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Easy Meat

 

Easy Meat

By Morgan Smith

Copyright 2016 Morgan Smith

Shakespir Edition

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Easy Meat

She is always the last to leave the shelter. She is the youngest, and her eyes are best, and so she lingers every morning, searching in the shadowy corners for anything that might have been lost or overlooked.

Her others wait for her at the overhang. It is just barely dawn, and they smile when she opens her hands to show them the two pieces of fruit. It isn’t much, but every bit of food matters.

They set off down the trail towards the river. They move quickly. It is nearly dawn, and the herds will be stirring. They need to be away from here before that.

It isn’t that they fear the herds, although they do have a certain respect for them. They have watched the herds carefully. They know what they are likely to do. The herds have their place in the world, especially the weak ones who are sources of food and other useful things, and they leave behind them much that can be scavenged, but they can be dangerous, too, and easily startled, easily roused.

It’s best when you can get one of them on their own, and she is very good at this, at drawing them away from the crowded, rushing stampede, so that they are more vulnerable. In the early morning, though, the herds are at their most aggressive. They push and snap at anything in their way, intent and unrelenting, and the group knows enough not to interfere. Better to be gone before they come. Best to be away, before the herds begin their daily trek along this path.

The group moves on, steady and swift, to where the cold and shadows give way to open grass, and the rising sun already sparkles on the river. There is no scent of rain in the air, and the wind is already warm. It’s going to be a good day, they think.

They carry most of what they need with them, but at this time of year, they need very little.

They stop sometimes along the way, in the places where they know there might be food or tools, or things that can become tools. Old, abandoned things, unwanted by anyone except for scavengers like them.

Easy meat, the old one calls it, but it isn’t always so easy. There are other ones who seek, and things aren’t always in convenient places. Her others have to lift her up, so she can climb into where they might be, and she doesn’t like to do it. It is cold, the footing is treacherous, and getting back down is sometimes hard to do.

And today there is nothing, nothing they want in the usual places, and so they continue on to the river.

The river is as it always is. Rain or shine, the water is a sullen brown and the banks are muddy, but it gleams, catching whatever light it can, and in the distance, she can see other groups, settling in among the trees.

They keep their distance. They don’t speak to these others without great need. It’s “each to their own” the old one says, unless something important happens and then it is an open question as to whether those others will come to their aid, or steal their food, or just melt away into the distance until danger passes.

They have their usual spot. It is sunny there, and she likes the sun. There are some low bushes to shelter them if it gets too hot, and some big rocks nearby to protect them, if the wind is too cold. They always go there, and nothing comes near them. Others know to stay away.

The old one is dozing already. She worries about him – he sleeps all the time now, or mostly, and he didn’t used to do that. He used to watch for danger or opportunities, and sometimes he would tell them stories about the old days, when there was better food, more food, food just sitting there for anyone to eat. She thinks sometimes it is not true, that it is a dream he tells her, but he tells it with conviction, and so, some of the time, she believes him.

But now he does that only rarely. He sleeps too much, and she is aware that this is not good. When the season changes and they will need to move on to warmer places, if he is too weak to travel far it will be hard on him.

She knows, too, that there will be a time when he sleeps and does not wake, and she does not know what they will do then, because the old one is their wisdom and their guide in this world.

They need to find more food. After a bit, her others decide they will go looking for what they can. There are more places they know of, where sometimes they can find things that other groups want, and if they want it badly enough, they might give them food in exchange, if they have some.

They tell her to stay and look after the old one, and she’s happy to do this because the sun is pleasantly warm, and the old one might wake and tell her stories again. She is sleepy herself, anyway, because even the shelter is not completely safe, and she hasn’t slept well.

And then, suddenly, she is wide awake and reacting on instinct, before she even knows the danger. She scents it on the wind, perhaps, but moments later, she sees him, and she senses the wrongness.

He isn’t even trying to hide. He is standing, brazen and confident, right out there on the trail. Looking for what he can find. Looking for what he can use. Sniffing out what might be prey.

She isn’t scared, not really, not so far. Just wary, he hasn’t seen her yet, and anyway, everyone knows he doesn’t like to hunt in the daylight.

But then he does see her, and it is too late to hide or run. He nears, and she tenses, but she isn’t sure why.

Really, he doesn’t seem dangerous, just now. He comes close, but not too close, and he purses his lips and makes that smacky sound he always makes, but he is just out of reach, as if he is not sure what she will do in response.

Even so, she stays wary. His eyes are unseen, just black, reflective pools of darkness, so that she cannot tell what he is thinking about, and his mouth is hungry in a way that always frightens her, but so far, he has done nothing that she could name as perilous.

“Good day?” he asks, and she shakes her head before she can stop herself. She should not even notice him like that, she knows better, but the warmth and ever-present hunger have put her off-stride. She stills herself, tense and waiting.

“I know,” says Wolf, very soft-like, “I know. It’s hard out here. I bet you could use something to eat.”

She is pretending not to hear, but her heart is thumping hard. He isn’t wrong.

“I know where there is plenty of food,” he says. “No problem. I can show you.”

She looks up at the sun. It is high in the sky, now, and her others have been gone so long. Too long. She looks down at the old one, still snoring.

“You come with me,” says Wolf. “It isn’t even far. You’ll be back before he wakes, I promise.”

The thought of food is hard to bear. She looks at him straight on, just for a moment, and then slides her gaze away. She should not do this.

And yet, her stomach thinks it is worth the risk. What can Wolf do, out in the open, in the daylight?

Still, she hesitates.

“Suit yourself,” he says, and turns, as if he doesn’t care whether she follows or not, and she thinks that if she is careful, and doesn’t let him get too near, and if he really knows a place where there is food, it would be worth it.

Wolf is heading back the way they came in the morning. Back into the hard, cold, shadowed places, and the herds are stirring a bit, drawn, now, as she is, by the smells of fat and sweetness and the promise of food.

He leads her along the open trail and then into a narrower place, and she watches him as he collects the food, and she can smell it everywhere.

Meat.

Meat, fresh and still warm. Her stomach clenches and her mouth waters, but even as she reaches toward him, Wolf’s claws reach back, grasping at her arm.

He is not as smart as he thinks he is, that’s what the old one always tells her. And she has a plan.

As soon as he touches her, she screams. She kicks. She shrieks at the very top of her lungs, and slaps at him.

He’s not even panicked, and his hold on her is strong. Even when she twists away, he doesn’t let go. She begins to weep, loud and screeching, the keening of a wounded animal, the desperate mewling of distress.

And this, finally, does what she wants.

Wolf does not let go, not then, but the herd is spooked, so spooked that one of them, a big one, attacks them, almost indiscriminately, lowering his head and charging at them, butting Wolf and knocking him to the ground.

She scoops up the food where it has fallen, and runs, into the crowd and out again, back down the hard ground, running, running along the wide trail and out to where the grass and the river and her others are.

They are there and waiting, and for a moment they are angry, because they have worried, not finding her where she should have been. But when they see what she has brought, they forget this, and are glad.

They stay late by the river, feasting and happy and replete, laughing as she tells them how she tricked Wolf, fooled him into finding her food. They will tell this story to each other many times, in the days that follow, the remembrance of a time of plenty.

They stay as late as they dare in this place, and the sun is nearly setting before they begin walking back to their shelter.

***

The man by the door smiles.

“Had a good day, folks?” he asks, as they shuffle past him to the sign-in desk, and then go looking for a place to lie down.

####

Discover other titles by Morgan Smith

A Spell in the County

Casting In Stone

On Tollswitch Hill

Flashbacks (an unreliable memoir of the ‘60s)

The Plague Village

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Easy Meat

A tale of the wilderness. Of hunters and gatherers, of hunger and triumph, and of survival.

  • ISBN: 9781311349798
  • Author: Morgan Smith
  • Published: 2016-06-11 20:05:06
  • Words: 1904
Easy Meat Easy Meat