On the bright side, Mei had found a boat and a way off the island. She hadn’t escaped the island on her own, but at least she’d tried. She’d fought back against the system that had unfairly trapped her here and that, at least, she could be proud of.
On the other hand, she had just been captured by indigenous Caribbean folk who had poisoned her with curare and kidnapped her. Her breath came in very short jerks as the giant wooden canoe she was in slowly moved up and down large ocean rollers. And there was nothing she could do about it.
She lay there, utterly helpless as the time between rapid breaths grew shorter and the breathes grew shallower. Her eyes, stuck open, painfully teared up constantly in an effort to keep the sore orbs hydrated. At some point, someone closed them for her, leaving her in darkness. Her only sensation was a faint notion of the canoe’s rocking movement. It was scary.
And then her breathing stopped altogether. Her chest tightened and a stab of pain grew within. And her fear magnified many times over.
She felt herself dying. She wanted to scream. She wanted to cry. But she could do nothing but stare at the darkness, scared out of her mind.
Then someone said something from the back of the canoe. Someone else shoved something into her mouth and pumped. Air forcefully pushed into her lungs. A rush of bliss! Then another. She was breathing! The movement jostled her eyes open again.
The device came into view. It was probably an animal bladder of some kind. Pieces of wood had been tied to either side of it and brown hands pumped the bladder open and closed. It was a bellows, like the kind you use with a fireplace. The Caribs were trying to keep her alive by forcing her lungs to work after the curare had shut them down. Did that mean she would survive? Maybe, maybe not. This didn’t seem like it was the most medically sound procedure.
But it gave her hope and it kept her alive. For a moment. Her entire existence shrank down to that single breath being forced into her body and the glorious oxygen it gave her. She swung back and forth between burning pain and…less pain. Someone closed her eyes again. That was nice of them. She wondered why they’d bothered. Why care?
There was no way to tell how long the journey took, except that at some point, someone else took a turn at keeping her barely alive. She knew that because her eyes opened during the switch, only to be closed shortly after. She thought she fell asleep for a time, though she wasn’t certain.
Now and then, her sense of touch would start to return. Then someone would prick her with a wooden needle. It didn’t hurt much. But the numbness would rapidly spread again.
Eventually, they stopped giving her more curare. Her body very slowly began to regain function and she even started to breathe on her own again. And that was painful too. She felt the canoe hit land and drag to a halt, which triggered her eyes open once more. It also caused her to roll off the dead man under her and flop against the side of the canoe. The light was blinding, which only made her tear up again, but there was nothing for it but to endure.
The Caribs hauled their other prisoners out first, then Mei and the two corpses. They dragged her up the beach and through a patch of jungle, along a twisting path whose entrance wouldn’t have been obvious to anyone walking by, let alone sailing by, even with a telescope. They didn’t have to go far, only a dozen meters past a thick wall of trees and vines and leaves. Then they arrived in a small Carib village.
Wood and grass huts formed a circle against the jungle, doors facing the center. They were small buildings, simply made and with dirt floors. A large fire pit sat in the center of the village, unlit, while a couple of smaller ones outside individual huts burned low.
All the warriors that had captured Mei and the others had been male. For the first time, she saw females. They squatted and sat in small groups in front of the huts, working on crafts or cooking, and most were talking. They wore only skirts and feather or bead decorations, their breasts bare.
The returning warriors were very vocal. They entered the village full of raucous boasts and triumphant gestures, big grins on their faces, dancing and shouting and waving weapons around. One did not have to understand their language to see that they were excessively prideful. Mei supposed that made sense considering these so-called primitives had just successfully raided a colony with far higher levels of technology. These Davids had casually swum over and stolen from a Goliath with ease, so they felt superior.
The women looked over and some rose. There were smiles and a few cheers and laughs. The females were, however, much more reserved than the exuberant males. Still, some of them came to see the prisoners and studied them. Some plucked at clothing and fingered buttons and laughed. When they saw Mei, a crowd of the females gathered, eyes wide as they chattered and pointed at her features before touching their own eyes and noses in comparison. Perhaps they’d never seen an Asian person before.
The prisoners were not hauled into the village. Next to the village entrance were a series of cages that were too short to stand in. Unlike the crude huts, these were made of wrist-thick logs and rope and sturdily built. Mei watched as the men and women taken from Barbados were stuffed into cages that barely held them all. Mei, however, perhaps due to all the attention she was getting, was pushed into a cage by herself.
She lay there, gradually returning to all her senses when another shout went up and more attention was drawn to a pair of warriors entering the village. Turning her head a little, she gasped.
The two warriors had the jaguar strung upside down on a pole carried between them. The animal had a crude wooden device over its head and neck to prevent it from biting anyone. The villagers, old and young alike, danced about in awe and a few even dared to approach and gingerly reach up to stroke the great cat’s exposed furry belly. They’d run their hand over the white fur and then hastily pull it back and giggle to each other. The warriors carried the cat to a smaller cage next to Mei and put it inside.
She could see from the groggy look in the jaguar’s eyes that it was still under the effects of the curare and likewise scared. It tried to snarl and bite but could hardly move, its breathing shallow and ragged. Even though the creature had perhaps tried to kill her at one point and was quite dangerous, she watched it suffer horribly and her heart went out to it. Surely it had no idea what was happening to it or why.
Mei had always hated seeing animals abused. It had long been a problem in her culture and she’d gone out of her way to report stories on the illegal pet trade, cruel farms, and animal testing. But nothing pissed her off more than trophy hunters who turned beautiful animals into rugs, and the infuriating idiots who still believed in the superstitious nonsense of ‘traditional medicine’. As if grinding up some rare animal’s testicles into your tea would give you a boner or cure your cough. She hated that ignorant way of thinking.
The warriors left the captive animal lying on its side and untied it from the pole, then they tied its feet to the bars of the cage. Even after it recovered from the drug, it would be unable to do anything.
Mei wondered what they planned to do with it. If they were going to skin it or eat it, why go to all the trouble of keeping it alive like this? Or were they going to torture it or sacrifice it to some strange god? Try to train it as a pet? Ha. Good luck with that.
Her ability to blink regularly came back and her breaths became more measured. A sense of relief came over her as she felt immediate death recede. And then she saw the corpses being brought in from the canoes.
Warriors dumped the two dead marines next to the large, central fire pit. Women clapped their hands and excitedly pointed at the bodies and poked them and nodded to each other, everyone smiling and looking quite happy. And then they got to work.
First, they pulled out crude stone knives and cut away the soldiers’ jackets and clothing while two teen girls started a fire in the central pit. Buttons, especially the gold-coloured ones, were cut out of the fabric. There was much excitement over the distribution of them as everyone, male and female, seemed to want them to add to their own decorative accessories. And if things had stopped there, Mei might have understood that they were just stripping the two of finery before burying them. But the Caribs didn’t stop there. And what they did after made Mei’s stomach heave.
An old woman grabbed a knife and, all business, jabbed it into one soldier’s stomach. She sawed back and forth, gutting him with all the practice and nonchalance of someone used to doing the same with fish or deer. Once she’d opened his belly up, she reached in and pulled out all his innards, dumping them into a wide, clay bowl. The heart and liver went into a separate, smaller bowl. The eyeballs followed.
Two others joined her and they began hacking the body apart. Blood splattered and dripped as they stripped the flesh off arm and leg bones. Buttocks were carved off like large roasts. An axe detached the head. One woman took it to a stone slab and cracked it open with a hammer and chisel. Then she scooped the brains out into a small bowl.
The cooks never stopped chatting with each other as they worked. If one hadn’t seen the animal they were preparing, it would have looked no different than any other people preparing a feast with a pig or a cow. Except this wasn’t one of those typical food species.
These people were cannibals.
The English captives wailed and cried and screamed in horror as they watched from their cages. Everyone knew now why the Caribs had taken so much pain to keep them all alive and store them in cages. It was so they could keep their livestock alive and fresh for later.
Mei struggled to comprehend the grotesqueness of the scene in front of her. She turned and retched, bringing up nothing but water and bile. She hadn’t eaten in a while. Then she turned away and tried to do anything but watch the celebratory dinner being made out of the men who had been hunting her.
A pair of little girls came by, neither more than six or seven years old. They had watched her furtively the whole time they’d approached. Now, courage gathered, they stood outside her cell, studying her and whispering to each other.
Mei had no idea what the two were saying in their language but from the way the little girls excitedly pointed at her face and skin, and then seemed to compare her with the white and black people in the other cages, she was pretty certain that they were discussing what flavour she was. Like someone comparing chicken and pork or who was about to sample a meat they’d never eaten before. It was sickening. But then again, this was probably what cattle felt like before being turned into hamburgers.
One of the two girls, the younger one, looked at her and licked her lips.
Mei backed away from the girls, stomach heaving, pressing herself against the back of the cage. Being shot and stabbed and chained up and raped and tortured wasn’t enough? She could also experience being eaten? And not in the good, sexual way. Actually eaten, like food. Would they carve her into steaks? Grind her into human hotdogs? Spit her alive over the flames and enjoy the sound of her screaming as she roasted?
The old woman who’d started the butchering cackled and held up the dead man’s detached penis. There was a scuffle as several tribeswomen exclaimed and reached for it. But the old woman only snatched it back and chomped down on it, tearing at the penis with her bad teeth. Half of it came away in her mouth before someone else clawed it out of her hand. In seconds, several together had consumed the entire thing, raw. The old woman smacked her wrinkled lips and blood trickled down her chin.
One woman who’d scarfed a bite of the penis patted her belly in satisfaction, then her loins, giving the other women a knowing look. A man, seeing her, hastened over and she happily let him drag her into the nearest hut. Faint sounds of rutting lasted only a minute or two before the warrior came out, crowing loudly and strutting like a rooster. The woman came out shortly thereafter, looking proud of herself. She hefted her bare tits in her hands and shouted something in a challenging voice at the other warriors standing about, before giving them a sly look.
The warriors joked and slapped each other before another one broke from the group and chased the woman back into the hut.
A warrior with many gold and silver buttons dangling from his ears and nose piercings paraded in front of the cages with his chest puffed, spear before him. He pretended to ignore the captives as he marched by in a mockery of an English soldier. Then he suddenly turned on them, lunging with his spear, piercing between the bars of the cage.
The captives screamed and tried to evade the thrust, though there was no room to do so in the cramped enclosure.
The warrior threw his head back and howled. He pumped his spear in the air to prove what a great, fearless warrior he was, then suddenly lunged at them again, causing more screams.
The other warriors and some of the women laughed at his antics.
Mei was disgusted. She turned away and saw the jaguar. Locked in place, it could do nothing but stare at her in helpless fear. Her heart sank. A few minutes ago, she’d so casually thought about the Caribs eating the beautiful creature, and yet now she knew that the same would be done to her. Was there really any difference?
There was intelligence and emotion in the jaguar’s eyes. Whether or not a non-human animal could use a calculator or fire a gun, it was sentient and shared with humans the foundation of what it was to be a living, breathing part of nature. It was just as scared and in just as much pain as she was and that felt so wrong.
She thought back to when it had attacked the marine hunting her in the jungle. Why had it done that? Had it been defending its territory? Had it been angry about the guns? It did seem to hate weapons. Or…and this seemed impossible…had it been protecting her?
Mei wanted to deny the idea out of hand. It was a wild animal, a predator that likely saw humans as prey. And yet, it had had the chance to kill her on the beach after they’d swum together and hadn’t. It had sat with her all that night as well. Though, cynically, it might have just been guarding its breakfast and trying to keep it contained until the next day. But, it had known she’d been armed, hadn’t it? Sleeping overhead the whole night long when she could have shot or stabbed it? Was that some kind of show of trust?
She shook her head. She was overthinking this. Painting an animal with human emotions and thoughts could be foolish and dangerous.
The jaguar looked at her with its golden eyes. A soft whine came from its throat.
“I know. I’m scared, too,” she told it. Whether it was a mothering part of her or just general human compassion, she wanted to comfort the cat. She reached through the bars of the cage, though she did so well away from the cat’s mouth. Very slowly, she reached around from a safe angle.
The jaguar’s eyes flickered in the direction of her arm.
She held her arm in place for a while, giving the animal time to smell her, to understand that she wasn’t trying to hurt it. She was not a threat. Then, with infinite gentleness, she reached down and laid her hand on the top of its head, ready to snatch it back the instant the cat moved.
The cat did nothing. It didn’t move, didn’t twist away. It just looked at her with sad eyes.
She felt her tears well up. “It’s because you’re used to someone doing bad things to you, isn’t it?” Often, abused animals become aggressive and violent. Others become broken and submissive. This great cat seemed to have some spark of pride in him; she’d seen that in the jungle and on the beach. And yet there was something incredibly sad about the way that it just lay there without reacting to her hand.
She felt a spark of anger form amidst her helplessness and despair. “I don’t know who hurt you before. But I’m going to try to get you out of here, I promise. So no one ever hurts you again.”
The jaguar blinked and looked down and away, as if it didn’t believe her words.
Slowly, slowly, she ran her hand over the jaguar’s fur, petting it. “I’ll get us both out of here. I will. If I can break myself out of a jail cell on a ship at sea and blow the whole thing to hell, then I can get us out of this.”
Night had fallen. Overhead, a crescent moon held in check the light of the many stars. A bonfire burned bright, and orange light flickered on the wall of trees circling the primitive Carib village. The vast ocean surrounding the island was dark and deadly and cold. But within the shelter of the jungle, there was a warm bubble of light and life. And a little death.
A wooden spit lay about a meter above the flames. The first soldier’s flesh had been sliced into strips of meat and seasoned, and it now hung in the heat, sizzling. Fat dripped and caused the flames to dart higher now and then.
The Carib villagers celebrated a successful hunt. They danced and drank around the fire with abandon and delight. Swift fingers reached in and snared strips of half-cooked human and popped it into their mouths, exclaiming at bursts of flavour or how hot it was on their tongues. Children and adults alike, old and young, male and female, they laughed and slapped each other on the back and excitedly exclaimed over the feast.
The other dead man had been carved into slender pieces. These hung over a very smoky blaze on the edge of the celebration, being turned into jerky. Apparently, two human bodies would provide far more than the villagers could eat in one meal.
Mei could smell the men cooking. She was disgusted. She was also embarrassed and horrified at the way her starving stomach rumbled every time the wind carried to her the scent of barbecuing meat. She curled up against the back of her cage, trying to deny both the reality before her and within her.
The jaguar whined helplessly, tail curling once, then falling flat. But it could not move.
On the other side of Mei, the other prisoners were even more upset. Most of them, anyway. The cage next to her housed two women and a tall, thin man, all pressed up against each other in the tight confines. The women wore plain, cotton dresses, one brown and the other rust red. The male was a fellow prisoner.
The farthest cage held two very large men who filled the cramped space to the limits. One looked like a farmer and he bleakly stared at the antics of the cannibals. But the other man, another prisoner, had a bald head and tattoos everywhere, some with demonic symbols and what Mei thought might be Cyrillic writing. The ink covered his neck, his forearms, even his hands. And he was the only one not afraid. He looked at the Caribs with disgust and contempt. That is, when he wasn’t busy picking away at the bindings on the cage in an effort to escape. Or pressing his back against one wall and his feet against the other, trying to bust out that way. But despite a heavy musculature that bespoke strength and an attitude that hinted at a life of violence, the cage could not easily be broken.
Mei had thought of escape too. But the bars were made of tree saplings as thick as her arm, and the bindings were some kind of leather twine that had hardened like steel around all the cunningly interlocked joints. The doors were secured with chains and locks, items that had no doubt been taken from prisoners that they had abducted in the past. And a male guard routinely came around to check on them, sauntering close and occasionally rattling the doors and walls to check their integrity.
One of the women, a pale-skinned redhead, lay closest to Mei. She was in some kind of shock. She alternated long periods of silently staring at nothing and bursts of weeping.
The tall, thin man looked on with resigned hopelessness as he sat with his back against the rear of their cage, staring at the Caribs.
The other female prisoner, a brunette, also sat, torn between looking away and being drawn to the cannibals singing and eating only a couple of dozen meters away. Her face was streaked with tears, though it seemed she’d run out of them for the moment. “I can’t believe this is happening,” she whimpered, not for the first time. They’d all spent a good hour or two freaking out and panicking as they recovered from the curare and woken to this nightmare. Now exhaustion was setting in and with it came pessimism and hopelessness.
The thin man looked over at Mei. His blue eyes were anxious yet there was a spark of interest there. “You navy?” he asked quietly. “One of the guards?” It was the first thing anyone had said to anyone else since they’d arrived.
Mei glanced at him. She could see the way he trembled. Though it might only be a superficial judgment, he didn’t look like the strong type. Mei shook her head slightly. “No.”
The hope in his eyes died. And it was hard to watch. But he just looked down and nodded.
She understood. If she were a guard, perhaps they would come to rescue her. But she wasn’t, so they were destined to die.
Perhaps the silence was too much. He asked another question. “Prisoner?”
“How…?” he weakly gestured at her clothes.
She looked down at the bright blue jacket and mostly white clothes that were now somewhat stained with dirt and grass. Her eyes flicked up to his, then away. “Stole them.” She wasn’t entirely sure why she was being reticent. But she was unsure of how she should act. Should she be guarded or friendly? Should she draw attention to herself or try to stay in the background?
Of course, she knew that if her goal was to become a pirate and make enough money to leave this place, then she would need to build relationships. And that was something she thought she was good at, having been a journalist. She’d had to work with sources in all walks of life.
But right now, she was staring an ugly death in the face and she didn’t particularly feel like networking. Not when they’d all soon be butchered and respawn in the navy’s possession. Then again, sitting here worrying over her impending doom in silence wasn’t very pleasant. She might as well distract herself. And him. It would be a kindness to both of them.
She saw his curious eyes still on her and relented. “I took them. Off the captain of the ship I was on.”
He barked a small laugh in disbelief. “Uh-huh.”
Mei shrugged. “He didn’t have much use for them. He was dead at the time.”
The man’s eyes widened a bit. “Seriously?”
“How’d he die?”
“I drove his sword through his stomach.”
A rude snort of disbelief came from the far cage and a look from the tattooed goon followed. “Is bullshit.” His voice sounded East European.
Even the thin man smiled thinly, not taking her seriously. “Well, congratulations.”
She frowned. “That’s what happened.”
But he didn’t believe her any more than the other convict did. He held his hands up in defence. “Uh-huh. Ok. If you say so.”
She rolled her eyes. But she supposed it wasn’t the most believable thing to hear without evidence to back it up. “You are?” she asked him.
“Car thief. Six months to go from a nine-month sentence. Was working the fields in the village when the natives showed up.”
She absently nodded. But she didn’t give him her own background. Instead, she watched the woman lying on the ground, facing her.
Mei wasn’t known for being the most mothering or caring person to her coworkers and friends. It’s not that she was cold or that she didn’t care when people she knew went through bad days or got shouted at by their boss or something. She just wasn’t sure how to reach out, wasn’t sure what to say in situations like that. It was weird because she made a living talking to people, in interviews and for articles, and that required building trust and getting people to open up.
She could sit down with a terrorist and get his life history. But when it came to those she had a personal connection to, she always had a hard time sitting down with a girl friend who needed someone to talk to about their cheating husband and impending divorce or finding something to say when someone’s parent died.
Part of it was probably due to all those awkward years of growing up without much of a social circle due to her height. As a kid, she’d been bullied and left out of games and activities. Kids are cruel and she’d had more than one nasty nickname that had left her in tears. Just because she was a little taller than everyone else, even many of the boys, and that had left her shy and lacking in confidence, not to mention she hadn’t had a lot of experience being close to other people.
Even when she’d begun to open up and grow as a person, things hadn’t entirely changed. At the gym or even as a model, she’d more often hung out with men than women and hadn’t had a lot of girl time. And she had little experience with children or the elderly. So while she wanted to comfort the two distraught women in the other cage, wanted to do something to ease the pain they were going through, she hesitated and doubted her ability to do so.
It was almost enough to hold her back entirely, to make her give up. But her compassion won out and she reached forward and laid a hand on the red-haired woman’s shoulder. “Hey,” she said.
The woman didn’t respond. She just continued to stare.
Now what? Mei cast about for something else to say, something meaningful that might drag the woman into the light again but felt stupid and incompetent. She opened her mouth to speak without knowing the words. Then she stopped. Maybe there was nothing comforting you could say right at that moment. What hope could she offer? So she just sat back against the rear of her cage. But she left her hand on the woman’s shoulder in solidarity, letting her know that she wasn’t alone.
The tattooed man kicked hard at one of the bars a few times. He glanced over his shoulder, but none of the Caribs seemed to have noticed or cared.
The brunette glanced at the man, then back at the celebration. “We’re all going to die. Just like them. And they’re going to eat us.” Her voice trembled with a touch of hysteria. “Eat us!”
No one had anything to say. Tattoos kept working at his cell, but he didn’t seem to be making any progress. The thief didn’t even bother to try, he’d already completely given up. Though, to be fair, after their first hours in here, they’ll all kind of given up.
Mei watched the faces of the others, seeing resignation and despair and frustration. She knew that she was giving in to it as well. And that it was wrong. She couldn’t give up. She had to keep fighting. But she was just so tired. She rested the back of her head against the cage in silence.
A Carib woman and a man fought over a piece of meat from the fire. They argued. Then he drew back one arm and cuffed her across the face.
She let go and dropped to her knees.
He screamed at her and threatened to hit her again, but she only cowered. So he tore a bite off of the meat and stalked off.
Nobody seemed to even notice the incident, as if it was normal. The others ate and drank, sang and danced. The woman brushed herself off and returned to the fire for a different piece.
Mei watched a teen girl take a metal pan from the fire and dump something cooked into wooden bowls. She picked her way across the village and handed one bowl to an old woman. The old woman, sitting with a younger version of herself, seemed startled. Then, at a word from the woman next to her, was awkwardly thankful. She ate with hesitation and with the other woman’s assistance.
Then the teen took the second bowl to an old man. He raised his head at her approach, perhaps hearing her footsteps coming up behind him. She knelt, smiling and talking to him and offered the bowl into his hands. He chuckled and thanked her, then felt about for the food with his fingers. He pulled out an eyeball and popped it into his mouth, nodding happily as it likely exploded with lots of flavour on his tongue.
The Caribs seemed to have some sort of alcohol and they’d filled gourds with it. Whether it was something they’d made or if it was stolen rum, she had no idea. But they drank copious amounts. The warriors especially got roaring drunk. This led to even more energetic dancing, spear waving, a couple of wrestling matches. And lots of sex. Most of the time, people paired off in the huts, but one time, it happened in public.
It featured the same Carib warrior who had earlier strutted around in front of their cages. He seemed to like making a spectacle of himself. He was eating and drinking with four other warriors and, from the way he shouted and gestured, it seemed like he thrived on attention. There was joking and boasting and storytelling, along with much laughter from the others, some shoulder slapping, and some toasting.
Then whatever they were discussing became sexual in nature. This became obvious to anyone watching from the universal gestures that they used to indicate this. And from the way the men started calling back and forth with some of the nearby women. They were trading barbs perhaps or teasing.
One of the women seemed bolder than the rest. It was the one who had enticed men into her hut for sex after eating guard penis. With a wide grin, she said something harsh at the boaster and it got all the other males howling with laughter.
That didn’t sit too well with the target of her mockery. The showoff’s smile fell away. Then it returned, but in a more malicious version. With a dangerous glint in his eye, he called something to her.
She said something cutting back and this time even more people laughed, including other women. A couple of the warriors doubled over and rolled on the ground in stitches.
His cruel smile only widened. Bold as brass, he strutted across the center of the village to where she sat. He grabbed her by the arm and threw her to the ground.
She frowned and tried to say something but he just pushed her face away. Roughly. She protested again, getting up.
He pushed her down to her knees, then pushed her face down over the log she’d been sitting against.
She tried to resist somewhat, but just kept having her face pushed down every time she lifted it. The warrior was easily twice her size and much stronger. There wasn’t a scrap of fat on his body, just toned muscle. There was nothing she could do and she seemed to know it.
He flipped her skirt over her back, shifted his loincloth, and went at her.
Mei could see the look of surprise on the woman’s face, and the way she winced in pain from the unexpected activity. Yet Mei didn’t see anyone move to stop the man or help the poor woman. Astonished, Mei studied the faces of the other villagers.
Some of the women looked away with no expression, as if they could ignore the rape, and continued to talk or drink or do whatever they were doing, though a couple looked distinctly uncomfortable. Others awkwardly or enthusiastically laughed; one girl even cheered with genuine enthusiasm. Mei wanted to believe that the girl had only seen what was going on too late and considered the event was consensual.
Similar reactions could be seen in the men, though there was less sympathy in that group. A few abruptly turned away with blank faces that showed nothing. Most just stood around watching, either silent or making ribald jokes. But a few were loud and supportive. None came to the woman’s rescue.
The rapist didn’t last long. He pumped away as fast as he could, finished, and then jumped to his feet, crowing at the top of his lungs. Leaving the woman to herself, he jumped into the firelight with arms raised. He flashed everyone with his organ, and then rejoined the other males, strutting again, the cock of the walk, literally. And just like that, everyone forgot about the woman who’d just been used. The villagers returned to their celebration, although the tone was dampened somewhat.
Mei watched as the woman slowly pushed herself up and awkwardly stood. She flinched from soreness, and there was an awkward and sad smile on her lips, perhaps confusion in her eyes and the way she couldn’t seem to decide what to do next. It looked like she was trying to just laugh it off and treat the act as if it weren’t rape. But there were tears in her eyes. She said something but didn’t go and rejoin any of the other women. Instead, she grabbed a gourd of booze and walked off with too much casualness, the performance spoiled from the way she hunched over a bit and had to wipe something from her eyes before she disappeared into her hut.
Mei’s teeth hurt from clenching her jaw for too long. A cold fury burned in her chest. Whatever horror and disgust had possessed her over the fact that these people were cannibals, it was subsumed with new fury.
It wasn’t just for the males either. Of course, she despised the rapist for what he’d done and those who’d egged him on. Absolutely. If she’d still had her sword, she’d cut all their throats and feel damn good about it.
But just as bad, it was the enablers, the men and women both who’d just sat or stood around, doing absolutely nothing to intervene while one of their own was abused.
Where was their sense of tribe, of community, of loyalty? Where were her friends, her family, her champions? Why was the woman so alone?
“You fucking cowards!” she cried out at the top of her lungs.
Some of the Caribs glanced her way. One threw some food at her. Then they all ignored her.
Mei was incensed at the tribe. It almost didn’t matter that she’d seen the woman party to killing and eating human flesh. That was that and this was this. Mei felt a piercing sadness for the woman. First for the way that she’d lain there and been forced to endure. But even more so for the cruel callousness of all those who should have loved and supported and protected her. More than the cannibalism, this — this — made these people monsters.
Several minutes later, a young mother stood, leaving her child behind, and casually wandered about as if she had no real destination before finding her way into the hut with the victim and slipping inside. It was a few more minutes before a couple of elder women also went to her.
Mei wasn’t entirely sure how she felt about that. She wanted to be angry at them, to tell them it was too little and too late. But at least the victim wouldn’t have to spend the entire night alone. Support had come, but only after they had all abandoned her and failed their social obligation, their duty to one of their own.
A woman spoke. “I wish I could kill them. All of them.”
Mei turned her head and saw her feelings mirrored on the brunette’s face. Her eyes glowed with hate, made all the worse by the flames of the bonfire reflected there too.
“They’re not human,” the brunette stated and spat.
Some of the anger left Mei, replaced by an unfortunate realization. As much as she was enraged, after years of reporting all the ugly things that humanity does to each other for so many years, she knew a truth: what they’d witnessed was all too human indeed. We betrayed each other all the time.
And there was more of that to come.
When the prisoners woke up the next morning, the farmer was dead.