21. May I Take Your Coat?

As soon as we got back to Probet, we headed for the tanner’s store, proudly carrying our one rabbit like it was a great accomplishment. Which it was for us, so not surprisingly we felt a little pleased with ourselves.

The tanner soon brought us back to earth.

“We don’t take the whole thing, just the skin.” He was outside his shop, slicing up a stiff looking piece of leather that had come from some huge animal.

“How do we skin it?” Maurice asked. The fact someone spoke other than me was an indication of how far we’d come. At this rate, we’d hit normal in a couple of months.

The tanner paused long enough to give us a disparaging look, then continued with cutting the leather with an incredibly sharp pair of shears.

“If you show us how to skin this one,” I said, “you can have the skin for free.” It seemed a fair trade. We wouldn’t get any money (although I’m not sure we’d be able to buy a whole lot with one chob), but we’d have learned a new skill, and that was much more important in an RPG. Yes, I still felt this was a game.

The tanner, like merchants everywhere, was hardwired to never turn down a good deal. He leaned back and called out. “Miri, come here a moment.”

One of the girls from the back of the shop came running out. She was small and looked to be in her early teens. Her brown hair was tied back in a simple ponytail, revealing a serious face. His daughter, his assistant, his wife—hard to say. Maybe all three.

“Miri, show these visitors how to skin a rabbit.”

A glimmer of irritation passed across the girl’s face, but she nodded. She wiped her hands on the front of her pinny and snatched the rabbit from Dudley. She stomped around the side of the shop without saying anything.

We followed her to the back where large wooden tubs of foul smelling liquid bubbled and steamed. The other girl had a long pole in her hands and was using it to stir the contents of each tub.

Miri kneeled down on a patch of dirt and lay the rabbit down. She took a knife out of the front pocket of the pinny.

With two deft slices she cut the rabbit across the middle and from neck to crotch. Then she peeled back the skin and pulled it off like she was taking a baby out of a babygrow. A dead baby out of babygrow stuck to its skin, only much more gut-churning.

Her movements were sharp and forceful, but the skin came away in one piece, only the loud tearing sound indicated it was actually attached to the rabbit.

We all watched open-mouthed. It was disgusting and impressive at the same time. She did it so smoothly and quickly it looked easy, but I expected we’d find it anything but when we tried to do it ourselves.

She threw the the skin into one of the tubs and handed me the pink carcass. It was hard not to think of it as something out of a horror movie. Bunny Hunter. “This killer doesn’t just take your life, he takes your skin!” But that was just my soft middle-class sensibilities. This was food. At least, I hoped it was.

I took it from her, forcing myself not to react to the revulsion welling up inside me as I felt slippery smoothness of the flesh in my hand. “Can we eat this?”

She made a face that could have been disapproval, or just annoyance that we were taking up so much of her time. To be honest, with its long snout and pink tail, the rabbit looked more like a large, long-eared rat. It’s not surprising there’d be a similarity, since rabbits are rodents, but still, not the most appetising thought.

“If you want. You have to gut and clean it first.”

“And how do we do that?”

She gave me the same look Kizwat had when I asked him which way was east. But she took the rabbit back and put it on the ground. She stabbed it in the chest and dragged her knife through the body. Then she pulled the incision apart, cracking bones as she opened it up to reveal the innards. Bunny Hunter 2. “This time he wants what’s inside!”

She flipped it over and everything fell out in a big red mess. She used her knife to scoop out the last of it, slicing off the attached parts. The smell of blood and shit cut through the already acrid air.

Miri handed me the rabbit. “Wash it properly. Anything else?” She said it in a tone that suggested the answer should be, “No.”

“No,” I said. “Thank you.”

We all felt a bit queasy after seeing the rabbit peeled and gutted like that, but I assumed we would eventually get used to it. We left her to her work and set off back to the shed. We still hadn’t made any money, but we had dinner sorted.

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