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Consumed by Guerric Haché
SUMMARY: Entry for the November Flash Fiction Contest, theme: "Hunger." Set in the world of Zearth.
He was driven by the hunger, stumbling through the streets and gripping at his sides. It had always been with him, his whole life – but tonight, it was stronger than ever. The cold, gnawing feeling; a thousand ants with jaws of ice might as well have been chewing through his body. He needed heat, energy, satisfaction – but he held back.
The streets were dark, but every crack and mite seemed to call out to him, to scream his name. Every tiny speck of the outside world was like a beacon to him, begging to be devoured. He held back; he couldn't, he didn't dare. To consume, to sate his hunger – it would finally be the end of him. He took one staggering, drunken step after the other, supporting himself against a wall. His clothes were gone, eaten; his shoes were bottomless tatters hanging around his ankles. He was naked in the street, but that wasn't why he was cold.
As he stumbled towards an alley, somebody walked out and almost bumped into him. "Hey, buddy! What do you think you're –"
He grabbed the man by the shoulders, stared him in the eye and tried to speak – but all that came out was a wheeze, a half-hearted growl. He felt blessed heat flare up along the side of his face, for only a brief few seconds. The other man's eyes went wide. "Holy shit –"
He was no buddy; again, the hungry, agonizing man was left alone as the other ran in off. He slunk into the alley, hoping for darkness, hoping for respite from the beacons that called out, wanting only to be devoured. The people, the garbage – even the stone itself, and the air around him. All whispered his name, the name he had forgotten, the name that no longer meant anything.
But even in the darkness, he saw it all, and he longed to devour. The hunger had been with him for as long as he could remember – for twenty-two years. But tonight was different; tonight was special. Tonight, the hunger would finally claim him.
No! No, it wouldn't! It couldn't happen – it wouldn't be fair. He didn't have to let it consume him. He had resisted it before, again and again, for years. It wasn't going to take him. He would find a safe place and curl up, and he would sleep, and the hunger would be gone, for a few days at least. He had done it before, again and again, for years. He could do it again tonight.
He found a window, one that let into the basement of the building he was leaning against. As he moved towards it, he found the hunger was too much – and suddenly, it burst forth out of his gut and ran all the way down his left arm. Then the cold was gone, and he could no longer hold himself back; he devoured his own arm, the heat and the pain of his hunger soon gone in favor of the gentle, soothing ache of the stump in his shoulder. Bits of him, black crumbs of what was once his own flesh, fell to the ground.
He resisted the urge to scream as he fell to his knees and crawled towards the gap in the wall. Where was his arm? He had done this before. He had consumed it before, consumed his own body, but it always came back.