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Thriller Historical Fiction Suspense

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

It’s difficult to forget what human flesh tastes like once you’ve had a bite. It’s not the uniqueness of the flavor or the texture that made the meal remarkable but the forbidden act of chewing and swallowing a chunk of someone’s forearm. The smell, the similarity to beef, the way it felt when it traveled down his stomach would be seared into Mr. Chen’s mind for eternity. 

Ever since he lost his vision, Mr. Chen’s memories had become even more vivid than before. In his hospital room, he’d spend every waking hour mumbling to himself, lost in his past. He was only silent during meal times, where he devoured every last morsel of whatever was fed to him by his nurse, Clara. “You have quite the appetite,” she joked, mostly to herself. Then, she’d slip a spoonful of stew into his gaping mouth. 

There was a time food did not come so easily to Chen. After the civil war, a drought took a toll on his village and food became scarce. Chen’s watchmaking business took a huge hit as even his wealthiest customers stopped frequenting his shop. “Who wants clocks or watches at a time like this? All we can do is count the remaining seconds of our suffering lives.” said his dejected partner and salesman, Min. 

Young Chen did his best to find food for his wife and son. Though, at that time he was a capable man, he was merely a watchmaker in the midst of a famine. Eventually, like many others in his village, his family resorted to eating grass and dirt around their home. “What are eyes for,” Chen would often ask himself, “when all I can do is watch my family wither away?”

His son, Bowen, was the first to go. When he took his last breath, his once-full cheeks were sunken in. Chen’s wife, Hua, had spared every bit she had to their only child, but it wasn’t enough growing for a twelve-year-old boy. Hua had also remained brave and cheerful for Bowen, attempting to distract him from his hunger with songs, stories and games. Now, with him gone, she would not leave her room. Chen could hear her sobbing as he left the house that evening to bury their son.

There was no moon in the sky when Chen made his way to the cemetery which was now disheveled with rotten carcasses lying out in the open.He found an empty patch of earth, laid his son next to him and began to dig. 

“That’s a nice spot.” 

Chen looked up to see Min, his old salesman who also had a body with him — his oldest daughter. 

“Yeah,” Chen replied softly, “Bowen passed this morning.”

Min just nodded. He began to dig a hole about a meter away. Even at a distance, Chen could hear the man’s stomach rumbling. He looked so gaunt. It was no wonder, though. Min had three children to feed instead of one. 

All of a sudden, Min stopped and just stared at the body. “It’s food,” he whispered. 

Chen paused his own digging to look at his old friend. “What did you say?”

“The skin on our children is still meat,” Min said a bit louder, frenzied with grief and starvation.

Chen understood but could not believe his ears. “No, Min. You can’t eat her. She’s your child!”

“I know I can’t! I couldn’t! But what else can I do? The rest of my family will die the same way she did.” 

Chen had no answer. No good argument to respond to Min’s desperation because he, too, shared that desperation. 

Minutes passed before Min said, “Would you like her?” I’ll take the boy. They’d just rot here anyways. You feed your wife with my Mei Mei and — "

“Absolutely not! That’s immoral, inhumane. How could you even think to say that?” 

“Please,” begged the salesman. “My sons, my wife, me. We all deserve to live, even if it makes me a monster. Morality is worth as much as clocks and watches right now. Please…”

Chen peered down at his son’s face, hoping to find a dignified answer there. Nothing but death —a death caused by hunger — stared back. So the watchmaker looked up at the moonless sky which was now sprinkled with stars. Oh sentient beings, he pleaded, what else can I do? 

The stars simply twinkled far out of reach — full of life, hope and sustenance. All the things Chen did not have. 

He looked back down at Min.

“Okay,” was all he could muster. 

Though his starving wife was surprised at the sight of a meat stew, she could not bring herself to eat it at first. The pain of her son’s death overshadowed even the most famished of appetites. Similarly, Chen hesitated to eat, but for a variety of reasons. Fear, repulsion and guilt were at the forefront of his emotions. Butchering the girl was the worst task he’d ever done in his life. However, hunger got the best of both husband and wife. 

“This is delicious,” Hua said between slurps. “Where in the world did you get it?” 

“Traded,” he mumbled. To his relief, she didn’t press. 

That was far from the last time, Chen and his wife consumed human meat. Min, now a skilled butcher, went to the cemetery every midnight to dig for fresh bodies. The happy faces on his well-fed children wiped away any guilt he had about his cannibalism. 

Chen, who was also glad to feel nourished again, joined in on the nightly hunts. However, unlike Min, he continued to feel the shame. He was eating the families of his neighbors while everyone else in town starved to death. So to compromise his immorality, he did the only thing he could. He started giving human meat to other people in the community. “What they don’t know won’t kill them,” he consoled himself, “but hunger will.” 

During the next three months, Min and Chen gave to many grateful families. Min butchered and Chen went door to door, feeding them not only meat, but also plenty of lies. 

“Min and I travel very far north each week to hunt. There are lots of wild hogs up there,” he’d say. Each lie tore into him like a butcher knife. 

Near the end of winter, there were less new corpses in the cemetery. Chen’s deliveries as well as the doctors who were sent to the village by the government lowered the death rate. Chen was relieved to see that his hometown was finally weathering the storm. 

He arrived at Min’s home to pick up some butchered meat one afternoon. Min had a shed near his house for his work which he kept locked while his wife and kids were at home. But now, the door was wide open. Chen could see where there used to be an assortment of watches and gadgets were now replaced with knives and mincing tools. There was blood on every surface. Min stood before a table slicing flesh off of a young boy. 

Chen squinted. “That one wasn’t at the cemetery last night,” he said.

Min didn’t even look up from slicing. “I know.”

“So where did you get him?”

“He was playing in the field next to my shed this morning. Quite an easy kill.”

Chen simply stood in shock as he processed what his friend had said. Then, his head began to spin with a flurry of rage and before he knew what he was doing, his hands went to strangle Min’s neck. 

Min, who hadn't anticipated the attack, dropped his knife in a startle. Chen’s fingers squeezed and squeezed but his mind was blank with fury.

"THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD! THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD!"

Min struggled to find his knife but after a minute, he stopped moving and the life went out of his eyes. 

When Chen’s anger finally subsided, the weight of his actions sank in and he began to panic. He looked at the two dead bodies in the room and realized he knew only one way to get rid of them. 

Chen wrapped Min and the young boy’s remains in paper and put them in a basket. He distributed the meat to his usual, hungry takers. 

News spread about the Min’s disappearance. The town mourned the loss of a skilled butcher. Min’s family mourned the loss of a father and husband. No one suspected his longtime partner in crime. Chen even went to the family’s home to offer his condolences. Killing and lying were skills that Min had taught him well. 

With practice, he became so skilled with lying to himself that he almost felt no guilt at all. At least that’s what he told himself as he filled the rest of his life with new jobs, traveling and spoiling his wife until she passed away peacefully, unaware of any of Chen’s crimes or her involvement in them. 

For sixty long years, Chen repressed his remorse in new experiences, senses, and — finally, with nothing left to see or do — memories. Vivid memories that consumed him. 

But there in the hospital bed, suffering from a stroke during the last hour of his life, even memories were taken from the pitiful old man. With nothing to imagine, Chen was forced to finally face the pitch black nothing — just like the sky he pleaded to the night he traded his son for a lifetime of shame and nourishment. Only this time, there were no stars. 

January 11, 2024 18:07

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10 comments

Sarah Parker
13:33 Apr 29, 2024

Wow. This story was AWESOME!! The name of the story is what drew me in and you did not disappoint!! Great job, I'm looking forward to reading more!!

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Graham Kinross
10:07 Apr 11, 2024

Letting the reader imagine the violence is a powerful way to make it as bad as it can be. Chen’s end seems well deserved if lenient after the life he lived but and great way to wrap up an excellent story.

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J. I. MumfoRD
00:02 Jan 18, 2024

I second Derrick’s comment. Superb. Minor criticism—first third rhythm was a tad off (mostly because the sentences were the same length, and longish), but it was fine from where the dialogue started. You’ve got some skills. I’m looking forward to more.

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Angela M
06:39 Jan 18, 2024

Thanks so much for taking the time to read my story! I’m truly grateful for the criticism. I’ll be taking note of it when I write my next draft.

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J. I. MumfoRD
07:10 Jan 18, 2024

It was a pleasure to read your story.

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Unknown User
20:48 Jan 18, 2024

<removed by user>

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Angela M
12:21 Jan 19, 2024

Thanks so much for the comment! Your fun facts are so interesting and inspiring. I look forward to reading more of your works.

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14:25 Jan 17, 2024

Ohh this is Brilliant! Wonderfully macabre . Like the way all the gory stuff happens off-page leaving it to our imagination. Characters and dialogue very believable. Love it!

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Angela M
15:26 Jan 17, 2024

Thank you so, so much!

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16:09 Jan 17, 2024

No problem! I'll be reading your other stories later :)

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