Pati walked down the sparkling streets of Caronis Vescintes. Despite the fact that she was walking through the most beautiful city in the world, her heart was heavy from the things she saw at the meat-packing plant just ten minutes before. "But I can never tell anyone what I just saw," she sighed heavily. The image of their pale faces, bloodless lips slightly open haunted her whenever she closed her eyes. She shuttered. Searching for the big, locked door in her mind, she carefully opened it and slammed the memories of the day tightly away. Click! She sighed with relief and started to skip happily to the open market like all the other sixteen-year-olds in the city.
"Sir, may I please have an apple and a sack of potatoes?" Pati asked the vegetable vendor in the market. "Sure, girlie," the old man leered, "That'll be fourteen dollars." Pati sighed as she forked over the rest of last week's pay. This food would have to last her the rest of the week. She dawdled away, thinking about how much she could save if she just bought meat. 'No,' she thought, 'I promised myself I would never eat that again.' She walked past all of the beautiful, bright, warm houses to the dark, cold slums she called home. Having found a fairly clean place, she settled down. Pati ate the whole apple, seeds, stem, and all, and used her sack of potatoes as a pillow as she slowly fell asleep. And walked right into a nightmare.
The room was completely dark and silent. A single spotlight was transfixed on Pati's workstation. She unconsciously walked over and looked to see what she had to work with. Strewn all over the draining basin were random body parts of cats, dogs, cows, and humans, some whole. All died by disease or were killed in old age. The Government didn't let on, but their budget was tight, and the only way to provide the people with food was to get the meat wherever they could get it, even if it meant killing mammals usually not eaten to get that meat. Pati simply worked without thinking, until she got to the form of a little baby girl with a lumpy skull, covered with blood. Pati screamed and dropped the baby. "Why? Why?" she screamed over and over, crying and shaking uncontrollably. She shuddered as she looked at her hands, covered with the blood of her child and loved ones.
Pati jerked awake, her heart beating like a marching band, not that she knew what that was. She couldn't remember the dream, but she knew that it was bad. Since it was already almost time for the daily community get-together, she just got up to hide her potatoes and get ready for work. As she headed down the street, she wondered which celebrity would be on today. Would it be Devin? Clara? Grace? Jenna? She really hoped it was Devin. He was the only male celebrity, and was extremely handsome in a way that made anyone have to look.
When she got to the plaza, she sat down in her assigned seat after she got her assigned breakfast of mush. The large screen lit up, showing the Government's insigne. All of the coverage was live, so that everyone could see that the Government was even perfect live. The screen suddenly changed to the image of Clara, the most famous celebrity. At only 5'3", she was still imposing with her piercing green eyes and long, smooth as silk, brown hair. Pati did not know anything else about her or any of the other celebrities. She stood ramrod straight and stared straight into the camera, like she could see Pati through the lens. Something seemed off about Clara, but Pati couldn't put a finger on it…
"Good morning, citizens of Caronis Vescintes," Clara said with some infliction in her voice, "I hope you all slept well. Remember to buy your meat sandwiches for lunch at the table in the back." Then she seemed to go crazy. "Chicken! Chicken! Chicken! They killed my baby! They killed my father!" Her muscles started to twitch and jump, then she crumpled to the floor. People just stared in shock, and then started to murmur quietly. "What just happened?" asked one lady as she started to wring her hands.
"I…I don't know, honey," said her husband uncertainly. The screen went back to the insigne. Suddenly, a doctor stood up in the crowd. "Everyone, I am a medical doctor. What you just saw was something I have always feared seeing. Sad to say, Clara will never be the same again. She has the symptoms of Creutzfeldt - Jakob disease. She must have gotten it somewhere…" Everyone was just standing there silent. "It would have to be her meat, because it would have to be the brains of an animal that did have Creutzfeldt - Jakob disease." All of the sudden, people started yelling and screaming.
"Mommy, will I get it?" a little boy asked his mom, tugging on her sleeve.
"No, no. You won't, baby. Don't you worry," she said back to him.
"Who knows the truth? Who works in the meat-packing plant? Please come forward if you do," shouted a group of parents, hugging their children close.
"I… I do," said Pati. Everyone clustered around her, staring at her with too wide eyes. "Well," she sighed, resigned to her fate, "I have seen much that no one should ever see. Forgive me if it takes me a few moments. I have kept this locked deep inside for much too long… they don't give you beef, like they say they do. It might have some beef, but it is not good. It's from diseased cows, ones who were soon going to die. There were also cats and dogs, the ones that people put down, or died at the side of the road. All road-kill, it was sent to the meat-packing plant. The reason the government put any of this in your meat was because their budget used to be and still is low, and lower still is the budget for food is even lower. They're using it for something else... But the worst of what is in the meat are the humans…"
Some people gasped, they were shocked to learn that it was even worse than they thought. Sure, eating your recently deceased pet is sad, but eating someone you were possibly close to? That steps over the unmentionable moral line, it makes you a cannibal, and it makes you evil, even if you don't know. "… they might have died of cancer, or a deadly disease. Even with all of the things we do to decrease the germs and bacteria, there are still enough that make it. But that isn't even the worst part. Every citizen of Caronis Vescintes, when he or she turns eighty, is injected with a needle full of something that causes then to die. Instead of being buried like in the old days, they get sent to the meat-packing plant. Everyone who eats this 'beef' might be eating there grandparents, parents, siblings, friends, loved ones, children…" She trailed off, lost in thought. After that first day at the meat-packing plant, she vowed to never eat meat again, so she could live knowing that she wasn't eating someone she knew and/or loved.
"The nerve of the Government…"
"Let's take them down…"
"…Eating people we knew our whole lives…"
"Why. Why! Why? Why? Why?"
People just kept going on and on. Pulling their hair, gnashing their teeth, screaming. Then it was suddenly quiet. A lone figure walked up and said, "Let's go show that Government how we feel about this. They stole my girl, Clara's, life. They say she might live for two years, tops. Let's go take them down."
Everyone just stared up in awe at Devin's handsome face. They would gladly follow him into battle. They all said as much and left to put all of the children safely away with all of those too old to walk a long ways, totally forgetting about Pati. The once bright buildings of downtown Caronis Vescintes suddenly seemed dark and foreboding. Buildings seemed to close around Pati. She was curled up on the ground in the middle of the empty plaza, shivering. The memories refused to go back through their door. Pati rocked and groaned as if she was on her deathbed. 'Why?' she thought, 'Why did they make me reopen that door?' She got up just in time to see the whole town marching down the street towards the sinister-looking, spiky Government buildings just as it started to rain. Pati shuffled after them, wondering what would happen next.
She eventually caught up with the crowd just as they neared the government buildings. The crowd was shouting for the Government leaders to come out and "take their wuppin'." Pati just stood there and watched as some Government body guards came out with long, cylindrical devices. Some were blue and green and very, very large, while others were smaller blue and yellow cylinders. The body guards seemed to line them up, and pulled some kind of switch. Boom! Boom! Boom! Crash! Crash! Crash! The ground shook. The citizens started to scream, pointing at the still-smoking spots on the concrete where there used to be people. So this is what all their budget money went into. Whhhzzz! Whhhzzz! Whhhzzz! Boom! Boom! Boom! The cement started to crack and more than half of the citizens were gone, and the rest had nothing to defend themselves with. But the Government body guards looked like they had just started. Already, a new, orange and green cylinder with strange little feet sticking out had killed at least a third of the people. Chichk-chichk-chichkkkk. Muuumph. Muuumph. Muuumph. Whhheeeeee! Whhheeeeee! Whhheeeeee! And then there were only twenty. Pati was still alive, even though she had just been standing there, frozen. Devin was still alive, too. Crack-booooom! And in that moment he and all the others were also gone, leaving behind only the smell of burnt flesh and sulfur. The only one left was Pati. Whoosh! Crack! Thump. She was out like a light.
When she finally came to, Pati saw that she was in the main government building. She had only been in it once before, but it is something she could never forget. Tall columns made of black granite held up the ceiling depicting the Government's rise to power seventy feet above. The hallway felt dank and smelled slightly of sulfur. There wasn't any light except for the windows all the way near the ceiling. "Well, well, well. If it isn't little Miss Pati," a deep, rough voice chuckled. The hair of Pati's arms and nape rose. "Yes, I figured that if any of the meat-packing workers would tell the others about what goes on in there, it would be you. You had lost the least. Your baby wasn't even alive when it was first born!"
"You don't know anything!" she shouted, "I loved that little girl! She was the only thing that kept me going after…"
"Yes, yes. No need for you to get mad, Pati. I was just saying that you were better off. Didn't you ever notice that none of them ever talked unless spoken to? That they all just floated around, looking lost, until given something to do?"
Pati just blushed. "No, of course you didn't. I didn't expect you to," he murmured, and then his voice got steadily louder as he said, "But you just had to still have the compassion to tell the others what they were eating! So you know what I have to do now? Huh? Now I have to kill all of those old enough to remember, starting with the really old ones, then the older children, and ending with you. So that you can see them all die. You can kiss all of your hopes and dreams goodbye."
Pati started to cry as she was led to the steps in front of the ginormous Government building, were all of those old enough to remember were. She was guessing the babies had already been taken into the building. "Just in case you were wondering," the President said as he followed her, "We have enough soldiers, both male and female, that have promised their faithfulness to the Government by agreeing to raise at least one of each of the babies and also have their own. Toodles! I have to go watch to make sure this goes well."
Pati just sat on the steps, wondering why she had ever told the people of Caronis Vescintes about their meat instead of listening to her brain. Her brain, which had been right all along, had kept everything locked away for years. They started to kill the elderly. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! By the time they were done, the children were screaming, crying, trying to run away, but they couldn't. A serpentine river of blood was winding down the street, towards the plaza they had all been in only a few hours ago. When the world was still right. The bodies were stacked up to be sent to all of the other meat-packers, since none of them ever went to the community get-together. Now it all made sense. She was the only anomaly among them. So why hadn't the Government taken her out sooner?
The children with their sad, frightened eyes were ordered into a single-file line. "Just like school," the President said chuckling, "Except at this school, you die automatically." Their eyes just got bigger and the youngest, who had just turned three, started to cry. Bang! The crying had stopped right before Pati heard a shout and then just a gurgle. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! All of the children were gone, placed with the elderly. Instead of just a river, now a sea of blood lapped at the first steps and crashed like waves toward the plaza. Pati headed toward the bottom of the stairs, knowing what she needed to do. She stared right into the President's eyes and said, "If anyone is going to shoot me, I would rather know that it was you, you who started and ended all of my suffering."
"Fine," he said, sounding even older than usual, "I'll just have you know, though…" His voice cracked. He cleared his throat and went on, "I never wanted it to be this way. If I could change the past, I would. But I can't, and I'm so sorry that you went through what you did. For me."
She glared at him and snarled, "Just get it over with. I'm not getting into your new history books any faster." He just laughed, and then abruptly stopped. His face morphed into a frozen mask of unfeeling.
"Goodbye," he said, holding the gun to her head. Then he pulled the trigger. Pati floated into a black void of nothing, and found much-needed peace at last.
***Twenty years after the death of Pati***
The day was bright and warm in the extraordinary city of Caronis Vescintes. Little children played tag, running through the streets without a care in the world. Their parents watched them proudly, feeling content to just watch their children play. Others sat inside, laughing and talking to each other. It was a holiday, so only the meat packers and the Government officials and body guards were working. Then, around three in the afternoon, everyone headed towards the Government building.
The President, by then at least sixty, looked down on the crowd before him, and then began to speak. "On this day, at this time twenty years ago, we defeated the rebellion." He paused to allow them to cheer, and then continued, "How did a rebellion ever happen, you might ask. Well, the reason is because of curiosity. People were too curious. They demanded answers. The answers killed them. But now, we know better. We are a united front. We all have love in our hearts for each other and for our glorious city…and let us make this day a holiday from this year onward, to remind us just how far we have come and what we fight for." The crowd erupted into claps and whistles. "Thank you. You may all go home now and enjoy the special holiday feast that will be delivered to your homes shortly.
The President didn't even touch his fake-ham, rolls, pineapple, or asparagus. He just sat in his office, thinking about the past. He was staring at the portrait he had painted, depicting a young girl of only fourteen crying, holding onto a little baby girl with a lumpy head, still covered with blood, and dead. He touched the little girl's painted head and said to her, "I'm sorry I was never there for you or your mother. I just…I couldn't be. What would people have thought? And the things I did to your poor mother even before that…Well, let's just say I am glad she finally is at peace." Then he walked away from her, forever.