Hey, over here, fella. Yes,
yes, come a little closer. Ah, there we go. Now don’t tell me a finely dressed specimen
like yourself is this far out into nowhere by accident? No, I thought not. Are you just passing through the desert land or
have you come to visit someone? Ah, I see. Well, I have to tell the truth, it’s
good to see someone who, well, looks halfway normal. I like your tie. You must have picked it up at Don’s the next town over. No? Is it Italian? I don’t suppose it really matters,
Come on and sit down on the
bench and relax a spell. You look a little queasy from the heat. Just sit down and let the wind wisp away your worries. How
about a beer? I’ve got some in the cooler here. Nah, I didn’t take you for a beer
Ah, that damn well hits the
spot. What’s that? Oh, the place over there? Well, that’s Georgie’s Meat Packing. Yep, you guessed right. They closed it
up a few weeks back. I don’t figure it will open back up until they work
the bad stuff out of that place. Yeah, bad stuff all right. No, I shouldn’t
share the stories. I don’t think it’s up to me to open the
box of demons and give this poor town an image worse than it currently has.
Wait! Don’t go! All right, I’ve enjoyed your company and I’d like you to stay just a little longer. Sit back down and I’ll tell you a tale.
It all started when George
bought that piece of land that was rumored to be an old Indian burial ground. It took a little while, but the trouble, maybe
even bad spirits, eventually came around.
The thing is that Gerda Evans
was a hard woman to look at. She had the face of an old catcher’s mitt, leathery,
cracked and worn out. I suppose the years of alcohol and drug abuse was partly to blame. Of course, her husband worked her
over from time to time. She was abused, you see. Well, she took it for years, then one day she decides she’s tapped out. She loads up his shotgun, walks onto the front porch and blows him right out of his rocking chair. Hell,
he didn’t even let go of his beer bottle as he lay dying on the porch.
Sure, she got a hell of a sympathy vote from the jury. She only did five years in Jasper Penitentiary for the crime. I’ve seen armed robbers do more time than that.
Well, anyway, I suppose it’s the packing plant you’re asking about and not Gerda. In a way, Gerda was the beginning
of everything that went bad in that place.
Gerda was the only night shift
janitor that worked at the plant. Even though she killed her husband, the owner, George, couldn’t fault her for what she’d done and hired her once she got out
of prison. Of course, she took the job and was pretty good at it from what I hear. I don’t figure it would be something that would interest either you or me, but some people are happy doing just about anything.
Part of her job was cleaning up after the second shift ended. In a place like that, you know as well as I do that one hell
of a mess was always left behind. Aside from emptying trash cans and whatnot, Gerda had to spray down the conveyor belts and
the floor and clean up all those cow parts that were discarded. If the job wasn’t done right, well, you’d have yourself a packing plant filled with more rats and mice
than butchered cows. You understand.
On the night Gerda died, there
was one hell of a storm that people around here still talk about to this day. The damn sky was like a continuous display of
fireworks going off way up there in the black clouds. The thunder just about rocked the houses down to the foundations. There
was even a tornado that wiped out a big part of Cauldor County just to the south of us. It was a bad one all right.
So Gerda turned up for work
as usual. The crew said goodbye to her and made off for home. Some of those men didn’t like Gerda so much. Some of those men do the very same thing to their wives that Gerda’s husband did. Maybe what happened to Gerda’s husband scared some
of those guys straight. Who knows? Anyhow, Gerda loaded up her stuff and got to work. I can’t image what that big place is like at night, but I’ll tell you
the truth that I’d never spend a night alone in there. I’m sure she kept herself busy enough that she didn’t think about it too
much to bother her.
It started as Gerda was hosing
down the belts and getting that raw meat off there. It started with a thump. It was like a simple knock, I guess. In a place
as big as that, and having all the machines quiet, it must have echoed like hellfire. Gerda dropped the hose as if it suddenly
turned into a serpent. She whirled around and studied the area before finding the nerve to call out.
“Who’s out there?”
No one responded. At first
she probably figured it was one of the guys still in the locker room taking off his gear and getting cleaned up. Of course,
the locker room was nearly on the other side of the building, but like I said, the smallest sound in that place could echo.
She picked up the hose and
started cleaning again. Well, I suppose a few minutes went by before that thump came again. Only this time it wasn’t a single thump, but
a hell of a series of them. They were rapid and almost desperate, you could say.
Now Gerda starts thinking
that someone has definitely stayed behind and was having a little fun with her. She figures someone wasn’t so eager to get home and decided to stick around and create trouble for her. Well, Gerda isn’t the kind of woman any
man in that place should mess with. She plucked up a cleaver from the rack and investigated the sounds.
She makes her way through
the facility, all the while peering around every corner and every piece of machinery. I suspect she screamed out when frantic
thumps started coming from the meat lockers. She must have thought some poor worker was trapped inside the locker and probably
near frozen to death as he was trying to get out.
Gerda reached the meat locker,
pulled the lever and opened the steel door. She probably thought she’d find someone lying
on the ground, shivering, but still able to thank her for saving his life in the nick of time. Only that wasn’t what she received. Gerda couldn’t
see anyone. There were cattle hanging from hooks and not much more. Gerda wasn’t a vegetarian or anything like that, but seeing those headless and hideless cattle was almost enough to drive her
to the point of swearing off red meat for good.
Is there someone in here?”
She didn’t get answer. What she got was movement where there shouldn’t have been movement.
The damn cattle were coming to life like some sort of sickening animatronics. They were thrashing their legs around, swinging
on the hooks that ran right through their backs, but yet the damn things were alive.
As you can expect, Gerda did
scream, and she screamed loud. But, hell, with the storm raging outside and that building being as big as it is, there was
no one to hear her or to come running. Those cattle thrashed around so much that the hooks ripped right out of their backs.
Now Gerda is standing there, staring at a couple of dozen cattle that should very well be dead. Sometimes things don’t like to stay dead,
Well, a good long moment went
by as Gerda watched and considered all of her options, what limited few there were, when those things worked themselves around
so much that they somehow got up onto their legs. Even though they were surely dead, headless, I’ll be damned if they didn’t know Gerda was right there watching
this whole terrible show. They knew all right. I don’t know if that made
them angry. I don’t know if it was about revenge, but those things came after
her. Come hell or high water, I do believe those things meant to trample her to death.
Now you might be wondering
why I said that maybe they wanted revenge. I honestly don’t know myself why
I said it. Gerda was never part of the slaughtering crew. Never once in that building did she take a blade to the meat. I
don’t know, maybe this strange supposed sacred land the building is on
had a small time frame in order to get even of sorts. Maybe the storm, and it was a hell of a storm, awoke the land. Maybe
the thunder was strong enough to even wake those old buried Indian bones. I couldn’t say for sure. All I know is that those cattle were mean, and I’d
be lying if I said that I didn’t believe that they wanted blood, and a lot of it.
Well, the nearest cow to Gerda
received a shoulder full of cleaver when it knocked into her and nearly pinned her against the machinery. I can’t imagine Gerda’s slashing did much good seeing that the things
were already long since dead. You can’t fight evil forces like that, you
just can’t. The best thing to do in a situation like that is to turn tail and
run as if Satan himself were after you.
That’s just what Gerda decided to do. She ran. I figured she could have easily out run them all being that their hoofs
were cut off and being that they didn’t have any heads and all, but the
floor was wet from Gerda hosing it down. She took a nasty tumble. A few of the cattle brought their stumpy legs down on her
and probably caused more pain than I care to imagine. She’d managed to avoid the
majority of the stampede, but not before being nearly crushed to death against the machinery. Those big things worked her
over. They stomped and they rammed.
By the time Gerda was able
to pick herself off the floor, she didn’t have a stitch on her. Those cattle had somehow battered her around so much that her
clothing had been completely torn away.
I don’t figure she had much left in her,
but she used what little strength she had and pulled herself onto the conveyor belt just to get out of reach of those things.
That was all and well a good idea, but evil always has a second plan.
The goddamn conveyor belt
started up! You’re damn straight it did.
So there’s Gerda, stark naked, lying on a conveyor belt that’s rolling her
right toward the grinders. She’s got dozens of cattle carcasses surrounding the belt line on
both sides. Every time she makes a move to jump off the line, a cow comes forward and gets her right back on that line to
She screams for help. She
begs to whoever will listen. Hell, she must have gone stark raving mad just before those grinders first touched her skin.
I know I would have.
Well, there you have it. That’s how it all began there at Georgie’s.
Gerda? No, they never found
her. The truth is, when the crew came in the next morning, none of them even knew anything was wrong. The machines weren’t running. The cattle were hung up on hooks just as they had been the day before. Hell, even Gerda’s torn clothes were gone. No one even missed Gerda until she didn’t
show up for work that evening. Most people figured she’d run off. Maybe
she’d found herself a new man, a good man, and decided this little town
wasn’t much for her anymore and took her life down the road. It happens
from time to time. Most of us don’t think much of it when someone around
here who just doesn’t seem to fit in right moves on. That’s life.
So here’s the best part. I heard this from old Fred a few years ago. He’s dead now. God bless
him. Fred said that his great-granddaughter attended the birthday party of Davey Simmons. Well, the party was going fine,
fun and games, but when his father flipped those burgers off the grill and served them to everyone, his son took a big old
bite and immediately complained that he had a hair in his burger!
Doesn’t that beat all? You see that Gerda was never found. Do you understand what I’m telling you?
Wait, you don’t have to go! I’m just passing along the story like I was told.
I wasn’t there, of course. None of us were. We can only guess what happened.
I know that the land is cursed, and I’m pretty sure Gerda was the first of
the mysterious disappearances around here after that packing plant was built.
Are you going? I wasn’t trying to scare you off or anything. Say, how about I make it up to you for getting you all worked up over a silly
story. How about we head on down to Isaac’s and I’ll buy you a milkshake and a cheeseburger? What do you say?
Copyright © Jeremy Wright
Jeremy Wright attended the University of Nebraska at Omaha with a focus in Creative Writing and American
Literature. He has also completed several courses offered by Writer’s Digest. He recently sold his
short story Red Hour to Necrology Shorts Magazine.
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