OK, so, in the interest of biting the bullet and taking the whole “challenge” concept from my last post way too seriously, I have decided to go ahead and post my “Horror Story” for the Short Story Challenge in the competition critique forum. It seems like a very participatory group, which is different from any contest I’ve entered before, and I was all Big Talker Betty Crocker about having nothing to fear from feedback on this story, which is a lot easier to say when you keep the story secret and don’t give anybody the chance. So here goes.
- My Assigned Genre: Horror
- My Assigned Subject: A Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)
- My Assigned Character: A Prisoner
- Max word count: 2,500
They’re looking for “interesting and inventive” stories, and I’m gunning for big points in creative interpretation of genre and theme. With that in mind, please enjoy “More Meat, More Quickly.” And if reading it horrifies you, by all means say so — this is probably the only time I’ll take that as a compliment.
More Meat, More Quickly
Probably she should have just jumped off the damn bridge.
Not because she was some kind of suicidal sad-sack: she and Andrew had been so excited to find out they were going to be Mommy and Daddy! That was only a few months ago; Janessa tried to cling at least to the fuzzy memories of their joy and keep a positive mental attitude. She understood that the Universe was listening; that if she lay quaking on her cot fretting over the worst possible outcome, it would come to pass. Oh, you’re the mother of a sin against nature? Well, if you say so… There was no guarantee that she would give birth to a monster, after all; it’s not like that shit happened in real life.
For she had also to cling to the certainty that this mess wasn’t any kind of “real” life to keep herself from going batshit crazy. She was a crafty kindergarten teacher from San Francisco, a fresh transplant to her new husband’s idyllic Nebraska town, not the prisoner of some greasy-haired thug in an overcoat and the biotech company pulling his strings. The green cinderblock walls of her “room”—thinking of it as her cage was not much of a morale booster—threatened to crush her sanity under the weight of their sameness, so she spent most of the day like an invalid who couldn’t find the remote, watching reruns of her life on the back of her eyelids.
She wasn’t cut out to be a farmer’s wife, mind you, but life as the wife of a farmer’s hunky son suited her just fine. They lived in a neat little house in the neat little town twenty miles up the road from the farm Andrew’d grown up on. Long-term, Andrew’s plan was law school, but for now his dad needed help on the farm, and Andrew thrived on the hard work and fresh air. Six mornings a week, Wrassler waited in the back of Andrew’s truck, tail wagging away; he ran amok in pig slop and corn all day, then rode home asleep in Andrew’s lap. Six nights a week, Janessa got dinner on the table some kind of way, and Andrew would sack out on the couch in his drawers, snoring until Janessa could barely hear the TV, even when she was watching Glee. But not on Sundays. Sunday was Their Day. Their day to loll in bed with the paper and sip French press coffee and, as Andrew liked to put it, “try and make one of these babies everybody’s always talking about.”
It was on one such Sunday that The Man slithered into their lives. They strolled home from town, trading licks from teetering ice cream cones and ruling out baby names, and he was waiting for them on their front porch, bundled in a shiny gray overcoat even as Janessa worked up a sweat in her tank top.
“No idea,” Andrew said.
But he knew them. “Ah, Mr. and Mrs. Showalter.” He rose from the wicker rocker to welcome them onto their own porch. “The perfect afternoon for an ice cream, I dare say.”
“Yeah, well, we would have brought you one,” Andrew said, “except who the hell are you?” Andrew was neither aggressive nor suspicious by nature and generally approached strangers with the assumption that he was about to make a new friend, but The Man seemed to invite challenge with his smarmy familiarity; Janessa felt Andrew bristle beside her, and was equally wary.
“I represent PigPerfect,” The Man said without offering a name. “Perhaps you’ve heard of us?”
“You own the farm next to my parents.”
“We own most of the farms in Nebraska,” said The Man, “and I’ve just come from making your folks an offer.”
“They’d never sell,” Janessa blurted.
“So I’ve been given to understand,” said The Man. “But here’s the thing: through nature’s miracle of neighbor helping neighbor, many of the pigs in Mr. and Mrs. Showalter’s care are now… let’s say ‘enhanced’ with a new gene developed by PigPerfect.”
“You mean, like a GMO?”
The Man frowned. “That’s such a charged term,” he said. “Think of it more as a revolutionary way to boost the world’s bacon supply. These animals’ bodies process nutrients in such a way that almost every calorie they consume is stored, so they produce more meat, more quickly. And the thing is, it’s a proprietary gene.”
“So, we have a legal claim to most of your parents’ pigs anyway. It’s just that lawsuits get expensive. For farmers like your father, I mean,” The Man said with a smirk. “Your father was most emphatic in his refusal to sell, and I was hoping I might bring you around to my point of view and enlist your aid.”
“Aren’t you saying you’ll take their farm anyway, even if they don’t sell?”
The Man nodded. “It’s rarely a painless process.”
“I’ll bet,” Andrew said. He turned to Janessa. “If that’s how it’s gonna be, I could at least talk to them.”
The Man smiled. “I’d be much obliged,” he said. “You help out, I take it?” he went on.
“You work around the animals? Clean up after them?”
“Well yeah, of course. Pigs take some tending. They’re clean animals, but it’s sometimes dirty work.”
The Man smiled. “Of course,” he said. “It’s just a formality, you understand, but PigPerfect is required by law to advise you against having children until you’ve been away from these pigs for at least five years.”
Janessa suddenly shivered in the warmth of the evening and Andrew put his arms around her. “But Janessa’s pregnant.”
“Congratulations,” said The Man. “As I say, it’s merely a formality. Our best wishes for a happy and healthy bundle of joy.”
As the weeks ticked by, Janessa’s initial trepidation about a tainted pregnancy ebbed. She had bigger problems than some random creep in an overcoat turning up on her porch and alluding to a curse on her baby like the Evil Queen in a fairy tale.
Keeping Andrew fed was one of them. He’d always been a beefcake, but lately he ate like it was his job, and she’d swear he got bigger every day. She’d heard of guys adding sympathy weight, and she was touched by Andrew’s emotional connection to her process of growing their first-born, but talk about “more meat, more quickly;” if they could genetically engineer a pig to balloon like her husband was doing, bacon would be free.
And Wrassler ate constantly. Chasing squirrels had long been his passion, but Janessa had never seen him catch one. She’d certainly never expected to see him rip through one like a deranged werewolf, but lately growling carnage had become a regularly scheduled program outside the kitchen window. When a distraught Tootie Carlisle papered the neighborhood with Missing Cat fliers, Janessa convinced Andrew that they should probably keep Wrassler indoors at least until whatever had him all riled up blew over.
Which was a fine idea until the night Wrassler went balls-to-the-wall bonkers. Until the start of his recent rampages, Janessa had heard Wrassler growl maybe twice, but by now the rusty chainsaw in his throat was a regular feature—she barely registered it over Andrew’s snoring until Andrew started tossing and turning. “Wrassler, what the hell?” he hollered, scrambling to sit up. “Get off me, Boy. Ow! Quit bitin’ on me.” Janessa was still swimming to the surface of consciousness when Andrew howled in pain. “You fucker!” he yelled. “Janessa, I think he’s trying to eat me!” He thrashed in the bed, and Wrassler thrashed with him, teeth clamped tight on the meat of Andrew’s leg. Janessa had never heard a man holler and cry like Andrew; by the time he choked out “Get my gun!” she was already scrambling for it in the closet.
Not like she knew how to use it, but she figured it was in her cultural DNA as an American to at least be able to point and shoot. In a calmer moment she surely would have been worried about missing her mark and shooting her husband instead, but through the adrenaline fog she could see only Wrassler. She shot once. Twice. Then a third time, even though the slumped dog had gone quiet by then. She was still standing in the middle of the floor crying when the cops broke down the back door.
Andrew hadn’t suffered more than a painful flesh wound, but the cops and the doctors agreed, Wrassler had meant business. Bandaged and drugged, Andrew came home and ate everything he could reach from morning til midnight. He ate, and he grew, and Janessa researched gym memberships in neighboring communities because “beefy” was one thing, but “huge” was getting out of hand.
It was the rusty chainsaw that tipped her off. After weeks of just passing out on the couch under a pile of fast food burger wrappers, Andrew had started coming to bed with her again. He was as sweet and attentive as ever, and his little love nibbles stirred her. The first time she yipped an “Ow!” he even relented. But he kept nibbling, and she kept yipping, and when she heard Wrassler’s growl in Andrew’s throat, she scrambled from the bed. “Maybe you should go back to the couch tonight,” she managed to suggest around the heart in her throat. He hefted himself out of the bed, but rather than leave, he advanced on her, dead-eyed and growling. Great. What was she supposed to do, shoot Andrew? Eyes locked on his, she led him in a slow circle around the bed, and when she could reach the door, she bolted.
He gave chase, but she’d always been able to outrun him. Of course, that was before he’d knocked her up with a baby the size of a Buick, but she was motivated and kept her lead, even as she heard him chugging along on her tail.
She was across Main Street and halfway up the bridge over the highway when she ran out of gas. She stumbled once, then again. Lactic acid firmed her legs up like concrete, and Andrew steadily closed the gap. She climbed over the railing onto the narrow ledge simply to create a barrier, and she tried desperately to reason with her crazed husband as he stalked ever closer.
It wasn’t until he slumped dead in the road that Janessa realized she’d heard the shot, and then she flung herself back over the railing. “Andrew!” She ran to his side, and when the stranger pulled up beside them in his dark car, she let loose. “You just killed my husband, you maniac!”
The Man stepped calmly from the car and approached her quietly. He was wearing his same overcoat, his same smarmy grin. “You.” she snarled. “You did this.”
He put his arm around her and guided her gently towards the car. “Yes,” he said. She shivered. “I can assure you it was quite unintentional, and rather unfortunate.”
“’Unfortunate?’ He’s dead, you psycho!”
“You’re hysterical,” he said. “Quite understandably. Here,” he said, opening the car door, “You should sit and rest.” He helped her into the backseat, then slipped around the car and into the driver’s seat. “Please, don’t worry. We are quite interested in your baby’s safe arrival.” He locked the doors. “Know that we’ll take every precaution.”
The drive to what was left of the old state hospital was a short one. She made a run for it as soon as The Man unlocked the doors, but she was exhausted and easily tackled. She howled and hit and bargained with the moose of a man who carried her over his shoulder into the basement, but she never saw the handcuffs coming; she was chained to the bed long before any such eventuality would have occurred to her.
The Man appeared by her bed shortly. “Certain… let’s say ‘side effects’ of the hormone have come to our attention,” he told her. “What happened with your dog is not especially uncommon. Your husband? Most unexpected. The efficient storage of nutrients, as I’m sure you understand, could have important implications in the fight against hunger. It’s the bottomless and apparently savage appetite that needs… let’s say ‘addressing.’ We are quite anxious to see what your pregnancy yields. This is our first opportunity to see what characteristics, if any, are passed on to the next generation. I can assure you you’ll be quite famous.”
“Cuz that’s my main concern here, handcuffed to this bed. My husband just tried to eat me!”
“You’re rather snappish when you’re tired,” The Man observed. “I’ll let you rest.”
The Man had eventually brought The Doctor, and these were the only two people with whom Janessa had had even the meanest contact in the nine weeks since. The child inside her refused to be satisfied; her hunger was physically painful, and though she ate constantly, her own body lost muscle and energy every day even as her belly grew unmanageable. At this point the handcuffs were merely symbolic; she couldn’t have gotten herself out from under this baby if the old loony bin was burning down around her.
When the first signs of her labor jolted Janessa awake, The Man and The Doctor were already there. “Very good,” she heard The Doctor say. “I figured he’d be along before too much longer. Congratulations, Mrs. Showalter.”
“Keep your ‘Congratulations,’” Janessa snarled. “I don’t want this mutant baby.”
“Have no worries there, dear,” counseled The Man. “PigPerfect owns the patent on any number of hormones that went into creating the little scamp. He’s been company property since his conception.”
“You are a psycho.”
“Sticks and stones, Mrs. Showalter,” said The Man. “Now be a good girl and bring us that baby.”
Janessa had no choice when the time came; what was she going to do, keep the kid inside her until his first day of school? “That’s right,” coached The Doctor. “Push.”
She heard the rusty chainsaw even before The Doctor and The Man cried out.
“Good God!” cried The Man.
“I think it bit me!” cried The Doctor.
“But that’s no baby…”
Janessa couldn’t see the baby—it was still mostly inside her—but she sure saw The Doctor and The Man shoving each other aside to be the first to flee the room. “Don’t you leave me in here!” she hollered, tugging at the handcuff that clanged against the bed railing. “You monsters! You cowards! Don’t leave me alone in here!”
The rusty chainsaw grew louder, and she struggled to be free from the bed, but she was tired. And weak. And trapped. She heard The Man say to The Doctor as they scurried away, “She should have just jumped off the damn bridge.”
“Don’t worry,” she heard The Doctor say. “When she sees what she’s just unleashed on the world, she will.”
The part I liked best was all of it.
With your permission, I’ll pass this review on to the judges…