Wednesday 16 May 2012

YOU ARE WHAT I EAT by Harris Tobias

Harris has been absent from TK'n'C for a while. He's back, and he's hungry...

You Are What I Eat

It was a fine recital, better than some, better even than some before the war. The stage in the half burnt auditorium was still mostly intact, littered though it was with debris. The charred and fallen timbers opened the stage to the night sky. The rest of the school was a burnt and tumbled ruin, matching every other structure in the world. Desolation, destruction and ruin was what the post war world had become. It wasn’t like anyone missed the old world, they never had any use for buildings, only their inhabitants.

The dancers, young and lithe, their bodies in the mold of dancers everywhere. Limbs made strong from frequent repetition. Young bodies, muscled, grey skinned, shuffled lifelessly around the stage; their movements devoid of rhythm and grace; their dark eyes sunken in their skulls; their tights and tutus filthy and torn. The overall effect of this sad desolation went unnoticed by the audience or the troop of young dancers. Is that that our child on stage? a mother asks. Is it? No one in the audience could say for sure. Even if they had video cameras, they wouldn’t use them. No one remembers or cares what recitals were all about. Only dim recollections of life before the war remain in the collective unconscious of the victors. How different the world was then - not better, not worse, just not what anyone from the losing side would recognize as normal. None of that mattered to the victors, none of it.

The audience twitched nervously watching the children dance. They were hungry, thinking about their next meal. They were always hungry. It was their hunger that drove them to destroy the world in the first place. The record player’s needle skips and wanders across the grooves. Strange, sounds fill the space, not at all like music. The needle, glides weightless on a pillow of dirt, hardly making contact with the spinning disc. The effect would be weirdly disconcerting if anyone remembered what music was supposed to sound like. In this crowd, no one does; the memory of music having been completely forgotten. The presence of the record player itself, the result of an impossible set of circumstances which, like the recital itself, somehow survived in this new world. Strange which cultural artifacts survived while almost everything else was lost. It’s purely random. Most of what once passed for civilization is lost forever, but against all odds, the idea of a recital endures.

When the recital was over, the dancers joined hands and took an awkward bow, their heads bobbing randomly to the silent house, those in attendance having forgotten applause.

Before the war, it was the custom to take the little ballerina out for an ice cream sundae or chocolate shake, but such things were pre-war and, even if the memory of such a custom survived, it was no longer possible. For one thing, there were no ice cream parlors anymore. Nor was there any ice cream for that matter. The very idea of ice cream had entirely faded from the world. Maybe some of the cattle remembered the frozen treat but who knew what the cattle thought. They were only food.

It was safely before dawn when the family returned, stiffly to their den. Mother found a severed arm in the market and gnawed greedily at it. Father grabbed it from her and, when the little ballerina reached for it, he struck her across the face with the bloody thing. This was the new custom - after the recital, a feast. It was no better nor worse than how it was, it was just different. The fact that there was a market was an encouraging sign. Perhaps a new beginning.


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Harris Tobias lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of two novels and dozens of short stories. His fiction has appeared in Ray Gun Revival, Dunesteef Audio Magazine, Every Photo Tells, Quantum Muse, Thrillers, Killers & Chillers, Eclectic Flash, E Fiction and several other obscure publications.  You can find links to his books at:


  1. A very chilling apocalyptic tale beautifully told.


  2. Well, protein IS better than the sugar in carbs, is one way to look at it... Funny and stark. Well done!

  3. I love the subtlety in this chilling tale and the perverse normality of the situation. But then, you know me - I'm a blood-sucker for tutus, dance and death.

  4. Excellent sci-fi chiller (at least I hope it stays as '-fi':). This has the slight feel of Bradbury. Some exquisite detail - fluffy stylus - great.

  5. Echoes the spoken sentiment of another writer talking of the death of time, "And so it goes . . ." Desolation as perfect as the bitter metal of irony can make it. The broken record player is the perfect analogy to the tale of a broken world. Cool.