All the Animals and All the Men

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Chapter 2

A great tree stood under the flat light of the rainy season. Its branches were gnarled and ancient. Its roots spread across the dirt like dozens of eels twisting and diving beneath the rough, stoney earth. Long abandoned suits of cicadas lay golden and empty along the base of the tree, like a burial ground where all but the masks of the dead have deteriorated to time. In the trunk of the tree, a heart had been carved around the initials "A" and "M", now long forgotten runes of an ancient civilization, but now it was no more then a faded scratch, no more than a vein within the bark of the tree, faded and chipped away by years of rain and dust. The most fearful thing about the great, ancient wooden figure that stood over the land was perhaps the branches. Thick papery golden leaves fluttered at the end of limbs thick and crisp.

The branches were strong, very strong, and they barely moved under the weight of the body swaying beneath them, tied to the great arm of the tree by a frayed, knotted rope, where the body of some ancient man still swayed, his bones showing through his dried flesh, his eyes picked out long ago by crows. His feet were too low, and the dogs had chewed the flesh clean off from them, where now only a knob of white bright bone shown. His jaw sagged under the weight of his withered tongue, and white teeth shown through jagged black flesh.

His eyes empty, what left of his nose two holes and his ears nothing but crumpled nodes on the side of a skull grey with flesh and white with bone.

The tree was one of the only decoration to the field, and it was a place of worship. The body was left alone, for he was the watcher over the lands. He felt the breeze of the distant sea and watched the great mountains in the distance and listened to the song of nature and the breath of grain.

It had smelled like smoke for days now, and the fires in the west still held their mark on the unique aroma of the world. Something between rhubarb and oats. Ash still danced in the air, like great flitting figures as they sped through the streams of gusts, seeing the world from the sky before they settled to the earth.

But the great forest fires of the west did not provide all the scent, there was something else. A tinge to the smell. It was something rare, something exotic. Something that had been forgotten from the aromatic palates of the new world. It was a strange rendezvous of charcoal and flesh. It was the scent of cooking meat, and it fluttered through the air like some bright exotic bird from the gardens of babylon. The beasts of the land perked their head up at the unique scent and their breath thickened. Their lips quivered and their tongues prickled with the aroma. There was something rare and strange and beautiful in this new succulence.

The carcass of what had once been a donkey was sprawled over a flame, a shoot of wood spread from the mouth to the rear, and between that the meat dripped and sizzled with juice. The golden skins had been set aside, over an upturned tupperware bin. Blood was cleaned off of arrows meticulously with rags of old clothing, and slender bows set aside across a cabinet filled with tin cups and silverware.

The donkey had been too slow, a hesitation in its step, and an arrow met its throat with the parting of flesh and the bleating of dying innocence. Its knees quivered and fell, and it bucked forwards, slamming into the floor and crushing the grasses beneath it creating a matt of dirt and grass and blood. The melody of the world had turned into a great panic. Birds fluttered about, hooves pounded the earth on their way to safer, emptier pastures and padded leather hit the ground as spears raised towards the last breath of another soul.

The illusion of paradise flickered, and returned with gleeful chatter. With the groan of hefting a large weight and the staggering of feet beneath it. The sun was setting on the lands of grain, but beneath the clouds it could not be known. The hunters looked towards the distance and followed the spirit of smoke dancing towards the sky in the new melody of chirping grasshoppers.

Mankind would survive another night.

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