Storytime: A Bit of a Bite.

October 4th, 2017

It was a hard, hard march, over rocks and trees and ferns and moss that all alike grated themselves eagerly into slippery mush under my feet. And it was a little harder than maybe it should’ve been, because Auntie Moc was over my shoulder, my good strong shoulder that I carried wood on, and she was not being helpful at all. Dead weight, lolling from the gashes in her gut, stretched wide by when she’d sprinted when she shouldn’t have.
She’d always told me never to think overmuch on what should or shouldn’t be done. Well, maybe I’d think that advice over again now. If it’s good, it’s good, but you can’t use the same ideas all day for everything. It leads to sticky spots, like the half-dried tackiness spread over half my back where Auntie Moc had been dribbling in drips for a night and a morning.
But that was enough. On top of the hill, on top of the leg cramps, on top of the sore spine and petulant muscles and finicky tendons, I’d reached the nearest spot. A little clearing and a big rock that was very good and somewhat flat and not very colourful.

Auntie Moc was big. I’d been bigger than her for two years BUT STILL and it was nice that the rock didn’t diminish that. It held her entire, but it held her up, not down.
And that was perfect too.
Auntie Moc’s knife was gone, left behind in some poor sucker’s sternum. And her other knife. And her axe. And a couple of her teeth. I’d have to use my knife – but it had been her knife, years ago, which she’d given me when I was old enough for it to be my fault if I cut myself by mistake.
And that was better than perfect.
It was mid-morning now; the sun was awake but still pulling off the cloudy blankets. Golden overcast, enough to make things hard to see but beautiful to look at.
That was probably the most perfect thing of all.
So under that perfect glow, on that perfect rock, with my perfect knife, I cut into Auntie Moc’s cheek and her other cheek and around and about and I pulled off her face.

It was in one piece. That was good. She wouldn’t be distracted by having to watch me make all sorts of mistakes, and she’d have plenty of room to get out and go when I was through. Nice knifework if I said so which I did.
I rolled up Auntie Moc’s face and pocketed it for the trip home, then I wiped the knife clean on my eyeteeth and aimed it for her side. THERE and there it was, right where it should be. And out there, in the forest where it shouldn’t be, clumsy footsteps.
Well, I was irritated. But not surprised. Places like this always pull people to them; that’s what makes them so handy. They give you a good view of everything, and if some folks ignore the everything for the forest and just look at that well that’s understandable enough. It’s just a pain when they walk in on the important things.
This pain was small, and clumsy, and mostly limbs. It ran out of the trees and ran through the grass and bounced off my shoulder, which made me sort of proud because I’d been holding very still and wanted to see if that’d happen.
“Sorry ‘bout that,” I lied.
“Oh!” said the little thing. It was probably an adult, and might’ve been a woman, and I guessed it was large? Maybe? Hard to tell with these people from far away. They don’t weigh much and they don’t wear much and they don’t talk enough to make things clear, just to confuse themselves. It’s a real pickle. “Oh! Oh no oh no oh no oh no oh-”
“No oh noes thanks. It’s fine. You’re just interrupting me a little. If you’re looking for the town your folks put up, you’re going the wrong way. It’s down the –”
“No, I’ve got to find them! Oh no, oh dear, oh no,” she said. And she sobbed in a very dramatic way that made me very impressed. I think tears came out of her nose.
“Find who?” I asked. I wasn’t very interested but I knew someone who wanted to tell a story when I saw them and the faster I pulled it out the faster I could get back to Auntie Moc, who if she’d still had a face would be rolling her eyes right now.
“My parents,” she sighed, and moped, and wrung. “My poor poor parents! They’ve been missing for days, and days, and nobody else will look and nobody else will help and they’ve all given up and now it’s me, just me, lonely me oh boo hoo hooo hoooooooooo.”
I patted her on the shoulder, which would’ve made her jump if it hadn’t sunk her an inch into the dirt. “Cheer up. See this view up here? You can see this hill from anywhere, and you can see anywhere from it. Look for your parents, go down and check, and if you’re lost you can double back and try again. It’s easy.”
And she wiped away her tears and murmured away her thanks and hiccupped and cough and as almost an afterthought asked “what are you doing there?”
I followed her finger to my little arm, my weaker arm, which was still gripping my (Auntie Moc’s old) knife and hilt-deep in her side.
“Cutting out a bullet,” I said.
“Oh!” she said. “Well, good luck!” and she ran away down the hill, heels flashing and hair bobbing all the way until she was gone.
Odd. But it wasn’t my business, I was sure.

About time. The knife was coated with some of Auntie Moc’s more resentful and acidic secretions, and I had to put both hands into the cutting where the flesh was growing stiff and cumbersome.
Off came the armour that I hadn’t already pulled away for a speedy haul. Out came the hard half-crescent of skin and muscle and (lean, very lean) meat. In went my hand and out came a liver, fighting the whole way to stay in its home. It dragged its feet, it gripped its walls, it squelched and cursed me the whole way and when it was finally under the sky it finally softened up on me, as if it had been just playing a joke the whole time.
It had to get in line behind the rest of the world, because the trees were rustling and grumbling again, carrying shouts from the woods up to my perch, and even as they came so did their creators, thrashing through grass and tearing up dirt clods and sneezing and peering and coughing and occasionally spitting and marching all the way up to my seat, where they stood up tall and fanned out and snapped and grunted and eventually noticed me and asked “you seen ‘er?”
I pointed at Auntie Moc. “Yep. There.”
They looked at Auntie Moc. Then they looked away again very quickly.
“No, no. We’re looking for someone else.”
“Well you aren’t being very particular with your words. Who’re you looking for?”
“A thief,” announced their leader, who was the best-shaven and dirtiest. “A goddamned thief and a black-hearted scoundrel and a liar to make a mockingbird gasp. She took our property and she took our savings and she took our innocent trust and faith in a decent, kind, just and reasonable world. She was about yay tall and had shoddy sandals on. Seen her? Seen her tracks?”
I shrugged. “I’ve been busy and distracted enough with my own business.”
“Yes. Yes, you have. What IS that, exactly?”
“This scumbag stole my kill’s liver and so I beat her up and cut her face off,” I said.
“Fair enough. C’mon, spread out. Meet back here at noon when we’ve scrubbed the place clean.”
And they clang bang clattered down the hill and back into the green, which finally gave me the chance to eat Auntie Moc’s liver.

It was a big liver. She’d been that kind of person.
It was a tough liver, and she’d been that kind of person too. It nearly got one of my teeth, and it didn’t stop fighting until I’d swallowed the last scrap.
There. The first bit was finally over, and none too soon. The rest would be easier now that I had that energy, and now that she’d lost it maybe she’d stop putting up such a damned fight. Sawing at her was like cutting down a tree.
Well, next things next. The gruntwork. I decided to start with the left leg. It had been her favourite, and after a good ten minutes I could see why. It put up more of a fight than her own liver had, and it kept trying to trap my blade in a bunched muscle, or a tangled sinew, and pull it out. I think if it had it would’ve slit my throat with it.
“Trouble there?”
I actually jumped. It had been a long, long time since anyone had snuck up on me, but the leg, but they were so quiet, but but but bah buts don’t count for much.
Although they HAD been very quiet. The four little strangers standing there behind me were dressed almost sensibly. Heavily armed (as heavily as such small arms could be), covered in soft colours and muddled shades, stepping where feet should go instead of where they shouldn’t. Amazing how hard that came to some, but there you go, faint praise has to come from somewhere.
“A bit,” I said. They WERE good. Not a single one of their eyes followed the motions of the dripping knife in my palm. “Looking for something?”
“A bunch of murderous kidnapping thugs,” the one in the lead said. And spat. Unnecessary, I thought. “Shiftless sacks of shit. They took someone, they took off, they’re going to come back. With or without noses.”
“Have you seen them?”
I thought. “Not sure. Hard to be sure what you’re seeing today. If you’d like to look about, feel free, but I’m a bit busy.”
“Yes. I can see that. Who was she?”
“My worst enemy,” I said which wasn’t really lying because what else is your best friend?
“Good. Hope we can join you later on.” A nod and a nod and they were down the hill and sinking into the grass – such short legs! – and almost out of sight. One whisper paused at the treeline for one more word.
“A finger would be an easier trophy.”
And then it was gone.

I worked quickly, and a little sloppily after that. But Auntie Moc was practical and would understand when I had to bolt her legs down without much chewing, or when I had to settle for half-wrenching her arms out of their sockets rather than sawing neatly, or when I simply ate her fingers whole – crunch crunch crack, like nuts – rather than chewing the meat off their bones.
The morning was getting awfully weary and long in the tooth, and my own teeth were getting achy. All that muscle! I loved Auntie Moc, truly I did, but why couldn’t she have been the sort of Auntie that cared more about, I don’t know, eating, or sleeping, or lying around very slowly getting rounder. At this rate I’d be living here on this hill for the rest of my days.
But maybe not. The limbs were stripped bare. The viscera I’d bagged inside Auntie Moc’s own backpack, to be pounded into jelly by the weight of my footsteps on the long run home. The rest of the body’s flesh was peeled away inch by inch, sucked into my mouth in a long single strand.
It was the most productive time I’d had all morning, and I was almost proud when the next interruption caught me with just her head left. Less proud that it was someone pointing an extremely large musket at my head, but still. Just a little.
“Don’t move.”
“I’m not moving.”
“Don’t move less.”
“You want me to move more?” Honestly, these little people.
“You know what I meant.”
“Clearly not. Hello, nice to meet you, why are you pointing that at me?”
“You’re holding a severed head.”
I looked down at my hand. Auntie Moc’s face was gone, but her teeth still gave her a saucy grin. ‘Now look at your stupid self,’ she told me.
“Yes, but it’s my aunt’s,” I told the small thing with the gun.
“You burying her?”
I thought very carefully about the angle of my back and the width of my body and sightlines and which way the wind was blowing and the exact position of the rest of Auntie Moc. “Yes,” I said. “The last bit I’ve got to remember her by, this is.”
“Huh. You seen a posse?”
“A what?”
“A bunch of over-armed, over-eager maniac deserters. See my face?”
I looked. It was pretty small, but it was there. “Yeah.”
“Seen one that looked like it before?”
The nose looked familiar. Maybe. The stealthy ones had been mostly covered, in mud and daub where it hadn’t been clothing. “Sort of.”
“Their leader is my stupid, useless, shiftless, time-wasting, blood-lusting sister. And I’m going to go and give her a court martial or a bullet or both. Which way did they go?”
I told her. I didn’t tell her that they were probably running around in circles out there by now turning the place upside down looking for some scattered incompetents. No sense borrowing trouble.
No thanks. Not even a nod. Just off and walking, a long-strided, straight-backed charge that probably looked more intimidating at ground level. To me it mostly looked silly. Like watching a stick insect on parade. And damn if that thought didn’t make me want to laugh pretty hard – but I was busy with my own business, and this wasn’t it.

Auntie Moc, bless her dearly, I did hope she’d understand. Noon was coming on, that soft light was being peeled away by clouds, and I didn’t have much time left. So I swallowed my pride and swallowed my reluctance and dislocated my jaw and jammed her whole skull in there and started chewing as hard as I could, worrying it like a dog with a bone.
And as I chewed, I laid out the bones. The shattering came last, like always.
There were specific words and specific rhythms and specific thoughts and specific weights for it, like a walk or a dance or a song.
I substituted (muffled) swearing for all of them, because I knew it wouldn’t bother Auntie Moc any and it would make me feel better. The sun was high and the world was starting to sweat and all that low cloud was going up in steam and the stupid, time-eating, miserable so-and-so that was the first girl ran up the hill full-tilt and tripped over the stone, landing face-first in Auntie Moc’s partially pulverized bones.
“Min yow angage,” I warned her.
“Shit shit shit shit shit SHIT” she shrieked. “Hide me! Drop whatever you’re doing and hide me! They’re there, they’re there behind me, they’re just there, down there!”
I looked. They weren’t there. They were behind me instead, which was very easy when I had someone wailing full force two feet from my eardrums.
“There you are!” wheezed the leader of the scruffy ones. Surely I should’ve smelled it coming if I hadn’t blocked both my sinuses with Auntie Moc’s cranium. “Damned sprinter. Hold still and don’t raise your weapons and we’ll make this simple.”
“Who? Who? I have no idea who you are I’m looking for my parents please go away please please do leave me alone!” screamed the girl, who was waving my knife at them.
Hey. I needed that.
“Freeze and don’t blink,” said a dead voice from my elbow, and that one I felt fairly sure I wouldn’t have noticed no matter what on any day. Half the hilltop stood up and pulled out weapons. “You’re under arrest for kidnapping. Dead or alive, your choice. Well, our choice.”
“Us? Listen, that was a mistake, she told US to take HER with-”
“Not interested!” snapped the one at my elbow, who was holding a knife uncomfortably near my groin. “Drop yours on the count of three or we’ll drop YOU. One-”
A bullet breezed past the voice at my elbow and also my elbow and also my nose. I blinked and patted it.
“Next one goes through your empty fool head, sister” said the one with the longgun. “You and your hooligans are coming back with me. And if I’m real friendly you’ll all get to keep a couple fingers to beg with.”
“You can’t shoot all of us, and it was all for a good re-”
“Fair enough. But I’ll start with you.”
The sun was high now. My eyes were watering, my head was pounding from heat, and the stone was starting to shimmy in its own juices. Auntie Moc’s gritty bones sparkling like diamonds. The ring of steel around the base of the hill glowing like an oven.
A little thing with a long horn stepped forward, made a noise like a grand over-plated fart and spake forth: “Will the traitor and renegade Marshall Sliloo –” and the longgun one did most carefully NOT twitch at this, as I observed very closely “- come forth and surrender peaceably or will she be stopped by force?”
“And I’M a deserter?” asked the elbow voice.
“It was for a good cause,” said longgun. “You did what you did for the hell of it.”
“Oh please.”
“Can we go?” whined the shortest ruffian.
“No,” said longgun.
“No,” said elbow voice.
“Well this is all very nice but oh dear I REALLY must find my parents and –”
“Hey, she’s got a knife! Look, see! I told you! I told you! Get the knife off her! Get the-”
“Shut up,” said elbow voice. “Look, we’re surrounded, we’ve got to-”
I picked up the stone, tipped it back, tipped my head back farther, and shoveled Auntie Moc into my throat until my throat felt like it’d been mortared shut. Then I sneezed and started walking.
Nobody noticed. Well, nobody on the hill.
The one with the horn called something as I walked, but my ears were mostly caulked with bone paste by now and I just shrugged at it.
“-prese-ive. M-nger?”
“Bworl,” I responded.
The one with the horn said something again, then made a complicated sort of wave and backed up. A small one with a truly shiny breastplate strode up to me.
Ah! Now I understood! Amazingly clear, really.
“Egguus,” I said.
The shiny breastplate was talking.
“Eccoose,” I tried.
The shiny breastplate kept talking.
I opened my mouth, shoved my fist inside up to my elbow, and shook it around four times and I hacked and spat and hissed and coughed until I could breath again and my ears were full of the roar of blood and Auntie Moc laughing her ass off at me.
When I stood up again the shiny breastplate was waiting quietly and respectfully with very large eyes.
“THAT’S better,” I said. “Excuse me. I’ve just got to-”
“What terms do they offer?” asked the shiny breastplate and I knew oh damnit this one was used to being important, weren’t they.
“Because we’ll pardon anyone who brings in the Marshall. Fully.”
“Tell your compatriots that, and you can leave.”
Well. It wasn’t particularly the ideal moment but I HAD finished eating and it WAS more or less my business.
“Look, I’ve got just one question.”
Shiny breastplate looked affronted, but after the coughing fit probably was a little more willing than usual to put up with untotal deference. “Yes?”
“Were you ten miles east of here two days ago when you got into a scuffle with someone a little bit shorter than me? Like so?”
And I showed shiny breasplate like so, with my hand.
“There was an incident, yes, but nothing worth-”
“Right, got it, it’s okay. Thanks. I’d been waiting all morning.”
“Waiting for what?”
And I showed shiny breastplate this, with my other knife.

It ended up being a pretty confusing afternoon. Mostly because right after I showed shiny breastplate my other knife someone shot someone, which meant someone else shot back, which meant someone else charged and someone else ran away and in all the confusion everyone forgot who was someone else and they took it in turns, which is a terrible way to organize a fight.

At the end of it I sat down at the bottom of the hill. On the stone, I was surprised to see. Someone had kicked it over during the ruckus and it’d rolled all the way down to say hello.
Appreciated. My side was hurting like the dickens. All that lead and steel and spite.
“Well, Auntie Moc, I hope you’re happy,” I told my belly. It giggled malevolently at me.
I looked at the sky. Too damned hot. I could almost feel the fever sowing seeds in my wounds, and I sighed enough for four lungs.
“And you know the damnedest thing about it all? Now I’m hungry again.”

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