Pound of Flesh
By Jeffrey Kieviet
We’ve all been there; ordering at a restaurant or asking people what they want on their pizza, and someone feels the need to preach that they’re vegan and cannot (will not) eat anything made by animal suffering. Although, if anyone has worked at a pizza place (or any food service industry), you know regardless of what goes on top of the pie, the employees suffer greatly. And what are people if not animals?
So at this Halloween party, all the chips have been dipped, all the tricks have been treated, and all the snacks have been snacked. There’s only a few of us left, my girlfriend, my buddy Tom, a couple slutty & stupored Mini Mouses (Mini Mice?) that Tom is still trying to hit on, and our hosts. I get the urge to grab a little grub. The party is at Brad & Linda’s, friends of my girlfriend who she met a few years back while working at an upscale restaurant downtown. Linda’s cousin, a southern ginger named Michael, is the vegan.
I am unaware of this and had grown quite fond of the drunken pirate over the course of the evening. Pirate was his Halloween costume, drunken because it was a party. I’m not drinking much tonight so I offer to swing by a 24 hour fast food joint to grab burgers and fries for whoever wants some late-night-munchie satisfaction.
Michael’s speech is a southern drawl, what I imagine a nobleman during the civil war sounded like, and it was amusing to the ear to hear him speak, unlike the hillbilly hicks I’m used to hearing at my job shoveling shit at horse race tracks. “Thank you kindly, but I must refuse such offensive offerings. I am a vegan, you see, and have not touched such refuse in many years now.”
It is strange to hear such a juxtaposition from the fiery-red-bearded mouth. When I think of the south, and I may be biased because of my employment, I think of rugged, loud folk who shovel raw, bleeding steaks down their gullet for breakfast, so for such a man to refuse not only a delicious, greasy, fast food, late night, drunk meal, but for him to announce he doesn’t even go near the stuff, I am shocked. But not so taken aback that I don’t want to throw in my 2 cents. “Don’t eat meat? *cough* Pussy *cough*.” I praise myself for my subtlety. After a few more jabs, including the aforementioned stance on the human suffering required to provide any food at all, and a sad tale about an old housekeeper whose son who died of heatstroke while picking strawberries (a made up story, but one that usually has the desired impact when debating a non-meat eater), Michael tells me the most disturbing tale I’ve ever had the regret to hear:
“Several years ago, at a Celebration on All Hallows’ eve, much like tonight, I willingly and ravenously participated in a canabilistic feast. I thought it was a jest, at the time, a little prank to play upon our Halloween fears, but I was told the dish was human flesh and ate it forewarned.
“A good friend of mine – who I will remain nameless as you do not need to know – was going through a very dark & sober time. He had desired a young lady and she had not returned the affection, so he sank into a most troubling depression. With the digital age we inhabit, he sought out manuscripts on witchcraft and voodoo, and became morose and morbid, dressing in dark clothes and making up his face to look like some lost, macabre clown. Most folks mocked him openly, calling him harsh curses like ‘faggot’ or ’emo queer.’ ‘Gothic’ may have been the appropriate term, for many of his interests turned to such subjects as evil and the devil. And then, on that fateful Halloween, he invited us over to celebrate, what few friends he still had. There were seven of us in total, including our Gothic host, and we wanted it to be a grand night since he so rarely wished to celebrate any more.
“No expense was spared on the decorations, the lively environment was full of dead things and ghastly noises. He had prepared a haunting soundtrack with rattling chains and ghostly moans suggesting there was someone – or something – trapped in the basement. It was a cd he had found on the internet. Most of the lavish decorations and exotic ambiance he had found while searching the world wide web. Bottles of wine made to look like blood, tinged with a hint of that metallic aroma. Not entirely unpleasant but had it not been for the novelty, I would not have pared it with any other meal.
“And then the main course was served. He’d hired three lovely ladies in various forms of dress – or undress – to serve us in scantily clad maid and wench costumes. They dropped off large platters covered in metal bowls, and before we lifted the lids, our host prepared us with a few words. ‘Dear friends,’ he started in an enchanted, melancholic tone. ‘Dear friends, I have tried to provide a rather unique experience tonight. All of these gags and ghouls were meant as a lead into my main attraction. I apologize for my mood, as of late. I have not been my usual self but more lost in the depression and blackness in the world. I have spent the recent weeks mostly locked in my room, on my computer, mindlessly surfing the internet, scowling a pictures of cute kitties.
“‘But then I realized what was in front of me: a veritable smorgasbord of anything I could ever want or hope to imagine. I found all the music I like, available for free! All the TV shows I watched while growing up, nostalgia wasn’t worth it for most of them but enough for some. Books, clothes, machines. They even offer women, midnight encounters at motels or public parks for the more adventurous. It’s where I found all of this,’ he gestured about the house, ‘and much, much more. But the coup de gras is our meal, the final course. Have any of you ever considered eating human flesh?’
“At this we all took pause, looking about each other with speculative smiles at such an overture, clearly he is joking we all seemed to be asking ourselves. And with a nervous laugh, we all decided we wanted to participate in the charade, without losing the momentum in fear and doubt. ‘Why, yes. Of course!’ we all seemed to chant in ghoulish glee. None of us wanted to seem cowardly, and we all knew he wouldn’t truly serve us so ghastly an item.
“His melancholic smile returned, a knowing horror and acceptance crossed his face, he wouldn’t push our bravery any further, so he mumbled and chewed his lips, and then with a commanding shout, ‘Begin!’ The witches & wenches & maids lifted our lids and the smell that wafted up from our plates was the most mouth watering and splendid sent I have ever set my nose upon. It was a small slab of meat, surrounded in a dark, ruby glaze that I now assume was it’s own sanguine juices. Tentatively – I was the first, most eager to prove I trusted my friend — trusted that he was lying, trusted that he wouldn’t truly cook a man — or woman — for consumption – I sliced a thin strip with my steak knife and placed the succulent goodness in my mouth.
“If it is possible for a tongue to experience ecstasy, that is what happened. My ravenous enjoyment convinced my dining companions to sink their teeth in as well, and we dined like hungry wolves, lapping up the sauces that dribbled down our chins and smacking our lips like desperate babes.
“He had warned us, told us what we were eating, and I may not be speaking for the others, but I had refused to believe it. At least, that is what I tell myself, that I was convinced I was playing a part in a joke. But as we prodded, asking for the secrets of his recipe, he told us of an online website that offered shanks of human flesh, human meat by the pound. He had purchased a single pound for an exorbitant price, prepared it himself, and served it to us as some sort of social experiment. Or perhaps he was crying for help, attempting to display just how low he’d sunk in morale & morality. Maybe he was hoping we’d refuse. We hadn’t. Regardless, as the realization registered with each party guest, outburst of violence, vomiting, & villainous validation sent us into a frenzy. I, myself, quickly ran from the hell house and never spoke to my friend or any acquaintance in attendance ever again, lest I would be reminded & resigned to the horror of it.
“For weeks, I became a recluse myself, my mind twisted and stapled with shadows of who it was, who had I eaten? Another friend became concerned about my well being, much as I had for the Halloween host who’d sent me into my downward spiral. Instead of a private dinner party – for I would have vehemently declined – I was taken out to bars and social settings to drink my fears away and become reacquainted with the outside world. Overindulging in the booze as I was want to do, I ended up in the back seat of a woman’s car, with her on my lap, legs squeezing my hips, her hand fumbling with the zipper of my pants. The heat of her body, the sweat on her neck, reminded me of the sweet, salty scent of the meal I had hoped forever forgotten. In my stupor, the hunger returned, and the nibbling bites that were meant to tantalize & tease, mutated into a ferocious chomp, an honest attempt to sever her flesh with my teeth. She panicked, as can be expected, for while I had not truly taken a bite out of her shoulder, I had drawn blood. Thankfully, this was passed off as a minor scuffle, an overzealous drunk at a bar, but I was more horrified than I had been on that fateful All Hallow’s Eve.
“Since then, lo those many years ago, I have not been the social creature I was known for in my youth. My dear cuz, Linda, bless her heart, has taken it upon herself to ‘break me out of my shell’ as she has put it. She’s kind kin. Family is family, blood is blood… I hate that saying.”
Now Michael looks at me, the telling had sobered his eyes and they were brimming with cursed tears that would never spill. His voice shuddered on his next words. “So yes, I am a vegan, I do not eat flesh, nor anything that reminds me of life, of a life taken & tortured so that I may eat.” His eyes move down my face, to my chest, and rest a moment, as if he can see how hard my heart is beating, for I can feel it, can hear the blood pumping through my ears. “But if you are offering,” he continues, staring with a bloody hunger that has replaced the sorrow in his eyes, “I wouldn’t turn down a bite of something more… suitable.”
THE END – Happy Halloween!