I have several short stories that haven't found markets, so I'll share here on occasion. This dystopian was written in 2019 and originally titled Slaughterhouse and it's under 1k words! I love writing short fiction between novels to work out ideas. Revising novels can take years. (I'm close to completing the revisions of a Middle-Grade Magical Realism story ~ While I await an agent's response on an R&R for another novel.) Writing short fiction is always fun.
The uneven floorboards creak as I follow the metallic odor, careful not to awaken the supervisor who supposed to be on guard keeping people like me out. Metropolis sent me.
It’s a death sentence to take a photograph. No one’s supposed to know this place exists. The ruins, the rusted leaking pipes dripping sulfur water, my mind reels back: pipes forced down the throats of unwitting birds and geese. Their stomachs pumped with grain and sawdust protrude out of proportion as they gurgle up undigestible remnants—humans could have eaten instead.
Fatty liver is still a delicacy to the Upper Echelons of our ruling class, the exploitation class, those who seek out our dwindling resources and gobble them up at their leisure. Even after the fowl disease stopped anyone with any sense. Not for the humans who pumped their veins with antibiotics, allowing them to continue their exploitive appetites.
Appetites that destroy our environment. There’s little freshwater or land left to farm. This factory is one of the few outposts churning out animal byproducts. The buffalo and cows died-off a decade ago, the rest of the land creatures drowned in the floods. Birds that didn’t escape were caught and now, here. It used to be only geese and ducks that were turned into fatty liver, now it’s any bird caught alive.
The camera I brought bangs against the side of my leg as I step over a bird’s carcass, the flesh peeled back, boney ribs exposed.
The others in my camp grew too hungry and tired for this mission. As a ranking member of Metropolis, I volunteered. If we release the caged fowl into the sky, they could eventually proliferate and maybe, one day, we’ll eat fresh eggs again. Until then, it’s snails and mollusks we fish-out of the tide pools.
I don’t really need the camera for what I’m about to do. But I want a before and after shot. Show the Caver’s the truth. Most, refuse to leave their cave dwellings in fear of viruses.
The birds sense my approach, fluttering, cawing, frantically flapping against their cages. “Shh,” I whisper as if that’ll do anything.
I’m here to release them.
“Who’s there!” shouts the guard.
I slide behind a bloodied cage, a goose’s one eye watches, and hold my breath. Heavy mud-coated boots pass inches away and I shrink smaller, chewing my lips shut. The guard isn’t much taller than my 5-feet. Stunted growth like the rest of us.
But he has a turbo. One laser beam in my direction, I’ll disintegrate into vapor, and then what? What happens to my little sister, my baby brother, our grandfather, what’s left of my family.
The birds squawk an ungodly sound. They’re ratting me out. Sinking, sinking.
“Hey you – the guard shouts, his turbo steady—“get up!”
I push the hair out of my face, so I can meet his eyes. If he’s going to kill me, I want to see it coming. Defiant, jaw set, teeth clenched, I charge forward.
Tackle. I bite his legs and rip at his arms until I’ve wrestled the turbo from his grip, and now he’s up against the wall staring into the barrel.
“What’s your plan, young lady?” he says with a bored expression. “Ah… I may already know. You want to repopulate the planet with birds?”
I don’t speak and I don’t want to listen. I’m the one holding the turbo. I search the nearby cages for one large enough to set him inside. “Over there,” I swing the turbo.
“I wouldn’t release these birds if I were you,” he says.
They lie! All the guards lie to save their own bought skins. Living side-by-side with the Exploitation Class up on the mountain. It’s manipulation. I’d better hurry before more guards arrive. He could have set an alarm for all I know. The birds are worth more than gold was a decade ago. Food is our scarcest commodity. So are human lives.
“They’re sick birds, you know,” he says after sitting inside the cage. “They’re making the Upper Echelon’s sick too, haven’t you heard?”
“I know they’re sick.” I lock the cage. “Doesn’t mean the birds can’t live a natural life.”
“Cavers sent me,” he says. “I’ve been making sure those on the mountain eat every last bird. They’re dying up there on the mountain, you know. The ruling class is disappearing. Couldn’t stop their exploitation and they never listened when we, the scientists, warned about the health of the birds.”
“Shut up.” I leave the slaughter room and enter the office, pull the wires on all security systems, and return to the birds. Open the cages and I begin scooting the birds out.
“They’re sick,” the guard shouts. “They’ll be sick for generations.”
Ignoring the guard, I tip over the buckets—is that grain? I squat down and scoop it back inside. I’ll bring what I can with me. Water buckets, blood buckets, I smell ammonia and gag as I flip another bucket drum.
The geese squawk, webbed feet quickening as I hold the door open until every able-bodied fowl is outside and soaring into the chemtrail-streaked sky.
“Don’t do it!” the guard shouts. “I’ve been here for a long time, making sure no one releases the birds into the wild.”
“So, you’re just keeping them to suffer more forced-feeding. You’re lying.”
“It’s the only way to get the Upper Echelons out. They believe it’s their privilege to destroy every last living thing on this planet for their consumption.”
“No kidding.” I poke at two robins lingering behind while the guard rambles on and issues more warnings. “Where’s your tattoo?” I ask.
He sticks his dark brown arm through the cage, showing me the zig-zag river, the Caver’s tattoo and I take a deep breath. “What’d you do with the U.E. Guard?”
“Either you tell me or you tell Metropolis,” I warn.
“I feed him to the birds.”