THE FOOL AND THE FULL - JARED CULPEPPER
Perhaps the nicest thing I could say about Harper was that the foolish young bastard was simply an inherent bore and that there was little, or perhaps not a thing at all he could ever have done to better himself to such a degree that he might have become a passably desirable human being.
Before we began our excursion into this nameless jungle, Harper was a wet-behind-the-ears lab assistant. Apparently young Harper had paid his way through grad school as a farmhand. How very dignified of him.
How in the hell a bumpkin straight out of grad school had been placed on a mission like this, the type of mission for which even a scientist with my experience must spend thirty-odd years trying to earn a spot, I cannot tell you, but there he was. Maybe our mission’s backers thought we might do some farming if we discovered a new species in this forgotten place.
Sarcasm aside, the farmhand story was perfect; it fit him more snugly than his irritatingly white undershirt, which he had worn every day and washed in a stream every night, making it look at all times as if he’d just stumbled across the wreckage moments earlier. It was as if he believed that if he looked like everything was fine, he could feel like everything was, rather than accepting the facts.
The evidence it provided in support of my initial evaluation, when I first shook his hammy hand--that he was an out-of-place buffoon who could make a nice sacrifice if the jungle should demand--might have made the farmhand story more tolerable had it not been repeated more than five times in the three weeks we were together before I decided to kill him.
I don’t do myself justice there; I realized that I must kill him.
‘Cold-hearted’ is an imaginary characterization. It is but a term our society has applied to those we secretly envy most, those who need not bother with the trifling preordinations allotted by man’s fickle laws and non-sequitur dogmas to remedy a particular set of circumstances. One finds quickly that desolation in the anonymity of the unforgiving wilderness offers freedom in many ways, the least of which is the gift of a cold heart.
Harper’s incessant droning made me feel more alone than did the swirling orchestra of cackles and caws from the ominous night air. During one such concert, struggling to sleep after another hungry day, I came to my realization about Harper’s fate. The taunting, screeching calls of the darkness that night rapped my nerves like bullwhips, so that I might have gone mad had I not found the wherewithal to focus on my bane, and the elation of freeing myself from his nuisance. I hung from the thought like a lifesaver floating in a tempest of loathsome awareness. That, I realized was the issue: I could not help but be aware of him until he was dead, and that was his fault and no one else’s.
The day we crashed, he’d begged that I help him with CPR. He actually wanted to waste our precious little energy on attempting to resuscitate a man who’d been impaled with a branch; I think now that I hated him immediately.
Even at the exact moment we realized the other two passengers were dead, I knew he was no one I cared to associate with, regardless of whether he was the only sentient being I would ever see again. I’d tried to shake him but he longed for association with a parasitic passion.
I sat up from my blanket of leaves that night and contemplated the execution of the task at hand. My stomach growled, offering its own angry call into the cacophony of night. I knew the time had come, there could be no hesitation.
He outweighed me by a great deal, so I would have to be careful not to wake him. He would certainly overpower me if I allowed it, but I would not. Brains over brawn, they say. My stomach grumbled again and the hunger pains drove me even stronger.
I blamed him for my hunger on several accounts. He was so massive that my only reasonable recourse upon discovering the emergency food supply in the jungle near the chopper was to bury it and keep it from him. He’d clearly not eaten responsibly back home; I wouldn’t trust him to learn the skill when my life depended on it. If I’d let him slap his gluttonous meat hooks on that box, we’d both have died of starvation. No sense in that.
Furthermore, he had been a hunter--trust me, he probably told a dozen such stories--and it had been five days since he’d killed anything. He told me the animals must have grown aware of us and decided to avoid the area. I suggested he travel farther the next time, but I don’t know that he ever really did.
The hunger struck me once more, louder than before. That’s how I knew for certain it was time. It wasn’t a pretty notion, but I was growing exceedingly weary of crackers and peanut butter, and after all it would be easier to salvage him than bury him. I wondered suddenly if he had already begun envisioning me as a nutritional source as well.
It didn’t matter. He was asleep, so I had the upper hand. But if he hadn't been I’d still have had the advantage, I reasoned; he hadn’t had as much food as I’d had in the past several days, frequently went on day-long hunts, and even when sedentary a man his size would have necessitated nearly double my daily caloric intake. The way I saw it, I could have woken him up and tortured him a bit first, if I’d wanted to be completely cold-hearted.
I quietly picked through a heap of burned metal until I found a favorable shard from the propeller. Serendipitous nature in all its deplorable majesty brought the thought to my mind, I’ve managed to never come over to his personal area a single time, though he's encroached mine every day.
I thought it was a root when first I stepped on the crossbeam of the trap. I don’t know what I thought after that, as I went unconscious after falling into the pit he’d camouflaged with a lid of brush.
When I awoke, vines binding my body against a tree so that my feet could not touch ground, I couldn’t place the pain, oddly enough. But when I saw him chewing the last bit of meat from the bone, I became sharply lucid of the throbbing soreness where my right shoulder should have sat. I vomited impulsively, though I wish I’d not given him the satisfaction.
He turned and broke into some goddamned tirade. “I didn’t care that I was out hunting all day and you were here sitting on your ass. I didn’t care when I saw cracker crumbs all over your clothes. I didn’t even care when I followed your tracks and found your food stash.” Even on a full stomach he was as whiny as an infant crying for a teat. “All I wanted was someone to talk to. But I guess I’ll get over that.” He looked at me like I was the disgusting reprobate from BillyBobsville, then he amended. “...in time.” Then he chopped off my left arm.
God help me, I know it’s a compliment, but the lummox actually did a fair job of patching the nubs. I apparently never lost much blood as, even after three days of consuming only rain water, I am still alive and fairly well aware. For the moment.
It was good luck. All of it. I wouldn’t have had the courage to kill myself, but they’ll never find us. They probably aren't even looking. But the sweetness of my victory has made this dying day so very delectable. He ranted again about his Neanderthalithic sentiments; fortune drained my consciousness enough that his words were nothing but a garbled bunch of noises pouring from his untutored tongue. Naturally, he continued talking as he harvested another serving from me.
The pain from him cutting off my lower leg, believe it or not, revitalized me. As if drawing together for one final march, my blood gathered in my brain and tuned in as he continued preaching, the flesh of my flame-broiled limbs puffing out his cheeks.
“Show some dignity,” I snarled with great effort. “Don’t talk with your mouth.” I couldn’t get the rest out, but I could tell from his expression, he’d heard the phrase. He leapt up, indignant, stung, and vacant of any response. And with the same glory typically reserved for the choirs of Heaven, he chortled abruptly. My eyelids grew heavy but I found the strength to peel them apart.
Harper panicked; otherwise he might have found a way to dislodge the meat from his trachea. Flailing about for answers or intervention, he tripped and landed in the same fire where he had just cooked, well, me.
It can’t be long now. His body is already smoldering and he never got around to tying off my leg. So, here I wait in the beautiful silence I have strived to achieve for so long, confident I have indeed escaped with a tremendous bargain in the exchange.
BIO: Jared is a young writer just cutting his teeth in the world of web publishing. He lives in Dallas, TX with his wife and daughter and is an actor and director, among other trades. Many of his flash fiction works and short stories can be found at his blog, Thoughts for the Absent Mind.
The Irish Times’ Crime Fiction ‘Best Of’ 2018
2 hours ago