“So how do you like it?” Pitch asked, while cutting another huge piece off his steak. Swirling it in the bloody grease on his plate, he popped it into his mouth, before Talon had a chance to reply.
“Yeah, it’s great,” he answered. Talon hoped that this wasn’t a prelude to Pitch asking him up pony up some money for his share of the meal. Talon only had three dollars to his name and didn’t want to part with them.
“I’m glad you like it,” Pitch said. Some of the other guys laughed for some reason. “Would you like a beer?” Everything about Pitch lived up to his name. From his dyed hair to his wardrobe, everything stayed a deep dark black. He kept himself clean-shaven and was probably a few seasons shy of Talon’s twenty five years of age.
“Wow, you have beer too? What’d you do, roll somebody?”
Laughing between mouthfuls, “there might have been some rolling involved?”
Rick, or Rick-the-dick, as most people called him, handed him a can of cheap beer. Rick was tall and creepy, in a general sort of sense, which even wearing outdated glasses couldn’t dispel. Local legend had it that Trash had kept the lanky freak from raping a girl behind Greasy Tony’s sub shop. Why Pitch let the guy hang around was beyond Talon. Still, a guy on his budget couldn’t turn down free food and beer, so here he was.
The group of five guys and one gal circled the grimy table that was in the main room of the small shack known as the Mutant House. Torn and shaggy show flyers mixed with random posters in an attempt to conceal the dirty brown walls. Trash mingled with dumpster dived furniture and junk, until it was hard to distinguish one from the other.
Taking another bite of meat, he let it melt on his tongue. Who would have guessed these losers could cook this well? “So what do you think you might be eating?” Pitch asked? This elicited more laughter from his buddies and girlfriend Stain.
“Some kinda steak. I guess.”
“It is some kind of steak,” Mucci giggled beside him.
Talon was starting to feel uneasy. What was going on with these guys? He took another bite and washed it down with a big chug of beer. “Would you like to know?”
“Ah sure, why not.”
“Rick, go grab what is on the plate.”
Moving to the fridge, Rick strangely waited until he was nearly standing behind Talon, before he tossed the plate onto the table. Talon shot to his feet so fast that the chair toppled backwards with a clang. He gasped when he saw that Rick had tossed a folded human arm onto the table. Most of the meat had been sliced away, except for the flesh around the hand. This had turned a sickly light blue.
The others were laughing at his reaction, but Rick placed a controlling hand on his shoulder as he whispered, “stay cool.” The words were drawn out and eerie, sounding like some fiend out of an old horror movie.
“What the hell are you guys doing?” He managed to spit out.
“Saving money,” Pitch said, standing up.
“By eating people?” A deep terror began to well up inside him. It was an explosive feeling of horror, which he could barely control, but he knew that if he lost it, trouble would quickly follow.
“Hell, is it our fault?” Pitch began, as he started to pace through the crowded room. Papers were crushed under his feet and he knocked over an overflowing ashtray. This created a gray cloud that clutched at his combat boots.
“We have hit way worse than a recession here. New Cluster is dying. We are living off its corpse anyway, why not take it one step further?”
“Where did you get the body?” He couldn’t help but ask, which caused Rick’s hand to clamp down on his shoulder painfully.
“Don’t worry. It was already dead, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Pitch said, with a dismissive flick of his hand. “Everyone is so hungry that people are dying all around us. Rick found this corpse in the street; no one cared. The government might have gotten the paramedics around to cleaning it up eventually. They don’t care about us or care that we are starving, they just want to clean up the streets so that the uppercrusties don’t have to be disturbed by our reality.”
“But who was this guy?” Talon tried to shrug Rick’s hand off his shoulder, but this only made him grip harder.
“Just a bum.” Ceasing his pacing, Pitch met his eye, staring him down. “Why should we live in poverty, until we end up like those guys, wasting away in the streets? Why should we spend every cent we get just to try to survive and miss out on everything? Hell, you liked that beer, didn’t you? Do you think we would be able to afford something even as simple as these cheap ass beers, if we were shelling out money for grub? Hell no. We would be sitting here eating some oat supplement, staring at each other. Some Saturday night that would be.”
“I hope we can trust you not to narc us out,” Rick whispered into his ear. “Cause if you do…” His words trailed off, but Talon felt the implications. The silent threat that perhaps he would be becoming their next meal.
“So I ask you this Talon, are you with us, or are you just going to continue to grovel for the Posh, washing their dishes at that place you work, watching more food flow down the drain each day than you get to eat in an month?”
The grip on his shoulder intensified. “Yeah, I’m cool. I would never narc you guys.”
“We want more than that Talon, we want you to be one of us. We have already shared one meal; why not make it a lifestyle. No matter what, we’ll never starve and we’ll certainly have more cash for rolling.”
“I don’t know.” This was wrong, so wrong, and he just wanted to get out of there and never return, but he had a feeling he wouldn’t make it out of there at all if he didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear. Quickly building a plan and fighting down his building sickness, he figured he would play along with them for now.
“I guess you have a few points. I hate eating synthetic mush and not even having enough money to wash it down with something more than our nasty tap water.”
“Now you’re talking.”
“Wait,” Rick said from behind him. “Before we welcome him into the fold, I want to seem him clean his plate. Can he do it now that he knows what he is eating?”
Pitch must have seen him grimace, for he smiled and said, “Come on Talon. Talk minus action equals zero.”
His hands fell like fish caught in the mud while his throat constricted painfully. Dread welled up inside him, building into fear. Looking around the constricted room and feeling Rick-the-dick’s grip on his shoulder, left little doubt to the true nature of this test. Fail, and it could be his arm they would be eating.
His mouth turned to ash. Could he do this? Eating this meat was the only way to get out of here, but would it pass his throat? Could he make it happen?
Slowly, trying not to let his arm tremble, Talon picked up his fork and stabbed it into his remaining triangle of dripping black meat. It was a big piece, but he believed that it would be better to do it all at once, for he wouldn’t wish to have to do it again and again.
Staring at it, he could see the crimson muscle. It looked like human flesh now. Hesitating too long could give him away. Frowning uncontrollably, he shoved the whole piece in-between his teeth in one bite. It filled his mouth and he gagged. His throat tensed, closing like a vise. Flesh splintered and tore, splitting into wet fragments that became caught between his teeth.
He began to dry heave. Not bothering to hide the menace in his voice, Pitch said, “don’t do it.” A steak knife filled his hand and he brought it up like a weapon. “Don’t do it.”
Panicking, he snatched up his half full beer and downed the thing. He was barely able to keep from vomiting, but the beer washed away some of the foul taste and with a supreme effort, he was able to swallow the rest.
For a moment all he could do was stand there panting. He hadn’t even noticed at first that Rick-the-dick had let go of him. “Can I have another beer please?”
“Sure,” Pitch said and tossed him a beer. “Good job by the way. Now you only have to pass one more test”