Maisie is supposed to go visit my parents today.
“I’m staying here. I need to find something to eat,” I say, apologetic. The urge to drop my eyes in guilt is strong, but I don’t, because I need her to understand what I mean, and I need her to accept it. “I wish I could go with you to see them, but I need to take care of this first.”
“Oh.” She blinks several times and I can see her processing what I’ve said, what it means. “Right. Okay.”
I’ve been eating raw meat from the grocery store as much as I can, but it’s not enough. I’m getting pretty hungry and I figure that as long as I stay on top of the hunger, I won’t do anything stupid or harmful. And I just really don’t want Maisie around while I do it.
“How are you…where are you going to find…” She looks a little pale.
“The woods.” I stand and walk to her, put my arms loosely around her. “Ms. Josephine told me that it’s no different than anyone else hunting for food. Maybe if you think about it that way, it’ll help you, too.” The carnage from last time flashes through my mind, but I push it away. This time will be different. This time I will stay in control. “I’m just going hunting, something I’ve done a few times with my dad, remember? I’m just going to get some venison.” I stroke her cheek, focusing on the softness of it, the acceptance entering her eyes, instead of the way my heartbeat increases at the thought of hunting. Of eating.
“Okay,” she agrees, color coming back to her face.
“You have your cell phone?” I ask, changing the subject. She nods and holds it up. She’d bought another phone for me and added it to her plan this morning. So if she needs to call me, she can. We both feel better about that.
This time when Maisie leaves, I take my time. I need to be prepared and think things through. I change into a black t-shirt and black jeans to hide any stains, just in case. But I’m hoping there won’t be any this time. I grab my black windbreaker and tie it around my waist.
And then I grab my pocketknife from the dresser shrine. It’s strange, but neither of us have taken it down completely yet. I just keep taking things back piece by piece.
The blade isn’t very big, but I figure it’ll be more effective and more humane than trying to do things with my hands.
Everything I’d told Maisie had been true. Things were going to be different this time. I’m just going hunting.
The mantra repeats in my head as I leave the house and walk towards the woods, eyes willfully avoiding our neighbor’s yard.
I’m going in the woods to find something to eat, just like our ancestors have for generations. Just like farmers still do sometimes. Just like Ms. Josephine killed the chicken for both our dinners.
The only difference is mine won’t be cooked. Land sushi. Yeah.
I enter the woods and veer off in a different direction than I did last time.
Recalling the smell of the deer in my mind, I sniff the breeze. I don’t smell anything at first.
But then I smell a warmer scent, hear a swift, faint heartbeat in my ears. When the dry leaves above me rustle, I look up.
A squirrel sits on a branch, turning a nut between his little paws and nibbling on it.
I huff out a laugh, because besides the logistical problem of getting to him, it would probably take several of those to fill me up.
I keep walking, keep sniffing the air. I start to pick out birds and mice, whose heartbeats are even faster and who have even less meat. A single fat rabbit skitters out of the underbrush and takes off as I walk by, it’s heart hammering. I take note of the direction it went. It’s a fat one.
I’m getting frustrated. I could probably eat all of them an be full, but that would mean killing all of them. And maybe I’m crazy, but I don’t want to have to kill but one animal today. But I’m getting hungrier by the moment.
One last sniff to the air, and the biggest animal I smell is the rabbit. Okay then, rabbit it is.
I follow the scent to where it’s hiding as stealthily as I can, knife at the ready.
It’s munching on some sticks, mouth twitching. Every time I make the slightest noise, it freezes, resuming after several long seconds of me being silent.
This is going to be harder than I thought. Why didn’t I think of bringing a gun? Or even making a trap? This average suburbanite has no idea how to catch a rabbit with his bare hands.
Obviously the other side of me would have more luck, but I’m not willing to give over to the monster.
I’m just hunting, I tell myself again.
Maybe if I use my windbreaker, I can throw it over the rabbit and trap it that way.
The rabbit scampers off at the crinkling sound of the polyester coming off my waist, and the next half hour is spent getting almost in range before it takes off again.
I’m frustrated as all hell, hungry, getting impatient. But I sit down at the bottom of a tree and just breathe, trying to center myself before I lose control. That way lies disaster.
I’m focusing on the long blank space between each of my own heartbeats, eyes closed, when the leaves rustle nearby. I open my eyes and meet those of the rabbit, who forgot about me in my unnatural stillness, and came closer to munch on some twig bark.
It’s unquestionably cute. But it’s also lunch.
Before I can think much about it, before I know I’ve even done it, I jump and dive, covering the rabbit in the windbreaker.
It struggles beneath it, panicked, looking for a way out, while I hold on.
It stills, the heartbeat beneath my hands and in my ears still racing in alarm.
With it contained under the coat in one arm, I grab my knife and open it and take aim at where I think the jugular is. It’s the coward’s way out, but I don’t think I can stare into it’s cute little eyes as I do this.
And I need to eat. I have to eat. Blackness pulses at the edge of my vision with every sluggish heartbeat.
I stab through the jacket, the blade sinking in easier than I thought it would, and then pull the knife out. I can barely see the slice through the fabric, except where a red stain is quickly spreading.
I pull the coat away and the rabbit falls to it’s side, twitching but silent, the blood spurting out on to dried leaves in the rhythm of it’s heartbeat. And then everything is still.
My hands are shaking but I’m still here, still present. And the hard part is done.
I make little slits around the feet and neck, and then slice shallowly through the skin around the feet, careful not to cut into the guts. Then I jerk the skin down, and it peels off like a tight latex glove. Some silverskin is left behind that I trim off.
With the guts removed, I cut up the rabbit into portions. It’s a bit similar to butchering a deer, but harder than cutting up a chicken, which is probably why you find rabbit the grocery store. It’s harder too, with a bloody, slippery knife and hands and nothing to hold the other end of the rabbit.
But it’s done. I’m queasy about what I’ve just done, but I’m not sure why. It was more humane than before, more humane than what factory-farmed animals go through. And while vegetarianism was a valid option for some people…it’s not for me.
Right here is where a normal person would take the portions and throw them in a pot with some vegetables and herbs, maybe a little white wine.
But I eat the stringy meat uncooked, crouching in the leaves, staring at the bright blue sky, trying to make sure it stays blue.
It’s not warm since it’s taken me so long and there’s a breeze, but it tastes rich and wild and nutty and I lick my fingers of their macabre sauce when all the meat is gone.
And then I sniff around for more. I’ve proved I can do it, and now I want to make sure I’m not hungry for awhile.
I eat twice more, guilt and nervousness dissipating each time, leaving the remains for scavengers to take care of.
Then satiated, proud, energized, I wash my hands and knife in a creek and head home. I’m showered and my clothes are in the dryer by the time Maisie gets home. Relief is in her eyes when I greet her at the door, looking hale and hearty and clean. I sit with her as she eats her dinner, chatting like old times. We watch a little television, her nestled under my arm, like we used to. She doesn’t think about what I did while she was gone, and neither do I.
I even fall asleep with her, in my arms, in our bed. A dreamless sleep.
But then later I’m awakened by the most delicious, mouth-watering scent I’ve ever smelled. Eyes still closed, I root around, looking for the source. My nose encounters Maisie’s neck, right below her ear, the spot she liked me to gently bite when we…
And I do want to bite it. Hard. I want to sink my teeth into her neck and rip the flesh away, to nuzzle into that coppery warmth and bathe in it.
Horrified, I jerk back.
She mutters, on the edge of sleep and rolls over, unaware of the danger.
Panic slides down my spine like a glob of cold aloe lotion on a hot sunburn. I’d just eaten earlier. Why did Maisie suddenly smell like food? Why were there the beginning rumblings of hunger in the pit of my stomach? Already? I thought I’d found a solution, something that would keep me sane and everyone around me safe.
When her breathing slips back into a steady rhythm, I slip out of bed and out of the house and into the woods.
A thin layer of fog covers the ground, and the forest sounds seem to all be on mute except for my overloud footsteps.
The light of the full moon separates the night forest into nothing but stark black and white.
Sitting in the dark eating yet another animal…I can admit that I’m still on the wrong side of the moonlight.
CONTINUE TO PT. 12 (COMING SOON)