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The Cleaner

" Your character is obviously fully on board! To do what exactly? And why do I get the feeling that they’re lying for someone else’s benefit? Are they maybe agreeing to a compromise that isn’t entirely fair? Or perhaps they’re just a moody teenager? Whatever it is, the choice is yours, so go!"

I originally wrote the first draft of this short for this Tumblr prompt.

My eyes swept the room, surveying the mess I had to deal with, and I cursed myself for the umpteenth time.

I don’t know what I was thinking. I shouldn’t have agreed to this.

The waterproof apron hung on the hook, calling my name, and I had no choice but to reach for it. If I wanted to get this over with, I’d better start quickly.

The process was the same, it was almost automatic. I no longer cared about the blood. It was part of the job. The heavy lifting that came at the end was the most dreadful part.

I unwrapped my exquisite knife set and gave each knife a quick polish. I may be their underdog for now, and as much as I despise this, I’ve brought it onto myself. Why did I have to be so skilled at this?

“Oh, let Vreni do it! She’s handy with a knife!” Rina had piped excitedly as everyone else finished up. “After all, it was us who did the heavy work. It’ll be good for your training, don’t you think?”

I’d gritted my teeth and forced a smile. “Yep. If it’s okay with Boss, it’s fine by me!”

Of course, it was okay with Boss. It was always okay with Boss. So why did I think this time would be different?

After a quick sharpening of the knives, I set to work. Sawing through the bones was the hardest part, but that was what electric grinders were for. I just need to debone for now and deal with the bone pile later.

“Alexa, play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.”

The music instantly blared and I closed my eyes for a second. My hands moved on their own, cutting one slab of meat after the other. Blood dripped but I didn’t care, the music was smoothing all the edges. I became detached, lost in the tunes, that I no longer cringed when arteries burst and sprayed onto my face.

Fine by me.

Three words that turned me into a cleaner instead of the expert I should have become.

My knife slipped under the skin, separating it from the meat in one delicate swoop.

Fine by me.

It was most definitely NOT fine by me. I should be out there with them, doing the hunting. But I made the mistake of showing how good I was at this. I’ve been skinning carcases since I was a child. But this was not what my childhood self dreamt of.

The head was by far my least favourite part. The eyes seemed to always track every move, even though I made sure they were the first things I took out. I separated the head and held it up to eye level with both hands. It was a gruesome sight. Now more than ever with the eyes hollowed out. 

I should not be enjoying this as much as I am.

“Having conversations with the dead?”

I whipped around, the head dropping with a clang on the metal table.

“What?”

Tim smirked. “You were talking to it just now.”

Was I? I must’ve been mumbling out loud.

I drew myself up to my full height and regarded him coldly. “And to what do I owe this displeasure?”

He pranced around, his boots tracing blood everywhere. “Thought you might need a hand.”

I didn’t bother to reply. I glanced from the neat piles of skinned and filleted meat on the table and back to him.

He sighed, his smirking attitude vanishing. “Alright, I know you’ve got it covered, but let me help.”

I hesitated. I didn’t want to be indebted to him but I didn’t want the others to make this my primary job. 

“Fine.” I gestured with my knife to the bone pile. “You can start by grinding the bones.”

“That’s it?”

“And you can help me carry all this when it’s bagged.”

Tim raised an eyebrow but I didn’t even blink, continuing on, “The floors could use a good scrubbing, too. Look at all the mess you’ve made.”

He smiled at that and wagged a finger. “Funny.”

I placed my hands on my hips and stared at him. His smile slowly diminished. “And—”

“Oh, dear god.”

“—you’ll put in a good word with Boss so I can join the next hunt.” I waved my hand at the display on the table. “I’m skilled with a knife.”

“I can see that.”

“I can be more than just a cleaner.”

“I know.”

I stared at him for another second before getting back to my work. He took the skull and bones and went outside. A minute later the grinder went off and I asked Alexa to turn up the music while I started bagging the meat. The people at the animal shelter would be happy with this shipment. It was a rather meaty carcass. 

By the time I’d finished, Tim was back, his clothes ashen by the bone dust. 

“Um, listen,” he began tentatively, colour creeping up his neck. “I was wondering if you wanted to take a drive.”

I tilted my head to the side, slipping off my ruined latex gloves.

“Boss had assigned me a new hunt and let me choose my own partner…”

For a second, I didn’t breathe, unable to believe. “Are you asking what I think you’re asking?”

“Would you like to be my partner for this hit?”

I slipped off my apron and grabbed my coat so fast, I must’ve been a blur.

“Who is it this time?” I asked breathlessly.

“A corrupt politician.”

I grinned and snatched my handbag and keys. “I’m driving, then… but I’ll NOT be doing the cutting and skinning this time. You will be the one disposing of the body. From A to Z. Okay?”

He took a deep breath and held it for a moment before exhaling with a sigh. “Fine by me.”

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