|Jan/Feb 2008 Fiction Special|
Chantin handles everything. Anything. That's why people go to him. Oh, he stinks. He is scum. He wears his trousers high, too many jumpers, and his wig is like wire wool. He has a history. Young boys. But he'll handle anything. Everything. And that's why we go to him.
His place closes at sunrise—night never lasts—and he uses oil lamps to light the shadows that come and go. Chantin's is the dead center of the business in these parts. Dead center. It's his joke, and I've heard him tell it countless times. There is much to make a man like him happy in this new world. Buying. Selling. Trading, he calls it. Murder, is what it is.
What I have here I would not have touched, even a year ago, maybe less. What I have here stinks, and is wrapped in rags and wind-blown plastic scrags. What I have here is a foot, five toes, some hairs, black, bristly (I touched them) and what I have here is life. Because of this foot, I will live tomorrow.
"Find it, did ya?" He knows me, can read me. He knows I am not a blooder. "Scavenged a nice little piece, you did. It'll scrub up fine. Nice, clean cut, bit of meat on the knuckle." He's running dirty hands over it, his face close to it, his dying eyes straining in the darkness to make out the quality of the merchandise. "Some lucky fucker's gonna be pleased with this."
"What'll you give?" I want to be away. I know a woman. Ugly and old, but a woman still, and she is neither too ugly nor too old for me. Not anymore.
"A delicacy, you know, a foot," he says, smiling. "I'll give the usual." He holds out the bill, redeemable against supplies at one of the local marts. Dawn. There'll be queues. Fights.
"I'll take a bottle and some smokes instead," I say. Reckless. I haven't eaten since the morning. Vegetables, fruit from the mart would do well, but there is the woman. I will need to be drunk.
"As you wish," he says, and he reaches behind him.
His thugs ignore me. They ignore everyone. Tongueless, drugged, chained, just enough slack on the links to reach me and snap me in two if I played up with him. Their breath stinks, even at this distance.
"Listen," he says, and he leans over the counter to me. "I'm tellin' anyone that'll listen. There's the Squad about tonight." He looks me up and down. It's sexual, blatant. "You're young. Good size. Still got everything you need," and here he's smiling. "I were you, I'd find a place, somewhere dark, to hide."
As he speaks I'm grabbing the smokes from his grubby little hand, I'm secreting the wine in the folds of my coat. "Hmm," I say, nodding, moving, wanting to be away.
"You want to hide out here, wi'me?" He's close, in my face, leering, and I'm gagging.
"Thanks, no," I manage, and I'm out of the place before his smile fades.
The streets are empty. The rumour of the Squad is not new to me, or others it seems. They've become more demanding, these raids. Before they would never kill. They'd leave you one leg, and take the other. Leave you a right hand and take the left. Nothing vital. Nothing that would kill. Now, though, there's talk of a shortage. There's talk of disease. A virus, they say. A mutation of the one that did for the poultry. So they're harvesting us, while there's still some of us left. And meanwhile, we cut each other to pieces and sell on the body parts, just so that we don't have to eat each other. Sometimes I think the Cannibals have got it right. We might have some kind of moral high-ground, but they're thriving. Human meat. Seems like it's just what the doctor ordered.
There's a sound of wheels off down the road, and I slip into the shadows. The woman will be waiting for me behind the burnt out hotel. I told her I would have wine. I told her we would be together. She will wait for me. And later, once the wine is gone and I am lying, disgusted, in my own sperm, I will decide. To become a blooder would be one way - to kill her, and take fresh meat to Chantin tomorrow. I could survive on weeks with the mart vouchers, vegetables, fruit, all fresh, no guilt, morally clean. And she would be easy to kill. But more often now when I look at a woman I do not get hard. I get hungry. I could never eat a man. Never. But a woman. All that flesh. A woman, I begin to imagine, would taste good cooked.
What I can kill, perhaps I can cook, too.