Fiction · 10/17/2012

The Weight of Meat

Put one foot directly in front of the other — the way Uncle taught you.

Quiet.

Don’t snap twigs, don’t clear your throat, don’t even breathe through your mouth. That makes way too much clatter and the animals will hear you coming. Keep the wind blowing in your face so they can’t smell you either. There! Turn slowly, slowly to the right and raise the rifle. Squeeze the trigger, soft and gentle, don’t pull or yank.

Afterwards, say a word of thanks even though it’s not your thing. You should make it your thing.

Don’t think about your sore shoulder. Don’t think about the gross guts.

Carry the carcass to the stream — that’s a good place, right on that boulder. Clean up your mess afterwards, no need to alert any town idiots to your presence.

The gunshot will have attracted attention, that’s for sure. Keep your ears open as you butcher — don’t get distracted and lazy because this is the perfect time for someone to sneak up and stab you or rape you or at least steal your meat or your gun. Better hide the gun safely in the bushes, actually. That’s the one thing you can’t lose. Defend yourself with the knife if need be.

Use everything. Don’t let the temptation of the fresh meat get to you — focus. You’ll need to get the hell away from here before you can risk building a fire anyway. You won’t be able to eat until very late tonight (at the earliest), so ignore that stomach. Don’t be such a baby and focus, girl.

Feel the heavy load on your back and give thanks for the weight — it’s food and will keep you alive and strong for weeks if you take care of it right. Remember not everyone has the skill to feed themselves.

Send a thank you to Uncle for teaching you, and for giving you the gun and showing you where his ammo stash was before the end. Give thanks that the end came on gradually, and you had time to understand what was happening and grab what you needed before heading for the woods.

Do not ask yourself why you are working so hard to stay alive. That is a good way to go completely nutso. Like that naked, howling guy you spied on last spring. Talking to yourself is also a good way to go crazy — maybe you should stop.

Ok, you can’t stop talking to yourself. Fair enough. No one else to talk to anyway. May as well keep yourself entertained. Think a little about what might be possible in the future.

On second thought, best not to do that. Keep walking. Feel the weight of the meat. Hope to find some good people soon. There must be some around, still.

Hey — think about that kid you spotted on your way out of town. Think about how he glanced you over and raised his hand as if to wish you luck. Think about how he looked like he could survive too. Imagine running into him on the trail one day. Imagine not hiding, but greeting him like a normal person on a normal day before everything went to hell. Imagine a cabin and him in it. Imagine a future that’s hopeful in a regular way.

Well, better not to do that either. Focus on the weight of the meat.

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Sarah Overland is originally from a tiny town in northern Minnesota, but has spent most of her adult life in Norway. Before becoming serious about writing, she was a management consultant. Now she spends her time raising three children and writing novels. Her fiction has appeared in Word Riot.