This short story started, like so many of my stories, with a dream. I wrote it down and turned it into a story, then MMJaye pointed out that the ending needed something more original that what I had in. I reworked it into the present format giving it a Halloween twist and a completely new ending. I hope you enjoy it – and happy Halloween!
Would you Like Flies with That?
I let out a small groan at the number of people queuing in front of the butcher’s stall. Once again, everyone had waited until the last moment to do their Halloween shopping, and the super market was surprisingly crowded. I shuffled into the queue. A small, bald man with a funny polka dot bowtie was staring absent-mindedly at a pig’s head behind the glass. Someone had placed a Halloween piece next to it; a spooky jack-o’-lantern that flashed its toothless grin at me. The thing gave me the creeps and I took out my frustration on the little man, shoving him aside. If he wasn’t planning on ordering anything, he shouldn’t be standing there, right?
The man squeaked a protest, but a glare and a bulge of my biceps made him shut his mouth. He tapped my elbow as if to say everything was alright and meandered away.
I scoffed and ignored him, my mind fixed on more serious matters: my girlfriend. Well, that’s not true: Lea had me parked in the friend zone for so long, I’d become a permanent fixture there, like an abandoned, derelict car gathering crumbling leaves and dust at the corner of a back street. I, on the other hand, spent every waking minute – and many a sleeping one – aching for her, longing for her to see me as anything but her BFF.
I sighed as my gaze drifted back to the pig’s head. Its eyes seemed to follow me, and I shifted my weight uncomfortably between my feet, trying to avoid its dead stare. Then, it blinked.
Sweat erupted on my forehead and I shuddered, my stomach suddenly lurching. I gaped at the head, and it met my stare with surprisingly lively eyes. Then it blinked again and a faint smile played on its thin lips. I jolted back, bumping into a butcher carrying a whole lamb from the freezer.
“Oy, watch it, mate!” he said, then noticed my pallor. “You alright?”
I opened my mouth to speak, then my eyes met those of the lamb on his back. It nodded at me in greeting. A scream caught in my throat. I must be hallucinating, I thought. Yes, that must be it. I steadied myself and drew deep breaths, struggling to ignore the lively carcasses around me. The lamb whistled a tune and the man shot me a curious glance before disappearing into the back. Pushing back in line, I stared dead ahead, hiding my shivering hands in my pockets.
The woman in front of me pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose and leaned forward, only a thin sliver of glass between her nose and the pig’s snout. She tapped the glass, a smile crawling on her face. A bead of sweat trickled down my temples as it lifted its eyes to stare at her. She cooed in appreciation and wiggled playful fingers, as if to attract its attention.
This was all too much for me. My trolley forgotten by the butcher’s, I backpedalled to the exit, my eyes never leaving the chuckling woman. When the automatic door opened, I spun around to welcome the brisk autumn air on my face. Still shaking, I stumbled towards the parking assistant on my way to my car, when I noticed a van parked by the back entrance. I stole an absent-minded look inside and froze in my tracks at the sight of a dozen calves hanging from shiny hooks, skinned and bloodless. One of them turned its head and smiled an awkward smile me at me, as if to apologize for its state. I swear, had its feet been untied, it would have covered up itself in modesty.
Raising my fist to my mouth to stifle a shriek, I stumbled towards my car, my other hand rummaging in my pocket for the keys.
“Excuse me,” the butcher I had nearly bumped into yelled at me, as he exited the store. Why was he following me? I lowered my head and hastened my step. “Excuse me,” he repeated, catching the parking assistant’s attention. Out of the corner of my downcast eyes I caught the new threat’s shiny yellow vest as he moved to intercept me, standing between me and my car.
I bolted to the left, almost crashing into a sports car exiting the parking lot. “Watch it!” the man inside yelled as he slammed on the brakes. The car screeched to a halt.
I yanked his door open and grabbed him. Thankfully, he was not wearing a seatbelt and in my terror I had little trouble hauling him out of the car. “What are you doing?” the female passenger screamed as I jumped into his seat.
“Get out,” I said, then noticed a bag filled with meat in her hands. She must be one of them!
“You get out!” she screamed and lunged at me. She let out a pained cry as her seatbelt jolted her back. I ignored her, my eyes glued in the mirror at the sight of the butcher rushing at the car. If he caught me, they’d drag me back to the shop, back to the… things. Without a second thought, I hit the gas. The car vaulted forward with the power of a couple hundred horses, slamming us into our seats. “What are you doing?” she cried out.
I had no time to deal with her as I swerved to avoid the parking assistant, wheels shrieking in anger. He flew into a fake witch hovering on her broomstick and I shot before him, the car’s engine roaring. The smell of burnt rubber filled my nostrils, but I dared not slow down as we hit the ramp to the road. Sparks flew out of the low car upon its impact with the asphalt, the engine protesting with a deafening howl. “Let me out!” the woman next to me yelled.
“Too late now,” I said through gritted teeth. My mind raced. How many people knew of this? And when did it happen? When did everyone start eating live meat? How could the animals be alive, when skinned and exsanguinated? I shot a sideways glance at the woman, wondering if she had any answers, and nodded towards the bag she was clutching in her hands. “What’s inside?”
“Meat?” she stammered.
She stole a glance at the bag. “Chicken.” I sighed with relief. I had not noticed any live poultry. “And pork.”
I almost crashed the car on a telephone pole, swerving at the last moment. Bile rose to my throat. “So you know,” I growled.
“Know what?” she protested, her face draining of colour. It reminded me too much of the animals in the van, and I shut my eyes to chase the image away. “Watch out!” she screamed, and my eyes flew open again. I slammed the brakes to avoid crashing into the back of a truck. The car came to a screeching halt, my heart thudding in my chest.
“Get out,” I growled. This time she obeyed me without a word. I floored the gas as soon as both her feet were on the road, and inertia slammed the door shut. The last I saw of her as the car roared away, she was staring at me bug-eyed. I’m not the crazy one! You’re the one eating live meat!
I took the ramp to the motorway. I had to get away, gather my thoughts. Who else knew? Then, my pocket vibrated and a second later my phone rang. I had completely forgotten about it. I could ask for help. But who would help me? I fished it out of my pocket to glance at the screen.
I swallowed hard and tried to clear my head before swiping my thumb over the screen. “Hi, Lea.”
“Hey!” My breath caught at the sound of her voice. “Where are you?”
“Long story.” I slowed down and swerved behind a truck. The last thing I needed was to get pulled over for speeding.
“Listen…” She paused. “We need to talk.”
I cringed. No good had ever come from those words. I tried to keep my voice neutral, casual. “What about?”
“Well…” She hesitated. “How you feel about me.” Shit. Not cool. “And how I feel about you.”
My heart skipped a beat. “How do you mean?”
“I know we’ve been friends for so long, but what if I wanted more?”
Was it me, or was it getting warm in the car? “Are you…” I cleared the lump from my throat. “Are you saying you want more?”
“Why don’t you come over and we can discuss it?” she said in her bedroom voice.
I almost did a 180 right then and there, forgetting I was on the motorway, then it hit me. All these months I’ve been waiting for this, and it happened now? Just as I had stumbled on something this big?
“Sounds good,” I said cautiously. “I’ll see you at your place in ten.”
“Ah…” She sounded apprehensive. “How about the burger joint, instead? You know, the new one? They say the burgers there are to die for.”
A chill touched the base of my spine and travelled all the way up to my scalp. I opened the window and threw the phone out. I had watched enough movies to know that’s how they find you. Not Lea, too! My eyes moistened, and I wiped them with one hand, squeezing the steering wheel with the other until my knuckles turned white. Crap, if they’ve gotten to her, that means they’re everywhere!
I took deep breaths and ran my sweaty palm through my hair as I passed a police car, a copper holding a radar gun. I knew I was driving below the limit, but he looked up to stare at me. He knows! Maybe he’s one of them! Trying my best to keep the car at an even speed, I waited until he had disappeared, then continued driving as far from that place as possible.
The sun had set by the time I swerved off the motorway into an exit, then into a back road. A classmate of mine lived nearby. I had not seen him in years, but he was a vegetarian. I should be safe there. Reaching a junction, I took a left, then came back as I reached a dead end. This time I turned right, to arrive at a nice farmhouse with a large garden, filled with growing, leafy vegetables. Golden fruit filled the trees of an orchard at the back.
I parked before his gate and stared at my fingers clutching the steering wheel, my mind spinning faster than the still-running engine. After an eternity, I turned it off and stepped out of the car, leaving the stolen keys in the ignition.
I stepped out of the car on unsteady legs and drank the crisp evening air with hungry breaths. A handful of early stars shimmered in the sky, providing some much-needed illumination. I wish he’s turn on some lights! I covered the short distance to the porch with slow steps. My feet kicked up small drifts, ribboned by the wind. I needed to sober up, my head stuffed with wool and crowded with too many thoughts. As my finger touched the buzzer, an impatient hand tapped my shoulder.
I let out a startled yelp and spun around to see an irate older woman holding a red, plastic basket. “Are you ordering anything?” Her nasal voice grated my frayed nerves.
I blinked repeatedly to shake away my confusion before raising my eyes to look at the long queue behind her. I was back at the butcher’s stall, a dozen people glaring at me, mumbling under their breath. “Come on, we ain’t got all day,” someone muttered, and people murmured in agreement.
“I’m…” I swallowed the lump in my throat. “I’m sorry.” I turned to face the butcher. “I’d like…” My gaze fell on the pig’s head, the one that had triggered the unsettling waking nightmare. “Erm, you haven’t got any vegetarian sausages now, do you?”
Behind me, two girls giggled. A wave of anger hit me at the thought they were mocking me, but when I spun around to face them, they were staring at the small man with the polka dot bowtie. “I’m telling you, that’s him,” one of them said in an excited, hushed whisper. “Doctor Hypnosis himself – the world’s greatest illusionist!”
“And crusader against rudeness,” he added as he passed me by to approach the girls, a wide smile spread across his face.
I opened my mouth to speak, but my gaze caught on the pig’s head. I took a double take and my heart almost stopped. I could swear that the jack-o’-lantern had winked at the pig in approval.
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