by David Olsson


            “I’m just saying, it leaves something to be desired."

            He gestured with a cleaned bone and drops of sauce flew onto the table. I could barely look at him. “The meat is very unfilling.”

            "Not like dog." I said, gazing at my lap. I hated him, - his bloated appearance, his flamboyant, aristocratic voice - but regular conversation was necessary. It was an unwritten edict, a virtue that separated us from them. Civility and etiquette. God, I hated him.

            Orgasmic ecstasy filled his eyes. "Mmm, dog. How I miss them. Maxwell swears he saw one fishing over the wall the other day.” He drooled over the notion of a decent meal. Admittedly, I did too. I reluctantly stabbed at the morsel on my plate, and lifted a fork-full into my mouth. Each bite tasted of wood and rubber, implanting moral splinters into my unattended gums.

            Hygiene was another rule, but I didn’t bother owning a mirror. I didn’t care how I looked, and neither did they. Besides, the perfect chromaticity of my teeth was the least of my concerns.

            I shook my head at his comment. “The last of them went months ago. Probably a hairy child playing a sick game on all fours.” Even if there were a dog, we wouldn’t be the only ones who wanted it. Plenty of hungry people on the outside who would gladly consume it raw.

            “Or preparing to be mounted,” came the response, loaded down with the utmost of repulsion. The innocence of children was no more. He was right, and it killed me.

            We had shifted into a taboo. Speaking of the outsiders was inadvisable, if you wished to keep your sanity intact. Seamlessly, I transitioned topics. “I haven’t seen Jeremiah around lately. Long-term scavenging mission?”

            “He’s gone. His head got the best of him.” He fuddled around in his pockets, his grimy hands covered in muscle fluids, and found a matchbox. It was getting dark, and there was no electricity. He lit a candle.

            “It was only a matter of time ‘till he figured a way out. He’s always been too smart for us.”

            “Not that head.”

            Clearly no subject was safe.

            There we forty-two men and women here when the walls went up.  They thought they were the smartest, the strongest, the ones who would continue society as they knew it. Some accidents, mishaps in the system, knocked the number down to twenty-seven, and mental deterioration left us with thirteen. Well, twelve, now that Jeremiah’s Neanderthal libido kicked in.

            A few births every now and then kept the count fluctuating, but it wasn’t consistent enough to maintain our numbers. Ernie was the final one born, and that was a good two decades ago. The last woman died back in February-- sterile; so she was useless anyway. All that’s left to do now is to wait until we become extinct. A funny inevitability, since there are so many fertile and willing females just a stone barrier away. Well… not that funny.

            “He’s not like them,” my companion continued on about the turned survivor, finishing the last of his supper, “and even with brains reduced to less than simian capacity, they’ll know it. It’s basic instincts. He’ll score a few times before they do away with him; they see no value in his intellect as we had.” He protruded a certain viciousness as he wiped the crimson juices from his flaccid face. I couldn't help but on some level compare him to the savages he so resented.

            “He was our friend.”

            “And this was America.” The analogy was perhaps a touch too drastic. The former country he spoke of was only barely before my time, but I still understood his point. No way did any civilization capable of naming itself behave like the outsiders did. Or as Jeremiah chose to, which I guess was the point. Damn. He was right again.

            The first six years of my life were spent in a rural village until my family relocated to this enclosed colony. As far as memory and literature display, America wasn’t perfect, but it was an amazing place. Big cities, an established government -- things I used to write fiction of in my younger days. Progressively, the reproduction rate rose extraordinarily, and there just wasn’t enough food or shelter to satisfy the masses. People conflicted over resources. Arguments turned to feuds. Feuds turned to fights. Fights became civil wars, then world wars.

            Russia blamed America, America blamed Germany, Germany blamed whoever they found it politically fit to blame; Africa didn’t have the nuclear arsenal to blame anybody, and China lobbied its funds and escaped into space-- literally. An entire continent gone cosmic. It would have been revered as the greatest scientific achievement in history if there still existed written records to deem it that.

            The damage of the wars was catastrophic. Anyone who wasn’t dead after all that had nowhere to go, nothing to wear, and no supplies to construct or sew. All they had was the skin on their backs, the radiation in their bloodstreams, and the innate need for physical companionship. Sooner or later, that became all they wanted.

            Withholding all subtleties and literary implications, if one were to look off our cozy blockade, they’d see an orgy of skeletal figures gathered around doing nothing but each other. We called them the Id, named after the primal aspect of Sigmund Freud’s psyche structure. It was an appropriate name all things considered, save for the implication that those inside would be representative of the Super-Ego part; the conscious lust for perfection. Deliberately ignoring our own human tendencies just so we could set ourselves to that standard was… super egotistical.

            Our discussion was interrupted. In a way, it was relieving. The dumbwaiter that we used to scale the wall rapidly descended and crashed to the earth. It was too dark to identify the contents by anything more then a deranged roar. The catch of the day, no doubt. Emerging from the blackness was Ernie and another survivor called Mario. Each remained silent as they unloaded their cargo, and carried the squirming silhouette closer and closer until, in the light of the candle, it became visible.

            Naked like all the Id, his skin was dark, his build full and flabby. He screamed incoherently; it was likely he didn’t know a real language. Ernie shoved a taser into his neck, and he calmed. They carried him straight through to the next room without even looking at us. Interaction of any kind may have made the situation feel real.

            "Ooh, exotic, wasn't he?” My dinner mate said with an odd seductiveness. He clearly had no qualms about making another man’s suffering into table talk.

            "Disgusting was the first word in my mind." I spoke more of his treatment then his appearance.

            "How do you suppose he accumulated such mass?" The inquisition was dull and forced. Its purpose was to diminish, rather than enlighten. We both knew the answer.

            "Cannibalism. Probably amounting in the hundreds. Men are the only edibles plentiful enough for binging." I humored his contempt, but the answer left a sick taste in my mouth. It felt as though the contents of my stomach were tearing through my innards, like they had regained life and function and wanted freedom. I swallow the pain.

            "You're very right then. Disgusting." The irony of his hypocrisy was daunting.

            I had wished he was a racist, so his unbridled hatred for the man dragged violently from door to door could find root in some obscene rejection of ethnic difference. Irrational, but familiar. And human. But I knew it was just because we lived in here, and he lived out there. Indiscriminate luck. What a world, wishing for bigotry.

            “Don’t do that.” I had taken silent, and his assertion snapped me back into reality. It was a place I hated. I cocked my head to the side, unaware of which of my actions he considered wrong.

            “Don’t feel bad for it.”

            It. Like he wasn’t even human. He may have been rationalizing, as we both knew what would become of the man in a few minutes. But I knew him better than that. I pitied the outsiders; he treated them like animals. Not like there were any left to apply the word to, unless of course Maxwell really did see that dog.

            “Didn’t you see? They ate his toes off. I’d be a sadist not to feel some degree of sympathy.” I spoke calmly, but my heart was ablaze with as much rage as I could manifest. I despised that his life was one of the sacred few left.

            “Look down at your meal and tell me you feel guilty that it’s keeping you alive.”

            “I do.”

            “Then you are a fool. We ate cows because their meat was plentiful. We drank the milk from their udders. We did this when our economy was prosperous, our resources were abundant and there was room to breathe. But then we ate their meat to the bone and drank their milk dry. We ate our crops into the dirt, we ate the insects that lived in the dirt, and then we ate the dirt. We took the fruits from the trees, then boiled the bark. We choked down stones. We fished the ocean until it became so polluted that every inch of life died, then we went in with our hands to pluck out the remains. We ate our pets and our zoos, until there was nothing left to eat but each other.”

            His face went red, veins bulged from everywhere and he clutched his chest either for dramatic effect or from fatigue.

            “And them, outside!” He continued, gasping, “All they do is hump and moan, because they’ve devolved so much they don’t know any better!  They are not people -- they do not think, they do not hope or feel! They barely live! Days, they spend engaged in animalistic  sexual rampages, shoving every appendage into every hole, without pleasure, without foreplay, eating each other alive as they go, and every nine months spawning a new life, a new meal! It’s sickening!”

            A deafening squeal came from the next room, indicating the outsider was ready to skin. In that same instant, my acquaintance lurched forward and hit the ground pale, dead. I wondered whether it was the surge of emotions that had caused his heart to implode, or, despite his best efforts at repression, the admittance to himself that the plates he had been picking clean were filled with the organs of real men and not just humanoid animals.

            Either way, his death would save us the trouble of catching another outsider. He would be skinned and consumed, probably by this time tomorrow.

            A faint barbarity glimmered inside me. I wanted to be the first one to sink my teeth into his foul, rotting hide.


* * *


            A tea kettle screeched on the stove. Gontier entered from the next room, holding his bathrobe closed. He had left upstairs a very attractive, very smart girl that he had been seeing for the past few months. It was her birthday, and he planned to propose to her. He had dropped the ring off at the bakery yesterday to be put inside her cake. Cliché, but she liked that kind of cheesiness. He poured himself a hot cup to go along with his eggs and bacon.

            Anchormen on the Canadian news channel talked about the latest exploits of some new rock star. Good to see America is no longer interesting to the public, Gontier thought. Waking up to reports of that kind of savagery was very depressing.

            The thought was premature, as just such a report was featured next; a hole was discovered, dug under the titanium borders that separated civilized Canada from brutal America. Initial assumptions were that the publicly deemed ’zombies’ (for lack of a better word) were burrowing over, but reports now confirmed it was merely a pack of stray dogs fleeing the northern country. Gontier scoffed at idiocy the canines, who had likely been consumed by now.

            While the rest of the world blamed each other for the famine and congested masses, Canada made internal efforts to solve the problem. Birth control laws like China -- wherever they were now -- used to have were initiated; the violators were sent over to America. It was the only way to keep order.

            The populace of the southern ally was already so overgrown, the few exiled law breakers were barely even noticed. Sure, Canada could’ve helped them, but the people agreed that there was no reason to suffer for their ignorance. The United States could rot in its own mess.

            On a brighter note, the newsman reported, scientists perfected the replication of strawberries with their infinitely-replenishing element that, with some convoluted equation, emulated specific forms of matter. Another leap ahead Canada took during the wartime; scientific prosperity.

            Strawberries would be nice on the cake, contemplated Gontier. He could pull a few strings with some old friends in high places and get them by tonight.

            He shut off the TV. Outside, he heard kids playing a game, in which they seemingly pretended to be dogs. I wonder if she wants kids, Gontier thought. Or a dog. A house without a dog just … leaves something to be desired.