Outside, the snow enveloped the timberline and buzzards froze upon their perches, waiting. The survivors of the crash had been trapped in the cabin for so long now; the unforgiving ice had packed itself up against every exit, barricading the doors and windows.
The wooden beams of the cabin creaked continuously beneath the weight and they lived in fear of a cave-in.
They wore the pain around their necks like charms. Father John taught them to adorn pain, so that it wouldn’t choke them. Sometime during the following dark days, the holy man attempted once more, for what felt like the umpteenth time, to escape the mountain cabin via the blocked chimney. As he starved and grew thinner, each time he got a little further, chipping away at the ice with Thompson’s blunting penknife.
This last time, though, he lost his footing on a slick patch and fell almost the entire length down the inside of the chimney, breaking both of his legs in seven awkward places.
At Father John’s insistence, Thompson and Humboldt hacked them off, bit by bit, fracture by fracture, and everybody ate them, starting at the knee and working their way down to the feet. Everybody agreed that the bony feet were pretty much only good for soup—warm soup they really craved on those awfully cold nights.
Father John spent a day walking around the cabin on his hands, dragging his body around like a crab, his mumbling increasing in insanity, trying to stave off the shock trauma. He bled out and died a while after, but his belly was full and so was his heart. For the next few days they still united in prayer every night, led by Mr Thompson, but once the entirety of Father John had been eaten, they abandoned their prayers, just as they had been abandoned to die in these mountains.
Mr Swift had died, Sarah had died, Granny had died, the Hastings family had died in a huddle, and the Spanish woman had perished too, as had Walter Humboldt and Father John. Now only the Thompsons were left—the hungry, hungry Thompsons and a very, very nervous Mr Humboldt.
* * *
When you’re a child, and the monsters come wailing at night, you’re taught by your mother to close your eyes and count to ten. When you open them again, the monsters will be gone and you’ll realise it was all just a part of your gaudy imagination.
Pallor mortis—the skin grows tight and grey. The bladder and bowels empty brusquely onto the cabin floor. The temperature of the body begins to drop. The liver stays warmest for longest.
After thirty minutes the skin turns purple and waxy and, as the blood submits to gravity, it pools in the lowest parts of the body.
Livor mortis—hands and toes turn from snowy white to blue. Brain cells die in droves. Pupils begin to dilate, unresponsive to direct light. The eyes cloud over and collapse into the skull. The brain stem dies.
Rigor mortis leaves the body as stiff as a plank. If you’re going to eat somebody, doubtless you would have done so by this point. Hair stands on end, muscles spasm sporadically.
Algor mortis—the corpse cools rapidly. The head and neck turn greenish-blue, which slowly spreads throughout the rest of the body. The smell of decaying flesh permeates the cabin, where the legless Father John is face down on the floor, tangled in his own entrails. Three days later, cells begin to break down and release enzymes, causing large blisters to erupt from his skin.
Gruesome-smelling fluids leak from the mouth, eyes, ears, nose, rectum and urinary opening as pressure builds from the gases. Bloody froth trickles from every natural orifice. The body bloats and swells grotesquely. His tongue protrudes from his mouth.
Putrefaction. By this time, the survivors have presumably eaten all there is to eat, and leaven the rest to the maggots. Major mass loss occurs as a result of purging decomposition fluids.
The skin, hair, and nails become so slack they can be yanked from the corpse like a loose-fitting glove. As the body slowly begins to unravel, the skin slippage can make it problematic and grim work to drag a body around a cabin.
The wretched little Thompson girls lurked around in the dark on all fours, chewing on pieces of Father John’s body. Chewing thoughtfully and slowly, savouring every morsel. Mr Thompson wept himself to sleep and lay wheezing upon his back near the bone pile, and Mr Humboldt had resigned himself to the darkest corners, trying with all his might not to breathe too loudly.
Looking down at what remained of Father John, they barely recognised that bloated, gurgling old head anymore. They scarcely recognized each other. On those lonely, cold nights in the dark, Clara would explore Lana’s face with filthy, bloody little hands and Lana would explore hers, just to be sure they were still human and still alive.
* * *
The full story – “Mastication (The Wendigo Children)” can be read in Bloody Parchment: Blue Honey and The Valley of Shadow – available on Amazon now.
An excerpt from a great review of Blue Honey and The Valley of Shadow :
“There is a psychological problem called Secondary Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (SPTSD). It happens when you listen to or read about a traumatic event that happened to another person. You experience the same symptoms as you would with PTSD. One of the effects of this disorder is to deny the truth of the story that has affected you. This denial is a mechanism to protect ourselves from the consequences of knowing about it. I suspect I suffered something like this reading the story: Mastication. (…)
I have left Mastication (The Wendigo Children) for the end, although it is not the last of the stories. The reason: I was terror-stricken by the story. Jason Mykl Snyman made me feel nauseous. I couldn’t help myself from reading on as something in the story compelled me to deny it, to look for its failures, to make it less threatening: there was no way out. The story is so well done it scared me to the bone. It tells us the quest for survival by a group of people buried alive in a house in the mountains, surrounded by snow. I don’t know if I will be able to go to a mountain refuge again without feeling shivers. I can’t forget the sound of the girls… eating.”