Howling, the puppies were fed into the grinder one by one. Francis fed them whole, the paste that came out the other end had bits of fur and bone still recognizeable in among the blood and excrement. Francis put another puppy into the grinder. Its eyes wide in terror. Its nose overwhelmed by the reek of its ground up brothers and sisters. Francis didn't look as scrabbling legs slipped on the smooth lip of the feeder funnel. Francis didn't listen to its wailing as its tail and then its hind legs were caught by the the teeth of the grinder. Francis focused on making certain not a drop of precious offal spilled from the recepticle that was now nearly full. The last puppy was in the grinder now, the machine screamed alone where moments ago it had been accompanied by a hellish chorus. The puppy was all the way through the grinder. Francis shut off. The ensuing silence was deafening.
Time to clean the grinder. Francis wheeled the receptical aside. It was a large blue plastic water drum resting on an office dolly. He picked up the end of a garden hose and turned the water on with his free hand. When the jet struck the grinder there was a tinkle of metal. Washing down the machine was just the first part. When water alone had removed as much of the blood and bone as possible, Francis shut off the water and turned to the back of the grinder. There was a large electric cable plugged into the base. Francis pulled it out. Could never be too careful around an industrial meat grinder. Francis smiled. In over a decade of work he'd not yet had an accident on the job.
It was Hector, his foreman. Francis turned to look at him. Hector was a short man who walked around with a clipboard even if he didn't need one. He'd read somewhere that it made him look more managerial.
"Leave the rest of the cleaning for later, we need the material topside."
Hector never called them puppies. Francis bet he had a dog at home. Francis imagined putting Hectors imaginary dog into the grinder to see if Hector would still call it material when it was his own dog getting ground up into paste.
"Sure thing boss."
Hector smiled. Francis waited until he was taking the 'material' away before rolling his eyes. Hector was easy to flatter, all men who rise above their competence responded to flattery in Francis' experience. The less competent they were the easier it was to flatter them. Francis pushed the dolly to the elevator and pressed the button for the top floor. As he held the handle of the dolly he tried to catch the cameras mounted in the ceiling out of the corner of his eye.
The elevator door opened.
As Francis walked in there was a moment when the cameras couldn't see his fingers. Francis dipped one finger into the paste then brought it up to his mouth. Francis sucked the offal off his finger looking to all the world as if he was biting a hangnail. He felt the corruption flood his mouth. His head felt light with the thrill of forbidden delights chased by the fear of being caught out.
The elevator doors closed.
The elevator rose.
The elevator doors opened.
Francis blinked against the brightness of the sun. He pushed the dolly several steps out past the doors of the elevator to a second dolly. Laying beside it was an empty blue plastic drum. It was perfectly clean except where on the side that had been laying in the dust.
Not a living thing could be seen in any direction.
Francis righted the drum and put it back on its trolley then wheeled it back to the elevator. Once he was inside he pressed the button to down.
The doors closed quickly. Francis watched them shut through unblinking eyes.
The doors opened. He remembered to breathe.
Francis pushed the dolly with the empty drum into place under the meat grinder and walked to his bunk.
When he got there, someone was lying in it.
Francis reached for the panic button. Rough hands pulled him down. The last thing to go through his head was his teeth, they shot back out of his jaw all at once and perforated his brain. Like an electromagnet that only pulled teeth had been turned on behind his head. Francis stumbled back and collapsed rag-doll fashion in the doorway to his bunk.
The person on his bed got up and walked over to him. His arms and legs moved like the bones had been broken in several places and badly reset.
Francis blinked. The teeth crawled back across the floor and reinserted themselves in his bloodless mouth.
The person kneeled down and brushed a tuft of hair out of his eyes.
"I," Francis managed. Looking up, the face of the person was wrong. To Francis it looked like someone had drawn an upside down face and then built a face from the drawing.
The person began to drag Francis to the grinder even as the holes in his head were beginning to heal.
"Shhh," said the person. "Hector mustn't hear you."
Francis tried to scream but some of his teeth had perforated his throat. The vocal cords were growing back but not fast enough. How had it gotten in here? What had they missed?
Fingers with too many joints plugged the machine back on.
Francis tried to scream but could only gurgle.
Hector returned to see Francis hard at work filling another drum. With kittens.
"Getting a head start on tomorrow? Good man," said Hector.
"Shhh," said Francis.
When it was over, the silence was deafening.