Work has kept me away from writing this week. But I do want to keep my Postaweek series going. So I’m cheating with a story that I wrote a few years ago. In place of trigger warnings for the violence that lies ahead, I will instead quote one of my favourite authors Neil Gaiman:
“What we read as adults should be read, I think, with no warnings or alerts beyond, perhaps: enter at your own risk.”
Rain fell that night. Rafe and I drank from the dark skies for the first time in weeks. We embraced, but our smiles did not last. As comforting as the weather had been, it did put out the last of the fire we built. A makeshift tent was no match for wrathful winds either.
Where we eventually slept, or at least tried to, was on soft mud in a cold cave. Persistent hunger pangs woke me throughout this fitful night. My heart pounded as every brief moment of shuteye ended with dreadful nightmares. Rafe did worse, running a high fever after the downpour.
It had been two long weeks since our last meal – a doe with a pike through its tender neck. What little fighting chance it had against the strength of desperation. As Rafe roasted its flesh over the roaring fire, I mourned. Not for the doe, but for us. Every hunt had since turned up empty, each shorter than the last.
We trekked further, trying to find our way out of this wilderness. But we met no one, and did not know where to go. Had our family and friends noticed our absence by now? Or had they assumed we simply lost track of time on our travels? All these survival stories I have read, yet I had never truly known hopelessness till now.
Our energy was spent. We laid down here with only rest on our tired minds. On the mountains in the battle against the cold and hunger, I could see that Rafe was losing. I could feel him escaping from here. Away from me. I held him tight, warming his body with mine. I kept my eyes closed.
I could neither look at him nor myself, because I knew exactly what I was afraid to see. He had his shirt, I had his coat. He clamped his bare hands. I wriggled my fingers in his gloves. His lips were dry and cracked, if only to keep mine damp. He had gifted me everything left of him, warmth and faith. Then, he could do nothing more, and I did as little as before.
Delirious, he began to whimper. Like a hurt animal. I could not bear to listen. Instead of comforting my love, I chose to walk away. My tears started to stream, both for him and my weakness. Outside the cave, I stood where his suffering sounded distant.
I looked at him in silence, knowing it was the last time I ever will. Supine, he lifted his arms. His mouth was wide open. He was reaching out, as though for a hand from above. So badly had I wanted to walk back to him and hold it. Yet I knew he would not have seen me, nor was it my grip he desired to pull him out of the darkness.
It did not take long. His last breath escaped from shivering lips with a harrowing gasp. His bloodshot eyes stared ahead, unmoving, and seemed to find a new Heaven amid Hell where I remain.
Hours passed. The rain had finally stopped. I stayed where I stood, unable to move. My knees were shaking. Tears dried like crusted blood that weighed heavy on my burning cheeks.
His body was getting colder. Courage returned, barely enough for me to walk back towards the now unmoving him. Kneeling down, I caressed his face before kissing him on his parched lips.
“I’m sorry, Rafe.”
I reached down for the loose laces on his warm boots, and began to unknot them. As I took his clothes, I noticed the numerous marks on his emaciated body. I saw the old in his untold past. My fingers traced the new, scraped in his hunts.
“I’m really sorry.”
Letting my tears fall anew, I reached for the sharpened knife in my pocket. Part of me blamed it on human instinct, but I knew that I had been waiting for this very moment all along. Grief was fleeting, when I saw salvation in his imminent death.
I looked at his fresh corpse with my knife in my tight grip, like a ravenous scavenger upon his prey. I hardened my heart and stabbed at his. Red flowed down the tracks of his scars, silent. I tugged at the knife, as I watched his flesh rip.
My lips touched his skin. The first bite was laced with guilt. It felt toxic to desecrate a lover, my first and last. Did he feel vengeful that it was I, not he, who had a second chance? Was he cursing me from above, or perhaps below? Was his soul damned?
Blood cascaded down my lips and found its way back onto Rafe’s bare skin. But hell, did I have a choice? Deep discomfort in my belly told me I had to persist, if only to live.
Upon the second tear of the flesh, the chaos in my head receded to a soft whisper. Madness had visited, and promised to make things easier. There was still guilt, yet solace was stronger. Rafe was dead, after all. He would want to give, as he always had all his life. He would want a fighting chance for me as he always had.
He was an organ donor, for fuck’s sake.
Guilt faded fast with the third taste. I ripped and gorged, over and over. His meat eased the hunger. His blood quenched my thirst. When I was finally done, I could feel my mind nourished.
But it was also then that my madness had receded. Clarity returned in an agonising rush, as I remembered the reason why I was crying again.
Most men go through their lives, knowing nothing about the true pains of survival, for they never had to.
Some suffered temporary anguish, and those were the ones who died.
Those were the lucky ones.