A cold metallic fork stabbed at a full pink slab of...whatever it was that masqueraded as meat. The child holding the fork lifted the meat up and slid it down her throat. It had the same unseasoned beige flavor as everything else in the god forsaken cafeteria. The children in the room couldn't remember a time when people ate for reasons other than basic survival.
The national food shortage gave way to an advent of genetically modified dinners that were as artificial as the plastic trays they were served on. Don't get the wrong idea. There was still food around with enough flavor to make someone smack their lips on delight. The problem was the ludicrous price tags attached to them. Middle-class workers slaved away for a decent meal and the bourgeoisie lavishly dined on the last remnants of natural food. The poor? They got the scraps the pigs didn't eat, just like they usually did even before dropping bombs became a national past time.
Maria picked a piece of pseudo-meat and flicked it to a ceiling, watching it cement itself to the surface. She sighed out with her hand pressed to her face. A lone finger played with a curled strand of brown hair.
"Is this really all we get? The media drones on about how nutritional this crap is but it doesn't matter. Food is about pleasure; it's about feeling good. They can't expect us to live off this filth," she thought to herself.
Maria scrolled through her phone and pulled up an old article she kept archived. There was a point in history where fat people were seen as hideous slobs marching to a carb-based and diabetes fueled funeral. Things were far different now. Just like those third world countries that were the butt of every tired old joke, plumpness was a luxury the malnourished population couldn't afford.
"I think Anna got scraped." Maria's attention fell upon her friend Morgan.
"What are you talking about?"
"It's just that Anna hasn't been to school for a whole week and people who're gone that long rarely come back. She might be on the flesh market by now. It's a pity cause she lent a butterfly hairclip before she vanished."
Maria scrunched up her face and scoffed at the theory.
"Oh shut it. We were never that close but talking about a classmate like that is beyond messed up. Maybe she has a bad cold because healthcare is practically non-existent around here. Not every rumor you hear on the dark web is true, me journalist."
"Hah hah. I'm not saying this to sound like a creep. All we ever eat is mystery meat so I wouldn't be surprised if a bunch of cannibals came out of the woodwork to feast on something more exotic."
"I'd vomit on you right now if there was anything in my stomach. You seem pretty comfortable talking about cannibals considering how plump you are. I think chubby girls like you would be pretty popular on the black market." Maria moved her hand under the table to pinch the plump belly of Morgan. She blushed a deep red and swatted the hand away.
"You aren't so thin yourself! Maybe you have a secret stash you aren't telling anyone about." She chuckled.
"Screw you. This whole flesh market thing is some urban legend a bunch of basement dwellers made up because their mom can't afford to make them dinner."
"I don't understand how you can be so skeptical. Is it that hard to believe in a cannibal black market when animal meat is nigh extinct and more people are dying from starvation than gang violence?"
"It's just that this city is already messed up enough as it is. I don't want to have to worry about random people getting turned into medium-rare patties."
"Fair point but it's like way too real to ignore. How about this: we go investigate one of those abandoned meat factories and if we don't find anything suspicious, I won't bring it up again. At least I'll try to since you know I love to gossip".
"Fine. If it gets you to shut up I'll do it. If anything happens, you have no one to blame but yourself."
A cold night air passed through the neighborhood of vacant factories. Maria stood a distance away from the rust-colored building as she finished her phone call.
"Chatting with a boyfriend?"
Maria did a long eye roll. "Yeah right. I called one of my friends to come over here if I don't text him soon. I still don't believe in your stupid theory, but you can never know who's lurking around."
"Smart thinking. I have my own reassurance too. Even though I dragged you out here, I kinda hope we don't find anything. The scandal would blow up my blog but seeing a bunch of mutilated corpses would probably scar me for life."
"Too late to turn back now. You wanted to play detective and now we have to investigate the crime scene."
The two girls entered the grime infested factory and used the light of their phones to navigate their way around. An unpleasant odor Morgan couldn't quite describe infiltrated her nostrils. Her morbid curiosity was the only thing pressing her forward. Shards of glass crunched under her feet while she scanned the dust-covered conveyor belt and meat grinders. She nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard a loud metal ping echo across the building.
"Relax Morgan. I just kicked a can by accident."
Maria bent down to pick up a large gray can that had no labels. The juice inside slushed around as she placed the can in her hand. Her eyes glossed over the surface and met the words "premium flesh".
"Do you think that could be... You know?"
"I told you already I don't believe in conspiracy theories. We should go back home since you're obviously freaking out."
Morgan slowly nodded. "Yeah, you're right. This is giving me anxiety."
Morgan began walking back to the entrance and almost got out when a big burly man blacked the path. His face looked stitched together and sagged like it was melting. She didn't even have time to scream before the man pounced on her and pinned her to the wall. Morgan tried to squirm free and kicked him with all the strength he could muster. She could feel his meaty hands caress her stomach before trailing its way to her chest. The looked in his eyes spelled murder or maybe something even worse.
"Let go of me you fat fuck! Maria, get outta here and call the police!"
"And let them ruin the meal? I don't think so. You're tonight's entree, so you better pipe down." A sinister grin replaced Maria's usually bored expression. Morgan's eyes widened to the point she felt that they would pop out.
"Maria? What the hell are you saying!?"
"Look, it's not like I wanted to do this. You were getting too nosy about everything and we couldn't risk you alerting the police. I kept telling you to give the investigator act a rest but you never listened. Tough look for you."
Hot tears raced down Morgan's face.
"Why!? How can you be okay with this? This isn't just murder; you're eating humans! You're sick!"
"It's fucked up but at least it's better than spending the rest of my mediocre life munching down on the boring pink slip. I'm so damn tired of putting up with the scraps the government gives us. I need something more. Humans were made to feast on true flesh. Don't take it personally. Everyone needs a fix."
The burly man removed Morgan's clothes and strapped her to the conveyor belt. She felt her heart crumble to pieces and she was shipped off to the meat grinder, huge metallic claw on titanium ready to mince her fragile body. A brief glimmer of light shone onto her eyes before she passed it.
It was only for two seconds but she recognized the small object on the ground. A small purple butterfly hairclip. Morgan's mouth erupted into a blood-curling wail as the girl edged closer to her death. She clamped her eyes shut and waited for impeding destruction until her screams were broken by several gunshots. The belt came to an immediate end.
She felt someone unbuckle her and hold her gently. Morgan opened her eyes and was face to face with her father. Her previous tears of fear were replaced by those of happiness. She never felt happier to see him.
What Maria didn't know was that Morgan was sending live audio to her cop dad the entire time. The factory was the last place Anna's phone was detected before she went missing and that made her all the more on edge. Morgan would've never thought a girl she called her friend could be so depraved. She looked at the entrance and saw Maria with the man lying in a pool of blood like slaughtered lambs. The bits of innards protruding from the bullet wounds resembled the bootleg meat sold in discount stores. Morgan wondered if Maria could see herself, would she savor and drool at the sight of her own dying flesh?