A little bit of fun for Christmas.
A short story by Luke Phillips.
I sat at the head of the feast and looked around at my gathered brethren. So many of us together, in one place. It was enough to be truly thankful for. Long ago, before the peace, before the feast became a symbol of what we had achieved, gathering in large numbers like this would have risked attack. Our enemies would have surrounded us, called in by our merriment, and found us here ready for the slaughter. Now, they were a part of our story. It was the reason we celebrated.
It was a far cry from the times of old. The elders still occasionally told stories about that part of our legacy. Camps where the sun was never seen. Where the dead were left where they fell on the floor, and those captured milled around them, knowing in their hearts the same fate awaited. The air was punctuated by the stench of death, always. But now, we were free of such imprisonment. Perhaps in some, such freedom and the knowledge of our past brought out a certain wildness still. But that too was part of our history, and to be embraced.
The corn was shared around ceremoniously. Even as mature adults, we knew and respected the unofficial ritual of saving the best to last. Some of us considered this to be pumpkin pie, but the more educated of us simply saw that as the spoils of war. It was the meat that satiated our hunger in ways we could never have imagined. Our respect for the hunter-gatherers had grown tenfold when we discovered the thrill of the chase, and kill, for ourselves. We knew it was their land – their territory. But it was ours too. We had to live, survive, and die together. It was the only way.
When something is important, or we want to cut though the stuff that isn’t, we talk about ‘the meat of the matter’. Not the corn, the greens, or even the pie, nice though as all that is. The meat. That’s where the sustenance is. There is talk in the North of a creature called the Wendigo. The hunter-gatherers fear it. They say it was once one of their own, but ate of their own flesh. But now, as we had become meat eaters, we perhaps understood the power that came with the consumption of any flesh. It had helped us grow stronger. It was said that the pursuit of meat is what had enabled us to walk taller. It wasn’t just an important symbol for us, on this day of the feast. It was important for all our kind.
Of course, not all felt that way. Some still preferred a simpler life. They lived on what could be grown and foraged, as they always had done. There was a gentleness to that life that we all respected. But in our hearts, those of us gathered here and now, knew there was no turning back. We hunted to live, but we also lived to hunt in many ways. Our new lives, perhaps even our futures depended on it.
There was still an element of danger in any hunt. We had to find the right group of animals, few in number, isolated from others, preferably with their kin, and not disturbed by our presence . A scout would be sent out to find and survey them. Even now, occasionally, the scout would not return. But more often than not, they did. And the more times they came back, the better we got at what came next. The hunt. The kill. It was waiting for the right moment to strike. We would stay poised until they had settled, ready to eat and drink. They spread themselves out on the ground, facing inward towards each other, protected from the ground by thick, warm skins. It was then that they were most at ease, complete disarmed and relaxed.
We had learnt to strike fast. Our unsheathed spurs sought out the points where blood would flow freely. Our sharpest points found their softest parts. We knew our size and power startled them and was enough to hold them in our gaze long enough to strike. And strike we did, with heavy beats of our outstretched limbs. With enough of us, it didn’t take long if we had the element of surprise. And we always had the element of surprise. Not long after the deed was done, we would gather around our fallen prey. We would give thanks, and then we would eat. Both them, and what they had brought with them. For some reason, their corn, their greens – they always tasted better than what we could procure ourselves. And pie had always been beyond us. We picnicked in the wild, just as we always had – and as our prey had intended to.
There was of course one thing they brought with them that we didn’t consume. The sacrifice we called it. Perhaps the fear of the hunter-gatherers’ Wendigo lived in us too. Whatever it was, and despite the strength and power we had found through the consuming of flesh, we couldn’t eat our own – just as it was abhorrent to the hunter-gatherers, the people to eat their own kind. They ate us, and we eat them, but not each other. Just so you understand though, it’s about respect, not fear. After all, we’re turkeys, not chicken.