About eight years ago, I worked as a meat-cutter at a grocery store. That’s how I got this scar on my pinky.
When I first started working there, I trained with this guy, call him Fred, he was pretty relaxed, no-nonsense kinda guy.
One day, he brought up the concept of a cutting glove. It’s basically chain-mail, and if you’re wearing it, you can’t cut yourself while you’re cutting the meat. The way he put it, “some guys” liked safety, but he preferred control, he preferred to be able to “feel the meat” (*snort*). To have some connection to it.
I asked him could I please use a glove, and he said sure.
Well, then there was this other guy came in. I suppose maybe he was relief or something. Maybe Fred went on vacation—I forget. Let’s call him Billy. I’m changing the names here, to protect the innocent. And other folks, as well.
Billy had a different style. When he saw me wearing the glove, he chuckled. “Nobody actually wears those,” he told me, and then expounded on the virtues of going bare.
I took the glove off. This here? Scar on my pinkie? This is the result.
But that wasn’t the only problem with Billy. Billy didn’t exactly have the greatest work-ethic. Once, after Fred had been off a couple days, he came back, and it turned out Billy hadn’t switched out any of the old meat. See, you’re supposed to put the older meat up front, so that people will buy that before it expires. He hadn’t done that. He hadn’t rotated any of the meat, and now all kinds of flesh would not be eaten.
It’s a shame, really, I thought when I heard. It’s like all those farm animals died for nothing.
“If he pulls any of that shit again,” said Fred, “I’ll kill him!”
I thought that was a rather strong reaction, but didn’t actually take him seriously.
The next day, though, Billy didn’t show up for work. Or the day after that.
He was fired, of course, for truantcy, or whatever they call it when it’s work and not school.
But then he was reported missing by his girlfriend.
She was recently pregnant, so he could’ve just run off, that was definitely a Billy thing to do, but no one else had seen him, either. I don’t know how, but the police ended up figuring he disappeared under “mysterious circumstances”.
Maybe they’d heard about Fred’s threat from someone else before they called on me to testify.
Did I think he did it? No. He was Fred. Nobody named “Fred” of all things, could kill another body. And there wasn’t even any other body to find.
They brought in another relief cutter, since one guy was missing and the other guy, quote, “probably did it”, end-quote. He was all right, I guess. I forget his name. Call him Carl. He was the one who found a patch of what turned out to be human flesh in the freezer confirmed through DNA tests to belong to Billy.
That was when I started to think, well, maybe Fred did do it.
But then I met the Cow-God myself.
Crap. Now you’re gonna stop believing me, ‘cause I didn’t set this up.
Well, yeah. OK. That’s fair.
So this is what happened:
One day, completely by accident, I did the same thing that Billy had done. I was in a hurry, I didn’t properly rotate, then I forgot about it and a bunch of the meat went bad. But when I say it went “bad”. Well.
Let me tell you about meat gone bad.
When meat goes bad, you’re supposed to throw it out, and we got a dumpster out back. So I’m taking all this expired meat out back and thinking, LITERALLY, Carl’s gonna kill me. I mean, look what happened to the last guy.
But as I’m carrying the meat, something weird happens. The meat starts to move. I mean, it’s always gross if meat starts to move like that, I’m thinking, holy fuck, what is going on with this? It hasn’t been out THAT long—are there maggots festering? Is it infested with bees? Is it infected with boils that are gonna burst open and cover me in goo?
But these aren’t bubbles like you’d expect from that, these aren’t boils. The actual meat was moving.
I dropped it, obviously, on the floor. And on the floor, it kept moving. At first, it was just twitching and messing around, but then it started gliding, like it was magnetic with itself,
attracting other pieces of bad meat. The stuff I’d already brought to the dumpster CAME BACK ON ITS OWN. It was the scariest—Oh My God, you don’t even believe me, I don’t know why I’m being so—
Anyway, these pieces of rotting meat all came together and then rose up, bonding themselves into this enormous figure that, I shit you not, looked like a minotaur. Horns and all. And I’m going, where the fuck did those horns come from? ‘Cause, really, that was the most disturbing part of it, right?
And then it starts to speak. This was a bull’s face and it was speaking to me. I felt like I was in a cartoon. Written by Stephen damn King.
It told me “You have been found guilty by the Cow God.”
I froze. I mean, seriously, what are you supposed to say to that?
“I’m uh,” I swallowed. “I’m sorry?”
“How do you plead?”
Well, it had already found me guilty—maybe it didn’t quite know what “plead” meant.
“Hey, man,” I started, “This is just a job, I’ll quit if you want me to—“ To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t excited about this job, anyway. I mean, four years of college, and I’m doing this? Fuck this generation. But then I started to think—hey, wait a minute. This is a cow. Like an actual cow. And every hamburger I’ve ever eaten flashed before my eyes in a blaze of glory, in a haze of gory mulch, and I mean, I’m not an idiot, I know not all hamburgers are made from cows’ meat exclusively, but some of them are, and cows do die in the process, so I fell on my knees and wept and sobbed and held out my hands to beg the Cow God’s forgiveness.
“What are you, an idiot?” he said. “This is not about you eating cows.”
“Do you think we don’t know what’s good for us? We want to be eaten. That is our purpose in life. Think about it—human beings have kept cattle for thousands of years, just like horses and pigs. How many cows do you think there are in the world? And as long as you’re eating us, there is no way we’ll go way of the Buffalo. You’re keeping us around. And we like that. That’s why we founded cow-heaven. It’s the place dead cows go when they’ve been eaten by humans. Because that’s our religion, see? That is our core belief—when a human eats you, you have served your purpose for the rest of the species.”
I had never heard anyone but another human being give a speech that long. If I hadn’t been so dumb-struck, I probably could have figured out the answer to my next question, which was some non-verbal expression of “But why are you attacking me?”
“We’re attacking you,” said the Cow God, “because all of this meat that has gone bad has come from the same cow, and now no part of her gets to be eaten. She can’t go to cow heaven now, and it’s your fault! How Do You Plead?”
Holy shit, thought my idiot brain, I was right, it was because all those cows died in vain!
“Hold on,” I said. “What if I made it up to you?”
“Our Religion is as valid and as arbitrarily strict as your human religions!” the Cow God insisted. “There is no possibility for atonement!”
“But wait—what if I…” The prospect sounded gross, but not as painful as being eaten—or whatever—by a giant cow. “You said someone, some person, had to eat her… What if I did?”
“You would do this victim the honor?”
“Yeah, sure, what if I took… Like, say, that piece—“ I pointed to a piece of what looked like top round right over the monster’s heart. It was a little bit discolored, but looked edible enough to save my life in a pinch.
“You must eat the entire piece,” said the God. “Cook it first, obviously, since that’s what you humans do. But under no circumstances are you to vomit it back up. She must be completely digested. She must become a part of you.”
“I promise,” I said. Because really, what else could I do?
“Well, all right, then,” said the Cow-God, and I could see him—or was it her?—start to disassemble.
“Wait!” I said, and it stopped. “Fred is standing trial for murdering Billy.”
“So, if you killed Billy, shouldn’t you like…”
“I didn’t kill Billy.”
“No, that guy Fred? He’s a psycho. He totally did it.”
“Yeah, fuck that guy.” And that’s when he disassembled.
So it occurs to me now—‘cause I’m a fucking moron—that if the Cow-God didn’t kill Billy, I was probably never in any real kind of danger. But that piece of top round I was still holding in my hand didn’t look that bad. I’d thrown away all the packages, but it couldn’t have been that far past its expiration date… And it only made me a little bit sick, not enough to really throw up. I might have had a fever. And there’s a chance I have mad cow, but that’s a whole other story.
The next day, I nicked myself with the knife again.
That other guy—what was I calling him? Chad? Carl! Whatever his name was, he looks at me, he goes “Dude, why’d you do that? Why don’t you wear a glove?”
I looked at him, somewhere between incredulous and sheepish. Like a cow caught eating grass where it shouldn’t, only dumber. “Because Billy made fun of me?” I offered.
“Billy made fun of you for following standard safety procedures?”
“And Fred said I probably didn’t need one.”
“Well, Fred for sure is an idiot, and Billy sounds like a dick. Wait here, I’ll get you a band-aid and some chain-mail for your hand.”
I liked that guy, but I still wasn’t gonna keep working there. Never work in a place where there’s a Cow-God made from rotting meat who could kill you if you fuck up, that’s what I always say.