It’ssssssss…International Short Story Day…Enjoy!

It’ssssssss…International Short Story Day…Enjoy!

Trudging through the courtyard to the small building at the rear of the farm, Bert shielded his eyes against the glare of the sun. He already felt the stroke of heat against his forehead and wiped his hand against the skin, as if he could rub away the imminent burn. The sunrays bounced off the flagstones, the white slabs shining golden, dazzled Bert. He squinted. Gonna be a hot one today. Just what I need, damn it. The smell of the abattoir grew stronger as he neared, the stench of blood and rot seeping out, even though the door stood closed. Bert spat on the ground and wiped his forehead again, knowing it was going to be a hundred times stronger inside. But someone’s gotta do it, eh Pa? he thought with a sigh. He placed a hand against the wooden door and shoved it open. The smell hit him like a knife up the nose, swimming up into his head then down into his stomach, catching in his throat on the way. Bert breathed the foul air in deeply, encouraging his body to acclimatise to, rather than reject, the stench. Patrick looked up as the old man entered. The boy was finishing off the clearing forms, confirming the identity of each of today’s pigs and their farm of origin. “Smells like heaven,” Patrick said, looking back to the papers on his clipboard. “Smells to high heaven, more like,” replied Bert, stepping inside and closing the door behind him. The bright sun vanished; three glowing fluorescent tubes overhead produced a draining white light for the man and boy. Bert paused to watch Patrick work. Glad the boy had come in early to make a start, he was especially pleased the paperwork might be done. He hated the boring, and in his eyes pointless, tasks. There wasn’t any paperwork in his father’s day. “How’s your mum?” Bert asked, striding deeper into the room. “She’s fine…I guess…” said Patrick, his gaze darting briefly up to Bert then returning back to the job at hand. “She still not happy with you workin’ here?” “Yeah, but what else can I do? I mean, there’s only me bringing in the money and I can’t just jack it in, can I? Be different if my chicken shit dad was still around.” Bert’s throat tightened. She still hasn’t told him. “You okay?” Bert looked up to see Patrick, the paperwork temporarily forgotten, staring back with concern. “Fine, boy. Just thinkin’. Us old timers do that time to time. Anyway, how many porkers we gots today?” Bert pulled on his soiled apron. The original whiteness was long gone, the material stained brown with use. He slid on a pair of thick, black rubber gloves. “’Round thirty,” said Patrick, wiping the sweat gathered on his face away with his hand. “Looks like we got a busy day, and in this heat…” “We’ll have no jaw flapping in here,” said Bert. “My Pa was a slaughterer, so was hisPa. You’d never catch them complainin’ about a lil’ thing like the heat! Rain or shine, boy, they’d be a workin’ with smiles on their faces.” Bert displayed his own crossword smile. “Sooner we starts, sooner we has us a cold beer and a bacon sandwich, eh? Bring out the first squealer, less you have anymore moans in that soft head of yours.” Patrick obediently turned and left through the back door, which led to the holding paddock. Bert placed his hands on his hips and shook his head. You don’t half do some whining, boy. Just like your Ma. He went about checking his equipment, a routine he could have completed with his eyes closed. The stunner lay on the floor beside the pig pen, its thick cable leading from the generator hung up on the wall. Safer up there with no risk of it sparking in a puddle of blood. If that happened, it wouldn’t just be the pigs getting fried. The stunner itself was nothing more than an oversized pair of metal tongs with deep plastic handles. The tongs ended in two metal blocks, which would be placed either side of the pig’s head. Above the pen and the stunner, a metal rail ran the length of the ceiling with several chains hanging from it. It made access and movement of the stunned pig that much easier. A few metres along the rail, the blood pit sat beneath. Nothing more than a large, open tank covered by a metal grating, the pit caught the blood and other fluids released by the pig during slaughter, and the grating stopped any clumsy workers, namely Patrick, from falling in. Bert walked over to the pit and hooked his rubber-clad fingers through a slit in the grating. He slid it free a couple of inches and looked inside. The level of dark fluids, a mixture of browns and reds, hung just over a foot below the edge of the pit. The smell coming out of it was just bearable, even for Bert. “Jesus Christ!” he shouted, letting the grate fall with a solid clunk. “Patrick! Hey Patrick, you lazy sack of shit!” He hated himself for talking that way to the boy, but he had to learn. It was how his Pa had taught him. The rear door opened a crack. Bert heard sounds of a struggle from the other side. “You doin’ okay back there, boy?” “Erm…yeah, Bert. We got a feisty one here!” “He won’t be feisty much longer…” Bert looked down into the blood pit, remembering why he shouted him. “Why this not been drained this mornin’?” “Sid called, something about an industrial action. Says it might be Wednesday.” “Wednesday? Son of a bitch! This shit stinkin’ out the whole farm!” “You get used to it,” called Patrick. “Ouch! It bit me!” “You better bring that swine in here, boy,” said Bert, walking from the pit to the pen. He picked up the stunner by the handles. “I seen ‘em take chunks outta bigger than you.” The rear door swung open wide and Patrick, clutching a stick and a wooden board, did his best to guide the pig down the short track and into the pen. He released a gasp of relief when he shut the gate behind it. “Vicious little fucker,” he said, laying down his tools and rubbing the back of his leg. “Probably knew what’s comin’,” said Bert. He unhooked the bright yellow cable from the wall and rammed the connector into the stunner. Patrick moved around the pen and took his position at the generator. The pig, a large potbelly with black patches splashed across its sides, looked up from beneath floppy pink ears. It grunted. “Ready?” asked Bert, already leaning over. “Ready.” The pig, who now appeared quite complacent in its final moments, allowed Bert to attach the stunner, the metal blocks pressing into its temples. Bert held on tight. “Okay. Go.” Patrick flicked a switch. A loud crack rang out through the room. The pig fell on its side, feet kicking in the air or scraping the floor. Bert, quickly and efficiently, removed the stunner, pulled out the cable and hung it back on the wall. He passed the warm metal tongs to Patrick before returning to the pig. He picked up a loop of chain and placed the ankles of the hind legs inside. Tightening the loop, he gave Patrick a single wave. Already at his next station, Patrick pressed a green button on a box attached to the wall. Hydraulics hummed into life. The chain pulled tight and began to lift the pig. “Easy,” said Bert. “Nice ‘n’ slow. She’s a big girl.” The back of the pig followed its legs into the air. It kicked and shuddered. “Are you sure it’s out?” “Yup,” said Bert. “Just a spasm. Keep her going.” The front trotters trailed along the floor and then rose to dangle under the head. Patrick lifted the pig another couple of feet in the air. “There we are,” said Bert. He pushed the suspended pig out of the pen. The chain rattled along the rail above as the pig moved over the blood pit. He removed a knife from the apron. “My tool of bacon-creation.” He paused. “You wanna do this one?” He raised his eyebrow and held the knife out to Patrick, handle first. Patrick’s eyes flickered to the upside down pig that still jerked and swung on the chain. “You go ahead,” he said. “I’ll clean up.” “Hehe!” chuckled Bert, switching the knife around in his hand. “You gotta draw your first blood one day, boy!” He turned to face his task. “Lil’ pig, lil’ pig, let me come in!” He casually stuck the knife into the pig’s throat and gave a short, powerful sideways pull. Blood instantly jetted out in spurts, forming a red arc. It splashed against the grating and dripped through the slits into the pit. The pig grunted, its movements slowing. “Easy,” said Bert, replacing the wet knife. “Let’s get her in the tank.” The scalding tank lay against the far wall, looking like a metal coffin or iron lung, with various tubes and pipes coming off it. With Patrick guiding, Bert pushed the now dead pig further along the rail and lowered it into the open and waiting tank. He removed the chain from its legs and closed the lid. A pull of a lever and the bulky machine began to churn and slosh like a dishwasher as the boiling water poured in. “Is it cooking?” asked Patrick, looking past. “The gauge hasn’t moved.” With a frown, Bert studied the motionless temperature gauge. “Damn thing.” He gave the dial an open hand smack. The needle jumped up. “That’s more like it.” He pulled off the gloves and dug out a pack of smokes from his pocket, offering one to Patrick. “So Sid said Wednesday, eh?”

***

Ten minutes later, the pig was stark white; the black patches appeared bleached away. The hair had been removed along with several layers of skin. Steam still billowed from the pig’s open mouth, like a dragon about to belch a plume of fire. Bert and Patrick loaded the pig back onto the chain and moved it to the middle of the abattoir, hanging down towards the floor. “You’d better get that hose ready,” said Bert, extracting the knife again. “Swine this big gonna have a whole lot inside her.” He cut the pig from belly to throat and fanned out the fatty folds of flesh. With expert nicks and slits, Bert cut through the tendons and the gristle that attached the organs to the body. Intestines hit the floor, followed by the heart and lungs. Within a minute, the pig was hollowed out. Bert picked out a few speciality pieces for sausages and the like, then allowed Patrick to hose the floor clean. The boy knocked the red and pink lumps of tissue into the blood pit with a high pressure spray. While Patrick was on clean up, Bert unhooked the pale carcass and held it like a lover. “You were a pig, my friend. Now, you’re pork product.” He carried it to the far corner, opening the large metal door leading into the freezer.
Bert, outside and glad to be in the fresh air, leaned back against the side of the abattoir, the last beer in his hand and a bacon sandwich in his stomach. The saltiness of the fatty strips cut through the somewhat hazy taste of the cheap lager. He’d returned to the house to fetch the can, leaving Patrick to make his way alone to the local shop to pick up extra. Bert raised the beer to his lips, guzzling the last of the contents as he listened to the sheep bleat in the north field. The sun hung low on the horizon; a golden ball of flames casting the surrounding fields and buildings in a deep orange glow. He raised his empty can in silent salute to Patrick and then threw it on the floor. Glad the day’s nearly over, he thought, stretching. Damn hogs nearly had me beat. He knew he was lying to himself. They would never beat him. He’d be slaughtering pigs until he died, just like his Pa and his Pa before him. But thirty squealers was a lot of meat. A banquet of bacon. A celebration of sausage. And they’ll be more tomorrow, he thought. Bert leaned off the wall and turned to the door, deciding to do the final clear up as a surprise treat for Patrick. Boy works hard. I can see the slaughterer in him. Inside, the stench was stronger than ever, the fresh juices of the day mingling with the old inside the blood pit. Bert couldn’t believe he’d stomached it all day. The odd patch of red-stained concrete needed scrubbing down, and congealed hair and skin had to be removed from the scalding tank before it clogged. The blood pit would have to wait until Sid sorted out his industrial action. “Industrial action, my arse,” said Bert, picking up the hose. He walked over to the tap and turned it on, blasting the floor with water. “This lil’ piggy went to market…” he said in a singsong voice. He showered off a particularly stubborn piece of meat. It skittered across the floor, through the grating and landed with a plop inside the pit. “This lil’ piggy stayed at home. This lil’ piggy had a bacon sandwich…” He directed the hose over the pen. “Fuckin’ cannibal! Anyway, this lil’ piggy had none…” Returning the spray to the floor, he formed circular patterns and grinned, feeling light headed from the beer. “And this lil’ piggy went-” Squeal! Bert rushed over to the tap and frantically shut it off. The last of the water sluiced from the hose and the abattoir fell into silence. Bert’s gaze darted between the front door leading to the courtyard and the rear door of the holding paddock. Where in God’s name did that come from? Bert checked the clock hanging on the wall. It was a little after six-thirty, too late for any last minute delivery of pigs. But all the hogs here are gutted and chillin’. No more squealers here. “If this is you playin’ tricks, boy, you best knock ‘em off,” he called. “I ain’t got time for no silly beggars!” The cry came again. Bert jumped, his old heart racing. Don’t you go getting’ carried away, he thought, swallowing. You been listenin’ to pigs all day. Maybe you just hearin’ things. More grunting. Bert held his breath, trying to locate the source of the noise. The freezer. Ain’t no hogs in there, he reasoned, walking forwards. None that can grunt, anyway. The noise grew louder as he approached, rising to a cacophony of cries and grunts when he grabbed the deadbolt. He slid back the bolt, preparing for the stampede of pigs that would inevitably come rushing out. How the hell they got in here? I’ll tan that boy’s hide when he gets back… Bert swung the door open. The noise stopped instantly. He listened to the low hum of the freezer’s cooling unit. The thirty hollowed out pigs hung still, their frost covered faces pointing at the floor. “Well, I’ll be damned,” said Bert, about to step inside. He immediately jumped back. “I ain’t stupid,” he told the frozen pigs. “I come in there and the door closes and I can’t get out, just like in those crappy horror shorts the boy reads.” He poked his tongue through a gap in his teeth as he looked around the freezer, keeping a tight grip on the door. “This ever happen to you, Pa? Hearing them hogs when there ain’t no hogs to hear?” A splash sounded behind him, and Bert cried out and whipped around. The freezer door closed with a soft thud. Bert gripped his chest. “Don’t know how you doin’ this, boy!” he shouted. “But I’m gonna stick my boot so far up your arse you gonna shit out your ears when I getta hold of ya!” Bert frowned, looking around the abattoir. The splashing seemed to come from the blood pit. “If you ain’t in there already,” he said, heading towards it, “you soon will be!” He stopped at the edge, staring down through the slits in the grating. Something moved inside. “Son of a bitch,” Bert moaned, crouching to his knees. “This thing ain’t never meant to be this full. Sid’ll swing, I promise you.” He grabbed the grating and pulled it clear, revealing the circular pit. The murky liquids inside frothed and bubbled like a disease-ridden Jacuzzi. “Now what’s gone and caused this shit?” asked Bert, taking slight comfort from the sound of his own voice. He leaned over for a closer look, the toes of his boots inches away from the edge of the pit. “Dang!” A misshapen hand darted out of the brown tempest. The fat, hard fingers reached out and scraped against Bert’s boot. He leapt back with a cry. A long and slender arm followed the hand out of the blood pit; somehow clean despite its origin. The hand reached across the floor towards Bert. He scooted backwards on his rear until his back hit the side of the pen. He watched in a terror-born paralysis as the hand swept left and right over the floor like the head of a fleshy snake. Bert couldn’t peel his gaze away from the few fingers on the hand, so chunky and swollen, the nails thick and black. That ain’t no hand, his panicking mind screamed. That’s a trotter! Congealed blood splashed up in a wave. A head burst from the depths. It was a pig. Its tiny eyes, like two ebony marbles, scanned the abattoir and found the slaughterer. Sniffing the air, its flat snout rose and fell in excitement. Bert screamed, the stare of the pig sending shivers and jerks racing up his body. He’d failed to see the second arm until the pig pushed out of the blood pit as a swimmer climbs out of the pool. Bert’s stare fell down onto the body of the emerging hog. For a second, he thought it might be someone in an elaborate mask, for its body was almost human. He gasped as the chest rose out of the pit, displaying a pair of exposed and generous breasts. The nipples were stiff, jutting out and pointing in Bert’s direction. His gaze traveled down in disbelief at the other sets of teats steadily decreasing in size, lined up underneath. The bottom pair, with nipples no larger than pencil top erasers, lay just above the slender body’s navel. Releasing a long, high-pitched whine, Bert shifted along the pen, towards the door. The pig pulled a long and toned leg from the pit that ended in another mangled trotter. Pushing up on the knee, the creature removed the other leg and stood. Bert glanced at the sacred spot between its legs. It possessed what any normal woman would have, even the dark triangle of curly hair sat above. The pig opened its mouth, displaying rows of small, yellow teeth. The roar rocked the building, a hundred-strong chorus of pigs, grunting and squealing. Bert added his own cry to the din and clamped his hands over his ears. The pig closed its mouth, cutting off the noise, and took a step forward. The movement spurred Bert into action. He jumped up from the floor and, ignoring the throbbing protests from his knees, bolted for the door. The creature was fast, gliding across the room in a second and grabbing Bert by the shoulders. He recoiled at the touch and thrashed to break free. The pig held on. The hard trotters pinched Bert’s skin through his shirt. Its breath stank of smoky fat and burned bacon. He screamed as the beast howled again, the voices of suffering hogs ringing in his ears. Sliding a hand into the pocket of his apron, he found the cool plastic handle of his knife and tugged it free. With the roar still filling his head, Bert stuck his elbow out to the side and punched the blade up. The pig squealed as the sharp metal penetrated deep. It released Bert and staggered backwards. Bert hobbled to the wall and turned. The handle of the knife protruded from below the bottom right breast. The pig tilted its head back and bellowed its awful noise, blowing back the few hairs scattered on Bert’s head. Again, he needed to slap his hands over his ears, blocking out the phalanx of squealers before it split his head in two. He looked to the floor, feeling dizzy. The creature stood in a loop of chain that dangled from the ceiling rail and lay spread out on the floor. Bert looked back up to find the humanoid hog staring at him. Was that the flare of hatred in its eyes? Or the flames of the Hell that spat the monstrosity out? Bert slowly reached to his right, fingers creeping across the wall to the metal box a few feet away. The pig voiced its anger and pain once more. Gritting his teeth against the noise, Bert’s probing fingers found the button on the box and pressed it. The pig looked up at the hum from the overhead rail before staring back at Bert. It bent its snout and grunted. Bert stayed rigid against the wall; his finger still pressing the button so hard his joints burned. The beast stepped towards him, but fell forwards, hitting the ground with a crunch. The knife was forced deeper as the handle struck the concrete, but the pig hardly seemed to notice. It kicked and writhed to be free of the chain. Bert leered at the jiggling breasts of the creature and snatched a glance at the quick flashes of its sex. Keeping the button held down, he watched the creature lift off the ground and dangle upside down. He only released his finger when the hydraulics had fallen silent, the chin reaching its maximum height. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and fell back against the wall with a sigh. His shirt clung to his back and chest, drenched in a cold sweat. The apron felt heavy and confining. The pig swiped its arms through the air, causing its body to sway and little else. It released a series of agitated grunts. “I gots you,” said Bert, smiling. “I nearly crapped out there, but I gots you!” He leaned away from the wall and walked forwards on wobbling legs, stopping a safe distance away. “You early, lil’ piggy! I was expectin’ you next year maybe. P’haps you impatient, piggy!” Bert leaned forwards, keeping high enough to avoid the beast’s flailing arms, and pulled his knife free. The pig whined in pained protest. “You shut your trap!” ordered Bert, wiping the blade on his apron. “You got nothin’ to complain about. I be doin’ the work ‘round here.” He jabbed the still bloody knife towards the pit. “You know how much blood it take to get you here? You hard work, piggy. I’m just thankful I likes the job. Day in, day out, cuttin’ up you hogs.” He relished every word as it passed his lips, especially the last one. He drew it out, pronouncing it haaaawgs. “Pa said you’d come for him, just like you did for hisPa. Spill enough blood, he said, make enough bacon and there gotta be consequences, boy! Sooner or later, she be comin’. That’s what my Pa said. You mighta scared him with your titties and snatch and eyes of fire, but not me. No, piggy. Not old Bert!” He winked at the creature and resumed cleaning his knife. “It all ‘bout blood lines,” he said after a moment. “I gots slaughterin’ in mine, and you, o’ course. My boy gonna be a slaughterer, a damn fine one, and you ain’t gonna be takin’ him. Your bloodline goin’ the same place as all those brothers and sisters – down the pit.” Bert kicked the pig in the chest, feeling the breasts squash under his boot and the bones in his knees rub together. The creature flew back, the chain rattling along the rail, until it dangled over the blood pit. It squealed again, lifting its hanging trotters from the surface of the stinking fluid. “No matter what they say, demon or pig-god or whatever you are,” said Bert, approaching the pit, his blade switching from hand to hand, “you just another shit load of bacon far as I’m concerned.” With a practised hand, he reached down, popped the knife into the creature’s jugular, swiped it across and stood back. The jettison of blood was instant, pouring down in powerful spurts. Bert tilted his head, watching the life drain from the beast. Unlike his pigs, who were stunned and had no true arms to speak of, the creature put its hands to its opened throat, trying to squeeze the wet folds of flesh back together. It managed to create a red spray as the blood was forced out between its trotters. The black eyes rolled frantically in their deep sockets and the pig released gurgling chokes. “That’s it, piggy,” said Bert. “You quiet down now.” He stood cleaning his knife until the dark eyes glazed over and the kicks and jerks of the creature became mere nervous twitches. Its arms fell down, hanging below the head and trailing circles in the liquid of the pit. “I gots you and you ain’t getting me or my boy,” said Bert. He turned away from the pig, looking around the abattoir. “Now, whats I gonna do with your ugly hide?” His eyes found the scalding machine. “I know…you gonna be cleaned up and put on cold with the brothers and sisters you care so much about. My Pa would get a real kick outta that! Then I’m gonna slice you up, fry you up and eats you on a sandwich with a bit o’ red sauce. You like that, piggy?” He placed the moderately clean knife back into his apron and turned to grab his trophy. At the height it was suspended, the creature’s vagina was directly in front of his face. “Purty…” he said, running his tongue over his few crooked teeth. “I bets all those other demons lurve you…” He reached out, eager to explore the beast before it went into the scalding tank and lost the enticing patch of hair. The body jerked. Bert yelped and jumped back. His eyes darted up in time to see the ankles slide through the loop of chain. The body flopped out and plummeted, landing headfirst in the blood pit. “God damn it!” cried Bert as the legs disappeared under. The resulting wave splashed over his boots and jeans up to his aching knees. “Now I gotta go fishin’.” He edged forwards to the edge of the pit and looked inside. The contents swished around with no sign of the pig. “Looks like you sunk, piggy. That don’t put old Bert off. I ain’t gonna forget about you! I’m gonna get that tank steaming and come back for you with ma pole.” Smirking, Bert crossed the silent abattoir to the scalding tank. The long metal box was closed and locked. Bert strained to pop the three hinged needed to open the main chamber. His hands trembled. Don’t fail me now, he thought. It’s done, the curse is over. You saved yourself and the boy and got one hell of a carcass to show off! Bert clicked open the final hinge and grabbed the handle of the tank. Hell yeah. Quite a carcass. This could be national news. I could makes enough to open a whole chain of slaughterhouses! He swung open the scalding tank and looked inside. He screamed. Patrick lay on his back, what was left of his skin appeared to glow white. All the hair from his body had gone – the steam had done its work efficiently. The boy’s lips were peeled back in a skeletal grin, his eye sockets empty. His fingernails were torn off. Bert put his hands over his mouth. “No!” he wailed. “Not my boy. Not my boy!” He reached inside and stroked the bald head gently. “He didn’t even know!” Bert closed his eyes from the sound of a splash from the blood pit. “You took him,” Bert cried, collapsing against the tank. “You took my boy!” He grabbed his chest as pain roared through it. Behind him, the heavy footsteps splashed through the puddles of reeking fluids, getting closer. “My boy…” Bert managed, falling on the floor still clutching his chest. His left arm tingled and grew numb, resting at his side. He barely registered the grip on his leg. The ground moved beneath him as he was pulled along. His eyes rolled up, locking on the still, white form of his son. “My…boy…” he whispered. His body fell over the edge and into the blood pit. “My boy…“