quickly. Edward slunk into his beaten pleather chair. The clock wasn’t anywhere near the end of his shift. He picked away at a report about nothing, hitting one key at a time with weakened fingers. The knife he had found that morning, at the bottom of his closet. A month clean. All his tools he thought banished to garbage bags and the landfill.
The boss stopped by his desk. “You OK, there, Mr. Rosen?”
Edward blinked away his unhappiness and desire. “Yes, sir. It feels good to be back.”
The boss gave a conspiratorial jerk of his neck, imploring Edward to learn forward. “We both know you’re not.”
Edward shuddered. His right thigh, just inside the leg, throbbed and cried out, pain so quick he believed the boss to have heard it. “Well, work is work.”
The boss straightened, his pale shirt stretching over his stomach. “Just good to see you got to get your play in with your vacation.” He smirked and gave a friendly whack to Edward’s shoulder.
Edward spent until 3:00 tapping his feet, scratching at his thigh around the edges of the pain, and thinking. He could take a little more skin off a finger. No. He had to take from where people wouldn’t see. His love handles had decreased while staying clean. Eating food had been a chore. With each bite he had to fight against ideas on what he could take from his body to eat. His thigh had been easy to take from. Meaty. Not a lot of nerves there. He spent the last year cutting away little bits, cauterizing the cuts, and experiencing highs and ecstatic–
3:00. Half-hour break. He walked outside the building. Warm, yet Edward had to wear a coat.
12 years old. Boy Scouts. Practicing woodcutting. Slicing off a a bit of wood to make an Indian head, the blade caught a knot, and buried itself into his left palm. He pulled the knife out a bit of meat hung from his wound. He sucked on it, because that’s what a boy did when you cut yourself. His tongue caught that bit of meat. He gagged, and somehow found himself swallowing that bit of meat.
Something within awakened. A feeling of pure joy. Beyond the feeling of masturbation he had discovered not a few weeks prior. He considered it an anomaly though he did not use those words to justify it.
As he walked, tightening his coat, his thigh a dull throb, he wasn’t aware that he was holding his knife. Throughout his teens, he tried finding a suitable replacement for that feeling of eating just a little bit of himself. Pot, alcohol, girls, the usual things a teen boy tries out and flounders in in the hopes of achieving something worth feeling. In college, he forwent everything except the schoolwork. Concentrated on achieving a degree.
He looked back on all this now with a grim detachment. None of the details attached to his life held any clarity. All he could remember was his twenty-third birthday, and him reopening the odd scar in his left palm. Accidentally, of course. Sure, he had cut himself many times, though how he could never quite remember. But he fought himself from licking the wound, or sucking on it. He cut a gum while brushing and tasted the copper tang that did nothing for him. But it was always that piece of meat from his hand, himself, that he ate that stuck to his mind for so long.
He retreated to the bathroom, because that’s what someone was supposed to do. He avoided the mirror over the sink. He didn’t want to reenact a scene he seen in countless pop culture things whereby if he stared at his reflection, he’d gain some sort of introspection. Realized that what he was going to do would be wrong, and he should reconsider.
It started small. A sliver of skin from his back. A piece of his thigh. A thigh which the doctors couldn’t quite heal. Which no medication would take care of fully. Then it became the taking of little pieces. The trick here was to use morphine, or some painkiller, just for the extraction, or removal. He could never decide on what to call any of this. Names and terms don’t matter when you want the release. He read about heroin addicts, and how they had their own lexicon, and he couldn’t relate. This was his, his own thing. The only thing that brought clarity. The pot, the alcohol, the sex, any and all of those socially acceptable drugs and addictions were just diluted distractions from those moments that he tried so hard to spread apart in the amount of times he did use it where he received that clarity that nothing else could bring.
He never tired to understand it. Never did try to find help, until his doctor asked him what happened to his thigh. Where did that scar on his forehead come from. It gets out of control. It wasn’t that taking little bits of himself provided different pleasures, a different high.
His thigh throbbed at the thought of it. He unhooked his belt, let the pants slide from his thick legs. Gauze and bandages and tape surrounded his right thigh. He had to take antibiotics and what not for it. He didn’t really know. Didn’t really care.
Four weeks. Four weeks. Four weeks clean. And he had been doing so well before finding that knife.
With that knife, his name etched along one side, BOY SCOUTS on the other, he cut the gauze away. Cut the bandages off. Winced at the sticky parts pulling at his tiny leg hairs. Listened to the oozy tear of bandage away from healing wound.
The hole in his leg had gone down almost to the bone. It had been the main source of his high. He had continued to cut away at it over the years, and burning where he cut, to cauterize it, to keep it from getting infected.
Surprisingly, it did. A lot.
Edward had to laugh at the bit of irony of doctors taking skin from his back to put over the hole in his leg. It rather amazed him what money does to keep questions from being asked. To keep secrets even.
Edward poked at the thin skin over his leg. Used the handle of his knife to probe at the tenderness of it.
Money. Friends. Family. Work. School. Relationships. Bills. Responsibility. Home. A month of paying attention to all of that. It felt…odd. To focus on everything except just what was he going to cut off next and eat and feel alive.
Edward Rosen poked again at his leg, at the flimsy skin over the hole that made what made him alive feel bearable. He slipped the blade out of the handle and poked along where the stitching was, where thigh skin met imported back skin.
How does one escape it? It was a question he wished he had asked himself more. Just the smallest hysterical hint of what he used to be. He stuck the blade into his leg, ever so gently. Surprisingly, slower was better. To just jab the knife in and start cutting would mean that one could hit something important. He rued never learning anatomy. He thanked himself now that he just couldn’t die from doing something as stupid and wonderful as what made him what he is.
Four weeks. Talking to his parents about it. The worry on Ma’s face. The placid concern on Dad’s.
He went on two dates. One a girl named Ashley. She was sweet. Didn’t find him horrendous. That lasted two dates because on the second date, he told her what he liked.
Yeah, the first date went that well.
Edward checked the tip of the knife. Sharp. Pointed. Serviceable.
This was it. Four weeks. A month. Thirty days. And all gone over a simple discovery of a knife he used that he thought banished to the garbage. Where the hole was in his leg he could see the outline through the thin bit of back-skin. He slipped the knife’s point into where the skin over the hole lightened. Began cutting around it, tracing along the terminator between light and dark skin. Until the hole he had spent so long opening and digging in was re-birthed.
The smell hit him first. Then the sight of it registered. Made him wince and gag and long for the times when this was so much simpler.
He flung the knife away. Didn’t watch wherever it landed or went. Four weeks and a moment of clarity, a glimmer that what he had been doing was truly wrong. Destructive. What if he hit something important? What if taking skin and fatty deposits wouldn’t be enough?
He picked the knife back up and ran it under hot water for a full minute, watched the water slide down the blade, and didn’t look at himself in the mirror. He slipped his pants back on. Hooked his belt. The knocking on the bathroom door became real to Edward.
“Who locks this,” the voice said on the other side.
There had been parties. Friends and alcohol and weed and laughter and fun. And Edward sneaking off to his bathroom to take a little piece from his leg. To eat it and let the meat and warmth hit him. Then he could be the life of the party he so desperately wanted to be.
All the details of it all. Gone in the month-long fog of being a productive member of society. Of living a life that normality dictates is the life one should be leading.
He can’t do this anymore. He can’t. Why did he have to find the knife?
He sat at his desk. No sleep. Coffee did nothing. Nothing did. He studied his pinky. The sliver he’d taken to feel alive again had already grown back. His thigh screamed, though. No hint of a limp.
The boss came by. Edward heard him thanking him for coming in. Edward might have nodded, and didn’t notice when the boss left.
He can’t eat himself anymore. Not anymore. He held back floods of tears. No one could understand what it feels like to eat your own body.
Gnawing on a thumbnail. Click-clack of keyboards and hushed voices and meat all walking about.
Was he staring at his co-workers? He couldn’t even remember their names anymore. Details in the fog, again.
She had thick legs, the woman by the coffee machine.
He has big cheeks, the man at the desk next to him. Who looked at Edward. “You OK?”
Edward pretended to smile. “Just working up the nerve to work.”
The man laughed. Was he the same guy from the bathroom earlier? The one who knocked and Edward didn’t look at when he returned to his desk? “I gotta work up the nerve to even come here,” and the man turned back to his desk.
Edward couldn’t take from himself anymore. But that sliver of pinky skin had awoken himself again. Was it just from himself he garnered this feeling?
Or was it the eating of a body?
His need searched for a proper substitute. Something that would not damage him, but keep him alive.
He glanced at the man’s desk for a reminder of who he was. “Brett?”
The man looked up again.
Edward stood and put his hands in his pockets. Right pocket had nothing. Left pocket had his trusty knife. That knife had never let him down. Had always cut straight and true. Had helped give Edward the feeling and the burst of the universe he wanted to taste.
“Yeah, Rosen?” Through those glasses, Edward saw nothing but concern. The look people he once called friends and family give him when Edward wasn’t high on his body.
“This sounds a little weird,” Edward said, trying to not look like he was looking at Brett’s body, “but would you mind coming with me into the bathroom.”
Brett sat back in his seat. “That does sound weird.”
Edward crossed the aisle between their desks and said lower, “I know, but I need to talk about something.”
Edward felt thrill in him. This was the right answer. Not to keep cutting away at himself to make him feel whole. He didn’t have to take pieces of himself.
“We could talk in the break room,” Brett said.
“I know, but, this is kind of not for the ears of others.”
Brett shrugged. “OK. You’re not gonna hit on me are you?”
As Edward followed Brett, he opened the knife in his pocket, checked the sharpness. Always sharp. “No, Brett,” he said, as Brett held the door to the bathroom open, “nothing like that.”
Edward locked the door. Was he really going to do this? What was he going to do?
Rash. This was rash.
“So, what’s up?”
He couldn’t look at Brett. Couldn’t. Could. He looked at Brett. “I’ve…I’ve got this problem.”
Brett leaned against the sink and crossed his arms. “OK.”
“I…” and Edward thumbed the knife in his pocket. It cut into the thumb. Blood bloomed in his hand, gaining slickness. Would he be able to still hold the knife?
“Look, Edward, I gotta a lot to do. I know you’ve been kinda weird those last few weeks before your vacation, but man, I got stuff to do.”
Brett stepped toward the door. Edward kept himself in front of the door. Looking at the tiles.
This was…insane? No. This was the wrong thing to do. He could just continue to cut himself, and eat himself, and do that until he withered and died and no one would be the wiser. No one would know, except the doctor who suspected, asking all those silly questions about how did this happen to your leg, ramshackle answers that Edward almost didn’t get away with.
Blood in his hand. His own body within his body. How much longer until those highs become not enough? A month of cleanliness. Living a life that many would say wasn’t worth that much. He could be a good person, couldn’t he? He had been, but that was a long time ago, back before all this, before the eating, the taste and high and desire for more and better and eclipsing everything into a dark and peaceful embrace.
Edward Rosen. Twenty-six. An office temp in a job somewhere near his house. In a town a few tall buildings short of being a city. A man that eats small parts of his body in some odd, well, addiction that he never really bothered understanding. A normal man despite this issue.
This is how Edward thought as he pulled his left hand out his pocket, knife gripped in a bloody embrace of trembling fingers, and slashed Brett’s throat.
Edward slashed again and again and again and again until he was bent over Brett. Red everywhere. Brett strewn in his own innards. Stabs. He stabbed him?
Edward Rosen fell beside Brett. How long since they came in here? No. No time for that now. No time for anything.
Edward needed his fix.
He pulled himself on top of Brett. The throat spurted blood in thin streams. He had hit an eye.
He ignored the breathing coming from Brett’s mouth and pulled taut the deeper cut along Brett’s right cheek. He pulled the skin back, closer to the cut eye, revealing the pulsating and slick musculature and fat underneath.
No thought. No indication of what he was doing except that he couldn’t do it to himself anymore. A month. All gone.
He cut a small triangle of cheek and muscle from Brett’s face. He opened his mouth and dropped it on his tongue.
The taste. Acrid. A stale penny. Uncooked. Warm. Rare.
Edward spit out the piece, it hitting Brett’s forehead. Knocks at the door. Had there been a sound? No screams from Brett. None he remembered. Heard. He hadn’t heard. Had others? Heard the slicing? The muffled gurgles of a life gone because Edward wanted something else, something more, something less, something.
Louder knocks. Voices. What they said and who they belonged to? Simple details. Lost in all that fog of the world.
Edward picked at the numerous cuts and rends and slashes. Pulling and chewing and spitting out. Nothing tasted good. Tasted well. Tasted free. Tasted wondrous.
He dug though the ruptured eyeball as loud knocks became loud bangs. He tried that piece. He tried this piece. He dug deep in Brett’s neck. He cut around the neck until the head detached from the body.
The banging stopped.
Edward reached deep in Brett’s head, searching for something. A piece. Relief.
His slick hands grasped something and he pulled and he didn’t care what it tasted like he would swallow and be free and wonderful and he could live again and breathe again and look people in the eye and say his name and shake their hand and mean it when he would say it was pleasure to meet you and not have to think of his thigh and the high and the escape and all of it.
He popped whatever he took from Brett’s head and chewed and ignored the taste and swallowed.
A new wetness. Tears. He wiped them away but they kept coming. Anger bloomed. He punched bathroom tile. He punched Brett’s torso. He threw his knife at the door.
More knocking and voices and Edward screamed at the door and leaped at it and pulled the knife out the door and threw his pants off.
His thigh. His old friend.
He plunged the knife into the bit of back skin.
Dug out a piece just the right size.
Put in his mouth.
Edward slunk against the door, slunk down it. Keys jangled behind his head. The doorknob twitched, went down. The door pushed against Edward.
Edward didn’t really notice any of this. The warmth. The embrace of dark softness.
He felt alive again.
Daniel Brophy has been writing for nearly ten years. He has finished less than that number of stories and books. He has had one short story published, but that was six years ago and the name of the now-defunct publication escapes him. Born with a thirst for words and stories, Daniel owns enough books to open a small library, or to re-enact the ending of the Twilight Zone episode where the bookworm breaks his glasses at the end (spoiler alert). Thankfully, Daniel has eyes like baseball legend Ted Williams, so broken glasses are not a problem. It should also be noted that his pop culture acumen borders on worrisome, due to a Tarentino-level of knowledge. Dream projects for Daniel include: writing a book set in the Alien universe; building a life-sized replica of the TARDIS and setting it into a wall to act as a door to a room, giving off a ‘bigger on the inside’ illusion; and making a low-budget horror movie about a graveyard. Daniel gallivants across this perilous journey through time and life with his wonderful girlfriend, a joyous woman light-years smarter than Daniel, and whom he hopes sticks around long enough so that he won’t have to edit this author bio ever.