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Famine: Revised

He was handsome.

It was a very subtle thing, yet his symmetrical features shyly peaked through the dingy and threadbare beard that clung to his face in wisps of what could only be described as chestnut strands. The hat didn’t aid his appearance. Its pale blue bill, the generic color they use on children’s blankets, casts shadows over his forehead, creating the illusion of pockmarked skin. Or perhaps that was real.

It didn’t matter, she decided. He was still handsome.

She sat at a table covered in vinyl in the only diner this side of the South Dakota Badlands.  The food was awful. The company was transitory.

She liked it that way.

Tilting her head softly to the right, she smiled at him, signaling that she was ready to give her order whenever he was ready to receive it. He walked over immediately, enthusiastically even. She hoped this was the case.

“I missed you yesterday,” he stated as soon as his feet reached the black tiled square in front of her table.

“You just missed my tips,” she said.

He smiled, shaking his head left and right in dismissal of her friendly accusation.

“No, I missed you” he said quietly. As a small red flush crept up his neck, he asked “Anyway, the usual?”

She nodded, placed her elbows on the table, and threaded her fingers together as she rested her chin on them.  Watching him walk away, she smiled again. She liked him.

She shouldn’t.  Attachments brought questions she didn’t have the desire to answer.

Glancing around the diner, she waited for him to place her order and bring back her customary cup of coffee. No milk. Three sugars.  The faces were familiar to her, Wayne from Wayne and Sons, one of the teachers from the local elementary, the widow Gregory, and a few other faces she knew without names.  Worry licked through her body and she felt beads of sweat collecting on the smooth shades of leather that painted her forehead. What day was it? Sunday? No, no, it was Saturday, she hadn’t missed him coming yet. The earlier worry switched to irritation. She should have thought about this. Travelers don’t travel on Saturday, their destinations momentarily reached.

She’d have to make due with someone already here.  There was no time to look through the shaded alleyways for the ideal candidate; she’d have to start preparing soon.

“Wool gathering?” He had entered her vision suddenly, causing her to flinch and draw back. “Didn’t mean to scare you,” he quickly added upon seeing her reaction. “You just looked wrapped up in something.”

She nodded and muttered a soft apology for over reacting.

“Thanks” she muttered before quickly adding, “for the coffee.”

“That’s my job.” They stared at each for a moment before she averted her gaze, searching the diner for someone she could manage.  He hovered, shifting his weight from one foot to another as his hands gripped the fabric of the apron.

“So listen” he tentatively started. She returned her evaluating gaze from the diner patrons to his face.

“Hmm?”

“Would you maybe like to hang out tonight?” She could tell from the jerky movements of his throat that he was nervous. Apprehensive even. She liked this, liked him. He stared at her as she thought over her answer, a refusal rolling around on her tongue as she thought of her obligations tonight, her solitary burden.

Allowing her eyes to move back over the diner patrons, she scanned each face acutely aware of the man holding his breath next to her. Finding no suitable alternatives she knew her answer would be yes. A pit of sadness entered her stomach as she spoke the agreement, his eagerness doing little to dampen the feelings of resentment, of hatred.  She wasn’t sure if this sudden feeling was directed at him, or was a result of what he was now forcing her to do.

In a final and repetitive searching glance, she let her eyes shift around the diner for a substitute choice.  There was no one.  He was a regrettable assurance.

Her attentions shifted focus as her food arrived. Two waffles and a side of bacon that was crispy to the point of being burnt. Her favorite. There was no use fretting about it, she thought; it was better than being the alternative herself.  He hovered at the edge of the table rambling on about all the fun and adventurous things they could do on their date, putt-putt, the movies, or perhaps maybe ice cream.  She nodded respectfully at his plans before submitting one of her own, “Why don’t you just come over to my house?”

He paused, seemingly alarmed by the intimacy her comment implied. She held his gaze, softening her eyes to appear inviting. He gulped. It was nothing too pronounced, just a small tick that signaled his desire to assent, which he did.

“Perfect. There’s a lush pink tree growing onto the side of my house. Follow the stone path out of the town a bit to the east. I’m about half a mile past the house with the faded red plow out front.  Just yell if you have problems. I’ll probably hear you.”

“No problem,” he responded. “What time should I come over?”

Finding the sun as she glanced out the window, her fork impaling a portion of waffle as she lifted it to her lips, “Come around dusk.”

He nodded.

She wished again the he wasn’t handsome.

“I’ll look forward to it.”

His shoes squeaked on the checkered tile as his walked back towards the kitchens, his shoulders back with newfound confidence.

She began to eat her waffle in contemplation, listing the things she needed to do before his arrival. A silent routine that forced her to steel her resolve against the flood of self-hatred that pushed at the back of her throat. She hated this. She hated it.

 

Later that evening she stood in front of the window of her one-room shack watching the sunset flare up with purple and orange as it began to kiss the horizon. She lived on the outskirts of town, the lush pink tree the only sign of life in sight. Her house looked abandoned, and the few townspeople that recognized her just thought she was homeless. She preferred it that way.  It prevented unnecessary visitors and well-wishing neighbors.

Movement along the slender stone path caught her attention and a moment of panic seized her. Not yet, she thought. It’s too early for him. Smoothing the front of her well-washed dress, she saw the young waiter coming up the walk. She could see his need to walk fast and his equal desire to appear casual. It was a shame she liked him.

Reaching the door, he confidently hit his knuckles against the wooden frame, shifting his body backwards to wait for her response.  She called out for him to come in. He did so tentatively, as if the door and the house would come crumbling down if he didn’t walk softly. In greeting she pointed to the small table that she had scavenged off the side of the road. She hesitated, hoping he had not left the table on the street first.  She hadn’t thought about that, about the feeling of embarrassment her home might cause her.  She never had visitors; at least, she never had visitors whom she cared about. This deviation from routine would be unacceptable in the future.

Upon seeing no look of recognition, she smiled and said, “I made dinner. I hope you haven’t eaten already.”

He looked ecstatic. “I actually haven’t, so I am just fine stuffing my face with all this food.”

“Oh good,” she responded. Gesturing for him to take a seat as she did the same.  “I hope you like everything. I wasn’t sure what you would eat and all…” her sentence trailed off as she began scooping some of the beef stew onto her plate, “some people are vegetarians and all.” He smiled reassuringly, and noticing her actions, he shirked off his jacket, rolled up the sleeves of his stark white shirt, and began placing a generous helping of cooked carrots and mashed potatoes onto his plate.

They ate in silence for a while, and after eating her fill, she glanced up quickly to sneak a look at his face. He was handsome.  Against the stone backdrop of this forgotten house, he looked like he belonged. They always did. But this time, she thought she might actually mean it.

In the end she realized that she didn’t mean it, or maybe wasn’t even sure she was capable of meaning that anymore.  The time in the house had confused her. It, the creature had confused her. When she had arrived at the seemingly abandoned house five years ago, it had called to her with a voice that sounded like her mothers.  She had gone to the sound, but the tall frame with skin stretched across its ribs bit into her flesh as she approached.  She was being hunted in a territory marked as his.  But the caves on his stomach said he was hungry, the house was to far out to bring much prey she guesses.  So she had bartered, and now he had her scent.  She wouldn’t get that far if she tried to leave.

Glancing at the clock she willed it to move faster. She could hear the young man’s saliva swishing in his mouth as he roughly swallowed, see the crumbs slowly falling from his orifices as he wiped his sleeve across his chafed lips. He blinked, and she watched as his lids fell in loud successions as they moved up and down.

Scratching the skin lining the back of her hand she looked for the timepiece again.  It was taking to long, he had been here to long.  Returning her gaze to him, she watched as his tongue slowly flicked across the silver spoon, leaving a trail of spit across the polished frame.

It was a mistake to bring him inside, to try and assuage her guilt.

Silently, she got up and stood in front of the door. It was practiced. The kind of movement that was natural and yet foreign, as if some unknown presence controlled her movements.  Glancing up from his plate, confusion splayed across his features.

“Are you going outside?” he asked. She nodded in response, waiting for the moment where she would reach her long fingers towards the doorknob. It was brass and it was cold to the touch.

She waited.

He sat at the table staring at her, unsure of what to make of her caution as she stood rigidly in front of the door.

She heard it then, the small rustle of the pink tree. Its leaves shriveling into themselves as the creatures tall frame passed in front of the house that was marked in writing as his. Instinctively, she turned around and smiled invitingly, before slipping out the front door. She slid quietly along the side of the house, hiding in the pools of darkness created by the tree.

She held her breath and listened.  She could here the young waiter calling out to her from the doorframe. The puzzlement was evident in his voice, as well as something else, panic. She had born witness to this before.

And then she heard it. It was soft at first, playful and warm in the next breath.

“Over here” it called in a voice that could have been her own. “Come out and join me.”

The blackness surrounding the house made the young man hesitate, as he gingerly let one foot step out of the safety of the house and into the night.

“Where are you?” he shouted, attempting to search along the stone path for her.

It called to him again, “I’m over here!” followed by a light giggle, a habit she had never been partial to.

It was her voice, and yet it wasn’t. She stood silent on the side of the house under the pink tree, that goddamn pink tree.  She saw it then. It stretched out to its full height on the path, its body lanky and firm, as it waited for the young man. Opening its mouth it called out again. Using her voice she saw it lure the young man with promises of forbidden and enticing encounters in the dark. Its voice – her voice – was full of promise. She envied that voice. Envied the promises she couldn’t give, that she no longer cared to give.

The young man called out again, and then there was nothing. She closed her eyes, forcing herself to listen to the pregnant silence she was responsible for.  The creature had accepted her gift. Accepted the sacrifice she had given it.  Sitting under the obscure canopy of the tree she whispered the creatures name, “Witako,” as it passed by her hiding spot. The lifeless body of the young waiter dragged carelessly behind it, creating smooth trenches in the dirt as his white shirt became stained with the red clay infesting the soil.

She tried to remember the waiters voice, his clothing, and his mother’s name, although no images or words surfaced.

She could only remember that he had been handsome. She thought that with each victim she cared a little less after it was done.  Maybe she would become the hunter.

Walking back into the house, she quietly bolted the door behind her, taking comfort in the soft click that alerted her to its complete closure.

There’s a comfort in the silence.

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