A Taste of Empty

An essay by Jonah Greenwich, as provided by Dorian Graves
Art by Leigh Legler

I was at my wit’s end when the bird was brought in.

Before its arrival was a stalemate. The rain had not stopped outside, leaving trails in windows that hadn’t been cleaned in months. On a chair to my left, a laptop with saved articles on fever remedies, still unable to connect to the internet. To my right, a cup of noxious green liquid that smelled of sewage, but according to the bottle, was the strongest combination of vitamins on the market. My patient, Seth Cross, eyed the concoction and pulled the blankets halfway over his too-pale face.

“I think God already hates me enough, Mr. Greenwich,” he muttered. His voice was soft and breathy, body too thin for a growing teenager. “You don’t need to hate me too.”

“No need to get melodramatic. I mean, this can’t do more harm than good, right?” I tried to hand him the cup, along with a napkin. “And it’s Jonah, please.”

Seth did not argue; I had met him before, and he never spoke a rude word to me. Granted, he never said much in general, but that might’ve been because I was dating his mother, Martha. Not that it mattered what he thought of me, for none of the doctors in town had anything helpful to say, other than “fever and a stomach bug, here are some prescriptions.” I figured I could at least try to help, and even if Martha’s home was a small mobile home–or as Martha called it, “a one-trailer trailer park” in the mountains–I still preferred it to the empty house or noisy cubicle I resided in.

Seth did not try the vitamins, see if they would stay down when everything else he’d eaten the past three days came back up with retching and tears. He did not get the chance, for this was when the bird was brought in. Its arrival was announced with a cheery “Seth! Look what I found!” from the younger Cross sibling, Angie. She entered in a soaked pink dress, golden curls bobbing. She stood next to me and showed us her find, its chest red, head lolling at an unnatural angle.

“It ran into the window,” Angie explained with the enthusiasm only children can muster. “Isn’t it pretty? I think it’s the first robin of spring, but I’d hafta’ ask Momma.”

I wasn’t a doctor by any means, but even I knew that even touching dead animals was bad news. I reached for the bird, already starting in on a lecture, but it was already out of the girl’s grasp. It was in Seth’s hands, and he stared with wide eyes. Even in death, the robin was so much more vibrant than his own pale skin.

Pop. Squish. Crunch.

He’d popped the bird into his mouth. And even as his teeth crushed down and snapped its tiny bones, his expression grew into one of mortification.

“What did you do that for?” I reached in vain for the bird no longer there.

Seth turned his face from me and shook his head. “Don’t know,” he muttered through bites. Squish crunch, squish crunch, gulp. “I was hungry.”

A Taste of Empty

Blood smeared his body, though it looked like he’d tried to wash at least some of it off his face and hands.

To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Winter 2015 collection.

This story was mailed in by one Jonah Greenwich, with no return address. An attached note states that this is his “only warning about what is to come.” The manuscript was written in pen on notebook paper, instead of typed, with parts that were almost illegible due to burn marks and water damage. No further records on Mr. Greenwich have yet been found.

Dorian Graves is a recent graduate from Mills College, majoring in English/Creative Writing; “A Taste of Empty” was half of a senior thesis. Dorian can usually be found in the mountains of the West Coast, working on the first (and second, and third) book of an urban fantasy series, or herding cats. More information, along with some artwork, can be found at http://pictureofdoriangraves.blogspot.com/.

Leigh’s professional title is “illustrator,” but that’s just a nice word for “monster-maker,” in this case. More information about them can be found at http://leighlegler.carbonmade.com/.

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