Retirement, Part 4

Continued from Part 3, here.

Garrick didn’t need anything, but of course, that didn’t stop him from finding some way for me to help him out.

I grunted as I bent down, struggling to keep my fingers under the heavy box without them getting crushed.  “And all of these need to be moved from the storage area out into the back of the kitchen?”

“That’s right,” he nodded, watching me through slitted lids as he picked at the dirt under his fingernails with a little shard of metal.  We weren’t supposed to have actual knives, of course, since the Company felt that this would pose an unnecessary danger to the inmates – er, workers – but that didn’t stop most folks who wanted a knife.  Most of them, like Garrick, found a bit of metal and used a grinder to sharpen down one side to hold an edge.

Bam, instant knife. Continue reading

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Retirement, Part 3

Continued from Part 2, here.

The next morning, one thought stuck with me from my nightmares, the night before: Lyman hadn’t been the only one down there, ghostly, ghastly, grinning under the waves.  There’d been other faces, faces of other men I’d come to know during my contract here, men who finished before me and headed home to their families.

Had they all made it home safe?  Or were they in somebody’s stomach, just like most of poor Lyman?

I did my best to make my inquiries discreetly.  I knew who some of those former guys had been friends with, who they’d been most likely to contact after they got back home.  I dropped by those guys, reminisced about old times, tried to figure out if they’d heard anything from their buddies since their departures. Continue reading

Retirement, Part 2

Continued from Part 1, here.

I bided my time, sitting in the mess hall and watching the others eat.  I didn’t have much of an appetite, not when images of that severed hand, the flesh all full of water and flaking away, kept on popping into my head.  I managed to shoved in some of the slop, telling myself that I needed the calories, but a few bites was all that I could keep down.

I waited for a lull in the conversation.  It took a while, but I knew what I wanted to ask.

“Say, anyone heard from Lyman since he left?” I asked, once that opportunity finally arrived.

I tried my best to keep the question casual, but it still attracted a few curious glances.  “Lyman?  Mister Optimistic, off to marry his girl?” asked Gonzales, pulling back his teeth in that curious version of a smirk that he liked to flash around.  I guessed that he did so because it highlighted his gold tooth.  He claimed that he lost it in a gang tussle, but most of us suspected he was full of it.  “Why, you missing your bedroom partner?” Continue reading

Retirement, Part 1

It’s weird how, in the last few seconds of your life, everything becomes strangely, almost absurdly clear.

For me, that clarity brought with it the realization that all of this, everything that happened, came about because I ignored orders and went for a hike.

And that hike, in turn, happened because of my father.

Not that my father was a bad man, you understand.  No, he was a normal, hardworking, blue-collar sort of guy.  We didn’t have much money, which meant that we didn’t have much in the way of entertainment, and the rabbit-ears balanced on top of the television never seemed to pick up a good signal, no matter how much tinfoil my mother wrapped around them.  So instead of plopping down with Junior and watching the Sunday football game, my father instead took me out on walks.

We might not have had much in the way of digital entertainment, but at least we had some good views.  Not that I appreciated them at the time, being a snotty-nosed brat who felt enviously that my buddy Blake, whose dad sank all his bonus money into a fifty-inch flatscreen with digital HD hookups, had all his luck and most of mine as well.  My dad would bring me up to the bluffs, brushing aside the leaves on the wide-branched trees to make it easier for me.  He’d gesture out at the cliffs, the sky on fire from the setting sun, and he’d ask me what I thought.

Mainly, I thought that I’d much rather be watching football at home, feet propped up on our ratty old couch.

I never told the old man, though.  Why ruin his idea that he was doing his son a solid by bringing him out into the wilderness?  And besides, I picked up a few tricks: how to tell direction from the moss and by cutting chips into the tree trunks, how to move silently enough to sneak up on the gamey rabbits that hopped to and fro, how to follow the trails of animals, how to keep an eye on vegetation and figure out the best route to a nearby water source.  Useful knowledge, not that I knew it at the time.

Although now that I’m thinking back on it, with that newfound clarity that I mentioned earlier, I might have been better off if I’d never learned a single damn thing about the outdoors. Continue reading