Days into their wandering, they begged for meat. They woke inside a circular fence of neatly stacked packages of steak, quail, and veal. Each package was the size of a toddler’s hand and could be opened with a toddler’s strength. They ate their bounty under every angle of the sun and every angle of the moon. They worried that if they did not continue to eat, the meat would go senselessly to waste. They had trouble distinguishing between worry and want. They ate even when they were full and their vision blurred and their families retreated from the fence to the center of the circle and did not return. No one worried over what fell dead behind them.
Weeks or months into their eating, they found more and more portions of unpackaged meat in their fence. Their first bites revealed tiny bugs inside, scampering against the grain. Soon unpackaged meat was the only meat they found. The President of the United States argued that it tasted better than packaged meat. Not everyone agreed with his assessment, though they did agree it was meat, and no one would consent to let it go to waste. They ate amid a strengthening air of rancidity and decay, perhaps because that air became increasingly natural to them, perhaps because they welcomed the concurrent return of birds. They continued to indulge their want even after their eyes had yellowed, and spots as pink as their teeth pimpled over their skin. Under their skin, chunks of meat scampered like sheeted mice from their stomachs to their shoulders to their hearts and back. Still they tore link upon link of meat fence into their ravening mouths.
Few of them noticed that the fence had expanded outward in all directions so that it enclosed a great chunk of the desert. Only the grateful birds noticed that the shape of the cumulative dead had bloomed into a hill. They called upon The President of the United States. He soon called that hill Our Holy Mountain. Not everyone agreed with him, though they did agree that, because their meat was at risk of going senselessly to waste, this was no time to argue. They prided themselves on their good sense.
Months or years into their eating, they discovered black lizards climbing, crawling through, and chewing into their fence, so they began eating faster and faster, chewing lizards into their meat. Many of them, appreciating the new taste and texture in their mouths, ate with new verve. The more they ate, the taller Our Holy Mountain grew, though it seemed that no matter its height, numberless people still worked their teeth in the fence, so the meat would never go to waste.
The fence expanded outward in every direction, though more desert always appeared beyond it. Meat chunks scampered from their stomachs to their toes to their brains, all over and through their brains, visible through bald patches of scalp and under cheekskin. The sicker people grew, the more meat they spurted from both likely and unlikely orifices. It emerged dead and waxy from their ears, filmy and dead from their nostrils. The sick sometimes shook above their excrement. The healthy ate around them. They ate under every angle of moon and sun until the fence devolved into a roiling mass of black lizards, stacked but alive, crawling through and around and chewing into one another. People, ever sensible when presented with a free meal, ate them. The President of the United States declared the lizards more delicious than any meat he had ever eaten. Before double-fisting a pair of them he said that people had never been so blessed.
Then there were no birds and no lizards and no fence, only a flat, red desert, but people had no more heart for wandering. The President of the United States led them inward. They climbed and crawled through and chewed into Our Holy Mountain. They ate as their forefathers ate and as their children and children’s children eat to this day.
Marcus Pactor’s second book, Begat Who Begat Who Begat, is forthcoming from Astrophil Press in Spring 2021. His first book, Vs. Death Noises, won the 2011 Subito Press Prize for Fiction. His work has most recently appeared in Queen Mob’s Teahouse, X-R-A-Y, Pithead Chapel, and Juked. He lives and works in Jacksonville, Florida.