Hungry Town

I live in a hungry town. There aren’t many of us left here, in this town. Only a few dozen. We don’t appear on any maps. We don’t get mail. We don’t have politicians come through, looking for our votes. The government never paves our roads, it doesn’t need to. The town paves our roads for us. We don’t have any police. Or firefighters. The town takes anyone who breaks the law. And fires die out as quickly as they start. The town does that too. Why did I call this a hungry town? Because the town doesn’t do this for free. Oh, it used to. In the old days. Before the missionaries came, before they brought their strange Gods, their strange customs. Before they drove out our Gods. Before they spilled blood.
We thought the missionaries left after they killed her. The little girl. The one who wouldn’t give up on our Gods, who wouldn’t swear loyalty to the missionaries’ Gods. They said, afterwards, that they didn’t mean to hit her that hard.That they didn’t mean for her head to hit the ground like that, to bounce with a sickening crack off a rock. We didn’t believe them. We saw the eldest draw back his staff as far as he could, swing it as hard as he could. What did he think would happen? That it would pass through her like she wasn’t there? That it would pass harmlessly over her head? No. The old man was a fool, if he thought we would believe that. If he believed that. We told them to leave. To take their Gods and go. They refused. Said we were heathens, that we had to be saved. There was no trace of them the next morning. We thought they’d changed their minds. They didn’t. The town took them.
We should have told her. Told her that we weren’t really giving in to the missionaries’ demands. Told her that we were going to go back to our ways, our Gods, after the missionaries left. But we didn’t, and she took a brave stand against the missionaries. I think that’s part of why the town is hungry. Because the little girl’s blood is on our hands just as it is on the hands of the missionaries.
That was centuries ago, now. How do I know this? How do I know things that happened centuries ago? Because I was there. Those of us who witnessed the little girl’s death are still here. The town won’t let us die. I’m not sure the town will ever let us die. We had children. They grew up, had children, grew old, and died. Their children grew up, had children, grew old and died. Those children grew up, and the cycle continued on and on and on. Occasionally an outsider finds their way to our town, settles down. Mostly though, the town takes outsiders. We hear their screams, and give thanks that it wasn’t one of us who satisfied the town’s hunger this time.
The town tells us when it’s getting hungry. Not verbally, of course. It has other ways. Potholes open in the road. Holes appear in yards. The wind seems to tear at exposed flesh like hungry mouths. When that happens, we draw straws. Whoever gets the short straw satisfies the town’s hunger. We-the town elders-never get the short straws. No matter how hard we try, we don’t get the short straws. Whoever draws the short straw feeds the town. The job of processing them to fill all the holes falls to us elders. Meat goes in the potholes. Bone goes in the holes in the yard. The blood we dehydrate and give to the wind. And then the town is sated again, for a time.
The town is getting hungry more often now. I think it’s because it has to work harder to keep us hidden. Our birth rate isn’t high enough to replace those who feed the town anymore. Our population has been dwindling for years. Soon it will just be us elders. The town will have to let us die then, if only so it will have a source of food. I wonder what it will do after the last of us is gone? How will it satisfy its hunger then?
I live in a hungry town.

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