A Sharp Fiction by Cameron Brtnik
There was an awful, revolting smell, like decaying flesh mixed with meat that had gone sour…
The butcher was hard at work slicing meat – purple and sinewy, like slicing into fresh veins. Sometimes I couldn’t believe we put that stuff in our mouths. “We’re no better than cannibals”, I always told myself. I had a respect for vegetarians – I had recently gone on a health binge myself and invested in a juicer, juicing fresh fruits and veggies every morning and feeling better than usual – and felt that they had made a respectable choice; “Save the animals, save the earth,” all that stuff. The only problem was all the usual hippie crap that went along with it, “washing” their hair with olive oil leaving their hair looking “healthier”, although I thought “greasier” was a more fitting description.
The butcher (I never got his real name) was a nice enough fellow, quiet and dedicated to his meat. “Good morning”, “Three pounds of beef, three pounds of bacon,” and “Have a good day,” were the only words I ever exchanged with him. He had impressive skills with his butcher’s knife – I had the feeling he could slice through anything like those informercials you see: “Sharpest blade on the market! Can cut through vegetables! (SLICE!) shoes! (SLICE!) and even tires!!” (SLICE!!) Like anyone would ever be slicing off a sole of shoe with a side of tire for Thanksgiving dinner. He offered a variety of meats: beef, pork, lamb, ham, pastrami, pepperoni, chicken, duck, goose, and had freshly hung pig, sausage, and all the innards you could desire: liver, heart, kidneys, lung, gizzards, and entrails galore. I couldn’t stomach looking at most of it, let alone imagine eating these strange things. I liked sausage, but knew the ingredients were a mystery to most of us…
He plowed his knife into the slabs of beef, blood splashing his apron like he’d just sacrificed a cow to the butcher gods. He wrapped the twelve ounce slabs with pieces of brown paper, the juice immediately being soaked up by the semi-absorbent paper. Next his thick knife sliced through the chunks of frozen peameal bacon like a hot sword through ice. I was already in heaven just thinking of the bacon entering my mouth when we got home (a Sunday tradition in our family, bacon and God). We had already been to church, and we always stopped by the food market on our way home. “Tommy! What are you doing?!” I heard myself automatically yelling. As usual he had wandered off, and was prodding the door to the “meat shed” to get a glimpse of the frozen animal carcasses inside. He was immediately by my side, “Nothing daddy”, the butcher not even batting an eyelash, his unwavering focus on slicing the perfect slab of peameal like that of a scientist researching some unknown matter through a microscope. The door was left open just a crack, and I was hoping he wouldn’t notice.
Tommy pulled me down – well as much as a twelve year old kid of his strength can, but somehow manages to do – to whisper in my ear, “There’s a kids in there daddy.” My heart stopped, but for just a second. I realized the meat man must have a children too, and probably has to bring them to the market on Sundays cause, well I guess he’s divorced (who could stand the stench of a husband, crusted by blood and sweat, bloody apron, coming home to his untainted wife and making love in their clean bed), and he’s probably showing his kid the ropes so he can proudly take over his father’s successful meat business one day. “Did you you say hello?”, and for a moment, I couldn’t be sure, I think I saw the butcher glance up, then go right back to weighing the meat on the scale like it was an exact science, measuring the atomic weight of a bacon atom. He pulled me down again to whisper at a close distance, “No dad, I think he’s frozen!” and this time a felt a chill up my spine. I stood up and attempted a conversation with the quiet butcher, a single droplet of cold sweat running down my forehead. “So, you keep all the frozen animals, or carcasses back there?” I managed uneasily, trying to sound like it was a normal question (“So did you catch the Yankees game?”) The butcher raised his eyes to meet mine – they were slightly bloodshot, probably from waking up early in the morning to get a head start on the all the prep work – but didn’t answer. “$55.49”, he finally said. I reached into my wallet, paid the man, thanked him, then grabbed Tommy to go. We walked around back to leave, and to stifle my curiosity, I peaked in through the crack in the door. I was suddenly frozen, and found my feet glued to the floor. There, like Tommy said, was a boy of about nine, hanging, upside down, completely frozen… At first I thought my eyes must be playing a trick on me me, that it must be a calf that, through our childish imaginations, resembled a human boy. But, through the frost, you could clearly make out a blue jacket, brown corduroys, and a human face. I felt for the first time in my life what could only be described as horror…
I panicked. I felt literally frozen to the floor, unsure what to do. Tommy was trying to pull me away, but I didn’t budge. “We gotta do something” I whispered, more to myself than anything. I told Tommy to go wait in the car, and he apprehensively scampered off. I decided to go in to see if there were any other bodies. I went in, slowly shutting the door behind me so the butcher wouldn’t see me. There was an awful, revolting smell, like decaying flesh mixed with meat that had gone sour, and I had to hold my gloved hand to my nose. I turned on my phone’s flashlight, and suddenly the world fell from under me…. Bodies, frozen bodies, all young boys, hanging from hooks, dangling by their feet, all with frozen faces of horror, like they saw something coming at them…Shump! I heard this sound like a knife piercing flesh, and at the same time felt something cold and metallic enter my back. I tried to scream, but a calloused, bloody hand wrapped around my face like a bear’s paw and I couldn’t even croak. I felt the hook (was it a hook??) shove deeper into my spine, and all I could think of was Tommy, and Sarah, my beautiful- Riiip! the sound of torn flesh as I felt the frigid air hit my spine, the skin of my back dangling, like velcro hanging off a shoe. I felt this bear of a man pick me up easily off me feet, and pierce me onto a sharp, rusty hook. I saw the tip of it penetrate the front of my shoulder blade, dripping with blood, consciousness starting to fade, and I was convinced this was all a horrible nightmare, that I’d wake up safe and sound in church while the priest extrapolated on what the bible means, how the Lord is looking after us, how God is good….
Cameron is a Toronto-born writer of short stories and lover of all things gory cbrtnik.com