"Unsettling"

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A young family on the run from the realities of life after our civilization begins to crumble. In this scene we see them make the first of many previously unthinkable choices.

Unsettling.J Pangaro February 2012

 

Standing over the body with the knife in his hand, Mitchell’s stomach turned. He had to eat, his family had to eat, but a diet of grass, weeds and twigs had taken its toll pushing him to this. A bead of sweat slid down the side of his head tracing a path through the layer of dirt that had built up since his last bath. He turned away twice, but he knew he could not leave, meat was not easy to come by. Huddled in the bushes only a few yards away his wife and two young children were doing their best to stay out of sight and act as look outs- danger was always near.

He didn’t know the man, had never seen him on the trails or down by the water pipe. His face was torn almost completely off by whatever animal had killed him, most likely a bear or lion from the look of the massive wounds. The half a face that remained showed him to be in his forties, with one blue eye; the blood that had pooled all around him was beginning to congeal into a dark red gel like substance. From the look of it he had been dead only an hour or so, they were lucky to find him. Mitchell had to get started, other scavenger animals would be here soon as would other people looking for whatever they could get.

The killer cleaned out the organs, most of the torso, and the leg meat. Reaching into his pocket Mitchell pulled out a dirty plastic bag and opened it. Giving a quick look around aware that his children would see him commit this sin, he dropped to his knees swatting at the growing horde of flies. In the 89 degree heat the sickly-sweet smell of raw meat hung around the body and permeated the air.

The blade, only 4 inches long, shook in his hand, a wave of disgust rushing over him as he pulled up the right arm stump. The meat here was gnarled, teeth marks etched into the bones and the remnants of a tattoo was obvious. Slicing off a piece of flesh, he put it in the bag.

“God forgive me” he said under his breath.  

The smell of a dead body, even a dead animal is not a pleasant thing, once the bowels are torn open the stench is horrible. This man’s guts were ripped out then torn open. Concentrating, he moved the body around to get at the scraps of meat. It was worse than he thought. There was a wet sucking sound as it slid in the bloody mud and the flies began biting him.

Moving faster he peeled off strips of flesh, stuffing them into the bag. The neck muscles were tough but provided the most ample amount of un-chewed bulk.

Giving the corpse a once over he was about to leave when he realized the tongue was intact. Putting the bag down and leaning in close so they wouldn’t see, he used his thumb and index finger to pull it out of the mouth as far as he could, the remaining eye stared at him accusingly. Putting a knee on the half skull to hold it still he sliced off the tongue. About 5 inches of solid protein, as disgusting as it was to look it, it was a good piece. Mitchell slipped it into the bag, stood and stepped away from the mess. 

He was about to allow himself a moment of pity for the man when he heard branches breaking not far away. It was something big and coming towards him. Eyes darting from tree to tree he turned and ran as fast as he could, clutching his family’s dinner as he went. His wife, a small woman, took the two young boys by the hands and pulled them forward onto the trail. Together they ran away from the approaching danger following their father. They were weak, but having to run everywhere for the past few months had given them all some stamina, the meal would be a welcome treat. Explaining to two six year olds why they had to eat a person would be a different problem.

When they were far enough away Mitchell slowed and stopped, doubling over to suck in the air in large gulps.

“Should we keep going” She asked.

Shaking his head- “Yes. Are you boys OK?”

“Yes daddy” Joshua said. His twin brother Eric nodded.

“Good. You boys are fighters”. Looking back the way they had come-“We should get off the trail though”.

His wife Sarah, at 26, was 10 years younger than Mitchell. She was scared. Scared for herself, scared for her children. She loved him with all her heart but more than that she trusted him. Having no idea what she would do without him in this world, she did whatever he said without question. If Mitchell said run, she ran, if he said sit in this drainage pipe for two hours and keep the boys quiet she did it. If he said we have to eat whatever we can find, she would cook human flesh for her family. The only other choice was death and she knew it without any doubt in her mind.

“Lets get going, we’ll take that cut off up there and get back to the cave for tonight” Mitchell said pointing off in the distance. 

The cave was a place he knew of from camping with the Boy Scouts as a kid. Not very big, only 15 by 15, but it was shelter from the rain and if you didn’t know it was there you wouldn’t see it. They had been living there for at least three months. After the mobs began ransacking the houses Mitchell decided to get out while they could figuring he would get them to another safe place in short order. There probably was a safe place, the problem as getting there. The mobs were stopping any cars leaving the area too.

They began walking as Sarah pulled a plastic water bottle from her pack, opened it and offered it to each of the boys. Eric and Joshua took a couple sips each then passed it back. Sarah drank and gave it to Mitchell, who took his two swigs. It was a routine they had developed. No false bravery, no expressions of “you have it”. They all had to drink to stay alive so each time they were offered water they drank, in order, two sips each.

Water was easier to find than food. After the “Fall” there wasn’t much commercially made food left, the weeks leading up to the fall took care of that. In a scene out of a horror movie people began stocking up on everything they could get, canned anything, salted meats, macaroni and cheese boxes, whatever wasn’t nailed down was bought and stored. Deliveries of new supplies was over by the end of day 5.

Bottled water disappeared pretty quick too. Filling bath tubs, jerry cans and pots and pans was the order of the day. By the time the lights went out there was nothing left on any store shelves anywhere, nothing.

Everyone hunkered down waiting to see what would happen next. Everyone expected the crisis would last a week, maybe two, but then we would return to some semblance of normal, followed by a full scale re-set and recovery. Unfortunately the fall wasn’t like getting over a hurricane.

After a natural disaster there are government workers, and local cops and electric power and TV. All of it brings a sense of security and safety, even if your house has been destroyed you know that there are people working on it, that normal life is on the way back. That didn’t happen after the fall. There was no government, no local cops, nothing came back. Things got worse then came apart completely.

The food riots started after about three weeks. Neighbors that had gathered in their front yards asking each other what they thought was going on, started acting very cautiously. People that hadn’t gathered up supplies started asking for help. That was all well and good, but once your water gets down to just the bath tub and all that’s left of your food is macaroni and cheese, people weren’t too keen on sharing.

By week three, neighbors had guns and warned people away from their front porches. With no TV, radio, telephone, or internet no knew exactly what had happened, why no one was coming to the rescue, but they weren’t.  Rumors began that we were in a nuclear war. Other said the Russians or the Iranians had blasted us with an EMP bomb, electro-magnetic pulse weapon. Kills all electronics, but leaves the people. Good theory but the generators and cars all worked, it was the inability of getting fuel that shut them down and turned them into relics. Others said President Obama declared himself Dictator and the army rebelled wiping out Washington. The guesses were never ending, but no two people had the same theory. When the food ran out no one cared, the world just never came back on. The country was thrown back to the 1800’s and the rules of life had changed. 

Some tried to run, many made it out of the area. The big idea was “Go to the mountains where you can hunt for your food”.  This is a great idea if you know how to hunt and you can clean and cook wild game. The reality of this was that people were not prepared to do what was necessary. They had no skills for that kind of a life and by the time they understood they needed those skills it was too late. Living off the land sounds easy enough, romantic even, unless you’re trying it with your family who are cold, tired and hungry and you have nothing but a min-van, a .22 rifle and one box of bullets.

When it comes to survival- the fittest usually win. That means not only the strongest physically but the strongest mentally. When confronted by two large men who wanted to take your food and water those that clung to their decency often lost their food and water and sometimes their lives. Pulling the trigger on someone is not something the average person is ready to do, those people found out the hard way that bravado about what you say would do if the world came to an end was quite different from what you would really do, especially if you didn’t have any weapons. Many of those people were killed off fast. In less than two months America had become a no-man’s land. Kill or be killed, fight or die, take or starve. Survival 101. This was the life Mitchell and his family were living in. It wasn’t easy and they weren’t ready. It was only by sheer luck up to this point that they were still alive at all.

 

Arriving at  the cave entrance Sarah slipped down into the hole first. Crouching she helped Joshua and Eric in, Mitchell followed. Crawling along a short tunnel for about 20 yards the roof suddenly lifted revealing a larger cavern. It was damp and a constant 55 degrees, but it was secure. A small natural vent hole allowed fresh in and permitted a small cooking fire. Most nights for the last few months they had been cooking up vegetable type stuff they found while foraging the hills sides. The meat they got today would seem like a holiday.

They had built lifts out of small pine trees to keep them off the floor. Covering them with a few blankets and leaves made for the best bedding they could hope for. All four of them under the covers used their body heat to make it through the night. Mitchell wouldn’t keep a fire burning for fear that the smoke would either back up and kill them while they slept or someone would see it venting and find the cave.

Sarah and the boys pushed the make shift door closed. All it was, was a bunch of pine branches tied together with twine, but it kept any stray animals out and kept the draft down. Even though it was hot outside the cave was always cold. A breeze made it worse.

Mitchell started a fire, poured some water into a small pan and began boiling it. The boys sat on the bed waiting to eat.

“How do you cook that” She asked.

“I could boil it, or just put it over the fire” he said. Both of them trying to ignore its source, but unable to do so.

“What will it smell like”

“I don’t know” he said looking at the bag.

The flame caught up quickly providing some light and warmth.

“I think I’ll just put it on a stick and cook it through”.

Kneeling next to the fire Mitchell took two sticks, sharpened them with a pen knife and threaded the meat onto them. He did this with the larger pieces first placing over the flames.

Joshua had come over to him and stood looking over his shoulder.

“Whats that gonna taste like” the boy asked.

“I don’t know Josh, but I bet it will help us stay strong”

“did you ever eat a person before daddy”

Shocked by the sound of the question, having never imagined he would one day be reduced to cannibalism Mitchell answered-

“No Josh I haven’t. Its not something that we ever had to do before.”

“All right daddy. When will it be done I’m hungry” the child said.

Mitchell chocked back his emotions. He didn’t know if it was the fact that he had to feed his family human flesh or the fact that his innocent six year old son took to the idea like it was no big deal. Either way it was a moment that changed him. It was the moment that all of the chaos came home and took up residence in his heart. It was the moment he accepted the world would never be the same.

The meat began to sizzle on the stick. The smoke wafted off and filled the cavern. It didn’t smell bad. Sarah wasn’t sure what it would smell like but it reminded her of beef in a way. There was a sweet smell to it, she was relieved that it didn’t make her gag, in fact her mouth began to water.

They sat on the floor of the cavern waiting. Mitchell took the first stick and inspected it. Using the pen knife he cut it open a bit to it was just pink inside. Not sure if he should cook it further he sniffed it, then took a small nibble. Sarah and the boys watched him closely. Swallowing, Mitchell looked over to them.

“It’s all right. I think we should say a prayer”.

The boys made the sign of the cross and clasped their hands together.

“God, thank you for looking out for us. I don’t know why you chose this for the world but we are grateful for your guidance please watch over us”. Mitchell said.

“And God” Eric said quietly, “Bless the man who died today so we could eat”.

Tears ran down Sarah’s face, but she and Mitchell felt the boy was right, it just felt completely wrong to acknowledge it. Either way it was another mile stone, a bridge had been crossed.

They each took a stick and began eating the meal. After the first bite it got easier. They could feel the effects of eating something substantial, their stomachs growled and they ate it all.

The last piece they had was the tongue. Still in the bag looking gray, a splash of blood in the corner of the plastic.

“ I think we should save that for another day” Mitchell said.

“I’m still hungry daddy” Eric added, “can you cook it up”.

Without a word Mitchell removed the tongue, skewered it and put it over the flame. In ten minutes they finished it all.

The last of the days light was fading. The fire was put out and the boys tucked in, they fell asleep quickly, their bellies full for the first time in a long time. Sarah sat next to Mitchell and cried. Mitchell comforted her as best he could. In his own head he was thinking that the boys would be ok in this new world. If they survived until adult hood they would adapt to the new ways. In time they would forget any reference they had to the old world, they would be warriors of the future.

 

 

 


Submitted: January 21, 2013

© Copyright 2021 JP194. All rights reserved.

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Comments

AcerolaOrion

I am surprised this has not received any feedback. Seriously great, I enjoyed it thoroughly. You have a knack for setting and description, I envy you.

Tue, January 22nd, 2013 11:25pm

Author
Reply

Thank you. I'm new to the site and I appreciate your taking the time to comment.

That little vignet is the opening chapter in a bigger story. I am trying to cover the topic of "Life after" the world we know without being stupid about it. There are a million similar stories.

Tue, January 22nd, 2013 3:38pm

liaison2

Hey dear author ! this is liaison, an editor from Stary.ltd. I just read your book .I love it so much If you wanted to see whether you can get paid by distributing the current work or getting financial support by writing new work, you might want to contact ?liaisonringdom@gmail.com. A brief introduction, some sample chapters or links will be appreciated when reaching out.

Tue, October 6th, 2020 9:29am

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