They say “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” The hero in this horror story finds out that these words are more than an old saying when he discovers a mysterious object that grants wishes. My novella originally appeared in the debut edition of The Society of Misfit Stories Presents… along side more great speculative fiction.
What The Lord Giveth
by DL Shirey
A.D. 1988 – Brant Egan always tackled the worst job first when his shift started at eleven p.m. He ran the city’s incinerator, torching everything from hospital waste to old car batteries, but at the top of his list were the containers from Animal Control. According to policy, euthanized dogs and cats from the animal shelter were put in 50-pound bags, so Brant didn’t have to see the contents. He hefted the black bags by their handles and tossed them in the batch loader. The most unpleasant task came in barrels marked with biohazard labels. They contained road-kill that Brant was forced to unload with a pitchfork. The smell was bad and seemed to get worse with each raccoon, opossum or chunk of unidentifiable meat he pierced. There was the occasional deer carcass and when he struggled with its weight, Brant couldn’t help thinking of that old Bambi cartoon.
Although only 24, most of his muscle had gone to fat, but Brant was still quite strong. If only his stomach had the same strength. It was all he could do to push back against what threatened to rise in his throat when Brant recognized a clotted mound of fur as a house pet. He had to swallow hard with each dog and cat because Brant could not help but visualize them whole: fetching balls, romping and playing, dozing contentedly on a couch. He wished he could close his eyes to do this part of the job.
Brant needed all the animals in the incinerator by midnight in case he had a drive-up. As if on cue, when he tipped the last few remaining rats and squirrels from the barrel, headlights flashed outside, and a vehicle pulled up the drive leading to the loading dock.
Brant pulled the old bandana from over his nose up to his receding hairline to keep what remained of his long, oily blonde hair off his face. And he didn’t want whoever-it-was to see the bandana and think he was a pussy because of the stench.
The battered El Camino stopped its engine, quit its headlamps, but the parking lights stayed on. The driver-side door squawked open and remained ajar while a figure climbed the outside steps and into the open warehouse. The man was taller than average with dark hair.
“You’re Egan, right?” he asked, coming up the stairs.
“Who wants to know?”
“Del Herrod from Chawtequaw. We went to Madison together.”
Brant ignored the proffered handshake. “Sorry, don’t remember you.”
“You wouldn’t, I was two years behind you in high school. I was friends with Conn Granger, you knew him better than me.”
“Oh yeah. Some older chick come by and said Conn’d be around looking for a job,” Brant muttered, “If you’re looking too, gotta apply at the personnel office ‘tween ten and three.”
“Nah. I’m heading to Texas. Conn went back to Chawtequaw.”
“Unlucky bastard, going back to that shit hole.” Brant shook his head at a memory then squinted hard at Del. “If you’re heading out, what do you want here?”
“Need something burned. Talk is, come here at midnight and you’ll throw it in the incinerator. I got a…”
“Don’t want to know,” Brant interrupted, “Long as you got fifty bucks, and whatever it is don’t have implants.”
“What? This isn’t a…”
“Like I said, I don’t care what it is. What you got, does it have a pacemaker or a fake hip?”
“Implants cost double,” Brant said, “And if you’re not sure if they’re there or not, it’s a hundred, just in case. Pacemakers have to be removed or they explode and metal hips become leftovers after the burn. So it’s double for clean-up and disposal.”
“It’s not a body, okay? Jesus, Egan,” Del said, “But since you brought it up, I do got a question about metal.”
“What about it?”
“That thing,” Del pointed at the incinerator. “Does it get hot enough to melt soft metal?
“Fuck if I know. Burn the city’s old computers, steel gets pretty toasted, I wouldn’t say melted.”
“What about aluminum.”
“I guess so, yeah. I mean no, there’s no aluminum left over.” Brant put one fist to his hip and another palm forward. “Enough of the goddamn questions. Fifty, up front. Toss whatever it is in the loader.”
Del peeled off some bills and Brant pocketed the money without counting. Brant turned his back to his former classmate and walked to the far end of the industrial furnace. He opened the door to check that the burn from last night had cooled. All that remained were chunks of large animal bones. Brant’s next task would be to clean out the incinerator, sift the remains for bits of metal and grind the charred, softened pieces of bone in the cremulator.
“Jesus, the stank,” Del gagged from the other side of the equipment. “What is this, animals and shit?”
“Just toss whatever you got inside,” Brant called back, then said sarcastically, “I’ll see you at the reunion.”
Brant heard a sharp metallic clank and looked up to see Del exit the way he had come, his features turning to shadow at the warehouse door. Del didn’t take the stairs this time, but lowered one arm on the loading dock floor and vaulted down to the drive below.
Brant Egan went to the hopper and peered inside. There was a four-inch length of fancy gray metal resting against the wall of the incinerator, half hidden by a matted squirrel’s tail. Brant plucked it out and shoved it in his pocket next to the wad of bills. He slammed the lid and looked back over his shoulder. The El Camino had yet to move. Brant fired up the incinerator, then walked up to the loading dock. Del was sitting in the driver’s seat, elbow crooked on the open window, an odd, vacant stare on his face.
“If you’re thinking of changing your mind it’s too late,” Brant called down, “Be toast before long.”
Sorry to tease you with just the introduction, but 18,000 words is far too long to post on my blog. Please download the entire novella here. As a bonus, you’ll get 13 more great stories to enjoy. Happy reading.