The farm was left to him after his mother passed away five years ago. He was still in Afghanistan however, so he was unable to make it to the funeral. When he returned back home a year after his mother’s death, there was nobody to meet him at the airport; but Derby Matthews didn’t mind. He never did. Retired now, with fifteen years of military service as a field surgeon under his belt, Derby tucked himself away on the large, lonely farm for what he assumed would be the rest of his life.
Though his day to day life was quite mundane and placid, his only comforts were small yet treasured: the eye-watering cheese made from the goats’ milk that he enjoyed in the orange glow of dusk (he liked to slowly lick the salty white crumbs off his fingers afterwards); the sour mash bourbon that he liked to bottle up and bury in the soft, black soil out in front of the porch (he had a fifth every night to help him sleep); and the animals he kept on the farm, sometimes to be eaten and sometimes to be used (for milk, eggs, breeding, fur, company, that sort of thing) – though most times to be eaten.
Nothing was more valuable or enjoyable to Derby Matthews than a dripping sliver of meat; prepared by his own hands from animal to grill. At first, he was more than satisfied with this process – slice the animal’s throat, bleed it out, skin it, cut it, then cook it. He relished the freshness of the produce. It reminded him of his youth, watching his father (a red faced and gruff muscle of a man) throwing rabbits, cows, pigs, and chickens down against the black soil in front of the porch and slowly bleed them out (their eyes always rolling madly and limbs jerking uncontrollably). Few hours later, said animal would be on the dinner table, steaming in a sea of vegetables.
This freshness (the slight tang of blood and earth and the softness of the meat) is what Derby craved now as a man. But even when he tried to speed up the process, there was always something off about the taste. A hint of sourness that soiled his stomach. A distinct lack of freshness.
It wasn’t until the night before winter broke over the farm in a flurry of hail, when Derby suddenly sat up in bed, panting with sheer exhilaration. He knew what he had to do. He knew how to harness the freshness of the animal’s meat.
The next day, he tested his new process. He cleaned out a large section of the basement in his farmhouse and installed the grill next to the window so that the smoke could easily escape. He then brought an animal down into the basement and, using his old surgical tools and with professional deft, cut off the animal’s leg and clamped and sutured the open wound (it would be pointless if the animal bled out or died during the first day). What Derby wanted that night was the thigh, so he sliced it up and put the steak on the grill and once thoroughly cooked, ate the steak for dinner.
He did so sitting in front of the animal and observing it trembling and panting in pain and fear.
Each bite of the meat sent shivers coursing through his body. It was ecstasy. It was more than fresh. It was alive.
When Derby was first stationed overseas, he stopped over in Japan. His mate in the military, Robby, (a gangly engineer in his twenties) suggested they go for ikizukuri one night. It certainly was the freshest seafood either of them had ever tasted, and it was this memory of Robby and Japan that inspired Derby’s new process.
So for the next year or so, Derby would drag a new animal down into the basement every week and keep them alive as he consumed their meat in front of them. Some of them trembled and baulked at him with dopey eyes; others jerked and strained against their collars; most of them gave up after losing two or so limbs and end up catatonic, their large eyes glazed and fat tongues lolling out of their mouths. Derby found that the sounds the animals made when he cut off bits of their meat was ear-shattering and more than annoying, so he made it a habit to surgically remove their vocal chords whenever he brought them to the basement. After all, the meat presented ikizukuri styled was always silent (though still breathing and blinking, which gave Derby a small thrill).
The best steak he had tasted with this new process however, proved to be quite a challenge. The animal was spirited and angry and bucked against him as he dragged it down into the basement. Just the action of collaring it gave the ex-surgeon a number of tender bruises. He had to resort to tranquilizing the damn thing three times when it came to removing the vocal chords since it wouldn’t stay down.
The meat, though hard won, was exquisite. Derby theorised it had something to do with the spirit of the animal. The more alive the animal was, the fresher and tastier the meat would be. So following this theory, Derby tweaked his process and began pulling in younger and livelier animals.
The last animal Derby ever pulled into his basement was a young thing. Just beginning to fatten up as it finds its’ own feet against the ground. Perhaps because of its’ naivety, the animal followed Derby obediently down into the basement and paced silently around the large underground room, nudging at the grill and letting out huffs of air whenever it kicked up dust.
Derby watched it in amusement as he pulled on his apron and gloves.
The removal of the vocal chords was simple and easy and Derby was beginning to get worried. This animal was so obedient and placid; it probably wouldn’t taste as good as the livelier ones. He had no choice however but to keep going. The process had already begun.
He had just finished clamping and suturing the open wound where its’ leg used to be, when it made a noise.
Derby reeled back in shock and almost dropped his suturing tools. The animal was observing him with large, clear eyes, seemingly unaffected by the tranquilizer. Thinking that perhaps he had botched up the removal of the vocal chords, Derby packed away his tools and started cutting up the steak.
There it was again.
Derby turned to the animal, his brows furrowed, and studied it from the grill. It was lying on its’ side, panting and staring at him, intermittent tremors racking its’ body. It opened its’ mouth and made the noise again.
It was long and drawn out and strained. The animal seemed to work every muscle in its’ body just to make the noise.
Derby felt his heart skip. He slowly knelt down in front of the animal.
And then it made the noise again.
It was clearer this time. There was no denying it. Derby sat back on his haunches, stunned. The animal was trying to talk. Derby shook his head. No. That was incredibly stupid. Child games. He had removed the damn vocal chords! It couldn’t possibly made a single noise, let alone talk.
“Ridiculous,” Derby said aloud. “I must be tired.”
“Stop that,” the ex-surgeon snapped. He dealt a quick blow to the animal’s head, stunning it temporarily. “Animals don’t talk.”
The animal had quickly recovered and it raised its’ head up to his, swaying from side to side as if in a trance – though its’ eyes were as clear as a still pool of water. Derby blinked stupidly, feeling increasingly unnerved. It was just a stupid animal. Why was he feeling so on edge?
“What are you?” Derby said.
The animal shook its’ head and pawed at the ground.
“I hope you enjoy my meat,” it said.
Derby drew back and met its’ eyes once again. They looked lighter than before.
“I’m sure I will,” he said. “I’m going to eat it in front of you.”
The animal moved its’ head up and down (was it nodding?) and said, “I just pray that my brothers and sisters will be able to live happily without me.”
Derby let out a bark of laughter. “What are you? A fucking saint of the barnyard?”
“I forgive you.”
“I don’t care.”
“I love you.”
“You’re going to taste delicious.”
The animal lay back down and closed its’ mouth. It didn’t say another word.
After staring at the strange beast for a few minutes, Derby stood up and brushed his pants down, deciding that he had just experienced a brief mental lapse (perhaps due to PTSD or a vitamin deficiency). He went back to the steak and continued his process. Nothing happened. Nothing changed.
As he grilled the steak, he felt compelled to glance at the animal every now and then, as if he were drawn to it. He thought perhaps he was simply hungry and he decided to cut the cooking time short and eat the steak rare. He sat down at the usual plastic table in the corner, facing the animal, and he began eating the steak.
The first mouthful was rancid. Derby opened his mouth to spit the meat out, but when the animal locked eyes with him again, he felt a strange compulsion to swallow. And he did.
Each bite of the steak was like swallowing acid and ash – it was bitter, burning, and biting. Every mouthful was agony. By the time he had swallowed his last mouthful, he felt thousands of writhing white maggots falling from his ears and nostrils and he threw up bile all over his pants. The animal looked away. The spell was broken.
Shaking and sweating profusely, Derby wiped the bile from his clothes, unable to think clearly. He felt groggy and ill and a hard hot stone grinded into chest, a foreign sensation spreading throughout his body. He spat in disgust and unsteadily clamoured to his feet. Swaying with every step, Derby walked towards the animal with the steak knife.
Animal and ex-surgeon locked eyes one last time as Derby slit its’ throat. The blood gushed out, hot and salty, and the animal bled out quickly.
Disappointed at the wasted meat, Derby kicked the animal’s rapidly cooling body and cleaned the knife against his soiled pants.
It was then when something significantly odd happened. When the ex-surgeon caught sight of his own hands, he felt the most irrepressible, intense surge of hunger shoot through his stomach. He was struck by a craving worse than one that plagues a heroin fiend when presented with the drug. Derby Matthews felt mindless with desire; absolutely rabid for his own flesh; almost frothing at the mouth.
So he decided to cut his own arm off.
The process was the same. He had done it a hundred times. The pain didn’t even register.
He tied a cord above his elbow and waited for the blood flow to slow. He then used the steak knife to make the initial incision. The skin gave way like paper and the knife slid through the fat like butter. The muscle and the bone always took most of the energy and effort. But he did it. He sat in his own fat and blood, slicing and sawing through his arm until it finally fell with a heavy thud into his lap. He should have passed out from the pain and blood loss – at least from shock – but he didn’t. He was awake and hungry.
With a strangled cry of triumph, Derby staggered over to the grill to cook his flesh. He would eat it off the bone, like a lamb shank. He was too impatient to cut out the stringy, chewy meat. He wanted to eat it all.
The basement began filling up with black smoke (was he more flammable than the animals?) and his meat began to char. He didn’t care though. It was cooked.
The ex-surgeon felt tears slide down his cheeks as he bit into his arm, the meat was hot and salty and oh so good. It seemed to melt on his tongue, sending shivers of pleasure down his spine. He felt a hardening in his pants and with a terrible thrill, Derby realised he was becoming incredibly aroused as he consumed his own flesh.
More and more he ate and more and more he lost himself to ecstasy.
It wasn’t even ten minutes later when he found himself gnawing on the bone and he was still so, so hungry.
One leg, the other leg, his thighs, his hips, his buttocks, anything, everything, he consumed it all.
And as he realised that the only meat left was his torso and his remaining arm (which he used to cut and cook), Derby dragged himself over to the grill for one last meal.
In the throes of delirium and ecstasy, he thought perhaps he should thank the animal who drove him to eat himself. It made him realise that the animal was not simply an animal, but perhaps an angel sent by a wrathful god. Derby was being punished and he knew it had to be so.
As he threw himself onto the fiery grill; as he felt his skin blister and pop and his fat drip from his flesh; as he tore into his charred arm while the rest of his body burned and seared, Derby Matthews silently thanked the animal. He thanked it as he ate and wept ash. He thanked it – no, he thanked her, for letting him end this way.
Derby Matthews ate himself to death on the grill; and the last thing he ever saw were the crystal clear eyes of the young girl that saved his soul.