When morning came, I had not slept, nor had I left my perch. At first light I reloaded the upper barrel of my rifle. I had not dared to do so in the dark for fear of overcharging it. I dropped down from the tree, recovered my cane, and limped out to the herby. The meat would be rank for not having been bled, but my hunger could overcome any delicacies of appetite.
I laid my rifle close at hand and drew my knife. I would cut a steak and broil it.
I could not.
I stood with my knife poised and could not bring it down to lay back the skin and expose the firm, red meat beneath.
Cursing myself for a child, I plunged the blade in angrily. The firm flesh gave before my blade and I shuddered at its texture, though it was a texture I had known all my life. What was wrong with me?
I laid back a flap of skin from the haunch, forgetting to skin the beast properly. There was a stricken gasp from the trees where the unseen audience of flying things waited. Yet it had not been an audible gasp; I had heard it in my mind. I cut out a steak, though my hand trembled so that I could hardly control it. The mass of flesh which came out was misshapen and bloody. My stomach contracted.
It had returned and it was appalled.
Cursing, I carried my steak to the edge of the trees and built a fire. I impaled and broiled it. The juices dripped from the meat and sizzled in the fire while my stomach turned flips in anticipation. Let phantoms be damned; I was hungry and I would eat. I took the steak down half raw and sank my teeth into it.
I gagged. The blood juices were a fire in my throat and I barely avoided vomiting. How could I ever have eaten meat before? I threw the steak aside.
One of the flying creatures left its sanctuary and floated down to me. It was mammalian; its wings were covered with a tight, furry skin. I was reminded of stories of terrestrial bats, but this creature inspired no loathing. Its weight was about ten kilos and its wingspread greater than the reach of my arms. Its belly was round; like the herby it was earless and tailless. Its face was whiskered, looking for all the world like a terrestrial seal, and its expression was both benign and bemused.
“Dilwildi!” it said, so I named both the individual and his race after that sound. The creature looked up at me as if deciphering some great puzzle, then sat back with a thump, scratching its plump belly. “Dilwildi,” it announced again and I broke into laughter. It was not offended; rather, the tiny face seemed to beam even more happily.
The dilwildi drew up his wings and flapped heavily across the glade to a siskal bush, here of treelike stature. He slipped clumsily from branch to branch, then returned bearing a half-dozen siskal fruit which he gave to me. I bit into one and never had fruit tasted so good.
No, I’m not a vegetarian, and this is not propaganda.
Actually I grew up on a farm. I know where food comes from first hand. I’ve done things as a jackleg veterinarian that you don’t want the hear about. I’ve attended hog butcherings. I’ve killed animals out of necessity, but never for sport. I don’t hunt and I don’t fish, not because I think it’s wrong, but because I wouldn’t enjoy it. I’m not a vegetarian, but I understand how a person could decide to be one. more tomorrow