Dan says he got the idea in the back of the Medicine Hat Safeway.
Had to take a piss real bad. In answer to his query, the half-balding clerk jerked a finger towards the swinging doors. “In back. Only for customers,” he said but the doors were already swinging.
The can was filled with floor mops and buckets. As Dan sighed, zipped up, and came out, he heard and smelled it first. Then, behind the piled up bottles and boxes of dry goods, he glimpsed a huge enclosure shimmering beyond some kind of force field at the south end of the building. He walked cautiously towards the stink of shit-filled straw and bawling animals. Once beyond the boxes, he could see the killing fields, with only that eye-elusive shimmer between him and all the action. Men and women in filthy full- length rubber coveralls strode with their guns, huge knives, and blacksmith hammers at the ready amongst a chaotic mess of chickens, cows, pigs, goats, lambs, horses, and flopping fish. All screaming. Even the fish, he swears now. Throats cut. Limbs, heads hacked off. Bullet to the brain or sometimes just into the eye. Slam of hammer against skulls. Animals howling fear and terror. Humans cursing them for their stubborn unwillingness to die. Blood spurting in fountains. Carnage as far as Dan could see.
The workers took breaks for gulps of cold beer and ice water, sweat running down to mix with the drying brown-red guts strewn over their coveralls.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” a thin voice beside him said.
“So this is where the meat comes from,” Dan breathed. “Back of Safeway. Really.”
“We have lawyers. Extreme methods of enforcement,” Thin Voice said.
“Legal. You can’t say anything. Ever. You a meat eater?”
Dan gave him a look.
Thin Voice gestured. “Okay. Pick, then. Has to be a live one. You have to kill it. Feed it to somebody innocent. Kid. Old lady. Someone who thinks meat grows in Safeway in cellophane-wrapped packages. And,” he came close so he could whisper, “you have to put a little bit of your blood in the final product. Just a touch. Nothing to cause any problems.”
Much later, in the telling of it to me here in the village of Empress, Alberta, Dan gets more and more excited. This Safeway experience is what led him to one of his famous “Big Ideas”: an Alberta restaurant that specializes in every kind of meat.
“So you did it,” I say to him in the Agro Building where he runs The All Meat Empress Café. His establishment shares the place with a two-sheet curling rink and a winter skating rink that right now is just prairie dirt. His is the only café remaining in this village that is on the way to hamlet: sinking back into the cactus and rattlesnakes.
“Yeah, yeah. ’Course. Why not? Soon as I got back from the ’Hat I had the kids in here. Gave ’em an unbirthday party to celebrate the opening. Lot of the parents came too. ’Specially the fat mothers. Gorged on burgers.”
“And your blood.”
“Hell, they never noticed. Mr. Thin Voice said it’s a matter of a quick infection. He just wants to get them hooked: y’know, meat from the back of Safeway.”
“Whatever happened to 4-H clubs?” I mutter. “No one wants a direct interface anymore,” he says.
“You like that word ‘interface.’”
“Heard it in the Yukon when I was cooking at the camps. Bikers. Drugs. Beatings in the bar. An execution here and there. Well, it was a long way from Whitehorse. Fresh air that would kick-start your ass. Some of those bikers are pretty educated, eh. Business degrees. Mounties came in once a month. We handed out beer and sent them on their way. The odd time a bear chewed some guy into hamburger.” He looks at me with that sly partly-toothless smile. “I know my new idea’s gonna excite you.”
Dan is Mexican-Italian-Palestinian. He looks like a soccer player gone to seed—especially after a night of drinking and then attempting to smile through the toothless gaps. He likes to shock me because I’m female. Probably thinks it’s a kind of seduction. I imagine his mouth on me and shiver. Not in that good way.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he says. “I quit
drinking after what happened in Safeway. Had to dedicate myself to the vision.”
I’ve heard his ‘I’m-not-drinking-anymore’ lies too many times already. “I don’t care about that,” I say. “How’d you get through the force field?”
He shrugs. “Thin Voice. He muttered something into a thing on his wrist and it let me through. Said if he hadn’t neutralized it, I would’ve been skinned alive.”
“You believed him?”
“I believed all of it. Still do.” “Horseshit,” I say.
“A lot of that there, for sure. Anyway. He told me I had to use the blacksmith hammer, so I picked out a young steer—squished a couple of chickens as I moved in.”
“You weren’t… I don’t know… a little upset?” “I’ve killed before,” he says enigmatically. “Stood me in good stead. Goddamn thing wouldn’t die right away. Looked at me with those big crazy fuckin’ terrified eyes. Mr. Thin Voice told me to get pissed off at them. Makes it easier. But I already knew that from before. From the Yukon.”
“So… you beat the crap out of the steer.”
“Took a while.” He shrugs again. “Way it goes sometimes. A real mess when I finally beat the fucker’s brains out. So much blood already that when I pricked my finger to add mine it disappeared into the rest right away.”
“Your whole story is madness,” I say. “Crazy.”
“Where the fuck d’you think your bacon, chicken burgers, and steaks come from, huh? They should take everybody back there and make ’em shoot, stab, hit, slash, and hack. I guarantee they’d value their cutlets more and that’s a fact. I always knew those Yukon bikers appreciated life more after a night in the elimination business. Why they took it slowly. There’s technique even in death, eh. I learned a lot from them.”
I stumble outside into the cold air, take a big gulp of it. Snow slants against my face, stinging.
Across the empty spaces of dead grass now turning white, I see the squat Post Office and the abandoned United Church that in a distant life was a hotel and bar. Behind me I feel the bulky presence of The All Meat Empress Café. A whiff of sweet meat wafts past me as the door opens.
He joins me. “Nice place here,” he says. “Empress. Nobody bothers anybody. They only know as much as they want to and fight against anything more. Ignorance and bliss. Well. Maybe ‘bliss’ is too strong a word…”
“Who are you to make those kinds of judgements? These are good people.”
He doesn’t answer. We stand for a while.
Finally: “You never asked me about my new Big Idea. The details.” He holds up a bandaged forefinger. Waving it, he sticks out his tongue at me, looks me up and down, and licks the air with it. Laughs at my reaction. “You’re cute like that. How come you got no boyfriend?”
“Uh.” I don’t want to talk to him. He can be so creepy. And I am still thinking about the force field. Only thing that makes sense is Aliens.
“What I like about the back of Safeway is they don’t waste anything,” he muses. “Blood. Guts. All into the dog food, hamburger, chicken nuggets, whatever. Like the Germans say, ‘Everything that’s fleisch.’ Flesh. Meat.” He lights a smoke, draws deeply, and spews it into the driving snow. Smiles at me. “Made a deal with some foreign paramilitaries.”
I throw him a look of disgust. And move upwind. I hate cigarette smoke. »
from subTerrain #69: Meat