A Matter of Taste

Copyright 2019 Jeff Buehler - All Rights Reserved

Even though I can no longer smell it, I am surrounded by the scent of blood, death and decay. I'm pretty certain most would agree that this alone would be bad enough, but I am also locked in a cramped closet. And the light given off by my old cell phone is about to go from feeble to gone, leaving me in total darkness. And were I able to still smell it some of the blood I would smell would be my own. Most of the rest was pooled around what was left of my friend Frannie, who being dead was more than likely less concerned about this than I was. And the damned cheap plastic mechanical pencil I am using to write this as a last testimony to how messed up this part of my life has been has an old hard eraser that only works to smear graphite around, and my intuition was that it was close to running out of lead (I know, graphite) all together leaving this, my last earthly endeavor of any arguable worth, almost certain to fail. Am I just being negative – maybe the pencil is half full rather than half empty? How could my intuition tell me such a thing? Well, I have used more mechanical pencils in my relatively short life than you might believe, and I have learned to trust my intuition when it tells me the lead is about to fucking run out. That is, if I outlast it.

However, my real concern... the thing that is making me lose my god damn mind, is the fact that I am starving to death. I don't mean that in the “I am so hungry I am going to go to the fridge and make myself a sandwich before my blood sugar drops any further.” sense, but rather in the “I have lost half my body weight and I am going to die any time now if I don't eat something. Anything.” sense. And this is the answer, in case you wondered, as to why this is written on the inside of the white washed door of this closet. It's true, I did have some blank pages in my journal when I first dragged my then still living friend into this closet several days ago, but I ate it. I also ate the rest of the journal, although the leather cover was extremely hard to chew with all of my missing teeth, and I think the dye they used on it has been making me ill. So in case you aren't connecting the dots yet dear reader, Frannie is starting to look extremely appetizing, and I am not under the illusion that I have anything to cook with in this closet. I don't even have a knife. Perhaps your imagination is kinder to you than mine is, but if not I suggest you ignore it and I will try my damnedest to save that part of the tale until either the lead runs out or I do. I can do at least that much since you have bothered to read this far.

You must be wondering how a clean well spoken specimen of the human condition could find themselves in such a sorry state of affairs. Well, given the fact that if I weren't writing I would almost certainly be eating, I suppose I should tell you.

If you are reading this you are almost certainly aware of what happened throughout the Americas when the crops died. At first it seemed like any other mysterious plant virus, like the sudden Oak Death that struck down oak trees by the thousands in the 1980's. This time it was corn, specifically the GMO corn that had been so kindly provided to us by a corporation that needs no name (since they no longer exist anyway – let's call them Corporation X) out of the kindness of their hearts. We the people had accepted the GMO crops, and most of the traditional strains of corn had gone the way of the dinosaur, so when the virus struck (h67 or something) the GMO crops had no resistance and simply died off at a rate that shocked everyone. No one was particularly worried at that point, but when the virus spread and mutated to pretty much every crop and finally plant known to man things started to look considerably more fucking dark. Corporation X was somewhat apologetic, and had every intention of creating resistant crops, but they never really had the chance to fix anything.

The virus as I understand it mucks with energy synthesis in a plant - you remember this from 4th grade, right? Photosynthesis? It turns out they wanted us to know all about photosynthesis so that when the scientists screwed it up we would know what they were talking about. The virus spreads in the pollen of the host plant, and it can also go dormant, encapsulating itself in a perfect shell that effectively poisoned the soil. In it's dormant form the virus can survive for about nine years, which as it turns out is plenty long enough. As the plants died off, huge dust storms rapidly carried the virus all over the states, and then it mutates, and then mutates again.

Even the algae died off, rapidly destroying the marine food chain. Mushrooms are unaffected, and a few other fungi. It turns out there just isn't enough fungi to go around, and it doesn't really provide you with the recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals to keep your average Joe working for the man (especially once the man ceases to exist). I'm pretty sure I have eaten more mushrooms in the last year than in all the rest of my lives put together. Some palmist told me once I was an old soul so that must mean something, right? I mean, I might have been a Russian or German starvation statistic that survived on nothing but mushrooms for years and that still wouldn't even touch this.

I hate mushrooms even more now than I did when they came on my steak.

Human beings are adaptable, and hard to kill. Huge hydroponic farms sprouted up from the ashes, imports of virus free crops came in from Mexico and other parts of the world, at least for awhile (last I heard the virus was pretty much global). The governments in the Central and South Americas mostly did little, while Canada and the US rapidly mobilized and made a huge costly production that ultimately amounted to almost nothing aside from it's undeniable value as entertainment. As you also probably know, unless you are one of those rampant optimists that I will always envy, human beings are also pernicious scumbags that tend to get downright mean when they get hungry or feel threatened. The few real efforts to solving the problem were destroyed before they had a chance to make much difference, and in the states at least society devolved into chaos and anarchy. Not the kind of anarchy I had always wanted, one driven by a strong sense of personal liberty, responsibility and empowerment, but the bad kind. Well, not just bad, lets call it what it was: completely and utterly fucked. Worse than my worst nightmares before that time. Not all humans were awful when they started to starve, but those who weren't died first.

So the potential for food production was wrecked because those with good intentions and the means to make a difference failed to adequately protect their solutions, the existing food supplies were aggressively guarded and aggressively attacked, and government, despite it's efforts to keep its populations entertained, had little impact. No one could seem to keep the virus out of the soil. Within about two years of the h67 virus' introduction to the food crops, protein (outside the domain of the family pet) was available only to the very rich. Two years after that fiat currency in the Americas began a permanent cascading collapse. Four years after that, well, the effect on what were the rich was illustrated well in spray paint on a wall outside a public library in San Francisco where I live – it shows a limousine with its rear door open. Inside, a man in a suit can be seen tearing apart what appears to be a small dog, or a cat, or a rat, with his teeth and hands. Of course, this is ridiculous – no one by this time was able to get enough gas to justify a limo, and frankly I hadn't seen any dogs, cats or rats in more than a year by then.

Wait, there's a noise outside the closet. Shhhh. Shhhh.

Outside my door, I think they dragged away one of the carcasses. It's hard to tell, everything sounds so hungry to me right now. Wait, I didn't tell you about them, I know. I know. Patience. Don't use your imagination, I will tell you. I will tell you, but not yet. My lead (dammit graphite I know!) is still flowing like sweet silence. Shhhh.

I think I went out for a bit, sorry. I was talking about something. I guess it's all information you must know, unless you are an alien archaeologist that has managed to translate our English scrawl into something intelligible. I would kill for coffee and a bagel. Really. Translate that you egg headed well fed alien thing. But I digress again.

So things went to shit, and not just a little shit but one that just won't get flushed. I think everyone was surprised, even those of us that knew everything was less stable than met the eye. I figured the government food supplies would feed the population for more than a couple of months, and also it just made sense to me that I could go find some land and grow some food myself if things ever got bad. It never occurred to me that the soil might be poisoned by a virus so virulent, so destructive, that nothing would grow right.

I read an article about a five years ago on the internet when it was still up (there hasn't been a book or magazine published in quite a few years that I am aware of) that was a projection of the viral impact on plant life and oxygen production globally. I hate to admit that I take some pleasure in the fact that there probably won't be enough oxygen to support mammal life soon unless something changes. With the algae gone, and everything else that produces oxygen either dead or on it's way there, a lot depends on the trees – they are the slowest to die off. It seems if they can continue to produce enough oxygen through the nine year dormancy of the virus, the earth may be able to regenerate itself when the virus dies off. The only other possibility (outside of the “miracle” of science, the same “miracle” that got us into this I assume), is that plants with very short life spans may suddenly decide to rapidly adapt to the virus. Either way it looks very likely that humans won't make it, or if they do only in the smallest of groups. Given what I have seen over the last three years I can comfortably say that this is a good thing. So I take some pleasure in that.

I just checked the pencil lead. I have maybe 2 inches left, so this being my last in a long series of useless endeavors I am going to write light and easy. By now you may think I have very little to say... just a testimony to the bitching and whining everyone else would be indulging themselves in if they were too squeamish, or gave too little a shit about being here, to eat their friends. Yes, every word keeps me from an act both reprehensible and ultimately useless. I find myself praying that I die writing before I eat despite the inevitability that tomorrow there will be no food. Food. I am so hungry. I would never take food from someone elses mouth... I have proven that time and again over the last several years. I have also been certain that I would never eat human flesh. My conviction on that point is being sorely tested.

When the riots started, I holed up in my apartment as much as possible until they mostly stopped for lack of interest or energy. Eventually when I couldn't get food (thank God fresh water wasn't much of a problem – by some miracle most of the taps have kept flowing) I joined up with a group of people who were able to grow a wide variety of fungi in a cooperative that also defended itself well. I added my guns to the communal collection, my ammunition, and my sparkling personality, and we all ate fungi and nutritional supplements (a lot of vitamin C had been collected to fight off scurvy) until we ran out of pretty much everything other than the mushrooms. A lot of people spent most of their time high on psychedelic mushrooms – why not? I took a couple of trips down the rabbit hole myself, but then this French guy Davide was found with a swollen black tongue hanging out of his mouth, as dead as it gets, and we realized he had somehow eaten a toxic mushroom. This was unfortunate because Davide was our resident specialist in mushroom cultivation. He went to good use as fertilizer, but by this time everyone was starting to show signs of scurvy. Everyone in our little commune of 16 people was malnourished before they even started growing the mushrooms. I had lost three teeth, which I should have been glad about because now I think I only have about three teeth left.

Anyway, when the scurvy set in and Davide died everyone just started sort of going away. I hung about with Frannie, who might have been cute when she had access to food but now was just another wraith like the rest of us. I liked having her around even though we almost never talked. Mostly we just sat around, occasionally getting up energy to cook and babble when the random cat or dog was discovered and promptly butchered. I found a dehydrator in an empty apartment and all I can say is don't knock dog or cat jerky until you have tried it. I actually cried once. It tasted that good... or it might have been because of the tooth I swallowed that came loose trying to tear a piece of it off so that I could chew it. At this point though I prefer my animal flesh freshly cooked so that I can actually choke it down.

What was I talking about? It's quiet outside. They must be sleeping, but I don't dare leave this closet. If I don't leave this closet, I am going to die. If I leave it, I will anyway, but it will be worse. Which reminds me, I was going to tell you about them. As if you don't already know! Even if you have been lucky enough not to come across the cannibals, which is unlikely, you must have guessed that that would happen, right? I mean, I did – my friends in our little commune and I talked about it all the time. Christ, when Davide died most everyone there practically started salivating. It took all of five minutes before that was the only thing anyone wanted to talk about, was how awful it was to think about eating Davide but then, well, how about it? Why don't we? I pointed out that his blackened and swollen tongue was not a good sign regarding the toxicity of his meat at present, and that seemed to convince people that eating him was probably not the right thing to do, you know, from a moral standpoint. And I remember thinking people were unbelievably transparent about their self-serving manipulations back when everyone ate well.

We knew they were out there, after a while. I remember reading about famines that affected massive populations, such as China and Russia, and how cannibalism had become commonplace for some period of time. There were some organized efforts to stop it, but they were mostly weak attempts at best. After all, entire populations were starving, just as they are now in the good old U S of A. So a lot of us were guessing, before the scurvy had really set in, that some of those who left the safe confines of our little apartment building were not returning because they were simply getting eaten by some of the roving bands of people we occasionally saw on the outside (and hid from, of course).

Here's the thing, though. We knew that there were people who had resorted to cannibalism. We saw signs, and simple guess work was enough to let us know it was inevitable. What we didn't know, and what I still can't figure out, is why some of those people are behaving as if they are no longer human at all. Not because they have become such savages... that I would expect, but because they are doing things no human should be able to do. I watched one of them leap across two rooftops less than a week ago, but not adjacent rooftops. Across the street – I don't know how many feet that is, but no one can do that. It's at least fifty or sixty feet. Humans just can't do that. Jim was another friend of ours in the commune. Sometime in the last couple of days, I can't really remember when, I watched a woman rip his arm off while he was still trying to use it. Jim was weak, skeletal even, but this lady was no bigger than 5 feet 5 inches tall, and maybe topped out at 110 pounds. She ripped Jims arm clean off him like it was tissue paper, and that was after she smashed through our solid wood front door with her bare hands. He was sort of trying to hold her back with it, so I guess she just decided to get rid of the obstacle preventing her from chewing his face off, which as it turns out was her next target. At least she didn't beat him to death with his own arm... I just don't need the agony of trying to keep myself from laughing about something like that right now.

I remember some of the stories about Wendigo, some Native American Indian creature that cannibalized humans, and how, after being forced into cannibalism themselves, humans could become Wendigo. It makes me wonder how much of that must have been going around at the time for them to have such a well formed story about it. Anyway I recall that with every chunk of flesh consumed the Wendigo got hungrier for human flesh, and stronger from it. Not just because of the increased nutrition, mind you, but enhanced, like it was taking the victims soul and energy into itself or something. Maybe that’s what is happening. I don't know. I guess maybe it doesn't matter much at this point. Maybe they are fucking aliens that look like people and they planted the virus, not Corporation X at all. All I know is that if one of them gets it's paws on me, I'm lunch... or is it dinner time?

Stomach cramps are killing me, but I don't want to make any noise. I'm not so far gone that I haven't considered that if I were to actually, well, eat Frannie, that I might get all supernaturally pumped up like our friends and have some slim chance of surviving this shitty day in a year of shitty days. Of course I've though about that. Frankly eating her seems far more appealing from the standpoint of making my damn stomach stop cramping and to satisfy this unbearable hunger. When I think about turning into some sort of monster it just leaves me feeling even sicker. I don't know if I have a soul, I really don't, but on the off chance that I do I'd rather not soil it by turning into a crazed human flesh eating killing machine. For fuck's sake.

Want to hear something funny? When that crazy witch tore through our front door, and Jim thought he might do something heroic for a change, I had exactly one thing in my pockets. A small blister pack of salt... the kind you used to get with cheap deli meals. It's still there – I can feel it. I was saving it and I didn't want one of my fellow mushroom eaters to steal it from me, so I had it in my pocket.

The crazy bat shit cannibal lady smacked Frannie so hard that she was picked up off the couch she was sitting on with her mouth hanging open, and flew about four feet to the left into the lamp and side table we had there. Then the bitch grabbed me when I was trying to scramble into a back room of our place here and slammed me against a wall hard enough that I really thought she had broken my neck. I woke up a while later in a pile with Frannie next to me mumbling something about how she always liked me and would I get her the hell out of here please. Next to her Jim was bleeding, or bled, out, and on my other side was Joaquin that asshole who did nothing but lie in his bed all day and stare at the ceiling, still lying around I see. Asshole. I'm pretty sure Joaquin was dead given the way he stared at the wall – he never did that. Just the ceiling.

I couldn't actually walk. Whatever Wendigo lady had done to me had messed me up badly. Frannie couldn't move at all – I think her spine was broken. Looking around I figured I had no chance of getting out of the apartment, even alone. My higher education degrees informed me that our aggressive avon lady was going to come back for snacks, and this was the collection room. So I saw Joaquins closet (this had been his suite) and figured I would drag my sorry ass in there and try and pretend like I didn't exist. What a joke – our gourmet guest tore our front door apart like it was nothing. She will see Frannie's trail of blood to the closet and open the door any time she wants. I'm in here being as quiet as I can hoping that she will, what? Leave me alone? Change her mind because the door is too much effort? I don't even remember dragging Frannie in with me, but I know one of two things is true: Either my subconscious was heroic to a fault and dragged her along in some futile effort to help her, or my subconscious was very, very hungry. I don't really care to explore which of these is more likely at the moment.

So I'm almost out of pencil. A last thought then that I just have to share. Perhaps I used to read too much, or, more likely, I just chose the wrong things to read, but another of my recollections is that in cannibalistic social environments preferences inevitably developed. I can't recall the details, thank Jehovah, but it was common for many to prefer the meat of children, followed by women and then finally men. So maybe if I were not to eat Frannie, then the monster, or monsters, out there would satisfy themselves with her first, being the tastier, and give me a head start out the front door. Or maybe out Joaquin's window and three stories down, which is starting to sound pretty good. Maybe, but then I've got this salt in my pocket, I'm starving to death and going out with something in my stomach doesn't sound all that bad. And Frannie was sort of cute, and since I could never eat a child, well, this is the best human flesh I will ever get, right?

It figures that the last decision I will ever make, when it comes down to it, is just a matter of taste.