May 17th, 2023
Move. Eat. Repeat
by Ian Salavon
Move. Eat. Repeat. first appeared in On The Premises Magazine.
Click here to listen to this story on the Kaidankai podcast
We had to keep moving. We didn’t have a choice. The smell compelled us like a cartoon pie on a windowsill, the steam penetrating our nostrils and pulling us on. We just kept walking to it. Ok. Not exactly walking, shambling, shuffling, but moving all the same. We averaged about a half a mile an hour, and when something got in our way, like a lake or a fence, it only slowed us. Once, we walked to a cliff and kept going. Those of us in front provided cushion for those of us that followed when we fell. We suffered broken bones and lost limbs, but we kept moving. We that couldn’t walk anymore pulled ourselves with our arms. Obstacles were annoyances to be sure. But we eventually overcame them, and we kept moving on course to the smell.
All the stories got it wrong, sort of. On the outside, we were mindless lumbering corpses. But we could still think and feel and want. We just couldn’t act on it. We were like thought cloud passengers riding our bodies for, well, we didn’t know for how long or why. We just kept going. We couldn’t communicate with us. We were of one purpose, but our minds were separate. But we followed that delectable smell.
Maybe we smelled it before. It was like the smell of ideas and thought and life. Come to think of it, we couldn’t smell anything else. But we didn’t stop limping our way to our end goal. Moving was more than instinct. It was religion and philosophy. Moving to the smell was existence.
We didn’t feel pain anymore. We were missing body parts. Bone and muscle were exposed to the elements. When it rained, tattered flesh sloughed off. When it was dry, scorched skin flaked into the wind like sand. Eyes were gone, but we could still see. Organs were destroyed but we could still move regardless of the damage. We got waylaid by them once. We don’t think they knew what to do. They thought they could ambush us with rifles, but their smell drew us in. They couldn’t hide. But that’s when we got our first taste. We tried to say the word for the meat inside their head. Nothing but a gravely rasp came out. We were thinking it as we ate the candy like insides of their skulls. We all wanted more. So, when we were done with them, we caught another scent and kept walking. Move. Eat. Repeat.
We had a family, a career, even a dog. Who knew where they were now? Who cared? We had children. They were smart and talented. Our spouse was beautiful and kind. We had what we would call a charmed life, but just because we could remember the details of our other selves doesn’t mean we wanted it all back. This was simple. No stress. No obstruction. Just single-minded intention. We thought it ironic that if we had this kind of focus before, we might have made more of ourselves. But, like we said before, who cares?
It was rare, but every now and then they would recognize us. We could hear the pain in their voice, “Daddy, please!” or “Oh my god, Mary!" Inevitably they would say “They’re gone, now! It’s not them anymore.” But they didn’t know. We were still in here. We just weren’t on the surface. We couldn’t be reached. No matter what they said, and no matter how hard we tried to stop, we moved to that smell and ate. It didn’t make any difference who it was. We ate and we kept on going and ate some more. And we felt the loss. We felt the guilt and the shame. We felt all the disgust, and we wished the worst on ourselves for actions we couldn’t control. And then we moved on in our slow, half stomping, half shuffling way looking for more. Following the smell. We kept moving.
It grew stronger as we moved south. The stronger the smell, the more of them there were. It was hot. We think it was July, and if we were paying attention we probably would have known where we were. Our minds wandered a lot. With no rest (we never stopped) and no sleep (we didn’t need it), we tended to think about anything while our bodies did what they did: move to the smell. We thought about the future, and we laughed. Nothing but a dry hiss came out. There would be a time when we couldn’t move. If moving was the all-encompassing reason for our being here, what would happen when the moving went away? The idea of not moving, of not being able to follow the smell, the thought almost made us short-circuit. It just didn’t make sense. We wondered if this is what we had in mind when we used to talk about unity before. If we took away what we were doing, isn’t this what we wanted? All of us moving together to one goal. Granted that goal was to eat them, but we don’t need to split hairs. Of course, with the way things were now, the same could be said for them. They were united in stopping us. We used to think that fighting against all odds even when facing Armageddon was the noblest act we could do. Now, that just seems like gibberish. We would win. We were unstoppable. We kept going no matter what. The poor mouthwatering fools they were.
It was hard to miss the giant wall they constructed on the outside of the city. We recognized the skyline even in ruins. It was on the coast. We were right. We had been moving south, and we’d been moving for a long time, but that didn’t matter. Day became night became day ad infinitum, and we were still miles from the city. The walls were enormous, at least as tall as the great buildings behind it in some places. Even from this far away, we could see the piecemeal work of the walls’ construction. Junked automobiles, shipping containers and train cars provided the foundation for reams of iron rebar, concrete pillars, old scaffolding and I-beams. They used anything to build the strongest barrier they could, and it wouldn’t stop us. We would get through and have our fill. We always did.
The sun went down and came up and we kept moving. It was harder now because there were so many of us packed together. Those of us in the front kept pushing, but the wall held. The hoard kept trying to move forward. The smell made us drunk with lust for the flavor of what they held inside for us. We were coming. On the sixth day after we were forced to stop moving due to the wall doing its temporary job, they started trying to burn us. They sent out helicopters and dropped fuel on us then lit us on fire. They only succeeded in making putrefied cadavers burnt. We kept on pushing. We could hear some of the shouting on the other side of the wall “Evacuate the city?” they asked. “We have to make a stand” they said back. They were so stupid. Were we that stupid before? Probably. We had deliberate design now, and nothing would get in the way. Nothing could.
The wall began to fall after weeks of battering our decayed bodies into it. There was a layer of us that had been stomped flat by then, mashed into the ground by our incessant moving. We stood on our writhing corpses still pounding into the wall as it fell. Tons of debris crushed us. We kept going. Explosions flayed us apart. We kept going. We made it to the opening and had the pleasure of watching them flee or fight. Both were useless gestures. If they fought, they’d be eaten and become us. If they fled, we’d catch them, eat them, and they’d become us. The smell was overpowering. Our memories in our cloud minds were a haze inside the cloying stink that called us. They were tired from trying to keep us out for so long. We never got tired. Some resigned to their fate either out of wisdom in accepting the inevitable or in sacrifice to let some escape. We came on them like locusts. We left nothing in our wake except the reawakened. They joined us in the feast. We ate until our bellies were distended, and we kept on eating even with stomachs full and grey matter stuffed into our rotting esophagi. We ate until their cranial innards fell from our mouths onto the streets of the city. Then we picked it up and ate some more.
When everything was gone, the smell went away. We walked the streets and our cloud minds returned. Our old lives from before were clear again, but we had no power over what was left of us. We moved with no function, no purpose. Nothing. Aimless meandering. The city held nothing for us, but we moved through it like thousands of macabre Oliver Twists. “Please, Sir. May I have some more.” We screamed into the wherever with our cloud minds. We yelled ourselves into silent madness. Hoping for a direction. Praying to follow the smell of our reason for being one more time. It was oblivion: recognition of everything and impotent to any of it. Existence not even for its own sake. We were less than dead.
Time passed. Thoughts blurred. Nothing we’d seen from before registered. One day mashed into another. Memories did the same. We started to fall apart faster now. We were still moving, but very slowly. Bones were brittle and cracked easily. We couldn’t turn our head anymore, and the bottom part of our jaw had fallen off. We wouldn’t let that stop us from eating again if we got the chance.
There was a terrible storm. Wind and rain pummeled us, and water from the shoreline flooded the streets. The torrents threw us this way and that. Nothing more than a curious distraction. Buildings collapsed on us, and over time we dug ourselves out. We never stopped moving. The waters receded and flushed us into the gulf. Waterlogged, we rose from the beaches on a clear bright morning, and it hit us. The smell, sweet and pungent and already intoxicating. At the southern horizon, we saw large ships far into the gulf. We recognized them as warships. From before. They were on those ships. There for us to seize and eat them and have them join us and keep going. We were nothing but a skeleton now with a few bits of soggy meat pieces as we waded out into the surf that gently splashed into our boney legs. We had an army vs their army. They had weapons that couldn’t stop us. But they had that delicious and disgusting smell that kept us moving. To them. They couldn’t stop us.
Ian Salavon is a professional chef by trade and a lover of speculative fiction in every flavor. When he is not writing, he spends his time at the Fort Worth Judo Club where he is a black belt and coach. His work is mainly featured in long road trips and family bedtime stories. Move. Eat. Repeat. was first published in On The Premises Magazine.
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Linda Gould hosts the Kaidankai, a weekly blog and podcast of fiction read out loud that explores the entire world of ghosts and the supernatural. The stories are touching, scary, gruesome, funny, and heartwarming. New episodes every Wednesday.