"Slabs of Night Meat"

I glared down at the bank of TV monitors in front of me, despising my own existence.  God, I didn’t want to be here, I said to myself in a depressingly common line of thought.

Outside my little walled-off cubicle, I knew that all these idiots were wandering around the expanse of the mall, staring dumbly into the window displays, their wallets growing lighter as the bags in their hands grew correspondingly heavier.  The flow of customers seemed never-ending, all of them with that same stupid, poleaxed look on their faces.

I glanced over at the clock, begging for it to go faster.  I knew that I was only supposed to go on patrol once every half hour.  The mall administrator had explained it to me, using that patronizing, condescending tone that made me want to slam my fist right into his smug little face.

“See, we don’t want to make the shoppers feel like they’re being policed,” he had said to me, spreading his hands wide as if trying to say, ‘what can I do, I’m just another working stiff like you’.  “And your presence can be intimidating.”

I looked down at myself.  My uniform was baggy.  I had already managed to shed ten pounds, working towards completing my New Year’s resolution, but the cheapskates refused to give me a new uniform.  So now I was stuck in the shell of my old clothes, feeling them hang off my shoulders and sag around my reduced belly.

At my waist hung my belt of tools – but no guns, oh no.  That wasn’t suitable for mall security.  The most dangerous thing I had there was a snap-out baton, flimsy and slightly rusty.  It was balanced by a can of pepper spray that was probably a decade old.  The cheapskates refused to understand the idea of pepper spray “going bad” and refused to pay for a replacement.

It had only been eighteen minutes since my last patrol.  I still had another ten minutes to spend here in front of the monitors, staring as the fat little images of people moved from one screen to another.

But I couldn’t bear it any longer.

I jumped up, the noise making Frank, my partner, turn and glance at me.  “Going on patrol,” I told him.

“Seems soon,” Frank remarked, but I knew that he didn’t care.  Hell, the man probably preferred that I do it.  Frank was a big fan of hitting up the mall’s Krispy Kreme store for their duds and leftovers, and it showed on his waist and big hips.  Hell, he was part of my motivation to lose weight in the first place.

“Yeah, whatever.  Let’s see them fire me for it,” I shot back, and headed out of our little booth.

I liked being on my feet, but sometimes, out among the slowly wandering slabs of night meat, I still felt trapped.  They were all so big, mindless wandering cows.  They existed only to mindlessly consume, munching on greasy mall pizza and sipping from oversized cups of Jamba Juice.  I sometimes felt like I was watching over the urban version of a farm.

Yes, that’s what I was.  The urban farmer, patrolling my meat beasts, watching for the occasional coyote or fox that tried to cause trouble.  I was just there to keep order, to keep the cows happy and mindless.

One of the slabs had come to a stop in front of me, his cottage-cheese bulk blocking most of the walkway.  “Excuse me sir,” I spoke up as he stared, his jaw slack, into one of the lit window displays.

Mister Night Meat didn’t respond.  Behind me, I could feel the other cows moving their feet, starting to get anxious.  Why were they being blocked?

I reached out and tapped the man on the shoulder.  He started, turning to look at me as if confused about who he was.  “Yuh?” he said, the sound deep and guttural.

“Sir, you can’t stand in the middle of the path and stare,” I told him, trying to keep most of the disgust out of my voice.  I didn’t need another official reprimand.  “Step to the side, or keep moving, please.”

The man gawked at me, but stepped over towards the window.  A moment later, the display once again captivated his attention, and he stopped – but at least now he was out of the way.

I kept on walking along the halls of the mall, my thoughts almost as dark as the night outside.

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