“Don’t eat me, please,” said the blind man to the brigands gathered at his back. He couldn’t see them. But he could smell them.
The singular scents of baby fat and roasted cat wafted from them like abattoir breath, an infernal inversion of the smell from the bread factory that used to hang in the air as he left his apartment each morning. Before the thunder came in December. Before the birds all fell from the sky. Before his eyes went dark along with everything else.
“Give us one good reason why we shouldn’t,” one of the voices said from behind, sending a spray of spittle onto the blind man’s neck.
“Yeah! One good reason!” a second voice screeched.
“I’ll give you more than one,” said the blind man. “I might even give you three.”
“It’s pretty rough out here, old man, ” First said. “If we don’t eat you, someone else will. Maybe someone not so nice.”
“Not so nice!” Second laughed, sending more spit onto the blind man’s head.
“At least we’ll kill you before we feast,” First said. “But some of those? Some of those like to watch you scream as they take their first bite. And their second. And all the rest. For entertainment. Because it’s awful boring out here too.”
“BORE-ING!” Second squealed like a pig, as the chakka-chak of sharpening blades joined the din.
“Matter of fact,” First continued, “I used to think it couldn’t be more anything out here than it is rough. But now I know: The only thing it’s more of than rough…is boring.”
The knives continued their syncopation as the blind man considered his words.
“There are many reasons why you shouldn’t eat me,” he said.
“I’m not an unreasonable man,” said First. “Why don’t you start by giving me just one.”
“To begin with, as you can see, I myself haven’t eaten in ages. I am frail and skinny, tough and chewy. You’ll get no satisfaction here, I guarantee. Unless you have no other choices, I’d look elsewhere for your vittles. I’d barely make an appetizer, let alone a meal.”
“It’s true you’re thin, to say the least,” said First. “Turn you sideways and you might just disappear. But that’s part of the allure. We’ve never had one as thin as you. And variety is the spice of life.”
“SPICE!” slurped Second, the drool from his lips splashing to the ground.
“Maybe you’re right,” the blind man said. “But still you should leave me undigested. Because I am the cure for what eats you. Keep me around, and you’ll never be bored again.”
“Never is a mighty long time, old man.”
“I don’t speak wantonly. You will never be bored again. I’ll tell you tales. When you wake up. When you lay down your head. When you cook your daily bread. Tales. Like you’ve never been told before.”
“Tales?” asked First, as if he didn’t know what the word meant. “Who has time for tales?”
“Seems to me that time is all we have left. And tales to fill it with. But they’ve almost all been forgotten. How long has it been since you’ve been told a good tale?”
“Our daddy told us one. Once. Before he begged us to eat him, my brother and me. When everything else was gone.”
“Man cannot live by man alone,” the blind man said. “Or woman. Nor baby neither, succulent as it might be. Nor cat nor rat nor mouse. The imagination must eat too. And tales are the spice of life. I can tell you tales of how this world came to be. What it was. What it is. What it might be still. If you’ll let me. If you’ll listen.”
The blind man couldn’t see, but he knew: First now looked at Second quizzically, having never heard such a promise before. Second knew not what to say, having never known First to be uncertain. Not in the face of a certain meal.
And then the blind man heard the brigands put their knives away. They slapped him kindly on his head, summoning him to his feet. He rose slowly, and they took him along as they searched for their next meal. That day. And the the next day. And the next.
And every night he told them a tale. Of once upon a time. And long ago. And many tomorrows from today.
And they listened.
And they did not starve.
And then, after all their years of hearing: it all began again.
Eric Myers writes and teaches, splitting his time between Columbus, San Francisco, and Black Rock City.
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