Carl was always hungry. He ate more than anyone he knew, but he craved each meal like he hadnít eaten in weeks. Every year he got a little hungrier. He was hungry when he was a child, but not nearly as hungry as he became later.

Carl was poor. He lived in a dirty apartment in a dirty neighborhood where dirty people did dirty things and every window had bars on it. He had lived in this neighborhood his whole life. When he was a child he played out in the streets by himself because his mother never told him not to. She never told him to look both ways or to wash behind his ears or to not talk to strangers because those werenít things she thought about. She thought about alcohol and drugs and money and cigarettes, and very rarely thought about Carl, so Carl went to bed without dinner almost every night.   When his mother did feed him she fed him canned meat and cheeseburgers and Hungry Man frozen dinners, because she didnít know that this was bad food and also because she didnít care. Carl ate this bad food and washed it down with liters and liters of soda, but he always wished he could eat good food, even though he didnít know what it would taste like. Sometimes when he was sitting in the walk-in clinic with his mother because he was sick again, he would pick up a magazine about food, he would look at the pictures of bacon-wrapped tenderloin and wild mushroom risotto and orange brandy crŤme brulee, and he would drool like a monster.

 

 

When Carl was a teenager his mother was arrested for using drugs, and Carl was sent to a foster home. Once a week a woman named Sherry came to the home and Carl had to talk to her. Sherry asked Carl lots of difficult questions like how he was feeling and what he was doing and whether the foster parents were nice to him. At first Carl didnít want to talk to Sherry, but she was very pretty and he fell in love with her a little bit, so he decided to tell her a few things, like that he felt okay and that his foster parents were okay and that he wasnít doing anything. Then he told her that he was hungry. She told him they were almost done and afterwards he could go eat dinner, but he told her no, he meant all the time.

 

 

Even though Carlís mother wasnít nice to him he still missed her. He forgot that she wasnít nice and only remembered that she was his mother, so he wished that she would get out of jail so he could live with her again. Sherry told him that it might not work out that way, but Carl didnít believe her. When Sherry talked to him he wanted so many things from her. He wanted her to bring back his mother and he wanted her leave him alone and he wanted her to kiss him. Wanting all these things made him hungry, so he went to the kitchen and starting eating. His foster parentsí eyes got big while they watched him eat, because he ate five sandwiches and a whole pizza.

 

 

When Carl was in eighth grade his mother got out of jail and Sherry arranged for them to have weekly visits. Carl met his mother in a small white room with just a table and chairs in it, and they sat there and mumbled to each other while Sherry took notes on her laptop computer. Carl wished he had a laptop computer. He wished his mother would tell him she loved him. He wished she had brought food.

When the visit was over Carlís mother didnít hug him, and when Sherry brought Carl to the visit next week his mother wasnít there. Carl and Sherry sat in the room and waited for an hour, but his mother didnít come, and she didnít come the next week either. So the visits were canceled, and after a few months the courts made it so that Carlís mother wasnít his mother anymore. Carl kept living in the foster home until one day he did something so bad they kicked him out. Carl killed his foster parentsí cat and ate it. No one could figure out why Carl did this, not his foster parents and not Sherry and not any of the counselors Sherry made him see, because all Carl would tell them was that he was hungry.

 

 

Eventually Carl became an adult and he couldnít live in foster homes anymore, even if he behaved well and didnít eat anything he shouldnít eat. He got a job at a fast food restaurant where he took bites of customersí food before he served it to them because lunch break was so far away and he couldnít control himself. The older Carl got the hungrier he got, and by the time he was twenty-one he was so hungry he could barely buy enough food. He was exactly as poor as his mother had been and he still lived in the same dirty neighborhood where there were no good jobs and everyone stole from each other. He still lived there because he didnít know how to leave. He needed all the money he earned to buy food.

But even though he ate more than anyone he knew, Carl wasnít fat. He was skinny. If he took a very deep breath, all his ribs showed, and when he flexed his muscles, nothing much happened. Sometimes Carl ate three or four meals for one meal. He would eat until he felt full and then keep eating until he felt sick, because although his stomach told him to stop, his mouth told him to keep going. His mouth was always hungrier than his stomach.

 

 

By the time he was twenty-three Carl was spending more on food than any other thing in his life. He was spending more than he was earning at his job, so he took loans from the loan store so he could buy food. Carl didnít know that it was strange to eat five Hungry Man dinners for lunch and six for dinner, but eventually his friends told him it was very strange, and that he should go to the doctor.

Carl had not gone to the doctor since his mother went to jail, even though he was sick often. He couldnít pay for the doctor, because he needed all his money to buy food. Even though he was twenty-three now and no longer in foster care, he decided to call Sherry.

Sherry was confused at first because it had been years and Carl wasnít supposed to be calling her anymore, but she remembered him and she remembered that he was a nice boy, even though he had eaten a cat, so she told him how to get the state to pay for the doctor. But when he went to the doctor the doctor couldnít find anything wrong with him. The doctor said he just had a high metabolism. Carl asked what that meant, and the doctor said it meant he was just hungry. So Carl went home and ate three Hungry Man dinners, and called Sherryís office even though it was night time. When her voicemail answered he just breathed for a while, and listened to the sound of his own breathing.

 

 

After a few years Carl was deeply in debt, and he was eating more than ever. It seemed like he wouldnít survive another year, but then one day he won the lottery. It wasnít really the lottery. A rich man hit him with his car and broke both his legs. Because the rich man was drunk, his lawyers gave Carl a big check, enough to buy food for several years, and since Carl couldnít walk anymore, all he could do was sit in his living room all day and eat, which was all he wanted to do anyway.

When the rich man broke Carlís legs, Carl knew his luck had finally improved. When it happened he lay on his back there in the street and looked up at the sky. The rich man was standing over him mumbling that he was sorry, he was so sorry, but Carl wasnít listening. The sky was black and there were bright stars in it, but there was much more blackness than stars. The blackness looked like how Carl felt when he was hungry. He knew that he had just been hit by a car and was probably imagining things, but he thought he heard a rumbling sound from far off in the blackness. A angry grumble like a deep dark stomach in the vastness of space, and he wondered if there were things out there that were even hungrier than he was.

 

 

The night after he cashed the rich manís check, watching TV felt a little different to Carl. When the TV showed him steaks and lobster tails, he knew that he could buy them if he wanted to. When the TV showed him nice clothes, he knew that he could buy those too. Even when the TV showed him other, bigger TVs, he knew that he could buy them. But there were some things the TV showed him, like cars and vacations and beautiful women, that he knew he still couldnít buy, so he ate two more Hungry Man dinners and went to sleep. But he woke up in the middle of the night with a knotting pain in his stomach and had to eat again.

 

 

Now that he was less poor, Carl finally got to eat good food. He stopped buying cheeseburgers and frozen dinners and started buying steaks and lobster tails. He even went to some nice restaurants where they served wild mushroom risotto and orange brandy crŤme brulee, but when they brought him his meals he was amazed how small they were. They were like meals for babies. He would have to eat dozens of them to get full. Hundreds. So he stopped going to nice restaurants and used all his money to buy steaks and lobster tails. But eventually he stopped buying steaks and lobster tails and started buying cheeseburgers and frozen dinners again, because he realized he didnít really care what he was eating, he just wanted to eat.

Carlís legs healed very slow, and the doctor told him it would be a long time before he could walk again, so Carl sat in his living room in his wheelchair, feeling very lonely. He ordered all his food over the phone, and never left his house. Because he couldnít stand up he couldnít clean himself, so he started to smell very bad. Eventually he couldnít stand his smell anymore, so he wheeled himself out into the front yard where there was a breeze. He closed his eyes and let the breeze blow his bad smell away, and when he looked up at the clear empty hollow blue sky he thought it looked just like how he felt inside.

Carl pulled out his phone and called Sherryís office. She told him it wasnít okay for him to call her. He told her he felt bad and needed to talk to someone. Sherry said it wasnít okay for him to talk to her but she could give him the number of a counselor. He said no, only her. Sherry hung up.

Carl looked at the ground. He looked at the grass. He had just eaten lunch five minutes ago, but he felt hungry again. Lately he felt hungry almost right away after eating. When the food hit his stomach it felt warm and it soothed the knotting pain, but then almost right away it would go cold again and the knotting pain would come back. It was like there was a hole in him, and no matter how much he poured into himself, it all drained right out.

Carl dug his fingers into the grass. He ripped up a chunk of sod, dark brown dirt dangling with roots and worms. He put the chunk of sod in his mouth and ate it.

 

 

A year later Carlís legs were still broken. The doctor told him they should have healed by now and it must be something Carl was doing wrong. Carl told the doctor he wasnít doing anything wrong, but the doctor said it must be Carlís fault and sent him home. Carl couldnít walk, so he couldnít work, so he couldnít earn money, so after a few years he became poor again.

When his money was all gone and his food was all gone and he was very, very hungry, Carl went to the government office to get food stamps. He waited in a long line with dozens of other poor people while a police officer stood in the corner watching them all. After waiting for a long time Carl noticed that he was not the only person here in a wheelchair. There were four other people in wheelchairs, and they all looked sad and lonely and hungry. Suddenly Carl felt hungrier than he had ever felt. He felt so hungry that he absolutely had to eat something, so he grabbed the woman in line in front of him and tried to eat her fingers. The woman screamed, and when the police officer grabbed Carl to stop him from eating the womanís fingers, Carl tried to eat the police officerís fingers, too.

So Carl went to jail. Police officers and lawyers and counselors kept asking him why he tried to eat the womanís fingers, but all he would say was that he was hungry.

Eventually everyone decided Carl was insane. They sent him to a mental institution, and Carl sat in his wheelchair in a small white room while doctors and counselors asked him lots of questions. But they were mostly the same questions the lawyers and the police officers had asked him, so he didnít answer them. He didnít say anything at all, he just sat in his wheelchair and stared at the white walls of the white room. The walls were completely empty, and even though they were a different color, they reminded Carl of the blackness of space, which reminded him of what it felt like to be hungry, which is how he felt all the time now, even while he was eating.

 

 

Eventually, the people at the mental institution began to notice that something was strange about Carl. Stranger than all the other patients at the mental institution. They noticed that Carl never went to the bathroom.

At first they thought he was just constipated. But then a whole week went by and Carl didnít go to the bathroom even once. No one could understand this, because Carl ate more than any of the other patients at the mental institution. Right after he ate his breakfast he screamed that he was hungry, and when they gave him more food he ate it and screamed that he was still hungry. Before lunch time came Carl would have already eaten four meals. Then he would eat lunch, and eat another four meals before dinner. So Carl was eating eleven meals a day, and he never went to the bathroom. And he was so skinny all of his ribs showed, even when he wasnít breathing.

When the people at the mental institution realized how strange Carl was, they called lots of doctors and scientists. The doctors and scientists examined him for days and days, but they couldnít figure out what was happening inside Carl. They took X-rays of Carlís stomach while he was eating and watched the food slowly disappear. They decided that he was digesting the food, which was normal, but he was digesting all of it, which was strange. There was nothing left over when he was done digesting, which is why he never went to the bathroom. This confused the doctors and scientists, but what confused them even more was the question of where the food was going after Carl digested it. Because Carl kept getting skinnier.

 

 

The more Carl ate the skinnier he got, and the skinnier he got the more doctors and scientists came to study him and ask him questions. They were all the same questions, over and over again, so Carl didnít answer any of them. But eventually, after sitting in the white room and being quiet for so long while so many people stuck so many needles and tubes into him, Carl felt so lonely and hungry that he asked to talk to Sherry. The doctors and scientists said he couldnít talk to Sherry, but Carl said he would only answer their questions if Sherry was the one asking them. So eventually they said okay, and they brought Sherry into the white room.

Sherry sat down in a chair in front of Carlís wheelchair. There were so many tubes and wires coming out of Carl it was hard to believe he was alive. Sherry asked Carl why he wanted to see her, and Carl asked all the doctors and scientists to leave the white room. They said they couldnít do that, and Carl said he wouldnít talk to Sherry until they all left. So the doctors and scientists looked at each other, and they whispered to each other, and eventually they decided to tie Carl up inside a straight-jacket, with all the tubes and wires sprouting out through the collar. Once Carl was tied up so he couldnít move at all, they left him alone with Sherry in the white room.

Carl looked at Sherry. Sherry asked Carl why he wanted to talk to her. Carl looked at Sherry. Sherry asked Carl why he was looking at her, and Carl said because she was pretty. Sherry told Carl it wasnít okay for him to say she was pretty. Carl told Sherry she was also nice. Thatís why he wanted to talk to her, because she was nice, and had always been nice even when no one else was nice, not even his mother.

Sherry asked Carl if he was ready to answer the questions the doctors and scientists had been asking him. Carl looked at Sherry. Sherry asked Carl the questions. Carlís stomach grumbled.

 

 

All the doctors and scientists were standing outside the white room, waiting. They waited for ten minutes and then they knocked on the door and said they were coming in. But when they came in they were very confused, because Carl was all alone. Sherry wasnít there anymore. Sherry was gone.

Everyone asked Carl what had happened to Sherry, but Carl didnít answer. Carl just sat in his wheelchair in his straight jacket with all the tubes and wires sprouting up through the collar, and looked at the blank white walls. They kept asking him over and over again, so eventually Carl said he would tell them where Sherry was if they brought his mother here. They said they didnít know where his mother was, but Carl said the only person he would talk to about Sherry was his mother. So the doctors and scientists told the police to find Carlís mother, because they were afraid something bad had happened to Sherry, and because they were very afraid of Carl.

 

 

It took the police a long time to find Carlís mother because she was living in an abandoned building and doing drugs with other poor people and had no job or phone or driverís license. Carlís mother was very hungry. When the police asked her to come talk to Carl she said no, but eventually she said yes because they said they would give her food. So the police gave Carlís mother a cheeseburger, and then they brought her into the white room to talk to Carl.

Carl looked at his mother. She looked much, much older than he remembered her. Carl said hi to his mother and asked her how she was, but she didnít answer him. She didnít say anything nice to Carl, she didnít tell him how she was or that she loved him, she just asked him what he wanted. So even though the white room was packed full of people and everyone was looking at Carl, Carl felt lonely. He felt so lonely that a tear came out of his eye and started to roll down his cheek, but then something strange happened. The tear rolled back up his cheek and went back into his eye. No one saw this happen because no one was looking at Carlís face, they were looking at the computer screens and brain machines that were hooked up to Carl by all the tubes and wires. So no one saw the tear go back into Carlís eye, which made what happened next a bigger surprise than it might have been if theyíd been paying attention.

Carl asked the doctors and scientists and police to leave the room, but they said no. They said this time they werenít going to leave no matter what. So Carl said okay, and he looked at his mother again. His mother looked back at him and asked what he wanted again. Carlís mouth stretched open wide, very, very wide, wider than his whole head and his whole body, it expanded out of the collar of his straight-jacket like a horrible balloon and stretched across the room and ate his mother.

Everyone in the white room screamed the way insane people scream. They were frightened in a way that sane people canít understand, they were bursting full of terrors that canít be described by words or even thought about by thoughts, because there is no language for them at all, anywhere. So everyone in the white room just screamed and screamed, and then Carlís mouth ate them all.

Carl was alone in the white room. But even though he had eaten everyone, he was hungrier than ever. He tore off his straight jacket and ate it. He ate all the tubes and wires coming out of him, he ate them like spaghetti. He smashed apart his wheelchair and ate it. When there was nothing left in the white room to eat, he put his arm in his mouth and ate his arm. Then his other arm. Then both his broken legs. Then Carl began to twist and curl in ways that people canít twist and curl. His mouth opened wide again and Carl ate his whole body. He swallowed his chest and his neck and his grumbling stomach, and when he swallowed his stomach, the scientists watching him on the video screen could finally see what was inside Carl. There was blackness inside Carl. After Carl ate his whole body there was nothing left but blackness, a small ball of it floating in the middle of the white room. Carl was hungry. Carl was so hungry. There was such horrible knotting pain inside him, such a deep and infinite emptiness, and he had to fill it.

So Carl ate the white room. Carl ate all the doctors and scientists and police officers that were outside. Carl ate the mental institution, and the city around it, all the cars and TVs and beautiful women, unloved children and unloving mothers. Carl ate America. Then Carl ate the world. But even though he ate the world Carl was still hungry, he was hungrier than ever, so Carl ate the sun and the moon and all the planets, and then Carl ate the stars. The stars spiraled around Carl in the blackness of space like they wanted to dance with him, but Carl didnít want to dance, he only wanted to eat, because he was hungry, and although he had been a person once, a young boy with hopes and dreams and gentle needs, now he was nothing but hunger, and he was going to eat everything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isaac Marion, 2010

isaacinspace@gmail.com

www.burningbuilding.com