Horace looks around with more than just a sense of amazement, he also had a twisted feeling of stomach acid massaging the back of his throat ready to make its appearance. The smell was foul and violating, the floors was sticky with mixtures of different animal blood and sand to maintain traction. His boots peel with each step making his appearance unavoidable, his first day on the job at a slaughterhouse wasn’t what he expected. His manager, Nick Lyle, walks ahead with a browning once-white tee shirt. His belt was faded and his pants had stains splattered on. He didn’t look like a manager. He continued to walk ahead with his clip board pointing over in different sections explaining what areas did what.
“Over to the right is the pig section, usually with the babies you pick em up slam em down head first. The bigger ones we use a sledge hammer, aim for the dome just right and you gotta cancel Christmas,” he chuckles, as if it was funny to joke about any of this. “To the left is the steer, outside worker will lure them over and stick their head in, you and a co-worker will saw the throat open until you come out the other end. Doesn’t needa be clean or even, just gotta be quick unless you wanna listen to em’ cry.”
He spits a gooey ball of dip trapped in a bubble of spit onto the floor and wipes his mouth with his sleeve. “There are other sections with chickens n’ whatnot but you’ll focus on these two. Now the overnight shift gets hot, which is why I reckon we got twelve staff including you. It gets too damn hot, on top of all the stink. Now when you mix them two things together you’re bound to spill your dinner, suggest you eat light the first week here.” He smiles exposing the wet tobacco clinging to his butter slices of teeth.
Horace simply nods his head. “I think I can handle it.”
Slaughterhouses in the 80’s were a different world on their own, no humane rights for animals it was simply kill them as fast and efficient as possible. It was a job for souls with empty feelings, ex convicts and those unaccepted by society usually. There were no rules on h*********l, as long as it got done. The warehouse was a place of despair and silenced cries, full of horror and pain, torture and pain. The pay was s**t, the conditions were almost unlawful, yet Horace stayed. Bills for a cramped one bedroom apartment and a pregnant wife were almost suffocating, he was desperate for anything willing to pay.
“Well I’ve just about gone up and down the organs of this place, you should be fine here on out. You’ll work the hog section first, from ten pm to two am, then you’ll head over to the steers. Slaughter em’ up til six am. Think you can handle it?”
Horace looks around and swallows a lump in his throat. “I’m good Mr.Lyle.”
Nick nods his head and points towards a corner. “Janelle is working over yonder, suit up and get to killing. She’ll teach you the ropes.” As he wanders off picking another glob of dip, he pushes it into his right cheek and turns with the first serious glance of the night. “Oh by the way, smoke breaks and other types are to be taken in the front of the building. Do not venture near the back…been a couple of accidents with wild animals seeing as the factory is close to the woods.”
He spoke as if he was a parent scolding a child, but something in his voice told him not to back talk. Horace nods his head. Nick walks off into a secluded office room and closes the door.
It was the first night, and already the smell was getting to him. It was like placing a bag over your head with unsavory juices from road kill and inhaling as hard as you could, and that was just walking in, minutes dragged by prolonging the r****g aroma.
Horace approaches his co-worker in his designated section as she slings down a pig over her shoulder by its back legs, its skull makes a loud cracking sound among the blood stained concrete. Trembling on the ground it suffers until she drags it up once again and repeats the process, its brain relieves from its proper home this time. It makes a heart tugging wail before silenced below her forced boot.
Horace steps back, sickened for a moment. The lady lifts a cancer pack from her pocket and bites down on a cigarette lifting it from the case. Looking over she lights it with a black Zippo, the initials J.T. enscribed on it.
Tilting her head back she asks, “What you spooked or something?” as a light puff of smoke intertwines with her words.
Startled, and taken back by her beauty he tries to think of something clever to say, only to mutter, “No I’m fine.”
Giggling she responds, “I’m giving you a hard time. Names Janelle.” She extends a blood soaked yellow glove.
Not wanting to be rude, and certainly not trying to unimpress this holder of beauty, he grips her hand and waves it up and down. “Names Horace, it’s a pleasure. I’m the new guy.”
“Could tell you was new, seemed taken back. Lemme fill you in, I have the easiest position. This place is brutal, it ain’t for simple Sally’s. If you’re gonna stick around your balls better drop and your soul better be ready to be tainted.”
“I’m aware of the conditions,” he chokes. The copper like smell was spiraling through the air and infiltrating his nostrils. Coughing on his words he takes a small breath and asks, “How long have you worked here?”
“Since they cut the ribbon it seems.” She lifts another pig after tossing the dead one into a pile behind her and swings it down with force, never letting go of her cigarette. Blood speckles among his boots, the cry is louder this time. There’s no way this animal didn’t have feelings, or couldn’t feel pain. But, that sound was cut off once again with a final blow. Her mouth gripped to the tobacco roll without even budging, picking up the lifeless pork she tosses it behind her. A puddle forming around her feet she ashes into it.
“Why you ask how long huh? You some reporter or something?” She asks.
Horace stares at her facial expression trying to figure if she’s joking or not. “I’m joking bro,” she smiles exposing her polished teeth. She certainly stood out in this place, every co-worker he passed by seemed to be rough around the edges, like they were from prison or someplace worse.
She leads him to a pen to the right of her full of pigs, some heavier than others, some were just babies. “Okay so here’s how we make the bacon, just grab these sumbitches by their back legs,” she picks up a squealing pig, “and swing it down like this.” Once more he witnesses the death of an animal, a animal that was terrified for its life. It didn’t seem to phase her in the least bit.
Six pigs in and his hands are quivering, blood was embedded under his grimy fingernails even with the cheap rubber gloves on, blood seemed to find a way inside of them. Wiping a trail of sweat from her brow, she tugs at the fingertips of one glove and says, “It’s one am, time for lunch. You hungry?”
Horace pulls his hand out of a glove and feels the dry skin hardening under a crusted blanket of blood, he shakes his hand and steps over the spills and matter following her along with the others to a door near the back wall. A door opens from behind as two men wearing white suits come in with cleaning supplies and a hose. Their masks were solid black, they headed to the pig section and began to spray the floor.
“Who are those guys?”
“Clean up crew, come in twice a shift, once at lunch break and then after clock out. C’mon I’ll introduce you to everyone.”
Ten people were in the room when Horace walked in, all talking, laughing, like none of them had just murdered innocent animals in violating ways.
“So this steer is just jerking everywhere man, like someone just gave his nuts a love tap. And Katy over here is trying to cut the throat, and I’m like ‘Hurry up and cut em’!’ but she still f***s up! So I grab my pocket knife and stab it in the eye, blood is just everywhere and then I stab it again and again hitting the brain eventually and she just looks at me in shock.. And that dear friends, is how I met my first wife.”
The break room erupts into laughter as the slender ginger haired man leans back in his chair. He looks over at Horace and stops smiling. “Well well what we have here? You the new guy right?”
“Yes, I’m Horace.” He mutters quietly.
“Who names their kid w***e?” A voice ask from one side.
“I thought he said horse?” Another asks.
“He said Horace,” the ginger man interrupts. “So, Horace, welcome to the night shift. What brings you out to the devils playground?”
Janelle slides a chair out for him and sits down opening a crumpled brown bag. A plain turkey sandwhich and a soda can are what filled the space of it. He sits down and observes the cramped room, there was two long white tables, six people sat at one while five sat at the other. All of them except Janelle looked at him like he just insulted their dead mother.
“Needed a job and this place was hiring.”
“Is that right? You a jail bird or something?”
“Does that matter?”
The ginger haired man stands up and begins to walk towards Horace. “So you like killing animals? Or is the s**t pay what you’re after?”
“Leave him alone Jax,” Janelle spits in-between chews of her cold sandwich.
Jax holds a finger up towards her in a hushing motion and continues, “Well what is it Horace?”
A loud rumble spills through the room causing distraction from the heated moment. Lights from above flicker on and off in a trance. The lights go out completely as a screeching roar splits through the thick air.