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Born and raised in a very dull part of Massachusetts, James F. Reilly has spent much of his adult life arranging spoons and collecting rare commemorative plates. He's also an avid fan of badminton and basket weaving. Sometimes Reilly gets very angry, and his anger pours out of his fingers in the form of dirty words and violent imagery. His doctors call this therapy.

In addition to Reilly being the Head Cheeze at www.HorrorView.com, his work can be found in myriad magazines, including Apex Digest, City Slab, and Horror Garage, as well as in the anthologies Read by Dawn Vol.1, Gratia Placenti, Undead, and some other ones he's forgotten about. Reilly lives with his currently pregnant wife, two incredibly stupid dogs, and a pair of feral cats whose knowing stares make him do very bad things.

james f. reilly

Sole Survivor

"So how are you feeling?" Amy asks. "I mean, I know it'sÖ"

"I'm fine, Amy," I interrupt her. She looks uncomfortable. Everyone looks like that around me lately.

"Iím sorry, Rob, it's just thatÖwell, it's always been hard enough to read you. Now it's damned near impossible." She rests her hands on her knees and sighs. "I mean, you haven't talked about it with me. I'm sure if you didÖ"

"That I would feel better?" I ask.

I've heard this dozens of times since I got back. My doctor, my parents, friends, strangers on the street; they all want me to talk about it. The thing is, I don't think any of them care about whether or not talking about it would make me feel better; they just want the story, in all its grisly detail. They know the bits and the pieces, the sound bites from the talk shows, the two page write-up in People magazine -- I didnít get the cover. I think one of the Olsen twins was in rehab that week -- but they wanted to hear it from the source -- the sole survivor. I'm a living, breathing, human tragedy, a walking public interest story, at least for now. It's been six months, and the fervor was dying down finally, but I still feel the eyes on me wherever I go.

After all, I'm The Cannibal Climber.

I'd like to find the news guy who coined that one, but it's been used so much I don't think anyone can truly take credit for it. I did a Larry King where he asked me how I felt about the name, and I told him that it bothered me a great deal. I told him I wasn't proud of what I did, but I did it to survive. He just nodded at me, his catcher's mitt face contorted into a well rehearsed expression of empathy. Five minutes later we went to commercial break.

"After this, we'll take your phone calls for The Cannibal Climber. Don't go away."

I couldn't be angry. It was my brand name, now. Hell, my editor tells me that's what they want to call the book. I still don't know what the hell I'm going to write about.

It isn't all bad. I don't think I've paid for a single drink in the three months since I left the hospital. And the women, well, let's just say there's been a lot of them. Groupies, my agent calls them. He tells me even serial killers have them.

I don't know how to feel about that.

"Look, Iím going to get something to eat," Amy says. "Do you want me to pick anything up for you?"

I shake my head. "No, Iíve got food. Why don't you call me later on? I've got to get a chapter to my editor today."

She smiles. She has this gap between her two front teeth that reminds me of Lauren Hutton. It's one of those funny imperfections that make a sexy woman uniquely sexy.

Amy isn't one of the groupies. I knew her before all of this. We'd dated in college, but it didn't work out. We made better friends than lovers, though, and kept in touch. She ended up marrying the guy she started seeing after me. He was a doctor and, like me, a climber. Amy recommended him for the expedition. Actually, she sort of begged me to take him along. She regrets that now, I'm sure, but she's convinced herself he died doing something he loved.

At least that's what his obituary said.

She came to see me in the hospital when I was flown back. She'd kept her distance after that, but now she was here, comforting me; comforting herself. The media shit-storm surrounding this thing was harder for her, I think, being the wife of a "victim." I got all of the "triumph of the human spirit" coverage while she and the other victims' families were featured in stories with melodramatic headlines like "The Other Side of the Mountain" or "They Gave Their Lives For His." Of the six other climbers' families, Amy was the only one I've seen since my return. Who can blame them, really? I mean, I ate their fucking fathers, husbands, and sons.

I didn't expect flowers.

She gathers her stuff and heads for the door.

"You sure you donít want anything?" she asks.

"No, I'm fine, really. I just have to figure out what the hell I'm going to write for this book," I say.

"Just tell it like it happened," she says with a forced smile. "Just tell the truth."

I nod and she leaves.

The truth, she says.

The thing is I canít tell the truth. The official story was that the team was hit by bad weather, and, one by one, they'd succumbed to the cold, until it was just me. I was forced to survive on the remains of my comrades, was rescued three weeks later, blah, blah, blah.

If they knew the truth, that I'd killed them all to save myself, well, I wouldn't be much of hero now, would I?

Amy is under the impression that her husband died valiantly, trying to dig another climber out from under a sheet of ice. I couldn't tell her that he'd actually gone in his sleep after I'd lodged a pick-axe in his head.

She's better off with the vision she has.

So am I.

The freezerís well-stocked with white bundles that say "steak" on them in butcher's pencil. I know better. Once you get the taste for the stuff, you can't go back to anything else. That's why I love L.A.; you can get anything here for a price, and no one asks questions.

I have to get to work. I should know the story like the back of my hand by now. I mean, I've spent the better part of a year telling it. Still, now I have to put it into words.

But I'm hungry, and I can't think on an empty stomach.

END