Hey guys, I know you might have come here for a story, but I’ve pulled it for now. After a bit of consideration, I decided to polish it up and shoot it to a few publishers. Thanks for looking!
High summer on the plains and all Craig wanted to do was get out of the sun. He’d been driving for four hours, and the AC in his rental was just barely wheezing along. To the left and right, fields and fields of corn waved in the wind, keeping time with his tires as they crunched along the pavement. He wiped a bead of sweat from his eyes and blinked back the haze.
Ahead, a green sign appeared in the midst of the yellow, white lettering blazing in the afternoon sun. It read BOTTINEAU 1. He passed the sign, and the corn parted, the road opening into a small town. Craig could see several older homes set back from the road, and just up ahead, a small main street. The car rolled into town, past a dog sniffing something in the ditch, and a pair of dirty children chasing a ball in what passed for a park.
The main street was mostly old wood buildings, painted in faded whites and grays. There was a small hardware store, a five and dime, a diner (Maude’s – Best Pie in Town), and a drugstore. At the end of the strip, before the town ended and the road passed grain silos and more damn corn was the holy grail of weary travelers. A sign on the square facade read Marv’s, and below that, in script: ‘Cold Beer, Hot Food’.
Craig pulled the car over, into an open diagonal spot out front, between two big Fords. He cut the engine and looked at the front of the building. The entrance was recessed, the main door a house door someone had fit into the frame. A sign proclaimed it a smoke-free establishment. He looked to the side, at the big Fords, and wondered how welcoming the locals were of strangers. Probably not very. Still, it was probably dark and cool inside, and there would be Cold Beer. He screwed up his courage and got out of the car. After a minute of waffling, still staring at those big trucks, he went inside.
The door creaked when he opened it, and a blast of cool air hit him in the face. A part of him sighed, and he stepped into the dim interior. The inside was simple – booths backed against the walls, and small tables in the center of the room. A long bar took up one wall, with small pull-tab machines at one corner, and bottles of liquor and coolers of beer and pop lined up behind it. A jukebox stood against one wall, wailing out something by Willie. In an opposite corner stood a tall glass and wood display case, the interior dark from where he stood.
Craig let the door close behind him and paused as heads swiveled to see who had entered. There were a few farmers, hats on tight, skin wind and sun burned, and a woman who looked as though she had once been homecoming queen twenty years ago sitting at the bar. A chubby waitress stood behind the bar wiping out glasses. They looked at him, weighed him, and disregarded him. That done, Craig bellied up to the bar.
The waitress put down her glass.
“What can I get ya?”
“Bud’s fine. Uh, bottle.”
After a moment, it was sitting in front of him, and the first drink was like Heaven in his throat. Cool and crisp, with just a bitter bite. He took another sip, and another, and let the beer relax his road sore muscles. A few minutes later, he found his gaze drawn to the case in the corner, and stood to take a look at it.
The case was old, like the ones he’d seen pictures of in old traveling shows. It reminded him of a curio cabinet, just plainer. Scattered around the base of the box were rose petals and half-melted candles. He could just make a plaque. It read J. Hoffa.
He frowned and leaned in.
Inside, he could see a wizened figure, in an old suit. It looked like a mummy, and though it was thin and spindly, there was a squareness to the jaw and a width to the shoulders. Its hands were crossed over its chest, and its eyes were closed, as though the man inside had fallen asleep and decided to stay that way. A hand-printed sheet of paper was taped at waist high. It read
Make a Wish, $1
Oh, so this was a charity thing. He looked over at the waitress behind the bar.
“Is this thing real?”
She popped her gum and nodded. “Yeah. Jimmy Hoffa. Make a wish.”
“Like for the kids?”
She shook her head. “Nah, like birthday candles.”
Huh. He pulled his wallet out and grabbed a dollar, then turned back to the waitress.
“Where do I put this?”
“Basket.” She nodded her head at a small table he hadn’t noticed. A basket sat on top, empty.
Not a lot of takers. Ah, what the hell, he thought. He dropped the dollar in and tried to think of what to wish for. He looked around the room, and his gaze fell on the former beauty queen. Lines had eroded some of her looks, and beer had made her a little soft in the middle, but in all, he could see what had made her once a gem in a field.
Wish I could get laid.
He waited a minute, then two, for something to happen. He even closed his eyes. After another minute, when nothing had, he chuckled to himself and made his way back to the bar. He picked up his beer and looked down. Next to his coast was a napkin, neat block writing on it. He read it.
Meet me in the bathroom
Craig looked around and noticed the beauty queen was gone. He shrugged, got up, and made his way to the short hall in the back of the building. It smelled of urinal cakes and Lysol there. He couldn’t think of a less romantic place on the planet, except maybe in an actual puddle of urine. He shouldered open the door to a bathroom the size of a closet and stepped inside. The woman on the other side met him with a kiss and a hand in his pocket. After his initial shock, he returned the kiss.
The sex was quick and awkward, and afterward, they separated, and she left first. He took his time cleaning up, and then went back to his beer. It was warm, so he ordered another, and looked at his watch. He still had time before he had to be on the road. The beauty queen was gone. He found himself looking at the case in the corner, where J. Hoffa was ensconced. Wheels in his head started to turn.
What did he wish for? Money? Fame? Power? He thought back to the bathroom sex and thought that while easy, it all seemed a bit trite. Still…he thought of his mortgage, and his kid going off to school soon. He thought of the new car he’d like – something fun, like an Audi, or a Jag. He thought of his tiny ranch home, and his cramped rooms. That last thought made up his mind. He was tired of too little space, of rooms that smelled vaguely of mold in the fall and sweat in the summer. He stood and made his way over to the basket by J. Hoffa, fished a dollar out of his wallet, and tossed it in.
Wish I had some money. A lot of money. Enough for a new house, maybe.
His stomach twitched and gurgled suddenly, and he knew he didn’t have time to wait around to see if it worked. He shuffle-ran to the bathroom and slammed open the stall, barely getting his pants down in time. He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth, and while his body evacuated, his foot kicked out and hit something.
When he was finished, he flushed and looked down, trying to find the thing he’d bumped. Part of him was mortified to think it had been one of those farmer’s feet. He breathed a small sigh of relief when he saw that hadn’t been the case. In the stall next to him, furthest from the door and closest to the wall, someone had left a leather duffel bag. Craig leaned down and snagged it, pulling it to his side. He looked around, though the bathroom remained empty, and then unzipped it. The zipper was loud in the tiled room, and he thought for sure someone would hear. He waited a minute, counting between heartbeats. When no one came, he opened the bag and looked inside.
Bundles of hundreds, with those bands like the bank used, were stacked neatly in the bag. Though he wasn’t sure how much money it was exactly, he was sure it had to be at least a half million, maybe more. He hurriedly zipped up the bag and cleaned up, then left the stall. After he washed his hands, he stood by the door, trying to figure out how to play it. He had after all, not come in with a bag. They might not notice, he thought. Just a couple left in the bar, and I’ve already paid my tab.
He squared his shoulders and made his mind up. He pushed through the bathroom door, bag in hand, and walked out. No one looked up. He had made it to the door when he had another thought. What about another wish? He looked down at the bag in his hand and figured he should put it in the car first. He could always come back inside. He made his way out, the door squealing behind him.
Light, bright and fresh blinded him for a moment, and he stood on the sidewalk, the heat baking his face, and tried to blink away the spots in his eyes. When he could see again, a big man, over six foot, was blocking his path, his shoulders like the eaves on a house. The beauty queen stood behind him.
The big guy gestured at him. “This the guy, Darlene?”
She nodded, mascara streaked on her cheeks. The big man looked down at the bag in Craig’s hand. His face grew dark.
“Looks like you got two things of mine today, pal.” He raised a meaty fist, a tire iron in it.
Craig briefly wondered where they’d find his body and wished he were anywhere else.
He found not all wishes come true.
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:
- 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!
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
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.
“Where’s all the meat from yesterday?”
“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.”
“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.”