Slaughterhouse: Horror Short Fiction By Amanda Eiden
Amanda Eiden, author of Slaughterhouse, is a Creative Writing MFA student at Concordia St. Paul. She lives in rural Minnesota with her four cats and two dogs.
“Were you old enough to remember when your old man worked for the slaughterhouse?”
Alison nods her head and lets go of her father’s hand.
“Every day, five to five I worked. Drove your mother mad.”
“She did hate you always working your hands down to the very bone.”
“She hated the smell.”
Steven sets the glass of ice water back onto the table, on top of the ring of water already present. He thinks of Arlene who would’ve shouted at him for not using a coaster. How much he misses her light voice and how his name sounded through it. He chuckles and slouches back on the couch with a deep sigh.
“So what’s the butcher shop have to do with what you’ve been seeing?”
“Slaughterhouse,” he clears his throat. “That…thing I see,” he shakes his head vigorously and looks to the ground before meeting her eyes again. “I swear it’s come to get me.”
Alison looks at her father, into his gentle brown eyes. His hands tremble.
“I know what you’re thinking. He’s losing it.”
“I don’t think that.” Alison straightens herself up, smooths out her skirt, and then repositions her dark bangs across her forehead. “What exactly is it you see?”
“Sometimes I see myself, looking over my shoulder. But I never see it ‘til it’s too late.”
“Daddy,” Alison chuckles and breaks her glance from his.
“If you don’t want to hear about it you may as well go on home.”
“I’m tryin’. Keep going.”
Steven clears his throat again and watches his thick, calloused hands in his lap and tries to steady them; he ain’t that nervous. He cannot not help but laugh at himself a little bit. He knows he sounds ridiculous. But this happens to him every night.
“Why do you think the slaughterhouse is involved?” she says.
A deafening creak sounds from the ceiling above them and causes both of them to jump.
“That’s just the house settling,” Steven laughs. “Well, the slaughterhouse in town had a specialty in pork.”
“So the pigs are coming for their revenge?” Alison says as she tries to hold back a smile.
“I have no other way of thinkin’.”
Steven smiles too, trying to also find the humor in the situation. His hands tremble more and his toes and fingertips are numb when he remembers. The smell. The black sheet. The face. He feels his breaths quicken; his chest tighten. Well, to be a reasonable man, it would be impossible to forget.
Steven smiles too, trying to also find the humor in the situation.
“Dad are you alright?” she says as she puts a hand on his shoulder, looking into his eyes with widened pupils.
He takes a deep breath and nods, but feels his heart skip a beat. Alison relaxes back into her position on the couch. He takes another sip of water, the taste of iron lingering on his tongue.
“Why would they want you? Lots of men worked there.”
“I felt guilty. Feel guilty.”
“You never did nothin’ any good worker wouldn’t have,” Alison says and stands up. “Now c’mon, let’s have pie.”
Steven follows her into the small, cozy kitchen. As much as he hates to admit it, the new house is quite comforting. Just a small log cabin outside of town. The front door opens to a petite living room with an archway leading into the kitchen. Sliding glass doors open to the backyard with a nice little deck and grill. A staircase just to the right that led upstairs to one bedroom and bathroom. Plenty big for one person with a vast backyard to keep him busy as soon as this cold front passes.
“Your mother would’ve made this place up so wonderful.”
“She absolutely would’ve.”
They each have a slice of pie with a large scoop of homemade whipped cream on top. Soon, Alison is putting on her winter coat and he stands waiting to give her a hug goodbye.
“Tommy will worry if I’m not home soon.”
“He’s a good boy.”
“Listen,” she clears her throat. “Maybe you ought to think about coming to live with us. I know Tommy wouldn’t mind.”
“I’d mind. I’m only fifty, Ali,” he says.
“The offer always stands.”
Steven nods and forces a smile.
“I hope you liked the pie,” she says. “It’s one of Momma’s recipes.”
“I can tell, it was just like hers.” Once her hand is reaching to the doorknob to leave, he gives her a hug. “Thank you for listening,” his voice is soft against her velvety brown hair.
She nods slowly as they pull away from one another.
“Just remember, none of it’s real.”
They finally say goodbye. Steven opens the door for her; the chilly air seeps inside the cabin once it’s open, so she’s quick to step outside and rush to her car. He closes the door and locks the deadbolt with a solid clunk. Goosebumps fill his arms and he tries rubbing them away.
Steven grabs a bottle of beer from the fridge, twists off the top, and downs the entire thing in one swig. He wipes his dry lips with the back of his hand and sets the empty bottle onto the counter. Just as his hand reaches for the refrigerator door handle again, he hears a squeal.
His eyebrows scrunch together as he steps toward the sliding glass doors, now a black framed picture in the darkness of night.
Steven hears the squeal again. One of those damn piggies squealing.
Steven unlocks the glass door in an instant and whips it open. He steps outside with no hesitation in mind; he’s probably hallucinating again. And what’s he really got to lose?
“Come get me you motherfucker!” he shouts into the blackness before him.
Steven blindly walks out onto the deck, seeing nothing before him. Silence falls all around and he lets out a guttural laugh. He turns around to go back inside the cabin, and he sees it there. A little piggie. Just a baby one.
“Ah, look at ‘ew.”
The piglet has soft, fuzzy hairs all around its small body. It’s no bigger than a cat. Shiny black eyes, soft, pale nose. Its little squeaks were probably calling out for its Mama. Just as Steven reaches down to pick it up, it vanishes into thin air. His arms wrap around a nothingness and smack together.
It makes him remember. That face—
Steven shakes his head and goes back inside. He locks the glass door and feels his heart racing a little faster. It’s like he can feel what’s about to come but he hopes, just like every other night, that tonight might be different.
Steven grabs another beer and sinks down into his recliner before flicking on Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. His feet stretch out against the old, plaid fabric as he reclines back. He sighs heavily and lets his eyes fall shut as he listens to the audience laugh and laugh and laugh.
Only once, he laughs along with the audience and takes a nice, cool swig from the bottle, eyes still shut. He feels himself nodding off, the condensation from the bottle makes his hand slippery and he almost spills it into his lap each time. About the fourth or fifth time, he awakes to the stench of wheat drifting up to his nostrils from his jeans.
His wool-covered feet pitter-patter across the wooden floor as he walks to the kitchen. They move slowly as he rubs his eyes. He only gets a few steps out away from the recliner before he hears it. Humming.
“Hm, hm, hm, hm…”
Steven’s eyes open wide. His heart seems to stop.
He takes the few steps left to the kitchen and sees a short woman standing at the sink, facing away from him. Her feathered blonde hairdo and white nightgown glow in the moonlight shining through the window. She bounces along to the melody she’s humming. His lips part and his fingertips go numb.
The woman looks over her shoulder.
“Oh, dear. I didn’t hear you come home. Caught me singin’ and all.” She smiles as she looks away from his gaze and toward the floor. “Looks like you’re drinking again.”
The slim bottle slides from Steven’s stiff grip and hits the wood floor. Its piercing noise shreds through the kitchen, echoing off the walls.
“James Mallory, what in the hell are you doing!” she says as she shakes her wet hands into the sink, full of invisible water. She reaches for a dish towel and marches over to his feet. She throws the towel down and starts mopping up the wetness with her foot while mumbling something about a mess in the new house. “Well, don’t you just stand there for heaven’s sake. Help me.”
Steven shakes his head but she’s still there in front of him. He kneels down to clean up the beer and she returns to the sink to wash the nonexistent dishes.
“If you weren’t working so damn late you might’ve caught dinner. If that’s what you were doing.”
Steven glances up to her and looks back to the ground. She’s here but the family had buried her ten years ago.
“You might’ve even got to see your son before he’s got to go to bed. Constantly asking where his damn Daddy is and I don’t know what’s to say no more.”
Steven’s heart skips a beat as he stands up, putting the soiled towel on the kitchen island.
“You know I’m right after all, James.”
“Ma, it’s me. Steven.”
“Ach,” she says and looks over her shoulder again to meet his eyes. “Steven’s been in bed for hours. I worry one day he’s gon’ grow up to be just like you.”
“Look at yourself, Steven.”
“I’m not like him, Ma. I never was.”
“You went and raised that granddaughter of mine just how your Daddy raised you. Work and beer always more important.”
“That’s not—I just did what I had to, to take care of my family.”
“That’s exactly what your Daddy used to say.”
His mother turns back to the empty sink, scrubbing away at invisible dishes. Her words sink into his heart. There’s a tingle at the tip of his nose. His eyes feel heavy. He feels like she stole every last breath from his lungs.
“Plus, I know what you did Steven.”
Suddenly, the house is shaking beneath their feet. Steven grabs onto the island for support, but still falls to his knees. His mother doesn’t move a muscle from her stance at the sink. It’s as if she’s locked in there like concrete. The house quivers. He shuts his eyes. He didn’t think Texas ever got earthquakes.
Finally the house goes still. A chill runs through his veins.
Steven opens his eyes, seeing a cold, stainless steel floor beneath him.
“Mallory, get your ass back to work!” the foreman yells from above him before sending a hard hand down on his back.
Steven winces at the hit, so hard it makes him cough for a second. He nods and slowly gets up on his feet as the foreman marches away. Steven is left surrounded by mountains of carcasses. Pink and white marbled flesh lay before him. A pile of scraps and bones to his right. A stainless table in front of him that stretches feet away in either direction. He looks all around at the haze and stink of the old building that makes the air itself look murky and tired. Twenty men surround him, covered themselves in blood and sweat. Not a window to be seen.
The stench of raw, sour flesh fills his nose and stomach and quickly makes him nauseous. In the distance, piggies squeal and scream. “Stayin’ Alive” plays softly in the background, hardly heard above the draining sounds of the building. Saws, shouting, squealing, hacking, fighting. The place wreaks of death and dying but it screams out from all directions and extends as far as the exhausted eye can see.
Steven looks down and notices he’s wearing a bloodied apron. A butcher knife is now in his right hand. He notices he has all five of his fingers back and smiles for a moment at the thought.
“Better get chopping before the boss sees you slacking again.”
“Hey, Bates,” Steven says.
He almost says more. Almost dives into talking about this crazy hallucination he’s in the middle of. How good it is to see an old friend. One neither of them could have known would take his own life in a year from this very day. Steven stops himself.
“You’re one weird fucker, Mallory.”
Steven looks at the piece of rosy flesh in front of him. What a wicked thing to be back here and forced to live the dirty, tainted memories over and over again. He lifts up the knife but, before he can smack it down onto the piece of flesh before him, his apron is tightly grabbed from behind and he’s being pulled away. His feet struggle to keep up with the pace the foreman is dragging him along at.
“Mallory I’ve got the opportunity of a lifetime for you.”
“Let go,” Steven says as he wiggles under his apron.
The foreman drags him further and further back into the large building, heading toward the back door. Steven’s gut sinks, knowing he’s been here before. Many times. The sheet, the face, the never-ending—
The foreman releases his grasp and throws Steven against the door of the back room. His shoulders singe in pain and his heart races in place.
“You and Bates are gonna do it together. BATES,” the foreman calls.
When Bates gets over to them, the three of them enter the back room. It’s dark and musty and a rat scurries away as the foreman flicks the light switch on. There’s a butcher table in the center of the room with a black sheet draped over it. Some sort of figure lays beneath. That damn sheet. The room smells even worse than the rest of the slaughterhouse, moldy and fishy. The smell of death. Steven’s stomach squirms even more.
“Now,” the foreman says. “This is a special job. I can trust you two?”
Bates looks to Steven and their eyes lock.
“I don’t know,” Steven says.
“Well, you better find out. If you still want a job, you’re gonna take care of this for me.”
The foreman grabs a hold of the black sheet and begins to yank it off. Steven screams and shuts his eyes before he can see what he knows is underneath. The face…
Then, Steven wakes up screaming in his recliner. His eyes dart open; his body thrashes all around. Only when he feels grounded does he stop screaming and lets himself relax. There’s no squealing piglet outside. No humming in the kitchen. No black sheet in sight. No gut wrenching stench. Johnny Carson is right in front of him on the television.
He grabs the bottle of beer and drinks down every warm bit that’s left. Although it’s never enough. He sets the empty bottle onto the table beside him and takes a heavy breath. He rubs his eyes with dry hands.
Steven jumps and opens his eyes. His heart beats nearly out of his chest. Just the cabin settling again. He sighs.
Now his heart races. He turns his head around, checking the stairs. They’re clear. He faces the front door, also clear. From what he can see in the kitchen, clear.
Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom…
The pattern sounds to Steven like someone quickly walking down stairs. He knows it all must be in his head but, before he can help himself, he’s on his feet. His head is turning to look all around the room, but it’s still only him there.
He takes small steps and walks backward. His own feet make no such creaks on the wood floor.
Steven’s back meets the logged walls behind him. His mind whirrs back to the foreman throwing him up against the metal door of the back room of the slaughterhouse. The smell of death fills his nostrils again. His stomach twists. His chest tightens.
His eyes scan in front of him, but there’s still nothing. His heart races. Hands go numb. They tingle and the feeling spreads to his toes.
Steven breathes out heavily, smiling and laughing at himself as he does. He puts his hand up to his chest and tries to slow down his breathing.
He takes a small step toward his recliner again. The creak that comes from below his foot, or he thinks it’s from his own foot, sends his heart in another racing panic. He takes another moment to breathe, looking around himself again to see that there’s truly nothing there.
Steven looks toward the front door, considering bolting out into the night. For a moment, he wonders if he should call Alison.
Then he gets a whiff of fresh dirt, manure. Pig’s rotting flesh. The smell of his own sweat late into that night, the Texan heat still strong and harsh. He could still smell the iron in the hard water he rinsed himself off with before driving home that night. The strong detergent that Arlene used to wash his clothes. The image of the foremen’s twisted, laughing face burned into his mind. The way his battered fist grasped that black sheet and tugged it off like it was nothing.
Steven scans the room in front of him. He looks down to his feet. But as he scans the room again, and his eyes move back to the staircase, he sees it.
The tall, burly figure stands against the wall. It’s almost as tall as the low ceiling. Its hooved feet protrude out from either side. The long, strong legs extend upward and disappear underneath a dirtied, bloody apron that matches Steven’s own from back in those days. The thick, familiar neck of a piggie. The large, round face. The soft, wet nose that protrudes out. And the cleaver in its hand.
Steven’s breaths come in shallow puffs. The Pigman begins to take steps toward him, with each the house trembles below. Steven tells himself that this will end any moment. This is always where it ends. Then another step, and another. Thuds that feel like miniature earthquakes come and go.
The Pigman now stands only feet from Steven. It brings its empty hand up to its face. It picks and pulls and stretches at its head. The mangled hand grabs onto the skin as if it’s a mask, and the pink, rotten flesh begins to tear away. Steven stares and watches as it slowly reveals the face of a human. A woman. One he vowed to love until the day he died. The rest of the figure slowly morphs into a human form.
“Arlene?” Steven mouths out the words but no sound is heard from him aloud.
The woman’s grip on the cleaver tightens, her knuckles whiten. And then she sets down the knife on the side table.
“Do you know how much I’ve missed your voice?” he says.
Tears spring to his eyes. He lets them fall, finally. He steps toward her, holding out his arms, but she extends an arm between them so he can’t embrace her.
“That’s not why I’m here,” she says.
Her voice has a soft vibration to it, one that is both calming and unsettling at the same time. Arlene grabs the knife and sets the tip down onto the table. She twists the knife around and around, digging a circular mark into the wood.
“Why are you here?”
“Do you need a reminder?”
Arlene chuckles, tilts her head, and finally meets her eyes up to his, still twisting the knife against the table.
“I did my best, Arlene.”
Arlene just shakes her head. Steven’s heart beats harder and harder.
“I wasn’t talking about that. You’re a good father, Steve, no matter what anyone says.”
“I know what you did. And it’s still bothering you.”
His breath is completely flattened out of his lungs. It feels like someone’s just slapped him hard on the back. The tips of his fingers tingle in numbness.
“I see you’ve been drinking again,” she says. “That’s no good for you.”
Steven loses total control over his tears now. The black sheet. That face. When he looks at Arlene, it looks as if she’s standing behind a waterfall through his watery eyes.
“I wish I wouldn’t have, Arlene. I wish that every day.”
Arlene grasps tightly onto the handle of the knife. She steps toward him and reaches the knife higher and higher. Higher, until it reaches his chest level and he hangs his head low.
“Please,” he whispers.
Drips of blood splatter and hit the floor. One by one until a stream of it runs out. The blood seeps into the wooden grains, the bones of the cabin. The cleaver hits the floor and clatters, sliding into the puddle of crimson and making it splash. As Steven sinks to the floor, he watches Arlene take soft, quiet steps away from him, around the couch, and heads for the stairs. She climbs each one with special care, clutching onto the railing.
The pain in his chest is unlike anything he’s ever felt before. Worse than the guilt he feels for that night. Worse than the feeling of hiding the secret all these years.
He squints his eyes shut; he cannot breathe. He coughs and up comes blood. He says a silent prayer, though he’s never been religious. The corners of his lips curve into a smile when he wonders if this will finally be the end.
In the newfound darkness of his mind, Steven finally feels release from all his pain and discomfort. He still remembers his grief; no longer feels the guilt he’s carried on his back for the past few decades. He’s in a black void, free from life and everything else.
And then, a blinding light fills his eyesight again. He shuts his eyes, waiting to be taken away. Waiting for the end.
But when he opens his eyes, he finds himself back in a dream.
He’s standing next to Bates in the back room of the slaughterhouse.
Steven screams as the foreman reaches for the black sheet again, shutting his eyes to shield himself from what he knows is underneath.
“Mallory quit your baby crying. Open your eyes.”
Steven slowly opens his eyes, tears threatening to flood out from them at any moment. There, on the table, is the face he’s seen in the deep floods of regret that flow through his mind every day. The face of a young, pregnant woman. Her eyes are peacefully shut. Her lips are pursed together. Any color of life has already faded from her pale skin.
“What in the hell is this?” Bates says, turning away to not let the foremen see his tears.
“Why is she here?” Steven says, mirroring the same words he spoke all those years ago.
“She spent the night with me last night. Took too much of the ole,” he gestures to make the motion of injecting a needle into the crook of his arm. “I need a favor.”
“No,” Steven says. “I quit.”
“You want to let your wife and baby go hungry?” the foreman says.
“Geez, boss,” Bates says. “What the hell you want us to do?”
“Feed her to the pigs.”
The way his face contorts into laughter, the way his cracked lips part and show his crooked, yellowing teeth, is an image burned into Steven’s brain forever.
Steven’s stomach retwists in knots and, following his actions from all those years ago, he turns around and throws up against the wall. The foreman cackles behind him and gives him another smack on the back. Steven stumbles back around and tries to take in deep breaths. The sickly stench of the air hardly helps him feel any better.
“Why should we?” Bates says.
“You need the money.”
“Not that bad,” Steven says.
“What kind of father are you?”
“Why didn’t you just tell the police?” Bates says. “You know, that’s their job.”
“And get busted for the drugs?”
“Say she brought them,” Bates says. “They have to understand.”
“And what they gonna do if they find out that baby in there was mine?” the foreman says.
The foreman clenches his teeth but his eyes are glossy, threatening to release a tear. For only one moment of time, Steven feels a pang of sympathy for this ruthless man.
“Why don’t you do it yourself?” Steven says.
“I don’t got the stomach for that. Listen, you help me, I’ll help you two. I can double your pay. I can make that happen.”
“I don’t believe you.”
The foreman reaches into his back pocket, grabs out a thick leather wallet. He grabs out two, one hundred dollar bills, each bent halfway down.
“How’s this? An advance if you will,” he holds them out to the two young, trembling boys.
As awful as he felt for thinking it, Steven could really use the money. He has a hungry, growing baby to think about.
“Take it. And get to it.” They each grab one of the bills before the foreman walks out and shuts the door.
“This is fucking crazy man,” Bates says. The boy is shaking, each word he speaks cracks and trembles. He cries.
“I know,” Steven says. “Listen. Let me handle it. There’s no need for both of us to be fucked up in this.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Don’t worry. Don’t think about this. Ever again. I’ll take care of it; we’ll pretend it never happened.”
Bates’s tear stained face, twisted and contorted, looks to Steven. His bright blue eyes are surrounded with red splotches of skin. He wipes a tear from his face and nods as Steven opens his mouth to speak.
But then Steven finds himself in the recliner once again. His cheeks are damp from tears, his eyes feel smooth and slick. His mouth tastes like blood. Creaks sound from behind him again, but this time he does not glance around his shoulder.
The rancid stench of raw flesh floods his nose again. His stomach sinks as the memories fade back in. The twisted look on the foreman’s face. The way his hands sweated and blistered against the wooden handle of the shovel. The way he wrapped the woman and her round belly in butcher’s cloth. The piggies howling in the distance. The wildflowers he picked and buried with her. The way his own shadow moved in the night as he filled in the hole half way. The way he wept as he went. The pig he selected, terminated, and buried there on top of her, covering the hole with dirt until it reached the grass surface again.
The way he cried the whole drive home. Just to put on a happy face to hug and kiss his Arlene when he got home. And the way he woke up Alison from a peaceful sleep, just to give her a kiss on the cheek and to say he loved her.
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