Raymond and George had never thought much about religion. They’d tried going to services at their local church shortly after adopting the child – it seemed like the right thing to do – but the preacher said children weren’t allowed. No animals of any kind. Only people. It had never occurred to Raymond and George that there was that kind of bigotry in the world. They shopped around and found a more open-minded church about a thirty-minute drive away from their home. It was more trouble than they’d bargained for, but they wanted to be good parents.
They weren’t the first ones to adopt a fleshie as a pet child – almost a family member, really – but they were the first in their neighbourhood. They decided to get a boy, hoping he’d fit in with the all-male character of their household. The agency said his name was Rod, but they didn’t like that. So they called him Scott, instead. He was so cute.
They loved Scott like a son. It was biologically impossible for people to have children, and George had heard on the news that recent studies indicated that the lack of children was a probable cause of apathy and depression, an unconscious nostalgia for people’s animal past. So, when George noticed that Raymond was maybe getting a little depressed, he suggested that they nip the problem in the bud and adopt a fleshie child. Even if it was expensive.
The mere idea of it had so lifted Raymond’s mood that George had known it was the right thing to do. Besides, it’s not like it was a long-term commitment or anything. Scott was already four years old; he’d only be a child for another ten years or so. Adoption was such a new fad that people didn’t really know what they’d do with the fleshie children once they grew up. This was the topic of the preacher’s sermon.
Scott was sitting between Raymond and George, with a gag in his mouth to keep him from shouting during the service and his hands tied to make sure he didn’t remove the gag. George smiled when he noticed how affectionately Raymond kept his arm around the boy.
Most people thought that, once the children grew up, they should be sold so their brains could be used as food, or simply killed by their adoptive families, their brains eaten fresh. Fresh brains were such a rare – and delicious – treat. That packaged stuff was never as good. Too many preservatives.
But the preacher at this church was a radical. She loudly advocated animal rights, even human rights, for fleshies. George listened. He had never considered these ideas seriously before. He used to snicker at anyone so naive as to buy into that sentimental propaganda. Glancing at the boy, he pondered the preacher’s words. He wasn’t convinced, but he realized that he now needed to think about all this more carefully.
Food was a problem. Pet food came in two formats. There was kibble, which wasn’t too smelly, but Scott clearly wasn’t that enthusiastic about it. He loved the other kind, the moist food. But neither George nor Raymond could stand the smell of the stuff, those icky vegetable, leafy, and fruity odours.
They argued about it. Raymond was willing to try, for the boy’s sake. Plus, the vet said that the moist food was healthier.
George, however, was far from convinced. “No! It’s just too disgusting,” he said as Raymond served dinner. They were having brain casserole with chunky brain sauce. The brain cake they were going to eat for dessert was baking in the oven. It all smelled so delicious.
He continued: “And who cares if it’s healthier? It’s not like he’s going to have a long life or anything.”
Raymond looked hurt. “Don’t say that! You heard what the preacher said! We have to work towards becoming a more compassionate society! To stop thinking about these animals only as a resource, a source of food. I mean, look at them, they look almost exactly like us. Sure, their skin is kind of sickly smooth, without any rot, and you can’t see any of their bones or anything, but, still, they almost look like people. They can talk. They walk on two legs. It’s not their fault if they smell, well, alive or something. Sure, it’s kind of revolting that they grow old and then just stop moving once they die. But what we do to them in those factory farms just isn’t right!”
George waited before replying. There was a tense, uncomfortable silence – save for Scott’s constant crying and yelling and pounding. The boy always had so much fun when they locked him in that closet. After a few minutes, George glared at Raymond and said, “Are you done? Can I speak now?”
Raymond crossed his arms and nodded reluctantly.
“First, where do you think this meal comes from? From dead animals – animals just like Scott. This is what these animals are – food. Meat. They’re our only source of food. And we have to farm them, or else we wouldn’t be able to feed everyone. Do you—”
“Farming’s not natural. The preacher said so! And she’s right. You know she is.”
George was livid. “Don’t interrupt me! I let you drone on. Now you listen to me.”
Pouting, Raymond said, “Okay, I’m listening.”
George wagged his finger, his mouth open, ready to bark his anger at Raymond, but instead he let his arm and shoulders drop and said in a neutral voice, “Oh, what’s the use.” He walked out of the house.
What was really irritating George was that he found himself starting to agree with Raymond and the preacher. But he didn’t want to. He hated this kind of sentimental anthropomorphizing. Meat was meat. He was starting to regret ever adopting the boy. None of this would be an issue if Raymond hadn’t become so attached to Scott.
He wandered around the neighbourhood for an hour or so and then decided to go back home.
He heard the screams even before he opened the door. He walked into the living room and saw Raymond playing with the boy. Scott’s screams were so loud. He must really be enjoying himself. George could see that the boy had shat and peed himself in excitement, tears and snot running down his face. Raymond and Scott looked so beautiful playing hide-the-maggots that George’s anger melted away. He took a handful of maggots out of his mouth and joined the two of them at their game. Scott screamed even louder when George started pushing maggots up the boy’s nose. What fun! George softened even more and gave Raymond a loving look. They kissed, the boy’s screams making it all the more meaningful.
Basil and Judith Fesper were moonbathing on their front lawn when George stepped out of the house to wash the car. They waved at him to come over. Inwardly, he groaned. What were they going to complain about now? What had Scott done this time?
“Hello, Basil. Judith.”
They were both smiling. Basil said, “I wanted to apologize for almost eating your boy last month.”
That surprised George. “Huh ... thanks.” Scott had run away once a few weeks ago, and George had found Basil Fesper about to pop the boy’s skull open for a quick snack. But George had intervened just in time. Basil had said, “If I ever find that animal on my property again he’ll be a meal!” Since then, Raymond and George usually kept the boy chained up to keep him out of trouble.
Judith shook her husband’s shoulder, “Ask him, Basil. Ask him.”
Basil looked irritated for a second, but then recovered. “What the wife and I mean is that hearing all those screams coming from your house ... Well, it makes us yearn for the pitter-patter of little feet, you know? We’re thinking about getting a little one of our own. We were wondering if you could give us the number of the agency where you got Scooter.”
“Right. Scott. So, what’s the number?”
The preacher led George through the church. George looked at the frescos depicting the seven-day meteor shower that, according to Scripture, released God’s chosen from the ground and allowed them to inherit the Earth from the fleshie animals who had ruled it in prehistoric times. It was so hard for George to remember that chaotic age, centuries ago, when people first walked the Earth. All he could recall was an all-consuming hunger for fleshie brains. Scripture said the feeding frenzy before God gave people consciousness lasted another seven days, but who really knew? George had never really cared about religious dogma. He didn’t see the point in arguing over details nobody could prove or disprove. Maybe people had simply been too hungry to think straight.
They reached her office in the back. She offered him a glass of brain juice. “It’s organic,” she said. “From free-range fleshies.”
It tastes the same as regular brain juice, he thought.
Sitting behind her big desk, she asked, “Is everything alright with your family, George? How’s Raymond? And little Scott?”
“Well, there’s nothing wrong per se, but that is kind of why I’m here.” George looked at the floor and shuffled his feet, not sure how to continue. The preacher waited patiently.
George plunged ahead. “I’ve been thinking a lot about all that animal rights stuff of yours. At first I was pretty dismissive of it, but now I’m not so sure. I think I might be starting to agree with you. Especially the part about how it’s unnatural for people to live apart from animals. I mean, since we’ve adopted Scott, Raymond’s happier than he’s ever been. And even I have to admit that the boy’s fleshie screams are soothing for the soul. They make me feel ... I dunno ... complete or wholesome or something. And even the neighbours, who were antagonistic when we first got Scott, have been adopting fleshie children, too.” George was getting wrapped up in what he was saying, talking more rapidly. “For example, just next door, the Fespers have adopted three children. Three!” He shook his hand to emphasize his point, and a morsel of flesh snapped off his index finger and fell to the floor.
“Now, there’s a real sense of community in the neighbourhood. There never was before. People throw parties and invite the neighbours to meet their new children. That kind of thing. There’s never a moment without at least some screaming on our street. And it feels so right, so natural.”
“I’m very glad to hear that, George. But I don’t understand what your problem is.”
“Well ... I’ve been thinking about the appalling conditions in the factory farms, and all that. And ... And I think I want to do more. I want to help change things. Make this a better world for others like Scott, for the fleshies.”
The preacher stayed silent, scrutinizing George.
He fidgeted in his chair. “Did I say something wrong?”
“No. Absolutely not. Have you gone crazy?”
George couldn’t understand why Raymond was so upset.
“You’re going to get arrested. And where would that leave poor little Scott, with you in jail and only me to look after him?”
“But, Raymond, I’m doing this for Scott, so that he can grow up in a better world. I thought you’d be proud of me. That you’d want to do this too. You’re always talking about this fleshie rights stuff. Arguing with me to see things your way. And now I do. I really do. And I want to do something about it. Talk isn’t enough. It won’t change the world without action to back it up.”
“That doesn’t mean that I condone this kind of ... of terrorism. It’s criminal, George. Plus, your first responsibility should be to your family. To me and little Scott.”
George was getting angry and impatient. First, Raymond fought with him because George didn’t believe in animal rights, and now they were arguing because, more than simply spouting slogans, George actually wanted to do something to help the fleshies. Before he could stop himself, he yelled at Raymond, “You’re such a hypocrite. Such a coward. You don’t really want what’s best for Scott, just what’s best for yourself!” And, with that, he stomped outside and drove away, to the rendez-vous point the preacher had given him.
The preacher said that they were going to hit a fleshie factory farm. Blow up walls and liberate the fleshies. Make the authorities notice that people really cared about this, that it wasn’t just empty rhetoric.
There were nine of them altogether. George recognized some of them from church. They split up in three vans. One of the vans, not the one George was in, was loaded with explosives. They were going to aim that van at the wall of the farm. The explosion should blow a hole big enough to let the fleshies escape. In the confusion, they’d slip in and make sure all the fleshies were freed. There shouldn’t be too many people at the plant. They’d chosen a religious holiday for their operation: the first day of the Week of the Sacred Meteors.
Well, that was the plan.
The first part went off well. They drove far out of town, to where the factory was. The driverless van hit the wall. It exploded. It brought the wall down. They waited a few minutes, but no fleshies ran out. In fact, no-one ran out.
Confused, the group advanced towards the factory. They walked through the damaged wall and into the building. Inside, they saw that the van had hit the security guard’s office. His head had been torn off his body. It lay on the floor in the doorway to the corridor.
As the animal liberators walked by, the head said, “Hey! Who are you guys? What the flesh is going on here?”
The group ignored the security guard. George thought, I sure hope that guy has good medical coverage. Recapitation’s not cheap. Then one of the guys kicked the head. The preacher got mad: “Ralph! There was no need for that!”
Ralph, who was so tall he had to bend down to walk through the doorway, looked sheepish and said, “Sorry. Got too revved up.”
The factory felt empty, deserted. The corridor led to a number of closed doors. The preacher said, “The fleshies must be behind those doors. Come on. Let’s do what we came here for.”
The first door led to a broom closet. George opened the second door. Jackpot.
The room was huge. Naked fleshies were stacked in a big cage, pressed tightly against each other. Their arms and legs had been amputated, but they were still alive. There must have been hundreds of them. They were all covered in excrement. Their mouths were sewn onto transparent plastic tubes that led to a big vat above their cage. George could see that there was some kind of liquid goop flowing from the machines and into the mouths of the fleshies.
George could never have even imagined these conditions.
Between the door and the cage, there was a long stretch of tables, on which were piled mountains of amputated fleshie corpses with their skulls sawn open. On the floor, there was a long and deep tub filled to the rim with unprocessed brains.
The smell of the raw brains was overpowering.
The group of animal liberators, George included, mobbed the big tub and started chomping away at the cornucopia of raw meat.
In less than an hour, the tub was licked dry. High on food, the activists approached the cage that held the live amputated fleshies. They tore the iron bars apart with their bare hands. They ripped the tubes from the fleshies’ mouths. They cracked the skulls of the animals on the floor and gorged themselves on fresh brains.
They fed until they’d eaten all the meat stored at that factory.
George lay on the floor in a stupor, his body covered in blood, gore, and brain goo. He was roused by the police sirens. Around him, the other liberators were slowly starting to come out of their post-binge daze. George, alarmed by the sound, collected himself and hurried out of the factory. He could see the police vehicles on the road. He ran to a ditch and jumped in. He prayed that the police hadn’t seen him.
From the ditch, George saw the police round up all of his cohorts and search the would-be liberators’ two remaining vans. After a while, they drove off. He’d managed to escape. Raymond had been right. This had been a crazy idea.
They hadn’t done any good for the fleshies. All they’d done was eat.
And then George got angry at the preacher for putting all these stupid ideas into his head. Eating was natural. Meat was meat was meat. And that’s all there was to it.
George and Raymond invited the whole neighbourhood to their backyard barbecue. The Fespers were the first to arrive, but soon dozens of people were milling about the yard, their children tied up and well behaved, screaming and crying. Scott was tied to the fence, next to the barbecue.
Basil Fesper said, “I’ve never trusted preachers. All that holiness. It warps the mind.”
Raymond said, “Basil, it was only that one preacher who was criminally insane. Not all of them!”
Basil harrumphed. “They’re all trying to contaminate us with their subversive notions, I tell you. I’ll breathe before you ever see me in a church!”
His wife giggled. “Oh, Basil! Like you need an excuse for not going to church! Honestly, if I hadn’t insisted on a traditional wedding...”
Holding hands, George and Raymond left the couple to bicker with each other.
Raymond turned to George and said, “Darling, I don’t know why I got so depressed before we got Scott, but, almost losing you because of that stupid stunt, it really put things in perspective. I love you, and that’s all that really matters.”
“I love you too, Raymond. I’m sorry we fought so much. That I got so tense and angry all the time.”
“And all that over an animal! Over a ridiculous fad! What were we thinking?” They laughed.
Raymond clapped his hands to get the guests’ attention. “Okay everyone, I guess we should get started!”
George fired up the barbecue grill.
Everyone grabbed their children. Raymond looked at George, “He’s all yours, darling.”
George dug his fingers into Scott’s skull and cracked it open. He was looking forward to better and better times with Raymond now that they’d worked things out. But, George thought, I’ll miss the screams.
This story originally appeared in The Book of More Flesh (Eden Studios 2002), edited by James Lowder.
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