Days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months. Months turn into a few years. Bob has been your constant companion. He is firm but each day a new lesson on the way of The Butcher is handed down to you. A growing sense of pride that you feel is kept humbling in check. Too much pride leads to carelessness. Carelessness leads to displeasing The Butcher. Displeasure leads to vanishing. You want nothing to do with the latter.
The wood cutting has toned your body nicely. The muscles are not too lean but not too bulky either. You are perfectly fit. Your hard work has paid off. You still chop the wood for the smoke houses but you enjoy your new position much more, preparing the meats. For the past six months, you have been learning what can only be called an art form. To your delight, Bob was promoted the same day as you were. You are a team, after all.
You are amazed at how much Bob already knows about the fine art of seasoning. You soak up his infinite flow of knowledge like a sponge in water. Every drop adds to your repertoire and will please the Butcher. You hone your craft, pouring your essence into every creation. Each time you see another white parcel, you know that The Butcher hand selected it for you to prepare. The honor is incredible. All day is dedicated to its preparation. The sense of accomplishment is almost overwhelming some days. Thankfully, Bob is there to guide your hand every step of the way. You love that man. He is your brother and mentor. You are ever so grateful that The Butcher brought you two together.
It is in that moment that you realize that you would die for the Butcher and for Bob. If either of them required it of you, you would gladly give both your arms and legs so that they would not starve. Your heart swells with love. You almost reveal this to Bob but something stops you from doing just that. Love is not expressed through empty words and hollow promises. It is expressed through actions. A man can say anything he likes, but if he does not back up his words, they become nothing more than hot air. That would not do at all. That would be careless so you keep your mouth shut and dive into your work with a new jest. Bob approves of your new found work ethic. No longer does he have to guide you along. The two of you are able to prepare more and more intricate meals turning the mundane into a masterpiece of culinary perfection.
One morning, you awaken to find Bob’s cage empty. You are saddened by this turn of events. Bob was, in your mind, an extension of The Butcher himself. If he could become one of the vanished, could you be next? This disturbing train of thought nearly shatters your soul. You stare at your dear friend’s cage. Hopelessness tries to worm its way into your heart. Poor Bob. You shake your head sadly and leave your cage as instructed. You take some steading breaths to calm yourself. You have a busy day ahead, wood cutting in the morning and a simple dinner to prepare in the afternoon. You tell yourself that you will work even harder today. You are down a partner but that does not mean that you have to give up. You know in your gut that you are capable of performing the work of two men. Today you will prove it. Today will not be the day that you become one of the vanished.
The wood cutting had been especially hard today. By afternoon, your arms are almost too heavy to lift. You are weary to your very bones. Bob has still not showed up. You don’t expect him to do so. With a tired sigh, you concentrate on your shower. There was work to be done. The day was not nearly over. No, this afternoon you still have to prepare the evening meal. As you lather your skin, slowly moving your hands down your stomach, you think about the task ahead of you. Closing your eyes to visualize each step.
What can you do with a simple rump roast? The irony of the portion selected for today hits you. Do you dare? Your hands are on auto-pilot as your mind whirls with the possibility of going ahead with your plan. The temptation is too great. You are excited. That familiar feeling of your nerve endings coming alive sweeps over you as the warm water caresses your head. You place on hand absent mindedly on the wall, letting the other continue its work while the water cascades down your shoulders and back.
Your excitement grows at the prospect of recreating the dinner menu that Bob had described all those nights ago. This is a bold move on your part. One mistake could cost you dearly. For one moment your breath catches in your throat. Every muscle in your body tightens and contracts. You long to fulfill your plan. The desire is so overwhelming that you begin to pant. You go through each dish in your mind, thinking of simple twists you can add. By the time you reach the dessert, your mind spirals out of control with pure bliss. You groan deeply in your throat as every fiber of your being explodes in ecstasy.
You stand still for several moments until your muscles stop contracting wildly. It is only then that you open your eyes. You free hand is slick. Looking at it, you realize that you had been doing more than your usual hard tug and adjustment. You run the substance around in your fingertips, marveling at its texture. It makes you think of the sauce you wish to drizzle over the roast. A smile spreads across your face as you slide your hand once final time across your length. One hard tug is all you need to carry on with your plan with confidence.
For hours afterwards, you are a fury of constant motion. There was so much to do and so little time to do it right. No scratch that, so little time to do it The Butcher’s way. The rump roast had been left the night before to marinate. For that, you were grateful. The special rue that you had conjured up in the shower would take a bit of work to create. Every dish is coming together in unison. Your mind is so focused that it could cut better than any knife created by man. Finally, your work is finished. Everything is in its place and gleaming. You have never felt more alive.
The stout guard enters the kitchen. His usual sour demeanor is gone this evening. He regards you with warmth instead of extreme malice that is his norm. When he speaks to you, there is a special kindness that you have never heard before.
“You are to serve dinner this evening. We are having a special guest of honor. You have been invited to join in tonight’s festivities as well.”
You give a curt nod and only show your feelings of joy through your eyes. The guard nods back and ushers you into the formal dining hall.
You are shocked at what you find upon entering. There has been a table setting for five. You know that you have prepared more than enough food for this grand occasion. This is not what perplexes you. Sitting at the table is none other than Bob. He is across from a slightly younger woman and next to the man who carelessly let his leg get chopped off. At the head of the table is another person you cannot quite see for the lights are too dim on that end and shadows hide the features.
You hide your feelings and begin to serve dinner. Bob gestures for you to sit next to the young woman. You do so and place your napkin firmly in your lap with only a slight tremor in your hand. The feast begins. The only sound is the gentle scrape of cutlery on the plates for a while. The young lady asks you kindly to pass her the yeast rolls. You do so graciously. Her manners are that of a true lady of her position. You feel the first real stirring of desire. You quickly push the damning thoughts out of your mind before they can manifest in your actions.
You dare to look towards the shadows out of your peripheral vision hoping to catch a glance at the figure residing at the head of the table. All you can see of him is his hands. They are immaculately kept and look as if they could perform surgery at a moment’s notice. It must be The Butcher. It is hard to tell from this angle. They could be feminine hands that you are seeing. You focus once again on your meal, pleased that it tastes even better than you had imagined.
Dinner winds down. Everyone sits patiently for the head of the table to finish. You dare once again to look into the shadows this time openly. Your gaze wanders to Bob who is watching you intensely. His expression is unreadable. Your eyes lock for a very long time before a familiar voice breaks the silence that hangs in the room like an unspoken question.
“You have improved upon my meal. Do you know how this makes me feel?”
You turn towards the head of the table where the darkness has been banished and see the stout guard looking calmly back at you. All thought has fled your mind. There was a time when you thought Bob had asked you the most important questions of your life. Now, you realize how insignificant they were in comparison to this one. Surprisingly, you realize that there was only one answer.
You answer, “I would say that you are feeling pride, but that is not the correct answer.”
“Why do you think it is wrong?” he asks.
“One can take pride in another’s accomplishments but I do not feel that it applies here. I think what you truly feel is the accomplishment itself. I have much to learn. This was but another stage in my training. I am always learning and striving to grow with each passing day. I feel, that you see this potential in me and that while it pleases you to see me grow, it only adds to your desire to do so as well.”
His face remains unreadable as he sits back in his chair. He looks to each person at the table in turn. They nod in response to his unspoken question. He returns his gaze to you. You nod even though you are not yet sure what you are agreeing to at this point. He nods back and turns to Bob who speaks.
“You and I have known each other for a few years. I know that you have called me Bob from nearly the start. That is not my name. Of this, I believe you have guessed. If not, I would be most displeased.” He pauses to look at you in earnest.
As he does so, pieces click into place in your head. No, his name is not Bob. It is James. The young lady at your side is his sister Susan. You realize something else as well. The stout man at the head of the table is not The Butcher. It is your turn to lock eyes with each member of the table. Each mirrors your own thoughts, confirming them.
“I see that you understand everything. Tonight is a special evening. It is my sister’s wedding night. To celebrate, we’ve decided to let you kick off our festivities. Would you be so kind as to fetch the butcher’s knife from the kitchen, my dear friend?”
You return to the dining room, your task completed dutifully. Standing between James and the one legged inmate, you await your next orders eagerly, remembering to only show it through your eyes. James and Susan smile warmly at you. Susan’s smile traces over your body like electricity. James notes this and approves. With this, you grab the inmate by the neck and toss him onto the table. The stout guard stands to watch gleefully. He disgusts you. You no longer long to die for this repulsive man.
You turn your attention back to the failure on the table. His eyes remain placid as you begin to dice him up the way you were taught. Eat chop elicits no sound from him. A single tear trails down his cheek. Over your effort, you hear the ragged breathing of the guard. Your disgust grows but you remain precise in your work. Feelings have no place here, only actions.
Once the inmate has been slaughtered correctly, James and Susan disappear and leave you with the guard. The front of his trousers are stained with his efforts. His smile widens as he is unabashed by your gaze. Placing his hands on his hips he dares you to speak of it. You refuse to dignify him with a response. Your gaze does not burn into his. You stand still and calm.
Susan and James reappear with white butcher’s paper and twine. They wrap the meat with care. Their fingers are nimble and quick. Once they finish, they carry their parcels into the kitchen, leaving you once again with the guard. He is not satisfied with remaining quiet.
“When they return, let’s carve them up. I want to try my hand at it. You can take James and I will take that delicious morsel Susan. I think I will screw her while I cut her up. Add some seasoning of my own to her flesh. What do you say? Let’s crank this party up another notch and see if we can make them scream.”
James and Susan return and stand by your side as if awaiting orders. Their presence is soothing after listening to the guard’s filthy speech. You three watch as another figure approaches the guard from behind, gently placing his hands upon his shoulders. The guard’s smile falters as he realizes that he is in the crafted hands than none other than The Butcher.
You and your companions grab the guard who begins to plead with you to reconsider. You toss him onto the table like a rag doll and proceed to dish out his punishment. Today he failed. He has become one of the vanished. You each smile as you go about your work knowing that today you are pleasing The Butcher. Tomorrow you will start a new chapter with your lovely wife and brother. Your smile broadens. There are so many special children out there. You will guard them. You will nurture them. You will teach them the way of The Butcher. It is who you are now.
Looking down at guard who is too weak to speak you whisper hoarsely, “I knew it would feel like warm silk.”