For This Meal We Give Thanks

You never do get used to waking up in the dark. Bleary-eyed, you shower, dress, poke listlessly at a piece of toast slowly going soggy and limp on your plate. The butter is rancid: you gag at the smell when you lift the lid on the plate but can’t muster the energy to throw it out.

It’s a windowless hole you live in, with a flight of narrow stairs leading from the peeling door down to the concrete floor. The whole room floods when the rain comes from the east; you clean and clean but there’s always the faint smell of mildew coming from somewhere.

The rest of the line is mostly all zombies, haggard and colorless in the bleach of the halogen lights, muffled out and alien with face masks and ear guards. You approach soundlessly from behind, exert steady slow pressure to gain attention; nothing fast, nothing startling. Cartoon gravestones posted on the break room walls memorialize fallen workers like HASTE MAKES WASTE and SHOULDA GONE SLOW. You can’t remember the last time you saw the sun, can’t remember what an unfiltered human voice sounds like. Everything is concrete, aluminum, moving lines, sparks.

It’s a nothing night in the middle of November when you find the body. You’re shocked, at first, more by the offensive red of the blood than by anything else. You don’t know the man, though his name tag says he was S. Patrick: it doesn’t mean anything to you. You recognize the marks on his throat, though, and on his wrists and elbows. Sloppy work. You cluck to yourself, and bend down to finish what’s left, shuddering with rare pleasure, before feeding S. Patrick back to the machine.

The next day they’ve reset the accident counter and there’s a mandatory staff meeting. You scan the crowd, looking for a brighter eye, rosier cheeks, a knowing twist to the cheek. It’s been ages since you’ve had a trainee, but everyone is safer when each person follows the rules. This, at least, you’ve taken to heart.