30 Oct You’ve Seen the Butcher
“You’ve Seen the Butcher”Written by Ryan Harville Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 13 minutes
If you’re listening to this then I’ve been found, and there will be questions. Oh yes, questions aplenty.
I’m sure the first of which will be ‘Why?’ And that is a great one to start with but it’s also the one which doesn’t have an answer. Not a satisfactory answer, anyway, at least to most people.
I can explain what happened, but I don’t think you’ll find meaning in the sequence of events. I had no childhood trauma, no deep-rooted anger, issues involving either of my parents. They were kind, loving people. So, I will give you the simplest answer I can. Here’s a glimpse between my gears as they turn against each other, grinding and shedding little shavings of metal that stick in me like thorns. There’s a catalyst to everything I’ve done.
Wet leaves and meat.
That’s the smell. Whenever I get the urge, it makes its way into my sinuses, making the hairs in my nose stand up and tickle me.
I used to work in a cubicle. It doesn’t matter what I did there, no more than it matters what you do at your job because jobs don’t matter, not really. A six by six square was my entire world for hundreds of hours every year. I ate lunch at my desk most days to avoid the office break room. I was never very good at small talk and too much human interaction makes me tired.
It was a day. Just a day. Nothing special about it at all. I finished my sad microwaved meal and stared at my monitor, imagining I could see the individual pixels there. And…and I was just gone.
The monitor changed to a blinding white like the sun reflecting off sand dunes. I watched through squinted eyes as stark black letters materialized.
FEED DISCONNECTED, it read.
And it was. A plug was pulled inside of me, like someone tugging on my intestines, and I was no longer a part of the world. And the smell wafted in, slimy black leaves slipping through the teeth of a rake, and the coppery tang of a butcher’s back room.
I floated. Not literally, of course. I’m not crazy. But nothing held my consciousness anymore. Whatever machinations keep us within our bodies…those tethers were gone. I was unbound. I stood on shaking legs and left my cubicle, only bothering to grab my keys and wallet.
I drifted then. I know it was early afternoon when I left, but the next I remember it was night and my feet were sore from walking. I can’t explain what happened in those walking hours. There was nothing supernatural about it, my feed was disconnected. I eventually found myself outside of a bar near the bridge downtown. I walked in and the smell assaulted me. Wet leaves…and meat.
I slipped between people, navigating through the crowd with my nose in the air. I felt like a bloodhound, and in a sense, I guess that’s what I was.
She sat at a low table near the back, behind a warped pool table, its dull balls all gathered in one corner. The closer I got, the stronger the smell became, overpowering the scent of cigarettes and spilt beer. I sat opposite her and gave her what I hoped was a charming smile.
Here’s the thing about being disconnected: free from the pull of any emotional tides, you can act any part. I was charming, the absolute soul of wit and grace. I introduced myself and asked if she would like some company. She was surprised but said yes anyway.
That was Julia. Everyone knows everything about her now, but she was just a stranger to me that night. I didn’t know she was there to drown the thoughts of her husband and his mistress. I didn’t know she was upset about turning forty-five that week. I didn’t know she had a kid in college and one in high school. But understand this: it wouldn’t have changed the outcome if I had known. She was marked by the smell coming off her in waves.
After a few more drinks and some increasingly arousing conversation, we slipped out the back door and into the shadowed alley. She was all over me in an instant, a starving animal. I could feel her lust, her middle-aged desperation. I could almost hear her thoughts through her urges: feel me, listen to me, fuck me, love me, love me, love me, please.
I listened, then led her out of the alley. We walked down the street, the overhead lights a baleful orange.
When the smell became stronger, I knew we’d arrived. A building closed for renovation; its windows covered with plywood. I reached my hand through a crack and pried up a corner, then pulled the wood away enough for us to fit through the gap. She giggled as I laid her down upon the unfinished floor, the smell of sawdust was almost strong enough to cover the smell of rot.
I felt nothing for her. Not lust, and not love. The feel of her tongue in my mouth was meat. The smell of her breath was mold. But my body still responded appropriately.
Now this…this is when it was all clear. As I reached into my pocket and drew the knife (and where had that come from?), the world came into clarity for a brief second. I could see everything. The dark didn’t matter, and the colors…the colors were an epiphany. The yellow caution tape was a solar flare. The red of a toolbox, the heart-blood of the universe.
We began our dance of flesh, our exchange of momentum, and the smell grew stronger…and I stabbed her through the neck. And as her movements grew weaker the world grew brighter.
I was real again. Connected. She collapsed to the floor, her head to the side, her eyes on me. And the smell was gone, or at least it had retreated. I let go of her hair and withdrew from her. I stood up, my hand slick with her blood. It was warm and it was life and it was reality.
Within a few breathless moments it became darker, the light and color bleeding away. And then the world was like me, blank and empty.
I would say that I was stunned but I didn’t feel much of anything but loss. But I knew then, I knew that if I wanted to be real again then I would have to work, to sacrifice.
A week went by. I sat in my apartment staring at nothing, just floating along. I eventually turned off my cell phone, the constant calls from work and family were filling my voicemail box and I found it irritating, like sand between my teeth. In the in-between of nothing, just hovering in the dark, I knew things. I knew that I had to create a trail that wasn’t a trail, a chaotic straight line. I had to plan, not just hit bars for married women desperate for attention. I had to branch out.
But I shouldn’t have worried about it. The smell always drew me to where I needed to be.
It came back, flowing beneath my front door. I quickly grabbed my keys and headed out. I drove with my window down to make following the trail easier, my head stuck out of it, flicking my tongue like a sniffing snake. After half an hour I began to have doubts, but soon enough the smell grew overpowering. I turned into the drive of an apartment complex, following the scent until I was parked in front of one of the buildings in the very back. I cut the engine, then picked the hammer up from the passenger seat.
Why a hammer? Because the last time I used a knife. A chaotic straight line. Can you see it? Perfectly straight with beautiful corners.
There was a young man smoking a cigarette outside of his apartment. The acrid smoke and the wet leaves and the meat all mixed. I felt dizzy.
He saw me and raised an eyebrow, then asked if I was the one Smitty had sent. I nodded and smiled as if I knew who Smitty was or why he was sending someone. Then he listed the prices of various drugs he offered, which I knew nothing about. I’m a law-abiding citizen. I asked if we could go inside to discuss it. He nodded and led me in, tossing his cigarette onto the sidewalk and crushing it beneath his heel without losing his stride.
It was a small place, almost devoid of furniture, with water stains on the ceiling. He gestured absently towards his roommate, a skinny, bearded man wearing a headset. He was deep into some video game, his thumbs clicking and clacking across the buttons on the controller. I’m sure he saw a battle, a quest, or a puzzle. I only saw a white screen, with ESTABLISHING CONNECTION in black letters.
We went to his bedroom, and he introduced himself as Brian. I told him flatly that I didn’t care, and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill, tossing it down to the filthy carpet. I could tell he was angry, that the disrespect burned him like acid, but he said nothing. He lifted the corner of the mattress and grabbed his stash slowly as if he were in a dream, a nightmare he couldn’t escape. That was close to the truth. He just didn’t know that I was his way out.
I drew the hammer from behind my back where I had hidden it beneath my shirt, the handle firmly tucked into my jeans. I put my free hand on top of his head and told him to look up at me.
He did and watched me raise the hammer. The look in his eyes was one of detached resignation, like he knew what this was, what I was. Brian continued to stare at me even as I brought the hammer down. His skull cracked audibly, and a fine spray of blood from his scalp landed on the nearest wall in dots and swirls and patterns and oh dear God it was geometry and secrets. I was real, and I swung the hammer again. Brian fell backwards, his legs folded beneath him. I dropped down to my knees beside him, my face hovering inches over his own. I inhaled deeply and it was sweet and pungent like caramelized onions on a hot skillet.
I reveled in the real. The moonlight was silver waves pouring through the window, cold and beautiful, and I was an alien shore for it to crash against.
“I SEE YOU, BUTCHER,” the moonlight said. “I SEE YOU WELL.”
There came a noise from behind me and there stood the roommate, his mouth slack with surprise.
Can you imagine? You walk in and see your friend on the floor, his head a ruin of pulp and shards of bone, and above him stands a strange man in the moonlight with a dripping hammer. It’s comical, really. When I think about it, I hear a laugh track, like on an old sitcom, the ghostly recordings of people long dead and laughing.
I moved quickly, swinging the hammer at his face, but for all of his shock he reacted faster than I anticipated. The hammer struck his raised arm, cracking his bones and making him screech. I threw myself at him, sending us both falling to the floor. He covered his head with his arms. The blow was meant to be a mercy, to end it quickly, but instead it drove his lips into his mouth and crushed the teeth behind them.
His scream was a garbled mess of bubbling red noise and teeth particulate that reminded me of a trumpet although I couldn’t tell you why. I kept swinging until he stopped moving. Well, most of him stopped moving. His heels continued to drum against the floor for a full thirty-six seconds, but I wasn’t counting.
I rolled off him and onto the hard floor of the hallway. I could see my pulse in my eyes, explosion after explosion bringing colors across the ceiling. Bursts of fireworks, of starlight, of the light of creation. I was the center of gravity; I was the fulcrum. Planets revolved around me and in that moment of elation I collapsed into sleep. My dreams were sweet and syrupy, and I could feel the juice of them run down my chin as I bit and chewed and swallowed. I devoured my dreams with the selfishness only a god can feel.
When I awoke, I was…well, I guess the best way I can describe it was hungover. I was disconnected, of course, and sluggish. My head pounded, and my arm ached from exertion. I lifted myself slowly, and the tacky blood pulled at my shirt like the hook of a drunken fisherman. My knees threatened to buckle but I willed them to be stable. I tucked the hammer away and left the apartment.
Outside, the sunlight stung my eyes and turned my stomach. Being unreal didn’t stop physical discomfort, but it dulled it. I believe now that I was still at least slightly real that morning. I had ascended the night before. I became, I evolved. For a brief time, I held the cosmos in my mind, and it was putty to be shaped. I had made two sacrifices, given two over to the Rot and I had been rewarded with godhood. If two had made me a god, what would three do?
I passed a young boy sitting astride his bike. I raised my bloody hand in a wave and dropped him a sly wink and a grin. He slowly got his feet on the pedals and rode off, turning his head to watch me as he went. He shouldn’t have worried. I’d never hurt a child. I’m not a monster.
Weeks passed and my divinity drained from me like piss. I was disconnected enough to be inconsequential again. Julie’s death had gone through a short news cycle, and Brian’s and…and whatever the roommate’s name was, they had their time in the low budget spotlight of the local news as well. Neither of the crime scenes had been connected in any way, and why would they? One was a stabbing in a construction area downtown. The other was a bludgeoning a half-hour past the suburbs in the apartment of a drug dealer. But I kept my head down anyway, stayed inside, blended into the shadows in my hall closet where I was sleeping. The scent of bleach and fabric softener soothed me in the absence of rotten leaves and…and meat.
When the smell came back, I would’ve cried in relief if I was connected and could feel. It attacked my nostrils like an invading swarm of parasites, filling me with rot, with rank, fecund darkness. I was ready.
I followed the trail.
I drove around for hours until past dark. Headlights coming from the opposite direction screamed at me as they passed, their bright shine passing through me because I wasn’t really there. The smell drifted maddeningly close only to retreat again. My bloodless knuckles popped as I squeezed the steering wheel tighter. Reality withdrawal was seeping in, it had to have been because I was getting angry. Beyond angry. I lunged forward and bit the steering wheel hard, sinking my teeth into the soft plastic and shaking my head back and forth like a dog. My gums began to bleed, I could taste it on my tongue. I drew my head back and stared at myself in the rearview mirror. Blood dripped from between my lips and the reflection was dark and I couldn’t see my eyes, but they must have been there because I could see my crimson teeth smiling back at me and I was parked in someone’s driveway.
I don’t remember how I ended up there. I didn’t even know where I was. It was a ranch-style house, dusty red with cream-colored shutters that reminded me of my teeth. Half hidden in the shadows of the passenger footwell was the hammer. It was black with old blood and what looked like curds but was secretly something else, I was sure of it. I reached across the seats and grabbed the handle and picked it up. It looked at me and I looked at it and we both nodded in some unspoken agreement that I didn’t understand but it seemed good enough for the hammer.
I walked up the sidewalk lined with flower beds. The door was lit by a single bulb surrounded by a tempest of moths and squiggles that blurred when I tried to focus on them. I pushed the button nearby and could hear the chime of the doorbell echoing in the house. No answer, so I pressed it again. An older man opened the door a few inches and looked at me with eyes half-closed against the brightness of the bulb. I smiled at him and could feel the sticky blood between my lips and watched his eyes widen right before I swiftly shouldered my way past him and into the house.
I shut the door behind me. The man had fallen on his back hard and was gasping for breath. I fell upon him, straddling his chest and swinging the hammer like a conductor’s baton, swift, fluid motions that felt choreographed. Like I was a puppet made to dance; a wooden, unreal boy. But when the hammer connected, and I felt the vibration of the blow travel up my arm the gates opened, and I was plugged in. I could smell fear in the urine that spread out from beneath him. I resisted the urge to lengthen my neck muscles and strike forward with my head like a viper. I wanted to bite him, to clamp down and pull but didn’t because I may be a god but I’m not an animal.
A soft voice that was probably his wife’s called from the hall and I ran toward it swinging the hammer with abandon, not even bothering to aim and I think I was screaming but it might have been the woman or no one. I didn’t even know what I was hitting. She was just a mass of flesh in the dark and I was the hammer and I pounded her. Blood rained down in hot sprinkles on my face like sparks from a welder’s torch. A drop landed in my eye and I blinked and wondered that if there had been light to see by, would I have seen the world in red for just a second? The heap on the floor was meat and I was not.
I was celestial. The dark was pushed back, and I could see everything clearly. The woman was offal in a nightgown, overripe fruit that had fallen from a tree and burst. I sensed a heartbeat from further down the hall and I walked through the mess and felt it squishing between my toes and it was hot, and I realized I hadn’t worn shoes. A door stood half open and I used my hammer to push it further, the wet metal leaving a thin trail of blood on the wood.
There was another woman here, Edith, the man’s mother. I knew that then or I know that now, I don’t know which. She was lying in bed, illuminated by a TV showing static, looking at me with rheumy eyes. I took the last few steps to stand by her side and my hands were shaking. She asked me in a whisper If I were him and I said I didn’t know but I might be it was hard to say. Edith reached her frail arm up and grasped my hand and her skin was like tissue paper. She squeezed my hand and I raised the hammer in my other one and she whispered that it was okay. I felt the universe pull away from me, hooked and reeled in by her whisper.
I swung just once, and the hammer went through her skull and I felt nothing but confusion. There was no revelation, no epiphany, and on the white black white screen of the TV the word DISCONNECTED stood four inches tall in bold, black letters.
That was…some time ago. Time is funny in my hall closet, and I’m not sure of the date now. Eons may be passing as I sit here, talking into my phone, recording this for a reason that I used to know but have forgotten. There could be dinosaurs walking down my street right now, causing potholes with their thunderous feet, but I wouldn’t know. The universe may have reached the limits of its expansion, and has now snapped back like a rubber band, reversing time on its course to collapse in on itself once again. All is quiet here, all is still.
My phone has a tiny light slowly changing from green to red. It blinks at me, its charge running out, and I want to cry because I know exactly what it feels like. My empathy for my phone’s light is complete and all-consuming. We’re both blinking, and we’ll both die but I don’t know which of us will go first.
Now…now you’ve seen the butcher. And when the god of rot and stench consumes me, when He breaks me down to my tiniest elements, I will be reborn as his avatar, his son, a walking statue of flyblown meat, and then…
You’ve seen the butcher, and when I return, I’ll see you too.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableRyan Harville Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A