Tony scraped up scraps of cartilage and bones that the machine had spat out. He tossed them into the incinerator while whistling ‘Another One Bites the Dust’. The stench didn’t bother him, he’d been a butcher before being imprisoned, humans smelled the same as animals to him. Ben didn’t have the same stomach as Tony, and even though he wore a face mask it was a struggle to not gag constantly.
Tony wiped his chunky calloused hands on his already bloodstained apron. ‘C’mon lad, time for a brew.’
Ben didn’t know if he could keep a cup of tea inside him, but he wasn’t going to turn down an opportunity to get off the factory floor. He peeled his sweaty gloves off, left them on the table, and followed Tony into the small staffroom.
Tony already had the kettle switched on and was putting sugar in his mug. ‘Sugar?’
‘No thanks.’ Ben sat down on one of the blue plastic chairs and took his face mask off.
Tony smiled. ‘You’ll get used to it.’ He placed the mugs on the table and sat opposite Ben. ‘What you in for? Must be bad to be working production.’
Tony laughed. ‘What a waste. You’ve thrown your life away for hacking?’
‘I only moved money from one account to another, they got it all back, I’ll be out soon when I’m up for parole.’
Tony belly laughed again. ‘If you’re here in production parole isn’t on the cards for you.’
‘I don’t understand?’
‘Prisoners on the production line are never leaving here. Life means life here.’
‘But I didn’t get life, I got four years, so I’ll be out in two.’
‘So naïve. How old are you?’
Tony stopped smiling and shook his head. ‘You don’t have any family, do you?’
‘No, how do you know that?’
‘Because if you’re not here on production because you’re a lifer it’s because you don’t have family. No one to miss you or report you when you don’t get out.’
Ben stared down at the table, trying not to cry or pass out.
‘Lots of people here are the alone.’ Tony slurped some of his tea. ‘Not usually youngsters like you though.’
‘But I got a sentence, in a court, they can’t keep me here.’
‘They can do what want, they’re the government.’
‘People need to know this.’
‘People need to not know this, that’s why none of us on production will ever get out or have contact with anyone outside.’
‘I can’t stay here forever.’
‘You don’t have a choice. Unless you want to kill yourself, that’s your only choice. But then you’d end up in a sausage or a pie like the refugees and illegals.’
‘Surely that’s better than butchering and cooking people every day.’
Tony shrugged. ‘Depends on your view. Roof over my head, food in my belly, library full of books, gym to work out in. Throats to slit every day. I got a better life in here than I did outside.’
‘Doesn’t it make you sick? Killing innocent people? And eating them? Sending them out to be eaten by the public?’
Tony laughed and finished his tea. ‘Lad, no one is innocent in life, all have sin. I used to butcher animals for a living, human carcasses are no different. I’m in here for life, for murder. I killed my wife for sleeping around. I was happy killing the woman I loved most in the world, killing people I don’t know is a cinch.’
Ben stared at Tony, frightened to ask him anymore.
‘And eating them? You eat the flesh of a cow or pig, there’s no difference with a human. Flesh is flesh. You’re not a veggie are you?’
‘Well there you go then.’
‘The government should tell the people what they’re doing.’
‘Too many snowflakes like you would have a meltdown. It’s better if they don’t know.’
‘It’s dishonest, it’s wrong.’
‘Says you, banged up for stealing.’
‘I was stealing from companies who could afford it.’
‘Still deception however you want to dress it up. How would you solve the problem? Millions of hungry people on our island with not enough food to feed everyone, no help from the EU as we stuck two fingers up to them, thousands of illegals and refugees turning up here trying to take our depleted food from us.’
‘I don’t know. But I know this is wrong.’
Tony shrugged. ‘Embrace it or die. Going through the motions will drive you mad if you don’t believe it’s for the greater cause. I’ve seen many that breakdown. A few months ago a lad about your age threw himself in the furnace. Jerry. What a waste. Burnt to a crisp like pork crackling. He had a lot of meat on him, would have fed a good many people. Selfish really.’
‘I guess he wasn’t thinking straight.’
‘Well if you ever feel like throwing yourself in the furnace, don’t. Give me the heads up and I’ll make it quick for you, neat slit to the throat. Might even make sure I get a product you end up in.’
Ben pushed his tea away from him, the urge to vomit was swelling.
An alarm rang out for a short burst making Ben flinch and a red light flashed over one of the double doors on the production floor.
‘Fresh meat.’ Tony stood up. ‘You been shown how to slit a throat properly?’
The colour drained away from Ben’s face. ‘No.’
‘Time for me to teach you then.’ Tony smiled and walked out the room.
Ben put his mask over his mouth and nose, took a deep breath, and slowly followed.
Tony picked up a six-inch knife from the wall rack. ‘This is the best knife. Sharp like a shark, cuts through flesh like a hot knife through butter.’
They walked towards the doors, silent now but red light still flashing.
‘Now you can watch me do one, then you can have a go.’
‘I don’t want to, can’t you do it all?’
‘I could, but you need to be able to do it. If you can’t do the whole job then that choice of sausage or worker will be taken away from you.’Tony put his hand on the door handle. ‘Don’t look into their eyes, it’ll make it harder for you.’ He opened the door and muffled shouts and cries began immediately.
Inside the white sterile room were ten naked people of male and female assortment bound securely by ropes, gagged and sat on the floor. Ages varied from twenty to sixty. All were shaking and wide eyed. Tony stepped into the room, followed by Ben who was struggling to pull his gloves on to his tremoring hands.
‘Start anywhere you like, some choose youngest to oldest or vice versa, I just work my way around the room.’ Tony seemed oblivious to the muffled cries and screams.
Ben automatically looked into sets of eyes as he scanned the room. He could feel himself hyperventilating and wished he would just pass out.
Tony approached the first livestock. A man in his forties, dark skinned, average build, trying to plead through his gag. Tony grabbed his hair and held him firmly upright. ‘You need to hold them still, it’s quicker for them that way.’ He placed the knife at the left side of the terrified man’s throat. ‘Start right over here and go in deep and slice across. The deeper you go the quicker it’ll be over for them. Don’t go doing stupid little papercuts coz you haven’t got the balls; it’ll make it worse for them and you.’ Tony sliced in one quick movement. Blood spurted out and then flowed down the naked man’s chest. The man’s throat gargled, his eyes grew wider, then he was motionless.
The remaining nine people screamed and cried from behind their gags.
Even with the mask over his nose Ben could smell faeces and urine as well as the iron aroma of the blood. It took all his focus not to vomit.
Tony turned and handed the knife to Ben. ‘You’re up. Better do one before you hit the deck.’
Ben took the knife reluctantly, his hands trembled more, and he felt so hot and sticky. Number two of the livestock was a pale Eastern European looking woman in her twenties. She was silent and staring at Ben with frozen terror. He put the knife tentatively to her throat, she pushed back against the wall and started to scream. Ben held her by her hair and gripped the knife with more force.
Ben’s mouth was dry, his tongue felt paralysed in its arid cave, he could barely whisper. ‘I’m sorry.’