"Meat analog? What the fuck is a..." it suddenly dawned on Henry what his daughter was talking about, "no fucking way am I eating any of your soy shit for Thanksgiving! Your mother was so embarrassed last year when you brought over that hippie crap. God rest her soul. She asked you to bring a squash casserole and you showed up with stuffed squash with acorns in it. Do we look like squirrels to-" The old man's whole body tensed up. "Oh... shit!" he said in a strained voice as he clutched at his chest and gave his daughter a frightened look.
The added pain in his neck and jaw was all the confirmation he needed. He'd had three heart attacks before, so you could say he was an expert at recognizing the signs. His doctor had warned him he probably wouldn't survive a fourth one. "Dad, what's wrong? Oh my god, are you having a heart attack?"
"My nitroglyc... get my..." Henry stumbled to the kitchen table and fell heavily into his chair.
His daughter rushed to his side, "Nitroglycerin?" She turned to fetch his medication, but quickly spun back around, "Is it in the medicine cabinet?"
Henry was leaning back in his chair at the head of the table, clutching at his chest when the absurdity of his daughter's question put the final nail in his coffin. She was standing there in a near panic, waiting for an answer when he jerkily turned towards her and said, "You... are a... moron." Those were the last words Henry T. Jankowsky ever spoke.
Sally Anne Jankowsky wasn't the son Henry had always wanted; she wasn't even the daughter he had wanted. No, she was someone he just didn't understand. She was fine up until her twelfth birthday, but not too long after that she started saying and doing the strangest things. "Greenpeace", "Save the Whales", and "meat is murder" were just a few of the inane things that came out of her mouth in a constant stream of what Henry could only interpret as idiocy.
It would be unfair to say he was a bad father or that he hated his daughter, but he didn't like her very much. Henry and Beatrice Jankowsky were in their forties when their miracle baby came along. It's safe to say she wasn't planned. Henry had come to terms with never having children. Beatrice was another story, though. A sadness laid hold of her heart when she edged toward the forty year mark and slowly over the next few years squeezed the will to live from her. That all changed one day at the doctor's office.
Beatrice's absolute joy at the wonderful news totally eclipsed Henry's utter surprise. He was forty-four years old and just beginning to settle into his ways. It may be hard to believe, but it wasn't unheard of or even impossible for a parent to resent their child. He did love Sally and he provided her with everything she could need or want as a child. It was her teen years that really rankled in his mind.
Almost seven months after his wife of fifty-four years passed away, Henry was laid to rest next to her. The space of time between the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Jankowsky isn't even a speck in the greater scope of things. It's less than a speck of a speck of a speck, but if you count every hour, minute, second and filter it through the complicated circuits that comprise the human mind then it can seem quite immense.
In that infinitesimal space of time, Henry, lost in grief, began to feed that dark corner of his mind. That little area that houses every perceived slight, resentment, and immoral consideration. An agitated, foaming sea of baleful thoughts dashed again and again at the already heavily eroded shore of his mind. In those last months of his life, the old man became meaner and meaner in ever-increasing increments.
Sally, who stopped by every chance she could to check on her father, put it down to old age and wondered if he was becoming senile. She hadn't ever really gotten along with her father, but she knew he cared deeply for her. She came to terms at an early age with his inability to express his love for her and instead interpreted it in how hard he worked to provide for her and her mother.
While Sally filled his refrigerator with healthy meat alternative foods he'd sniff once and pitch in the garbage, he was convincing himself, one thought at a time, just how despicable she was. "What sane person doesn't eat meat? Man is at the top of the food chain. If she tells me how many years it takes for a plastic bottle to decompose one more time, I'm going to lose it. Oh, of course, her ringtone is that 'Anything you can do, I can do better,' song."
In the last month of his life, he said some pretty awful things to her, much worse even than his final words. Unbeknownst to him, Sally had begun to look into elder care options. She was working up the nerve to mention the idea to him and searching online for ways to break the news gently. If the rage-inducing invitation to have a meatless (joyless) Thanksgiving with her and her husband hadn't stopped his weak heart then the conversation about old folks homes probably would have.
Sally eventually came to terms with losing both of her parents in her early thirties. That first Thanksgiving without her parents was hard for her, but at least she didn't have to listen to her father's meat positive slogans or see her mother's polite but weak smile every year she brought over a vegan dish to add to the table. Sally and her husband moved into her parents' house not too long into the new year.
Time went by and Sally began to have cravings for meat and other foods she had completely written out of her diet nearly a decade and a half ago. It made her a bit uneasy and reminded her of her early forays into the often confusing world of vegetarianism. Her mother had tried to be supportive; her father had been anything but. She didn't know it, but her husband was having those cravings as well and giving into them regularly. He was already on his second run through the entire off-limits section of Arby's menu. The first shift employees at the Snow Road, Cleveland location knew him by name.
Through willpower and a discipline she had spent years developing, she managed to stick to her dietary way of life even though some days were quite difficult. Her husband, Jim, just shrugged every time she asked him about the few pounds he had gained. She decided to cut back on the amount of non-dairy protein shakes, vegan chips, and cookies she brought home until he slimmed down a bit.
The Death of her father had cast a shadow over the last Thanksgiving, but she had actually been looking forward to the coming holiday. She had made all of her and her husband's favorite holiday dishes with a few adjustments to accommodate the new diet she had him on. It was really quite puzzling; he continued to put on weight and yet he never seemed to be very hungry. By the time Henry had been in the ground for a year, the employees on both shifts at the local Arby's knew Jim by name.
Their friends, Beth and Hank, brought a dessert and a vegan red wine. Jim and Hank watched the game in the living room while Sally and Beth put the finishing touches on dinner. They all gathered a bit later in the dining room and sat down before a sumptuous meal. The tofurkey was prominently displayed in the center of the table, surrounded by lots of other dishes. It looked like a cheesy prop alien straight out of some science fiction movie from the fifties. An unknown influence put an unseasonable chill in the air that was palpable to all but Jim who was sporting a bit more insulation around his midriff than the others.
Jim proudly took up the carving knife with a loving glance in his wife's direction. He pinned the fake turkey down with a big fork and edged the knife in close to make the first incision. A red bubbly fluid began to flow out around the knife as it slipped effortlessly through the outer facade of the tofu. He looked up at Sally with an uneasy look on his face but continued to slide the knife through to the bottom of the platter.
The hewn slice fell aside and a curd-like red discharge poured from the lump of tofu that looked sort of like a turkey but never would be in any world other than maybe Disney. They all stared at the thing even the Blue Fairy could never abracadabra into a real turkey. A moment later they wrinkled their noses in disgust as a horrible stench filled the room like what you might imagine a buffalo's ass would smell like.
Hank, glad to step away from the table for a moment, walked toward the sliding glass door in the den. "I'm just going to air the place out a bit." He stopped before the door, "Uh, guys... which one of you left this door wide open?" Jim and Sally looked at one another questioningly and then turned toward the den just as a coyote rushed past Hank and leaped onto the dining table.
Everyone screamed and rushed from the dining room as the mangy beast mangled the tofurkey, scattering the cauliflower stuffing in all directions. Dishes heavy with food crashed to the floor. Wine glasses sloshed their deep red contents onto the walls, lace tablecloth, and newly installed off-white carpet. The four frightened adults ran down the hall and locked themselves in the master bedroom.
Beth wouldn't stop shrieking until her husband shook her. Sally and Jim argued over whose stupid idea it was to insist they have a dinner free of smartphones. Hank grabbed the old rotary phone from beside the bed, but let it clatter to the floor when he realized it was just a decoration. Nobody has a landline anymore. Jim put his hands on Sally's shoulders and looked her in the eyes. The gesture was a sobering one. They turned in unison and moved hand in hand toward the window, their only means of egress.
Sally drew back the curtain to reveal a snarling coyote balanced on the window length planter, hate and hunger expressed in its yellow eyes. She screamed and fell back onto the bed as it slammed against the glass. Jim quickly slid the curtain shut and yelled to Hank, "Help me get the wardrobe in front of this." While they barricaded the window, Sally rolled across the bed to their dresser and started to push it in front of the door. Beth was sprawled on her knees, hunched over the toilet bowl, puking her guts out.
Her disgusting retching, the frantic snapping, yipping canines, and the scraping and squeaking of heavy furniture moving across the hardwood floor blended together incongruently like an awkward soundtrack to some sort of weird fetish porno. Once the room was secure from the coyote team running rampant through the house, Hank tried to coax Beth out of the bathroom. She slammed the door in his face and blurted out, "I've been fucking your boss for months!"
Her sudden outburst rendered him useless for the rest of the ordeal. Hank turned his back to the bathroom door and slid down it into a blubbering heap. Jim and Sally clutched at one another and looked deep into each others' eyes but no more ideas came to mind. They called out to Beth but she wouldn't answer. She just laid on the cold bathroom tile and whimpered incoherently. Hank just wrapped his arms over his head and drew his knees up to his belly. The only movements he made was when he occasionally wiped his sleeve across his running nose.
The coyote at the window finally left and went around to see what the others were up to. Its departure did little to console the people trapped in the bedroom. Jim listened at the door and surmised with very little certainty that there were at least five coyotes wreaking havoc in their house. They both concluded the window wasn't a viable means of escape; there were too many of the monsters to outrun. They decided that all they could do was sit back and wait for help from the outside world.
The hours snail walked by as the constant yipping and growling began to work on their frail psyches. Jim continued to listen at the door while Sally laid on the bed and counted the swirls and imperfections of the textured ceiling. "They're in the guest room now, probably tearing up all my first editions. The nasty fuckers are having a good old ti-" Just then one of the beasts slapped against the door causing the captives to jump out of their shivering skin.
It sniffed and scraped at the door. They heard a few hoarse barks and then more of them were there, pawing and scraping at the hollow core door. Jim retreated to the bed and looked around for other things to block the door with. "Given enough time those bastards will get through. Hank, Beth, do you hear that? Come on, you two, snap out of it and fight for your fucking lives."
Hank curled up on his side in a fetal position and squeezed himself into a tight ball. Not a sound came from Beth in the bathroom. Sally came off the bed and met her husband in front of the bed. "We could put the mattress-"
"No," he interjected, "That won't hold them for more than a few minutes. We need..." he looked around the room but saw nothing of any real use. Sally changed strategies and grabbed the rotary phone from the floor in the corner. She ripped the cord from the base and tossed it to Jim. "You can brain the first one that sticks its ugly head in here with that and I'll jam this down its fucking throat," she said while miming wrapping the cord around its neck and tugging up with a quick jerk. Jim saw the sense in her idea and started to weaponize the six-foot lamp in the corner, ripping off the cord, removing the light bulb, and unscrewing the glass lampshade to make it easier to swing.
The knob started to turn amidst all the ruckus the mongrels were making at the door. They rushed over and put their weight against the dresser. "Damn it! Why isn't there a lock on this fucking door? If they can get the door open they might be able to push aside the dresser," Jim said in a panic.
Sally, talking much louder than she needed to, asked, "Could just five of them do that? They looked pretty scrawny."
Jim shook his head, "I don't fucking know how many of them there are. I was just guessing. There could be twenty of them for all I know. How many coyotes are there in a pack?" A sickening, twisted laughter came from the far wall. They looked over to see Hank standing by the wardrobe, laughing hysterically. Neither of them had seen him move from his spot on the floor. Jim put a fake smile on his face as Hank grabbed hold of the wardrobe. "Hey, buddy, good to see you up. Don't do anything drastic, now. We need to-"
"Oh, shut the fuck up, Jim. Acting so fucking tough and proactive. You don't know what the fuck you're doing. None of us do. Well, I'm sick of just waiting here to die. I'm making a run for it and you two should too. Just leave that cheating bitch in the bathroom. Let her get hers." With that, Hank heaved against the wardrobe and it toppled to the floor with a loud crash.
He ripped the curtains off the wall, slapped at the window latches, and slid it open. Jim grabbed at Hank, but he just elbowed him to the floor and climbed out the window. He hit the ground hard, leaped up, and started running towards the front of the house to his car. The noise outside the door stopped as the old window crashed down and the glass shattered. The shards should have fallen both into and out of the room, but every shard shot into the room like darts thrown at a dartboard and embedded in the opposite wall.
Luckily, none of the projectiles hit their mark. Jim was lying on the floor and Sally was on the floor as well with her back against the dresser. Several shards were sticking out of the dresser just above her head. Suddenly, the click, clacking of the hellhounds' nails on the hardwood floor started up again and Sally yelled out, "They're after him. What should we do?"
Jim climbed to his feet and looked helplessly at his wife. None of this seemed right to him. The wheels in his head began to spin rapidly like a centrifuge. "Coyotes don't attack people like this. That window crashed down like it would if someone slammed it down with all their might and that glass flew like it was aimed at us." He started to think back to the strange occurrence with the tofurkey when screaming coming from outside violently shook him back to reality.
A sudden, sad sureness came to his face. "It will take us too long to lift the wardrobe... here, help me with the mattress. It won't keep them out for long, so we'll use it to funnel them to me and I'll kill them one by one as they enter." Sally looked at her husband. Neither of them could pretend not to hear the screams of Hank as the chaotic canines ripped him to shreds in their yard.
Jim grabbed hold of Sally and said, "All we can do now is keep that from happening to us. Are you with me?" Whatever she saw in his eyes convinced her he was serious and in that moment she knew he'd willingly die defending her if it came to that. She nodded assent. He kissed her forehead and then they both set to preparing their defense.
They pulled the mattress off the bed and propped it against the window. Then they raised up the one side of the bed frame and flipped it against the far wall and the dresser in front of the door to the hall. Sally took up her position to the left of the window and pressed her back against the mattress. The cord from the rotary phone dangled down from the handset gripped tightly in her hand and lay draped across the floor. The curly cord turned and twisted as she shook in fear of what was about to come through the window.
She too was aware that the beasts threatening their very lives weren't plain run of the mill coyotes. Something she couldn't explain was at work here. Something sinister and unnatural. Jim stood to the right of the window. He stared through the narrow gap between the wall and the mattress with the tall, unwieldy lamp gripped tightly in his hands.
Jim heard the clatter of canine nails on a hard surface and knew one of them was on the planter, poised at the window. He raised his left hand to warn his wife to get ready. A coyote with a scar across its nose poked its head through the window and began to growl low in its throat when it saw Jim. It pushed against the mattress to make more room for itself and dropped down with a quick turn and rebound off the big cushion.
Jim raised the heavy base of the lamp as the beast lunged for him and brought it down upon its head. He drove his make-shift war hammer down hard with all the strength he had and then gave it a twist once the beast was pinned to the floor. As he heard its neck snap, he thought, "Maybe we'll make it out of this alive after all." His victory was short lived as another one came through the window. This one hit the mattress with a force Sally didn't expect. She managed to hold the barricade upright, but Jim wasn't as lucky. The mongrel planted its back feet against the mattress and launched itself at Jim's face.
He raised his weapon up a split second too late and the beast hit him full in the chest. Jim slammed into the wall behind him with the beast snapping its jaws just inches from his face. Whether he dropped his long cudgel by accident or on purpose as he slid down the wall with the beast on his chest doesn't matter. Dropping it and grabbing the beast right under its front legs kept it from sinking its fangs into his throat and tearing out his jugular. Sally yelled out to her husband and abandoned her post to rush to his aid.
Thinking quickly, she wrapped the cord hanging from her weapon around the monster's neck and then dragged it off of him. He grabbed it by its hind legs and pulled as hard as he could. The beast was pulled taught between them until it went limp. Jim let it go and wiped the sweat and dog spittle from his face. He slowly pulled himself to his feet as Sally gave up considering trying to extricate her make-shift garrote from the dead animal's neck. She pulled the handset free from the cord with a yank.
The barricade suddenly fell forward and Jim's wife disappeared under it. "Sally!" he yelled as another beast flew through the window and landed hard on top of Sally. The air in Sally's lungs shot out of her like a dragon spitting fire and she went limp. Jim reached down to grab up his polearm. Just then another coyote dropped down from the window. It bared its teeth and advanced slowly on its prey, waiting for the perfect chance to launch at his throat.
Jim's weapon was just out of reach, so he wasn't able to grab it in time. He raised himself up and pressed his back to the wall, "Well, what are you waiting for? Come on, you mother fucker!" The beast on top of Sally turned towards the bathroom as the door swung open. While Jim and Sally were fighting for their lives, a war was being waged inside of Beth. She had been deathly afraid of dogs ever since a rottweiler took a chunk out of her leg when she was just seven years old.
The strength to fight past her fears and do what needed to be done had hidden deep inside her for so long. Now she needed that strength, but it was quite a struggle to draw it up from her depths. Finally, she won out and stood up from the bathroom tile. She wiped the vomit from her mouth and grabbed the toilet plunger. She stepped on the plunger and yanked sideways until the wooden handle broke free with a splintering snap and kicked open the door with an ear-shattering war cry erupting from her.
She came rushing out of the bathroom and shoved the poor excuse of a stake down the beast's gullet. It bit down like a steel trap upon her arm as she continued pushing forward. Her war cry changed pitch and became screams of pain, but she kept moving forward. Its fangs dug deeper into her flesh until she tripped over a woman sized lump in the mattress and came crashing down on top of the beast. The stake broke through the back of the monster's skull. Her arm disappeared almost entirely into the maw of the beast. Its teeth raked down her arm, drawing forth a river of blood and scraping away her skin to the bone.
The beast's jaw went slack as its lights went out forever and she yanked her bloody arm free just in time for the last coyote to bite down on it. Her screaming which hadn't stopped since she burst from the bathroom reached its crescendo. Beth's heroic charge into the fray gave Jim the chance he needed. He took up his weapon from the floor and brought it down heavily upon the beast's back, snapping its spine as he followed through with a full-body swing.
The coyote relinquished its death grip on Beth's arm and she rolled heavily off the mattress and onto the floor. She passed out before her limp body hit the floor, ending her war song. Jim dropped the lamp and rushed into the bathroom. He came out a moment later with a towel and knelt down beside Beth. He pulled her into his lap and wrapped the towel around her mangled arm, staunching the flow of blood. Sally crawled out from under the mattress and looked around the room.
The four dead monstrous beasts now looked like nothing more than scrawny, wild dogs. She turned to her husband and for the first time in hours the tension in her entire body evaporated. Jim sat there on the floor cradling Beth in his arms. The towel was completely red. Just then they heard the loud blaring sirens of police cars coming down the street.
Jim hoisted up Beth and rose to his feet. Sally followed suit and walked to the window. "I'll go direct them, wait here."
Jim said, "Wait," as she crawled up into the window, "we made it, babe."
"Yeah," she replied, "I guess we have a lot to be thankful for."
Jim and Sally recovered from the horrors of the night, eventually. They kept in contact with Beth who was recovering nicely. Her arm would never have full movement again, but she was handling it well. The meek and always agreeable woman had been replaced by a much stronger and independent woman. She had been through a war and came out of it with a kick-ass story and battle scars that screamed, "Fuck with me and I'll chew you up."
She was actually heading over to Sally and Jim's new house later in the week for a cookout. Beth didn't mess with tofu, tempeh, or any of that anymore. She decided she'd eat what she wanted and as much of it as she cared to. Her physical therapist, Joe, was coming along too. She'd decided life was too short to mess with a married man or cry over a husband who had ruled her life.
Jim was out and proud. Back on the meat, that is, and he was yelling it from the rooftops. His marriage was better than ever and he had a new vigor for life. He was even considering going into the police academy.
Sally's vegan lifestyle had fallen to the wayside. She still stuck to a vegetarian diet for the most part, but she occasionally ate meat. When she did it was always medium rare. After all, who had more of a right than her to eat what she wanted? She had faced the full ferocity of nature and struck back. She was a huntress at heart, part animal, and animals eat their prey raw.
Written by Kolpik