Creatures - Short Story 14 - Dead Meat by P. R. O'Leary

It was quiet without the boy around. Beth could hear the roar of the fire, the chirp of the crickets and the sounds of the birds outside, the creak of her old bones as she moved and the sound of the rocking chair rolling against the floor. It was a heavenly silence punctuated by small gentle sounds. When the boy was around, all she could hear was mouth-breathing and the heavy thump of his feet when he walked.

She would have gotten rid of him long ago if he wasn’t her grandson or if he had somewhere else to go. She was all that Boyd had. But she was fooling herself. The only reason she kept him was because he did all of the chores on the farm. And she didn’t even have to pay him.

To keep herself sane, she made him leave the house as much as possible. God knows there was enough work for him to do, and the boy was as strong as an ox and almost as stupid. The work suited him well.

Beth supposed she should be grateful for all the good he did around the farm. But Beth hated him. His mother was her daughter. An ungrateful girl who had him at sixteen and ran off before he was dry. Beth never saw her again. That was fifteen years ago. Fifteen years with a child she never wanted. A child who wasn’t even hers.

Beth wished she’d had the courage to throw him in the river when he was a baby. But no matter how cruel she was at the time, she wasn’t a monster. Not back then. Now, though? Now she knew she could do it. Throw the baby in the river and hire a sensible and quiet farmhand instead. But it was too late. So she spent her days savoring the silence without the boy and her nights doing her best to ignore him.

Outside, the sky was fully dark and she heard the sound of his heavy stupid footsteps coming up the steps. They sounded like they were made by someone twice his size and had an awkward cadence that was not quite a limp, more like just a lack of tempo.

Thump. Thump. Thumpthump.

The door opened and in walked the boy. He was more like a man. Six feet tall and half as wide. Thick red arms sticking out of well-worn overalls. His work boots were too big for his feet and his head was too big for his body. Boyd’s face was flat like a shovel, with deep-set black eyes the only feature that gave it a semblance of three dimensions. A thick mat of black hair topped him off. The boy was covered with sweat and dirt. His movements and body language were textbook exhaustion.

“Boyd!” she screamed. Her voice was shrill and strong. The boy’s head jerked up.

“YYes Grammama?”

“You forgot to clean yourself! I don’t want dirt in my house! Go outside and clean yourself before you set foot through that door again!”

Despite his large size, and the fact that he could break the small old lady in two, the boy looked terrified. Without a word, he ran outside and closed the door behind him.

Beth shook her head and sighed. That boy would be the death of her someday. Either him, or the farm itself. The farm wasn’t doing well anymore. It was situated at the bend of a river, nestled in it like the crook of an arm. The river supplied all the water they used for irrigating the crops and watering the livestock. A few months ago a chemical plant had opened a few miles upstream and the water was becoming tainted. Their crops were not doing well. If she cared at all for Boyd she would do something about it, but Beth just wanted to earn enough to keep comfortable until she died. What happened to Boyd after that, she could care less about.

After a few minutes she heard the familiar out of time thumps of his footsteps again. The door opened. He was clean this time. That was good, but something else made her frown. He held in his two big mitts four tiny kittens. Two in each hand. All four were black and white fuzzy little things. All four were mewling like infants. One was chewing on Boyd’s thumb.

She opened her mouth to yell at him but was thrown off guard by his childish exuberance. There was a genuine smile on his face.

“Grammama! Grammama! Look what I found in the barn! One of the cats out there must have had kittens!”

That’s just what she needed. Four little creatures to distract him from his work. Beth had to put a stop to this before it started.

“Well, around here there is only one way to deal with kittens.”

She got up out of the chair and walked over to pantry, opened it and took out an empty burlap sack.

“Come here and give me those animals.”

Boyd didn’t move.

“But Grammama…”

She walked closer and opened the sack in front of him with both hands. Her gaze was hard and unmoving and when she spoke it was an order.

“Put them in the sack.”

Boyd obeyed on reflex. He gently placed them in the bag. When his hands were free she cinched up the sack with her fist, roughly swung it over her shoulder and walked outside.

Boyd followed, terrified.

“Grammama… what are you doing?”

She didn’t answer. Her old legs just kept moving.

The small house stood guard in front of the dozen acres of farm and faced the small river that bordered its edge. The river was where she was heading. She could see it shining in the moonlight only a hundred yards from the house. Boyd was still pleading with her, but she ignored him. They arrived at the water. It was as wide as a telephone pole was tall, and too deep for Boyd to stand in. The only way to cross it into the forest beyond was a small rowboat. It was tied to a post on the shore and was so little used that she didn’t even know if it was sea-worthy.

Beth paused. The river was calm and beautiful, but the air was cold and Boyd was aggravating her. She wanted to get back inside. So with one clean motion she tossed the sack into the current. Boyd screamed but it was too late. The kitten-sack drifted away and sank into the black water. In the back of her mind she pictured Boyd as an infant. She could see his ugly flat little face sink and disappear. Boyd started to cry and Beth, ignoring him, walked straight back to the house. Her angry little legs cut through the grass like scissors.

Once inside she retired to her room and into her bed. Boyd would be too much to deal with tonight. When her head hit the pillow she fell sleep easily.

The next morning she was awoken by screaming.

“Grammama! Grammama!”

Boyd was banging on the door.

“Just a minute!” she cawed. Being wrenched from sleep was not pleasant. Especially since she expected the rooster’s call to do it, not the boy’s slow stupid voice and meaty banging fists. With a flourish her robe and slippers were on and she was shuffling to the door. She flung it open. Boyd was standing there, frantic.

“Grammama! There’s something wrong with the animals!”

“What’s wrong with them? Be specific, Boyd,” she sighed.

“Well… Grammama, they… I, but…” he stuttered, struggling to form the words.

This damn boy and the animals! Sure, they weren’t doing too well because of the tainted water but they were just animals. As long as they stayed alive long enough to sell to the butcher, she didn’t care how sick they were.

She slammed the door on him and took her time getting dressed. Boyd got the picture and left the house to wait for her. When she was fully wrapped in clothing she went to find him to see what the problem was.

Boyd was standing by the chicken coop, peering in. The coop was behind the house and stood as part of the fenced in enclosure that held the cows. The cows seemed fine; she could see them grazing over in the far corner of the pen. Something was off, though. She could tell. It was the sound. Usually the chickens were making chicken noises. Clucking and clacking. But now they were silent. When she got next to Boyd she could see what the problem was.

The chickens had eaten each other.

Usually there were about fifty lining the shelves and walking around on the floor. Now most were strewn across the ground, their parts spread out and separated. A mangled mess of feathers and entrails. Only a dozen still remained alive. Their white feathers were drenched red. Most of them had gashes and cuts. Some were missing legs, wings, eyes. Yet they were still alive. Forcing themselves up against the mesh fence, trying to get at the two people on the outside, their beaks snapping in the air. Beth had lived many years, but she had never seen anything like this.

“They must have gone rabid.” She turned towards Boyd. “Burn them. We don’t want them to infect the other animals.”

“But Grammama. They should be dead, look at that one!” He was pointing to a half-chicken, little more than a head, neck and part of a torso. It had no wings. Its parts had been torn off or eaten or who knows what. All it had was its beak to pull itself towards the mesh. Its eyes were dead and blank, but it still moved. It was still hungry.

“God damn super-rabies!” Beth said. “Burn them all!”

With that she turned and stomped back towards the house leaving Boyd to deal with the mangled poultry.

Despite seeing the carnage of the chicken coop, Beth was still hungry. She cooked herself some breakfasteggs and baconand sat at the kitchen table. Through the back window she could see most of the farm. Including the chicken coop and Boyd, who was carrying a big jug of gasoline across the yard. She watched as he reluctantly splashed it on the chickens. He paused. His big shoulders slumped and then moved up and down. His face went into his hands. He was sobbing.

Beth threw down her fork and stood up. Her knees creaked almost as much as the floor, but she quickly was out and across the yard to the chicken coop. On her way she pulled out a pack of matches from her housecoat, lit one and just when she arrived she let it fly. It landed smack in the middle of the bleeding wet chickens.

Boyd was startled out of his sobs by the whoosh of flame. He jumped back, tears covering his flat ugly face, and looked at his Grammama. There was hurt in those big dumb eyes.

“Why do we always have to kill things?” he said.

“No, we don’t kill things.” She said. “I kill things! You are too much of a baby to do what is needed to do! Now stay here and make sure this fire doesn’t spread. I’m going to finish my breakfast.”

Boyd sniffled and tried to stop crying. Beth didn’t wait for a response. She just turned and stomped towards the house the way she had come. Once back in the kitchen the old lady ate her cold food and watched as Boyd guarded the fire by running back and forth with a pail of water, making sure that the walls of the coop didn’t get too burned. She shook her head. That kid was a dolt.

The rest of the day was free of any oddities. Beth stayed inside and listened to the news on the radio, complaining to herself about how the hippies were ruining the country. When night started to approach she turned it off and enjoyed some silence before Boyd came back inside.

Thump. Thump. Thumpthump.

The door opened and Boyd walked in. At least he was clean this time. And quiet. More quiet than usual. Probably still scared of her, she thought.

“Did you make sure the chickens were all burnt up?”

He sat on the corner chair and looked straight down on the floor.

“Yessum.”

“Is the chicken coop still in one piece?”

“Yessum.”

“Did you make sure the fire was all out before you left it? I don’t want the whole farm to burn down because you were too stupid to check.”

“Yessum.”

“And how are the cows? Any of them look like they got the rabies?”

“No, ma’am. Well, one of them was sick. He was lying down and wouldn’t move. He wasn’t trying to eat the other cows though.”

She laughed at that. He was being serious, but the childlike stupidity of his voice combined with the image of a cow eating another cow was comical.

“Well, if one cow goes we still got a lot more to sell in town.”

“Yessum.”

“Now I’m going to go to bed. You make sure to keep quiet out here and clean up whatever mess you make.”

“Yes Grammama. Good night Grammama.”

Her only response was a dismissive wave of her hand as she turned and walked into her room. Again she fell asleep quickly. Her sleep was dreamless and calm until she was dragged out of it by banging. It was still the middle of the night. She could see the moon high in the sky outside her bedroom window. It was full and bright like a giant eye. There was a loud crashing sound coming from the kitchen.

“Boyd!” she screamed. “What in the hell are you doing?”

“Grammama! Grammama! What’s going on?”

There was the banging again. Crash! Crash! It was coming from outside. Something was banging against the back wall of the kitchen. Something big.

Grammama put on her robe and slippers and flung open the door of her bedroom. Boyd was standing there in his underclothes, staring and pointing at the cracked back wall, terrified.

“Grammama…”

The wall shook again as something hit it from outside. Plaster dust fell onto the floor. The window was at the wrong angle. She couldn’t see what it was.

Crash!

The crack widened and the boards behind the plaster started to bend in. Beth ran to the closet and pulled down the old shotgun off the top shelf. There was a box of shells next to it and she grabbed that as well and threw it on the table next to her. She didn’t know what was out there but she would be ready for it if it burst through.

She loaded and cocked the shotgun. The thing crashed into the wall again. More wood bent and cracked. Whatever it was, it would break through any second now. Boyd inched back and hid behind her. It was an ironic sight, him cowering behind the old woman, but no one was there to see it.

There was a few seconds of silence outside and then with a crash and a crunch a hole burst through and a beast appeared. A giant head, brown and splashed with red, shoved itself through the hole in the wall. Two black eyes and giant nostrils. Deep gashes across its face. Its big white herbivore teeth looked strong enough to crush bone, and the way it gnashed its mouth showed that it wanted to do just that. When it saw them a horrible sound came from its bloody throat.

“Moooooo!”

Whatever had affected the chickens had spread to this cow. Without hesitation, Beth lifted the rifle, aimed straight for the creature’s face, and pulled the trigger.

Its horrible screaming death moo was cut off in a flash of light and a shower of cow gore. What was left of the cow’s head, now a glistening pile of red, slumped inside against the wall.

“Good damn super-rabies.” Beth said.

She quickly reloaded the rifle. If one cow was infected, they all might be. Should they go outside and check? It was too dark at the moment. Looking out the window, she couldn’t see a thing. And Boyd would be useless. He stood shivering in the corner like a baby.

Beth stood there debating, when out of nowhere the window broke with a crash. Another cow was trying to jump through. This one had managed to get its front legs in as well as its head. The broken glass jabbed into its torso, but it didn’t seem to care. It already had wounds on its face and was missing an eye. The animal thrashed and thrashed, forcing its bulk more and more into the house. Beth hefted the rifle again and pulled the trigger. This time she hit the thing right in the middle of its chest. It now had a deep red hole leading right through its heart.

But the animal didn’t stop. It just kept bucking and bucking. The window frame was breaking. Beth reached for more shells, but her shoulder and arm were in pain from the recoil of the shotgun and the box tumbled to the floor. The cow was bucking like an ox and it was almost in the house. Despite her pain she managed to grab a shell at her feet, load it once again and pull the trigger.

Boom!

It hit the thing in the chest again, but the animal didn’t seem to feel it. The red hole was now exposing its shattered rib cage, but the thing was still alive. It was teetering on the windowsill like a see-saw and then, getting its feet on the ground, it pulled its body into the house and, with its good eye, looked right at her.

Beth didn’t have any time to think. The shotgun was useless unless she could load it, but the shells were all over the floor, rolling every which way. The cow started to charge, its hooves slipping on the wooden floor. It gained purchase and hurtled its half-ton straight at her, jaws chomping and red saliva flying behind it.

In a second she was hit.

But she wasn’t hurt! And she was being pushed in another direction. To the side, towards the front door. It was Boyd! He was cradling her in his bulk and pushing her out of the way of the charging animal, the creature just missing both of them.

The beast tried to turn as it passed by but slid into the opposite wall on its side. Boyd kept moving, pushing Beth out the front door until they were both safely outside on their feet. The thing charged after them again, its bulk smashing into the door frame, too big to fit through. But it was shifting left and right and would get out any second.

Beth looked around. They had eight cows on the farm. Two were inside. That meant there could be six more somewhere out here. She saw them by the broken fence. They had smashed their way out of their enclosure and were eating something off of the ground. In the full moon she could see what it was. They were eating another cow that was lying on the ground, its guts spread out on the earth like a buffet. This time, Beth didn’t think it was funny.

The animals turned towards her almost as soon as she noticed them. They started to charge. Big black shapes plowing forwards in the moonlight. Beth and Boyd only had a minute before the beasts would reach them. They had to move, but where? These things could easily outrun them.

Then it dawned on her.

“Quick Boyd, bring me to the boat!”

The boy hesitated a second and then realized what she meant. He picked her up and ran with giant strides towards the river. They found the boat quickly in the dark. Behind them, she could see the creatures approach. The first one had made it out of the house and joined the other two in the charge. Beth waded into the shallow water and dropped her small body into the boat. Boyd started to untie the rope from the post. They only had thirty seconds at most.

And there was another problem. Beth could feel the wood of the boat starting to give way below her. There was no way it would stay afloat with Boyd’s giant body in it. He had just finished untying the rope and was about to join her. Beth didn’t hesitate. She tossed him the gun. Surprised, he stopped and caught it.

“Shoot them, Boyd!” she said.

He stood rooted to the spot, too scared to stay but not wanting to disobey her. The creatures were only a few yards from him.

“Turn and shoot! Quickly! Before they get us!”

She knew it wasn’t loaded, but Boyd didn’t. She watched his face, covered in fear and confusion, and knew he would listen to her. He had no choice.

“Now!”

He whirled around and as soon as he did she grabbed the oar and pushed the boat into the current. It quickly drifted away from the shore. She watched as Boyd frantically pulled the trigger.

Click click click click

The three animals converged on him, slamming his large body between them. Boyd screamed in pain and dropped to his knees. Their hooves smashed bone, their teeth tore off chunks of flesh and spilled his steaming entrails into the cool night air. As Beth drifted away from his screams, she saw the boy fall to the ground and the animals start to graze on his brains.

She lay in the boat, spent. The adrenaline had left her body and she could feel everything now. Her arm and shoulder were pure pain. Her collarbone was probably broken. Her feet were cut up and her legs were so tired they couldn’t move. She just let the current take her where it may. Beth knew she was safe now. The current was slow and gentle. The river would take her to civilization and then this nightmare would be over.

Confident in her success, she relaxed and stared up at the stars streaming by. The horrible sounds of the feast were behind her. All she heard was the lapping of water against the boat.

And then she heard something else. Something at the edge of the boat by her feet. A soft high sound. A mewling like a baby. She lifted up her head to look.

Small wet kittens were crawling out of the water onto the boat. Their fur glistening in the moonlight, their tiny tails whipping back and forth in anticipation of a meal. Beth had no strength left. She futilely tried to kick at them, but they clambered onto her legs, her body. Up to her face. They were close now, their swollen bloated bodies covered in slime. She could see into their mouths. Their teeth were small and shiny.

When they started to eat her, it took a very long time.


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Copyright P. R. O'Leary 2019

P. R. O'Leary writes and makes films so some day he won't have to work in a cubicle. In between these spurts of creativity he enjoys running long distances and going to film festivals. You can find his work at www.PROleary.com, and you can find him at his geodesic dome in central New Jersey.

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