Fantasy Fiction

I’ve loved tinned ham since the first taste.

I’m holding the can we’ve saved for weeks and look at Dad. He’s sat beside the campfire, either not interested in the ham or pretending not to care, but I’m already licking my lips in preparation. There’s a twinge of guilt as I yank the ring pull and peel the lid, but we agreed this can was mine and I don’t want to share. The stomach pains have grown over the past week, and the emptiness now twists and contorts my gut.

When I was a young girl, I used to flat out refuse it. Mum would try and try to make me eat it because she loved it, but it never worked.

The juices seep out as I prod the slab with my fork, and I wish I’d shared some tinned ham with Mum, just for the memories. I only realised we shared the taste once she was gone.

I take a bite and let the salty, jelly-coated meat slide around my mouth. I’m not swallowing yet though, although my body is screaming for me to devour the whole tin. This is the first bite of food in days and I intend to savour every second, slurp all the juices and make it last until there’s nothing left.

I want to eat the rest. The fork is trembling in my hand, but Dad is sneaking a glance and I can’t bring myself to do it.

“I know we said it was mine, but… do you want some?” There’s a wildness in his eyes, hungering after more than the tinned ham, even as he turns it down. It’s a relief. It means he still has self-control.

But it won’t last much longer.

Dad wipes the sweat from his brow and stretches. This has become a part of his daily routine, trying to keep the impulses at bay, but I see him watching me. His hollowed-out eyes, dead beyond the surface, bore into me when his mind wanders. It’s becoming more frequent, although I don’t think he’s noticed it yet. If he has, I’m impressed with his composure.

There were two weeks once Mum started staring at flesh. It’s only been a week with Dad, but his skin is already yellowing. When he starts his push-ups, I can see the bald patches forming from where hair is falling out, the dead skin shedding away.

I want to scream and shout at him as he works out in his useless attempts to maintain his physique. Ten years we’ve lived together, and the moron got infected in a routine food run. I question whether I should have put a bullet in his head there and then, when he came back to camp with the bluey-green mucus over his hands. He’d tried to wash it off straight away but the stain didn’t go. It never left. Even the Wild still carried the stain on their skin – whilst their skin remained intact.

I take another bite of ham and let the meat slide around my mouth, as I watch him from the corner of my eye.

When I was ten and before the plague, if you’d told me I would love silence, I would have laughed in your face. I loved music and busyness; I sang in the choir. But it’s almost a friend now. Silence means safety. The tin cans suspended from strings around the camp wait precariously, ready to signal any Wilds who stumble onto them.

It rarely happens that they make it close, but I still sit with my rifle until the sun sets each night. The night is mild bordering on warm, filled with the smell of smoke and pine. I clean the oils and fingerprints from the wooden stock and find a comfort in running the cloth delicately along the woodgrain.

My mind wanders to the grave down the hillside, just before the bogs, where Mum lies. Dad put a bullet through her head just before she lost her mind. We all put it off as long as possible, until she begged for the end. She knew her mind was breaking and pleaded for us not to let it happen. The hunger for flesh tears away any humanity. All that remains of the cursed is a rotting body, with a cruel and malicious insanity.

The sound of Dad falling to the floor brings me back to the present. He’s clutching at his foot and swearing under his breath as he laughs, and I chuckle for the first time in days. The firelight flickers across his face and I recognise the man who tucked me in, who saved me as the world burnt, but I know that if I do nothing, he will destroy me. He will kill me. He won’t want to, won’t plan it. But he will.

When I close my eyes, I’m forced to imagine him begging and pleading on his knees. His desperate cries for mercy cut me to the core – the same way Mum’s did – but it’s just the two of us and I’m the one left having to put a bullet in his head. I shiver.

The gun in my hands is heavy.

I’ve killed before. I’m good at it too. In the early days of the curse, we went food hunting and Mum and I would headshot four or five Wilds each, all in a row, while Dad raced into the shops and got the food… It was never anybody I knew, though.

“What are you thinking about?”

It’s the first words he’s spoken to me all day, and in that moment, I want to tell him I’m terrified of letting him go, of being alone, of wandering forever as some shell of a person.

“I’m just thinking about Mum.” He flinches at the mention of her.

In five years, we’ve barely spoken about what happened. I was only ten years old and the memories I have are fragmented and cloudy, but I can’t not see the monster she became. Can’t not see her end. It’s in his eyes too. When he thinks of her, when he wants to hold onto those precious moments, he sees the end and relives it all.

“Hmm.” That’s all I’ll get from him for the night.

I lie awake in the darkness, watching the vast field of pinprick stars overhead. The campfire flickers and its embers scatter as a gentle breeze blows across the hilltop. Can-chime alarms clang out all around, but I can tell wind from Wilds after so many years.

Dad bolts upright, but I wave and he settles back to sleep with a grunt and murmur. He’s been a light sleeper ever since the Wild snuck in that night and got Mum. As he goes back to sleep, he talks to Sandra and apologises profusely, unaware she’s long buried.

I glimpse my future in that moment. Years of haunted grief, of memories too painful to relive but unable to escape. If I stay any longer, if I save him, I’ll destroy myself. I slip out from my blanket and stare at Dad’s huddled figure to check he’s gone back to sleep. His breathing is heavy, bordering on a snore, and his foot twitches occasionally.

I pick up my gun and aim it. My finger won’t press the trigger and the gun sight is shaking. I’m willing myself to do it but the survival imperative which has been my whole life for ten years is screaming ‘could I do it, could I carry that forever’. No, I know I couldn’t.

Lowering the gun, I grab my blanket and wrap it around me and slip my rucksack, which carries everything I own, over my shoulder. I stalk into the night being careful where I step, and noting as I leave that the sound of heavy breathing has gone.

February 04, 2021 21:56

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Simona Erminaite
15:34 Feb 12, 2021

Great story! I really enjoyed reading it as the story was very detailed and attention riveting.


Alex Marshall
15:45 Feb 12, 2021

That's so nice to hear! Thank you :)


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Clarice Shepherd
00:34 Feb 11, 2021

That was incredible! I love your style! I'm trying to think of something for the critique circle, but I honestly have no complaints. Well done! :)


Alex Marshall
09:33 Feb 11, 2021

Thanks! It's my first time writing 1st person present since school so I was a tad nervous how it would turn out haha


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