Autophagy

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A human can survive twenty-one days without food. A snake can survive months, a crocodile a year. I’ve heard some animals, in order to maintain the fuel source they need to continue living, digest their own body tissues. It’s called autophagy. Not auto-cannibalism, mind you, because that involves actively consuming your own flesh. Autophagy occurs more naturally.

You won’t see any signs about autophagy at the zoo. Believe me, I’ve searched. I’ve read every sign there is to read in this zoo, and I’m a third of the way through the big cat books in the gift shop. Boring as shit, animal books. The animal signs have much more interesting information. Facts like: wombats poop in cubes, a baby giraffe falls six feet to the ground when it is born, or a group of tigers is called an ambush. Most interesting of all is why there are dogs in the cheetah exhibit. No, they are not food. Cheetahs are often shy around humans, but can mimic the dogs’ behavior and become calmer as long as the dog is calm. Over the course of what I assume was years, these creatures formed a familial bond. Therefore, I kept both animals alive so the dog could help me hunt.

            The other big cats only lasted a few weeks. I had to let them pass, for lack of utility to myself and lack of ability to kill them even if I wanted to. The elephant, on the other hand, I let die on purpose. Anyone who thinks I’m going to keep an elephant fed when I can hardly feed myself is dumber than a lemming, who jumps off cliffs and swims into the ocean until it drowns simply because it’s following the leader. Besides, the elephants have the largest area, most of which could be used for planting edible veg. Now most of that land belongs to James, who asked to take charge of the Animals of Africa exhibit. Not smart of him to request it, as it is not well-protected in case of attack, but I wouldn’t argue. I took the aquarium. It’s more self-sustaining and the next best food source behind James’ elephant farm. He and I trade when he starts to get sick of rodent meat.

The one thing James and I truly agreed on was how we would handle a hostile invasion. If we were ever outnumbered by any unfriendlies, we would unleash all the deadliest animals on our enemies. For that reason, we gave some animals just enough food to stay alive and hungry. If we were invaded, James would run to the gorilla, hippopotamus and rhinoceros exhibits, while I’d be in charge of the cheetah and dog, along with the poisonous snakes and spiders. I can’t remember the name for fear of snakes, but James has it. I know fear of spiders is arachnophobia, and even know fear sharks is called galeophobia, but can’t for the life of me remember fear of snakes. But our animals were our livelihood, and our most powerful weapons. If we couldn’t have the land, nobody could have the land.

James and I had a bit of a falling out three weeks in. He killed one of the flamingos for meat, since they were so comfortable around humans he didn’t need to hunt them. What he didn’t consider was the flamingo’s ability to fly. All he got was one, then the others disappeared with nothing left behind other than the pond of fish and shrimp in their exhibit. Since then, James and I have had a less symbiotic relationship. We were more of just…cohabitants. Like the tapir and the llama.

            Until he became my prey.

            I have since forgotten what exactly led to the argument. Chances are it had something to do with wanting more territory. In all fairness, he made some fair points. The majority of the land was considered to be mine, and we were so self-sustaining we could’ve brought in an entire family, only nobody ever came. My issue was trust. As much as I could use the help, I didn’t want the flamingo assassin accidentally polluting what little water we had on reserve.

            This exchange metamorphized James from calm to killer. At first, I thought they were little more than juvenile pranks: trading with empty corn husks, poison ivy traps, all relatively harmless. I decided to retaliate when the pranks grew annoying. My goal was to nip it in the bud (just as he had done to prevent my azaleas from blooming) and come up with a prank severe enough to convince him he was messing with the wrong guy. One night, I stuck two glass cages full of the southern pacific and red diamond rattlesnakes in his sleeping quarters. He was never in any danger, the cages were sealed closed, but he couldn’t sleep for days due to fear I would do it again.

            Ophidiophobia.

            That’s the word for fear of snakes.

            James’ insomnia may or may not have led to some delusional thoughts. I’m not a psychiatrist, but I believe some psychosis was a factor. Not unheard of, considering our being the only two human survivors we know of. Still, that does not excuse what he did.

            I had just returned from my most successful hunting trip with my dog. We got two turkeys, so big I couldn’t carry both by myself. Upon arrival at the zoo, I was making my way past the cheetah exhibit to tell James the good news when I heard whimpering from behind me. I figured it was just my dog greeting the cheetah, until the whimpers evolved into yelping sobs. The dog was howling in terror by the time I had returned to the cheetah exhibit to see the cheetah motionless on the ground with blood leaking from its belly. I immediately knew what James had done.

            Crossed the line.

            As I stormed to Africa, I lost track of whether the dog was growling, or if I was just hearing myself. I blacked out between the walk up to the former giraffe exhibit and locking broken-nosed, busted-lipped James in the cheetah cage. Not the cheetah exhibit…the cheetah cage. Where they can only walk in small circles. Where they can only stay for eight hours or their sanity is sacrificed. An eighth the size of a prison cell, meanwhile a cheetah’s natural habitat can span over five-hundred square miles.

            We never spoke. I didn’t, at least. He tried reasoning with me, but I was deaf as a squid. I only stared, contemplating what my next action would be. Should I let the rattlesnakes have him? Should I let the dog have the revenge it deserved? Should I lock myself in the cage with a knife until only one of us walked out? In the end, no death was worthy. So, I did nothing.

            A human can live twenty-one days without food.

            James survived for eighteen.

 

About the Author

Tyler S. Harris was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1992. He grew up in Arizona, and currently lives in Michigan. Tyler is a science fiction writer who enjoys bringing unique perspectives to traditional ideas. Tyler has published one novel, Immortal Peace, which was published in 2015.Enjoyed the story? Follow Tyler on Twitter, and check out his blog.

Tyler S Harris