When Genesis woke up that morning with muscle aches in places she failed to notice for the last sixteen years, lung shattering coughing fits, sporadic sneezing and a headache which made her eyes burn, she knew next to nothing about the food chain.
She did not care where humans fit in the pyramid and she believed it was right at the top. She did not know humans barely ranked in the second tier from the bottom, together with pigs and anchovies. Carnivores like tigers, lions and crocodiles were at the top, and little did she know that soon she would be a top-level predator, who only consumed meat.
After dragging herself from her bed, getting dressed and walking the mile to school, Genesis thought her day could not get any worse when she saw Natalie walking toward her.
She felt bone tired and thought she was probably coming down with something. She had also noticed one or two other kids hacking their lungs out when she walked onto the school grounds, a little more than ten minutes ago, so there had to be something doing the rounds.
When Natalie reached her, she started talking fast, “Megan told me Vanessa told her that you broke up with Brandon via text last night.”
“Yeah,” Genesis said without looking at her.
“But, Genny, Brandon says he didn’t hook up with Vanessa at the party last night. Every story has two sides and maybe you shouldn’t be so hard on him. Let him explain.”
“Sure,” Genesis replied with a shrug and then coughed. Again.
“Genny. Are you even listening to me? People are only making up stories because you were home feeling crap, and you know how jealous everyone is of your and Brandon’s relationship.”
Genesis looked at Natalie with an amused look on her face.
“Plus, he was drinking quite a bit.” Natalie turned Genesis to face her. “Your boyfriend lov...”
“Ex-boyfriend,” Genesis corrected her, trying hard not to cough in her face now that she was facing her directly. “Whatever,” Genesis said as she shrugged her shoulders and turned back to her locker.
“Not whatever. The point is, he was drunk. I really think the two of you should talk.”
“The point is he cheated and it’s not the first time. I’m sorry, but I don’t want to go out with someone who makes me feel insecure.” Genesis stopped talking and started coughing. It was as if there was something stuck in her throat and no amount of coughing and hacking could dislodge it. “I believed his lies the last time, and I’m not going to again. He’s already had his second chance.”
“But he really loves you, Genny,” she said with a whine in her voice.
Genesis rolled her eyes, not bothering to hide her annoyance with Natalie.
“You’re really grumpy when you’re sick, you know? Also, Brandon looked really heartbroken when I saw him this morning. He didn’t even smile.”
Genesis felt the earth tremble beneath her feet as everything around her swirled together as if someone had taken a paintbrush and dragged it through wet paint.
“Genny, are you okay?”
As the pain in her forehead exploded, Genesis opened her mouth to scream, but no sound could get past her sore throat. She hung onto her locker door as if it was an olive branch and she was drowning in an endless ocean.
“Genny!” Natalie screamed.
Genesis hacked another cough and felt the strange tickling feeling in her throat fade away until it was gone. She noticed a strange silence in her body. She had stopped breathing.
“Genny? Talk to me,” Natalie begged as she looked at Genesis with concern.
Genesis felt her first sliver of hunger. She could hear every heartbeat in the building, and strangely, it sounded like a synchronized marching band, with only here and there a beat out of sync. She could smell Natalie’s blood and for a crazed moment all she wanted to do was rip Natalie apart and eat her flesh until she burst at the seams.
Had she turned into a monster?
“Natalie, I’m okay. Really,” Genesis said, trying to convince herself it was so although panic rippled through her. She did not know what was going on. Did she die? How come she was still here?
“Your eyes have gone all funny, and you’re really pale. Maybe I should walk with you to the office.”
“No, I’m fine. It’s probably just from this headache,” Genesis lied because her headache had miraculously disappeared.
“Well, at least you’ve stopped coughing.”
“Yeah. The cough syrup must’ve started working, at last.”
Instead of going to class with Natalie, when they walked past the nearest bathroom Genesis quickly excused herself. Thankfully, the room was empty, and she checked each of the five stalls to make sure she was alone.
On the wall opposite the stalls, there were two sinks and against the wall, above the sinks, there was a large mirror. She hung her bag from the door handle, reluctant to drop it onto the floor and then turned to the mirror to have a good look at herself.
The girl looking back at her from the mirror had the same blue eyes and long, black hair. The same cheekbones, chin and nose, but her face was insipid and pale.
Genesis had always had a natural rosy hue to her cheeks, but now they were white as if all the blood had been sucked right out of her skin.
She knew from this day forward her life would never be the same. She knew it. She could feel it.
Her heart had stopped beating.
Her lungs had stopped breathing.
Blood was no longer pumping through her veins.
Genesis waited a few minutes until she was sure everyone had gone to class, and the halls would be empty. She left the bathroom, hurrying to the doors which led outside.
She was so intent on getting home, she did not notice Brandon until he stepped in front of her.
“Hey, Gen. Didn’t you get my message?”
Genesis looked at him annoyed. “I can’t talk to you now.”
Genesis shook her head as she tried to push past him, but he held her back.
“Why did you break up with me, Gen? That’s all I need to know.”
Her head snapped back so she could glare at him. “You cheated, Brandon. Again.” She felt a red-hot anger well up inside her and wondered what it would be like to devour him, all at once. She felt so hungry, even though she should be technically dead if her heart was not beating and she was not breathing.
He looked over her shoulder, trying not to make eye contact. “You know I wouldn’t...”
“I know you would.” The anger she felt boiled over and she shoved her body into him, forcing him to take a couple of steps backwards until his back connected with the wall behind him. She did not realize how close she was to him until their bodies were almost pressed together. “I am having a really shitty day, so I don’t need any of your lies.”
He looked scared. “What’s going on with you, Gen?”
She did not back away from him.
“Gen?” He asked.
“You smell really...” She stopped herself from saying delicious.
“Genny, you know I really love you, don’t you?” He reached up to touch her face.
“I want...” She could not say the words. She refused to even think them. This was wrong. All wrong. She did not really want to eat his flesh, especially his brains, did she?
She pushed away from Brandon and ran for the doors.
All she wanted to do was get home.
The walk home took fifteen minutes, but it seemed to pass in the blink of an eye, and too soon Genesis was standing in the driveway. Everything looked the same as when she left this morning. The manicured lawn was a deep green, the flowerbeds surrounding the patch of grass were full of colourful flowering plants, in perfect harmony with the large brick house.
She wondered why she had been so eager to get home? She supposed it was to get to the only place she felt safe now that she had the feeling of being dead, which rationally could not be true, yet when she pushed her open palm hard against her chest, she could not feel the faint thumping of her heart. There was no lift in her chest when she took a deep breath.
No! She could not be dead and still be here. Things like that just did not happen. For a moment she considered the notion of being a ghost, but quickly dismissed the idea. Brandon saw her and spoke to her. Then she remembered how tempting Brandon smelled, and the rush of desire she felt to eat his flesh, especially the need to get to the soft, spongy part of his brain.
No! No! No! Eating people was not who she was. She lifted her hand to touch her forehead and it was cold and hard to the touch, like marble. The slight fever she had this morning was gone and her skin felt different, weird.
“I’m dead...” she mumbled, and then quickly pushed her lips together. Saying the words out loud might make them true.
She glanced at the front door, took a deep breath out of habit and a step forwards.
When Genesis walked into the house, it was quiet. She walked down the long, carpeted hallway to her room and dumped her backpack on the floor, before she headed back down the hall in search of her mum.
Her mum was in her office, staring intently at the computer screen in front of her and letting her fingers tip-toe softly over the letters on the keyboard. She worked from home as a Content Editor for a local radio station and always insisted she did not want to be disturbed when she was working. Genesis and her dad had to pretend her mum was working away from home, worked business hours.
“Mum?” Her voice was soft and tentative.
“Yeah?” Her mum did not look away from the monitor.
Genesis swallowed hard. “I need your help.”
Her mum immediately looked in her direction, her mossy-green eyes filled with concern. “What’s wrong, Gen...” Her words froze on her pale pink lips. “No! Not yet,” she exclaimed, and pushed her black leather chair back quickly as she stood.
“What do you mean, not yet?” Genesis asked and walked closer to her mum.
Her mum made a wretched sound as she turned to the phone and mumbled, “I have to phone your dad.”
A feeling of apprehension filled Genesis from the bottom up. It started in the pit of her stomach, and the queasy feeling quickly rushed up her body until it got stuck in her throat. Her mum had never before regressed from being in control to having to phone her dad.
“Mum, please. What’s happening to me?”
The worried look in her eyes was quickly replaced with a look of fear as her mum pushed the numbers on the phone with quick precision, and at the same time, she pushed the black leather chair on its coasters so that it was between Genesis and her. She waited for a couple of seconds and then she said, “Peter. Come home.” She ended the call, pulled her hand through her light-brown hair and then looked back at Genesis. “I am so sorry, Gen.” As if she only then realised she had pushed the chair between them, a look of sadness washed over her face. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “I guess, although I knew this day would come, I did not realise how afraid I was that it would come.”
“What would come?” Genesis asked with a frown between her eyebrows and a hint of fear in her voice.
“I think it would be better if we waited for your dad. He would be able to explain it a lot better than I could.” She gave Genesis a nervous look, unable to look her in the eyes. “Maybe you could go and get changed, or get something to eat… No, I guess you wouldn’t be hungry.” As if she was having second thoughts about mentioning eating and hunger, she asked as she took a little step away from Genesis, “Are you? Hungry, I mean.”
Genesis shook her head. Her mum was afraid of her. Genesis could feel fear rolling off her mum in big, suffocating waves. A sadness overwhelmed Genesis and she felt tears well up in her eyes. “I’ll be in my room,” she said as she turned and rushed down the hall.
When she reached her room, she pushed the door shut behind her before she took the few steps across the carpet to her bed. She fell onto the bed and cradled her head in her arms. Although she could feel tears burning her eyelids, they did not escape.
She sat up quickly and rushed over to the closet. Standing on her toes, she reached up to the top of the cupboard and pulled on the large canvas bag, while bringing her other hand up to shield her head from the debris of scarves, hats and multiple sheets of art coming down with the bag. She left everything else on the floor and carried the bag to her bed. She knew there was something seriously wrong with her, and her mum was terrified of being in the same room as her, so she had no choice—she had to leave.
Packing a few T-shirts, two pairs of jeans, tracksuit bottoms, a black hoodie, underwear, make-up and toiletries, she had no idea where she would go, but she could not stay after seeing the look of utter horror in her mum’s eyes.
The knock on the door startled her.
“Gen. Your mum and I need to speak with you.”
She listened to his footsteps receding down the hall, before she opened her door.
Walking into the family room, she saw her dad standing by the long couch in front of the picturesque window with a view of the lake and hilltops in the distance. Her mum sat at the end of it, holding onto his hand. Her eyes were red from crying and her back was so straight it looked as if she had swallowed a broomstick.
The look her dad gave her was filled with sorrow and regret.
“We’re so sorry, Gen,” her mum said with a sob.
“I’ll handle this, Josie,” her dad said, giving her hand a tight, reassuring squeeze before he turned his attention back to Genesis. “We should have told you sooner.”
Genesis looked from her mum to her dad without saying a word, waiting for them to explain what they should have told her sooner, why something was not supposed to happen yet. Did they even know she had died but was still walking around as if she was alive? Were they all talking about the same thing? What if it was something as mundane, although it would be a devastating revelation that she was adopted? If she was adopted, maybe she had not really died and maybe her real parents were aliens or something and feeling dead at sixteen was how she was supposed to feel.
Copyright © Stephen Simpson (published by Fiction for the Soul). All rights reserved.