Dinner, 1914

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These men weren’t soldiers.

They were gathered around a field kitchen, preparing food that smelled familiar. When I approached from the east, making my way back to the encampment, the men grinned at me and asked me what unit I was from.

Their English was accented, a sharp, Balkan bite to the words. When I answered that I was with a Canadian unit, their grins turned to leers.

One man in particular, who stood at a large drum and stirred the contents, nodded in approval.

The others spread out around me, and I saw that there were no signs of life in the buildings along the street.

I continued to face the cook, but I marked where his companions positioned themselves.

“Would you care to eat with us?” the cook asked.

I assured him I did not.

None of the men, I noticed, were armed.

No, they believed their numbers were sufficient to subdue me.

It was then that I recognized the smell.

They were cooking human flesh.

I smiled, reached behind me, and drew my Bowie knife.

The gathered men laughed, the cook loudest and longest of all.

“What will you do with that, young one?” he asked. “You will make your flesh unappealing, and it will take longer to cook you. Put your toy down.”

“No,” I stated. The men around me tensed as though preparing for me to run.

I had no desire to leave.

When the cook realized I was going to stand my ground, he chuckled and motioned toward me.

The men moved forward slowly with the confidence of the hunter.

A pity they didn’t understand they’d become the prey.

The first man died with a look of surprise on his face. The others died screaming.

When I finished, they lay in a wide circle around me, hands and fingers littering the ground. Only the cook remained, and he was on his knees by the drum. His hands were in the pot, and I’d tied off the wrists. No need for him to bleed to death.

As he begged for his life, I fished out a coal from beneath the drum and used a ladle to pick it up.

Squeezing his mouth open with my free hand, I fed him the coal with the other.

He ate quite a few before he died.

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Nicholas Efstathiou

Husband, father, and writer.

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