Welcome to Day One of my 2016 December project. This year, the stories are not connected. At least, they all aren't. I had several plans, but couldn't quite come up with a way to make them all come to fruition.
So, instead, I'll play it by ear. I'm very good at that! As like last year, I'm writing and posting in a single day. Forgive the typos and such.
Story #1 is...a wee bit gruesome if not explicitly so. I began it, wrote about three hundred words, and walked away. This was when I was in the midst of my depression a few months ago and desperate to write anything. It did help, but I didn't finish it.
Today, I did!
Enjoy! Umm. I suppose. :)
Sawing through bone was never easy. Mathias wished the job on someone else, anyone else, but always wound up here. The first several times he’d left not only breakfast, but the previous night’s dinner, in the corner. Now, for good or ill, his stomach was hardened to the task.
Not so his conscious who still railed against the work.
A shame, he mused as he broke off the limb and tossed it into the proper bin, about how one could not fill his belly on conscious.
His employer’s voice broke through his thoughts. He dropped the saw onto the work table and wiped bloody hands on his overalls. It did little good, but muscle memory is a powerful thing.
“I’ve an assistant for you.” The words, spoken in a rapid stutter, were barely out of his mouth before he fled the room. His boss disliked the room as much as anyone.
She was cute. Any other place and he might not have noticed, but here, knee-deep in his work, he thought her something more. At once he looked away. It would not do to scare her off. Not when she would help. He needed help.
“Right then.” He picked up the bone saw and asked, “Do you know how to use this?”
“I’ve my own tools.”
Roisin approached the table he worked at and stared at the corpse. Fingers stroked the partially removed arm twice. From her belt, she pulled a small knife and before he might warn her it would do no good she severed the arm.
He couldn’t stop himself from stepping backwards. The knife was impressive. It had, as it cut so easily through bone and sinew, looked larger in her hand. A twinge of jealousy flared in his stomach. That sort of knife, it had to be a Gift. Except, how had someone with a Gift wound up here?
“Hey, Mathias? We here to work?”
A startled look at the table showed the body already separated. The pieces neatly tossed into their proper bins. The head bin was almost full. Soon he would have to roll it down the corridor to the chute. There, as he waited for the doors to open, he would remind himself to be thankful for his work. Even if it was terrible, it beat winding up in the chute.
To avoid meeting Roisin’s eyes, he made quick work depositing the pieces into their bins. Pieces. Bone and meat. Fodder for the mad experiments on the lower levels. He called them many things. Never what they were. Never.
A push of the button near the table wound up the mechanism to bring a fresh work. Chains rattled and the whiff of oil and metal warned him there would be the new pieces soon. A wet thud dropped the new piece, limbs splayed and eyes open in remembered pain.
“You ever see one you knew?”
The question was never asked of him. Never. Everyone either did not want to know, or feared the answer.
“Not for a long time.”
She worked the left side and he the right. Her knife allowed her to move faster, but he was experienced. His one benefit was he knew the layout so took less time transporting to the bins. Although it was not quite full, he stopped before the head bin.
“Come on. This is full enough. I’ll show you how to operate the chute.”
Roisin wiped her knife off with a clean rag and sheathed it before following him into the hall.
The head chute was at the far end of the hallway and neither spoke as they walked. Their boots clanked on the metal floor and the scent of flesh, singed, rotted, or fresh clung to his clothes and skin. Inside the bin, sightless eyes stared up. Rumor was, they were going to start requiring the removal of eyes. Even his stomach, hardened from years of work in the cutting room, roiled at the thought. Still, he knew if they demanded it, he would do it. Too many nightmares about the chute closing on him kept him compliant.
“It’s pretty simple. Heads here, then torsos.” He gestured. “Left arms and then left legs. Followed by right arms and right legs.” Mathias remembered being surprised they had gone left right and not arms legs. “You push the green button and wait.”
Usually it did not take long, but sometimes the chute wouldn’t open for several minutes. Never long enough to leave and come back despite the open buzz being loud enough. This time, it took seconds, and soon he was shoving the wheeled cart onto the metal platform. It clanked into place and the door slammed shut. If he listened, he could hear the clunk of gears as it descended in short hops.
“What about the bin?”
“It’s replaced in the cutting room.”
“Oh.” Roisin was quiet until they were right outside the door. “Do they watch?”
“No. Bruce is supposed to monitor the cameras, but everyone knows he’s too sensitive.”
“But not you?” she asked as they walked inside.
“Not any longer.”
“What do you do if you see someone you know?” She pushed the button for fresh work, and noted the new head bin along the line with a nod. “It’s what worries me the most.”
“It’s not- It’s not them.” The words forced themselves out as the body hit the table. “You just have to tell yourself it’s not them.”
They worked in silence for the rest of the shift.
Roisin beat him to the room the next morning. He was surprised. No one was in a hurry to get to the cutting room. Even he dragged his feet along the walkways and elevators to get here and sign in to work.
The humming under her breath was disconcerting. How did she find music in here? All he found was a stench he pretended to be used to, and a gnawing despair. She even looked out of place. Her shorn head had signs of black hair growing back in a fuzzy layer. His own blond hair had stopped growing already.
His staring must have attracted her attention because she looked up as the knife sliced off the leg of a now completed work.
“Hey, boss. Hope you don’t mind I started early.”
“I’m not the boss,” he mumbled as he hurried in and let the door slide closed behind him. The bone saw waited and he forced himself to pick it up as she pressed the button for a new body after disposing of the last. “I was surprised to see you here, is all,” he felt compelled to say.
“Well, they only let me out for work.”
He stepped away as the body hit the table.
Roisin looked up at his movement with a grin. She watched him as she sliced up the body with no assistance. Piece by piece, she added them to bins barely removed from empty.
He tried to force himself to move closer, but he could not. Everyone knew about those locked up other than work. Crazies and dissidents and those two steps away from-
“The table. And the chute.”
The fact she completed his sentence aloud only worried him further.
“You have a Gift,” he whispered.
“Yes, I do.” She sounded bemused as she glanced down at the small knife. “Not that it has done me much good. Did you tell anyone?”
“No!” he shouted even though there was no threat in her voice.
“Good. Because I’m going to need a favor tomorrow.”
Mathias only stared.
“It’s ok, Mathias. It’s a thing you’re quite capable of doing.”
He doubted it.
The rest of the day, he could only watch her work, humming and slicing as if she carved a turkey for dinner.
He did everything but beg for a different assignment the next morning. Even the sludge pit would have been better, but the boss wouldn’t do it. His pleas were waved off and a stern warning sent him scurrying to the cutting room.
And her Gift.
Again, she waited for him. This time, she was undressed. Worse. She laid on the table, the Gift gleaming beside her.
“Roisin,” he hissed, but she only turned her head to grin as she stopped humming.
“Excellent! We’ve no time to waste. You’ll have to toss all of me into the same bin. I know it’s against the rules, but I have to be sure.”
“Sure of what?” Terrified steps into the room nearly ended as she stroked the knife with her fingers.
“Sure I can get back together. It only hurts me a little.”
She sat up and he felt a tug of arousal because it had been so long since he’d seen a woman naked and alive. Horror kept his body in check. Roisin glanced behind him at the closed door.
“We’ve not long. I bribed the boss to ignore the cameras. Even though we know he already does. He thinks we’re going to have sex.” She kicked her legs in the air and grinned. “I would. If we had time. But we don’t. Head first, please. It hurts less that way.” She paused and her brown eyes trapped his breath. “And, this is most important, so listen. I need my Gift in my hand.”
Lying back on the table she began to hum once more.
“I need this, Mathias. I’ve been waiting a long time for someone like you to take this job.”
“Someone like me?”
“Someone who remembers being human.”
“I am human.”
“No, you’re not. But that doesn’t matter now. Please.”
“What do you mean it doesn’t matter?”
Roisin sighed and sat up once more. “Look, if I promise to explain everything later, will you do as I ask now?”
“How can you do anything later? You’ll be dead!”
“No,” she answered before lying down again. “Not for a long time to come. We have to do this now. I can’t wait too long or they won’t listen to me.”
“The ones from yesterday. Maybe some from the day before. I don’t know since I did not do them all. Please, Mathias.”
It was the please. She was pretty, and naked, and crazy, but she said please like she only asked to bum a smoke. Eyes closed, she hummed as he wrapped his hand around her Gift. The slick metal was cold under his fingers and he clutched it tight as his shaking hand brought the Gift to her neck.
Her smile never left. The humming continued until he was done and as he fought the urge to vomit he remembered to give her back the Gift. Her fingers wrapped around it on their own and he jumped.
Piece by piece, he carried her to the chute at the far end of the hall. He saved her head for last, cradled it no less gently than he had the rest of her. The chute took forever, but when the metal door clanged open he set her inside, piece by piece once more.
As the door closed, her lips puckered and she began to whistle. His startled gaze met her eyes as she blinked them open. It was too much. He fled the hallway, the work center, the entire level. Let them dock his pay. Let them do what they would.
He’d been touched by a Gift.
His only choice was to flee.
The tunnel to the outside was long, and sloped downward steeply. The outside would kill him, uninhabitable it was said, but Town and Ship made him ill. How long he journeyed down, he did not know. Only that he would eventually find out and be done. They did not stop people from the outside. There was no need. Instead, they paraded their corpses along the promenades for all to witness folly.
He cranked the door open, prepared to meet death.
“Sorry, he’s busy.”
Roisin grinned, Gift in one hand, and the other outstretched to take his, she hummed. If the door had not slid closed behind him, he would have turned and left, despite knowing he could not make the climb back.
“Come along, Mathias. We’ve work to do.”
“Your own Gift, yes. We shall make better use of it than they ever did.”
And they did. Although it was no less bloody, it was truly more satisfying.