by Graham B.
A meat-packing manager has some new friends for dinner.
The buzzing started as soon as Nate woke up to ravenous hunger.
Nate swatted at the noise as he climbed out of bed. Leaving Jill to continue sleeping, he padded to the bathroom. The buzzing followed. Nate saw no insect, but swatted anyway, before applying the toothbrush.
Downstairs, he started the coffee brewer and turned on the TV. A talking head began babbling about something Nate couldn't follow. Instead, all he think about was how hungry he was. Right on cue, a nagging growl escaped his belly.
Nate decided he didn't want to wait for Jill to come down and make breakfast. He opened the refrigerator and dug out a package of bacon and the carton of eggs. He put the pan on the stove, and swatted again at the incessant buzzing.
"What the hell? Get out of here!"
It must have been the job. There was no escaping the smell of the meatpacking plant. Nate didn't even handle the meat--he worked in the office. But somehow, the smell was following him home. And now flies were following him. Disgusting.
Another growl bubbled from his stomach, and Nate forgot about the fly. He opened the bacon and hefted the mass of salted pork. Nate stared at it for a long moment. A tiny bubble of drool trickled from the corner of his mouth as the pan began to sputter. He brought the bacon closer to his face and inhaled, long and deep.
"Good morning, honey!"
Startled, Nate almost dropped the bacon.
"Uh, good morning, Jill."
Nate began dropping slices of bacon into the pan, generating a loud sizzle which temporarily drowned out the buzzing.
"Oh, good. You already started the coffee!"
Jill poured two mugs and smiled at Nate. Nate's stomach growled.
"Oh my," said Jill. "We'd better get you fed. It won't do to send you off to work with an empty tank."
"Did we leave any windows open yesterday, or last night?"
"What do you mean?"
Jill ushered Nate to the side and began cracking eggs into the pan, adding to the sizzle.
"It's Friday," she said. "Movie night. What are we seeing?"
"I thought that new Keanu Reeves flick."
"Uh-uh. It's my turn to pick the movie."
Nate sighed, fearing the worst.
"What's it gonna be?"
"The one with Emma Stone."
"Yes, honey. Emma Stone it is."
Nate's stomach erupted in what sounded like a pride of lions.
"Jeez, starving much this morning?" exclaimed Jill. "It's almost ready!"
Before he left for the plant, Nate ended up polish off six eggs and all of the bacon except for two slices Jill claimed for herself.
"You ate like a refugee this morning!" she said as she kissed him goodbye. "Mmm. You taste like bacon. I could just eat you up."
As he made his commute, Nate turned on the radio for the news. Something buzzed around his ears as he adjust the knob, and he paused to swat at it. Now, it sounded like more than one bug.
Damn flies. How did they get in here?
The radio blabbed about a large theft at a local restaurant supply warehouse. Over a hundred pounds of beef had been stolen, with no suspects. Nate switched the radio off. His stomach growled.
What the hell? I just stuffed my face this morning! Why am I still hungry?
The flies buzzed around inside of the car all the way to the plant.
"Good morning, Nate," said Kaylee as he walked in.
Kaylee was always an early riser, and first into the office, but her cheery way somehow never annoyed even the most groggy night owls.
"Hi, Kay," said Nate. "What's new?"
"Oh, the holidays you know. Increased production. More carcasses to process."
"The usual. Any messages?"
"Not for you."
Nate sat his desk, and his stomach promptly gave its best impression of a richter-5 earthquake.
"Goodness!" said Kaylee. "Isn't Jill feeding you anymore?"
"I guess my appetite's hard to quench," Nate said, grinning. "Seriously though, do you have any of those cupcakes left that you brought in yesterday?"
"Right next to the coffee pot."
Nate went to the coffee pot and found the plastic container, still holding three chocolate-raspberry cupcakes. He opened it and sniffed. The smell made his gorge rise. He slammed the lid shut, making the still-invisible flies buzz angrily.
"Something wrong, hon?" said Kaylee.
"Uh, I'm trying to cut down on carbs."
"Nathan Munsche! On a diet! Now I can go to my grave a happy woman, 'cause I've seen everything!"
Nathan chuckled and sat at his desk, waving at the flies he couldn't see, just in time to be greeted by the ring of the phone.
It was Julio, the foreman.
"Yeah, what's up?"
"They had to bring down the south line. Band saw broke. George is saying about two hours."
"That'll put us behind right before the holidays," he said. "I'd better get out there."
Nate put on the windbreaker which supposedly kept most of the smell out of his clothes.
"Duty calls," he said to Kaylee. "Might be a while."
"I'll keep the fires burning."
He grabbed a hardhat and made his way into the plant. Cattle carcasses hanging from hooks rolled along tracks into machines which separated the animals into manageable (and to the end customers, unrecognizable) pieces. Nate picked his way between the machines and conveyor belts by the sickly green light of the overhead fluorescents. The clank of conveyors competed with the howl of band saws, but underneath, Nate could almost hear the buzz of flies, so close to his ears. The bloody, pungent smell of fresh (and decomposing) meat hung heavily in the air, like a wet curtain. For some reason, the smell was invigorating today, like breathing the fresh air on top of a mountain.
Nate walked to the south line, where the line of carcasses had stopped. He stared at the rows of hanging meat. And stared.
"Hey boss! Something wrong?"
Julio's voice nearly made Nate jump out of his windbreaker.
"Geez! Don't sneak up on a guy, Julio!"
"Sorry boss. Hey you got something..."
Julio gestured at Nate's chin. Nate reached up and wiped away... drool. Why was he drooling in the meat packing plant?
"Where are we at with the band saw?" he said impatiently.
Julio waved him forward and led him toward the massive machine. Next to it, a stocky, gray-haired man had his arms deep in the machine's guts.
Nate and Julio waited until George was done with whatever he was doing, and lifted something metallic out of the machine.
"Bearing's shot," said George, noticing them for the first time. "I've gotta get new ones from the supply room."
"How long?" asked Nate.
"Depends. I can do a quick job, and have it back up in half an hour. Problem is, these bearing tend to wear out at the same time. Even money the rest will go while the thing is running, then we're back to square one. Two hours to replace them all."
"Do 'em all," said Nate. "Holiday's upon us. We need this saw humming."
"Whatever you say, boss. I'll need help carrying the stuff back."
"I got this," said Julio.
The two men trotted off the line, leaving Nate standing alone next to the machine.
Nate took a deep breath, and staggered as the smell of separated meat seemed to reach directly into his guts through his nose. He leaned against the saw for a moment, and when he brought his hand away, there was the slightest amount of blood on his fingertips. Nate stared at the blood, and the buzz of flies enveloped his head. He brought his hand up and licked the blood off. A shudder went through Nate's body, starting from his stomach and radiating through his limbs. He looked around.
There were scraps of meat under the machine, as there always were. Nate bent over and picked one up. It was grayish brown, the way meat always looked before the processors injected it with red dye for the fickle consumers. Marbled white went through the scrap, and a piece of gristle jutted from it like a tongue. A fly landed on the gristle, flitting back and forth, running over his fingers, then back onto the meat. Nate popped the piece into his mouth and crunched down on it, fly and all. He took two chews, his teeth working the sinews of the meat scrap, juices squelching out and bursting from his lips, running down his chin. He swallowed. He looked around for more. The flies continued to buzz, so loudly Nate almost didn't hear Julio and George returning, arms laden with parts.
"Got it!" said George. "I'll get to work right away."
He set the parts down, grabbed a wrench, and went deep into the machine once again.
Nate mumbled something in reply, and Julio turned and stared at him.
"Boss? You've got something on your chin again."
Nate gestured with apparent confusion.
"No, right there..."
Julio reached up with his hand to point at the offending stream of juice--and Nate bit a chunk out of the side of the hand.
Julio's eyes bulged from their sockets. He opened his mouth and let out a wail.
"What the hell!" George said, turning his head.
Nate lunged and hit the start button on the band saw, and the machine immediately sprung to life. George hollered, and wet crunching noises erupted from the machine as it tore his arms apart inside its guts. George remained fast to the machine, his body jerking like a marionette. Julio was still staring at his mangled hand and screaming when Nate jumped on his back and tore a chunk out of his neck. Julio stopped screaming and went to his knees. Blood fountained from his neck as he looked up and watched Nate swallow his flesh. Then Nate, flies buzzing, stomach rumbling, was on him.
Kaylee had just finished filing the latest orders when Nate returned.
"Oh, a new message came in from your wife!" she said, then stopped when she saw him.
Nate was covered nearly head to toe in blood. A cloud of flies followed him, taking moments to alight on the grisly horror and mop up some of the blood and gore. His hardhat was missing, and something a bit thicker than blood clung to his hair. Then Nate grinned at her, and pieces of something were stuck in his teeth. Something like skin.
Kaylee screamed, and Nate rushed across the office, knocking over the coffee pot and sending the cupcakes flying. Her scream was abruptly cut off when his teeth found her throat.
"Hello?" said Jill.
"It's me, Honey."
"Oh, hi! I just called you earlier to see if you could bring home a steak. I thought we'd make this dinner special. What's that buzzing noise?"
"Oh, nothing dear. Just a bad connection. A steak, you said?"
"Yes. Be a dear and bring some home? The way your stomach was growling, I think it's time you had proper meal."
Nate looked down at the prone figure of Kaylee, lying like a side of beef on the desk.
"You know, honey, I think that would be just the thing!"