Just a Taste
I never meant for things to turn out this way. You have to believe me, I mean seriously. I didn’t want to—
I was just so hungry.
From the beginning? Okay. Me and Tess go to Camp Green Lake every year. We’ve been doing it for years, ever since we were little. We grew up together. It was week three out of four, and we wanted to have an adventure before we went back home. Something off the beaten path, you know? So we decided to go hike one of the trails. We’re both really good at it. There’s this cliff, the one you found us under, and when we got there, we decided to rappel down and camp overnight, then, hike back in the morning. The counselors knew we were hiking the trail, but the rappelling down was just a spur of the moment thing. We didn’t plan it. Just saw it was there and wanted to, you know? We just wanted to do something fun. Just the two of us.
Well, we were halfway down and I grabbed a handhold and it was loose. It looked fine. But it crumbled and we both fell. The harness caught Tess before she hit the ground, and I managed to grab on to an outcropping and stop myself.
When Tess fell, she—
Her leg was just dangling. It was still connected, but it just hung there. She said she couldn't feel it. That's what she said. She was stuck upright in her harness. Honestly, I think that’s the only reason she survived the fall. It would’ve broken her back otherwise. I was scraped to hell and had some nasty bruises but I was okay. At least I thought so. The doctors said I must’ve hit my head on the way down. Guess I just didn’t feel it.
Tess was freaking out, screaming. She was in a lot of pain, and probably shock too. I calmed her down as best I could, but she didn’t stop crying that whole night. I kept telling her that someone was gonna find us, that we were gonna be okay, and that she would look super cool with a prosthetic. I told her I’d paint it when she got one. I told her she would be okay.
We started running out of food. We had packed enough for a few days, like our counselors told us to. For emergencies, they said. You never know what could happen out there. I don’t think this is what they were thinking could happen out there, though. And the days kept coming. I don't know how many. It's hard to keep track out there. I tried counting sunsets but then I got mixed up with the sunrises and I lost count. The only way I had to mark time was my fires dying. I kept building fires, as big as I could make them. We had plenty of kindling. But I guess no one saw the smoke till later.
Me and Tess had this thing. We could look at each other and just know what the other was thinking. I went into both our bags looking for anything we could eat and came up empty. There was nothing. We had plenty of water, of course. Funny, right? All the water we could want. Then she looked at me, and we both looked at her leg. And I remembered I had a collapsible axe in my bag.
We didn't say it. Just looked at each other. I got the axe out and she said, "We have to. We don't have a choice. I don't want to starve. We have to." She kept repeating that over and over, "We have to." And then I was standing over her with the axe and she looked up at me and said, "It was gonna come off anyway."
I don’t really remember cutting it off. I remember the noise it made, and I remember her leg falling to the ground. And I remember her scream. She said she couldn’t feel it. She said--
Sorry. I’m okay.
Of course, there was a big problem. Staring us right in the face. There wasn't enough for both of us. Even if there was, it wouldn't have kept and it wouldn't last. We didn't know when help would come. I built a big fire to cook the leg and I kept thinking they would see the smoke and come find us, and I would say "I built the fire so you would know where we were and rescue us," and we would never have to tell anyone what we did.
What would we have said about her leg? That it came off when we fell. That some animal dragged it off in the middle of the night and ate it. Not like they were going to look. There’s no way it could have been saved.
Are you really sure you want to hear this? I mean it’s...Okay. You need me to tell you everything. I just don’t want you to listen to this if you really don’t want to.
I built a fire and I cooked it. I’m not a very good cook. Especially over a fire. All we’d had that day was some trail mix and it...it smelled so good. I was so hungry, and you can’t even imagine how good it smelled. When it was done I burned my hands and my mouth grabbing my portion because I wanted it so bad.
How did Tess feel? I...don’t know. I didn’t even look at her when I was eating. I was just so...I was hungry.
I’ve never tasted anything so delicious in my life. I don’t know how to describe it. I don’t even know if I should. And I know it only tasted so good because I hadn’t eaten anything. But I’ll never forget that taste as long as I live.
It lasted for four days. We rationed it. Then we were back in the same situation. I fished one of her bones that hadn't completely burnt up out of the embers of the fire, and started sucking on it just to get anything in my stomach. The day after it ran out, Tess woke up and started screaming again. She said she couldn’t feel her other leg. I don’t think she broke her back but I think she must’ve hurt it somehow. She was really freaking out, more than she did when we fell.
Listen, I know how this is going to sound. And I know, but I didn’t see another way to keep surviving. I wouldn’t have done it if we had any other choice. I was...starting to see things at this point, too.
I told her we needed to cut off her other leg and eat that one too. Of course she said no. But it wasn’t like she could feel it, and it was the same as the first one. Either a doctor was going to cut it off, or I could and we could actually use it. Don’t look at me like that.
Tess started screaming at me to get away from her, and not to touch her. And I...it was like something came over me. I know I moved and I know I did it but it was like I was watching myself do everything.
I took the axe again and I cut her down from the harness, and I dragged her over to the fire, and I cut off her other leg. It was much harder than the first one. It took a couple of tries, and she was screaming and moving around and there was just so much blood. I tied a rope around the stump and it stopped the bleeding.
Tess didn’t even look at me when I started cooking. She just laid there, shaking. I think she was crying for a long time.
I had to force her to eat. She wouldn’t take what I gave her and I had to shove it into her mouth and make her chew. I’m not proud to say I yelled at her. But she ate. I had to keep forcing her a couple times but eventually she did it herself and I could stop watching her all the time.
This was when I really started seeing things. I heard howling, and people yelling, and I kept seeing these figures out of the corner of my eye, and whenever I tried to look at them they’d be gone. I didn’t know what was happening. I heard whispering in my ears but I could never make out what it was saying.
One morning I woke up and Tess was screaming at me again. She was calling me stupid and crazy, and said it was my fault we ended up here at all. She said she hated me all along and only went with me ’cause I wouldn’t leave her alone. I don’t know if any of it really happened. Probably not, right? But I’ll never know.
I ignored her for the rest of the day. That night, I went to sleep and I woke up to Tess on top of me. She was hitting me, and trying to get her hands around my neck. She looked crazy. Like she really wanted to kill me. I remember hitting her really hard, and running away from her.
Sorry. I didn’t want to talk about this part. I don’t think this was real. She couldn’t have moved like that, and she wasn’t strong enough to do any of that. But it was so real to me. And it hurts that she would attack me like that after everything that happened. And it hurts that it was the last time I really saw her.
I ran away from the camp and the voice in my ear got louder and louder. Still don’t know what it wanted to tell me. I could see the figures head on, and they kept showing up in front of me, and then disappearing behind trees.
I finally stopped in a clearing, and there were so many of them there. All in a circle around me. I could see their faces, sort of. They were walking toward me, slowly, and they were all smiling.
That was when I blacked out. I don’t know what I did, or where I went. I don’t think I went far though. When I came back to myself I was still in our camp. And-and Tess was there.
I know how you found her. I don’t remember doing it.
I know! I know it was me! I saw what I did! But I’m telling you, I DON’T REMEMBER! And have you considered that maybe I don’t want to? Maybe, just possibly, I don’t want to remember bashing my best friend’s head in so I can keep eating her? Maybe I don’t want to remember going crazy and cutting bits off of her and eating them! I remember the park rangers dragging me off her, and getting the knife away from me, and I remember how her blood smelled, and I remember what the pieces of her in my mouth felt like. I don’t want to remember anymore. That’s enough for me.
Can we be done already? I’m tired.
Fine. We’re almost at the end anyway. After that, they gave me a sedative and brought me here so they could take care of my injuries. I don’t know where they took Tess. I mean, her body. No one will tell me. That was two weeks ago. They say I healed up fine. I don’t know why I’m still here. That’s it. That’s all of it.
Wait. Before you go. I have one more thing to say to you, and I want this on the record.
Can you look me in the eye and tell me if you were out there, you wouldn’t have done the same thing? Don’t act all high and mighty. Have you ever been hungry? I don’t mean just hungry for dinner. I mean hungry. Haven’t eaten in days hungry. The only thing you have in your stomach is water hungry. Have you? No, I didn’t think so. So don’t tell me you wouldn’t have done it because you don’t know. Next time you’re out somewhere in nature I want you to remember that. It only takes a minute to get stuck somewhere. And when you get that hungry, you’d do anything not to be.
I see how you’re looking at me. I think you’re going to think of us every time you look at a cliff, aren’t you? Are you gonna have nightmares about me, Officer? I hope so.
I know what I did. I know what I am. I know I didn’t have a choice, and I know what’s going to happen to me now. No, I don’t mean jail or a trial or anything like that. I know all that already, and I know I’m going away for a long time. What I mean is, people are going to look at me the same way you are now. The disgust, the fear, the pity. How could a nice girl like me do something like that? They don’t know what it’s like. And I pray that they never find out. I pray that nobody in this perfect little town ever has to eat their best friend.
I don’t know what I’m going to do now. All I know is that I’ll be seeing Tess in hell.
This piece was inspired in part by Showtime’s Yellowjackets. The examination of intense, all-consuming female friendships that end in tragedy in the show sparked something in me, and I wanted more; so, I decided I’d do it myself. While writing, I realized that in addition to this, I was externalizing some of what I had experienced in the wake of escaping an abusive relationship. Like Tess, I was immobilized and used; pieces were taken from me for someone else’s gain. How I felt and what I thought were never important. However, finally finishing this piece was immensely healing for me. It was the first project I’ve finished since escaping; it will not be the last. My works tend to focus on the extremes people can put each other through, and some are born from my experiences. But I am thriving now. It was writing that saved me and writing that will propel me forward.
River Nerys is a junior Anthropology and English major. He has been writing stories since he was able to write. He enjoys combining both of his majors to explore human nature in his writing. When not staring at blank Word documents, River enjoys media analysis, gaming, reading, and making convoluted Spotify playlists that only make sense to him. He can typically be found in the basement of Peck Hall, contemplating human existence.