Marrow’s Sweet Decay
They say it tastes like sweet pork. My cousin Isaac sits in my stomach, forcing acid and bitter memory up from my guts. He didn’t taste of pork. Didn’t taste of anything. My tongue numbed by the act.
The only solace running though my arteries is the fact it wasn’t me who killed him. That was Caleb. He’s across the room now, back against the cabin wall, picking bits of Isaac out of his blackened teeth.
I turn away, unable to watch. To look him in the eye. Some men are built for more civilized times; others are different. Relish the battle for survival when all hope has been raped away.
“The End o’ fuckin’ Days, huh!” Caleb sneers. “I say our days were numbered a long time ago.” He unthwops the cork from a cracked Wild Turkey 101 bottle, downs glugging slugs of its golden contents. “Ah,” he says, wiping away the spillage from his ragged, red beard. “Might as well make the most of it, eh, little brother?”
I do not speak, only nod. Try not to rile him. Refuse to join in. My eldest brother: the last part of my family left after the atomic rain, the black sheep outlasting all others. No doubt will outlast me too. Never the most quick-witted, but Caleb made up for it in sheer aggression, in unbending ill will. They said that also about our father in his prime, who gave me his eyes.
No doubt why Caleb burns hate at me from his own, narrowed and ghost-gray, pupils black as sin. Remembering all the beatings through the years the old man gave him.
When the hunger chews, claws away at stomach and bone, I see how Caleb looks at me. Know his black thoughts. Though I keep my blade close, I’m surprised on waking most days that I’m not trussed, ready to be spit-roasted.
The wind shrieks through the cracks and holes in the cabin, a cold wind for a cold, broken world. The snow soon follows, falling thick and foreboding, choking off the wood. Covering the black ashes of man, woman, and child. Winter has come for us.
The sounds of our tortured stomachs join that of the wind, mingle with it, to form a wraith’s wail. I cannot block it out. Nor the slight smell of burning flesh that snags in my sinuses, the bitter taste that clings to my tongue.
My mind and body spent, I pull my coat hard around me, wait to be taken to a better place.
Sleep takes me, but it’s full of the screams of sacrifice as limbs are sawn and severed from their owners.
I wake. Caleb hasn’t talked for days. He has that look in his eye again. With none of the last survivors coming anywhere near the cabin in the last month, I know it’s time. The end of mine.
He lunges for me. My body tightens, my hand gripping white-knuckle hard onto the blade’s ivory handle. Ready to strike. Fear sears into my heart. I grapple with him, skin prickling; twist my body, thrusting and penetrating—squealing pain slicing up the cabin air.
Eating the last of Caleb, sucking out the marrow from his broken bones, I think maybe it does taste like pork, after all. And that some men survive no matter what, even if they don’t think they will: it’s in their blood to struggle on, to fight to their last gasping breath. I leave the cabin to hunt for more sweet meat and pray it won’t be long until I’m joining him, in a lesser hell than I suffer now.