One of the Lucky Ones

by Joyce Bingham

I cleaned at night in the dank meatloaf factory, the greasy meat smell in the back of my throat, seeping deep into the fabric of my clothes. It was all they processed—meatloaf and more meatloaf, the drips of fat and scraps on the floor squelched and slipped under foot.

My supervisor, Albert, had red-rimmed eyes and was thin and drawn. He had a nervous twitch which pulled his left eye to the side.

Albert wanted me to help with a stocktake of offal in the walk-in deep freeze.

“No-one goes in the freezers alone, y’hear?” Albert said as we entered the steel door of the deep freeze, a vast room of hanging frozen carcasses and crates of foodstuffs. I crossed off packs of kidneys and liver on Albert’s clipboard and we left the freezer.

“You total it up, maths student,” Albert sneered as he left.

Swallowing hard, I realised I’d left the clipboard inside the freezer. I opened the freezer door, cold air sliced through the sodden factory fug. The clipboard was there on the nearest crate. I stepped in. The door closed behind me with an echoing clunk that vibrated through the carcasses. The door wouldn’t open, the frigid handle seared my hand as it refused to budge. I could smell the sharpness of frost crystals trying to establish themselves in my nostrils. The flickering neon lights made me feel dizzy and disorientated.

The cold gnawed at my ears and a headache tightened around my forehead. A clinking of hooks behind me made me gasp. Someone was here with me, moving towards me from the hidden depths, making the carcasses swing.

“Is the door jammed?” he said as he reached me, “Guess we’re stuck till someone comes.” He gave me a grin showing his rotting yellow teeth.

“I’m Joss,” he said. He had patches of frost on his face, ice crystals on his eyelashes and on the red wool of his hat. Dark circles of dried blood edged with silver frost covered his brown apron.

“I’m Bill.” I replied, “how long will we last in here, Joss?”

“We’ll be out soon enough.” He shrugged and picked his teeth with a bloodied torn fingernail. The meal I had eaten was in my throat, the acid taste stung my tongue, my stomach churned. The walls closing in on me, my ribs were burning with the effort of getting air into my lungs

“How’s your ears, Bill?”

“Getting cold, Joss, “I said sniffing, my nose running.

“’Have my hat, Bill.”

The crusts of meat on the hat scratched my forehead, the smell of blood itched my nose.

“What about you, Joss?”

“You need this hat more’n I do”

I heard banging at the door. Muffled voices, then a grating noise as the door opened.

“Ah, there you are, let’s get you out,” Albert said as he took my arm.

I shuffled out, my limbs cold and stiff. Albert wrapped me in a thermal blanket. He snarled as he pulled off the red hat and threw it back in and slammed the door shut.

I turned to Albert, “We need to get Joss out, he’s in there too.”

Albert raised his eyebrows, “Joss hung a few carcasses of his own. Believe we even cooked some ‘fore we found the finger bones.” Albert kneaded his chest.

I could feel a prickle along my scalp where the hat had been.

“We don’t go in alone, he hates us ‘cause we’re alive. You never know if he will kill you or save you. Guess you are one of the lucky ones.”

When I went back to college, the smell of meatloaf would make me tremble, my stomach heave. Later I started seeing a flash of red, a slither of darkness out of the corner of my eye, smell fat rendering, blood congealing.

Every aroma of cooking meat nudged Joss further into my life, soon he was accompanying me wherever I went.

I feel cold as he squeezes his way into my bed, his breathy snores, bubbling with meatloaf and the iron smell of blood. His bloodied apron clings to my body in the shower. His hat scratches my scalp raw.

Now, when I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror, I stare back at my thin, drawn face and red-rimmed eyes. Joss is always there leering over my shoulder causing spasms of pain to ripple across my face, pulling my left eye to the side.

Joyce Bingham is a Scottish writer who enjoys writing short fiction with pieces published by FlashBack Fiction, VirtualZine, Funny Pearls and Free Flash Fiction. She lives in the North of England where she makes up stories and tells tall tales. @JoyceBingham10
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