He was ravenous, but couldn’t eat.
The carpark was empty as McDowell rolled up, the horizon blue with sleep. He trudged into the warehouse; inside, Pioneer’s Pride was quiet, poised. It didn’t feel like a slaughterhouse, thick with the smell of death and the last minutes of animal panic. It looked more like a factory, an innocent assemblage of conveyor belts and vats, used for making toys or pens.
That’s what made it so sinister, thought McDowell.
At 7am the trucks arrived. McDowell watched the birds tumble out, down the ramp like kids on a slide. The chickens squawked and sent white feathers up into the sky.
Workers grabbed them by the legs and hung them from a moving chain, an absurd conga-line of inverted chickens. Machinery dunked them into a tank of water, and an electric shock knocked them out. Only sometimes it didn’t.
McDowell’s wife was home when he shuffled through the door. The smell of roasted pork filled his nose. He scuffed his boots along the floor. A gentle breeze blew through the flower-patterned curtains, bringing with it the muddied fields.
McDowell slumped at the table and picked up his knife and fork. He was ravenous, but couldn’t eat. His wife plucked at the carcass with a listless expression. She didn’t know what to do now, without the farm.
By late evening the wind had dropped and McDowell lay amidst a flat heat. His wife was already snoring. He had showered, but couldn’t scrub out the smell of blood.
He thought about the chickens that stayed awake passed the water-shock. The chain pulled them to a rotating blade, and the unconscious birds had their throats slit. The wakeful ones, unlucky, sometimes dodged it, and they ended up in the scald tank.
McDowell shut his eyes.
In his dreams meat hung from hooks, crawling with sinew and adipose tissue; the flesh descends from bone, the bone rises through flesh. He couldn’t understand why it wasn’t him hanging there.
He falls with the birds into the tank, swallowed by heat. It strips his feathers and boils him to death. He screams, silent. The dream consumes him. When he wakes, he wishes he was like the lucky chickens, with his throat slit.