A Short Story By Joseph Nardone
Copyright Joseph Nardone 2016
Distributed by Shakespir
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Are You Comfortable?
She is prone. Near breathless on the cold floor. A man standing over her. She wonders what he is wondering. What is the point of this fruitless endeavor? The endgame is clear. Yet, still, she can’t help but to think why this is happening. Why her? Is there a reason she was chosen to meet this fate?
“It is not personal,” he said.
Of course, to her it is personal. What else could it be?
It isn’t that she’s misunderstanding his point. It is that she comprehends the notion that he’s not angry with her. At the same time, she disagrees that this isn’t personal. It might not be that to him. For her, however, it is horrifically personal. After all, it is her life hanging in the balance.
Looking around the room, she can tell she is in a basement. No windows. One door seemingly leading to nowhere. A set of stairs that lead upward.
“My name is Jennifer,” she said, as if she’s about to reason with the man.
He looks her over. He even smiles at her. “Jennifer?”
The man walks away from the woman. When she attempts to move, it is then she realizes she has no choice but to stay in position. The woman, Jennifer, tilts her head to look to her left arm. She notices something is knotted around her wrist. She then turns to her right arm. A similar situation was waiting for her.
“Can I ask your name,” Jennifer queries.
Unable to see what the man is doing, Jennifer is less interested in knowing his name, and far more intrigued to find his whereabouts in the basement.
“Call me Tom.”
It doesn’t matter if that is his real name or not. Jennifer was able to somewhat pinpoint his position. He’s about seven feet away from her. As importantly as that, it dawns on her that a dialogue with the man can be had.
“Maybe I can talk my way out of this…” she ponders.
The man, Tom, walks back over to her. He is wearing an outfit eerily similar to that of a butcher one would have found in the 1950s. Not a bad looking man, either. To Jennifer, Tom appears six-feet tall, slender build, and has clean long brown hair. Had this not been her current predicament, this would be the type of man Jennifer would normally find attractive.
“Are you comfortable,” Tom asks.
Jennifer is naturally blown away by the question. A man she does not know is holding her captive in what she presumes is his basement. Despite that, he wants to know her comfort level. “What an odd thing to be concerned with,” she thinks.
“I. I am fine, Tom,” she replies. “Why isn’t this meant to be taken personally?”
Tom stands near Jennifer to look her over. He starts by looking at her feet, then slowly works his way up to her face. He isn’t the first man to look at her like this. She is beautiful in a classic sense. No makeup is needed, as she has a natural look to her that is a mix of prepubescent boys’ dreams of cool tomboy and potential knockout.
“You have dark hair,” Tom states. “That’s the sole prerequisite.”
A prerequisite for what? Yet another odd statement. Jennifer has no idea what to expect or even how she arrived at this place, but she knows she must remain calm. She has consumed enough television to know that lunatics do poorly to the extra noise.
After breathing in and out a few times, Jennifer musters up enough courage to ask her question, “If you don’t mind, may I ask what the prerequisite is for?”
She can hear Tom put something down. It sounds like whatever he let go from his hands hit metal. Possibly a cart or toolbox.
Jennifer then hears the dragging of something on the floor. It is moving rather swiftly, and is approaching her at a speed she would prefer would be slower. Her ears are current most useful of the senses, and her eardrums have seemed to realize this. Jennifer can her nearly everything happening the room. As if her hearing has been amplified.
It is coming from her left side. She begins to turn her head to that direction to see what is going on.
“Relax,” Tom begins. “Simply moving this chair to sit closer to you. I will move it so you merely need to slightly adjust your head. If we are going to have this conversation, it is best we are both at ease.”
“Are you going to kill me?”
“I prefer to call it harvesting. You, however, would likely call it killing. So, yes. I suppose it is that. If it makes you feel better, you’re not alone.”
The Explanation Deserved
She is prone. Still unable to move. As her host was hoping, Jennifer remains comfortable. Relatively speaking, of course. A man she does not know just told her she was going to meet her end. His explanation, that he needs to harvest her.
“What do you mean by harvesting?”
“It is a longwinded explanation.”
“You said this isn’t personal. I deserve this much, no?”
“Fair. I am not a savage. You’ll be dead before you realize the sacrifice I am making in the harvesting of you.”
Sitting next to Jennifer, Tom looks her over once again. She notices this isn’t the way a pervert would look over someone he would be ogling at, but more like someone in the medical field who is trying to find certain points of interest. Potentially, even, make a diagnosis.
“Anyway,” Tom begins to state. “I’m thirsty, this is going to be a fairly long process, and it’s likely you wouldn’t mind something to help your certainly dry mouth as well… am I right?”
“Thirsty,” Jennifer thinks. Of course she’s bloody thirsty.
It takes her a minute to respond, though. She fears what any sane person would at this point. That her capture would drug her drink.
“It will be drugged,” Tom says. “You will need to drink it regardless. You need to trust me.”
She agrees. Unsure how long she will be held prisoner, and told she’s going to be murdered, Jennifer realizes the drink, drugged or not, isn’t going to be the worst part of whatever happens next.
Tom sits up. The chair making a metal-scratching like noise. He begins his way for the steps.
“All I have is water,” he says. “Hope that will do.”
He’s gone. Up the stairs. Leaving Jennifer alone.
Once again, she finds herself looking over the room. As she does this, she can hear the faucet being rain upstairs, turned over, with the heaviest footsteps leading back towards the steps. She slumps back down to her prone position.
He walks over to her. Gently positioning the drink near her face.
“You should have enough leeway with the ropes to bring the glass to your mouth,” he says.
Jennifer doesn’t even bother to look him or the glass over. She’s thirsty. She’s drinks it quickly. In only a few seconds, the glass of whatever is empty.
“About my explanation,” she asks.
“I’ll tell you,” Tom says. “You won’t believe me. Not that it matters. But you should know it is the truth.”
He sits back in the chair. Still wearing his butcher-like garb. Still very polite, calm and without any sense of urgency or unrest.
“There’s a lot of people in this world,” he begins. “You’re probably a smart woman. You’ve heard the rumblings of population run amuck and things of that nature.”
“What does my hair have to…”
Tom grabs her wrist. “Please,” he says kindly. “Don’t interrupt.”
Jennifer simply nods her hand in understanding.
“I’m just employee. A person who is tasked with helping to fulfill a much larger, wide-scoping task. It is certainly complicated. And, yes, rather far-fetched, but greatness starts somewhere. Furthermore, a need for one’s survival tends to start in the darkest of place.”
Greatness. Survival. Jennifer has no idea what this man is talking about. She’s just a woman chained in a crazy person’s basement. What she does know, however, is that if she allows him to ramble, it not only buys her more time before he does whatever it is he’s going to do, but it could possibly get her an opportunity to get out of this predicament.
“I’ve been working for my employers since I was a teenager. I was recruited. Certain men and women fit a mold, both in IQ and physicality scores, that they look for. People who can easily understand this bigger picture, and just as easily carryout the tasks needed. We are the frontline utility players, if you will. Management above us, and more management above them. Yet it is the people like me who might be the most important cog in the many moving gears and parts of our one giant wheel,:
“So, yes, he’s just a god damn crazy person,” Jennifer thinks to herself.
“The story goes that the people very high up in our company were warned many years ago about our planet’s issues. Global warming, population, human on human violence, and everything else we all read about in the paper, deem heinous, but move on from rather quickly to go about our daily distractions.”
He pauses. Tom takes a sip of whatever drink he got himself from the upstairs. As he does so, he begins to look over Jennifer once more.
“Am I boring you yet,” he asks.
“No,” she replies. “Not at all.”
“You think of me as a lunatic?”
She stops before immediately answering. Having grown increasingly frustrated, unable to break the binds that hold her, she has, suddenly, allowed her inevitable fate to wash over her. It dawns on her that she’s not making it out of this no matter what she says or does.
“Yes,” Jennifer says. “I think you’re a raving, homicidal, clown.”
Tom laughs back.
“Sometimes, even though I know it to be true, when I say it to another person not in the company, I feel that way, too.”
Groggy, Jennifer looks straight at Tom for the first time. Eye-to-eye.
“It doesn’t matter now, does it,” he asks. “You knew the water would likely have something in it, but you’re need to hold onto the smallest chances of survival overcame you logic. That should help you better understand… but I guess the story was too long, or the medicine in the water too powerful, for you to hear the entire thing.
Trying to keep her eyes open as hard as possible, eventually, Jennifer passs out.
An End To It
“What… what is this,” Tom asks. “Are you really waking up now?”
The man holding her captive clearly didn’t expect her to awaken at this point. He is sincerely startled. Clearly hoping to finish what he needed to finish before she would come to.
She, in far worse shape at this point, is trying to get a feel for the situation at hand. Jennifer notices that this time, something is different. She might still be in the basement, but not in the position she as before.
“Don’t panic,” Tom says. “Your hands and feet are bound with no more freedom allowed. An incision, just a few, had been made on both your legs and stomach. Another on the left side of your temple, too. You woke while I was finishing up that one.”
Jennifer doesn’t feel any of the sensations that should come with being cut. No burning feeling or pain. Nothing.
“Is this it,” she asks.
“It’s about to be.”
“Can you tell me the rest of the explanation at least?”
She can hear Tom put down whatever was in his hand on something metallic. It makes a metal on metal noise one would expect, but to Jennifer, who is now inching toward her death, it sounds cold.
“I don’t see why not,” he replies. “Unfortunately, I have no more medication with me for us. To avoid you having to go through an insufferable amount of pain, I must work while we finish the story.”
In disbelief, tears running down the side of her cheeks, Jennifer just tries to agree through a half-smile.
Tom makes his way behind her head. She can feel him there. Unaware of what he is doing, Tom continues to talk. He sounds distant, but she can just feel him there. Right there.
“We are going to make this long story far shorter,” Tom begins. “I hope you understand I mean no disrespect to give you the cliff notes version.”
Still unable to feel whatever it is Tom is or isn’t doing, her eyes begin to be filled with not only hear tears, but something else. It takes a few seconds, but Jennifer is pretty sure it is her own blood dripping into her eyes and down into her mouth. She is now, she assumes, tasting her own blood.
“We harvest for the sake of a greater good. A relatively small sacrifice for all of mankind. Many communities, from small villages to large empires, have done similar things throughout history.”
He nervously chuckles. “A sacrifice to the gods, I suppose.”
“Unlike whatever happened years ago,” he started again. “Our gods aren’t gods, but beings from elsewhere. Funny, but yes, our own arrogance somehow led us to believe that in a space so infinite we can’t describe its size, even in numbers, yet we were never alone.”
A mix of a heat goes through Jennifer, as does a sense that her core body temperature is dropping.
“We didn’t listen to their warnings at first,” Tom said. “Centuries ago, we were politely asked, with the agreement they would stay out of our way, to stop damaging this wonderfully resourceful thing we can Earth.”
Sternly now, he continues, “But we didn’t heed the warning. We knew better. We always think we knew better. Our insincere thoughts, of somehow thinking we were smarter than a species able to travel throughout multiple galaxies, essentially put you on this table.”
“But why me,” she asks. “The prerequisite to make these people happy is the color of my hair?”
Tom audibly laughs with a sprinkle of sadness in his tone.
“This decade’s, yes,” He says. “We, having only been a part of this myself for roughly 15 years, go through cycles. One decade it is hair color. Another it might be eye color. Maybe in a few years it will be the size of someone’s left pink toe. It changes. Fortunately, the company tends to harvest from within itself as much as possible. If not, usually it chooses from those deemed unnecessary to help better mankind. Unfortunately for this circumstance, we are up against the clock, we were a couple short for the harvest cycle, and here we are.”
Jennifer is still confused. “The harvesting is a sacrifice or a gift?”
“No. It’s actually a need,” he says.
At this point, Jennifer is slipping in and out of consciousness.
“Damn it,” Tom exclaims as he realizes she’s not going to get the full understanding. “These beings want whatever we take from us, after asking for very specific things, and…”
He stops. Jennifer’s question isn’t something he hasn’t given much thought to.
Conflicted even, Tom continues to mull over the question. “What exactly are they doing with these,” he thinks.
“It, honestly, doesn’t matter,” he finally replies. “We, the company to you to the rest of mankind, no longer have a choice in this situation.”
“We always have a choice,” Jennifer says with one last defiant sentence.
“Correct,” Tom says. “And I choose mankind over a singular person any day of the week. Sadly, you’ll never be able to appreciate with how much sincerity I mean that.”
With that, he makes one last incision on the side of her throat, taking the wind out of Jennifer, who succumbs to darkness.
A door is heard creaking up not too far off in the distance.
“Are you ready,” a passive voice questions.
“We are,” Tom says.
Tom stares down at Jennifer. One last time looking over her lifeless body. Now scarred, with slits throughout her flesh, a tear runs down the side of his cheek.
“You can come down now,” Tom shouts.
He lifts his right arm, with a scalpel in his hand, and slits his own throat.
The “couple short” of the quota the company was missing to fulfill its harvest, is now filled.