by Morgan K Tanner
You know, cannibals have quite the reputation. I’m not saying that this is unjustly bestowed upon them but let’s be honest, if you hear the word cannibal you either think of a tribe of primitive, almost-cavemen beasts in an unknown corner of the Amazon, or some psychopathic crazy. And yes, you’d probably be right to think that. Many of our judgements of people who are different from ourselves are ingrained into our minds from an early age. That ridiculous word, morality, has a lot to answer for.
Aren’t these ‘cannibals’ just hungry? Granted they crave the taste of meat that was once alive and thinking, but just because they don’t love, say, avocados does that make them sick in the head?
Still not convinced?
I think I may need to quickly clarify that I am not a cannibal, certainly not in the sense that you’re thinking of. I don’t enjoy feasting on the dead flesh of men, women, or children. I’m no killer or deranged sociopath, and the act of taking another human life frankly turns my stomach.
No, I prefer my dinner to be alive.
I have explained myself to Rachel over and over, but she still seems to think I’m insane. Although I doubt she really understands me. She clanks her chains, writhes on the soiled mattress, and screams at me to let her go without really listening to what I’m telling her.
“Please let me go, I won’t tell anyone,” she moans, constantly. I really thought that this was some Hollywood cliché, invented by lazy script writers to invoke some kind of humanity in their audience, but it appears that this statement is pretty accurate. I wonder now how many of them were writing from personal experiences. It would explain a lot.
Rachel is unconscious at the moment. I gassed the room earlier so she’ll be out for another hour or so. But that gives me all the time I need. I’m not that hungry right now anyway. I don’t have the need or ability to exert much energy in my condition, so my stomach has shriveled from the size it once was.
But it’s the taste. Oh, the taste. Ethereal, clandestine, magical; better than anything you could imagine passing your lips and coalescing with your tastebuds. That divine moment when I feel it melting in my mouth, it’s comforting and exhilarating warmth passing through my trembling body. That is what I crave.
I’m a junkie, a slave to the flavor.
I suppose now I should introduce you to my humble assistant. I don’t like to refer to him as a servant, that makes me sound very pompous and self-important, when I’m anything but. Even though he serves me per se, I like to think he is merely assisting me on my magical journey of culinary discovery.
He doesn’t have a name, I’ve never really thought to give him one. It has never been necessary. There’s only him and me in the basement so it doesn’t really get too confusing. But when speaking of him to one of the dishes (by dishes I mean the likes of Rachel) and to you, I just refer to him as He.
He is a scrawny, hunch-backed rodent of a man. His bones protrude from his paper-like skin as though they are about to explode from his body like shopping in an over-stuffed plastic bag. His wrinkled face is gaunt and droops like molten wax, probably brought about by the years of looking up at me from his cowering posture.
He is not the kind of creature you could look favorably upon, a face not even a mother could love. But he is the very being responsible for where I am today. And for that I cannot thank him enough.
I can’t remember where He came from exactly. Perhaps he was a gift from some higher being, I sure as hell deserve one after everything I’ve been through. But it feels like He has always been here with me, tending to my every need, nourishing me both physically and emotionally. He has changed my life.
He slumps over to me with a plate of food that rattles in his quivering hands. It’s not gourmet dining by any means, but it’s exactly what I want right now. He knows me so well. It’s part of the scab from Rachel’s elbow. It’s been crusting up for the past week, slowly turning from red to brown. I have been salivating every time I look at it.
Along with the scab is a small portion of fingernails. He hasn’t dressed the plate, the nails don’t encircle the scab like they would do on a Michelin-star restaurant’s. But that doesn’t bother me in the slightest.
Her toenails, I’m saving. I’ve had my eye on them for a while; those thick, crumbly, fungus-infested chunks of Heaven. Every day they grow and every day their flavor is maturing like a fine cheese.
The scab is simply wonderful. I savor it like it’s my last meal on earth. I munch greedily on the nails but keep one in my mouth, placing it behind my top lip where it will moisten and entertain me for a good few hours.
“Thank you,” I say to He, “make sure her bandage is clean would you?” He sniffs and gurgles something before clambering over to the sleeping buffet, inspecting her back.
Mmmm, her back. Last week, while she was unconscious, Rachel’s skin was sliced carefully by He, leaving a large flap of flesh the size of my hand. This flap was folded back while the resulting wound was cleaned and covered with a sterile gauze bandage. The pink tissue is healing well and the flap is drying out nicely, He tells me. At least I think that’s what He was saying. In a couple of days it will be perfect, like a piece of beef jerky, but crunchier. I’m looking forward to that more than I can tell you.
For a strange, Golem-like creature, He is astonishingly good at what he does for me. Most people, I imagine, would struggle to perform these minor surgeries he carries out on an almost daily basis. He has talent, I cannot deny it. An almost Saint-like talent.
“Get the cheese grater on her arm for me,” I tell He. It has been soaking in soapy water for a few hours to rid it of the previous blood stains, these will ruin the flavor. I relax in my chair and watch He scamper to the bowl where he removes the grater and dries it on one of the fresh towels I have provided.
He takes the grater and, using the side with the tiny holes used for grating Italian hard cheeses, begins gently rubbing Rachel’s forearm. He snarls as he works and the metal rattles against her manacles, but he is doing a fine job. A damn fine job. He has such a delicate touch.
A graze quickly develops and in seconds her arm darkens as a delightful plasma jus flows from her flesh. She murmurs something, groggy from the effects of the gas, then her eyes suddenly open. She cries, as though she doesn’t know where she is. He jumps back, dropping the grater with a large clang which reverberates around the basement.
Then her pain really hits home.
“What are you doing, you freak?” she screams at He. Her hand reaches for her bloody arm and her bravado disappears instantly. It’s replaced by pathetic sobbing. He knows what to do. He quickly wipes her blood with a tissue and is away before Rachel can even attempt to lash out at him.
He hands me the crimson tissue. “Thank you,” I say. The blood lines my throat like a savory cough sweet as I suck on it like a kid with an ice cream. I settle back and watch her pain and desperation intensify while I enjoy my palate cleanser.
You are probably coming to regard me as some sort of monster, as I relax with my tissue of blood whilst watching an innocent suffer. But it’s not like I’m going to kill her. OK, she might die, but it won’t be me that kills her. It will probably be the injuries, however superficial they may be, that will be her doom. But I didn’t inflict them. He did.
And what is so despicable about that, really? Do you feel pity for the chef that burns his hand on the oven door, or slices off the tip of his finger while he’s preparing your meal in that fancy restaurant? Do you tell the waiter ‘no don’t worry, that’s fine, I don’t mind waiting another half an hour for my meal’? No, you don’t. You’re paying good money and if you don’t receive the service to the expected standard then you are entitled to be displeased.
Rachel suffers like the chef. In fact, she cries herself to sleep every night. OK, I may help her drift off with the gas that I have pumped into her room every so often, but it’s what she wants. Although she never tells me this.
“I am leaving you for a while, my love. Some of us have work to go to,” I say. “Please don’t rub that arm too much, we want it to scab over nice and quickly don’t we?” I lick my lips and throw the less-bloody tissue to the floor. He will clean it up for me.
Rachel mouths something at me but it’s inaudible. Her eyes are so full of shimmering tears that I find it impossible to tell what she is thinking. But I think she’s saying ‘thank you.’
Before leaving her I pause and stare at the thick layers of calluses adorning the soles of her pretty feet. I look forward to He shaving them off for me. Like chewy potato skins. Delicious.
I enter the elevator, which is incongruent to the rest of the place. It’s shiny buttons and sleek, metal doors highlighting how dark and dingy it actually is down here. As the door closes I hear yet more cries and whimpers from the basement.
What, did you think Rachel was the only one down here? Seriously? Oh come on, there’s barely enough sustenance there for a small child.
He is busy preparing my evening meal. Jason, the young man I keep chained to the boiler, produces such a vast array of foot fungus from the high temperature he’s exposed to there. And then there’s his tangy sweat. By God it’s good.
Judging by the noise Jason is making I’m sure He is getting to work peeling the sores from between his toes. And I know that he has a vast collection of verrucae under there, too, complete with crusty skin. I hope that He decides to remove a couple for later. He’s been known to treat me from time to time.
And wasn’t that Annie screaming just then? Her acne juices up nicely, like miniature mountains of shiny, greasy mustard on her pained face. They go so well with the various pieces of skin which He strips from her, like chips and a dip.
The fingernail in my mouth can also double as a toothpick. Very useful when those rogue strings of flesh get caught in there. If I have enough time I usually floss my teeth with a piece of hair, although their locks do become rather weak and greasy after a couple of weeks down here. I suppose I could get He to wash them occasionally. But would that impair the flavor? I’m not entirely sure. Best have a think about that.
The elevator is almost silent as I ascend to ground level, dreaming of my meal to come. A selection of tapas to be washed down with the finest tears of my subjects. The secret ingredient is fear. He shall do me proud, he always does.
A ping announces I have reached my destination. The door slides open.
“Are you ready to go?” I’m surprised to see my driver, Michael standing there, dapper as always in his black suit. He could be a hearse driver by the look of him. Come to think of it, he’s not a million miles away from that vocation. “The car’s outside. I think you’re going to be great today,” he adds with an enthusiastic grin.
As we head outside into the blazing sunshine Michael puts a hand on my shoulder and gives me a motivational squeeze. “How are the mushrooms getting along down there, boss?”
“They’re doing just great, Mike. Just great.” Yes, Michael believes that this is what I spend so much time doing down there. And why would he think any different? I don’t look like the kind of man who does what I do.
It’s a short drive to the church and the road outside the sleek building is already littered with cars as people try to politely bustle their way inside. Although for most, it’s a struggle. Walking sticks, wheelchairs, walking frames, elderly folks guided by relatives. Then there’s the ones with the invisible ailments. None of them want to miss the main event. And neither do I.
There’s to be a motivational speaker addressing them shortly. Kind of like an inspirational life coach, but I don’t favor that particular term. It seems as though word has got around. I’m quite the mini-celebrity.
Yes, friends, it is I who will be speaking to these luckless fools. For all the tribulations life throws indiscriminately into their paths, the only thing they need is for a stranger on a stage with a microphone to tell them it is all part of God’s will, The Master Plan. And if they are willing to pay me and revere me for telling them that everything will be OK in the end, who am I to crush their dreams?
Michael helps me from the car and escorts me to the rear entrance. I bid him farewell as he leaves me to go and park the car. I’ll meet him later, maybe I’ll have a new friend with me.
The Minister welcomes me with a firm handshake and a kiss on each cheek then takes me inside. I feel like some kind of rock star backstage, such is the buzz around me. People are patting me on the back and shaking my hand, and I have a lot of ‘God bless you’s’ thrown at me.
Indeed. Bless me.
I’m shown to the stage and positioned while the murmur of anticipation from the other side of the curtain crescendos. I can not just hear it, I can feel the excitement building. I think of Rachel’s hard-skinned feet then take in a deep breath. I rub my tongue over the fingernail that’s still in my mouth and picture myself gorging on her calluses until I’m close to vomiting.
“Just another minute,” the Minister tells me, breaking the reverie. I wave in acknowledgement, clearing my head of the fantasies that will soon become flesh. No pun intended.
A few minutes later the audience goes silent from beyond the curtain. They’ve probably killed the lights.
Here we go.
The curtain raises and a spotlight hits me in the face. The crowd roar. I raise the mic from my lap. I can’t see anything bar the blinding light but I picture chewing on a rind of dried heel skin or a piece of crusty snot, and smile.
“Wow, thank you so much.” I never fail to marvel at how strange it is to hear my own voice amplified around me. But they can’t hear me, not yet. Their applause is deafening and enthusiastic. But at least my eyes are adjusting to the light. Yes, I can see them now. I hold my hand up and try again.
“What a kind welcome, thank you. God bless you all.” They go even crazier at this. It’s like it’s some kind of magic word.
Eventually the crowd settles somewhat, apart from a couple of guys who writhe on the floor like they’re being electrocuted in front of me. They’re really getting into this.
“As I look out on so many of you gathered here today, I am saddened by the travesties that have been grievously bestowed upon you.” I eye the rows of wheelchairs whose occupants stare at me with a desperate hope in their tear-filled eyes. “What have we done to deserve this?” I shrug my shoulders, my gaze darting among them. “Surely there cannot be a God who would inflict such horrific circumstances on his adoring children. What sort of God would do such a wicked thing? This is something I have pondered for many years. Since my accident I have come to appreciate Him in a whole new, and wonderful light. And you can, too.”
I pause, knowing from previous experience that this is the moment the first round of applause starts. It’s a knowing, confident applause. One that says ‘yes, this is what I came to hear, but let’s not get too carried away just yet, let’s see what else he has to say.’
“I could have easily slammed the name of The Lord,” I continue, “moaned to the world that I didn’t deserve such cruelty. ‘Poor me, poor me,’ I could say, reaching out for sympathy from anyone who would listen. But where would that really get me? Would I be any happier? I’d still be in this wheelchair, I’d still be unable to run in a sunlit field, or swim in the bright blue ocean. I would still be sentenced to a life like this. But I’d also have bitterness controlling me, determining every moment of my existence. And what good does that do for anyone?”
Applause. Genuine, heartfelt applause.
“In times of adversity it is important to step back from your emotions and look at life as a tapestry sewn from dreams, experiences, and hopes.” The room is now silent again. All eyes are upon me as I wheel myself across the stage like a vehicular Messiah.
“And who is responsible for this tapestry? Is it the individual? Well, yes, to some extent. But who supplies the needles, the cotton, the skills to produce such a work? That needs to come from somewhere else. Or someone else.”
There is a smattering of claps, although most of them don’t understand what I’m telling them. I glance at the Minister who sits with a straight back and a beaming smile. He nods encouragingly at me.
“You,” I address the crowd, “if you were to begin work on your own tapestry right now, what would it depict? A morbid, blackened, diabolic shambles of a scene enraged by your negativity and anger? You call it your life, your existence. But with a little help, with the correct tools to aid you, you can transform your desolate artwork into a thing of beauty that not only becomes loved by you, but is enjoyed and treasured by those around you for many years to come.”
I clear my throat during another ripple of applause. A man with only one leg is nodding vigorously. I eye his stump, wondering what culinary delights I could extract from the scar tissue left there. The dry, flaky skin would be like parmesan cheese and bring any dish to life.
“He inspires my tapestry. He provides me with everything I need. He motivates me to complete my work so that it will indeed inspire others. Without him I don’t think I could go on. We all need someone like this. Someone to help us, to invigorate us. Someone to give our lives meaning.
“Despite everything that has been thrust into my life, against my will, I say this, and believe me when I speak.”
Dramatic pause. They’re loving this.
“With every ounce of truth I possess, I am happy. My life is filled with happiness. When I fight against my physical hurdles from getting out of bed, to washing, to feeding, He shows me the way. Without the constant attention that He provides I would be nothing. He gives me love I would never have thought possible to know. He attends to my every waking need. He is there for me, and He is there for you.”
This is all they need. The floor erupts as they stand, en masse, and flood me with rapturous applause. Yet more of them fall to the ground, their bodies twitching and their mouths spewing forth utter nonsense.
I wheel myself across the stage where people hobbling with walking sticks and frames attempt to get close to me, to touch me, in the hope that my positivity can somehow infiltrate their pathetic and worthless lives.
If only they knew who He really is. How He is merely a servant to fulfill my own deranged happiness on this wretched earth.
“Thank you, God bless you all,” I scream, but it’s drowned out by the pandemonium before me. I have more to say, and during the majority of these speeches I manage to go on with yet more theological absurdity.
But not today. It seems as though my work here is done.
Although not quite. I came here for more than adoration.
I spot a young lady staring at me from a few rows back. She’s standing and applauding like the rest of them. But there’s something about her. My eyes are drawn to her. My pulse quickens and I almost feel a twitch in my foot, something I seldom experience since the car accident.
She is a big girl, not just fat but tall, too. My mind races and I can almost taste the sweat from between her folds. I try to avoid licking my lips but I must fail as she’s now smiling. I hold up a finger and nod to backstage. She nods, too, with understanding. I will meet this groupie later. I will invite her back home with me and she will accept my proposal. I find it outrageous how these God-fearing folk are always so easy to jump into bed with someone who they believe holds the answers they have been looking for.
Spreading their legs in the name of God. Pathetic. You may argue that she deserves what’s coming to her, but I hate to be so judgmental.
Michael knows not to ask questions, he’s been my driver long enough now. He’ll smile, give an approving wink, and wish me all the best. God knows, he’s done it plenty of times before.
Maybe this girl will have a friend? That would be the perfect end to this magical day. There’s plenty of room in the basement.
And I’m always hungry.
About the Author
Morgan K Tanner is a writer, drummer, and golfist currently residing in the English countryside. The quiet surroundings make it an ideal place to write, drum, and hide the bodies. The sound of the typewriter is perfect to drown out the hum of the torture equipment. His works of fiction and threats have appeared in the mailboxes of many a celebrity, who then sells their story to the tabloids, claiming that they are being ‘terrorized.’ You can praise or abuse him by visiting morganktanner.com or find him on Twitter @morgantanner666.