MEAT Chapter 1 – Sarcophagus Anonymous
[Content Warning: story concerns polyphagia, zombieism]
The woman coughed; a dry, raspy cough. People say paper doesn’t taste like anything, but that was false. In front of her were two bowls, and in front of the bowls there were stacks of paper. Neat, rectangular stacks. One of the bowls contained a brown sludge of dissolved, environmentally friendly paper. The other contained regular white photocopy paper, drenched and still whole and separable. The photocopy paper was almost entirely untouched. (The photocopier itself had a lock on the side and to access the paper, the woman had told the printer to print the nothing in the machine at the moment.)
The rest of the room came into focus bitwise: the carpet with its grey-beige swirly patterns, the knife on the middle of the floor and the glossy shavings strewn around it, the open photo album with its empty pages. Then, the swirlies in the cabinets, the metal handles, the classy paint job on the walls that hid the way the wires crawled upwards to the wall-lamps. Then, the wax candles – wicks lit once just to blacken them, untouched for three years now.
(The crumples of the family photos on one corner of the carpet, under a chair.) It had turned out that eating images of meat was close enough to start the salivation, which lead to the hunger cramps. Pazit stared at her phone, which displayed a website full of GDA levels. Then she coughed her lungs up.
“Focus, Pazit; focus,” a voice told her. Recognizing it took a moment as this was the first time she’d heard herself speak with such a dry throat. Drinking water helped, a little. She felt small.
A couple of feet away from where she was, a box blinked and animated. The woman called Pazit got the remote control from somewhere between two couch cushions and turned the volume up.
“…may be talking about an epidemic – with us tonight, with her multiple PhDs, is Claire Wellsh. Claire, could you shed some light on this strange disease?”
Claire stuffed her face with the muffins available in the middle of the table. The bowl had been positioned specifically so the guests would look awkward trying to reach them. It is impolite to eat muffins live. “Yh,” said the PhD, gulping and loading up the next one, “I think it’s airborne and –” she swallowed this one whole, with the paper cup – “it’s not a virus or a bacteria. Something else.”
The camera had stopped moving; there were yelps and epiphanic cursing. Then Jerry Seinfeld asked a rhetorical question.
The TV went out of focus. She paced around the room, sometimes disappearing to pace around other rooms. She wore pants without trousers and she was bigger than she used to be. She went to the restroom a lot. She consisted mostly of water.
There was a man from two floors up who had emptied his own fridge in two hours. She’d heard him pace around. At one point, there had been a thud and that had been when the noise stopped.
Both Pazit and the woman from one floor up – DeMieer something – had ventured up to his flat after the customary politeness ten-hour waiting period, to investigate. They had spoke for a maximum of three minutes in total, before this, and it remained that way. They climbed up the stairs of their apartment complex. DeMieer seemed to be keeping her hourglass – somehow looking even thinner than she used to, and Pazit gritted her teeth until she salivated again. Her saliva glands actually hurt.
They’d come to the door of Mr. Jattiman. It wasn’t locked, but when they opened it two beartraps jumped out and snapped at the air like mechanic alligators. The two women had exchanged a look. “Heads or tails?” Pazit had asked.
Ms. DeMieer had swallowed some air and said “tails.”
As Pazit walked behind DeMieer, her throat hurt from swallowing the coin, and there was no scientific answer how the woman in front of her could look that good after a monstrous pregnancy and now this.
Mr. Jattiman lay in the middle of his living room in a puddle of water and piss. His face was blue, his stomach was blue, he might as well have been dragged up from a winter lake. The frozen food had still been frozen when he ate it, and the cold had spread outwards from his stomach once he’d run out of food. His belly had stretched and eventually the man had just … stopped.
His freezer lay next to him like an apathetic lover, open and uncaring. The cords and wires stretching from it didn’t reach far. The frost spread from it and him was fading away crystal by crystal.
They found a few dead mice in mousetraps in the cupboards and in the bathtub; that was all.
The next time Pazit visited, both corpse and freezer had disappeared.
Pazit eyed the wax candles now, cutting up parts of the carpet with the knife, trying to make rolls. Her hands shook, she was fidgeting. She grabbed a wad of paper from the bowl and forced it down her throat, coughing up some blood. The first roll was done, she could barely wrap her hand around it. “You’re really doing this, aren’t you?” she started to ask. She stopped in the middle to cough up more parts of her insides, including the clean stripped skeleton of a mouse.
With the things in her cupboards and pantries she could survive for months. Her phone still had battery. Her stomach screamed but was muffled by the various junk she’d eaten. The ‘zombie survival’ app she looked at from time to time told her she could survive a month in her current condition. She only had the free version – the paid one gave you more tips and included the possibility to survive ‘indefinitely’.
The power went out, forever.
She closed her eyes and brought up Mr. Jattiman’s lighter from her pocket. Trembled to her feet, and felt her way to the wall. She lit two of the wax candles on the wall and grabbed the other one, dropping the lighter to the spot on the floor next to the rolls.
Back in Charles Dickens’ day, a man named Domery had been able to eat anything and he used candle-substance lining his throat to help lubrication. However, when Pazit tried this she discovered the way wax candles crumble. “Tallow,” she murmured, “not wax. Fuck.” She coughed up another skeleton and pulled the wick out inch by inch to not open any wounds.
Another can of beans and the entirety of the loaf she was saving for tomorrow. She scraped the insides of the bean can with the last of the bread and then filled the can with water, put it among the other cans. She updated her app. It said 19 days now.
The rain was audible; the electronic humming had drowned it out before. It was torrential. Pazit stood leaning against the window with her forehead against the cold of the glass. Out on the street, a man with a sign was getting rained on. She could only make out a few of the words, something about Leviticus.
He seemed to wear just a single item of clothing, a plastic rain-proof sack fashioned into a cowled robe. The light she saw him in – the streetlamp outside her windwow – died away slowly until he was just darker than the rest of his surroundings, a patch of black against the grey. He made gestures toward one end of the street with his sign and fists.
Three lengths of darkness – something like rope – attached themselves to the man’s midsection and dragged him away. His sign fell to the cobblestones, so now everything was grey. Pazit moved away from the window.