‘May you find a better life,’ Mary whispered to the pig before slicing its throat.
Instantly she knew her mistake. The pig trashed about in the inhumane confines of its cage. She had never killed anything before, let alone such a massive living being. The straw at her feet was virtually useless at soaking in the tidal wave of blood that spilt out of the animal. She willed herself to remain calm. To grant this living being a dignified death, and not look away. This was the evil of the world, the very one she was rebelling against, and she had vowed to never again look the other way. The sickly iron smell was overpowering.
Her face contorting, she forced herself to witness this noble animal’s last moment. Moments. She had never contemplated how long it could take a living soul to die. A flush of weariness flooded into her as she cast a glance down towards the other end of the warehouse. They couldn’t possibly complete their mission all in a night. Not while offering every pig the minimum of decency as it passed on. And yet they had, absolutely had to do both. It was the right thing to do. The noble thing.
A squeal emerged from a nearby stall, strengthening her courage. Once her sacrificial victim lay liberated at her feet, she stepped out of the narrow gutter between the pens. Her canvas shoes squishing stickily, drenched red with necessary evil. Sufjan came out to meet her on the main path transecting the warehouse.
‘Isn’t this how serial killers get their start?’ Sufjan whispered, wild-eyed. Trembling. ‘Cause I’m pretty sure this is how serial killers get their start.’
Mary ignored him. Or at least, her mind was out to pasture. Lunch! Out to lunch. Vegan. Out to vegan lunch.
‘They can’t possibly expect us to liberate them all in a night?’ was what she said, glancing down the impossible long row of pens.
‘I watched a documentary once, on a serial killer.’ Sufjan was saying, brutally hammering his point in. Nothing new under the sun. ‘He said, the first one’s the hardest. But after that, it’s just like…’
‘But if we just kill one, aren’t we part of the problem?’
‘… plucking fruit from a…’
‘Sufjan, you’re babbling.’
Sufjan shuddered, perhaps only then awaking to his body, soaked in cold blood.
‘Oh,’ was all he said. Which was better than babbling about how every other kill after the first one was just like plucking fruit from a…
‘Come on,’ she said reassuringly. ‘It’s only a statement if we relieve them all from their suffering. Otherwise, if we just kill one, I mean, we might as well be poachers.’ She chuckled once and swallowed the rest.
‘A statement, r… right.’
‘And if we kill none, we’re perpetuating the worse violence of all.’
Sufjan, at last, regained his wits. They must have gotten trapped under the slaughtered… the liberated pig.
‘Right!’ he exclaimed, too loud, too… enthusiastic? Then, in a knowing whisper, he recited, ‘Silence is…
‘Violence.’ they spat out as one.
Some of the penned pigs around them squealed. Both Sufjan and Mary flinched involuntarily at the ungodly noise. They were drowning in a sea of swine and the bloodletting had only just begun. Mary breathed with resolve and apprehension, thinking for the first time that she wished that their slogan might be the other way round. Violence is silence. Only so that they might perform their merciful violence in peace. It was a treacherous thought, drenched in sticky guilt. That same sticky guilt she had felt when she saw that Sufjan brought his noise-cancelling headphones, and thought—but only very briefly—that it might have been wise for her to have brought hers too.
Then what? Listen to your favourite playlist? God! She regretted the thought instantly because now she was stuck debating whether it would be worse to ‘get into it’, allowing herself to enter a state of murderous flow; or to ruin all her favourite songs by association with the gruesome act. However humane and just. Perhaps not humane and just to these specific pigs, but to their descendants. Well, not their descendants exactly. Anyway, a world without factory farming, that was the end goal. Where animals are free to roam… Actually, how would that work? Can you un-domesticate? Re-wild?
But that was beside the point. The point was that people—and so, she—needed to be aware of the violence. To re-invest the violent truth into the brainless act of eating meat. Return every ounce of the cruelty which the mass-farming industry spends millions trying to brainwash out of it.
In the end, however, it was never all that hard for her to remind herself of the strength of her conviction. All she needed to do was to conjure the image of Thumbs-Up Chicken. Thumbs-Up Chicken never failed her in her time of need.
She was about to mention this to Sufjan. How unconscientious of him to cancel out the squeals. For, wasn’t it the equivalent of turning a blind eye to mass farming? Then, she thought better of it. She needed him to stay focused if they were to ever get through a warehouse-worth of statement in a night. Besides, everyone is an activist for their own reasons. So, she advised herself to be the bigger woman, and let him do him. Oblivious to her crisis of faith, Sufjan had already slid his headphones around his ears, unknowingly smearing his face with blood in the process. She could see the little green light shining bright in the near-darkness just like the red light of ‘On Air’. The green light meant ANC; meant Active Noise-Cancelling; meant you do you; meant get to work; meant slaughter-house till 5. She sighed and chose her next pig to slaughter.
‘May you find a better life,’ she whispered before slicing another throat. And so on. For all her care not to find a rhythm in her work, not to gain a deft ability she never again wanted to use; she also felt relief that her increasing proficiency meant that they might just make it to the other end of the warehouse before dawn. Farmhands get up early, and she did not like to think what true murderers would do to her if they caught her in a warehouse full of slaughtered pigs.
When she could no longer remember how many souls she had liberated from this hell, she tried, in vain, to tell the time. Her watch was buried six feet under ground meat. She found a relatively bloodless spot under her armpit, and made it bloodful by wiping the crusty screen of her watch into the wetness. It took both her armpits, to do the job. But, by then, she was a couple of screens away from the digital clock. The watch face read:
Mom: Can you not leave the A/C on if you’re not home? Thanks. Also, Japanese kitchen knife missing? The sharp really one. Need it for Fillet Mignon on Fri. Ooops. Yeah, I know I know. Vegan kisses, my love.
She shivered. Glanced at the Japanese scripture on the soiled blade in her hand. The sharp really one. She smiled. Then, re-focused. Can you not.., she thought, and vowed to nevermore listen to whatever followed this passive-aggressive overture.
If you could only see what your ‘my love’ is doing with your sharp really imitation knife, she thought, knowing her mom only shopped at Walmart and Costco. That was actually really racist, now that she thought about it. The Walmart Japanese symbols. The—voluntary?—pidgin English: Sharp really one. Shameless.
She looked down the row of pens, for the first time making out the opposite wall of the warehouse in the gloom. Took heart. Then, panicked. Was she getting closer, or was it getting brighter? Using her nose, she scrolled down the screens back to the digital clock.
Quarter to four. And not a minute more. She looked up and saw Sufjan. He saw her too. Waved at her. Pointed at the wall. She looked at it again. The wall. It sickened her that she could now accurately gauge that they would be done on time. All that slaughter. She was so exhausted. Hungry. No, she mustn’t get hungry. Associating her favourite songs with slaughter wasn’t nearly as dangerous as associating slaughter with hunger. And there it was again. Thumbs-Up Chicken. The image that kept her faithful. Like a picture of the Virgin Mary in your wallet. In your car.
Now there’s an association you don’t make every day, she thought, imagining her patron saint giving her the thumbs up. Winking. As though saying bless you. As though saying God tests his favourites most of all. As though saying your sacrifice will be rewarded.
‘Thank you, Thumbs-Up Chicken Virgin Mary,’ she whispered, hardly aware of the madness of it all.
She fell back into the rhythm of things. Filled, now, with hopeful thoughts. Not so hard to come by when compared with all those hours she had spent mindlessly frying chicken. Fried chicken to be stuffed into the hole of people’s ignorance. Into the greasy mouths of the brainwashed masses. Mass farming, for mass consumption. A self-perpetuating cycle of mass feeding, mass eating… and for what? Has Mother Earth become addicted to eating the fast-food of human flesh? Fattened like livestock for whatever alien race out there is using our planet as a farm? Or will it only make us easier for them to hunt? Obesefying our own selves for them. Like pigs to slaughter.
And from the next liberation on, it was no longer liberation. She no longer needed to smother the act with kind words. It was slaughter. Plain and simple. But not pig slaughter. Not exactly. For most of what she killed was that person she had been. It was her sleep-walking self. That half-awake girl who had made fried food fast, so that she could eat a slow salad, in secret. It was an exorcism. And, as long as she was exorcising, it would not do to be disingenuous. Slaughter was slaughter. Neither did her crimes against the beautiful, sacred, living-breathing beings of this world did not limit themselves to ‘making’ fast-food. That’s right. She had danced, too. That most degrading of all dances, too. Had had the gall to be good at it, too. To smile when people honked or said lewd things to her, too. Oh yes, she had danced. Between frying pig-food for pig-people, she had waggled and twisted and bounced that Thumbs-Up Chicken sign on the busiest intersection in town. Paraded the mascot of the most abhorrent concept humankind could have ever conceived: A cartoon rooster—no, not a rooster, but a ‘chicken’. Not a living thing but a meat-to-be. A cartoon chicken giving passers-by a happy Thumbs-Up about eating it and its kin. The brazen hypocrisy of it! So shameless, so bold, that she herself had never even noticed. Day in day out, for sixteen months of mindless frying and dancing, frying and dancing, frying and dancing. Oh, it would take more than a warehouse full of pigs for her to exorcise that kind of ignominy.
‘Shit,’ she said, slicing the last pig’s throat. In her sleepwalking exhaustion, she had forgotten to witness the last few. To grant them her love and attention in death. Oh, it was all too much. She was just too tired to think. How many had she sleep-killed? Oh, how she hoped she had done good. That it all meant something. It had to. It had to. This was the first real action she had taken. The first real action. This was her awakening. She was no longer a pig in a pen, being fed through the system, promised an ever unreachable carrot. She glanced back at the vast warehouse. Neither were the pigs in their pens, pigs in pens, any longer. A whole slaughter of awakened souls.
Sufjan walked over and slid down the wall to sit on the ground next to her. She was so distant, so far removed, that she watched from above as the person that was Mary fist-bumped Sufjan’s waiting fist. She leaned over the side and vomited. It didn’t matter. She sat back against the wall and savoured the sweet oblivion of exhaustion. They had done it. Killed them all. She was so relieved, she cried. It didn’t matter. It must matter. No? That she cried? After all that exorcism. It must mean that her humanity was shining through, at last. No not humanity. Humanity was the culprit. The source of all evil. It was… what? Her sacred animal ancestry? She had never thought about it that way before. Couldn’t conceive of it now. She was too tired.
‘Get your news!’ the newspaper boy proclaimed to the masses. ‘Fresh off the press! Slaughter in the slaughterhouse! Activists found sleeping in the warehouse! Farmer makes a quick million selling off bargain meat! Won’t press charges! Calls activists: marketing geniuses! Dawn of a new age of mass-market meat? Buy a copy to find out!’
To the newspaper boy, it couldn’t matter less whether people bought the newspaper or not. Once the traffic would die down, he would make a pretty penny on the side selling the newspaper to the fried chicken place around the corner, so that they could wrap fried chicken with it. Would not even think twice about the irony. Only whether or not there would be one or two drumsticks in it for him. Life was not half-bad with one or two Thumbs-Up Chicken drumsticks on the side.