“A table?” the host asks. His stature is regal, his narrow face veined with flickering blue shadow. He carries a torch, which is more than I can claim. I have grown accustomed to darkness in the months following Apocalypse. Horrors shrouded in shadow are better than what his torch reveals.
“Yes,” I say, hoping he has not forgotten the question. I am prone to bouts of abstraction of late, worried, I suppose over Suzie’s reaction to my proposal. It’s time to give up my wild ways. I mean to provide her a secure future.
The host leads me to a table near the stage. I slip him a finger, still warm from amputation. The boy was bleeding out before I took it. It shredded my emotions to watch him die, to see the others clawing at his flesh. Constant heartbreak is the price of surviving this eternal night.
The host presses the finger to his lips. He gestures to a waitress and leaves.
A girl with strawberry hair exits the stage, trailing a bloody blouse. Suzie takes her place. She’s wearing the miniskirt I gave her. This is a good sign, I think. Tonight I mean to have her decision. I offered her my heart. It’s not too much to ask for an answer, is it?
“Can I get you a drink?” the waitress says. She’s missing an ear and at least one finger joint, but seems otherwise intact. Unless that loose dress hides further mutilations. Life in this district is not inexpensive and it’s certainly easier to carve parts off oneself than attain them from others.
“I’m tapped out,” I say. “I gave the finger to him.” I nod toward the host at his station by the door.
On the stage, Suzie disrobes. She’s missing both nipples. Ridges of scar tissue mark her breasts. A razor blade flashes. She makes a fresh cut. The mosh pit erupts. I yell too, clapping my hands. I’ve touched those scars; I’ve tasted that blood.
Her next cut goes deeper. Blood splatters the stage, threading across a patchwork of smears from previous acts. How does management clean the stage between shows?
Suzie falls writhing to the floor. Blood wells from her sturdy thighs, her stomach, her ribs. The act ends with a quick slice across the labial ridge. Her voice shrieks, vivid, pure. The mosh pit goes still. Silence grips the room; only the drip-drip of blood remains.
Suzie crawls off, leaving the miniskirt behind. Is that her answer? Has she rejected my gift? Is the glory-pain of her act more substantial than my heart? I insisted she choose between the two. It was my only condition.
Hands clap over my eyes. “Hi,” Suzie whispers close to my ear.
“Have you decided?”
“Isn’t that a bit abrupt? Shouldn’t we have a drink first?”
“I can’t pay,” I say. “Besides–”
Suzie claps her hands. The waitress hurries over.
“Two drinks.” Suzie slips a pinky joint to the girl.
“Where did you get that?” I’ve told her I don’t want her risking herself among the scavenging masses.
“One of the girls,” she says. She smiles at my confusion. “It’s from a client of hers. She gave it to me for my birthday.”
“Speaking of which,” she says, kissing my cheek. “Thank you for the dress. That must’ve cost you a kneecap.”
“It’s nothing,” I say. “Have you made up your mind?” The waitress sets glasses on the table.
Suzie sips red ferment. “Yes,” she says without expression.
“Yes, you’ve made up your mind or yes–”
“Yes,” she says, then laughs. “Yes.”
Joy splashes through me. I gulp my drink. Heat fills my gut, rises through my chest. Grinning, I rip my shirt open and hurl myself onto the table, facing up.
Suzie leans down, face ringed in a halo of chandelier candles. She presses her hand to my chest; I cry out, unable to contain the sudden ecstasy. Is there any greater joy in this dark world?
“Not here, silly,” she says. She tugs me from the table and leads me to her cramped dressing room. She kisses me full on the lips and presses me back onto a table. A chill explodes through my spine. I shiver.
Fingers press my dented sternum. Metal flashes. Blood erupts, a geyser of rebellious red. Ecstasy morphs into pain, a delicious agony. I scream. Outside, the mosh pit yowls with me, drowning out the girl on stage.
I watch Suzie’s tongue work behind her lips, the almost comical look of concentration on her face. She’s so beautiful. Bartering my parts will supply her with food and shelter for months, a year, maybe long enough to outlast the plague that befell our world.
My body convulses; my ears numb. Through a gauze of noisy silence, I watch Suzie raise my heart, still pumping, to her lips. I feel lifted above the dense clouds, above the midnight into sun. Warmth cloaks my throbbing soul.
Suzie kisses the beating flesh. My senses begin to fade. I push back. I want to see her chew. I want to watch my lifeblood spurt from her pretty lips. Please. Let me live long enough to watch my heart consumed one final time.
© Stephen V. Ramey
Stephen V. Ramey lives in scenic New Castle, Pennsylvania. His work appears most recently in Foliate Oak, Bartleby Snopes, Berg Gasse 19, and Daily Science Fiction. He co-edits the annual Triangulation Anthology and blogs about this process at http://stephenvramey.wordpress.com/.
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