Crayons crumble into a messy dust. Others think it is quite a nuisance to clean. To me, however, it is an odd beauty. An array of colors are spread about as fine dust mix together – dancing. Tears well up in my eyes rendering my glasses useless as a familiar scent wafts throughout the room. Marigold, the scent of my favorite flower so many years ago, was suspended around the air now. Harmony was the only way I could describe my current setting. The colors of the dust, the scents of my childhood, and my favorite musical tune gathered in this small room with me to celebrate life.
A soft whisper somehow manages to penetrate the wooden door to my studio. My eyes open as I stop humming my favorite song. The scent fades away. The colors escape, and a world of ash emerges in the room. I tilt my head to see a young boy standing near the entrance. His eyes were bright green which contrasted his almost pitch black hair. He never said much outside of calling for my attention. Like a daily routine, I quietly follow Ike. It is about time to begin scavenging. We have to start our task before the sun’s first light streaks the sky and wake the others. Mushrooms are common in these parts, but they are one of the few edibles we can find. The mass decay seems to have exponentially increased not only their population but their growth rate as well. It is quite difficult to sustain on just mushrooms nonetheless. When the world first fell to hunger, many went insane. In such a bleak and desperate state, the insane resorted to gathering their protein from their neighbors. Some even tricked their relatives. A small whisper, a quiet coax, and a glint of sharp silver next to a loving wife would result in a terrible sin. An unforgivable sin that would plague the husband. When he could bear it no longer, he too would take the silver to his throat. He would leave behind his body for the scavenging neighbors to happily pluck away at. He would leave behind Ike to stare filled with trauma.
Not far away from our shelter was a lake with small patches of soybeans. With each seasonal harvest, Ike and I could store away dried beans to last the year. This was our only source of protein. It has been quite some time since the first disaster, however. The townspeople have already established a farming system consisting of large rodents. Ike and I are low class civilians; thus, that kind of meat was far out of our reach. Instead, we must continue to scavenge like many of the poor low class citizens. Thus explains our daily ritual of hiking to this lake before sunrise. We must harvest the soy in small satchels hidden from any hungry eyes. Our path must be concealed from the others because we are poor, and we are selfish. In all honesty, in a land once afflicted with mass murder and cannibalism, hiding a secret patch of soybeans does not even compare to those sins. At least that is what I have to say to justify this act. We must survive, and more importantly, I have to worry about Ike more so than the others that can fend for themselves. Ike is our future. Children are scarcer than the food that we must find. Unfortunately, hunger gives birth to irrationality, inconsideration, and feeds self interest. Familial bonds regardless of how strong deteriorate. Ike, a boy I had never seen before the famine, is the only person that I can consider precious present day. For I have sinned. I have a burden pulling on my heart, my siblings’ screams echoing in my head, and the scent of red rust replacing the marigold from my lungs. I feel a sudden tugging on my sleeve.
“Elijah. Here. Now.”
Ike points at his head letting me know I should get my head out of the clouds. This is a somewhat dangerous hike. I could trip and scrape my knee if I’m not focused haha. The rocks recede, and a soft soil stretches across the land. We’re approaching the lake it seems. Most places we go, the smell of rotting flesh lingers even though the sins committed happened so many years ago. One of the few exceptions is this lake. The air is miraculously clean, the water azure blue, and grass a lush green. Yet, it is completely void of animal life. On rare occasion, several berries would grow as well; nevertheless, not many edibles grew here other than the soybeans. When we first stumbled upon this land, I was hopeful that there would be fish. A person can have hopes and dreams at least – sigh.
A rustle in the bushes sweep me out of my fish dream. I slap myself on the cheeks to fully wake up and walk towards the commotion.
“Oh, what a nice field it is out here. Betcha we’ll find some food too.”
A middle aged man accompanying his somewhat elderly father found our secret little haven. This place can barely support our diet let alone a few more people. A little tune begins chiming in my head. What a blissful sound. I haven’t heard this in years. I can feel the adrenaline seeping into my system. My veins pulsate, my eyes dilate, my face forms a familiar smile.
“Good day young man, father. Not much to eat here. Not a single tadpole in this beautiful pond unfortunately haha”
The elderly man cautiously approaches me. He stands a reasonable distance away. He glances over my body before opening his mouth.
“Ah yes. That is quite unfortunate. We were taking our morning hike and astonishingly came across this breath taking piece of land. I would wonder why nobody came across this before, but it is quite a hike away from the town. Perhaps if we discus with the elders, we can turn this into some sort of attraction or vacation area for the royals. A fine sum of meat could be awarded.”
“I’d rather not taint this tranquility with those filthy royals, sir.”
I almost spit at him for such a disgusting thought. Who cares about the nature or sight. I’m trying to survive here with Ike.
“Hmm. You should have more respect for the royals. They provide us shelter and maintain order.”
“They keep us around in hopes that one of us are fertile. They just want to use lowly civilians as reproductive slaves in an attempt to prevent human extinction. Ah, but the housing is quite nice. Let us head back then? I apologize. I’ll most definitely share more than half of sum if you will forgive me.”
Hahaha, I have such an interesting imagination. To say such useless nonsense like caring whether the royals use us. Nothing has much value or meaning after the famine. We are all human, and we are all trying to survive. We will lie, and we will deceive. That is as simple as this world is. I approach him with my hand outstretched as a symbol of the old world meaning agreement and peace.
“I suppose so. You do not have to go so far as apologize. I am sure many of us feel the same as you; regardless, meat is meat and we need sustenance.”
My hand firmly grips his. An upward movement then downwards. Traditionally, humans shake twice with the right hand. My grip tightens. My left hand swiftly shoves a rock in his mouth. The grueling sound of his teeth pulverising rings throughout my ears. I would throw away anything for survival back then. Perhaps I need to rest now and leave Ike to grow up into a respectable man unlike myself. Hahaha.
Humming oh blissful tune! Red rust. The scent lingers in the air once again. My heart aches, yet my body shakes with joy because the horrid stench of blood was my survival. Today, I will leave. Today, I will not allow Ike to live with such a disturbing presence any longer. I continually bash at the man’s skull until I am absolutely certain not a soul will spoil Ike’s source of food. My blood soaked face rises slightly. This happened all too quickly for the other man to realize the deed that I have done. I have committed countless sins for myself. I hope a god can forgive me and spare Ike. I hope the blood that stains these grasses does not curse him for the evil deeds I have done. My legs ache and my heart pounds as I lunge towards the other man. The sight is far from clean, but these bodies will be good for the sparse vegetation. My humming finally stops. The sick and twisted tune that rings in my ears stop. So many screams are etched into my mind. My family will surely torture me in the afterlife. I squat down next to Ike in my blood dripped attire.
“I have to leave now, Ike. Any further involvement will taint your existence. It is almost humorous that such a barbaric country that use to eat one’s kin would have such disgustingly high laws of justice based on the old world. By killing those men, I have further decreased humanity’s percentage of avoiding extinction. You understand this yes?”
Ike nods. He seems terrified of me which is not much of a surprise. I had been so kind around him – never showing a sign of violence.
“Okay then. I am quite sure you will grow up to be a fine man. Perhaps you will sleep with one of the royal princesses someday haha… Farewell, Ike.”
A wide smile spreads across my cheeks. Tears seem to be dripping down the boy’s face. He rarely expresses emotion. I am unsure if he will actually miss me, or if he is terrified and confused of what to do now. The present is not the brightest, but I am sure Ike will live a better life than I. I am sure he will survive. For these short days, he will live on soy and practically dirt, but in years to come, the town will surely recognize that this boy is a surviving child from the old world. They will venerate his mere existence. I am just a disgusting man. I have sinned, and I must repent. I have eaten an unholy fruit in times of extreme hunger.
Now the screams of pain reverberate in my head and in the woods. They call out to me. I traverse into the sea of dead trees. Their limbs are crumbling as fungi mercilessly decompose them. I have survived much longer than I deserve. The world is oh so gray. It is filled with ash and the corpses of our deceased generation. In these woodlands, we have hungered. A sharp pain grips my neck. The air can no longer enter nor escape my lungs. The blood of the men mix with my own as I hang. The same smile persists on my face. Oh sister of mine, I can almost see your face full of contempt.