David Craig

There was a Scotsman, an Englishwoman, and an Irish person who was impartial. They had nothing in common, because none of them had anything. Finding themselves in a crater somewhere in the Peak district, they said nothing for several days except 'Sod off" and 'That's mine'. Thoughts passed between them, or so it seemed - suddenly the Irish person would stare angrily at the Scotsman and blink a lot, or the Englishwoman would nod several times, hum a few notes, then stay still with her head cocked, like a thrush.

By the evening of the second day they had given up trying to scrabble up the yellow landslide that surrounded them. The Englishwoman sucked greedily at her bleeding finger-ends, the Irish person eyed her enviously, the Scotsman worked his mouth and Adam's apple like a pump, straining to generate saliva. 

'LLeeeuuggh 'ooachhh.' This came from him at last. 'Leeuuggh - le's let's - oogh - cook.' 

'Cook what'?' The Irish person was contemptuous. 

'Up to the cook - find things - cook 'em - turn and turn about.' 

The Irish person held out two arms - no hands. 

'Okay,' said the Englishwoman, 'you can do the thinking.' 

And so, that night, as charred bats dropped from the orange sky, the Englishwoman spread her hanky, the Scotsman snatched up the twitching pipistrelles, strangled them and grilled them, and the Irish person devised fuel supplies and planned menus. They made a fire out of the paper insoles from their shoes, lit it with one of their eleven matches, and laid the bats on a platter beaten out of Pepsi cans. It melted through and they crunched blackened bat-meat mixed with shrivelled shreds of foil, plucked hot from the embers. 

On the following night, more bats, roasted over a fire of diaries and bus timetables, on a spit twisted together from a few strands of razor-wire. 

On the night after that - 'Not bat again,' the Scotsman croaked.

'There's afters,' said the Irish person, 'Look !' pointing under the boulder on which the Englishwoman usually sat. A dozen snails clung there. The Scotsman hit them with the spit. Each one had sealed itself against the firestorm with a layer of mucus. Inside these the flesh shone yellowish-grey. Four each, cooked on the shell, garnished with chopped dandelion leaf. 

By the ninth day they had run out of weeds, bats, snails. And they had three matches left. 'What is it tonight, then?' the Englishwoman asked, smiling dangerously at the Irish person, her lips drawn tight shut. 

'Eh - uh - we've converted to Islam - and it's Ramadan.' 

The Scotsman gasped, a tearless sob, then shouted. 'Oysters' Loch Sween oysters.' Cullen skink! Cranaghan with fresh raspberries and Jersey cream!' 

As the sky turned yellow - orange - smoky apricot - electric blue, they all shouted until their waterless mouths were dumb: 'Peacock pie.' Smoked salmon quiche! Creek mushrooms Duckling a l'orange Banana splits!' They sobbed themselves to sleep. 

In the morning, the Irish person had collected thirty cockroaches, kicking up a corral of dirt and sand, catching the animals between big toe and second toe, dropping them in. They stabbed them through with ends of razor-wire and nibbled the shells, tasting little but their own foul mouths, dreaming of spare-ribs, crackling, creme Catalan. 

That night the Irish person showed them how to gnaw the calluses on their feet. They tasted of bacon rinds. The others were not supple enough to easily reach their mouths with their toes but they could just make it by pulling hard. The Englishwoman's feet were too tender to yield much solid material but she made up for this in blood. That night all three of them dreamed of suckling. None of them confided this to the others. 

In the morning they looked at each other with new eyes. Seeing people as meat. Would the handless Irish person have the least chance, if it came to combat? Or would those hardened feet and supple legs disable the other two more quickly than any fist or stranglehold? 

The sun seemed hardly to have risen. The ragged circle of sky above them was deep indigo. When the first rainwater coursed down the sides of the crater they flung themselves prone and sucked at it like calves. They choked on the yellow dust. It coated their mucous membranes and the fluid ran deeply into them. Their brains reeled with desperate sensations - brilliancy, agony, orgasm. 

As the crater brimmed, the three surrendered and floated easily as manatees. Each one curled up, knees to chest, eyes shut, fingers in mouths, legs splayed, genitals limp, their scorched pink skins washed clean as butcher meat by the sluicing of the rain.