The Flesh That Does Not Rot

By Norbert Daniels Jr.

The world is running out of food. And we’re all going to starve.

This isn’t the first time people have starved. But it’s different this time. The word famine isn’t strong enough. When what we have left is gone, that’s it. No more. It started six months ago. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that’s when we took notice.

Some time last year, a mysterious new bacteria appeared on Earth. The bacteria causes nearly all types of food to rapidly spoil. No one noticed in the beginning. The first real sign of people catching on came from memes about fresh berries going bad quickly becoming popular. A lot of people found it funny. The trend even made it to the news. But after a few more weeks, no one was laughing anymore. The rotting was affecting more foods, and it was happening faster. Soon every single crop was coming back with lower yields. At one point more crops were becoming rotten than were being harvested at all. People realized there was a problem. And things got bad. Fast.

One day it was like a switch was flipped. One morning everyone woke up realizing that soon there would be no food left. They realized that the only things left to eat was the food protected from bacteria: pre-packaged, freeze-dried, frozen, canned. And what was out there at that very moment was all there’d ever be. Growing new crops was impossible. There was massive civil unrest in every part of the world. Every store that sold food was ransacked. People were literally killing each other over a single can of green beans. Some people had a slightly different strategy. There were reports worldwide of people committing mass violence with guns, bombs and vehicles. The less people, the less mouths to feed. More food for me. That was the logic.

I was lucky enough to not have to go through any of that. I wouldn’t call Dad a prepper or a survivalist or anything like that. But he knew what it was like to not know where his next meal was coming from. He didn’t believe in the end of the world, at least not until now. And he did his best to make sure that fear would never be passed down to me. In my house it was just common sense to have months’ worth of food stockpiled. It wasn’t to prepare for the apocalypse. It was insurance if he ever got sick or hurt or was laid off from work. We also had a deep freezer chest full of deer meat. Me and Dad had gone on a hunting trip not too long before things started going bad. It was perfect timing. Dad let me take the shot. It was my first kill. I remember being so excited and proud. Even after having a barbecue and cooking up a week’s worth of leftovers, the remaining meat still wouldn’t all fit in the freezer. Dad had you jumping up and down on the lid of the freezer to get it to stay shut. When that failed we ended up giving about ten pounds away to the Hudsons, our next door neighbors. Dad would never give you a straight answer when I asked how long the food would last. “As long as it needs to,” he’d say.

The bacteria was still getting stronger even after it was done with the fresh food. After about a month of bunkering, everything that wasn’t sealed up tight or frozen went bad. Oatmeal, rice, dried beans, etc. That was a heavy hit, but Dad reassured me that there was still plenty of food left. But the words coming out of his mouth didn’t match the look in his eyes. I could tell that he knew things were about to get much worse. And they did. From pretty early on, the rule was if you opened or cooked something, you had to eat the whole thing right then and there. Even refrigerated, anything left overnight would greet you green and fuzzy the next morning. But the rot continued to get faster. Soon even just cooking food was a race against time. One night a pair of steaks went in the oven frozen. 45 minutes later they came out of the oven looking like they’d been sitting in the sun for a week.

“Don’t worry,” your dad said. “We just have to do things a bit faster.”

He didn’t know what he was going to do when he said that. But he came through and figured it out. From then on all the meat we ate was deep-fried. Dad used a butcher knife to chop up the icy blocks of meat into small chunks that could go from frozen solid to fully cooked in only a few minutes. Every meal took tight coordination to finish before any rot set in. After a few trials, the two of us were able to prepare, cook and eat an entire meal in less than 15 minutes. This was actually a better way of doing things, Dad told me. Deep-frying added more calories. It stretched out our food supply. I hadn’t thought about that before. This was the first time he said something that genuinely put me at ease. Even though we both knew this was a temporary solution, it lifted our spirits for a while. But just like the food, that didn’t last.

Not everything rotted. Most of what was left alone could hardly be considered food, though. Salt never went bad. Neither did honey. Vegetable oil, what we used to cook the steaks in, was surprisingly one of those things. It didn’t go bad, at least not by itself. It’s common practice to reuse a batch of cooking oil a few times before throwing it out. So that’s what we kept on doing. But we didn’t count on what was left behind in the oil. After about a week we awoke one morning to see that last night’s oil was spotted with green and white pocks. Now that a batch of oil can only be used once, our supply was effectively cut by 80%. It went by fast. The day we used up our last drop of oil there was still half a freezer’s worth of deer meat left. That evening Dad stood before the deep freezer, staring at it. I told him goodnight. He said it back without taking his eyes off the freezer. The only thing worse than having no food is having food you can’t eat.

We didn’t cook food anymore. There wasn’t any time. We had to wolf it down as fast we could as soon as the can was open. Dad didn’t speak much anymore.

One morning I was woken up by an awful smell. It was coming from the pantry. Dad was sitting on the floor. Rotten sludge that used to be food was all over the floor and his clothes. Opened-up cans littered the floor. I watched Dad open up a can of peaches. His favorite. He looked inside and overturned the can, letting the food inside fall out. It was green. All of the canned food had already gone bad, despite being sealed up.

That day Dad left the house. There was a lot he said he was going to do. He was going to find more oil. He was going to find fresh food. He was going to find out that this was all an elaborate joke. He took his hunting rifle with him.

That was three days ago.

Mr. and Mrs. Hudson invaded our house last night.

The sound of something crashing through the kitchen window ripped me out of my sleep. I didn’t know what was going on, but my body sprinted to the bedroom door. I became aware of myself when I tried opening the door only for it to be forced back shut.

“Stay in your room. Get under the bed.”

It was my dad’s voice.

I did what he said and crawled underneath my bed. Usually there’d be cases of food stored underneath but since we’ve been going through our reserves there was just enough space for me to squeeze in.

I heard Mr. Hudson scream. Then I heard him and his wife both climbing in through the window. Plates were shattering on the floor. I heard splashing. One of them must have stepped in the dish water. Once both of them were in, heavy footsteps bolted from the kitchen to the stairs. Then, two rifle shots rang in quick succession. It was louder than anything else that happened that night.

Everything calmed down after that. All I could hear was my dad rustling about the first floor.

I don’t know if I slept after that. I just remember my dad coming to my room after the sun had risen and telling me it was safe to come out. When I went downstairs, the worst of the scene had been wiped away. But what was left told the story just fine. The Hudsons threw a cinderblock through the window and it was still sitting on the floor in front of the sink. The broken glass of the window is covered in dried blood. They were in such a rush to get in that they didn’t even bother knocking out the rest of the glass to make the window safer to open. Mr. Hudson’s blood dried on the sharp edges of the broken glass. It must have been a pretty nasty cut. Even if they’d succeeded in whatever they had planned, then what? I don’t see how Mr. Hudson could survive cuts like that without a doctor. There was a trail of blood leading all the way from the window to the stairs. The stairs…

Dad did a quick mop down but there was no hiding what happened. My neighbors’ blood had permanently become one with the carpet. I never had to consider that anyone could lose this much blood.

The Hudsons weren’t sneaky about the home invasion. It was more than desperate. It was crazed. But even still, it makes sense why they did things this way. If they’d been keeping an eye on us then they knew we never left home. So there was no chance of them covertly breaking in while we were out. Maybe they thought if they made a lot of noise and came in hot we’d be too shocked to react. What worries me most is that they didn’t just come in here with the intention to steal. They came in through the kitchen. The door to the basement where we keep our pantry is right there. They’ve been here plenty of times. They know exactly where to go to look for food. But instead of trying to grab some food and make a break for it, they made a beeline for upstairs.

I think they wanted to hurt us. If they killed my dad then they wouldn’t just get what they could carry in a hurry. They could take everything. That’s why the stairs was their priority. But they didn’t count on my dad’s combat experience. Or maybe they did, but they were just out of options.

We’d known the Hudsons for years. Mr. Hudson like to bragged that he’s lived in this neighborhood since he was my age. I don’t want to think about them breaking into our house in the middle of the night. I don’t want to think about them coming upstairs with the intention of killing my dad in his sleep. There’s a lot I don’t want to think about.

I’ve had to piece most of this together by myself. Dad refused to answer any of my questions. He was covered in dirt and sweat. He screamed at me when I wouldn’t stop asking what he did with the bodies. I can’t remember a time when he’s raised his voice like that before. It was so sudden, it might be the first time I’ve ever felt frightened by him. It’s like he thinks that if we don’t talk about this out loud then it can’t hurt me. I wish he could see that’s not how it works. When I looked out the kitchen window, I could see two fresh graves in the Hudsons’ backyard.

It’s been three days since Dad left the house. This is the longest I’ve ever gone without eating.

I have a new appreciation of Dad’s stories of how he grew up. My grandparents were killed in a car accident when he was about the age I am now. It was only a few months after the whole family had moved up to the big city from the south. They didn’t have any relatives willing to take Dad in, at least none that he knew about. They were still considered new to the neighborhood so they hadn’t made any friends close enough to take in a 13 year old boy. So Dad got put into the foster system.

Just like too many other foster parents, Dad’s weren’t fit to raise a child. The Qadirs were an older couple who’d missed the boat on having children. It was neither of their first marriage, and the way things were going they’d both be going through divorce once again. They thought that having a kid would fix their relationship. But of course it never does. The first couple of months they were like a child with a brand new puppy. Every thought revolved around him. They’d shower him with presents and affection. For the first time in his life, Dad was spoiled. Never for a second did Dad see these two as replacing his parents. But for the first time in a long time, he felt like he was somewhere safe. He felt loved. And for the Qadirs, their plan had worked. All the problems the two had with each other seemed insignificant now that they had a beautiful son to take care of.

But the honeymoon didn’t last forever. Once Dad was no longer shiny and new, the resentment between the Qadirs resurfaced. Their relationship was just as broken as it had always been, but now there was another mouth to feed.

It didn’t help when Dad hit his growth spurt. He could feel the way that they looked at him changed. He was a burden. So unwelcome. And now so tall. He wasn’t their precious miracle child. He was a strange grown man who towered over them and ate up all their food. After a while there wasn’t a single day without a screaming match. Dad didn’t mean to break Mr. Qadir’s jaw. He was out the door before Mrs. Qadir could call 911. He didn’t go back. The next two weeks were the hardest of my dad’s life.

He had nowhere to go. No money in his pocket. He walked aimlessly. He lost track of time after a couple days. He’d alternate between walking half-blind nowhere in particular and passing out on the sidewalk. One day he woke up in a small homeless camp. The residents there were kind enough to rescue him. For the first time in a week he had food, water and companionship.

Dad didn’t know what the next step would be. But he knew that for now, he was safe. Or at least that’s what he thought.

After a couple of days, cops started paying visits to the camp. It started off with parking a cruiser nearby for hours at a time. After a few days of that, officers would go out on foot and stare down the inhabitants like predators watching their prey. This spooked people enough that some people moved out of the camp. Even more left when cops started to venture right into the camp. Making conversation. “Politely” suggesting that the residents find somewhere else to gather. Of course Dad didn’t leave. Where would he go?

After a week the police decided it was time for the main event. The two cop cars left in the late afternoon and were replaced by civillian ones a couple hours later. When nightfall came, two adult men and a handful of teenagers made their way to the camp. The adults were in civillian clothes, but dad could tell that these were the same cops who had been harassing them all week. And by the look of the teenagers, these were the cops’ kids. Maybe a few of their friends, too.

It started off as them “playfully” emptying people’s bags. Slapping food out of people’s hands. Pouring bottles of water on people. But soon they got bored of trying to provoke the homeless and switched to full on assault. It started off with one of the cops walking up behind a man and whacking him in the back of the skull with his baton. Dad said he watched the man struggle to stay on his feet. He managed to walk his body a few feet forward before he crumpled into the arms of his wife, bringing them both to the ground.

That’s when people started to run. But the teenagers chased after them like dogs. Dad ran as fast as he could. He could hear some of the slower ones get caught almost immediately and get pinned to the ground for their punishment. Dad was too scared to look back. But he got caught anyway. He was tackled from behind and slammed to the ground. As he turned around to face his attacker, he saw the boy’s face. The boy couldn’t have been more than a couple years older than himself. Dad was big for his age, but hunger had left him weak. He couldn’t shake his attacker. The boy pulled a roll of quarters out of his pocket and gripped them in his fist. He punched and punched until Dad’s nose was broken and his eyes were swollen shut.

Later on in his life, Dad had fought in the army overseas. He’s been shot at plenty of times. But he always had a harder time telling this story than any of the others. It was the most scared of dying he’d ever been in his entire life.

As if it was instinct, Dad somehow wrapped his arms around the attacker’s neck. He pulled the boy’s face close to his and bit down on his nose as hard as he could.

The boy screamed like a baby. He tried to separate but dad didn’t unclench his jaw. The boy pulled and pulled until he was free. Or at least until most of him was free.

Dad spat out the chunk of his attacker and ran for his life. He was half-blind and could barely stay on his feet. He didn’t know where he was going, but the next morning he woke up alive.

Dad left three days ago, I think. I’ve been sleeping a lot. It conserves my energy and helps keep the hunger at bay. Helps with the headaches too. When I’m awake I try to eat what I can. I found some old honey packets from Popeyes buried in our kitchen junk drawer. I eat a couple packs a day. I rip it open and suck the nectar out of the opening. Then I rip the plastic in half and lick it clean. It’s sweet, but not filling.

I found some cough drops too. I used to hate them, especially the cherry ones. But they’ve been the most precious source of food I’ve had. I could count on one hand how many calories a cough drop has. But as long as I resist the urge to bite them, sucking on one can stave off hunger longer than you’d expect. A tip my dad picked up in the army was that when you’re thirsty and no water’s available, suck on a pebble. Sucking on it encourages saliva production. It doesn’t actually hydrate you, but it tricks your body into feeling better.

I know can’t stay here anymore. I’m worried that if Dad hasn’t come back yet, that means he’s never coming back. Maybe he’s still looking for food. Maybe he’s collapsed from hunger. If he’s sick or hurt out there, I have to bring him back. And if something worse has happened to him… staying in here isn’t going to do me any good.

As long as I can remember, me and dad have both had bug-out bags. Something he wishes he had when he ran away from his foster home. Of course we raided the food out of them a long time ago, but there’s still plenty of useful stuff in mine. A first aid kit. A lighter. A knife. I added the rest of the cough drops and honey packets. I also brought a family photo from back when I was a baby and Mom was still alive. I didn’t know how long I’d be away, or even if I’d ever return. So no matter what happened this was a piece of home I wanted to keep with me. The last addition to my bag was a box of ammo for Dad’s rifle. Just the ammo, though. Even though Dad had left behind quite a few guns that he’d insisted on teaching me how to use, he was a safety fanatic. Even in his fugue, Dad made sure to lock every one of them up tight like a responsible gun owner should. But the ammo was unguarded. If my dad really is still alive—even if he isn’t—this might come in handy.

This will be my first time leaving home since this all started.

I’ve spent plenty of time outdoors the last few weeks, but Dad never let me leave the property. He made a few trips away from the house to check on the outside world, but they were infrequent and short. A couple hours at the most. He didn’t want to leave me home alone for too long, and he didn’t want to take me with him either.

Looking out my bedroom window, the world looks almost normal. The only difference is that the lawns haven’t been tended to.

What scares me more than what I might find out there is the possibility that I won’t find anything at all. Maybe this is it. I’ll walk out there and confirm that everyone else has starved. No miracle came to save the world while we holed up at home. I might be the last person left. And soon, I won’t be here either.

Dad didn’t tell me where he’d be going. I don’t even think he knew himself. All I had to go off of is seeing him make a right turn out of the driveway when he left our house. So at the crack of dawn, on my own two feet and with my meager supplies, that’s where I started.

Walking was never this tiring before. I was only a few blocks down before I started seriously considering turning around and going back home. But what would that accomplish? How many precious calories burned just to take a stroll around the neighborhood and end up right back where I started. No food and no dad. So I pressed on.

I made sure to bring plenty of water. Years ago, before all this started, I remember my auntie on my mom’s side telling me that she drinks lots of water with her meals so she’ll feel full sooner while eating less. That only works if you actually have food to go with your water. When your stomach’s empty, it’s like getting punched in the gut. I had to stop for a few minutes because I was doubled over after drinking too much at once. I cramped up and threw some of it up. We’re usually careful to take small sips with our water, but with how tired this walk was making me I guess I got carried away.

A half hour into walking, probably about a mile at my speed, I still hadn’t seen any signs of human life. Some cars were crashed pretty badly, others just abandoned in the middle of the street for no discernible reason. Plenty of houses had broken windows or doors wide open. A couple were burned out. But nothing looked like it had been touched in weeks.

I didn’t see or hear any animals either. Of course they didn’t stand a chance. Beyond their own sources of food going rotten, they must have been hunted to extinction pretty quickly. Not just from humans. Even herbivores will eat meat if they have no other options.

It was about that time I took my “lunch” break to rest up and try to regain some strength. Two packets of honey followed by a cough drop. It wasn’t much, but it really did make me feel better. At least it did until it was time to stand up and I was humbled by the strain of holding my body up.

I continued walking in the same direction. I don’t remember how long I walked. I remember the sun was high when I lied down under a shady tree to rest. I just wanted to rest my legs. And for just a few seconds, maybe my eyes.

I can’t believe I fell asleep. And for this long too. The sun was already setting when I woke up. My stomach was screaming and my head was pounding, but I got up anyway. I was tempted to keep lying there, but staying here wouldn’t do any good. Neither would turning back and going home. Before then I hadn’t really thought too much about what I’d do if I didn’t find anything. In fact, I tried not to. But at this point I couldn’t avoid the possibility that this was going to be a one-way trip. If I’m going to die, I’d rather it happen searching for dad or looking for food than sitting holed up inside my house. My dad wouldn’t go down without a fight, so neither would I.

By time the sun had completely set, my nerves and my stomach had calmed down. I walked with my flashlight in hand but without turning it on. I hadn’t seen or heard another human being for as long as I’ve been out here, but just in case there was anyone else out there, I wanted to see them before they saw me. It was nearly pitch black out. The electricity at our house went out only a few days after everything went wrong, and it looks like things are the same a few miles out. The moon was out tonight, but with all the clouds it was only just enough for me to not trip over my feet. The only man-made light I saw was the occasional solar lamps people have in their yards. I appreciated those, but still kept to the shadows when I passed them.

Surprisingly, walking around at night was less nerve-wracking than doing it during the day. The darkness hides the finer details. It’s quiet, but then again, night time is supposed to be quiet. I remember when I was little and couldn’t sleep, my dad would take me on nighttime strolls.

I was almost able to fool myself into thinking everything was normal. When your surroundings are a silent black void, it’s easy to let yourself get drawn into a trance. But I was immediately brought back to Earth when the scent hit my nose.

It was food.

I couldn’t quite place what food it was. It kind of reminded me of the one year my dad cooked chit’lins for Thanksgiving. I hated the way that stunk up the house and refused to eat any of it. Dad trying to force me to eat it drove me to being a vegetarian for weeks. But after not having any real food in days, it’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever smelt.

I’m no bloodhound, but I was able to track that scent like it was instinct. I didn’t give it any thought then, but it was like I was being pulled in the direction of the smell. I ran for the first time in my journey. My lungs burned and I felt like I would throw up bile. It didn’t matter. My body said to run anyway.

It was the first house with signs of life that I’d seen since I left home. There was warm light emanating from the living room windows, and smoke coming out of the chimney.

Eventually I found the source. I still couldn’t tell exactly what food I was smelling, but even from the sidewalk my senses were overwhelmed. I almost didn’t catch myself before I walked right through the front door like I was an invited guest.

My dad could be in there. Maybe he was alright. Maybe he was hurt. I had to find out but I had to be smart about it. I had no idea who was in there, and more likely than not they’d be unfriendly. I hadn’t thought too much about what I’d do if I saw another person. My plan was to run and hide. Play it by ear.

I didn’t know what the best move was. I remember when I was little my dad told me that if I was ever scared and didn’t know what to do, then stop, look and listen. What I needed to do was to learn more. Then I’d have a better idea of what to do next.

I decided to go into the backyard in hopes of finding some clues. Maybe I could even find a stealthy way into the house and steal some food without getting caught.

The backyard was gated off by a tall wooden fence and door. No gaps in the wood for maximum privacy. It was tall, but not too tall that it was impossible to scale. I’d climbed fences this size a hundred times before. But I quickly learned that this wasn’t like those other times.

I tried jumping up but my fingertips couldn’t even brush the top of the fence. The excitement of finding this place made me forget how hungry and tired I was. But this obstacle brought me back to Earth. That one jump had drained me completely. When my feet touched the ground, my legs wobbled and I fell over. I was trying as hard I as could to stifle my panting. Tears were rolling down my cheek. I was more scared than I’d been in my entire journey. Somehow I’d managed with the uncertainty. The loneliness. The conflicting feelings of hoping I’d find someone and hoping I’d find no one. But this brutal reminder of just how much my body is failing pushed me over the edge. I held my hands to my mouth as hard as I could to suppress the crying. I was sitting alone and defenseless. I couldn’t even run if someone came to get me. I tried to keep my eyes open and survey my surroundings in case someone heard me and decided to come close. But I gave up trying to see through the tears.

I just sat there. I don’t know how long. I just know it was still dark when I’d cried myself out. I think this is the first time since this all happened that I let myself cry. My dad’s always been so strong. I wanted to be just like him, but it was dumb of me to think he never got scared. That he never cried. He just never let me see it.

There were still three coughdrops left in my supplies. No more rationing. I ate them all. I didn’t even suck on them. I greedily chewed them. I figured this would most likely be my last night no matter what I did, so no sense in saving them.

I pulled myself to my feet. The rest had done me good, and I felt better about the fence. This time I took off my bag and left it on the ground. One more try.

I jumped, and this time I was able to grab onto the top of the fence. My hands gripped onto the fence as hard as they could. Despite all the weight I’ve lost, it felt like I weighed a million pounds. I realized I couldn’t do this with upper body strength alone, so I desperately tried to use my feet on the sheer surface of the fence as support. As hard as I tried, I wasn’t going to make it. My arms were on fire. I felt like my hands were going to start bleeding. I couldn’t get enough friction off my feet to finish the job. But out of nowhere I was tumbling over the other side of the fence. It felt like someone pushed me over.

I came tumbling over and hit the ground face-first. I just laid there in the dirt catching my breath. That was when I felt a tug on my collar. I’d been caught. I couldn’t see who was dragging me through the dirt. There wasn’t any fighting it. I’d used all my strength, and even that wasn’t enough. My last thoughts before passing out were prayers that whoever was kidnapping me would be friendly.

I lied on the ground for a few minutes to recover from my extraordinary athletic feat. I wasn’t strong enough to stand yet, but I crawled as soon as I could. The moonlight faintly illuminated a strange-looking tree on the other end of the yard. I couldn’t see it well enough to tell what kind of tree it was, but it looked like it was bearing some kind of fruit. Was this what those people inside are eating?

I still hadn’t recovered enough to stand yet, so I crawled the ten yards to the tree, intending to use it as support when I got there. The closer I got, the more I realized that this wasn’t like any tree I’ve seen before. I’ve never seen a warm tree in my life. This one was generating its own heat. I could feel it once I started getting close. I thought my body must have been overheating from exerting myself but when I reached out I realized it was even warmer to the touch.

And the bark of the trunk wasn’t like any other tree. It was squishy and slippery like sweaty skin. As I gripped it to pull myself up, I could tell that it was expanding and contracting, just a little bit. Like it was breathing.

I was on my feet again, and was able to step away from the tree to get a better look. I turned on my flashlight for the first time this night. The tree was covered in leaves that were grey, dry and wilted. Its bark was a pale, sickly color, and covered in all kinds of boils and pimples. All of the branches drooped, like they couldn’t properly support the fruit they bared. I had no idea what the fruit was. They were covered in husks like corn. Luckily they were hanging low enough that I could examine them by hand. I held the flashlight in my mouth and grabbed a piece with both hands. The inside sloshed around like milk inside a coconut. But it didn’t have a hard shell. The husk was papery and flaked off with almost no effort. I peeled away at it with both thumbs until I could see what was underneath. It was a translucent orb protecting what looked like a giant knot of nerves and veins and sinew. The threads were growing and trying into new bundles right before my eyes.

This wasn’t like any food I’ve ever seen before. Not like any plant at all. It was like something that couldn’t ever exist on Earth. But of course, everything that could ever exist on Earth is now inedible. This had to be what the people inside were eating. The only food left in the world. I would normally never eat something so alien and disgusting-looking, but I didn’t have a choice. I screamed every argument to not eat it as my open mouth approached the strange fruit. But right before I did, my shirt collar was yanked from behind and I was thrown to the ground.

I knew I’d been caught. I expected to open my eyes and see an angry resident of the house staring over me, but when I did I saw what was only a human in the past. Its face was like that of a human’s face that had been losing its cohesion. It was like if it had gotten a thousand tiny cuts that never healed or scarred. The ribbons of skin just stretched lower, exposing muscle underneath that festered and putrefied without its protection from the outside world.

I knew it was over. I didn’t even have the strength to scream. But before this monster killed me, a loud blast rang out, and the monster fell on top of me.

That was when I passed out. I woke up in my bedroom. For a moment I thought that I never left the house and must have dreamt the whole thing. But the sound of sizzling and a familiar smell set me straight. I made my way downstairs and into the kitchen. My dad was at the stove, cooking with his back towards me.

“Sit down, breakfast is ready,” he said without turning around.

I did what he said.

I looked out of the kitchen window, and could see trees starting to sprout from each of the Hudsons’ graves.

Dad placed a bowl in front of me. It was the cooked contents of one of the fruits from the mysterious tree. I saw his smile for the first time in days. He had a couple of ribbons of skin that had begun to peel.

My dad knew hunger. And he will make sure I will never go hungry again.