Cactus Jack’s Tex Mex Grill

📅 Published on February 3, 2021

“Cactus Jack’s Tex Mex Grill”

Written by Ryan Peacock
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 9.57/10. From 7 votes.
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My life was fairly simple. I never really asked for much, nor did I expect all that much either. I was freelancing as a videographer, and had a steady group of repeat customers. Mostly small businesses who wanted me to help them put together ads, but they kept me fed.

Those small businesses did me a lot of good too. Word of mouth is a hell of a marketing tool, and it had netted me a bunch of repeat customers before. So when I got the call from Cactus Jack’s, I wasn’t exactly surprised.

I’d been out that night meeting a girl I’d been chatting up on OK Cupid. The date had gone well, but I didn’t think I was going to message her again. We hadn’t had much to talk about, which was a shame since she’d seemed like a nice enough girl. Either way. I wasn’t too beat up about it. I rolled myself a joint and took out my cell phone. I’d gotten some emails while I’d been out that I’d chosen to ignore. Sure enough, one of them was from Cactus Jack’s.

Hi, Craig,

I’m the owner of a little restaurant down on Burnhamthorpe called Cactus Jack’s Tex-Mex Grill. I got your information from the owner of Risottos. I loved the ad you shot for them, and I wanted to ask about your rates and availability to shoot something similar for us. We are a new business and we’re looking to build awareness of our location. We’d really like to work with you and are willing to work around your schedule.

Best regards,
Barry Miller

There was a phone number and an address as well, but I figured it was too late to call the man back.

Given my penchant for forgetfulness, I figured it was better to just reply to the email outright. I sent him my rates and the days I was available to shoot. His address was in Mississauga, so I figured it wouldn’t be too far of a drive. I remembered the restaurant he’d gotten my contact info from. Risottos was a little Italian place owned by a robust but friendly woman named Sonia. She’d been one of my repeat clients, and I’d always enjoyed working with her. She always gave me a discount on her paninis, and let me tell you that, that woman made one hell of a panini! It was good to know she was getting me new business too… I made a note to throw in something extra for her next time she hired me as a little thank you.

The next day, Barry got back to me. We ended up talking over the phone, and he seemed like a pretty laid back guy. There were no red flags. Some ‘clients’ demanded that I work for free. They promised me exposure and portfolio pieces, or tried to haggle with me. I didn’t bother with those people. The thing about small business owners is that a lot of them can be self-important jackasses. I understand that they work very hard to keep their business afloat. But just because you work every single day of the week to keep your little wing emporium open, doesn’t mean you have the privilege to treat the rest of the world like shit… I pity the poor folks who work for those fuckers, but I digress.

Barry was nothing like that. He sounded like a middle-aged man, and had a slight southern twang to his voice. He came off as conversational but polite. I liked him from the start. We settled on a price and a day for me to come over and handle the shooting in a couple of weeks.

Over the next week or so, we worked out a script together. I usually worked with my clients to create some sort of script for their videos, and Barry took to it quickly. It wasn’t too hard to get it all set up.

On the day of the shoot, I loaded up my car with my equipment and headed out to Cactus Jack’s. I’d seen pictures of the restaurant online, but in person it lived up to the hype. It was small, with some cowboy and vaquero memorabilia scattered around for atmosphere. I was greeted by a young blonde waitress in jeans and cowboy boots.

“Welcome to Cactus Jack’s, how many are we seatin’ this mornin?”

“Oh, I’m here for Barry.” I said, “We’re shooting a commercial today.”

Her smile faded, but only a little. It wasn’t hostility. She was turning off the charm now that she knew I wasn’t a customer.

“Barry’s out back. I’ll go and get him.”

She disappeared out through the kitchen door, and returned a few minutes later with a portly man in a flannel checkered shirt and dirty jeans. With a curly mop of hair on his head, he reminded me of Steven Universe, if he was 30 years older and from Texas.

“Craig!” He said with a big, beaming smile. He moseyed on down over to me to shake my hand. He had a wide stride that reminded me of that one Sasquatch video.

“Nice to finally put a face to a name.” He said, “So, we ready to shoot this bad boy?”

“Yes sir, we are.” I replied, “So… Where are we setting up?”

Straight to business, as always. I could tell Barry was just fine with that.

The shoot was pretty standard. He’d brought in some of his friends and had the chef prepare some of their signature dishes for them. His friends consisted of a perfect nuclear family. Two adults, two kids. Two men, two women.

I won’t go into the boring details of the shoot itself. We got a lot of footage of the family at the table, looking like they were happy as can be, and even some footage of them eating the food. I’ll be honest, that food looked pretty good. They had Tomahawk steaks, cajun shrimp pasta and a massive burrito that kinda made my mouth water. It certainly gave me an appetite.

After that part of the shoot was done, Barry took me inside the kitchen to get some footage of the chefs preparing a steak. I figured I could splice a few of those shots with some grilling B-roll to really make it all pop. The front of the kitchen was fairly showy. There was a glass wall where patrons could see inside, so it had to be. A large grill dominated one wall. Through a door in the back, I could see the fridges, prep station and a large meat grinder.

“You grind your own meat?” I asked.

“Sure do.” Barry said proudly, “All locally sourced. We do our burgers and burritos in house.”

“That’d go great in the ad!” I said, and I saw Barry hesitate for a moment.

“I suppose it might… Maybe next time. We’ve already ground up all the stock today. Plus the grinder we’ve got is a little old. It’s reliable, but I’d rather show only the nicer looking equipment if you don’t mind.”

I didn’t think anyone else would care, but I kept that to myself. No need to start an argument over the meat grinder. All in all, the shoot was wrapped up in a few hours but by the end of it, I was starving.

“I think I’ve got the footage I need,” I said as I finished up in the kitchen.

“Alright then!” Barry wore a big, friendly smile, “So, I guess you’ll be taking this back and working on it then?”

“That’s the plan.” I said, “Give me about ten business days to get something together, and I’ll send it your way for approval. I’ve got a friend who can dub over the script we put together. He does a hell of a southern accent. Then it’s all yours, my friend.”

“Great, great. I appreciate it. Thanks so much for all of this Craig, you’ve been great.”

“No problem at all my friend, happy to do it.”

I was already packing up my cameras. I’d invested in some fairly high tech equipment, and was making sure to be delicate with it.

“Tell you what, for all your hard work, how about lunch?” Barry offered, “On the house. It’d be my treat.”

The smell of good steak and the memory of the delicious-looking food that I’d filmed earlier came right back to me. It was hard to say no to it…

“Y’know what, I think I’ll take you up on that,” I said. I thought about the burrito I’d seen earlier. It had looked good… Gooey cheese stretching out as it had been cut open for the camera, fresh guac, ground steak…

“Y’know what, that burrito I saw earlier looked pretty good.” I said, “Could I get one of those, while I packed up? Side of fries please.”

“Hell yeah, you can,” Barry said, “You go back up. I’ll put the order in.”

He grinned and I saw a cheerful sparkle in his eye before he left me. My stomach growled as I finished packing up my equipment.

Sure enough, the burrito was waiting for me when I finished. I could hardly wait to dig in and it was every bit as delicious as it looked. There was an interesting seasoning to the steak that made it taste like nothing I’d tasted before… it was hard to put my finger on it, but that burrito was still easily the best burrito I’d ever had. Cactus Jack’s had gained itself a customer for sure.

When I was done, I bid goodbye to Barry and headed home to work on sifting through the footage I’d shot to edit together a commercial. It was a long process, but I was more than happy to do it. Maybe I’m alone in this regard, but I always enjoyed working on projects for clients I genuinely liked more than the rest of them, and I had a feeling I was going to enjoy working on Cactus Jack’s.

I spent most of the afternoon and the evening working on picking out the best clips to use. I’d emailed my voice actor friend to see if he was available and had the usual sum ready to be sent to him if he accepted the job. I was up until sometime around midnight, and that’s when I got too drowsy to continue.

I left work for the night and turned in. I figured I’d get back to it the next morning, and hopefully have something to show Barry by the end of the week.

I remember hitting the ground, although I couldn’t see anything and I couldn’t breathe. My heart was racing in my chest… There was this sick sensation in my stomach. A deep and primal fear I didn’t know how to describe. God… what was this…

This is the one?” The voice was distant and muffled.

Yup. Our friend Jonah named him, and gave us everything we need.

I could feel someone beside me, struggling and I heard the thud of flesh hitting flesh. There was a muted scream, and everything went silent.

What do the higher-ups want us to do with them?” The first voice asked. “I don’t want a mess in here, and I don’t want cops sniffing around!

I’ll take care of the mess.” The second voice said, “But we need to make ‘em disappear… You know your job. Chop chop.

The second voice chuckled, and I felt myself being lifted up. I heard a metallic sound, and then…

I woke up in a cold sweat.

My hands were pale and shaking. My heart was racing… What the hell kind of nightmare had I just had? I felt sick, and I stood up weakly on my trembling legs. I stumbled towards the bathroom and collapsed over the toilet where I vomited out what was left of my lunch and the small dinner I’d had. I knelt there, heaving for several minutes before my stomach settled down. Then I lay uselessly by the toilet for what felt like hours.

Finally, I was able to get up and stagger to the kitchen. I took some pills for the nausea, then pawed through my freezer for the fish I’d cooked for dinner. Frozen breaded haddock that I’d bought just last week. I looked along the box for any sign of an expiration date, but I couldn’t find anything. I tossed the entire box to be safe.

After that, I collapsed down onto the couch to watch some TV and try to take my mind off the dream I’d had… I still felt that deep sense of dread, although I didn’t know why.

I flipped through a few channels and settled on the local news, which hosted an ongoing story about a car accident. I watched it for a bit, paying more attention to the little segments at the bottom of the screen.

Missing teenage girl recovered safely.

Police were questioning a man in connection to the disappearance of a police officer and his family.

A local play opened to stellar reviews.

I was starting to feel drowsy again, but I wasn’t so sure I wanted to sleep anymore. I changed the channel and found the old 1960s Spiderman on one of the kid’s channels. That would do.

It kept me awake until I felt well enough to go to my office and get some work done. My stomach was still upset, so I figured I’d skip breakfast. My appetite didn’t come back until close to dinnertime.

As the day went on, I was at least productive. I got through a lot of the footage and picked out most of the core shots I wanted from the dining room footage. My VA friend had gotten back to me and asked for the script, so I wired him the money, then sent that along. It was a load off my mind to know I’d have the vocals taken care of.

I had a rough idea of how Barry wanted the commercial to go. It would open with an exterior shot, then fade into various shots of the family enjoying their dinner. I had a few nice clips of the Waitress interacting with the Daughter that I wanted to use. That Waitress had a very photogenic smile, and the Daughter had been no more than six. She was cute as a button with apple cheeks and a million-watt smile.

I figured I could start editing them together tomorrow or the day after, depending on how long it took me to get through the Kitchen footage.

I needed a break though, and I stepped back from my computer to rest for a bit. I checked OK Cupid, and wasn’t surprised to see that, that girl had never bothered messaging me back. That was fine. A few others had responded to my messages in her place. I tried to turn those replies into proper conversations. Two of them even went with it, and I spent the evening texting back and forth with them. I ended up falling asleep on the couch as I waited for one of them to reply. It was a lazy day, but a productive one. I was fine with that. I could drift off to sleep peacefully.

A sudden thump made me flinch. It sounded like something heavy had just been dropped. I didn’t know where I was… the ground felt cold and sticky. I could hear something happening above me… Sawing perhaps? Behind it all was a low mechanical whir, and then a squishing noise.

Here, leave what you can’t process in this box.” A voice said, “I’ll see it’s taken care of.

Why not just do that with all of them?” Another voice asked. It was muffled, but I recognized it… Barry? That southern twang was familiar. I had a vivid memory of Barry standing by a table and smiling.

Takes too long.” The other voice said. I recognized that one too, although I couldn’t put a name to it. Where had I heard it before?

This is all about speed. We get rid of them as fast as possible. Plain and simple.

That had been the second voice from last night…

The Bad Man.

Where had that name come from?

I felt so small… I felt so helpless. My wrists hurt. I tried to move them but something was digging into them really tightly. I could feel tears streaming down my cheeks. I listened to sounds of metal jangling and the repeated thumps of what was starting to sound like chopping…

Look, I don’t have all night.” The Second Voice (The Bad Man) said. “I’m getting antsy with them just sitting there… I know you’re only half done with the first one, but can we just finish the rest of these up?

This is kinda a delicate process,” Barry said. He sounded frustrated, “You can’t just drop by like this and expect me to be done in an hour! Hell, this’ll probably take me days!

“I don’t have days.” The Bad Man said, “Look… do what you’ve got to do, man. But just take care of them first. Alright?
Barry sighed, and I felt a strong hand on my shoulder, forcing me to my knees.

Alright. Alright… Fine. You wanna cut to the chase?

Then came the pain. White hot and filling my head. I heard myself screaming, but my voice wasn’t my own… it sounded like a woman’s scream. No.

A little girl’s scream.

I woke up on the floor. The pain from the fall was still recent and my forehead stung. I curled into a ball and pressed my hands against the spot where the pain throbbed.


I stood up and went to the bathroom to take a look. No injuries… Maybe I’d just bumped it, and that was all? But dear God, did it hurt!

The pain had dulled a lot… and I felt a little sick again. My mouth was dry and the bright lights of the bathroom hurt my eyes a little bit. I turned them off and made my way to my bedroom to rest.

I’d had another weird dream… What the hell was it supposed to mean, though? The dull drumming of rain against my window helped soothe my racing pulse. When had that started?

I stood up and looked out of my apartment window, staring down at the empty streets below me. It was 4 AM, which was either too early or too late to go back to sleep.

I pressed my head against the cold glass of the window and exhaled. That didn’t help the pain much, but it felt nice.

That dream had been so vivid… It had been so similar to the one I’d had the other night. But then, why was Barry there?

I shook my head, dismissing the thought. Dreams were weird. I’d heard familiar voices and seen familiar faces all the time in my dreams. This was no different, right?

Was it though?

Thinking on the dream I’d had last night, I recalled the details so vividly. Usually my dreams faded quickly. But not this one, for some reason. This one had stuck with me.

I rubbed my temples and collapsed down onto my bed again. The room felt cold. I felt uneasy, and I knew I didn’t have a chance in hell of getting back to sleep.

After a few minutes of just lying on the ground, I got up again and returned to my computer. I didn’t want to bother working, but I did want to google my symptoms.

Yes, yes. I know that’s a stupid idea. Dr. Google will only ever prescribe you various different kinds of Cancer. Sure enough, Google told me I was dying of a brain tumor. Although when I looked past the tumor diagnosis, I found some info on migraines. Maybe that was what caused the headache? I’d never had a migraine before, but if the shoe fit…

When the drug store opened, I headed down to get some pills. I figured I’d try some over the counter Tylenol and see if that helped. If not, I’d call my Doctor. The headache hadn’t really gone away yet. But I hoped the Tylenol would help.

I texted back one of the girls I’d been messaging while I was walking to the checkout line. She was probably still asleep, but that was fine. No need to ghost her.

With the Tylenol secured and taken, I headed back to my apartment. I still had work to do, and I figured I’d get cracking on it.

I focused on some other projects that morning. I’d been neglecting them a little, and I still had other clients that needed some attention. The rest were further along, and I went through my emails making some minor changes on one of the videos I’d done for a local beer company. I sent off the updated video before opening up the kitchen footage from Cactus Jack’s.

I’d gotten some good footage that day. The first bit was the chef preparing a steak on the grill. It had a nice sizzle to it, and I regretted that I probably wouldn’t be able to include that audio in the final cut.

I watched as a nice sized fire erupted over the steak. I loved that part of the footage. It might be just what I needed to give the video a little something extra.

I cut the clip out and went over it again, watching as the fire flared up then died down.

The orange tongues of flame nearly reached the cook, but as they flickered, I could’ve sworn I saw something behind the flames…

I rolled the video back, and ran it slower.

The flames rose up, each frame slowly showing their writhing movements. I stared at the top of them. When they weren’t so high, you could normally see the other side of the kitchen there… but between the flames, just for a few frames, it looked like there was something else there instead.

I moved through the footage frame by frame now. I watched as the fires rose, I watched as they flickered. One orange tongue leapt up, and when it came back down, I saw what I’d been looking for.

It was barely visible… I don’t think most people ever would have noticed it. But I did.

Where the kitchen should have been, I saw a dark brown shape. I moved to the next frame.

The shape moved. It had gone lower. My heart was starting to race again. I could see white amongst the brown… White tiles? No… No, there were no white tiles in that kitchen.

Next frame.

Two white dots amongst the brown. A darker circle beneath them and specks of white inside… I stared in disbelief at what I was seeing, already knowing what it was, but I had to go further.

Next frame.
Her mouth hung open in an agonized scream. Her eyes were white and her skin… oh God… I… I think her skin was burnt.

I stared at the shape behind the fire and I could not deny that I was looking at a human face. I think it was a girl’s face… and she was screaming.

Next frame.

The flames had partially covered up the figure. But they were still there… they would not be visible in the next frames, or for the rest of the clip that I’d taken. But I needed to know more.

I went through the entire clip of the Chef cooking a steak. I went through it frame by frame.

It wasn’t just the one small clip… I could see her throughout the entire video. She wasn’t clear, but I could see her. Always in the same space, her mouth open in a scream of agony. I didn’t know what the hell I was looking at, but it scared me!

I walked away from my computer, my hands shaking.

I felt sick suddenly, and I didn’t know what to do about it. Call the police? What the hell would I tell them? That I’d seen something strange in a video? Would they take me seriously?
What exactly had I seen? Maybe it was just a trick of the light? There were a lot of possible explanations. Pareidolia, for instance. Seeing human faces where there were none. It was a common enough thing. Plenty of other people had done it before, so why couldn’t that be it? Maybe it was? Still… I was done for the day.

It was too early to go to bed. But it wasn’t too early to go to a bar and get drunk. I didn’t have any other bright ideas, so that seemed like the best one to go with.

Go and drink and forget about all of this… Yes… That was it.

Helluva Wing was a dingy little place, but they did the best chicken wings and that night was all you can eat for $15. It was the best possible place to end up, honestly.

I figured some rye, ginger and wings would help me forget everything. I could brush aside what I’d seen and get back to work tomorrow… Or maybe I’d just call it a mulligan and take the day off. Maybe this was a sign I was overworking myself, that could be it, right?

As I sat in my booth, making my way through my 4th Rye and 6th pound of wings (honey garlic this time) I distracted my wandering mind by staring at the TV.

There were no sports games on that night, but they had the local news channel on at least and I watched it with mild interest.

A story on the controversy around a local soccer game shifted to another story about a missing Cop. I chased down my food with another swig of my drink as I read the subtitles on the TV.
Roy Park has been missing since late last week. Witnesses say that Park was last seen at his home with his wife Megan and daughter Lucy. The front door to the Park residence was found open by a neighbor who had been out walking their dog, and all three residents were missing. Police have reported that they suspect foul play in this case, and are urging anyone with information into the disappearance of the Park family to come forward at this time.

As the anchor spoke, the image on the screen shifted into one of the house, then one of the family.

I stared up at the screen, looking at the face of the man on the TV. He was no one I recognized, and yet he seemed familiar.

My eyes shifted down towards the daughter. She was a blonde of about ten, with a shy smile and big blue eyes.

I stared at her, looking at the shape of her face… and trying to chase away the growing unease in my mind.

If she were burnt and screaming, what would she look like? It was a morbid thought, but even more morbid was the fact that I was pretty sure I knew the answer.

I no longer had an appetite.

I paid my bill and walked back to my apartment quickly. I felt like a man going to his execution. Part of me knew what was waiting for me, and yet a more logical side of my mind told me that it was all just me being paranoid. I was making connections where there were none. I was confused, obviously! Something was very, very wrong!

My apartment was dark when I got back there, and I shuffled down towards my bedroom. I was sleepy, the alcohol had seen to that. Unconsiousness called to me like a siren.

I didn’t even undress. I collapsed onto my bed and then…

There was no pain. Just that familiar fear. I knew that I was going to die… but it hadn’t really hit me yet.

It was so hard to accept my own death. My own ending. I wanted to run, to fight, to do something to stop it, but I was helpless.

All I could do was cry.

I flinched as I heard a sudden thump. Fresh tears streamed down my cheeks as a helpless whimper escaped me.

I’ll need the saw to get through this one…” I heard Barry say. “Suppose the legs would be good for steaks though.
A new level of sickness hit me. A realization too horrible to acknowledge invaded my mind, even though I tried to ignore it.

Yeah, yeah. Just do it. After you finish the job.

The sensation of being pulled to my knees was both familiar and unfamiliar to me.

Please…” I heard myself saying. My voice was not my own. It belonged to a young woman. Not a child, this was the voice of an adult. Although there was a mortal fear in it I had never heard before.

Please, whatever we did… I… I’m sorry…

With nothing left, all I could do was beg.

I heard Barry chuckle… and then I could see.

Barry held a black bag in his hand. He didn’t look angry. There was something apologetic about his big puppy dog eyes.

Aww honey, you did nothing wrong.” He said, “This is just the way it’s gotta be. Your husband got you into this, and whoever his boss is got him into this. Hate to say it, but you just got dealt a bad hand.

My eyes looked at the meat cleaver in his hand, stained dark red with blood… then I looked past him. I could see a man hanging from the ceiling, a meathook lodged in his throat… I forced myself not to scream.

Then I looked down… onto the steel prep table.

I looked at the little blonde-haired ten-year-old there, her blue eyes still open. Her tears were still fresh… and the fatal gash in her head was still glistening with fresh blood.

I screamed.

Barry raised the cleaver.

I woke up crying, curled into a ball like a child and sobbing into my bedsheets.

I didn’t want to believe it… but it was hard to deny what I was starting to believe.

After a while, I sat on the edge of my bed, my entire body pale and trembling… There was only one thing I could do. Just one. I had to be sure…

Cactus Jack’s loomed ominously ahead of me as I approached it. The same blonde waitress with the winning smile was at the front. Did she know what was going on, or was she just another blank smile? I couldn’t say for sure.

“You’re back!” She said cheerfully. “Here for business, or just hungry?” There was a coy smile on her face.

“Just had to do some reshoots.” I said, “Nothing major, just B-roll. A few shots of the restaurant. Namely the kitchen.”

She didn’t seem bothered… Maybe she had no idea what this place really was.

“Sure thing. Barry’s out right now, but he’ll be back in a little bit.”

“Oh, I don’t think we need to wait for him.” I said, “I’ll be in and out, really quick.”

She stared at me for a few moments, before deciding I was alright.

“Sure thing, sweetie. Come with me then.”

She led me towards the kitchen, and I waved to the cook behind the line. I watched him put a rack of ribs on the grill and felt my stomach turn. Were those pork ribs, or something else entirely?

“You do your thing.” The waitress said, “Good luck with your reshoots!”

She left me to my own devices, and the cook didn’t seem to give a damn what I did. He was the only person back there, and was too busy with the lunch rush to bother with me.

I went into the prep area, where I’d seen the meat grinder before. Of course it was still there, and it had been cleaned recently.

The Prep Area was smaller than I’d imagined it. The tile on the floor was different. There was a drain in the center of the floor and a hose rolled up on one wall. Looking up, I could see twin tracks in the ceiling. I followed them to the main fridge, in the back.

I stared at that fridge for a few moments, before clutching my video camera tightly and heading towards it. I wondered if it would be locked, but the door opened without any hassle. I paused in the threshold, then looked around me. I spotted a magnetic strip with a selection of knives on it, but most importantly, I saw a large meat cleaver… I reached out for it and almost took it, before deciding against it. I selected a smaller boning knife instead. That would be easier to hide. Then I went back to the fridge.

The cold air washed over me, and I stepped inside. I could see slabs of beef carcasses. Apparently Barry got his meat very fresh. I suppose that the fresh meat justified the setup he had… It would be the perfect way to hide anything he didn’t want people to see.

Slowly, I advanced into the fridge. It was deeper than I’d expected and there were no lights. I had to turn on my camera’s night vision just to get a good look.

So far, all I could see was regular beef carcasses… nothing really out of the ordinary. There were four rows of them, set on two U shaped tracks. I didn’t really want to touch raw meat, but I didn’t really have much of a choice either…

I grimaced, and started to push the hanging beef carcasses aside.

It was hard to see for sure, but it looked like nothing but more beef on the other side… Still I kept digging, and near the back, I saw a hand.

My heart skipped a beat in my chest, and I pushed the meat aside. I held up my camera, filming what I saw so I could prove everything! It only ever mattered if I could prove what I’d seen…

I saw it on the screen first. Open blue eyes. Long blonde hair, hanging loosely. Her mouth hung open in a half scream, and the gash in her head was surrounded by dried blood.

I’d found the daughter… I’d found Lucy.

I almost reached forwards to pull her out, when I saw the extent of the damage to her…

No arms. No legs… Nothing below her torso in fact. The tip of the hook protruded from her mouth. Save for the gash on her skull… the cuts were all clean. This had been butchery, there was no doubt about that now. Barry had been serving them to his customers.

I retched and took a step away, stumbling into the meat behind me. As I did, I heard a delightful southern chuckle from outside the fridge.

The door closed, and the room went dark.

“Damn, Craig. What got you poking about in here?” Barry asked. I couldn’t reply. I didn’t know the words. For all his atrocities, Barry still sounded so upbeat and jovial, like nothing in the world was wrong at all.

“Ah… I guess you found that Cop…” He said, lower this time. He sighed. “Goddamnit Craig, I really wanted that commercial too. How the hell am I gonna find someone else? You do understand the predicament this puts me in, don’t you?”

I pressed myself into the meat. I glanced at the screen of my camera, still on night vision, and I could see the massive shape of Barry approaching me.

“You ain’t hiding so good, boy.” He said, “I can see that little red light of yours. Guess that means you’re recording, huh?”

I gripped the boning knife tight in my hand, watching as Barry drew nearer and nearer.

“You murdered them…” I said softly. “Why… why the hell did you kill them all?”

“He was an undercover cop, bud. Gotta be sure he wasn’t telling his family anything. My employers don’t like their secrets being leaked. They’re kinda privacy freaks that way. Which is why we’re gonna have to deal with you…”

“If you kill me, your staff will know!” I warned.

“You have put me in a bit of a predicament…” Barry confessed, “But I’ve gotten out of worse, believe me. This ain’t the first time I’d had to think fast, boy… Now c’mere…”

I felt the terribly familiar sensation of his hand on my shoulder, and I thrust the knife forwards.

I don’t know where it hit him, but Barry let out a roar of pain. I found myself thrown to the ground. My camera skittered out of my hand and I saw the screen go dark.

“Little shit!” Barry roared, “Goddamnit!”

I tried to scramble to my feet, but in the darkness, I couldn’t see Barry. The good news was, he couldn’t see me either. Maybe I could get to the door… Maybe I could lock him in! I still had my cell phone on me, I could call for help!

I almost reached for it before I realized that if Barry saw the light, he’d come after me… and I was pretty sure he had the boning knife now.

“Where are you, you little shit?” Barry growled. I heard a chain rattle, followed by his heavy footsteps.

“There you are…”

There was another sound… Footsteps, but not Barry’s. Smaller, lighter footsteps. Like little feet running along the floor.

A chain jangled again, and I heard a thump as a slab of beef hit the ground.

“The hell are you doing…”

Barry’s voice was getting further away, following the distant jingle of the chain. I tried to crawl towards the door, hoping I could open it from the inside. Hoping I could escape.
I saw a light behind me, and saw Barry with his cell phone in his hand. He’d turned on the flashlight and was searching around for me. It didn’t take him long to find me.

“There you are…”

Barry took a step forward, and in the low light I could see a massive toothy grin on his face.

Then I heard the jangle of a chain again. Barry paused, looking over in the direction it had come from.

I don’t know what he saw, and maybe what I saw was just a trick of the light… I admit, I couldn’t see very much in that dark fridge. But I swear that Barry’s eyes widened. His mouth opened and he started to say something.

“How are yo-”

Whatever he was about to say, he was silenced as one of the meathooks swung out towards him. It caught him in the eye, and he let out a strangled gasp. Barry stumbled backwards a step, but the hook had embedded itself into his skull. His legs gave out beneath him, and the hook sank even deeper.

I could only watch in quiet horror as his phone dropped, casting a spotlight on his gruesome demise.

His legs twitched. His remaining eye was wide open, still with a look of shock.

And from the back of the freezer… I heard a giggle. The same sort of giggle you’d hear from a little girl.

I sprinted towards the door of the fridge, and I pushed it open. I only managed a quick look back at Barry’s corpse, hanging from a hook amongst the beef… and behind him, I swear I saw some blood-flecked blonde hair.

Of course I called the police, and they did their jobs, for the most part. They took my statement, and then they sent me home. I never heard anything from them afterwards.

Out of curiosity, I googled the case, but I couldn’t find any mention of it or Cactus Jack’s. As far as I know, nobody knows what Barry was doing. Not really. I have a feeling that Barry’s employers are responsible for that. He did say they liked their privacy, after all. I can’t imagine that story would’ve done them any favors if it had gotten out. I don’t know who would’ve had the resources to bury all of that, but I’m sure that I don’t want to know.

As far as I know, this is the only record of what happened at Cactus Jack’s Tex Mex Grill. Maybe I’ll attract unwanted attention from this, but I don’t care. I need to assure myself that in the end, that, that little girl and her family got their peace.

Rating: 9.57/10. From 7 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Ryan Peacock
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Ryan Peacock

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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