Alone now, I tread the shore to a tangled spot in the jungle and calm myself under a roof of wilted palm trees and wild weeds. To the west, The Cannibal Priestess and Cannibal Daughters sharpen tools for another hunt; I imagine their snarling mouths ripping into my flesh. The Priestess chants a litany of wavering verse that crescendos in a sustained falsetto squeal to the delight of her audience. I shiver through the echoing applause of twisted giggles and wild cheers. All night the Daughters hum praise to their Priestess like beautiful engines of insatiable death; bare bellies and murderous lust-songs gurgle through the jungle night.
Blink awake to the twitch of dawn and I am shivering; rain, rusty and putrid sweet drips on my cracked lips. Then I see it. The horror of eyeless sockets stare down from the branches above. Fred’s severed head hangs from a bough above me. Like a sliced nerve, I feel an audience of emerald eyes gazing, inhale the musk of the Daughters. They are near. Smothered in dirt, Fred’s blood on my lips, I grope and stumble through the thick jungle. Run until sand burns my feet, a stretch of beach littered in filth: ship parts, an arraigned circle of crushed skulls, piles of rotten meat, ragged trouser legs and strewn Army uniforms like my own, torn or bitten to shreds. I rise, stand in the water, but it is too late. Behind me, a group of them approach, proud and silent, striding slow with gorgeously raging eyes. Sink and let go, I think.
Some hold wooden spears and some rusty cleavers. One wields thick rope and a tall one drags a chain through the sand. Their bodies are almost fully exposed save for threads of bloodied army uniforms, neckties and other scraps of their victims’ apparel. I face them and collapse into the shallow water, my body a heap of mesmerized agony, weak and wishing mightily for the choke of the deep water that pools around my neck and back. From everywhere soft hands and arms pull me up. Naked feet sting my sides. Sharp hands slap my face. I am hoisted belly to the sky through the bellowing of laughter, shouts like wicked sins from their lips are spit all over my body. I am dragged through the woods to their camp with tiny huts. I am stretched upright and tied to a wooden stake for all of the Cannibal Daughters to see. And then I see her, the most beautiful hunter, their Priestess.
From her throne of human viscera, centered within the foundation of concrete rubble that was once a house, sits the Cannibal Priestess. Her gaze whitens my hair and my guts clench when I catch a glimpse of her ghostly face. It is a terrible thing to be stung by beauty. She stands wrapped in a lush white gown stained red with the blood of other men. Now hovering close, the Daughters run their fingers through my hair, prod and caress my mouth, tickle my spine with fingers; and I am overcome with humiliating weakness. Captured, I have become the hapless fool in this feast of ecstasy. And then, I remember the jackknife.
The Priestess approaches me and beyond her a giant fire pit is being decked with piles of kindling. Some Daughters work and stare, others jeer and whistle. She steps to the stake and my eyes, now shut tight, are gently pried open by two Daughterly hands. They want me to see. I will see. The two Daughters use their fingers to peel back my eyelids. One Daughter whispers something soft in my left ear while the one to my right nibbles at my ear lobe with sharp teeth. I yelp and am slapped by the Priestess as the one Daughter pinches down and swallows a small bit of ear-skin. The Priestess strokes my cheek and ratty hair, presses her warmth up against me. She is chanting low and her voice is a steam that moistens into hot sweat. I am drenched. The world is blurring. My two hands, bound behind my back, fumble downward and my right hand feels the outlines of the small jackknife in my back pocket. I stare into her oval face and her tongue and lips meet my mouth in a violent mingle of damp spit. I grasp the knife with trembling fingers and slide it up into the palm of my hand. For once in my life, I believe in love at first sight.
She kisses me. I remember the sinking ship. Screams and orders. Frantic men. Crashes and chaos. Pounding thumps. The second explosion brought in the smoke and the sea. Water gushed through the hall, forced open the door to my chamber. A dead private. Charts and maps ruined. I remember the ladder and the birds on deck. I heard voices on the radio crackle and fizz. I saw the Captain’s body shot through with a wooden spear. There were squeals, mist and smoke everywhere. I jumped into the haze of the sea. Her hands rake my chest and one hand grasps my neck. She releases me from moist lips and rubs her other hand up and down my face, smearing dirt in my eyes. The two Daughters sing soft lullabies. I hang my head and gently open the jackknife.
They leave me and the Daughters gather near the fire pit. The Priestess stands atop a pile of skulls. The pink sun is low and the sky, a purple ocean. I maneuver the jackknife into position and saw at the rope, clumsy with fear. The Priestess on her pile of skulls, waits for the fire to be lit, unadorned and savage in her splendor. The flames dance. Cheers for my death fill the Daughters with joy. The wailing increases and is joined by a pulsing thump. I hear Daughters sharpening knives and I saw at the old rope faster and harder. I fake unconsciousness and let drool spill from my mouth. The rope loosens, a fiery gust awakens me. They all join together in what I can only imagine must be a prayer before dining. Heads bow. Then, just as the pink sun sinks purple into black, I open my eyes and dash silently into the jungle. Moments later I hear the gasps.
My body is a bundle of jelly that I drag over mounds and through fallen trees. I have no sense of direction, nor do I care. My tattered uniform snags on branches. I follow the moon to the edge of this hell. I make it to the water, collapse on my knees and crawl to the water’s edge. Voices upon voices wail and sail through the jungle night. I tear off my clothes and inhale the water. I swim. Carrying torches, come the Daughters. They, too, have stripped themselves naked in the dark. They drop their weapons to the ground when they see my wallowing frame and point to the water; I float further out into the deep.
They do not yell. Naked and calm, they begin, one by one, to step into the water. I paddle frantically, swallowing gulps of the sea, spitting and snorting. This is all I have now, I think. Tiny fish mouths nibble at my stomach, brush against my kicking legs. Looking back, I see pale skin, breasts, wet hair and backs moving steadily closer through the water. Their emerald eyes glow green and steady. From the shore, I catch one final glimpse of the Priestess, surrounded by a swarm of Daughters bearing torches.
I thought I would never see you again. Be seeing you around, I say to her and she seems to smile and nod as slippery hands tug at my limp body and pull me into mouths.
Bio: Jamie Grefe lives and works in Beijing, China. His work is up at Mud Luscious, Gone Lawn, Pure Francis, A Twist of Noir and elsewhere.
Visit him at: http://shreddedmaps.tumblr.com