by Timothy Yeo
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Their school specialized in sweeping unpleasant things under the rug. For a week, a period of silence was established where loud talk was forbidden in the canteen, in honor of the late Jessica, who remained considerately unnamed. Jeremy texted that he was too busy to talk, but made it up with a thousand lines of reassurance. He couldn’t help but get tied up, the staff room was in uproar, everyone was making phone calls, dealing with this and that. He promised that Yixin would be safe.
After the week of silence passed, and although the police were no closer to catching the culprit, normalcy returned to their lives. The girls worked to forget about the tragedy of one of their own and acted as if Jessica didn’t exist.
Jeremy planned the week’s Saturday night for her. They met up at the train station as usual, and this time he was munching on a KitKat.
“Hello,” he said, between bits of chocolate. He swallowed what was left, and patted her head. “How have you been?”.
“The police are going to be patrolling the school for the next few weeks. It’ll be safe.”
He went on to reassure her with every single platitude he could pull out from his hat. Still, she found her attention waning, drifting back to memories of Jessica in the classroom where, on Valentine’s Day, she had given Yixin and only Yixin her best-brewed batch of sourdough bread.
Jeremy assured her tonight was going to be fun. He brought her down to a street near the harbor, where live music spilled out from brightly lit bars, and drunken adults shouted louder than anyone in school could have hoped to match. They went inside a pub named “Crazy Elephant,” where he ordered her a cocktail and told her to take it slow. She couldn’t see how in the world she could take it slow. Everything around her was too fast. The person on stage was rapping too hard for her to keep up. The lights blinked in and out so frequently she was afraid she was going to have a seizure. And when she sipped on the drink he provided her, its raw power hit her straight through the skull. She buried her head on the table, wishing she could wake up in the morning in her room.
He took her outside. “It’ll be bad the first time,” he said. “But trust me, you’ll get used to it. Once you do, it’s a whole new world.”
Yixin said nothing. Just stared at the sea below, marveling at the little, subtle patterns the water made.
“Yixin? What’s wrong?” He drew close and wrapped his arms around her. She hadn’t eaten lunch, even when she had tried to. So it was natural that she could no longer restrain herself. Her tongue found his skin, and she began chewing.
She was making it easy for him. Softly gnawing, letting it build up, leaving him all the time in the world to respond. She could feel his chin pressing on the back of her neck. Jaw muscles primed to take a long, meaty bite.
He was remaining still. Frustrated, she bit down until she tasted it, and that was when he pushed away. She spat out his blood and watched it redden the waters below.
“What are you afraid of?” she snapped.
“Are you sick? I’ll walk you home—“
“I’m not stupid,” she snapped. “Don’t just... just think I’m just some dumb girl...” She rammed her lips against his, but this time his face was a stone wall.
“Listen to me, Yixin. You’re not dumb. You’re one of the most brilliant students I’ve met.”
She couldn’t believe it was only now she recognized his platitudes for what they were: platitudes, and nothing beyond that. She began to cry.
“Hey,” he drew her close into his chest again, “I’m serious. No one asks questions like you do. No one learns as fast as you do. And that’s why I wouldn’t dare, in a million years, tarnish that. Okay? When you graduate, I’m going to be so proud of you.”
After all that, he was still her teacher. And she was still his student. The tears kept falling. Hunger lashing out with nowhere to go. She wanted to jump into the sea and remain forever in its murky depths. But how could she? He had a destiny for her to fulfill. They swayed together for a while, before he gave her a light peck and brought her back inside for the next lesson.
* * *
Exam day. The final exam of their year. General paper was a breeze; she had always excelled at it. Physics and Chemistry were nothing more than intuition. The only problem was Maths. Yixin only realized how far behind she was when she opened her book and saw the half-complete scribbles scrawled across the page. How many nights had she skipped, forsaking her equations for the confusing rambles of the online articles he had linked to her?
On the morning of the Maths paper, she was supposed to have breakfast. Three slices of toast with a hearty chunk of peanut butter and sliced boiled eggs. She dithered on whether to waste time cooking but in the end had decided to go to school early to practice, bearing through her gastric pangs, all for the hope of raising her failing mark just ever so slightly above passing level.
“Someone was following me yesterday.”
“Are you serious?! Who? Don’t tell me it was that cannibal.”
Noise was coming in again. Her classmates’ gossip. She tried to tune it out. She focused on the equations. To solve the problem. There were several contradicting expressions, which made no sense, because in mathematics, everything always resolved neatly over each side of the equal sign. She just had to concentrate. Never mind their gossip. Never mind Jessica. Never mind even Jeremy, the delicate movements as he walked next to her, as he laughed at new things, patted her on the head. Never mind. Carry the four over and bring the two down.
She blinked at the answer she had arrived in her notepad.
She was afraid, even more so than that time weeping behind the statue. If she was correct, then she wanted to close her eyes, crumple the paper into a ball, and walk across the street to never come back. All she had to do was choose.
Instead, she got up and made a phone call.
* * *
Jeremy was in his office as usual. Yixin hoped it would be crowded, but as always, in a cruel twist of fate, there was no one else left for each other apart from themselves. Some soft, crunching noises coming from his cubicle told her that he was snacking. By the sound of it, KitKats again. She had never in her life seen him eat a single piece of chocolate until she had presented to him the cupcake on Valentine’s Day.
He slid out of his cubicle, wiping his mouth. “Everything okay, Yixin?”
She didn’t want to say it. She was trembling. She closed her eyes.
A familiar warmth grasped her hands, and she imagined his kindly eyes waiting for her answer. Hanging on her every word, just like she used to dangle from his. She opened her eyes again. “I have a question, Mr. Ming,” she said. “It has to do with what you have taught me.”
“Sure. I’m listening. What did you learn today?”
“You said at first, meritocracy was the foundation of any good society. That we should judge based on rationality.”
“That’s good. Good.”
“But then you also said that humans are self-destructive, and we can’t stop that. That’s a contradiction.”
“Oh? Maybe you’re not understanding. I can explain—”
“No need, Mr Ming. I understand.”
“Okay... are you sure?”
“There’s also another contradiction.”
“You said that I mustn’t believe everything I hear. That I must always doubt.”
“Good. Always trust your own—”
“Then why do you keep expecting me to believe everything you say?”
His eyes turned sunken. Shifting back behind his reflective lens. “Good...” the words came out of his mouth unwillingly.
“You told me you were the school’s Head of Logistics. The police were asking us who had access to the music room. Where Jessica was murdered. Why didn’t they ask you? Did you tell them? Did they know you could open any room in the school?”
“Excellent. Anything else?”
Neither of them needed to acknowledge the Kitkat wrappers that were currently strewn about his desk. “You’re hungry,” she said. “You can’t stop eating, like me. But you’re different. You didn’t control it.”
She gulped. She could no longer see his eyes anymore. Even as her voice wavered, she ploughed on to make her final statement. “Mr Ming,” she concluded, “you need to turn yourself in.”
The tips of his ears had grown a deep brownish-red. His eyes had completely disappeared into a bottomless, black pit, and his skin started turning a pale white. “Yixin,” his voice crackled. He threw his glasses to the floor and crushed them under his feet. “That... was... amazing. Splendid. I truly have taught you so much.”
“Why them?” she dared to ask.
“It’s all your fault. I was doing okay, you know. I was keeping it together. And you came along and made me hungry.” The transformation complete, a predator towered over her with its gnashing teeth. “What a twist of fate. Putting a beast in a flock of juicy sheep. But I would never harm you, Yixin. The rest of them are dull, merely filling, but I’ve said all along you were special.”
He extended a hand toward her. She swore she was hallucinating. Those fingernails were claws.
“Now that you’ve grown up enough to know what you want,” he said. “I can teach you how to hunt.”
He stepped forward. She backed away. His drool sprayed across the floor.
“Remember what I taught you?” he grinned. “It’s okay to ask for help.”
“That’s what I did,” she said, and ducked.
A taser wire hurtled over her and slammed the monster into the wall. Jeremy screamed and writhed, clawing against the wires, until the voltage finally reached his heart. He fell to his knees, crumpled forward, and landed in front of her.
* * *
Immediately she rose to her feet, to rush to his side. The hand of an adult stayed her.
“Wouldn’t advise that, young lady,” her rescuer said. Dressed in his funeral suit, the shady Western doctor walked past her and checked the man on the floor. After a while, he nodded and stood up.
“Thank you for the call,” the doctor said. “I’ve been watching out for a violent case to happen here for a long time. Although that whole speech was unnecessary.”
He meant, why didn’t she just let him handle it from the very start.
“I wanted to know why,” she said.
“Well, you’ve got your answer. He’s a scumbag.”
“No, it was my fault. I made him like this.”
Her head bowed, she was already offering him her wrists. He swatted them back down.
“The chicken or the egg, who made who, who cares? Point being, you weren’t the one taking bites out of young girls. This man here was a scumbag who convinced you he wasn’t, case closed.”
He grabbed the smoking figure from under the arms and began to drag it out of the staff room. Already disappearing out of her life, too fast for her to even beg for punishment. She had only seconds to ask one final question, a query that chilled her, but as was her curse, she was compelled to know.
“What will happen to me?” she said.
The man sighed, stopped, allowed her briefest of glances, and answered her question.
* * *
Yixin was, of course, late for her exam, but she feigned illness and managed to get a makeup scheduled, so she could use the extra night to power through three years’ worth of exam questions. As a result, she topped the class once again, holding onto her rank with the skin of her teeth.
Nowadays, she left her skirt down, such that it reached her ankles, the same as before. She kept the braided hair though. Every time she woke up and looked in the mirror, she decided for herself that she would look good in it. She also planned out a diet and stuck to it, and although the first few weeks were agony, it gradually became easier to withstand the pangs. Soon she was back to the three-meal schedule. It certainly helped that Jeremy’s replacement was a sixty-year old grandma. She still kept her guard up even so, and kept a whole chicken in the freezer downstairs for emergency consumption.
In case the hunger returned.
“I can’t tell you who you got it from or how you got it,” was all the doctor had to advise her. “Because frankly, I can’t be bothered to find out. It’s just a disease most people get at some point in their lives. You’ll have to learn to manage, and from the looks of it, I’m sure you’re capable. But if you aren’t...”
He had mimed a finger gun and pulled the trigger. “You’ll be seeing me again.”
Copyright © 2020 by Timothy Yeo