A single engine private plane, skimming low over the Alaskan wilderness. Glacial waters as clear as a polished mirror, reflecting the vast primordial forests and savage peaks which loom above us: a testament to the stoic grandeur of an Earth which existed long before humanity and will continue to endure long after the footnote of our existence has been forgotten. For one glorious moment it feels as though the world was created just for us, but that was before the engine stalled mid-flight. Before the violent plummet and the mercy of a deaf God, before the ground accelerating toward us, all happening much too fast to regain altitude before the crash.
An explosion so loud it was silent — light so bright I saw nothing. Bone-jarring impact, everything lurching so bad it felt like my soul must have been ripped clean from my body. I wish I’d died the second we hit the ground. I wish my husband had too, but he lingered in that broken body until nightfall. Our hands had never clasped so tightly as when sealed together with his blood, and no words were as precious as those escaping between his shallow breaths.
“Promise me that you’ll survive,” he’d said. “Whatever it takes.”
I wasn’t in much better condition than him. One of my legs was broken, several ribs had snapped, and three of my fingers were still clinging to the bottom of my seat where I’d braced for the crash, now a dozen feet away. I didn’t expect to last the night, but I still made that promise. I’d like to think that hope gave some small comfort before his eyes closed for the last time.
After that came the war between slow starvation and my desperate hope of being saved. A hungry animal could easily find me first though, lured by the scent of charred flesh and fresh blood which teased my nostrils. But there was another war going on below the surface: my human dignity against my will to survive.
I lasted almost four days before I took the first bite. Just a mouthful, holding the strip of his skin in my mouth and wetting my parched throat with his blood. By the end of the week I’d become more methodical, stripping the flesh clean to roast, cracking the bones for their marrow, wasting nothing. By the end of two weeks, there was nothing left of my husband.
I’d given up on ever being rescued, instead starting the long walk back toward civilization. I was amazed at how quickly my leg had healed, and as I trekked, I felt myself filled with a restless vitality which I could only attribute to my will to live.
I barely slept at night, barely rested during the day. It’s almost as if I’d spent my entire life being sick, but I’d gotten so used to the feeling that I thought that’s how everyone is supposed to feel.
I can tell you right now, that life is a lie. Your blood is not supposed to pass sluggish and unnoticed through your veins, its power dormant. You should feel the electricity of your flexing muscles, each explosive fiber primed to your will. Those pristine wildernesses were not where I had been banished to die. It’s where I came alive.
I don’t know how long I traveled in such a state, falling into a trance from my single-minded determination. I think my husband’s spirit must have been guiding me though, because I found sudden understanding in navigating from the stars, just like he learned from the navy.
Eventually I found what I was looking for: a couple of campers fresh from the big city. I was so relieved at hearing another human voice through the trees that I surged forward like a wild thing. All my pain and sacrifice had been building to this moment. Elegant French words, a woman’s laughter, a way home — this is what I’d kept myself alive for.
But when I saw them… him panting and sweating to move his grotesque belly, her screaming and carrying on as though I was less than human… well it just goes to show you that sometimes you need to take a step back in order to see things clearly. After everything I’d been through, I couldn’t feel anything but pity and disgust for these torpid creatures, willing victims of what their artificial life had deformed them into.
The husband was bigger, but the wife tasted better. Cleaner. I lived more vibrantly in those next few nights — feasting and regaining my strength from their unused bodies — than all the years they’d wasted on being half-alive.
I wasn’t only getting stronger either. I started catching my thoughts slipping in and out of French. I’d thought my husband had been guiding me through the woods, but now it seemed more appropriate to say that I had consumed some aspect of him, just as I had done with the French couple.
I was hungrier than ever. Gnawing, incessant hunger almost as soon as I’d finished, like my stomach threatened to digest itself if it didn’t get more. I tried eating some of the trail mix and granola bars in their packs, but it tasted like so much sawdust and dirt. Even the beef jerky tasted like cardboard (although that’s not unusual by itself).
Human meat. And it was obvious that the more I ate, the more I needed it. The prospect of returning to my frail old self? Unbearable. But the idea of living in the woods, biding my time in agonizing solitude while waiting for my next chance meal? I don’t think that’s any better.
Unless of course, I go back to my old life without giving up what I need to survive. And such easy targets, there at the kindergarten where I used to teach.
I didn’t even waste time stopping at a hospital. My wounds had mended on their own, all but the missing fingers. I only stopped off at home long enough for a shower and some new clothes before heading back to the school.
Surrounded by a sea of little shaggy heads, not even reaching my waist. I could almost taste them. The other teachers were shocked to hear what happened of course (their version was lighter on the details), but despite their generous offers to help, I insisted that I wanted to be back in the classroom as soon as possible.
“See guys? I told you she wasn’t dead!” That was Roddick. He likes to finger-paint. I hope it doesn’t have a bad flavor.
“What happened to your hand? Ewww gross! You’re gross!” I’d be lying if I said this was the first time I’d contemplated Tiffany’s horrible demise.
“You don’t have to come back. We were having fun without you too.”
“Oh don’t you worry.” I squatted down to Sandy’s level. “Having me around will be even more exciting. Now take these and hand one out to everyone in the class.”
I may be hungry, but I’m not an idiot. I’d never be able to take more than one or two children before causing such a scene that it became impossible to continue.
“What’s she handing out? What is it let me see!” Tiffany shouted.
“It’s a permission slip,” I told her. “We’re going on a field trip. You, me, the whole class. We’re going camping.”
It’s not just the taste that makes children special. It’s their innocence. And if I ever want to start over and live a normal life, then I’m going to need to eat until I’m innocent again too. [tc-mark}