Where I spent much of my time as a kid was a magical place.
It was a pirate ship. It was a castle. It was a barracks and a spacecraft. But mostly, it was a rock.
I’m sitting on it now, smoking a cigarette. It feels like a rock.
Coming home is odd. Smoke in the woods is more odd.
Not my smoke, of course. I’m used to that. The smoke over there, in the distance.
I snub out my cigarette, thoroughly, and leave it on the rock. I head for the smoke. The wood becomes dense and the light, thin. I walk for longer than it takes to write about.
I smoke along the way. I always smoke when I’m nervous. I drop the butts on the ground, careful to leave none still lit.
Finally, there is a break in the tide of green. A clearing. A hut. It is crumbling and dark with rot. What looks like crusty old frosting hangs over the door. A crutch lays in the dirt beside it.
Black smoke seeps from the windows. I go up to the door, cautiously. I knock. The sound is more of a thump. The door is soft. I frown.
I knock again; my hand breaks right through what feels like gram-cracker. I peer inside. It seems warm, too warm, and smoky.
“Hello?” I ask the room.
No answer. I push the door gently. It crumbles into a heap at my feet. It reeks of sweetened rot. I step over it, into the hut.
I peer through the smoke, eyes watering. Two shapes move in the corner. I take a step back and hold up my fists like someone who knows how to fight.
“Hey. I’ve just come to make sure you’re alright. There’s a lot of smoke in here. I just,” I stop as one of the shapes stands, then the other.
I relax as they get closer. They are just children. Big fat ones. They sway like drunkards. I put down my hands.
They don’t say a word. A boy and girl. The girl is chewing on something. The boy frowns at the door behind me. They come forward. Their hair is grime and their eyes, glazed.
“Hey, hold on!”
They don’t stop. A bit of drool hangs from the girl’s plump lips.
They lunge, around me. I flail like an idiot, smoke in my eyes. When I come to my senses I see the children crouched on the floor shoveling bits of the gram-cracker door I’d walked through into their heavy mouths.
I stare at them.
They are making noises as they eat. I feel sick. They consume the door in great big handfuls. I back further into the room. The putrid smell grows stronger. I look to the stove, pouring smoke. I look around for water.
A bucket in the corner, a faucet.
I douse the flames, hand over my mouth. The room slowly clears. I take a seat on the edge of a stool and watch the children slowly fall asleep on the fetid pile of gram-cracker crumbs. I shudder.
I look around the hut. Something in the corner catches my eye. I step toward it. I know what it is before I reach it. My stomach knows.
A woman, slumped against the wall, dead. Skin blackened by fire, eyes milky white, and frizzled white hair matted over the ears.
I look closer, something is wrong with the nose.
“Oh hell no,” I mutter.
I look back at the sleeping children.
Then back to the nose.
There is no mistake, someone’s been chewing on it.
I stand up. I step on the hand of the little sleeping girl as I dash from the house.
I feel something crack.
I don’t care. I’m gone.
I manage to follow my trail of burnt out cigarettes back to my rock.
**For an alternate version of this story, click the image below: