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"PASS THE GRAVY"

Written by Mason McDonald

Ford tried to focus on the brightly decorated tree in the other room while the Father carved his leg with a fork and knife. It didn’t hurt. Couldn’t, because it had been severed and roasted in the oven with roughly chopped carrots and turnip. The Mother basted it with the same juices she later turned into the gravy. The Father smiled as he cut, laughing at some joke the Son had told. Kenny and Dolly played from speakers somewhere in the house. They sang about coming home with bells on as the Father, in his ten-gallon hat and bolo tie, sliced off a piece of Ford’s calf and plopped it on a plate. Flashing white lights lined the large bay window beside them and their brightness didn’t hide the darkness outside, more it framed the winter scene and made the rolling hills and frosted pines come alive like something from a watercolour winter wonderland. Ford thought he must be dreaming; the Sister hummed along to the music.

The house wasn’t the type for traditional reds and greens. They were an affluent family and their home showed it. It was new and had all modern appliances and decor, yet everything was made to look brown and weathered and old. The fireplace that crackled behind the Father, for instance, was carved from such fresh stone that the mason’s chisel marks could still be seen, yet it had been sprayed with some artificial aging agent to make it seem like this house belonged to their Pappy’s Pappy, yet Ford guessed they’d had it built custom.

The table was made from repurposed wood and layered with clear epoxy. It was long and wide, with the family seated up the opposite end of Ford: the Father at the end, the Mother to his left, the Son to his right, the Sister beside the Son, and the Baby in its high chair beside the Mother. The women were dressed in beautiful red dresses and the men in white shirts and matching bolo ties. While the Son had taken off his hat at the Mother’s word, the Father wore his until the carving was finished and only then did he hang it on his chair and sit down. His hair was a white buzz so close to his scalp he may as well have shaved it clean. He wore a matching thick white Fu Manchu mustache that hid his upper lip.

They started passing the sides once the leg was divvied up. The Mother held a brightly white ceramic bowl with colourful children painted on the side engaging in a snowball fight. Inside were creamy garlic-and-femur-marrow mashed potatoes. She passed it to the Father, who spooned a heaping pile onto his plate. The Sister forked two pickled toes from a Mason jar while the Son took an extra helping of calf.

The place where the limb used to be still throbbed. Ford had lost consciousness plenty in the last day or so but had grown sickeningly used to the pain and he feared he was doomed to stay horribly awake and present while they ate him. The duct tape kept him from screaming and thrashing his arms. The Mother spooned pureed marrow and sweet potato into the Baby’s mouth with a soft airplane brrrr. The Baby flailed, smiling.

The last few days were a blur of red and black. What he was and who he was before he met the Family didn’t matter anymore. In fact, it all felt lost to time. His name was Ford, and he was good with his hands, and he’d applied to an open job posting. Something about helping build an attachment to a cattle barn? He’d done that sort of work plenty of times before, so that seemed right. After the application, it was like someone pressed fast forward on the tape and the next snapshot was the inside of a concrete room. He was outside his own body, floating above the action, watching what was being done to him. What the Father was doing to him. Strapped to a metal table, gagged, staring up at the ethereal him, which in real time was a dangling yellow bulb on a string. Beside the table was a small metal basin filled with tools. On the opposite side was its twin filled with gore. From a small Bluetooth speaker by the door came a Waylon Jennings track the Father hummed along with, swaying, bobbing his head, as he dissected Ford without anesthesia.

Watching this happen, even from the safety of memory, Ford could feel each stroke of the blade like they were happening presently. Each time the ball peen hammer collided with his bones to crack the joints, each time the Father, the cowboy, the good ol’ boy, twisted those same bones with two hands like a bully giving an Indian burn, separating and freeing them from the ligaments which binded them together.

Where was he after the job application, but before he met them?

A dirt road. Kicking rocks with his pack over his shoulder, sticking his thumb to the odd truck that roared past. One was a lifted Dodge with a black US flag decal covering the entire back windshield. It rolled coal and blew smoke as thick as a crematorium from its dual pipes. It slowed and Ford thought it might finally be the Good Samaritan he’d been waiting for, and as he jogged closer, the truck roared to life and spun its wheels showering him in gravel and filth. He stood there coughing and swatted at the air as the truck sped away, the driver’s hand out the window flipping him off. On the back bumper was one sticker that said My Pronouns Are Kill/Yourself! and another that said Jesus Loves Us.

Ford, standing there covered in the road just trying to get a drive out of the cold to the only low-paying work he’d had in weeks, thought that according to the world, Jesus loved everyone, didn’t he? The Lord sure wasn’t picky about who he spread his arms for, and Ford figured that was sort of the point.

He just wished some clubs were a bit more exclusive, you know?

The snow started just as he rounded the final bend in the road, the big old-new house visible behind a row of pines that had most certainly not grown up on this land. Ford wanted to be a carpenter like his dad when he grew up. Booze, pills, and a girl named Jessi in the backseat of her daddy’s El Camino put an end to that. He’d never have a place of his own this nice. Probably never have one at all, not really. Nowadays there weren’t booze, pills, or pretty girls with nose rings and cigarette ash cowgirl boots, and his arms were scarred but not scabbed, so maybe he could keep his nose down, keep it clean, and build something of his own even if it weren’t made of wood. His father could be proud when he looked down at him, instead of ashamed.

This job, despite how small and meagre, could be a start. That’s how he had to look at it.

“Where to start?” The Father said, marvelling over the heaping plate he’d served himself.

I was here to build a barn, Ford thought. That was the job. Like Dad used to do. I helped him sometimes.

“Sure is good, Mama,” the Son said through a mouthful of food.

“Thanks hon,” the Mother said, but looked over the rim of her wide glasses and pointed at him with the Baby’s blue plastic fork, “but don’t be talkin’ with food in your mouth now. You know better.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the Son said, smiling.

Ford wondered if they’d kill him next or if he was being kept for harvesting. There wasn’t much to him these days, but he figured there’d be enough meat on him to keep them for the next few weeks if they rationed him out.

“Ew!” The Sister exclaimed, holding up a flapping piece of meat on the end of her knife. It dangled wetly, soaked in gravy, and was translucent in parts.

Skin. It was his skin.

“That’s the best part, pumpkin,” the Father said.

“No, look at it!” She passed the knife to her brother who passed it to the Father. He held it to the light and regarded it, first scowling then shaking his head with a dry laugh. It took Ford a second to figure out what the greenish purple splotch in the centre was and he was mortified when it clicked in.

“Goddamn it,” the Father said and scraped off the piece on the edge of his plate.

“I thought you said you got all of them, dear?” The mother said. “That’s foul, honey, here let Mama cut you another piece,” she continued, facing the Sister and sawing off another piece of Ford’s calf before plopping it on the girl’s plate.

“I thought I did,” the Father said and pointed at Ford, acknowledging him for the first time since they sat down, “he’s covered in the damn things. Harder to find parts without ‘em then the other way around!

“Hey, boy,” the Father continued, picking up the flesh again and holding it to the light, “who’s Jessi?”

The name, written in faded, aged black ink that was so cheap it had long since turned a sickly greenish blue, was clear despite its slightly drunkish script and the layer of gelatinous gravy and char marks.

Jessi hadn’t liked the tattoo. Had told him it made her feel like she owned him, or he owned her, and either way they weren’t nobody’s property.

Ford yelled through the duct tape gag. This man didn’t deserve to say her name.

They all laughed at him. Even the Baby.

“Easy there, sport,” the Father said. He flicked the meat to the floor where the Dog, a big blonde lab, quickly darted out from under the table and snarfed it up and swallowed it without chewing. Just like that, it was gone. He’d carried it for nine years and now it was being turned to calories and dog shit.

He screamed. Thrashed against the braces. Tears stung his burnt and bleeding eyes, joining the blood on his face from where the butt of the Father’s rifle broke his nose.

They kept laughing. The Son covered his mouth so as to not spill chewed food. The Mother waved off her own giggles like she was dispersing smoke and asked the Father to quiet Ford down. She wanted to enjoy the rest of her meal in peace.

The Father wiped his mouth on his napkin and stood up, circling around the table and pausing to kiss the top of his wife’s head and pat the Baby’s.

When he was at Ford’s side, Ford stopped thrashing and looked up at him, making eye contact with the big man. The Father smiled. “You still got some fight in ya. Got to give ya credit for that.”

Ford spoke but it was muffled. The Father laughed. “Alright. What the hell.” He gripped the strip of tape covering Ford’s mouth and tore it off. “What was that, now?”

“I hope your kids choke on me,” Ford said and spit in the man’s face. It was a cloudy mix of saliva and blood and it splattered the man’s cheeks and white shirt. There was a collective gasp in the room as the Father flailed backwards momentarily and wiped his face with his hands, cursing.

The big man grabbed Ford by the collar of the shirt, the Mother standing and telling him to calm down, and he raised his other fist high and prepared to bring it down into Ford, further smashing his busted nose.

Ford did the only thing he could. It only seemed right, you know.

He bared his teeth and latched on to the man’s hand, chomping down hard on the hairy thumb. He bit where the digit connected to the hand and squeezed with everything he had until his teeth hit bone and threatened to shatter against it. Warm coppery blood filled his mouth and spilled out of the edges. The Father wailed in pain and tried to yank his hand free but Ford refused to let go. Like playing tug-o-war with a dog, the man swung his arm sideways and up and down, swinging Ford’s head around and around like a swivel. Still, he wouldn’t release it. The chair rocked back and forth but didn’t fall. The man couldn’t bear to pull back far enough to knock the chair over from the pain this would cause him. Finally, the man started throwing punches down on Ford’s head and face, destroying his nose even more and splitting his eyebrow, but mostly colliding with the side of his skull. Ford barely felt them. He focused on the bite.

The Son grabbed him from behind and wrapped a thin arm around his neck. The Mother stood beside the Father, unsure of what to do besides giving a high pitched squealing. “Let go of him! Let go!”

The Sister and the Baby cried. The Christmas music kept playing. The fire burned.

Then, a rip. Flesh disconnected from bone and his teeth connected with one another as the bone itself finally snapped at its weakest point. The thumb tore off the hand and the Father fell backwards, screaming and clutching his damaged hand. The Son released Ford and ran to the Father. The Mother screamed that high pitched scream again and told the Sister to go get towels. The Father cursed a flurry of swears that would make a sailor blush. Blood dripped on to their nice hardwood flooring and the Dog lapped it up.

Ford laughed. Cackled, even. The thumb was still in his mouth and he chomped it between his teeth, grinning the biggest shit-eating grin he could. The Father broke away from his family like the huddle of an NFL team and stomped over to the fireplace, trailing blood the entire way, the Dog following and licking, the family yelling and asking what he was doing.

When the Father returned to Ford he was holding a fire poker in his good hand and had the damaged one balled up against his chest, the blood thick and dark and blooming in his white shirt like a rose made from congealed raspberry jam and the crust of a ketchup bottle.

Still laughing, Ford was chewing the thumb when the Father brought the fire poker down on his skull.

mason mcdonald 01Mason McDonald is the author of A Time For Monsters. When not inventing yuletide boogeymen, he can be found drinking booze and fist fighting his own personal Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come. He currently lives in Port Morien, NS with his wife Jenna and their collection of animals.

You can pick up his collection by clicking one of the links below!

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