Giving Thanks

“Boys! Don’t you know by now that it’s rude to eat with your fingers? I set out our best set of silverware for tonight; I can’t have you overlook your manners in lieu of using them. For goodness sake, this is the first meal I’ve invited our neighbors to since I moved in. Show some decency.” A woman with rounded features, sagging wrinkled skin, and a soft, kind face spoke serenely to the two boys digging into the meal set before them like they hadn’t eaten for the last week. Tears fell from their eyes as they stuffed food into their open mouths, chewing with only brief pauses to breathe around it all in their hurried rush to consume as much as possible.

A spread of mashed potatoes, buttered peas, steamed broccoli, flayed forearms, sliced cheek meat, and boiled eyeballs in gravy laid before them on a deep red fabric tablecloth. Ornamental fake leaves adorned the table and an autumnal arrangement of flowers sat in a large glass vase as the centerpiece. It had all been delicately seasoned, cooked to perfection, and laid out in precise order for the holiday meal. Each plate had been lovingly crafted to look as if it had come straight out of a home décor magazine.

To the left of the boys sat an elderly couple; a man and a woman. The man sported a dark, thick mustache and a ring of hair the same color around the top of his head, and the woman, long white hair that rested in a loose braid over her shoulder. Mouths scrunched up in disgust, they watched as the boys ignored the calm pleas of the woman that kept glancing at her guests apologetically in favor of stuffing their faces and licking their plates clean.

A stray eyeball rolled across the table as one of the boys had reached for it to begin his second helping. It made a bouncing journey across the tablecloth, splattering gravy in its wake, staining the fabric, and landing before the hostess. It peered up at her with its blood shot sclera and clouded blue iris. She looked down at it, and then into the now terrified eyes of the boys at the opposite end of the table. After watching the two ruin the beautiful meal she’d prepared, this was the last straw. Her voice rose ever so slightly in its tempo as she rose on aching knees and wandered over to their end of the table. Her voice took on an aggravated tone that, to the untrained ear, might sound like a gentle admonishment. The boys dropped their plates and stepped away from her and the table, nearly toppling over their heavy wooden chairs in the process.

“That’s enough, boys.” Her voice was calm and quiet, but stern and demanding. “Go to your rooms and think about your manners before returning to finish this meal. I don’t even want to hear a whisper about dessert before you do. Go on! Out!” Hazel eyes poked out through the soft folds of her pale cheeks with a fiery temper she dare not display on her face in front of guests. The boys nearly ran up the staircase behind them, stumbling over each other and pawing across the worn wooden steps on all fours in an attempt to quicken their pace.

With a meek smile back in the direction of her company, the hostess tucked a long strand of grey hair behind her ear.

“Goodness, I’m so sorry about that. These kids have no manners, it seems. I suppose the meal was just too good to wait for.”

The guests looked with wide eyes at the plates that had been made up for them.

“It’s not a bother, really.” The man spoke, nervously looking between his wife and their host.

“Well, don’t mind them. Shall we say grace and eat? I don’t want all of this wasted. It took me hours to cook and prepare.” The hostess chuckled. She clasped her hands before her and muttered a quick prayer that thanked a higher being for their food, their companionship, and the quiet night’s cool weather.

“Dig in!” she concluded, throwing her hands into the air with splayed fingers and a wide smile.

The female guest, Mrs. Connors, shot a look at her husband that reminded him how upset she was that he had accepted their neighbor Jessa’s kind request for Thanksgiving dinner. They could have been chatting with her friends over at the ski lodge over mulled wine and beside a roaring fireplace were it not for his mouth. He knew this, but wanted to surprise her with something new and special, since the neighbor woman that shoveled their driveway on cold mornings and brought over the baked treats she would make throughout the year had been kind enough to invite them over for a home cooked meal.

He apologized yet again with a meek look towards his wife, but said nothing. He forked a bit of flesh from his plate and it quivered as he brought it to his mouth.

Jessa, her mouth full of the feast’s food already, smiled widely as she watched this. She nodded enthusiastically as the meat passed his lips and he closed his mouth to chew.

Mr. Connors closed his eyes as he masticated the food and attempted to place the flavors that now danced around his tongue. The meat was moist, seasoned perfectly, and tasted like nothing he’d ever had before. His fork made its journey through the mashed potatoes cleverly piped onto his plate in a swirling design and the flavors that mixed in his mouth topped any meal he’d had on this day prior.

Watching the excitement and joy on her husband’s face, Mrs. Connors decided to try it out for herself. After all, he’d been so picky in the past, she was surprised he was the first to try the food at all.

“Oh Jessa, this is lovely!” Mr. Connors exclaimed.

“Thank you, Clark. It’s a family recipe I’ve been meaning to try for years. I’m amazed I could find enough bodies for this meal. What with the last of the living having left town months ago,” their hostess replied.

“I concur; I’ve never thought to add fingernails to a brain salad for crunch, simply Ingenious.” Mrs. Connors cried, stabbing her fork into several pieces of meat, then a string bean, then through a pink salad that had clearly been scooped from a skull-turned-serving dish which sat at the far end of the table.

“Alright, I suppose I can’t punish those boys for much longer. It is a holiday, after all.” Jessa said after clearing her plate. She wiped her mouth with a napkin that matched the tablecloth, rose from her seat with some effort, and made the slow journey up the wooden staircase within view of the table.

In no time, the boys stormed the dining room. Almost as if remembering something, they paused, carefully pulled out their chairs, and sat down. They placed their napkins on their laps and fisted the silverware to the right and left of their plates. Both whispered a small prayer and finally dug back into their meals, this time with the proper utensils.

It took about 20 minutes of occasional raucous laughter the, now comfortable, guests shared mixed with several helpings of the meal and a few glasses of wine from which even the young boys had a small helping.

“So boys, where do you two go to school? I don’t know that we’ve seen you around much. I wasn’t even sure Jessa had kids of her own.” Mr. Connors asked, leaning back in his chair and rubbing a hand over his stomach.

The boys shot a look towards their elderly hostess and blinked, unsure how to proceed.

“Oh, I’m sorry, did I mis-speak?” Mr. Connors asked, glancing between the boys and Jessa, the smile fading from his face and replaced with embarrassment.

“No, no. These boys are…my great grandchildren.” She said, with a falter in the features that had held such serenity all night.

The boys nodded, wordlessly, taking the last few pieces of cheek meat from the platter before them and scraping the sides of the off- white china bowl that held the mashed potatoes onto their plates. As they dug in once again, the youngest screeched in pain.

“Oh goodness, what’s happened? Are you alright?” Jessa sped from her seat to the opposite end of the table, wincing with each step. She gathered the boy up from his seat and crouched down to the best of her ability to tend to his wounds. He opened his mouth to reveal that he had stabbed the inside of his cheek with his fork, blood dripped from the wound, and Jessa began to panic.

“Is that…?” Mrs. Connors inquired, leaning forward in her seat to get a better look. Jessa’s eyes dilated and she hurriedly glanced at her guest. She turned the boy away from her view, but it was too late, her hands carried several drops of the stuff and it streaked down her arm, red as ever.

“Is that blood?” Mr. Connors sniffed the air and growled under his breath.

“No, no, we’re fine. Come on, kiddo, let’s get you something to take care of that.” Jessa ushered the boy into the kitchen as quick as she could manage.

The other boy sat at the table, still eating, but nearing tears as he watched his brother vanish behind the word wooden walls of the old home.

The neighbor couple stared at him, hungry all over again.

“You know, you and your little friend there are quite a rarity.” Mrs. Connors purred, her eyes trained on the boy’s pink cheeks.

“Jessa!” The young boy called behind him, fidgeting in his seat, but doing his best to obey the instructions Jessa had given him before his return to the table. The Connors rose from their seats and within seconds were on either side of the boy still obediently sitting in his chair.

He smelled their putrid breath over the sweet smell of his meal. Their mouths no more than a vent for the rotting corpses that they were. Upon closer inspection, the boy realized that the wrinkles he’d see earlier were cracks in their skin, that their teeth were nearly all gone, that they were missing fingers and Mr. Connors wore a false eye in a deteriorated socket on his left side.

Jessa and the other boy arrived just in time to see the Connors tear into the flesh of the young boy, ripping muscle from bone, smashing his skull to get their fill of his brain, and growling, screeching and riotously laughing above his screams about their good fortune while they did it.

“Run to your room, boy. I don’t think I can keep you safe here much longer.” Jessa said, barely above a whisper.

The young boy darted up the stairs, thankfully hidden from sight and sound as the gnashing and snarling continued.

From the wall, Jessa reached for a shotgun. The missing fingers on her right hand made aiming difficult, but buckshot was soon sent through the skulls of her neighbors. Their bodies lay across her beautiful table, crushing flowers, staining the tablecloth, and knocking food and cutlery to the floor.

Another shot rang out once she approached the table, just to be sure. A glance towards the eviscerated corpse of her ward turned her stomach and nearly upended the meal she’d had prior. Tears fell from her eyes. This was all her fault. She’d gotten cocky, she thought they wouldn’t notice or would at least be able to control themselves.

The Connors’ skulls were obliterated, black blood oozed from their wounds, and their faces were obscured by meaty flesh and fresh blood from their dessert.

Jessa quietly shuffled to the pantry and, with her own pair of rotting arms, grabbed the dustpan and broom to begin cleaning up the mess she’d made of her favorite holiday.

Last Story: Der Hund

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