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Meat and Fire

Matthew F. Amati has at various times made a living as a Greek scholar, a farmhand, and Jerry Springer's assistant. His stories have appeared in Flash Fiction Online, Space Squid, and Schlock Magazine. This is his first story for Daily Science Fiction. You can find his unfiltered typing in lapidary form at mattamati.com.

We had found no food, the boy and I. We walked for miles down the cracked road. Grey clouds hid the sun. Burnt trees lined the ditch. No wind blew, and no birds sang.
"There's no one left," the boy said.
His voice was weak. There'd been no food for days.
"They're all gone. They've all been killed. We'll starve."
"Don't say that," I told him. "We're strong. We can make it."
As the sun went down, the boy's limbs sagged.
"Poor us," the boy said. "We're worse off than bums. At least bums can beg a meal."
I frowned. "Don't call me a bum. I'm a rich man. This world is mine. My world. I rule it."
"Your world has no food left in it. We'll die."
As soon as he spoke, we both heard it. A voice. A low, sharp cry.
We crouched. We pricked our ears.
"It came from the woods," the boy hissed.
We moved slow, like cats. We came close to a stand of black trees. We heard the cry again.
"In there."
The boy was quick and strong, though lack of food had worn him down. He burst through the frail brush. I heard a scream.
The boy's voice. "Come out, you."
A girl came out. She must have been in her teens. Hair like fresh straw. Huge wet eyes.
The boy hung on to her hair. He would not let go. He looked at her like a starved bear looks at prey.
Her voice was low but clear.
"What will you do with me?"
The boy saw no need to lie.
When the girl heard that, big tears welled from her eyes.
"So you'll kill me. Just like that."
The boy said, "Yes. We need food. There are no beasts, no birds, no fruits, no crops, no stores in this world. There is only one thing we can eat."
The girl sobbed.
I took out my long blade.
"Hold her, boy. No, not like that. I've told you. She might run. She might break free. When fear grips her, you'll see that you can't hold her that way."
"She has meat on her," the boy said.
It shocked me, to see him so calm. But this world had made him hard.
And me. It had made me hard.
But that was good. A man must be hard, if he's to win in this life.
"Do it like this, boy. Hold a tuft of hair in your left hand. A tuft in your right. Hold her fast round that tree there. Like that, yes."
"Please," the girl moaned. "Please don't."
"We got to," said the boy. "Shut up now."
"Hold her fast, boy. You got her? You got her tight by the hair?"
"Yes, sir."
"Right. Here we go."
I raised my blade. I brought it down. There was a cry, and there was blood, and a few brief kicks and it was done.
"There," I said. "Done with the worst. Now we can eat."
The girl looked at me in shock. "Was he your son?"
"No. He was not my child. No more than you are."
The sun went down. The girl and I made a fire. We cooked the flesh. We grasped it in our grease-slicked hands. We forced it down. To tell you the truth, I did not need to force it.
"Why him, and not me?" the girl asked.
I did not say a word. But I looked at her, and there was a flame in my eyes.
The time for that would be soon. We crouched in those woods, and ate the good meat.
I sat up straight.
"Did you hear...?" the girl asked.
"Yes." The crunch of feet on sticks.
A man came out of the dark, into the light thrown by the fire. He wore a blue suit, fine shoes. A badge.
My eyes flashed. "Leave us."
"You've gone too far," the man said. "They sent me to tell you."
"This is my world. I bought the land. I stocked it with game. I have carte blanche to do as I please here."
"Stocked it with game?" The man frowned. "What game? You asked that we give you no beasts to hunt. No birds to shoot."
"Not that kind of game."
The fire flared and lit up the boy's corpse. The man's face turned red.
"I must tell the Board about this! The law says_"
"The law? The one law the Board knows is this: a rich man does what he wants."
"Sir! What sort of world have you made here?"
"The world as it should be! A world of fire, and fresh meat, and the hunt. A hunt such as men made in days gone by. The laws of this world are good, clear, plain laws. Here, the weak are food for the strong. I like it this way. And I paid to have it this way."
I showed the man an inch of my blade.
"Your threats don't scare me," he said.
"Then I'll show you this. Heed your own law, if you won't heed mine."
I took out my cred chip. It was black and gold. I knew he had not seen one so high-grade.
"Go," I said.
He left.
All talk was done for the day. There was no sound but the crack of fire.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016

Author Comments

"Meat and Fire" started out as a sendup of Cormac McCarthy, but it turned into something else, as stories will do. There aren't many long words in it. I think this is the last time I'll feature the consumption of children in a story; too much of that stuff and people start to look at you funny.

- Matthew F. Amati
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