Before last week, Mohamed considered himself to be a great chef.
Why lie? He still considered himself to be one. A great butcher, and an even greater chef. Who else in the colony could mask the taste of something considered so taboo? And to do so and receive compliments? Praise for keeping two dozen people fed? They would all tap their fingers on the cafeteria tables, watching the steaming plates come out with hungry eyes, even going as far as to ask for seconds.
Only a great chef could do it. Mohamed cleaned the blood off his cleaver, then began the task of sharpening it. The supply runners would be bringing in the next meal in a few hours and a dull cleaver could make an inexact cut—and, like always, everything would have to be perfect. A great chef could afford no less.
He wiped down the tables the runner’s had placed in the prison’s freezer. A great chef always kept a clean station. Some of the frozen puddles of blood required him to scrub hard with warm disinfectant, then wash over twice with sanitizer. They wouldn’t run out of either solution—the prison’s cleaning cabinets had been stocked to last years. The freezer fans started up again, drowning out Mohamed’s humming as he worked. The kind supply runners had brought him a jacket fit to last in the arctic. He could spend the day in the freezer without ever feeling a chill.
The bottom right latch on table had been torn from last night’s meal. He would need to get that fixed before they arrived. A great butcher couldn’t be kicked at while preparing, could he? A loose hand, skin colored a grayish blue, sprawled out against the table leg. Mohamed picked it up and tossed it into a trash bag. The supply runners would bury the bag at night while the colony slept.
He had to be a great butcher, and a greater chef, all for the colony. The men, women, and children relied on him. They lived in a constant fear of the broken world and when their walls would fall. The least he could do is prepare them a good meal and leave them sleeping with a full stomach, couldn’t he?
It had been easier before when the supply runners brought in cans of corn and peas. Jars of peanut butter and boxes of saltine crackers. Bulk packages of Kraft Dinner. Even better when they could snag a deer or an elk and drag it into the freezer. He could make meals out of that as easy as he could snap his fingers—far easier than butchering a live human corpse.
But times became tough. A store that didn’t restock quickly went empty, and a dangerous world left wildlife a rarity. The colony did set up a farm. They divided the prison’s yards into wonderful fields of crops that could, according to the guides, be harvested throughout the season. Yet, pests came and went, leaving the crop field a dying hope. No members of the colony had experience in the trade and they had to restart from scratch.
After winter, that is. The world left the idea of livestock something to laugh of. The supply runners, armed with prison gear, needed a new way to feed the people. And what did great men do when times became tough?
Great men changed.
He ran a new belt through the table’s loops just as the supply runners came in with the night’s meal. The freezer door locked, the fans going quiet, a squirming man attempting to cry through the duct tape plastered around his mouth. Mohamed figured the man weighed about a hundred and twenty pounds and would graciously feed the colony for the days to come.
Paired with the prison’s leftover pasta, it could make for another great meal.
The cleaver came up, then down above the man’s hamstring. No screams could be heard through the thick, padded walls of the freezer. Mohamed sawed the cleaver just above the man’s knee, cutting through bone like one would cut through a steak. Blood splattered onto his apron. He skinned the leg clean, then tossed it into a basket. Dinner would be in hours from now—he had time and more to prepare.
Thinking of which, he still had to preheat the ovens.
Once the kitchen had been set, pasta boiling in stainless steel pots, he walked back into the freezer to finish carving out meat for the night’s meal, and enough for the days to come. It wouldn’t have to be done all in one sitting—the meat hooks in the freezer were there for a reason after all, but time didn’t concern him today. The sun shined through the barred windows. Children laughed as they threw snowballs at one another.
He washed down the body as he best he could, then chopped with the cleaver in one hard motion above the man’s armpit, straight into the shoulder, steady through bone. Delicate enough to ensure he wouldn’t bleed out. Mohamed drew lines with a marker an inch or so above the man’s wrists. None would want to eat the hand, would they? He laughed at the thought. The cleaver broke through the wrist bone with ease.
Between gutting, preparing the pasta sauce, disposing of the corpse and seasoning the meat, Mohamed found himself tired. Life before had been so simple, a butcher in the morning and a chef for his family in the evening. Now he worked to feed over two dozen people a day.
The dinner bell rung and he served out bowls of pasta along plates of fresh meat. Cuts from the quadriceps that could be passed off as well dressed pork that their hunters managed to snag. The supply runners sneaked behind him—always timid to speak with their chef—to fetch his apron and wash it off.
Men and women laughed at the cafeteria tables as they tore through their meals. One proposed a toast to the man who worked the kitchen alone, speaking of how nice a full meal was after a hard day’s work. Others agreed and raised their glasses.
Just as the people of the colony did, Mohamed considered himself to be a great chef.