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This Delicious Death

This Delicious Death by Kayla Cottingham

the book This Delicious Death outside on grass that looks like it's covered in blood

Zoey and her friends Celeste, a social media influencer, Jasmine, a softball player, and Valeria, a former cheerleader, are on their way to a music festival in the desert. It's their first road trip! Woo! They've got plenty of drinks and snacks in a cooler in the back of Zoey’s mini Cooper and, as they get on the road, Zoey cracks into the snacks and pulls out to a SynFlesh heart. Synthetic human flesh was created to help quell the Hollowing, a pandemic that started a couple of years ago thanks to melting permafrost. Lots of people started feeling sick and some got better, but others, like Zoey, Celeste, Val and Jasmine, for example, did not get better. Instead, they became ghouls. Whenever they got hungry, they grew long teeth and sharp claws and devoured humans like zombies. They're fine now, thanks to the SynFlesh, though they still ghoul-out when they eat. They have to check in with Patricia, their representative from the Emergency Hollow Preparedness Association, whenever they eat, but that's not so bad, and anyway, they're about to have so much fun at the music festival.

The girls get to the hotel and order some takeout SynFlesh from a nearby restaurant and send photos to Patricia. Val eats hers down in the car because she doesn't like to ghoul-out in front of her friends. After eating, they split some vodka they snuck with them and go to the pool. Not long after they jump in, a group of guys shows up and Val freaks when she realizes that they are her favorite band, No Flash Photography. The lead singer, Eli, immediately flirts with Val, while one of the other boys, Cole, tries to flirt with Zoey. Too bad she's basically in love with her bff Celeste, but Cole is pretty cute, too. The other guys, Raj and Kaiden, plus everyone else, get into the hot tub where things heat up. Eli starts trash talking ghouls, which makes Zoey so mad that she almost ghouls-out and eats him, but she goes back to the room instead. 

Back in time, when the Hollowing started, Valeria’s family thought they were above catching it. They boarded themselves in their house and got plenty of groceries to help them survive for weeks. That didn't matter though. Val’s abuela got sick, and so did Val, but she tried to hide it, and maybe she succeeded. It's easy to go unnoticed when you have loud unruly brothers and a sick grandma.

At the hotel, all four girls are crammed into one bed even though they have two and even though Zoey desperately does but also does not want to share with Celeste. They're squished so close to each other and Zoey wants to gently brush the pink hair away from Celeste’s face, but she can't! If only Celeste hadn't given Zoey such a good kiss when they played Spin the Bottle at that graduation party they went to a few weeks ago she probably wouldn't be crushing so hard. Now, that's all Zoey can think about. It's not that she's afraid her friends will think she's weird for having a crush on a girl, everyone knows she's bi already, it's that Celeste is her best friend and they've been best friends since before Celeste started transitioning. Being in a relationship could totally ruin everything! Zoey decides to go out to the pool where she runs into Cole. He apologizes for everyone being shitty about ghouls earlier, especially since he realized she is one as she left. They exchange numbers and plan to meet up at the music festival.

At the camp where Celeste and Zoey were during the Hollowing, they were quarantined in a cabin, just the two of them, because while everyone else started to feel better, they started to feel worse. They tried to split an Oreo, hoping they would be able to keep it down, but as Celeste started to bite into her piece of cookie, a giant sharp fang pierced her tongue, then more teeth, sharp like glass, filled her mouth, and swallowing her own blood made her stomach growl.

The next morning, the girls pile into the Mini and drive the extra few hours to the festival. On the road, they plan out their schedule, which includes seeing bands made up of sad indie girls or sad indie girls, but Val lets them know that Eli has invited them to a private party that night that definitely won't be checking their IDs. Zoey agrees to go and tells them all about swapping numbers with Cole the night before. Celeste agrees to go too because it could be a great opportunity to network, but like, how much more networking do you need to do, girl? You were already able to secure not one but four festival tickets plus a cabin to stay in, which is super nice, especially compared to the tents that all the other festival goers have to stay in. Celeste chooses the room with the king size bed to share with Zoey (insert Zoey swooning here) while Val and Jasmine get to share the other room with the twin beds. Celeste is worried about Zoey, thinking she's worried about ghouling-out, but nah, it's just the huge crush freaking her out.

Jasmine was in LA with her brother and grandmother when the Hollowing first started. Green-tinged clouds rolled over the city, then people started to get violent. Jasmine and her brother watched a video clip shared online of a ghoul attacking someone, which was terrifying. Just as the clip ended, their grandmother coughed up black bile.

The girls dance at the first show, but Celeste is a little worried she's going to ghoul-out. She already gets enough shit on social media for being trans, and she's worried that moms won't want their daughters learning how to contour from a nightmare creature if anyone found out she's a ghoul, too. Zoey convinces her to dance because if she was going to turn into a ghoul and attack someone, she probably would've done it by now. After the show, they almost get SynFlesh from a vendor that cooks it like normal food, but again, if anyone found out about Celeste, it would be bad. As they head back to the cabin, Zoey thinks she smells ghoul bile. They find a gnawed on bone that maybe belongs to an animal and bile nearby, but surely there's not a ghoul hiding out somewhere in the desert trying to eat animals to survive…

Parents, caregivers and teachers of Hollowed children, make sure you have tasers, pepper spray and stun batons on hand to keep your children in line. They can live perfectly normal lives if you feed them well, but better tase them, just in case!

The girls have SynFlesh liver for dinner then go to the No Flash Photography show, which is way too whiny for Zoey's taste. About an hour after the show is the afterparty, so the girls go back to the cabin to put on lots of makeup and cute outfits. There are a ton of people at the party, and while Val goes to find Eli, Celeste goes to schmooze with other influencers and Zoey goes with her. Soon though, Cole spots her and they start chatting, but unfortunately, Jasmine rushes up to tell her friends that Val needs their help. She ran off into the desert looking hungry. When the girls find Val, they realize that she's eating Kaiden of No Flash Photography… and then Celeste, Zoey and Jasmine join in. Uh oh.

Celeste and Zoey ran through the woods for days after ghouling-out and eating a camp counselor. They came upon a cabin and thought they were safe, but then someone arrived. They attacked, but then the man shot Celeste and told Zoey to control herself if she wanted to get back to her family. He said he had a satellite phone. She tried to control herself… for a few seconds anyway, then she bit the guy in the neck. 

The girls wake up in a cave having devoured Kaiden, which is Not Good. It shouldn't have happened. Val shouldn't have ghouled-out because they all ate their SynFlesh dinner just before going out the night before. SynFlesh is supposed to keep the ghoul at bay, so Zoey deduces that something happened to make Val go feral, and they have to figure out what that something is. First though, they have to hide what's left of Kaiden, and they find a mine shaft to toss him in. Celeste messages Patricia that they're going to watch the sunrise so they will lose cell service, which would cause an alert in the Emergency Hollow Preparedness Association, but now they should be covered.

Celeste woke up not long after being shot, her wound completely healed. She found the hunter dead and eaten and Zoey curled in a ball nearby. They searched the hunter for his phone and called Celeste's mom. Wendy, being maybe the best mom in all YA book history, called a rescue team to find her daughter and her friend. Celeste was taken to a hospital while Zoey was sent to a treatment facility. A nurse brought Celeste some meat and said a doctor would be in shortly to explain. 

After dumping Kaiden’s body, the girls go back to the place where Val was partying with Eli before ghouling-out. They walk through the night and she remembers that Eli gave her a drink called a Groupie, and, finding the ingredient list, see that it's like a fancy margarita with a sparkling lava salt rim. They all jump behind the bar when a cleaning crew shows up and while they're back there hiding, they see a container labeled “for Groupies” with what looks like edible glitter inside. Val sniffs it and immediately ghouls-out. Whatever it is, something vaguely minty, it's Not Good for ghouls. The girls drag her away and feed her SynFlesh before she eats anyone else.

Jasmine and her brother Isaiah left their grandmother's apartment after she turned into a ghoul, but the city was on lockdown. They found a new construction building and snuck in, thinking they were alone and would be safe. They were wrong. A drunken white supremacist couple had already found the place and had no problem shooting kids whether they were ghouls or not. Luckily or unluckily, Jasmine was a ghoul because she ate them both to keep her brother safe.

Back at the cabin, the girls do some research and find out about a drug being tested at a facility that's only a few miles away from the grounds of the music festival. The drug, called Menthexus, is derived from spearmint and is supposed to act as an appetite suppressant for those affected by the Hollowing. Unfortunately, the research facility burned down after a whistleblower announced that the facility was doing unethical human testing. They decide to split up and investigate. Zoey and Celeste will go to the burned down facility while Jasmine and Val will try to find out who the bartender was the night before and how they got the Menthexus.

After a nap in which Zoey dreams of her shitty parents being shitty and keeping her locked in a juvenile ghoul facility, she wakes and chats with Jasmine about their kill counts. Val had never killed anyone before while Zoey admits she killed the hunter who shot Celeste and Jasmine talks about the racist couple. Their ghouls are not who they are, though, and they are surviving now. Jasmine is about to go to Yale to become a doctor even! They have each others’ backs and will be fine.

Zoey decides to go for a walk and runs into Cole. She learned from Jasmine that Val talked with Eli and no one seems to be concerned about Kaiden’s whereabouts yet, so talking to Cole should be fine. She explains Val’s sudden disappearance from the night before was due to violently getting her period, which she expected to gross Cole out, but he had an older sister, so it's fine. Uh oh. Had. Cole explains that he lost his sister during the Hollowing and that she was how he got into the band with Eli because they were dating. Zoey and Cole really seem to connect and they almost kiss, but then they both look away at the same time. 

Later, Zoey and Celeste head to the testing facility, leaving their phones behind to trick Patricia. They dig through burned out rubble and find a flashdrive in a filing cabinet, so they keep it in hopes of it containing useful information and/or porn. As they're searching, they have an awkward “are you mad at me” conversation, but then they hear a rustling and snarling and freak out, but whatever it is leaves them alone. Probably it was a giant coyote… As they drive away from the facility, they see a nightmarish figure in their path. It's seven feet tall, wearing tattered clothes and has hollow eyes and long gangly limbs and giant claws. It gives a keening wail as they speed past it and drive back to the festival. 

There have been several incident reports of disappearances and kidnappings and strange people outside of windows at the festival and blood found in bathrooms. If reports continue, PR should be notified.

Jasmine and Val are still out so it's just Celeste and Zoey in the cabin for a while. Zoey notices that Celeste has a cut on her shoulder and gives her first aid, which requires Celeste to take her shirt off. Zoey is clearly crushing hard and when Celeste offers her a drink, she almost can't handle it. They are so flirty with each other and it seems like they are about to kiss… but then Jasmine and Val get back. Damn it! They encountered a different bartender than the one that served Val the Menthexus, but learned that they could find him at a show the next morning, so they plan to talk to him, but now, they need to sleep. 

Two weeks into the Hollowing, Val went for a walk around her neighborhood. The streets used to be full of teenagers hanging out, but now they're empty. She searched all around and then smelled something delicious, coppery and sweet. She found a recently deceased body in a culvert and started eating it, but then another ghoul showed up. The star quarterback that Val cheered for at every game. He decided that Val couldn't know what he was, even though she's clearly a ghoul, too, so he tried to strangle her to death. She grabbed a broken bottle and killed him. 

Zoey and Celeste snuggle up, but a short while later, Zoey realizes she got her period, so she goes to the bathroom. On the way, she sees Val ghouled-out and snarfing SynFlesh in the kitchen. Val quickly disappears back into her bedroom and Zoey notices the trash can lid isn't closed all the way. She reaches to push it closed, but it is overflowing with SynFlesh containers, way too many for them to have eaten yet. That can't be good. The next morning, Zoey wants to show Celeste, but first, they look at the flashdrive they found. It's about experimental creatures called Anthropophagi, which means “human eaters,” and they recognize one of them as the nightmarish figure from the facility. The notes say the ghoul turned into the Anthropophagus just four days after Menthexus exposure. Uh oh. Val's been exposed twice. Speaking of, they go to check the trash can but it's empty, then Jasmine comes out of the room she's sharing with Val to say that she's missing. 

After three months in the juvenile ghoul facility, Zoey's dad finally picked her up. They didn't really talk on the way home, and when they got there, Zoey's mom awkwardly avoided her. When she went to her room, she noticed there was a lock on the outside of the door. She immediately called Celeste and asked her and Wendy to come pick her up.

Zoey, Celeste and Jasmine head out in search of Val and they discuss what they've learned about the Anthropophagi and all the SynFlesh trash. They're all worried that Val has turned and is eating everyone, but by tracking her phone, they find that she's just snuggled up with Eli. Val and Eli are pissed that they all showed up, but they were worried, obviously. Soon they are joined by Cole and Raj. The girls make their exit, mentioning the show that they're going to, but not that they're going to interrogate the bartender, and the boys want to tag along. Cole thinks someone should stay behind in case Kaiden shows up, but Eli brushes him off. 

The show is dreadful, but the bartender/lead singer is obviously in love with Celeste and even makes up a song for her on the spot. It's awkward and full of whispering and kazoos, but soon enough, it's over. The girls ask the bartender, Tony, about the Groupie drink and he flips out, worried that they're going to rat him out because he was high on mushrooms while serving. He could get in a lot of trouble if anyone found out. He tells them about a person in a pink band hoodie who was behind the bar before he got there. Celeste knows the hoodie and the band, Girlfool, because they are her favorites, and they're playing a VIP show later that night. Maybe if they can get in, they'll find out who was wearing the pink hoodie and why they had the Menthexus.

Months after the Hollowing, Jasmine was at a party with her softball teammates. Some of them suggested that Jasmine have a few drinks, and, even though she had researched and knew it was a bad idea, she started drinking. Not long after, Val, Zoey and Celeste showed up, which made one of her teammates question why super popular Val was hanging out with the art freaks, then she deadnamed Celeste, which made Jasmine mad. Making things worse, Jasmine spotted a freshman on her team being sleazed on by a senior. She went to the girl's rescue and accidentally ghouled-out on the guy. Well great, the ghoul’s out of the bag now. Jasmine left the party but met up with Val, who may or may not have started flirting with her. 

That night, the girls get ready, hoping that Celeste can gain VIP access to the Girlfool show using her influencer status. Jasmine shares a video she found online featuring an Anthropophagus digging through trash cans outside one of the cabins at the festival. Clearly Val wasn't the only one who was drugged. Speaking of, Val comes out of her room after getting ready and they all notice that her makeup is super thick, and so are her blunt cut fingernails. They realize she's turning into an Anthropophagus, but she swears she's fine, plus, Eli’s band got VIP tickets to the Girlfool show and they're all going now! 

At the show, Zoey is squished between Cole and Celeste, making her freak out with super-double crush. Celeste sees Zoey's blush and gets up to investigate, hoping to find the pink hoodie person. Cole takes this opportunity to ask if Zoey and Celeste are dating, and she says no, Celeste is just her best friend. They start dancing and then they kiss, but just as Zoey realizes Cole is also a ghoul, Celeste finds them and starts crying. Uh oh. Jasmine arrives then and shakes her head at Zoey. Celeste runs off and Zoey follows, but soon she hears Celeste screaming. She catches up and sees Celeste standing in front of the body of an Anthropophagus. 

That night, Cole sent a bunch of texts to Zoey, begging her not to say anything about him being a ghoul, but her phone was dead and she didn't see them until the next morning. Meanwhile, the festival goes into full lockdown mode and guards shut the roads down. Everyone is told to shelter in place. The girls go back to the cabin and Val suggests that they lock her in her room for their own protection. Jasmine sleeps on the couch while Zoey and Celeste go to their room. It's awkward between them and Zoey asks what's wrong, but Celeste says nothing, though hello, obviously everyone knows Celeste also has a crush on Zoey. Zoey does the lame if I did anything to upset you I'm sorry apology and the girls go to sleep.

The next morning, Zoey scrolls the Internet and sees ominous tweets about the Anthropophagus from the night before, but they keep getting deleted, and then the Internet stops working. She tries to show Celeste and Jasmine, but none of them have service. Then they all realize that Val is being really quiet and should have gotten out of bed by now. They go into her room and see that she left through the window. The girls decide to break quarantine to try to find Val and realize she might've gone to see Eli again. Zoey goes to the boys’ cabin and spots Cole … wearing the pink Girlfool hoodie. She confronts him about drugging everyone with Menthexus and he says she doesn't understand. This is his way of redeeming himself, then he throws a handful of glittering Menthexus powder in her face. 

When Cole was a kid, his family was great, but then his dad died and his mom remarried. The guy she married, Hank, was a religious zealot and he made his new wife become that way, too. Cole spent a lot of time with his sister, who just started dating Eli. Cole didn't like that much, but he loved his sister. Then, the Hollowing happened. Hank started working with the government and things got worse at home, especially when Cole stopped eating. He finally did eat again, but it wasn't food, it was his sister, while she was facetiming with Eli.

Zoey wakes up back in the cabin, not remembering how she got there. Celeste filled her in on what she missed. After Cole drugged her, Zoey took off running. Jasmine tried to stop her but couldn't, and she ended up running to where Celeste was distracting some guards so they could sneak to the cabin where the boys were staying. One of the guards shot Zoey in the shoulder and so she bit his arm off, then they got put under house arrest back in their cabin. On the plus side, Celeste and Zoey now have matching bullet wound scars. Twinsies!! Also on the plus side, since Zoey's about to turn into an Anthropophagus, she and Celeste are finally truthful with each other and they reveal that they are in love and kiss. Aww!! Now, they've got to figure out a way to stop the Anthropophaging.

Cole, Eli and Raj are in discussion about the satellite phones Cole's stepdad had at the testing facility and have plans to go there and escape. As they get ready to leave, Eli shatters a vial of Menthexus in Cole's face, telling him he'd never do that to his friend, but he would definitely do it to the ghoul who killed his girlfriend, and now, Cole can look like that monster he really is. 

Meanwhile, at the girls’ cabin, they're playing board games when all of the sudden, there are gunshots outside. As they rush to look out to see what's going on, Cole arrives at their cabin. He tells them that his stepdad Hank, who once was a terrible person who invented Menthexus, became the whistleblower who stopped the testing at the facility, but unfortunately, he had a heart attack shortly afterward. He left all his notes and some samples behind and with them, Cole, Eli, Kaiden and Raj decided they would cause a scene at the festival in order to get ghouls moved into their own societies apart from regular humans. Well, it seems to be backfiring terribly, especially since Cole has been dosed with Menthexus as well. Luckily, he knows that Hank also created an antidote and it's in his office in the basement at the lab at the testing facility. They all climb into the Mini Cooper and head off.

When they finally arrive, Cole tells them that they can't get inside unless they have a key card and that Eli took his, but he can cut the power. They all decide this is a great idea despite the fact that cutting the power will also open all the cells containing Anthropophagi and they'll be set free. Maybe they'll be lucky and the freed Anthropophagi will eat Eli! As they sneak through the facility, they gather stun batons to keep safe, but they hear the keening wails of Anthropophagi, then they find Raj being attacked. They manage to save him and he tells them that Eli is planning on burning the facility down, starting with Hank’s office, where the antidote is, so no one will ever be cured.

They make it down to the basement and find Hank’s office. Unfortunately, there are several Anthropophagi down there, including Val, and Eli is there, too. The Anthropophagi attack and Zoey gets hurt, but they keep them at bay with the tasers, even though tasing their friend isn't fun. They manage to get to the refrigerator in the office and find the antidote and inject Zoey and Val with it. They also find an emergency exit but as they are starting to leave, Eli shows up, and though he's been attacked and hopefully will die soon, he sets the room on fire. Luckily, the girls, plus Cole, make it out alive, even though Celeste has to carry an injured Zoey. 

When they get back to the festival grounds, they are stopped by guards and questioned by pretty much everyone, seeing as how the CDC and FBI have been called in. Even though they all tell the same story and provide an antidote, it takes Cole’s version of the story to get anyone to believe them. The girls are able to go back to their cabin, but Cole has to stay in custody since his friends were a part of the Anthropophagus plan and now they're missing. Cole decides that he's going to do what's right because he doesn't think his sister would have wanted him to turn all the ghouls into giant, uncontrollable human devouring monsters.

The girls get freshened up and plan to leave, but the road out is backed up with all the people trying to leave the grounds. As they wait for traffic to clear up, they ride on a Ferris wheel, and Jasmine tells Val that while she was ghouled-out, Celeste and Zoey became a couple. They take a selfie together at the top of the ferris wheel and shout “Ghoulfriends!” It's an oddly perfect ending to their summer road trip.

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