You are my Meat
Thunk! The cleaver cracked through flesh, through bone, and smack into the cutting board. Thunk! A rhythmic pattern as she worked her way through the carcass. Shiela worked fast and clean. It never took her long to break down the beast and start on the next.
Smells of copper and rot filled the air, even through the cold of the refrigerated room. The heat of so much death fought against the power of the refrigerant, their motor constantly ran to maintain the cold. And it was so cold. Shield wore gloves to not only protect her hands from the chance of a missed cut, but also to keep them warm. The protection worked on several levels. The cold would numb her hands and cause her to slip; even so after the gruesome task of butchering so many carcasses fatigue was just as dangerous.
Thunk! The carcass didn’t change. Thunk! Once the heads were removed the bodies had most of the same structure; four limbs, an upper torso, and a lower torso; skinned and eviscerated. Thunk! The cuts were mechanical.
Sometimes her mind would wander. Thoughts of her family, those she traded hours at work for the money she needed to keep them housed and fed. It wasn’t a great existence, just enough to keep them from losing everything. But she liked the honesty of the work.
Jeremiah, on the other side of the line caught her eye. He asked her out a few times already. An intrusion on what little time she had left after work. Bone tired after a day at work, it took what little she had left to shower, wash away the stink of blood and meat. When would she have time for dates, let alone sex? That’s what he wanted, if she was honest with herself.
Thunk! The cleaver cut through muscle, sinew, bone. It cared nothing of what was set below its blade. The edge cleaved clean and sure. Thunk!
Another carcass done, pieces pulled away, taken to the next stage, grinding. This plant was a feeder plant. The carcasses processed on her line were used in the feedlots. Efficient and clean, they only used the best feeder stock to lower contamination. She didn’t want to think about it anyway. Thunk! No one really wants to know where their food comes from anyway. Of course, the animals didn’t care either, as long they were fed. Thunk!
She changed into her street clothes in the locker room. Even here the steady rhythm of the cleaver still rung in her ears, much like the muscle memory of exercise. She heard the phantom blow of the cleaver cut through the bone. Maybe she would take Jeremiah up on his offer tonight. The drone of his voice, his company could wash away the drone of work, at least for a little while.
That’s settled, she thought. She waited for him outside the men’s locker room. One night, just one night out to take her mind from the day.
Alarms blared and broke the silence in her mind. Guards rushed through the hall and passed into the men’s locker room. One pushed her back with a nightstick, his features obscured by the Hazmat helmet and body armor. He blocked the door, no one in or out.
Moments later, pushed out the door, a body covered by a sheet, lay on a stretcher between two guards. No words spoken, no words offered. Their eyes and faces hidden behind their helmets, offered no solace to those who watched.
She watched as they took the body down the hall, to the first stage process. Would she see it again tomorrow, headless, featureless? Thunk! She closed her eyes and turned away. The idea of a night out soured her stomach maybe more than the thought of work again tomorrow. Thunk!
She passed the pens on her trip to the bus station. Grunts and howls emanated from the pens. They smelled her even as she passed them on the other side of the street. They clawed and scrambled at the fencing.
It would hold them, but for how long, she wondered. What would they do when they ran out of bodies to feed them? Would their hungry turn them against their captors. The dead still hungered. Some day they would outnumber the living. Thunk!