I do not know how long it takes for a person to perish under the conditions that we found ourselves in that winter, but I would guess that we were not far from meeting our maker. It was a mistake to try and cross those lands so late in the year. I know that now. I should have known it then. Only fools would have done what we did. Can you imagine being so sure of something that you would bet your life on it?
We weren’t any more than eighty miles from our destination before the snow began to fall. Winter had found us and with it came death. What once was a passable mountain trail quickly turned to thick sheets of ice beneath our feet and we no longer measured the snow in inches. Though we fought against it, we were unable to press on and had no choice but to wait out the harsh season right there in those hills. The cabin that we found ourselves held up in had been knocked together by pioneers of earlier years and was hastily crafted out of pine logs. It had a dirt floor and a poorly constructed flat roof that leaked as if it were by design. There were no windows, but we did not need to look outside to know what waited for us there. Some days it snowed so much we weren’t able to go out at all.
Most of the livestock and the supply we had brought back with us from Fort Blake had been lost on the trail. Wild game was scarce and when we finally exhausted what little food was left we began to prey on the mice that wandered in to take shelter from the unrelenting snows. It wasn’t until we resorted to picking apart, roasting up, and eating the ox-hide rug that lay in front of the fireplace that Patrick suggested making a meal of my dog. I am sure that was not the first time he thought about it, but it was the first time he was hungry enough to make it known.
Charlie had been with me since he was a puppy and was probably the only true friend that I ever had in this word. The mere mention of trading his life for mine sent waves of anger deep into my soul. I made sure to keep him close after that, especially at night. You cannot trust the hungry. I would rather have died right there with him in my arms than have extended my life by a few meals knowing what I did to him. I couldn’t believe that my husband had asked me to do such a thing. Charlie was my baby and he wasn’t the one who led us to our graves. It wasn’t Charlie’s fault we were there.
The first full day we went without eating anything at all wasn’t as bad as one might think. There was something almost euphoric about it. Days two and three were even bearable to say the least. We mostly slept. It wasn’t until day six that I began to think more seriously about what Patrick suggested we do with dear old Charlie.
“Alright” I said to Patrick. And he knew what I meant.
I grabbed the Sharps rifle down from its rack then the three of us walked out back behind the cabin. I knelt down to kiss Charlie on the head and he licked my face.
“I love you so much, Charlie boy” I said
“You ain’t gonna be able to do it if you wait any longer” Patrick said
I did not respond, but I knew that he was right. If I didn’t do it then I never would. I took a few deep breaths to steady my nerves then raised my rifle and pulled the trigger. The look in his eyes was that of confusion. I do hope that he can forgive me for trading his life for ours.
“I’m sorry” I told him, and then began to butcher the body. I thought of moving him farther away from the cabin, but I could not find the strength.
He had kept us in meat for almost five weeks, just long enough to wait out the snow. There were some days that I felt that I could accept what I had done, but other days the thought of him filling my belly haunted me. For a while I was sure that I could still hear him pacing the floors at night. Sometimes I think I still do.
With each passing meal I inched closer to insanity. I couldn’t decide what bothered me more, the fact that I had eaten him or the fact that I liked the way that he tasted. It reminded me so much of pork that I started to fantasize about all the different ways I could cook him up. I imagined what seasonings I might use and what side dishes he would pair best with.
The first meal that I made of him we pretended was pork chops. That’s what I pretended anyway. I imagined that I served him up with roasted potatoes and onions and a big bowl of sweet peas. It was easier for me that way; at least I think it was.
Several seasons have passed since that long winter and I no longer have to imagine my food as something different. I still do though. Tonight I am making us real pork chops with all the fixings, but it just doesn’t smell the same. I think about maybe trying that strange meat again one day, but I am afraid that the two of us will make a habit of it.
As we sat down for dinner I poked at the meat on my plate and thought about that first unholy meal. I remember being surprised at the time by how much he tasted like pork. Patrick always was a pig though, so I guess it made sense that he tasted like one too.