14 May You Are What You Meat
“You Are What You Meat”Written by N.M. Brown Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 8 minutes
It was all I could do not to vomit when my mother-in-law proudly set the roast down in front of us, its meat glistening brown on the kitchen table. “Doug, are you alright?” my wife Maxine whispered, making sure her parents couldn’t hear. She hadn’t told them what I’d been through. Hell, I’d hardly had the mental strength to tell her everything myself. The smell of the freshly roasted meat created an acrid taste in the back of my mouth.
Ever since I was a kid, I’d been obsessed with experimentation. Scientific constants, variables and results fascinated me. When other guys my age were mastering unhooking a bra with one hand, I was pouring salt on snails and making semi-poisonous toxins with my chemistry set.
Before I had time to process, I’d signed an NDA, given over my bank account information to payroll, and had signed my first official contract in the scientific world as an intern. The feeling of knowing I would be welcomed into a community of peers that were into the same interests that I was. My mind raced at the possibilities of what my employer and I would discover together – the ways we would change the world as we knew it.
If only I’d have known…
When I walked in that first day, I was ready to take the world of science and medicine by the balls. The man who’d hired me would be my boss. He told me nothing about himself other than that his name was Harris. Whether that was his first or last name, I had no idea. I didn’t care much to ask at the time. Then again, I didn’t think it was information that would be too relevant during an internship. People don’t like an overabundance of questions, whether they’ll admit it to you or not. And I didn’t want to be the squeaky wheel that got boiled in hot grease.
Anyway, science is one of the broadest subjects that there is, and I knew I could have signed up to study any one of them. Being a student with a military upbringing, I won’t lie and tell you I wasn’t hoping for something biochemical or, at the very least, weather-related. Having said that, when Harris told me we’d be studying behavioral science, I was more than intrigued. The science of the mind hadn’t even occurred to me as a possibility. With my family’s various mental illnesses and addictions, I thought it’d be a wonderful area to study and understand.
“Excuse me, Harris?” I said quietly. “Will we be studying serotonin levels and the effects of different chemicals on the brain?”
A thin smile stretched across his weathered face as he turned to acknowledge me. “That, my good sir, is more psychological science. What we do here is different. You’d be hard-pressed to find results like these in a Rorschach test or blood panel.” He began to walk down a hallway to the left, wordlessly motioning for me to follow as he continued to speak. “You are here to learn, not to judge. Many aspiring scientists shy away from greatness…they let their moral compass get in the way. Is that going to be an issue, Doug?”
I more than disliked the implications of his tone, but answered nonetheless. “Of course, whatever you need, sir –”
“HARRIS!” he barked, correcting politeness that any of my other superiors would have appreciated. Harris then cleared his throat before addressing me in a softer voice. “Everyone here is perfectly aware of why they’re here. They get compensation in the name of science. Now, who wouldn’t want that?” He smiled, resembling an old-timey snake oil salesman. I merely nodded in response.
We entered a dark room that contained a long table and chairs, including a pane of glass that took up the entire front wall, fully revealing the room behind it. Two women in nurse’s scrubs sat in a bare, stark white room. There was nothing for them to sit or lean on. It was just the two women, the floor and a vast sea of maddening white. I stared at Harris, confused. “Don’t worry, they can’t see or hear us,” he said matter of factly.
They looked bored and tired, but otherwise healthy. The complacency in their movements and facial expressions proved what Harris said earlier was true; these women were definitely here of their own volition. We watched in silence for a full hour before Harris spoke again, shedding a very dim light on the point of the experiment. “These ladies here are vegetarian. Our job is to see how dedicated they are to their cause by testing their willpower and defenses. The first one to give in to their hunger goes home with nothing. The woman who holds out the longest will receive a quarter of the money gathered for this research study…$10,800.”
More silence continued, with even less activity coming from the inside. The taller woman with the dark hair seemed perfectly content with sitting idle and doing nothing. I’d surmised maybe she was a housewife or stay-at-home mom and desperately needed an empty space to herself (mostly). However, the shorter woman with the red hair became fidgety after only six hours. She began twisting her hair at the ends before ripping it off, chewing her fingernails and tapping her feet. I guessed that she was a smoker, someone who depended on an oral fixation.
I felt relieved at the end of the day when I got to go home. The plan was to go home and cook up the fattest, juiciest steak that I had in the freezer. I’d assumed that the women were also released and were satiating their hunger with salads and veggies wraps, or whatever the hell it was that they preferred to eat.
I was wrong.
The next afternoon, I was surprised to see the women in the same clothing they were in the day before. Their hair was disheveled, and dark bags were beginning to plague the skin under their eyes. “Jesus Christ, didn’t they go home and eat?” I asked incredulously. My lower lip clamped under my top teeth the moment the inquiry came into the open, audible air.
Instead of snapping at me, I was surprised to see a smile form on Harris’s normally joyless face. “I figured you’d ask. That’s why I wanted you to be here when I fed them.” My heart dropped as I saw him reach into a plastic container and pull out a raw hunk of fat-marbled beef, much like the one I’d selfishly grilled up and enjoyed the evening before. He sprinkled what looked like a mixture of pepper and rosemary before sliding it into the room on a tray. Both women looked at it disgustedly as it entered their shared space. I saw them murmuring things to each other but couldn’t hear inside of the room.
“You can’t be serious!” I exclaimed, much louder than I’d intended. Harris shot me a steely look of warning as he withdrew the empty tray from the slot, closed the entrance to it, and locked it.
I cringed as the taller woman dropped her pants and started urinating in the corner. Similar stains began to catch my eye the more I glanced around the room. The red-haired woman had reduced her nails to bloodied shards and still winced as she attempted to bite off more. Her swollen fingertips twisted off brittle bits of greasy hair. Harris grabbed a phone, clicked on a button, and leaned towards the opposite side of the room before whispering something I couldn’t understand. As he did this, I realized that the red-haired woman wasn’t trying to chew her nails at all. Instead, I’d noticed she was taking the ripped balls of hair and placing them between her teeth to chew on.
Two men walked into the white room with assertive steps. Everything inside of me screamed that I should have said something, anything to try to stop what was going on in front of me. But of course, I didn’t. In my mind, it was all justified; they signed on for this. No one was forcing them to be here. The men grabbed the red-haired woman by the shoulders before forcing her to her knees. A single tear slid down her face as one of the men withdrew a pair of scissors from his inner coat pocket. The other produced what looked like a beard and mustache trimmer.
Within moments, the beautiful curls of red hair were nothing more than stolen wisps on the floor, dying by the second. The women looked at each other as the clippers turned on, the blonde giving the other a nod of encouragement and solidarity. The room was swept and vacuumed before the pair left the same way that they’d come in.
You know what? This whole thing would be a hell of a lot easier if I just gave them names. I’d decided to call the taller, blonde woman Barbara and the other Rebecca. I wasn’t privy to their real names, but it felt disrespectful to label them as Subjects A and B as Harris had in past statements.
The steak still sat between them, and I gagged to see some of the rust-red hairs from Rebecca’s head stuck to its flesh. Oxidation had begun to set in at the corners, slowly turning the once crimson meat to a dull, rotted brown. I couldn’t help wondering which one of them would crack first or how long they’d have to stay if neither one did.
After two days off, I almost didn’t go back. But Harris’s word plagued me each time I thought about it: “Many aspiring scientists shy away from greatness…they let their moral compass get in the way. Is that going to be an issue, Doug?” So after much mental rationalization and justification, I showed up bright and early Monday morning as promised. In my mind, I knew there was no way that the women would still be in there. Surely one of them pulled a Fear Factor and bit off a chunk of the meat by now.
But as per the theme of this story, of course, I was wrong.
Their once bright room had now become dingy under the pristine lights. Brown smears adorned the back of their clothes, excrement that had made it past the self-made defecation corner. As off-point as it was, I remember wondering how one could shit so much with virtually nothing in their stomach. Barbara lay sleeping in the fetal position on the floor, surely weakened from the lack of nutrients and hydration. Eleven thousand dollars had the potential to be a life-changing amount of money, but was it really worth all this? I thought sadly. Rebecca crawled weakly to the front of the room, sniffing the steak before dribbling bile down her chin. I gagged a little myself once I saw that the piece of meat was now tinged a sea algae green, with grey marbling swirled through it where the fat once was.
I bit my lip as she lifted the meat up to her face and couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief as she tossed it away. Then I saw something that scared me. Rebecca looked at Barbara; a wild look had taken over her face. She was…studying her, eyeing her. I’d heard a lot of my friends rudely refer to girls as pieces of meat, but this was the first time I’d ever seen that saying personified on someone’s face.
Now, what I said earlier about the NDA, I realize this entire thing is in direct defiance of that order. If legal ramifications fall upon me after this, I welcome them with open arms. The truth is, I’d be safer in jail anyway.
What happened next shouldn’t have been a surprise. This was a behavioral study, after all, and people are capable of almost anything when pushed too far. Still, I didn’t see it coming; I don’t think any of us did.
Rebecca made a cooing motion with her lips as she softly stroked Barbara’s hair. The woman stirred slightly as Rebecca’s shaved head leaned down to kiss her cheek. In a snap-like motion, she reared her head back and viciously buried it in the corner of Barbara’s neck. Her eyes snapped open in surprise as Rebecca sent blood and sinew spewing from her. Rebecca paused only slightly to write something on the floor in Barbara’s blood. By the time anyone had gotten in there, it was too late. Rebecca knew to bite the most lethal part of the body, cutting off her air supply and blood flow instantly. She smiled through flesh-covered teeth, and she continued to eat her way up her right cheekbone.
* * * * * *
I snapped my attention back to my mother-in-law’s kitchen table, shuddering away from the array of meats and vegetables piled high on plates. My mother-in-law was speaking to me, but I’d been too wrapped up in my own horrors to realize it. “Go on and eat, Doug, while it’s fresh!”
* * * * * *
I wasn’t one of the men who busted into the room in which the women were housed. I ashamedly stayed behind, frozen in horror like a coward. But when I was questioned, they showed me a picture of what Rebecca had written on the floor. The words haunt me to this day, forever burned into my memory in an emblazoned red font.
IF YOU’RE GOING TO MAKE ME EAT MEAT, IT HAS TO BE FRESH.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available