I see you haven’t gotten enough of the Dark Carnival yet.
Welcome back for more thrills and terrors to carry you into the night!
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Meat Is Murder
by Ken Mooney
“Hot dogs. Get your delicious hot dogs.”
Kl’vin warbles in front of my face again, doing his job and being damn good at it. We make a good team, the best of the last thousand years if we’re to believe all those Employee of the Month awards.
He shifts slightly, mimicking a smile and I know that someone’s coming. My eyes move on their stalks from the back of my head, sinking into the little dimples that Kl’vin has left for them.
We almost look human. Almost. But we don’t look out of place.
At the carnival, nobody stands out just because of their buggy eyes.
And before you lecture me about wearing a Parasite Skin, about body image and Demon Pride, we all do it. If you saw what I really looked like under here, your brain would probably melt. So we wear the Parasite Skins so we don’t scare you off. (Well, most of us do. But there’s that creepy Native American guy with his campfire, the one that uses some sort of magic to conceal his true form. Even we think he’s creepy, so he doesn’t count.)
So Kl’vin lures in the punters and then it’s my turn to shine, to give them the old razzle-dazzle. But I try not to roll my eyes when I see the guy that’s coming over. All awkward and skinny with his pale skin and greasy black hair. I’ve seen the type before: they’re fun to torture, but they’re not that good for business.
He wears skinny jeans and a pair of glasses, rims too thick to be fashionable, lenses too thin to truly need them. And there it is, across his chest, his raison-d’etre: a The Smiths T-shirt, proudly and obnoxiously telling the world that ‘Meat Is Murder.”
My thoughts ripple up through one of my tentacles, subsonic communication that I know only Kl’vin can hear.
Another vegetarian? Really?
Don’t complain, Dark One. Business is business. Besides, it’s fun to watch you work.
There it is again, the casual mention of the job title: ever since I got the promotion, he’s been using every chance to slip it in. He thinks it’s tongue-in-cheek respect and maybe it is: Kl’vin works hard, but there’s always a joke of some sort. If we didn’t know each other so well, I might take offence: I don’t feel comfortable with anyone thinking I do this job for the title or the glory.
It’s all about the product.
My tentacles slip into the arm-holes of Kl’vin’s form, taking control and making our link complete as I stretch and flex our fingers. When we talk, I make the noise, but he lip-syncs along to every word. It’s more fun than it should be: it’s all part of the show, and we spent long enough practicing in front of a mirror to make it work. All inspired by a drag queen, but that’s a story for another day…
“What can I get you sir?”
His shoulders are set, something like a scowl on his face: he’s not here to buy.
When he talks, it’s with the confidence of someone who has read all the facts on the internet, but never said them out loud. He can’t be more than seventeen in your human years.
“Do you have any vegan products? Under state legislation, you’re obliged to provide options.”
Oh, state legislation! If this kid knew how much state legislation was made for our benefit, he’d never be able to sleep at night.
We wave our arm towards the other side of the carnival where we know he can get falafel or popcorn from the human stalls.
“I’m sorry sir, you might find something at one of the other stalls. But we specialise in serving meat here.”
It’s not meant to sound sinister, but Kl’vin licks our lips and suddenly it takes on this menacing edge.
“They do good food, but you’d never know what could be in that stuff.”
I’m right, but he doesn’t know it: I don’t like this street food boom, too many people cooking with their grandmother’s recipes, too many unwashed hands and missing hairnets. Kl’vin and I have won awards for our hygiene, and they have pride of place at the back of the stall. We shift aside to make sure that he can see them.
The shoulders stiffen again and the kid decides it’s time to play aggressive, another trick he must have learned from watching protests on YouTube. He snorts, trying to make it sound like a laugh, but it comes out like the whimper of someone with a sinus problem.
“And you know what’s in all your hot dogs?”
Kl’vin responds like he’s been slapped in the face; he knows how I’ll react to that, and whispers back at me.
It’s too late: I’ve already taken offence and decided this kid is getting the full package. If only he could see under Kl’vin, he’d see me flashing my scariest, pant-wetting snarl.
“Of course. All of our meat is one-hundred per cent A-grade, ethically and sustainably sourced. We can trace it back straight to its place of origin and is served within twenty-four hours of being harvested.”
I choose my words carefully and I can see his ears prick up: kids like this thrive on words like ‘ethical’ and ‘sustainable’ and now he’s reminiscing about the hot dogs he used to eat with daddy and grandpa at the ball park and wondering if his life choices are still valid. He ignores the word ‘harvested’…
That’s my cue to move in with the kicker.
“We only use meat from animals that are already dead, so we have a company promise that no animals were harmed to make our product. Would you like a sample?”
My tentacles have been working underneath the counter-top, knowing that this would come up. We reach our arms down and grab a small tray where we’ve sliced up a couple of sausages, pierced them with small cocktail sticks, ready for any passer-by to sample our wares.
We lean forward and give him a rehearsed conspiratorial wink.
“Don’t worry, we won’t tell anyone.”
He thinks about it for just a moment, but his mind is already made up: he reaches forward, finger and thumb gingerly pinching around a cocktail stick. The piece of sausage he’s chosen looks good: thick and juicy and probably a fraction bigger than the pieces around it. He may be a vegetarian, but he still has that teenager’s desire to have the biggest piece.
He pops it in his mouth. One bite and the wedge of sausage explodes, juices gushing over his tongue and activating his taste buds. He tries to resist, but by the time he starts to chew, the taste has overwhelmed him, his jaw working slowly, his eyelids starting to fall as he savours the flavours and tastes he’s been denying himself for who knows how long.
He likes it.
Of course he likes it. Nothing quite tastes like that first bite.
“Tastes good, doesn’t it?”
We smile as he opens his eyes again, his pupils wide with hunger. He wants more, might even make a purchase.He nods, licking his lips and looking to the tray once more.
“Yeah, it does. But it tastes a little…different.”
I glance downat the rest of the pieces on the tray. Each one tells a different story, but it’s all there in the grain for any master craftsman to read.
“That’s a German sausage. It’s a little bit more grainy; it’s from drinking all the beer.”
And this one drank a lot of it. Enough to kill his own wife.
We laugh, while he just looks blankly at us: like most of you humans, he doesn’t get the joke.
“We also have Australian, British, Portuguese. And of course, plenty of classic American dogs too.”
“What’s the Australian like?”
Stringy. Today’s batch is picked from the bones of an adulterous sex addict. Second Circle meats aren’t going to convert anyone.
We point at the boy, a smile growing on our lips.
“It’s an acquired taste. But I have the perfect one for you. Portuguese.”
Straight from the Third Circle of Gluttony. Nice and juicy. Perfect for him.
My tentacles work underneath the counter once more, although we make a great effort to put on a show with our hands, slicing the bun and getting the various condiments ready. The hot dog gets a fine line of ketchup, another of mustard and a smattering of onions. We present it to him with a flourish and a smile, half wrapped in a napkin, the tip of the sausage sticking out of the bun, just enough to tease.
He rummages in his pockets for a wallet, but we shake our head. Sure, we’re a business, but sometimes a free sample is worth a thousand sales. The brat’s pride, combined with that T-shirt, will give us both enough stories to keep the guys in Head Office entertained for a few hours.
“This one’s on the house. Tell all your friends to pop by. We’re here until the end of the month.”
His face crumples in confused thanks, but he nods, mouthing something unintelligible.
His eyes lower towards the hot dog and I smile, but Kl’vin doesn’t move: if anyone saw us, they’d see a wide mouth, filled with three rows of sharp teeth. But he won’t look at us, and it’s too dark for anyone nearby to have caught the display.
But it doesn’t matter. I can still see his face as he takes his first bite, that eye roll of delight, that hunger to chew and swallow so he can have another taste.
He’s already walking away, but I know he’ll be back. He’ll probably bring his friends too.
They always come back for more after their first taste of human flesh.
Ken Mooney was born in Dublin, Ireland and still lives there. From an early age, he wanted to be an author or a writer, going all the way back to when he used to write continuations of his favourite TV shows, films and comics: it’s too embarrassing to discuss the contents here and now.
Ken attended Trinity College Dublin where he studied English Literature, furthering his love of genre fiction and the act of storytelling. A variety of desk jobs helped to pay the bills, but Ken was always found tapping away at a keyboard, and just couldn’t get certain ideas out of his head.
Godhead was one of those ideas; it was originally written nearly fifteen years ago. Like most things, it’s changed significantly since then, but the bare bones are still there. What it’s turned into, however, is something completely different. Godhead is his first book, and is the first entry in The Last Olympiad series: he is currently working on the sequel and an unrelated non-fiction book about the End Of The World.
Ken works in the TV advertising industry, and when not writing or working, he can usually be found reading all sorts of literature or comics, playing video games, watching TV or movies…and then arguing over their literary merit (or lack thereof.)
Anyone may enter the giveaway. This includes the artist and writers contributing to the Dark Carnival, as well as the readers of the stories. Enjoy! Muahahahahaha!
Ahem. I mean good luck making it out alive.