He awoke in the hallway of the apartment building with his wife still gnawing on the flesh of his thigh. He felt no pain in his leg or any sensation as her teeth scraped femur. All he felt was an intense burning in the base of his skull. No blood left the growing cavity—only a brown ooze pooled on the beige carpet. He heard no biting, no gnashing, or sucking. He heard the beating of his own heart.
Though he thought about swatting his wife away, she stopped on her own as if they shared the same thought. She glanced up in what seemed a smile at first, but her lips slipped apart and jaw craned open, revealing pink flesh and teeth. The pink flesh matched the remaining meat of his leg.
His wife, whose name he no longer remembered, rose from the floor. Her tan and green sundress, unstained and remarkably unwrinkled, clung to her body like a wet towel, and she limped off toward a stairwell. Where is she going? he wondered. In a flash of vivid images, he remembered a time not long ago. He was cooking vegetable soup, his mother’s recipe, to cure the common cold. His wife had remarked how her cold was anything but common.
The change happened soon after—she doubled over in pain and barked out a cough so vigorous it rattled him. Instincts made him dial 911, but it returned a busy signal. By then, his wife fell to the couch and writhed in the throes of agony. Her body shifted and twisted, her limbs thrashed, and the flesh tightened so much that bone and tendon stuck out. She grunted and wheezed wolf-like. Her fingers clawed the sofa cushions. She spit creamy bile on an end table.
He recalled the start of the fire. Smoke billowed from the stove. A roll of paper towels left too close to the flame combusted, sending white puffs to the air. He had rushed to the front door and opened it to let the smoke dissipate before it set off the alarms.
When he turned back, his wife had risen. Her head hung low, but bloodshot eyes beamed across the room. A low growl rose in her throat. She sprinted at him and lunged, hands raised, fingers coiled like talons, and he backed into the hall. She tackled him, knocking him backward, and his head slammed on the concrete hallway wall. Dazed, he slid to the floor and as darkness covered his vision, the last image he saw was his wife biting away the skin of his thigh.
The images ended. He sat alone once again in the hallway. Smoke seeped from the open door of his apartment. He struggled to rise. His arms were stiff. He caught his foot on the edge of his long trench coat. His leg bent inward as he put pressure on it. He still felt no pain but only two sensations: hunger and hate. He only felt hate because of the hunger, so deep, so real. All he knew was the hunger. Nothing else mattered, and he knew he needed to sate it.
He wandered down the hall in the direction his wife walked. A sign above blazed in red, and he could not read the letters. Was it an exit, he thought. He did not want to see that woman anymore. Who was she? He forgot who she was and cared no more. He lurched in pain and bumped his head against the wall. I can feel pain, he realized, but only for a moment. The pain faded, and it numbed him.
A clicking noise burst through the hallway. The sound hooked his attention and agitated him. It consumed him, the sound, like an insect had crawled in his ear canal and burrowed deep. He wanted to rip the clicking out. He heard a voice, a woman’s, and it called to him. Somehow he knew she was alive and the hunger burned for her living flesh. Suddenly he hated her for she gave him purpose, and that purpose compelled him to turn around and run at her.