2037 – Somewhere in what used to be the United States of America
It turned out to be the Mother of all Wars. The Last War to End all Wars. The Final Confrontation. The end of civilization.
The unlucky survivors were reduced to eating one another.
There was no other food left on the planet. All the animals, right down to gophers, were gone. Killed, and eaten if possible. The oceans were polluted and no living things were left alive under the waves. Nothing grew on the polluted soil of planet earth. There was no such thing as a vegetarian. Everyone still breathing had one food source – their fellow humans. The final taboo. Human flesh and organs had been on mankind’s menu for ten years. Since the nukes struck.
Wyatt waited, hidden in the debris of a once multi-story building. He could hear his prey moving noisily on the other side of the street. When the old man stumbled into the center of the street, Wyatt’s arrow struck him in the heart. A clean shot.
As Wyatt searched the body he found two pistols but no ammunition for them. A buck knife (much like his own), some human jerky, and a canteen of potable water. His kill was older than he liked. The meat would be tough. He’d have to take it to Maude, which meant sharing some.
After “bucking up” the body and putting it in the burlap bag he brought along, Wyatt took his prize to his camp. He lived alone. It was easier that way. You could never be sure that whoever you lived with wouldn’t eat you. At least, that’s the way Wyatt saw the world.
There were groups of people who banded together. Hunted together, sharing their kills. Some had names like, Patriots Who Love God, or The Freedom Freaks of Fifth Street. They lived by a set of rules that forbade eating anyone within the group. The groups fought one another when single pickings were sparse. The resulting battles provided the victor with a feast.
A good chef was highly prized. The ability to come up with novel human recipes was a sure way of becoming popular with any group. But there were also independent cooks with culinary abilities that rivaled any group cook. These independents could get anything they asked for. One of the most famous was a middle-aged woman named Maude. She lived in the massive thickets and vines in what used to be a community park.
If she was hungry, or bored, she’d come out of the prickly maze when called. Wyatt was lucky when he came by. It was one of those days and Maude responded to his calls for her. When she stepped out from the dense growth Wyatt inhaled deeply. She was a good looking woman. Her tight-fitting human-leather britches and vest showed off her form to good advantage. He exhaled.
“I need a recipe for tough meat. Not the usual boil until it comes off the bone method. It’s too bland,” Wyatt said.
Maude smiled and ran her hand through her short blond hair. He was a good-looking young man and she was in a good mood.
“I’ll be straightforward with you. I don’t give my recipes out to anyone. If you want a recipe, go find someone else. I will, however, cook your meat to order.”
“I’m okay with that. What’s your price?”
“Half the meat.”
“That seems kinda high. How about a third?”
“Don’t make me bargain, or the price will go up! It’s not easy turning tough old meat into a succulent repast. It’ll take a day. I’ll use the organs to make some of the tastiest side dishes you’ve ever had.”
“Okay. Here’s the kill. Less than 24-hours old. I’ll be back around this time tomorrow for my half.”
Maude hummed a strange tune while skillfully pulling the burlap bag behind her through the thickets. There was something she liked about the young man. Yes, indeed.
She had a special recipe for just this kind of meat. When she got to the overgrown shed she took the meat out, piece-by-piece, and laid it out on the butcher block table. As she filleted the buttocks a scene went through her head. Thirty years ago. Before the bad times came. She was preparing a chicken to feed her family.
It made her queasy when she had to cut off the legs and wings. She thought at the time, “*Why didn’t I just go to KFC?”
When Wyatt came the next day she was waiting for him. “Follow me,” she said and plunged into the thicket. He fought his way through the mass of thorns and vines until they came to the overgrown shed. Maude led him inside. A candle was burning in the center of the butcher block table. Silver trays and bowls were packed with food. Slices and chunks of strangely seasoned meat were surrounded with puddings, boiled eyeballs, kidney shiskabobs, and other unfamiliar dishes.
Maude pointed to a chair and urged him to sit. She took the chair across from him and handed him a platter of crispy liver bits.
Wyatt filled his plate up with samples of everything before him. He made sure to use the white napkin she had provided and picked up a sliver fork and knife.
“Bon appetit!” Maude said.
Afterwards, Wyatt felt sleepy. He didn’t plan on staying overnight. He never did that. But he was so tired. When he couldn’t stand up a sense of panic arose.
Maude was still talking about plants that survived the bad times. How there were very few plants left, and how she had found a special plant which she shared with him tonight.
“It’s called belladonna, or Deadly Nightshade,” Maude was explaining.
Wyatt was having trouble hearing her and breathing. Mustering up the last of his strength, he asked her, “Why?” Maude stopped rambling.
“Oh, that’s simple. I really like young men. They’re much tastier than tough old ones.”
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