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The Wrong Thing to Say-Fiction by Bill Baber
Late One Night, We Killed them All-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Call it in the Air!-Fiction by Jim Farren
Arendt and Eichmann: Behind Bars-Fiction by Edward Francisco
A Provocation Game-Fiction by Norbert Kovacs
Carol's-Fiction by G Emil Ruetter
Casting Call for a Tijuana Firing Squad-Fiction by j brooke
Preserving Beauty-Fiction by Paul Michael Dubal
Straight Shooter-Fiction by Mark Joseph Kevlock
Meat-Fiction by F. Michael LaRosa
The Internship-Fiction by Henry Simpson
The Knife She Done it With-Fiction by Matt Phillips
Almond-Flash Fiction by Francis Woodland
Squatters-Flash Fiction by Paul Beckman
The Cookie Crumbles-Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
A Funeral Pyre-Flash Fiction by Karen Schauber
Twist-Flash Fiction by Ram Praseth
Something Has Happened-Poem by Judith Partin-Nielsen
unbound-poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
Sweet Rivalry-Poem by Meg Baird
when it comes round-Poem by Meg Baird
Dat No Apply to Debra-Poem by Joe Balaz
No Can Change Its Stripes-Poem by Joe Balaz
Infested-Poem by John Grey
Living With the Dead-Poem by John Grey
They-Poem by John Grey
Chesapeake Night-Poem by Gregory E. Lucas
Sunrise on Port Royal Sound, SC-Poem by Gregory E. Lucas
The Final Dream-Poem by Gregory E. Lucas
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Angel of Manslaughter
The Gazing Ball
Strange Gardens
Gutter Balls
Calpurnia's Window
No Place Like Home
ALAT
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

roach2.jpg
Illo by Kenneth James Crist © 2018

Meat

 

By

 

F. Michael LaRosa

 

 

          In the good ol' days you scavenged to feed your family.

          Back then there was still something left to find.

          Canned stuff, mostly.

          Tuna.

          Beef stew.

          Deviled ham.

          It was all more delicious than we knew—delicacies, all taken for granted and even disdained by the health-conscious back before the war took us down and all hell broke loose.

          And after that, whoever had survived was mining the rubble for bits of food or clean water or some kind of weapon, and the rules were, there weren't any rules.

          You played by your own rules.

          You found what you could, and hid your stash, and tried to protect it.

 

          But all of that stuff—the canned food and such—is gone. Like most every animal you can think of, like every freakin' tree or edible plant, canned goods are only a fond memory. Which, in itself is a cause for grief. Because a man should not think fondly of anything from those first few months of the Long Winter.

          And yet, when it's gone, you remember. And it was better then. Hard as it was, it was easier than now.

 

          These days its fungi.

          And bugs.

          Things that thrive in the dim, cool light.

          You pick barnacles from rotting wood. You dig for worms, but seldom find them. You worry about protein. You crave it so much that even roaches look good to you.

          We set the traps for them—tin cans baited with precious morsels—and check them every other day. I catch the boy eating lean, red roaches straight out of one such can and clip him a good one on the back of the head.

          "You got to share, Billy. I got to eat, too."

          But I don't really blame the boy.

 

          Billy wasn't mine, but a stray we picked up back before Annie died.

          We kept him out of pity—another mouth to feed. Another body to protect.

          He was a tiny thing and prone to wailing, but Annie loved him. I worried he might give us away and get us killed, though it never came to anything like that. I tolerated him for her, but then she died, and now it's just me and him, and I know I'd give my life for his.

          He's likely eleven now, though you'd not know it to look at him.

 

          There is a line beyond which a man is no longer a man. He has devolved, and he is past all pretense, beyond all diplomacy and all manner of truce. No treaty, no kind words, no sacred trust can save you who are "other,” for we are at war, you and I, whoever you are, and winner takes all.

          Legs.

          Arms.

          Heart.

          Brains. Balls.

          When you're down, you're out. When you fall, be prepared to die.

          For there is no mercy when the world is ruled by tooth and belly. And what awaits is not the worm, but the spit.

          The slow fire.

          Salt. A little mustard saved for the occasion.

          You, my brother, are the spoils of war. You are the main course, the entrée. Your virtues are a throwback from days you'll not see again, for in these times your neighbor will loot your body for vittles, cut you up like a chicken, and roast your parts like a Christmas ham.

 

          Thing is, I've not done it.

          Roaches and pill bugs—things that go crunch in the night—this is the diet of the meek. 

          We hunker down when hunters pass. And everyone, we have to assume, is a hunter.

          We have seen the emaciated suddenly energized and running like gazelles from the better fed, have seen tribes snare their prey like raptors, have smelled the hunters' fires burning—human flesh sizzling on the spit, meager fat dripping on white hot coals.

          Meat.

          We are meat.  We are livestock grazing on bugs and thistles.

          And I ask, is this my fate? Am I a cow? Can a cow become a wolf? Can a sheep become a cougar?  Because, I tell myself over and over, it's kill or be killed. We need food. Billy moves across my line of vision like a marionette, his movements stilted, his head too heavy for his emaciated body. And I think of Annie, and how she loved him, and I think I've got to do it.

          Got to.

 

          We watch the old man from our spot on the hill.

          Billy climbs upon rock and rubble like a tired monkey, and reports.

          "McKinny," he says on the second day. "Rhymes with skinny."

          "Do not," I tell him, "Give him a name."

          It’s the same rule that was enforced on the farm when I was a child: do not give an animal a name if you intend to eat it.

 

          But the name sticks.

          We watch McKinny every day. He stays close to his hovel. Nothing grows in the cool, dim light of the Long Winter, but McKinny keeps trying, sticking seeds in the lifeless dust, trying to coax some green to emerge.

          He traps insects in empty cans, just like us.

          Two or three roaches.

          Bugs for breakfast. Bugs for lunch.

          "That old man is turning roaches into meat," Billy says, and he smiles as though it’s clever. And I think I shouldn't have told the boy—should have simply taken the old man's life, butchered him on the spot, and brought home the bacon.

          Because what's the boy to think once he's participated in such a deed? That a human life is nothing? 

          Is a human life anything? 

          It must be something, lest taking it would not weigh on me so heavily.

 

          I am in McKinny's hovel twice, both times with bat raised, so that all that was left was to let fly and bring that bat down upon the sleeping man's skull.

          And yet I don't do it.

          Instead I stand by his bed and watch the rise and fall of that bony, hairless old chest. I study the grizzled features and wonder what life this codger might have led before the shit hit the fan and we, the lucky-unlucky, survived to see another cold, dark day.

          And then I ponder the idea of what I'm charged with—killing a man that I might eat his flesh and feed the boy who became my son. I weigh pros and cons, as though I haven't done so constantly since the notion of killing him came into my head. He is old, I tell myself, and while I'm no spring chicken, my protégé is a growing boy. He is alone, and the boy and I are two—a family.

          But McKinny is a man—a human being—and by the ideals with which I was raised what seems a thousand years ago and in another world he has as much right to live as I, and as much as my boy, who at eleven years of age is spent, and tired, and weak, and stunted by lack of food.

          On the third night as I stand, bat at ready, lost in my thoughts, I feel the shiv cut cold into my gut, and I wake from my reverie, my wild eyes meeting his.

          And the shiv is out, and then in again, and then out, and then in.

          And I have dropped the bat and am trying to grab that steel shank and the remarkably strong piston that is the old man's arm, and all I see in my mind's bleak eye is that Billy will be alone now and at the mercy of hunters who will hang his thin body on a rafter, gut him like a shoat, and fill their bellies with the only thing that means anything at all to me.

          My boy.

          And then I have the shiv in hand and it is in the old man's throat and then out and then in again, and finally he is still.

          And there you have it.

          Meat.

 

          I manage to slow the bleeding but there are no antibiotics, no way to fight the infection.

          The disease runs free and easy, and by morning I am on fire and too sick and weak to move.

          I try to coach Billy to gut McKinney’s corpse and light the fire, but he struggles, and the old man's body is already stinking. Or is it mine?

          We talk a bit, and I tell Billy to lay low, to keep the traps baited, to never trust a soul no matter what they say or how nice they seem.

          But it's difficult to push the words out, and I know it won't be long before I'm dead and the boy is on his own, and of course it grieves me, but like so much in this life, there is nothing I can do about it.





F. Michael LaRosa writes fiction and poetry. His work has appeared in a smattering of print and digital publications. He lives in beautiful Gaston, South Carolina where the sun is so hot, it's burning a hole right through his skull. He thinks he smells bacon frying, but really his brain is on fire.



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