by Jordan Majka
It was 2 p.m. when Marton first realized it was gone. There was no faint thumping. No steady beat accompanied him in the campus library where he sat. He paused from his reading, staring curiously around at the realization of unfamiliar silence. He stood, staring down the line of mahogany cubicles searching for an answer. Patting his chest, he desperately tried to find signs of his beating heart.
I’m alive? He pressed two fingers to his neck and held his breath. Nothing. No region of his body would pulse to disprove his hypothesis. He picked up his backpack and ran to the first floor restroom. He let out a deep sigh as he stared at his reflection in the dirty mirror, his brown irises struck with terror. He looked surprisingly normal for lacking a vital organ. Is this a dream? Pinching only aggravated the situation. There was no awakening from this horrid nightmare after all.
He thought about the absurdity of explaining his qualm to the police and shook his head as he played the conversation over and over. He left the men’s room and headed to his dorm. He darted through campus, passing the vast green upon which hundreds gathered to cook, to talk, and to play.
He entered the dormitory and bounded up the stairwell to the third floor. He passed a variety of decorated doorways and entered room 334. His roommate sat staring intently at his laptop screen.
“Jake, we have a problem,” Marton huffed.
Jake, un-phased, began typing.
Marton shut Jake’s laptop and pointed to his neck as Jake looked up with a blank expression.
“I have no pulse, dude.”
Marton gestured towards his neck, and Jake reluctantly moved two fingers to check. His eyes became as wide as golf balls.
“I don’t know how I’m alive, no,” Marton swiftly answered, sitting on his bed, running his hands through his thick, black hair.
“Look, I need to go outside for some fresh air. At least while I can.”
“I’ll be here forever working on this paper. Gimme a shout if anything goes wrong,” Jake said standing and patting his friend on the back.
Marton, hunched over, shuffled outside. The bright mid-afternoon sunlight cast overarching shadows of behemoth trees over the sea of college millennials. Hundreds lay talking around him while he stared at the ground, feeling simultaneously isolated and perplexed by his condition. Suddenly, he heard a single, resounding thump. He quickly raised his head, gazing around. My heart?
He glanced near a large oak and saw her.
She gracefully sat on a beige blanket. Her blonde locks caressed a fragile, golden key necklace, and her content, playful grin was warm and homely. He could hear that familiar thumping start and stop in his ear, a sort of metronome cheerleader egging him forward. I’ve seen her before.
Transfixed, he walked towards her, hearing with increasing clarity that familiar beat the closer he came. She noticed him and slid her Ray Bans just low enough to reveal two piercing green irises following his figure among the hundreds of students.
He stopped in front of her, hands casually resting in his pockets, and stared intently at her necklace, noticing scratch marks near her jugular.
“Nice necklace,” he mused, “What’s it for?”
“Hiding my dirty secrets,” she smiled, baring pearly whites. “I’m Kelsey.”
“Marton,” he held out his hand.
“I knew you’d come here to play the game, Marton. After all, why else would you have stopped by so randomly? I’ve seen you checking me out at the library.” She winked, her mouth pursed ever so slightly.
“Game?” Marton questioned, keeping his hand outstretched.
“Honey, men stare and stare, but few have the gall to come and speak. Yes or no? Why, you’ve even given me the hand already,” She held out hers, delicate and soft, motioning him to lift her.
He pulled her up, unable to speak.
“You can just come by at seven.” She handed him a note with her cell number, gathered her belongings, and left.
Marton was transfixed by the movement of her hips as she swayed away in the light breeze. The beating slowly faded away to silence.
Kelsey entered her room. She placed her tote bag and blanket atop her bed and removed a thin, folded piece of paper from a hidden pocket. She walked over to her closet and felt for an ancient, wooden box. She took her golden key necklace and carefully twisted the lock until a click reverberated throughout her empty room. She unfolded the paper, revealing a beautiful and realistic bloody heart drawing with the name “Marton Lifte” carefully etched above it. The vigorous heartbeat resonated with her.
“And what a beautiful game it is,” she announced, smiling devilishly as she opened the box and placed the paper atop a mountain of other heart sketches.
She stared intently at the pile, gleaning sadistic pleasure from the pounding emanating from each, and rummaged through the disheveled pile like an excited child fishing through Autumn leaves. Beating reverberated, screaming in arrhythmic distress. She paused and picked up a particularly old sketch in the bottom of the box. She lifted it, slowly crushing the paper until it resembled a large marble, and placed it in her mouth, swallowing. The helpless beating slowly faded as Kelsey licked her lips in delight, catching paper bits of dried blood.
As she closed the box, there was a knock at her door.
Marton needed answers. The beating continuously faded in and out as his brisk pace flew him across campus in Kelsey’s direction. She has it.
He had entered into the Western side of campus. The territory was new for him, but luckily, he had a built-in SONAR guiding him. He continued to follow the beating, which led him into a large, central dorm building of the West side name Puter Hall.
Marton climbed up the side staircase near the entrance feeling very lethargic. I’m surprised I can even do this without circulation.
He came to the fourth floor, hearing the steady pounding encompass his being. He panted as he crossed through the hallway, the sounds of gossiping and giggling muffled by the oak doors. In passing, he heard paper crumpling from one room. He turned to see a whiteboard with a perfectly drawn heart encircling her name. Kelsey’s room.
“H-hold on,” called a dampened voice.
He heard panicked shifting around. What is she doing?
Kelsey opened the door.
“Marton, you’re early,” she giggled nervously.
“Yeah, I wanted to ask you about something,” he said slowly, “May I?”
She let him in, quickly shut the door, and sat down at her bed crossing her legs.
The beating was unbearable for him.
“I have this pounding headache; I’m sorry,” he rubbed his temples, unable to silence the lost heart.
“Do you need something?” She shifted her legs, for a moment showing the ancient box, the epicenter of the beats.
“Yes, do you have anything?” he asked, quickly darting his eyes away from the box’s location.
“Let me check,” she stood and walked towards her closet shelving.
Marton slid over to the bed, sitting in her old spot and feeling around for the box with his feet. As Kelsey continued to rummage around, he shifted the box out from under the bed, picked it up, and placed it in his lap, examining its intricate designs.
Kelsey turned around and gasped, dropping the pill bottle.
“What are you doing?!” She darted over, but Marton turned to block her with his body as he attempted to open the box.
She wrestled with him as his attempts to pry it open failed. She grabbed hold of one side, and a tug-of-war ensued. The two were now at opposing ends of the box. Marton gave a hefty pull, and she let go. The excessive force caused Marton to fall backwards and release the box. It flew and hit the door, breaking open. Hundreds of tiny paper hearts burst throughout the room. The air current from the open window began circulating them in a flurry.
The two paused and, in an instant, began frantically searching for his heart among the white specs. They picked up and tossed the pieces of paper aside eliminating more and more from the search. A piece swirled by, an M catching his eye. He darted for the paper, grabbing it just as Kelsey’s hand zoomed past it’s previous location. He examined the paper; his heart was beautifully sketched, almost too real to be drawn. He crumpled it up and forced it down his throat. The world went black.
It was 7 p.m. when it returned. Marton awoke and saw Kelsey lying motionless next to him among the scattered parchment. He raised himself up, wiping his face from the slumber, and walked to Kelsey’s open closet mirror. He stared, two jugular scratches and two intensely green irises staring back at him.