Horseradish. That would be perfect, just enough to give the other flavors a bit more punch. Usually she prefers pork seasonings, but the occasional hint of something good with red meat helps bring out the earthier tones of the dish.
Grandma would disapprove of such additions to her recipes, designed to be simple and enhance the natural flavor. Unfortunately, the difficulty of the hunt lately made it so that meat was rare, every effort must me made to maximize enjoyment. The prey were learning to protect themselves much better than they did in Grandma’s day.
She hummed as she worked, slicing turnips while a thigh soaked in the marinade. So many people undervalued a good roasted turnip. The flavor was so strong when raw, you would never expect it to turn so savory and mellow.
The repetitive task allowed her mind to wander, and she considered the satisfying catch and kill behind her. This one had been taken in his sleep, always better for the meat. Once, she heard one of the campers tell a story about a creature that hunted humans. Talked about fear enhancing the flavor of meat. It was obvious the human didn’t know what he was talking about. In her experience it made it taste a little off. This one never saw a thing coming, he was nice and cozy in his sleeping bag.
The park rangers are cracking down like wildfire, but they don’t know how to track something like her. They look for their trails on the ground, not in the trees. They would be aware, and so would the campers, but there will always be one or two that consider themselves to be safe enough to stray.
P.S. – Found another older story that contains elements I will hopefully be using for Grim List 2020.
“Oh, she is beautiful. I bet Dr. Fairweather will notice you for this one. You might even get more than just the grant out of him.” She winked.
“Excuse me?” I could never remember this one’s name. Grad students are so temporary lately.
“Was that too forward?” She smiled. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell. Anyway, she should help you get that grant for sure. I know you’ve certainly been working hard enough to deserve it.”
“It’s not about me. It’s not even about my work, but she does bring me some hope.” I couldn’t help the smile I felt rising to my face as I put her in the specimen jar.
“I don’t understand, what do you mean the funds aren’t available?” No, no, I needed this grant.
“I’m afraid the last of it went to Dr. Aemulus.” Fairweather wouldn’t even look me in the eye, shuffling through papers on his desk instead.
“But it was promised to me, you told me you would make sure of it.”
“Well, to be frank, she has an amazingly persuasive argument for her cause.”
“Does that argument have anything to do with the weekend you spent together?”
A deep flush spread up to his face from the over starched collar of his shirt. “Don’t be petty.”
The whole campus was abuzz with excitement.
I sipped at the champagne and wished it was mead. I like mead, the child in me enjoys sipping nectar like a bee. Dr. Aemulus came in on Fairweather’s arm and everybody clapped. The grad student said, “This should have been your event.” Incubo. That was her name. Something Incubo.
“Don’t be petty,” I sighed.
“Wait, that’s mine. That’s all mine. What are you doing with my things? That’s delicate equipment, what are you doing?”
Fairweather the betrayer came in, holding his hands up as if to physically restrain me if need be. “Calm down, we need this space for Dr. Aemulus to run her experiments. Your equipment will go down to storage where it will be safe until it’s needed again.”
“Calm down? How do men always think saying that will help?”
“Just be reasonable. The money from forensic research will be far more valuable than conservation efforts. Why are you letting some grad student put a bug in your ear anyway?”
“What grad student? How can you think I’m angry because of a grad student? You’re insane!”
I shouldn’t have to do this. I am a good person. I deserve loyalty. But no, here I am covered in fucking blood up to my arms in these stupid beetles. Necessary forensic research, my ass. This “research” has all been done before, it solves nothing. Nothing.
Out of pure spite, I crumpled his stupid starched collar before dumping more of the flesh consuming beetles over the pair of them. I patted Aemulus’s hair. “Feed your children well,” I whispered.
Fire grew in my heart. Fire grew in my eyes.
Incubo was right. Sometimes, fire is good for the forest, even if some pollinators die. I was wrong to stop the controlled burn the farmers wanted last fall. Sometimes, burning it all to the ground gives room for renewal, for the new, the strong, the helpful, to flourish and grow.
The heat tingles my skin, flush from being so near, the smoke billows to the sky and blows through my hair. I feel so alive. What an absolutely beautiful day.
They found her bones in the ashes. Her grad student stood quietly with the other onlookers as the bodies were carried away.
With a sad smile, Incubo said, “it looks like I will need a job soon. What about you? I hear you’ve been busy, but they haven’t given you the help you need,” the muse of jealousy continued, “Personally, I think you’ve been underappreciated.”
P. S. – This is an old story I’m posting because I’m fairly certain this will be referred to in the upcoming stories for Grim List.