[The Dead Heart, 4,526 Words, Genre: Horror]
* Photograph courtesy of Lilith Prins
Ben was in his early twenties and like most twenty year olds, he loved to party. He would attend bars and nightclubs, washing himself in a cocktail mixture of drugs and alcohol. Then on some nights he would be lucky enough to meet some unknown random woman and they would spend the night together, copulating together and sharing various bodily fluids.
It was another one of those nights. A Friday night, he had just finished studying for the week and had been drinking with his housemates. Slowly drinking one can of beer after another, slowly becoming more intoxicated. He sat around joking with his male cohorts. They all studied at university together, they all worked random jobs to help keep themselves financially afloat. They were sitting in front of the television as it rolled out the latest popular television series. Whatever they were watching wasn’t important. Like a wood fire back before television had ever become a thing, they simply needed something in which to focus their eyes upon as they all conversed with one another.
“I don’t understand why people can’t handle being ignored. It’s like I’ve hurt them or something.” Austin was attempting to explain his position.
“Yeah, why can’t people just leave us be. Why does there have to be this need for attention? They’re all just a bunch of babies crying.” Robert agreed with the sentiment.
Meanwhile, Ben kept his mouth shut and continued to drink his beer. He knew that they were coming from the standpoint of someone who had never truly been ignored. They were both very popular and well liked. They had never experienced that feeling. That feeling of being left out, of being ignored, of being alienated and isolated. Ben knew differently. He knew that human beings were a social animal. That people craved a desire to be accepted and initiated into a group. He was studying psychology at university. Logically, it didn’t make any sense. Why his friends were so popular. Deep down, he knew that they were both self-serving arseholes. Robert had once got a girl pregnant and demanded that she have an abortion, against her will. It had all been this big thing for him. He didn’t understand the woman’s desire to have the child, he just knew that he didn’t have sustainable employment and couldn’t support her if she did. She ended up having an abortion, she submitted to him eventually, after days of his complaints. And now they were talking about this shit.
“Yes, that’s exactly it,” Austin spoke, “Can’t they see that we have better things to do with our time? I mean the Prodigy is playing this weekend. Can’t they see that I’d rather go to their shows than hang around with their lame arses?”
“I think the Prodigy cancelled their show.” Ben spoke between sips of his beer.
“Oh…” Austin replied, “What happened?”
“Keith Flint died, killed himself.” Ben had read the newspaper reports on how the frontman of the group had killed himself. He had neglected to tell them that being ignored by people within his own social circle was probably the reason, or one of the reasons that led to his problems. The group had released statements urging its fans of the exact same issues that they were now talking about. Urging people to learn from the lesson, rather than make his death meaningless. “Anyway guys, I better be going.”
“Where are you going?” Robert asked.
“Into the city… Go to one of the clubs. See if I can’t find a girl to bang.” They were arseholes and so was Ben. But he supposed there were all sorts of different degrees of arseholes. All sorts of different types and he didn’t think that anybody was necessarily innocent. It was human nature for people to think about themselves. But not everyone thought about themselves all the time. Some people were aware of other’s suffering and some people even took the time to help ease that. There was a sliding degree, a scale if you will, and although he wasn’t too sure about where he was on that scale, he was only too certain of where both Austin and Robert lay.
Ben went to the fridge in the kitchen of their share house and found himself another beer. He did a final check to ensure that he had his wallet, phone and all other necessities. Then, popping the beer’s bottle cap open as he went out the door, he walked through the night towards a tram stop. He threw his head back, drinking the beer as fast as he could. He needed that buzz to ensure that the tram ride felt like no time at all. It was a warm summer’s night. The cold nights were long over and the beer felt crisp and clean as he guzzled it down. He got a bit of gas when he drank the dregs of the bottle, but released it in a gutful burp. After finishing the bottle, he threw it into one of the bushes of the houses that he walked past. He arrived at the tram stop and checked the timetable. The tram would be there in less than five minutes. But counting the seconds, he quickly rolled himself a cigarette from his tobacco pouch. Quickly inhaling the thing before the tram arrived.
And when the tram arrived he entered and tapped on his myki card. His myki card was the electronic card that he used for public transportation. He didn’t have that much money, but he had enough. That’s why he did most of his drinking at home. To save on expenses. He took a seat along the tram. There were other people his own age, headed into the city. A group of guys who were all busy talking amongst themselves. ‘Big mistake,’ Ben thought. When you go out with another bunch of guys, all you end up doing is talking amongst yourselves and complaining about things. That hardly ever attracted other people to your own vibe. The vibe, the sphere, the aura… Some people have it and others don’t. Different people were attracted to different things and Ben, sure as hell, knew that a lot of people were attracted to him. The chi, the life force, the mojo: he had it, others didn’t. Sucks to be them. The tram ride took half an hour into the city. When it arrived, he got off and started frequenting different bars and nightclubs.
The first bar he went to, he bought himself a beer and sat down, next to a group of ladies. He played coy at first, and eventually entered himself into their conversation. They weren’t really talking about anything special, deep or meaningful. Just small chat. Ben told them about his glory, sporting days in high school. He ended up making out with one of the three, he couldn’t remember which one. She ended up giving him a hand job in the disabled restroom. And after that, he exited the venue and went out into the night. He went to a nightclub next and ended up on the dance floor. Moving his body in all sorts of ways to the sounds of hardcore electro music. Other women started dancing with him. Grinding their arses up against his pelvis. The night continued on like this. Making out with different women. Moving on to the next place.
The last place he went to was a dive. He needed a place where he could rest, but didn’t want to go home alone. That’s when she appeared. She looked as tired as he felt, with rings around her eyes and she spoke as if she had one too many beers. She was good looking enough, he supposed. And he was too drunk by this stage to really assess whether or not she was a weirdo or not. He whispered a line into her ear and then convinced her, that if she paid for the cab, she could crash at his place.
They were all over each other in the cab ride home. She was sloppy, or tired… He couldn’t make that much sense of it at the time. But the way she moved, there was definitely something wrong with her. But he was not one to give complaint. Especially when he had had such a good night with all of those other girls at the different places. They went back to his place and they went to bed together. Nobody else was awake, both Austin and Robert were asleep in their separate rooms. For the most part, Ben couldn’t remember anything. Drunk as he was. He knew that they slept together, but that was about all there was to it.
When he woke up in the morning, she, whoever she was, was gone. And he had slept in. He accounted for the hangover and the fatigue that he felt. It was a weekend and he spent the rest of the day in front of the television watching nameless programming. After feeling a bit ill, he returned to bed to sleep some more.
Ben thought it was just your average, run of the mill hangover. But as the days past, he realized that he felt like sleeping in more and more. He couldn’t find the energy within himself to complete simple tasks like cooking himself a meal. The only meals that he had the energy for were the simple ones. He couldn’t be bothered anymore to put in the effort to cook for himself. Instead, he preferred to order himself food through Uber Eats. Day after day he kept on ordering himself take away food. And that’s only when he was awake. Most of the time he was tied to the bed, sleeping in some form of comatose state of being. He couldn’t find the strength or the energy to get himself out of the house. And as time progressed, day after day, there were no signs that things would be changing anytime soon.
He would wake up and watch the television sometimes. At all hours of the day and night. He woke up one day and a week had passed. Just like that, seven days in succession had passed without him thinking too much about it. He had spent most of his time asleep, in bed. Where had his energy gone? He felt like somebody had hit him with a slab of concrete and smashed his brains all over the pavement. Every day he was confronted with this giant force, coming down upon him with its full weight. He couldn’t see the point in any of it. Getting up in the morning. Going to his casual job. None of it made sense to him anymore. This unseen force had come down upon him. It was weighing him down with every step that he took. Weighing him down and ensuring that he didn’t know what to do with himself. He completed simple tasks for his own survival like eating and going to the toilet. But that was about it. The force that was weighing him down, it didn’t seem like it was of this world, it felt supernatural.
That evening he got up out of bed, his body in cold sweats and went to the lounge room to watch television. In the lounge room was Austin, sitting and watching late night programming. “So, what are you going to do?” He asked.
“What do you mean, ‘what am I going to do’?” Ben replied.
“Well, you’ve obviously caught something. I don’t know what. But you better go see a doctor and find out what it is and seek treatment for yourself.”
“Yeah, I suppose I better…” They sat and watched the television without saying another word to one another. Ben’s mind was full of worry. What could he have caught? Some form of sexually transmitted disease, no doubt. But which one? Ben returned to his bedroom and started looking up the symptoms online. There were a whole bunch of different things that he could possibly have. But none of the diseases he looked up were an exact match. He fell back asleep shortly after that, even though he was so worried about his own health.
The next day he woke up and went to a doctor. To get a blood test. They would test for all the usual things it could be… Hepatitis, H.I.V, you get the idea. There was this feeling that Ben got, as they were taking his blood. It wasn’t exactly the process of extracting blood from his person. It was the idea of it. He thought about what they were doing to him. Sticking a needle in his arm and extracting blood from his person. Sticking the needle in the vein and watch a little bottle fill up with blood. That blood that had previously been in his body, was now out of his body. He tried his best not to think about what they were doing to him. Trying to avoid fixating on the procedure. But he couldn’t, his mind wandered back and thought about what exactly was going on. It made him sick. The nurse realized what was happening. The fact that he was feeling faint and looking pale, then she brought a plastic bag over to him. He barfed. Then a cold sweat was released from his brow and eventually he regained his composure.
“You should get some rest. We’ll know the results in a week.” The nurse instructed.
And with that, that’s exactly what Ben did. He went home and got some rest. The week passed as the previous one had. He got up out of bed for the basics, but little else. After that week of rest, he returned to the doctor’s clinic to find out the results. He sat there waiting in the waiting room. The same one where they had taken his blood on the first occasion. The doctor entered and spoke, “Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with you.”
“What do you mean ‘there’s nothing wrong with me’? I can’t get out of bed most days apart from taking a shit and getting myself something to eat.”
“I don’t know. Could be depression, but the results say that you’re clean. Nothing came up on the blood test.”
Ben thought about it, he didn’t really feel depressed, “Well, refer me to a specialist. In case you missed something.”
The doctor looked at him for a moment. As if about to say something in argument, then submitted, “Fine, it’s your body. You should know what’s going on.” The doctor referred him to a clinic where they could conduct further testing.
Ben went home again. Then called the specialist clinic to make an appointment, they said that they could find a spot for him at two in the afternoon the following day. He got some sleep and then attended the clinic where they conducted further testing. Everything from a scan of his retinas, to a mobility test. They covered every possible angle. But still they couldn’t find a thing. He went home again that day. Grabbing himself a bucket of KFC fried chicken on the way home. He sat in front of the television in the lounge room at home. Both Austin and Robert sat with him. He told them about everything that had happened. Everything that had occurred. All the tests that he had to do. From the initial blood test to the scanning of his retinas.
“Have you ever tried seeing one of those naturopaths or psychic mediums,” it was Robert. Austin laughed at him. “No, hear me out. They do a lot of work with chi and life force. That sort of stuff. There could be something blocking up your energy flow. It could be anything.”
“Your chi or life force,” Austin laughed again, “Now you’re yanking his chain.”
“Well, nobody else could find anything.” Ben stated, “So I suppose it’s worth a shot. I guess anything is possible. The problem hasn’t gone away.”
“There’s a place in Elsternwick, on Glenhuntly road. ‘Qi’, I think it’s called.”
“I’ll go there tomorrow.” Ben replied to Robert.
So Ben caught a series of trains and trams to the shop. A little bit up was a place that proclaimed that they had various courses and specialists. He went into the shop and asked if he could consult someone. They said that there was a psychic medium on premises that he could see. It would cost him a small fee. Ben saw no problem with this and paid at the counter. They showed him to a back room where there was a woman in her mid-fifties. She was sipping on a chai latte and guided him towards his seat.
“Now, what can I do for you young man?” She asked.
“I’m finding it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. There’s all sorts of problems. I don’t know what to do.”
“Let’s see what I can do…” The woman got up and entered into a meditative state. She breathed in deeply and went into a form of trance. Then she looked at him, using her arms and hands, making waves in the air… Attempting to fight off something that was disturbing his life force. She did this for a while and expended a lot of energy until she exhausted herself. “There’s nothing I can do.”
“What do you mean there’s nothing you can do? You didn’t do anything.”
“I was reading your aura. You’re surrounded by this octopus like energy. It seems to be enclosed upon your heart. It’s disturbing your natural energy flow.”
“Listen lady, I paid my sixty bucks. Now fix me!”
“Just wait here. I’ll go and consult someone.” The woman left Ben sitting in his seat and went to another area where she made a phone call. When she came back, she seemed to form some sort of answer. “It’s called the dead heart.”
“The dead what?”
“The dead heart. It’s very rare. It causes fatigue amongst people. You would have contracted it through a lover. It passes from lover to lover and the only way you can fix it is by passing it on to someone else.”
“So you’re saying that I have to sleep with someone and infect them with this. Or what? What will happen?”
“Eventually… You’ll fade away into nothing.”
“I see… And then they’ll get whatever I’ve got.”
“That’s right. But you’ll be free of it.”
Ben left the shop and went home. On the train ride home, he began to think of the consequences of what could happen. He could pass it on to someone else or… He could fade away into nothing.
For the next two days, Ben spent the time in his bed, staring at the wall. His mind was contemplating the situation that he had found himself in. He went over the information over and over again, ‘To fade away into nothing or to pass on this curse to someone else’. For the first time in his short life, he found himself confronting a moral dilemma. Ben had never been one to think about such things. He was a man of action and had always, in the past, acted without too much thought involved. But given his current predicament. His extreme state of lethargy, he couldn’t help but ponder the ramifications of passing on the curse to someone else. Is this what had happened? With the woman that he had slept with previously. Was she carrying the same curse and saving herself by sleeping with him? Did the same thoughts roll through her head as they did now his?
He rolled over to the other side of his bed and faced the other wall. The wall was within reach and his bed lay right next to it. He reached out and spread his palm against the wall, slowly caressing its surface. He was attempting to stay awake, but the fatigue slowly enclosed in upon him. Wrapping its tentacles around him and squeezing every last bit of energy that he had. His eyes shut and then he fell asleep.
He was dreaming. In his dream he was confronting this dark presence. It had several legs and limbs. He couldn’t make out a head or any other part of the creature’s body. It was just a mass of limbs. He attempted to call out to the creature, “What do you want?” The creature did not answer with any voice, instead it moved its limbs around in a sweeping motion. Flapping them about wildly. He called out again, more aggressive this time, “What the bloody hell do you want!?” This time, like the cracking of a whip, the creature flung its limbs out to reach around Ben. Ben fought against the creature’s hold, but the more he did to fight against its grip, the more tightly it wrapped itself around him. “Fark off!” Ben called out. The more he struggled, the tighter the bonds became. “Fark off!!!” Until it had wrapped the entirety of its limbs around him. Enclosing around his mouth, until he couldn’t call out, until he couldn’t breathe. Slowly, he was suffocating.
Ben woke up from his nightmare, this time with some semblance of energy through the shock that the terror of his dream had brought. He whispered to himself, “I have to get laid.”
Ben went to have a shower, another thing that he hadn’t been frequently doing of late. As the steam rose in the shower cubicle, he adjusted the hot and cold water taps to find the perfect temperature. Best just below scalding is what he found to equate himself to maximum comfort. It had still been hot outside, but the house had air conditioning. He soaped all regions of his body. Then applied a fragranced body wash across his chest and armpits. He got out of the shower and dried himself. Then applied some deodorant. He returned to his room and selected some of his best clothes. It was entering the evening and he realized that he should probably wait around for a while. He probably had a better chance of picking up when the bars were closing and people were finding a place to go home and rest.
So he sat around drinking coffee after coffee and smoking cigarette after cigarette. He needed to make sure that he stayed awake and both of those things were stimulants. He sat in front of the television as he did so, fighting off the fatigue as it came in waves. It almost had him at various points. He almost gave in to sleep and whatever it was that was possessing him. But he fought against it. Like breaking through concrete blocks, he persevered.
Finally, the hour arrived where he could venture off and into the night. He grabbed his jacket and walked to the tram stop, taking the same route the night in which he had been cursed. The tram was mostly empty this time. For the most part everyone else had already ventured off into the city, even if it was a Friday night. He found the same club that he had picked up that nameless stranger and entered into the venue. Even though he appeared drunk, he was far from it, in fact, he was stone cold sober. He was just tired. Every second that passed, he felt like curling himself up into a ball and getting some rest. He felt like it, but he didn’t submit to that desire.
Instead, he eyed around the venue. Searching for someone, anyone, easy prey. Then he saw her. A shy girl that had been busy drinking the entire evening. She looked fairly intoxicated, as if she too were about to pass out. He walked up to her and sat beside her.
“Quiet night?” He asked.
“I am so farkin’ wasted… I don’t know. My friends were here before. I can’t find them anymore.”
“Relax. Tell me your address and I’ll take you home.”
“I don’t know who you are buddy,” she squinted at him, taking him in for the first time, “but you’re kind of cute. I’ll say ‘yes’ to that.” And so they ventured off into the night, Ben holding an arm around the girl and making sure that she didn’t fall over. She told him her address and he ordered her a cab. At that point in time, he started to have pangs of guilt. What would this girl do when she received the curse? When would it all end?
So instead he told the cab driver her address and ordered him to take her home. He handed the taxi driver over a fifty dollar note for her safe passage. As the taxi rolled away, she stared at him and asked him, “Hey! Where are you going?”
Ben knew exactly where he was going. He ordered another taxi and told the driver to take him to the nearest brothel. It was late at night, but places like that were still open. He sat in the backseat of the taxi cab as it drove him to its destination. Before he could get there he fell asleep in the back of the taxi cab.
This time when he dreamt, he dreamt of the same creature. A tangle of limbs and tentacles. This time the creature spoke to him through a telepathic connection.
‘I saw what you did’ it passed on to him.
“What of it?”
‘You really do have a heart.’
“So you’ll release me from the curse or whatever it is?” Ben asked of the creature.
‘That’s not how this works. That’s not how this world works.’
And then the creature cracked it’s tentacles around Ben. Seizing his neck by force. The creature, as it had once before, wrapped itself around him and entangled him. The tentacles felt like oil around his arms and waist. They pulled him in closer to its central part. Ben began to scream. He called out, begging for someone to help him. And cursing himself for his act of chivalry. The creature was feasting itself on love and humanity, right then it was sucking him dry.
Ben woke from his nightmare. But he could still feel the presence of the beast with tentacles. Ben was screaming in the backseat of the taxi cab.
The driver turned around to him, “Hey buddy. Are you alright?”
Ben continued to scream in agony. Then from the center of his chest exploded these tentacles, like an octopus’s tentacles, they erupted from the core of his body. Blood splattered up against the car’s windows. And then the driver, too, was screaming, “Holy fuck! What the hell is that?” The creature flayed its black oily tentacles up against the windows of the taxi cab. The driver pulled over to the side of the road and exited the vehicle as quickly as possible. “I have not seen anything like that in my life!” The creature, whatever it was, enclosed itself upon Ben. It seemed to be coming from another dimension entirely. And it was opening up a vortex to another world. Pulling him through the vortex and feasting upon his soul.