This week’s story is brought to you by the patronage of Marc Nocerino.
Bob Teegan pulled into the parking lot and turned off the ignition. The sun was just coming up and there were very few cars on the road, but someone had still managed to cut him off and yell an obscenity out of their window. Bob opened his glove box and grabbed a handful of napkins to wipe the spilt coffee on his shirt. He doused the crumpled wad with a bottle of water and rubbed the stain in small circular motions, making a bigger mess than before. He decided that would have to do and stepped out of the car.
Sam Kaiser was smoking a cigarette by the entrance of the building. Sam was a know-it-all so Bob kept their conversations brief. He nodded politely and gave a half-hearted grin.
“Got some fresh meat comin’ in today, Teegan. Go easy on ‘em, huh?” he said with a chortle. Sam insisted on telling that same tired joke every time a new crop of employees began training. No one found it funny but they always pretended to laugh.
“Hey now, that’s real clever. Take it easy.” Bob feigned amusement and reached for the door.
Inside, Bob tipped his hat to several co-workers and walked over to the lockers after punching his time card. He placed his lunch pail on the changing bench and pulled out his uniform. Doug Holster was having his morning tea and reading the paper in the corner lounge.
“Hey there, Bob. How’s it goin’?” he said as he flipped the page.
Bob removed his soiled shirt and folded it neatly into a square.
“Oh, swell, Doug. Just swell.” He stepped into his work pants and secured a pair of plastic booties over his shoes. “Say, Mary wanted to know how Carol was doing with her diet?”
Doug tucked the paper under his arm and stood up.
“Ah, Geez. Still big as a house, bless her soul. You say hello to Mary for me,” he said and walked out of the locker room.
“Sure will, Doug. See you inside.”
Bob closed his locker and put his arms through a work shirt, then pulled a hoodie over his hair and scrunched it tight with the drawstring. He picked up his rubber apron and gloves and walked over to the stun line.
A few feet away from Bob was Jim Tompkins at the bleeding rail. He wore protective goggles and spoke through his facemask.
“Hey, Bob. I’ve been meaning to ask. Did Billy make little league this season?”
Jim hoisted the bodies from the conveyor belt and hung them on hooks quickly. Bob punctured a hole through an animal’s head and responded without looking away.
“Not this round, Jim. I told him he’s gotta work on that swing. Been crying all week. I wish he’d just man up.”
Jim severed a carotid artery and jugular vein with a knife.
“He’ll come around, Bob. You’ll see,” he said with a chuckle.
“I really wish he would. Kids these days are such wimps, honestly. We never cried about that stuff when we were that age, did we?”
Jim cleaned a streak of blood off his goggles and wiped it on his pants. “We sure didn’t, Bob. We sure didn’t. Why, the old man would’ve had a field day with me if I dared cry in front of him.”
Bob noticed something in his periphery and glanced over at Jim.
“Hey, Jim. You got a little something on your tail, there. You might wanna get it before the boss comes around.”
Jim looked down at his coiled tail and dabbed the blood with his fingers. He brought it to his snout and took a whiff.
“Doesn’t smell like their blood. Must’ve nicked myself on one of the machines. Thanks for the look-out, buddy.”
Bob smiled and stunned another forehead. “No worries there, guy. The boss is a real stickler for that kind of stuff. We gotta watch out for each other.” Jim smiled back and suspended another carcass on the line. “Much obliged,” he said with a grunt.
Mr. Foster walked by for his hourly inspection and scribbled absently on his forms.
“Good job here, boys. Keep it up,” he said in his usual gruff intonation. “Oh, before I forget. Make sure the new guys in Skinning know to separate the tattooed bodies from the clean ones. Don’t wanna mix those up, now.”
Bob and Jim gestured their understanding and got back to work.
“I never understood that whole tattoo thing, myself,” Bob said with a groan.
“What’s there to understand? They’re animals. You can’t expect anything civilized from such uncouth creatures.”
Bob stunned one last skull before lunch and sterilized his captive bolt. He set it on a steel dolly and turned to Jim.
“Yeah. I guess you’re right?” he said. “Come on, I’ll buy you a coffee.”
Jim removed his goggles and laid them on their case.
“Coffee’s free, wise guy. Nice try, though.”
Bob laughed and patted Jim on the back. Jim stopped and pointed to the stall.
“Oh, hey. Looks like you’ve got a live one here.”
Bob looked down to find # HS 762 writhing on the ground. His eyes had rolled back in their sockets and he twitched spastically. An incoherent wailing sounded from his vocal chords and he drooled from the side of his mouth.
“Ah, shit. I hate when that happens after I’ve disinfected my gun. The blank must’ve missed his stem. Shit. Shit.”
Jim reached under his workbench and pulled out a wooden club. He handed it to Bob.
“Don’t sweat it, pal. It’s just a kid. Can’t weigh more than eighty, eighty-five pounds. Just take a bat to his dome. You can tell Billy about it tonight over dinner. Maybe he’ll wanna be just like his Pop.”
Bob took the club and swung it behind his back.
“You know? That’s not a bad idea. Let’s see if the Old Man’s still got it.”
Jim stood back as Bob bashed the cudgel into the little boy’s head.
“Hey, Batta-batta-batta!!! Swiiing!”
The little boy hunched over and lost consciousness as gray matter trickled down the walls.
“And it’s outta there! I knew I still had it.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Jim laughed. “How ‘bout that coffee?”
“Right behind you, Smalls. Swiiiiing, Batta-batta-batta….”
© Ives Hovanessian
Ives Hovanessian is a screenwriter and author of noir, uncanny and horror fiction. Her recent prose appears in several anthologies from Aetherial Publishing and Obsolescent Press. Her first screenplay, Trendsetters, was optioned by Colossal Entertainment. A debut collection of short stories, “I Am Death,” Cried The Vulture, will be released in 2013. She is also a contributing columnist for the Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.
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