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Literature / The Midnight Meat Train

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A horror short story by Clive Barker, later adapted into a Slasher Movie by Ryuhei Kitamura. Originally included in the first volume of Books of Blood.

Leon Kaufman is a New York resident who has grown disillusioned with the city he dreamt of living in for so long. After a few months, the glamour of the Big Apple has faded, replaced by a disappointing reality of drudgery, crime and pollution. To make matters worse, a mysterious serial killer is stalking the New York subway after dark. Little does Kaufman know that the murders are simply a symptom of the true horrors of New York City...

The Midnight Meat Train provides examples of

  • Age Without Youth: The City Fathers are granted immortality through their depraved cannibalism and worship of the Father Of Fathers, but they continue to age despite not dying from it. As a result, they're hideously ancient and decrepit, to the point that some of them have patches of skin that have rotted to the bone, despite not being dead yet.
  • An Odd Place to Sleep: As a result of working late, Kaufman ends up nodding off to sleep during the subway ride home, tossing him headlong into the plot.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: The existence of the City Fathers, and the ritual murders meant to appease them, and the Eldritch Abomination they serve. The ending reveals that most, if not all of the city government is part of the conspiracy, as there are entire crews of civic workers who clean up all evidence of the murders, and the train conductor even personally congratulates Kaufman on his new "job".
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: After killing Mahogany, Leo is bound to serve as the new Butcher.
  • Big Rotten Apple: Not only was the story written during New York's downward slump, with all the crime and urban decay you'd expect, it's also home to a race of hideous, immortal monsters that prey on its citizens.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The ending can be interpreted as having one by a sufficiently twisted reader. Sure, the protagonist has gone insane, had his tongue torn out, and is forced to kill people for the immortals who secretly rule New York... but he finally loves the city.
  • Body Horror: How else would you describe a story about a butcher that kills people on a subway and carves them up like meat to serve humanoid abominations?
    • The description of the City Fathers, who are described as almost rotting alive due to their age.
  • Cannibal Larder: The Butcher's M.O, he processes his victims like they're normal meat; strips them, shaves them, and hangs them upside down from the train ceiling to be drained of blood. The Butchers existence is exposed shortly before the start of the story when a lost tourist accidentally stumbled across one of his larders in the middle of the night, before it could be delivered to the Fathers.
  • Cosmic Horror Reveal: When we see the "thing" the Fathers serve.
  • Deal with the Devil: The ancients' immortality is ensured by eating human flesh (they are themselves degenerate humans), and said immortality is needed for them to continually serve the Eldritch Abomination they made a deal with so New York would prosper.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The monstrous entity worshipped and served by the City Fathers, who refer to it as "The Father Of Fathers", stating that the creature predates humans in North America.
  • Gorn: The reader is treated to loving descriptions of Mahogany's work as The Butcher.
  • Government Conspiracy: While the Butcher works alone and is the only man shown to interact with the City Fathers, the ending reveals that many city workers are also part of the conspiracy, helping to cover up the murders, and it's implied that the city government itself are also part of it, out of necessity, as one man couldn't possibly hide the existence of the City Fathers by himself.
  • Horror Hunger: According to the City Father who speaks to Kaufman, they don't enjoy eating human flesh, but are forced to do so, as it's the only way to maintain their immortality. Might be a case of Unreliable Narrator though.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The City Fathers, who might still look vaguely human, but are withered, ancient, and look more dead than alive.
  • Legacy Character: Unlike his masters, the Butcher isn't immortal, and the title passes from one person to the next. Kaufman becomes the next Butcher due to killing the previous one, and it's implied that Mahogany's time was almost over anyway, as he was getting too old and slow to perform his job properly.
  • Mr. Exposition: Though not named, one of the City Fathers explains to Kaufman who they are, and New York's true history.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: A variation; Mahogany isn't a sadist and doesn't consider his "work" any different from that of a regular butcher who kills and processes animal meat. He doesn't torture his victims, and all mutilation to the bodies only occur post-mortem, to prepare them for the City Fathers. That said, he still takes pride in his position, considering himself a vital worker that helps New York function.
  • Not Hyperbole: "City Fathers" is normally just a fanciful term for important and influential citizens and officials. In this case, it's both figurative and literal, as the City Fathers are both immensely powerful and important, but also the actual founders of New York.
  • Sinister Subway: It's not only a hunting ground for a serial killer; it's secretly the home of a race of cannibalistic immortals and the Eldritch Abomination they serve.
  • The Speechless: The City Father rips out Kaufman's tongue to silence him.
  • Spoiler Title: While not specific, you should know going in there is going to be meat on this very train.
  • Subways Suck: It's even worse than normal, as in this setting, if you ride the subway at night, you run the risk of being harvested for meat by a serial killer.
  • Tongue Trauma: The City Father who interacts with Kaufman tears out his tongue to permanently mute him and ensure he'll "serve in silence" during his role as the new Butcher.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: New York City is secretly still ruled by its original founders, now a race of immortal cannibals, who serve a horrific entity known as the Father Of Fathers. In return for their service, and the assistance of the city government, New York continues to prosper as one of the great cities of the world.