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Sacred

by  Jeremy Wright

Hey, over here, fella. Yes, yes, come a little closer. Ah, there we go. Now dont 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, its good to see someone who, well, looks halfway normal. I like your tie. You must have picked it up at Dons the next town over. No? Is it Italian? I dont suppose it really matters, does it?

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? Ive got some in the cooler here. Nah, I didnt take you for a beer drinker.

Ah, that damn well hits the spot. Whats that? Oh, the place over there? Well, thats Georgies Meat Packing. Yep, you guessed right. They closed it up a few weeks back. I dont figure it will open back up until they work the bad stuff out of that place. Yeah, bad stuff all right. No, I shouldnt share the stories. I dont think its up to me to open the box of demons and give this poor town an image worse than it currently has.

Wait! Dont go! All right, Ive enjoyed your company and Id like you to stay just a little longer. Sit back down and Ill 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 catchers 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 shes tapped out. She loads up his shotgun, walks onto the front porch and blows him right out of his rocking chair. Hell, he didnt 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. Ive seen armed robbers do more time than that.

Well, anyway, I suppose its the packing plant youre 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, couldnt fault her for what shed 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 dont 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 wasnt done right, well, youd 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 didnt like Gerda so much. Some of those men do the very same thing to their wives that Gerdas husband did. Maybe what happened to Gerdas husband scared some of those guys straight. Who knows? Anyhow, Gerda loaded up her stuff and got to work. I cant image what that big place is like at night, but Ill tell you the truth that Id never spend a night alone in there. Im sure she kept herself busy enough that she didnt 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.

Whos 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 wasnt 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 wasnt so eager to get home and decided to stick around and create trouble for her. Well, Gerda isnt 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 shed find someone lying on the ground, shivering, but still able to thank her for saving his life in the nick of time. Only that wasnt what she received. Gerda couldnt see anyone. There were cattle hanging from hooks and not much more. Gerda wasnt 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.

Hello? Is there someone in here?

She didnt get answer. What she got was movement where there shouldnt 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 dont like to stay dead, I guess.

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, Ill be damned if they didnt know Gerda was right there watching this whole terrible show. They knew all right. I dont know if that made them angry. I dont 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 dont 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 dont 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 couldnt say for sure. All I know is that those cattle were mean, and Id be lying if I said that I didnt 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 cant imagine Gerdas slashing did much good seeing that the things were already long since dead. You cant fight evil forces like that, you just cant. The best thing to do in a situation like that is to turn tail and run as if Satan himself were after you.

Thats 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 didnt 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. Shed 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 didnt have a stitch on her. Those cattle had somehow battered her around so much that her clothing had been completely torn away.

I dont 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! Youre damn straight it did.

So theres Gerda, stark naked, lying on a conveyor belt thats rolling her right toward the grinders. Shes 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 stay put.

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. Thats how it all began there at Georgies.

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 werent running. The cattle were hung up on hooks just as they had been the day before. Hell, even Gerdas torn clothes were gone. No one even missed Gerda until she didnt show up for work that evening. Most people figured shed run off. Maybe shed found herself a new man, a good man, and decided this little town wasnt much for her anymore and took her life down the road. It happens from time to time. Most of us dont think much of it when someone around here who just doesnt seem to fit in right moves on. Thats life.

So heres the best part. I heard this from old Fred a few years ago. Hes 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!

Doesnt that beat all? You see that Gerda was never found. Do you understand what Im telling you?

Wait, you dont have to go! Im just passing along the story like I was told. I wasnt there, of course. None of us were. We can only guess what happened. I know that the land is cursed, and Im pretty sure Gerda was the first of the mysterious disappearances around here after that packing plant was built.

Are you going? I wasnt 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 Isaacs and Ill 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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