Jerry’s Meat Shack

Throg looked at the camera, the glowing red light on top staring at him like a basilisk eye. He grimaced. He hated the camera. He hated the way Jerry exploited him, like he was just a mascot, and not a breathing, thinking, feeling being. He hated the little director, Trent, sitting in his little director chair, with his little black beret and wire-rimmed glasses. Throg thought he could probably snap the little weasel’s neck with a minimum of effort. He thought he could probably have the little weasel’s teeth for a necklace, and his fingers for dinner. Trent smiled at him, and Throg managed his best in return, his stomach churning.

No greenskin should have to put up with this. He squirmed in the outfit they’d put him in, a too-tight vest, a tiny cowboy hat, and a pair of boots with stars embroidered on them. He’d give his left tusk to rip the guts out of the costumer.

“Throg, you okay buddy?”

Throg nodded. Of course he wasn’t, but that didn’t matter. He had a mortgage now. A Prius that hadn’t been paid off. A wife. He had to be Good Throg, Patron of the Bloodfist family, and not Throg the Bloody-Handed. They’d cancel his 401K for that.

“Is this really necessary?” Throg pulled at the vest. It felt like a prison.

“All part of the show, buddy. You only need to wear it for a half-hour, hour tops.”

The set lights were hot. Not like Crag, his home, but combined with the kitchen behind him and the Arizona sun, it had to be about a hundred-twenty degrees on set. A bead of sweat rolled from under the little hat, and he blinked it away. He let out a low growl.

“Are we ready yet?”

“Almost, buddy.”

Krog looked back to the kitchen. Gunter worked back there, his paper hat cocked to one side while he toiled over the deep fryers. Krog liked Gunter. Barely spoke a word of English, and was always happy to fry something. Once, he’d fried a toad for Throg. That was a good day.

“Quiet on the set!” Trent’s voice brought Throg back around. “Ready to roll, buddy?”

Throg nodded. “Yeah.”

“Good, just take it from the cue cards.”

Throg looked at the camera, and the cameraman hunched behind it.

“Are – are we on now?”

“Yeah, go ahead.”

Throg looked over at the cue cards. He started to read.

“Got a hankerin’ for a hunk o’ meat? C’mon down to Jerry’s Meat Shack! We got red meat, white meat, pink meat – brother, we can’t be BEAT!” Throg held up the club they’d given him to illustrate the point. Internally, he groaned. “You can get it deep-fried or baked, pan-seared or sauteed. Now, let me AXE you a question:” he held up a shining battleaxe. For a moment, the weight was good in his hands, a nice counterpoint to the pun.

“Do you like variety? Because this week only, we’ve got the Mega-Super-Deluxe Salad Bar, with five kinds of bacon, and seventeen cheese dipping sauces, all for only nine-ninety-five!”

“Bring the kids, and they can join our Junior Carnivore CLUB!” He held up the club again. Anger began to stir in his belly. He was once the alpha, the Chieftain of the Black Legions, the Bringer of Sorrows. He looked over the cue cards. The last line lingered in his vision for a moment, red against white. Like blood in the snow. He took a breath, and steeled himself.

“It’s ORC-some!”

Rage filled him. He ripped off the vest, and threw the little cowboy hat at Jerry. He hefted the battle-axe, his breath coming in heaving bursts. He raised it, ready to begin the carnage. First, that infernal camera. Then, the others. Red crept in at the edge of his vision.

“CUT!”

Throg blinked, the word bringing reality crashing back in around him. The little red light on the camera went off, and Gunter was at his elbow with a paper bag. He handed it to the orc. Throg lowered his axe and peeked inside. Five toads, golden brown. He grinned a little.

“That’s a wrap, buddy. Good job.” Trent’s voice cut through his moment of peace.

Throg ignored him and popped a toad in his mouth. Succulent, with a hint of swamp mud. There would be no carnage today. Millie would be pleased.

 

Welcome, New Employee

Welcome, new employee #4352!

Congratulations, you were deemed the most adequate of our candidates!

First off, let us welcome you on behalf of the staff and infallible executives of DWI. By now, the hypnagogic gas we exposed you to during your orientation should be wearing off. You will notice a dull ache in your head. This is simply a side effect of the small neural detonator we’ve installed in your hippocampus and will subside within the next 2-4 hours. Should you experience any other side effects, including but not limited to:

  • Rage
  • False memories
  • Thoughts of consuming human flesh
  • Uncontrolled muscle spasms

Please report to the corporate med-bay, located on floor 7. The nurse there will help you transition. Also note, any incidents as a result of a loss of self-control will be noted in your employee file.

In front of you, you will note a small silver box. This is your employee welcome package. Inside are a cup printed with the DWI logo, a ‘Hang in There’ poster, and a pen holder. Be sure to display each item properly on your desk. Points will be deducted for improper levels of enthusiasm. Please retrieve these items within 5 minutes of completion of this letter. Be aware, the box is hermetically sealed, and will only open once the correct amount of DNA is imprinted on the surface. We have provided a small package of DWI razor blades to get you started. Failure to open the box within 5 minutes will send a signal to both management and the detonator in your brain. You will then have two minutes to open the box. Should you succeed, your tardiness in completing a task will be noted on your employee record. Should you fail, we understand. DWI is not for everyone, and those whose brains have detonated will be given a proper burial per corporate standards.

We want employees to feel comfortable working at DWI, and that’s why we’ve included the following rules for a safe and fun work environment:

  • Any treats brought in by employees must first be inspected by DWI Quality Control. Should they meet corporate standards (i.e. no more than 3″ on each side for brownies), they will be distributed in an orderly manner.
  • Should Beth approach you, do not engage her talk about Mary’s clothes. Beth is being Shunned. Her shunning will end when we feel appropriate.
  • Personal calls shall be limited to exactly 45 seconds. Any longer will activate your neural detonator.
  • Do not attempt to remove your neural detonator in the bathroom. Our custodial engineers work hard, and shouldn’t have to remove your viscera.
  • Anyone not wearing casual clothing on Friday will be subject to re-education and Shunned.
  • Anyone caught utilizing the word ‘use’ instead of ‘utilize’ will be Shunned.
  • Report all non-conforming activity to your supervisor at once. A break in the chain means a break in corporate culture. We want this to be a fun place for everyone to work!
  • Employee entanglements will be documented extensively. Please ask HR for the appropriate wooing and mating forms.
  • Every third Saturday of the month is a DWI mandatory fun day. Absences will be noted and investigated.
  • Do not attempt to access the 9th floor. Our executives are hard-working, and any disruption to their nutrient bath and rejuvination process will go on your employee record.
  • On Mondays, at least one employee MUST utilize the phrase ‘Looks like someone’s got a case of the Mondays’. Failure to do so will result in neural detonation of your entire department.

For a more comprehensive list of employee rules and regulations, please refer to your employee handbook, Section 37, pp. 100-275.

Again, welcome to DWI, employee #4352! We look forward to your enthusiastic output and controlled wit!

Signed,

Employee #4295

They Got a Hell of a Burger

“What you think it is?”

Mickey was staring at the thing hanging out of the top of the grinder’s hopper.  The stainless steel was red around the rim, the gears of the machine still grinding, making a clicking sound as they tried to get through a particularly thick chunk of something – probably bone.

Legs, pale and muscled, stuck out from the top of the grinder, and wings – 4 of ’em – poked out from a well-muscled back.  Feathers were sprayed around the room here and there – some on the tile, some on the spice rack, and some still shooting out of the top of the hopper when the grinder caught a stray.  It was like a seagull had exploded.

Sunlight filtered in through a hole in the ceiling, and Mickey could see clouds floating by in the blue sky, unworried as ever.  He wiped his hands with his apron, and turned to Jerry.

“Fuckin’ angel is what I think that was.”

“Was?”

Mickey pointed to the meat-making end of the grinder, where a pink ground had been extruded.

“Yuh. He’s ground chuck now.”

“I wonder if his name was Chuck.” Jerry grabbed a paddle and stepped up the little stool next to the grinder.  He shoved the paddle in and grunted, prying at the teeth of the machine.  There was a wet burp from the gears, and the body lurched forward, disappearing deeper into the grinder.

“What the fuck are you doin’?”  Mickey hollered.

Jerry shrugged and climbed off the stool, then hung up the paddle.  He wiped his hands.

“He ‘us stuck.”

The grinder continued to work, occasionally spitting out a feather or a fine mist of blood.  The body was almost gone already, ankles the only thing sticking out.  Mickey looked at the tub by the spout and saw it was almost full of a fine pink ground.

He looked up at the hole in the ceiling again, then the feet disappearing into the machine.  He wondered two things: how long you had to spend in Purgatory for grinding up one of God’s own, and what the hell he was going to do if the health inspector walked in right now.

He rushed to the front of the shop and grabbed the sign that read ‘Open’ on one side, and ‘Closed’ on the other, with the intention of flipping it over.  A shadow darkened the door, and Mickey’s heart sped up.  He dropped the sign and backed away from the door.  For a moment, his brain would only show him things from his youth in church – angels with flaming swords and men turned to pillars of salt.  Then, the door opened and Arnold walked in.  Mickey’s heart returned to its regularly scheduled programming.

He worked up a smile.  “Hey Arnie.”

“Hey Mick.”

“How’s the restaurant?”  Mickey asked.  He was nervous, and reached for small talk as his shield.  He made his way behind the butcher counter, wiping his hands on his apron out of habit.

“Good.”  Arnie said.  He peeked in the glass case.  “Gimme a dozen of those t-bones, five strips, and…”  He frowned as he searched the case.  “Where’s the burger?”

Ah shit, thought Mickey.  He glanced toward the back room.

“One sec.”  He went through the curtain as fast as he could, and walked in on Jerry packaging the angel meat.

“You…what are you doing?”

Jerry shrugged.  “We gots meat, we pack the meat.”  He looked up, at Mickey’s frown.  “What?”

Mickey shook his head.  “We got any burger in the walk-in?”

Jerry shook his head.  “I was gonna grind it up this morning.  Then ol’ Gabriel fell in the grinder.”

“Shit.”

He thought about his next move.  Arnold was a good customer.  Couldn’t have him going somewhere else for his meat.  That might start a whole slew of shit that never ended.  He grabbed four packages from the pile Jerry had started and left the room.  He came into the salesroom smiling, holding the burger up like a trophy, and set it down on the counter.  He grabbed the other cuts Arnold had picked out, and slipped them all into a bag, then rang the man up.

Arnold took the meat and paid.

“There ya go, Arnie.  Have a good ‘un.”  Mickey said, the friendly smile stuck on his face like prosciutto to a slicer.

Arnold smiled in return and shot off a mock salute, then left the way he had come in.  When he was gone, Mickey let the smile slip from his face, breathed a sigh of relief, and flipped the sign and locked the door.

***

That night, Mickey dreamt of flaming swords and burning bushes, of cities turned to ash, and burgers floating on a bed of lettuce and ketchup.  He woke up hungry, and padded to the fridge.  Inside, lit by the light of the single bulb, was a package of meat, wrapped in white butcher paper.  He couldn’t say why he’d brought it home.  He thought maybe the French or the Germans had a word for it – they had words for everything.  What it came down to though, was simple curiosity.  Call of the taboo.

Mickey stood and looked at it, his stomach sending out low deep pangs.  There was always leftover pizza.  But no, a snatch of song came to him – two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese – and he knew what he was having.  He reached for the package – he could have sworn it glowed in the light from the soft 40 watt, lit from within by some sort of divine blessing.  He took it from the fridge with trembling hands.

Angel meat smells like Heaven.  At least, that’s what Mickey thought.  It browned up nice, pink running from it in thin rivulets.  He seasoned it, salt and pepper, flipped it, and pulled it from the fire.  Ketchup and mustard, a slice of cheese, and a bed of lettuce.  His hands shook as he sat down, the angel burger patient on his plate.

The smell was maddening.  Savory and meaty and wholesome.  He couldn’t resist, and when he took the first bite, he found the smell didn’t lie.  It was Heaven.

***

Arnold strolled in at nine am as usual.  He was grinning ear to ear.

“Gimme the usual steaks, Mick, and make it at least ten pounds of that burger!”

Mickey whistled.  “No shit?”  In the back of his mind, he knew he shouldn’t be surprised.  The meat was amazing.

Still smiling, Arnold nodded his head.  “They loved it.  Don’t know where you got that meat, but it’s like a miracle.  Heard ’em say ‘That Arnold’s, they got a hell of a burger’.”

That’s where you’re going, Mickey old pal.  Mickey shrugged off the thought.

“Damn fine words.  All right.  Ten pounds it is.”

He went in the back and grabbed ten pounds of the meat and brought it back up front, then packaged it all up.  Arnold left, still smiling, and whistling as he went out the door.  Mickey went to the back.  Jerry was standing by, polishing the grinder.  Mickey passed him, and heard the other man singing.

“Them bones, them bones, them dry bones…”

Mickey shook his head and walked to the cooler.  He checked the tub holding the angel meat, and frowned.

“Jerry!”

“Yeah, boss?”

“Where’s all the meat from yesterday?”

“Ate it.”

“You- you uh – you fucking ate it?  Jerry, there’s like five pounds missing.”

“Yuh.  Was hungry.”

Mickey sighed and left the cooler.  “So, you mean to tell me you ate five pounds of meat last night? Your colon must look like a damn traffic jam.”

Jerry didn’t reply.  Mickey looked up, and didn’t see the man anywhere in the room.  There was a sound, and he turned, catching a glimpse of something in the grinder’s polished surface.  Another sound, and he turned again, and saw it, face to chest.

It was an angel, all of seven feet tall, holding a flaming sword.  It scowled down at Mickey, its vast wings half-open in the room, making it look like a giant bird of prey.  Stern features – a patrician nose above thin lips and below hard eyes – held him in its gaze.

“YOU.  MORTAL.  YOUR TIME HAS COME.”

Mickey’s mind and heart raced.  He tried to think of a way out.  He opted for playing dumb, and hoped at the best, the angel would become annoyed and leave, and at the worst, would kill him quickly.

“Can I help you?”  He asked.

“YOUR DAY IS NIGH.”

Sorry?”

“YOUR END IS NEAR.”

“Have I done something wrong?”

“THOU DID EAT MY BRETHREN, AND SOLD HIM FOR DINNER.”

“Oh, that.  You know, he did fall in my grinder, so it’s not like I pushed him in.”

“STILL, THOU SHOULD NOT HAVE EATEN HIM.”

“Sorry?  Can I repent?”

“THE TIME FOR REPENTANCE IS PAST.”

The angel raised his sword, the flames crackling in the cool air.  Its light sent harsh orange shadows around the room.

“PREPARE TO MEET THY MAKER, MORTAL.”

Mickey cringed reflexively, his eyes shutting of their own accord.  There was a clang, and Mickey looked up in surprise to see the angel’s eyes rolled up into its head.  He sagged, and then swayed, then tipped to one side, over the lip of the grinder.  His sword clattered to the ground, and extinguished itself with a whoosh.  There was silence for a moment, and then the machine lurched to life, and the angel’s body was sucked into the teeth of the grinder.  A cloud of feathers was burped across the room in the wake of the sudden, violent motion.  Jerry emerged from the cloud, waving a hand, a bent paddle in his other.

Mickey watched the machine grind the angel, and sighed.

“More meat, eh?”  Jerry said.

“More meat.”  Mickey said.  “Makes a hell of a burger.”