New web magazine AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, has just posted a new story by French author Jacques Barbéri, translated by Michael Shreve – The Butcher Boy:
The alarm sounded at six. Charles Argus’s arm thrashed about under the covers, popped out, whipped the air and swooped down on the machine. The ringing stopped, the nightmares faded away: the large, silent parking lots where the beef and pork carcasses were lined up, peaceful and hung on chrome hooks, slowly vanished within the mesh of fear.
He knew that he could do nothing to halt the course of time. The cycles are indestructible. However, like every morning, he hesitated … “And if I don’t get up? And if I head calmly to the airport? And if I go out naked in the street? And if … And if …”
Charles Argus got out of bed. He had breakfast. Left the building. Turned up his coat collar thinking he was performing a cinematic gesture. A rehearsal in a way, he thought, smiling. When’s the final scene?
On the moped the fresh air lashing his face did little to wake him. Then the butcher shop window ripped open his eyelids. Height of horrors. Charles Argus could not stand red, raw meat.
When his father had found him this job, he could not refuse. He had been looking for something for months already and the claws of marginalization were beginning to drag him toward the public benches and soup kitchens. He told himself that for a little while red meat would be preferable to misery. But what he could not have imagined (who could have?) what would happen next. Time skid. The endless loop.
At least his job as delivery boy allowed him, as much as possible, to avoid the sight of meat. He took his moped and transported the steaks and carved up rabbits to their destinations in opaque plastic bags. Restaurant managers, the disabled, the shut-ins. But the air wafted the carnal aroma to his nose and the forms of fragmented animals took shape under the plastic, arousing the awful taste of red meat on his carpet of taste buds, on the mucous membranes of his nose and the roof of his palate.
Time folds back on itself like that — Schlak! — without a word. It’s one day, one hour, one second and Charles Argus is a prisoner. With no exit.
He delivered his plastic bags all day long, went back home, exhausted and disgusted, ate, went to bed, strolled along the large, silent parking lots between the pork and beef carcasses, hoping that the hooks would not break, that the meat would not tear off and that he would not have to continue his way trampling on a meat floor, red and white, forever. Then the alarm sounded and he got up, had breakfast and went to the butcher shop where the animal bags were waiting for him. A perfect loop.
But a time loop always has a knot. And Charles Argus finds it every Monday. On that morning the alarm does not sound and his nightmares go on until nine or ten o’clock. The rest of the morning is spent between the kitchen and the bathroom. Elegantly dressed, closely shaved, smelling good, Charles Argus leaves his house around eleven and takes the bus to go to see Miss Fonck. Helen Fonck is the only friend, the only confidante, of Charles Argus. The only good thing that came out of his job at the butcher shop. – continue reading!
You can also read the original, in French – La promenade du garçon boucher.