David F. Shultz 

The February Editor's Pick Writer is David F. Shultz

Feel free to email David at:



by David F. Shultz

They’re going to kill you today, said the voice inside his head.

Albert woke with a start. There was cold metal underneath, stuck to his naked flesh. A smell of rust and defecation hung in the air, so strong he could taste it. His muscles were stiff—-there wasn’t room to stretch inside the box.

Slivers of light pierced through the grating. A shadowy figure moved on the other side with an unnatural, lurching gait. Each footfall reverberated through the metal floor and sent shivers down Albert’s spine. The enslavers were grotesque creatures with oddly shaped bodies, gangly stretched-out limbs, folds covering discoloured flesh, and heads that towered high above. Albert held his breath as the footsteps quieted into the distance.

“Pssssst,” a voice whispered from a neighboring cell.


“What’re you scared of?”

Albert had vivid memories of unruly captives tortured into submission. “What do you think?” The enslavers seemed to delight in the process, erupting into fits of hissing and wheezing sounds as they snapped bones, jabbed with metal prongs, or forced struggling faces into buckets of waste water. Afterwards, limp bodies were dragged like brushes across the metal floor, painting a swath of blood.

“Albert? Is that you?”

“Yes. Who are you?”

“It’s Erik.”

Albert was silent.

“Erik,” the voice repeated. “VP of meat division.”

“I’m sorry, who?”

“Oh, geez. They warned us this might happen.”


“Trauma induced retrograde amnesia. Memory loss. Do you know why you’re here?”

Albert searched his memory. Every moment he could remember was the same, tortured inside this prison, nothing left from before the abduction. Albert suspected the creatures had taken his memory.

“No,” Albert answered finally. “I don’t know.”

“They’re auditing us for moral externalities.”


“Listen, Albert. I don’t think I have time to explain everything. But they’re gonna kill us today, and then everything’s gonna be okay.”

“What? They’re gonna kill us?”

“Yes,” Erik said. “Any time now. And all you have to do is let them do it.”

A panel swivelled open below and Albert dropped, crashing on to an open metal platform. Clang. Erik landed a few feet away. Albert squinted, blinded by bright light.

A silhouette towered above them, moving silently and methodically. Albert froze in terror. In one of the creature’s long-fingered hands it gripped a metal hook. It raised the hook overhead, then brought it swiftly down. The point burrowed into Erik’s back, deep under the shoulder blade.

The creature pressed a red button, and Erik was hoisted up on a rickety chain. His dangling body joined dozens of other victims, each suspended by hooks in their backs, all of them sliding along on a ceiling conveyor, wriggling helplessly.

“Don’t worry, Albert,” Erik called down from the meathook. “It’ll be over soon.”

The creature reached for another hook.

Albert charged forward and tackled the enslaver, knocking it flat on its back. The hook clattered to the ground, and Albert grabbed it. He slashed, tearing through rubbery flesh of the creature’s neck. Blood spurted from the gaping wound and spilled between clutching fingers. The creature writhed on the floor and looked up at Albert with yellow eyes, then became still.

“What are you doing?” Erik shouted from above.

“I’m gonna kill every single one of those things.” Albert’s fingers clamped on the handle of the hook.

The conveyor pulled Erik into a dark opening in the wall, and he disappeared from view.

“No!” Erik shouted from the darkness. “Albert! Please, you have to die.”

“Like hell I do,” Albert muttered. He scanned the room, then stepped through the only exit. The adjoining room was massive. Splatters of blood traced along the floor, dripped down from bodies dangling high above. In the middle of the room was a large tubular machine. Albert watched in horror as the conveyor lowered a body into the device. There was a sickening sound as the machine struggled with flesh and bone, like a blender. From a spout on the bottom, the machine oozed a stream of pinkish-red paste onto a flat conveyor.

The bloodied hook rose out from the top of the machine, absent a body. The next hook moved to take its place, dangling another victim. Erik was next in line.

“Albert!” Erik yelled out to him as his feet lowered into the machine. “You’ve got to go into the grinder!”

“Are you insane?”

Erik was lowered into the machine, which erupted with flecks of blood and chips of bone. The same sickly paste squirted out onto the conveyor below. The hook rose, and Erik was gone.

Albert took off running. He darted through an exit into a long hallway. He sprinted across, footsteps echoing on metal. As he neared the other end, he stopped in his tracks, frozen in terror at what he saw. Three of the enslavers rounded the corner. Albert spun to run back the other way.

Three more of them appeared, blocking the way he had just come. Time slowed as his vision darted back and forth between the approaching creatures. Then he saw his escape: small circular windows along the wall, like portholes, just large enough for his body. Albert darted to the closest one and peered out. His heart sank. The ground lay more than a hundred feet below. A barren landscape, red rocks that extended for miles, like the surface of Mars.

Albert glanced back the steadily approaching aliens.

“I’m not gonna give you the pleasure,” he said, as he crawled through the window, and plummeted to the rocks below. The wind rushed by. He closed his eyes and braced for impact.


“That one won’t count,” a voice said.

“You can’t be serious. He died, didn’t he?”

Albert blinked awake as the voices argued.

“Well, yes. But not in the product line.”

“Where does it say he has to die in the product line?”

Albert shook his head, hoping to throw off the disorientation. He was reclined in a comfortable chair. The room was clean, sterile looking, with blue walls; some kind of laboratory or medical room. One of the two arguing men wore a lab coat and held a clipboard. The other wore an expensive-looking suit. Albert recognized the suited man. It was Erik.

“We need to account for every product,” clipboard man said. “If he doesn’t die in the product line, then it doesn’t count.”

“Then why’d you let him die outside? Whose fault is that?”

“Excuse me,” Albert said, “can someone please tell me what is going on?”

The two men stopped and looked at Albert.

“Good to see you’re awake,” Clipboard Man said. “I understand you are experiencing amnesia?”

“Yeah. And my head hurts.” Erik moved to rub his head, and his fingers ran up against a tangle of wires. There was an array of electrodes attached to his scalp.

“All of those symptoms should clear up soon.” The man with the clipboard extended his hand. “I’m Doctor Rahim.”

Albert shook his hand.

“I’m afraid what Erik has told you is correct,” Rahim said. “The last one won’t count.”

“Last one?” Albert raised an eyebrow. “Won’t count for what?”

“For the audit,” Rahim said.

Erik shrugged.

“We must determine if management is willing to pay all the costs associated with operation,” Rahim explained. “In the case of your meat production company, we are most concerned with the cost imposed on the animals. We are running neural simulations to determine if you and the rest of management are willing to pay the moral costs of your business model.”

“So all of that torture—”

“—was a simulation of your production line, modified suitably to your vantage point.”

Albert gripped his face. His head was spinning.

“How long was I in there for?”

“About three seconds,” Rahim answered
“Three seconds!” Albert screamed. “It felt like years.”

“There’s an accelerated perception of time,” Rahim explained. “It wouldn’t work otherwise.”

“Albert,” Erik said. “We’re almost done here. Let’s just finish up so we can get back to doing business.”

“You mean you want me to go back to that hell-hole?”

“Just a few more times.”

“And if I refuse?”

“It’s your choice,” Rahim said. “You can quit any time you like.”

“But you can’t quit now!” Erik yelled. “They’ll close down the company.”

“That’s right,” Rahim said. “If management is not willing to pay the cost of negative externalities, the company will be graded as inefficient.”

“We have hundreds of employees, Albert. You want to put them all out of a job?”

Albert sighed. His memory was coming back to him. He remembered the company he ran and the employees who counted on him…men and women with families to support. He also knew that the company was very lucrative for himself as well. “How many more times do we need to do it?” Albert asked.

“Just once per animal,” Erik said, “divided between management. It won’t take more than a few hours.”

“How many simulations is that for each of us?” Albert asked.

Rahim checked his clipboard. “About sixty thousand.”

“Sixty thousand!” Albert yelled.

“It’s just a few hours,” Erik said. “You’ll be back in time for dinner.”

“I don’t think I can do it.”

“You have what it takes,” Erik said. “That’s why you’re in management!”

“I don’t know.”

“It gets easier, Albert. See for yourself. Just go one more time. It’ll only take three seconds.”

Albert paused.

They’re going to kill you today, said the voice inside his head.

David F. Shultz writes from Toronto, Ontario, where he also works as a teacher. His work is featured or forthcoming in publications such as The Lovecraft eZine, 49th Parallels, Poetry Quarterly, Polar Borealis, Dreams and Nightmares, The Literary Hatchet, and Star*Line, among others.

Author webpage HERE