Monday, February 6, 2012

Trapped: A short story

It was an old factory. It made some of the cooling components for a refrigerator company which had gone out of business that year. It was one of the few that were having it’s pieces made in separate factory, then having them shipped all to one location to assemble the whole thing. Gelo Manufacturing had been open for fifty-two years, it produced thirty million parts in that time. At a point it was the central point of the small town of Algor, Alabama. Gelo had employed a fourth of the town and everything was built around to service those workers. Hospital, restaurants, and schools for the workers children. It’s what kept Algor afloat for the better part of a century. This was its last day of operation.

Thomas Cludo pushed a nearly toothless push broom through a vast hallway. It was about two o’clock. The dishes from the carry-in were being put back in to Tupperware containers, the half empty 2 liters of Coke were making their way back to offices, and the garbage was being thrown away. Around four thirty Thomas, “Big Tommy”, would be making his final rounds and gather that last bit of trash to be tossed and the soon to be demolished factory.

Tommy was twenty-nine, swiftly approaching thirty. His hair had begun to fall out in the areas it was no longer simply thinning. What had once been a black mane of hair started to look like the inside of a shower drain. His once barrel sized chest began to shrivel as the perfect abs he once had disappeared behind a thin wall of fat. Tommy had been a hero in high school. He was a cliché of a man, quarterback, center of the basketball team, and star pitcher. Every girl had loved him at one time or another, even a few of the teachers. Like all great stories, his took a turn for the worst. His senior year of high school he tore his shoulder in a football game. It was bad enough to end what was to be his greatest season. He managed to play the end of year basketball games, and filled in as a relief pitcher. He just didn’t have the arm any more. On occasion it would still throb with pain if he used it too much. Tommy’s senior year had been one of shit.

Most of the football team visited him when he first inured it, even guys from the basketball team. Certainly all the underclassmen girls. Once it was clear he would no longer be able to play the way he used to, the visitors started to drop off a bit. Even Mr. Cludo. Tommy’s father, Tom Senior put all his dreams in his young son. Especially after he had been fired from Gelo Manufacturing a year prior. Performance related is a polite way of saying he was a drunk and in a rough economy, you can always replace a drunk. Tommy realized most of his friends, girlfriends, and anyone else he was close with were only riding his coat tails to fame. Once they found out that ship had sailed, they pushed Tommy out in to the same harbor. At least that’s what he thought.

His friends and team mates still had lives. Just because Tommy wasn’t able to play the games weren’t canceled. They still had to get out there and play, and they had to play better than they had before without “Big Tommy” on their side. Longer practices left little room to go and hang out a few hours a night with their friend. Tommy didn’t see it that way. Traitors, losers, sluts. Most of the girls quit coming because it hadn’t taken long for Tommy to become agitated about the stories they told him with his team mates. How they were still going to win state. He had grown bitter fast.

The kitchen was clear of food now. It was a little after three. Tommy made his was sweeping up the hallways and the floor. There wasn’t too many people left. The production guys had been done for a few weeks, administration was doing whatever it is a business does when they shut their doors for good. Tommy just kept the place clean. Most of the administrative team didn’t notice him much. He came to work on time for the most part, cracked up with the line guys here and there. He did his job fine and was never a bother. Tommy felt differently. He hated “the suits”. Anyone not a line guy was a suit to him. Even though most of them didn’t were one, it was a casual place, he just lacked a clever name for them. These were the guys that canned his dad ten years ago, as far as he was concerned these are the guys that killed him.

Much like Tommy’s team mates, this meant extra work for Tom Senior. With his champion of a son in the hospital, he knew to get that arm better he would need the best doctors money could buy. Mr. Cludos may have been a drinker, but he wasn’t an idiot. He knew it was going to take a lot to get the best. The old man started taking odd jobs anywhere he could get them, temp services, hired labor, even got a housekeeping job back at Gelo. He had been a lineman supervisor and had shown up hung over one morning. That same morning some new kids arm got caught in the machinery and damn near tore it off. Because he was a slightly intoxicated supervisor and someone now had the right to sue. They let time Tom Senior go. Understanding he had fallen on hard times, they gave him a part time position. Everyone liked Tom, the kid hadn’t sued, this was the best they would do for him now. With all the extra hours, “Big Tommy” assumed his dad abandoned him too.

Tom Senior was a big man and had led a rough life. Working sixteen hours a day was wearing his old body down. About a year back at the plant and Tom Senior had a heart attack. All the money he had earned working the long shifts almost covered the cost of his funeral. Almost, Tommy had just started college, not on a scholarship and he needed to drop out and get a job now. Tommy’s mother passed away a few years before, it was just him against the world. The president of Gelo Manufacturing offered him a job at the funeral. He stayed composed, but Tommy was furious. “I appreciate the offer, but I don’t want to work the same place my father died in” he gritted through his teeth. That was a decade ago, and Tommy is making the same walk his dad did on the day of his death.

Tommy got a job at the sporting goods store as a salesman. It seemed it would be an easy task. Performance Sports Equipment thought they had just hired a top seller. He still looked good in good shape, not what he used to be, but good enough. The appeal was Big Tommy Cludo knew his sports, and will set you up to be a champ like him. Salesmen need to be friendly though. Tommy was anything but friendly.

About two years ago Tommy found some loose boards by the old boiler system in the basement. He was sweeping and the broom caught pulling a small plank up. It was wet down there, he figured the heat and moisture constantly battling made the wood warp and separate. Investigating a bit he found stairs underneath them, it was a small tool room. Probably when building the basement infrastructure it was used as a small workshop, then covered up when the new boilers were put in. There was a small table, a bench, and a couple chairs. They were all faded and worn, but looks never stayed without properly taking care of something. If no one is looking at it, it really didn’t matter. This room would suit Tommy well. It was big enough just to relax in. Hardly anyone came down here, and certainly wouldn’t be paying attention to some old boards. Finally Tommy had a place to blow off a little steam on the clock. With an hour or so left to kill he thought to himself, “I could step on down for a last sip and a nap”. Tommy headed down to his Chamber of Solitude for one last time.

The jobs came and went for the next couple of years. It didn’t take Tommy long to get fired from Performance. He was a used car salesman, a waiter, and then one of those guys who spins signs out front offering cash for gold. That was the last straw, twirling a sign in the blazing heat while sweat drenched one of his few good shirts. He couldn’t take it any longer. It didn’t help he was carrying a few extra pounds these days as well. If he was going to die on the job like his father, it was going to be cool at least. It wasn’t much, considering how much Tommy had figuratively pissed on an offer he was given a few years back he was lucky to get anything. He was given a job cleaning out the machine presses at the end of the day. He was surrounded with regular hard working men like his father. For once he didn’t need to get in someone’s face for being uppity with him or thinking they were better than he was. Tommy liked working there and eventually he was even promoted to the first shift cleaning crew.

As he headed down the short staircase he rubbed his hands against the crumbling stone. It crusted off in to powder in his hands. He adjusted the boards before his decent just in case someone was coming down there. He knew that some of the crates of unsold parts were being brought down around four and he wanted to make sure he got out of that. He needed to find a new job before too long and didn’t want to injure his back. Nothing new was going in place of the factory, at least for a year or so the town hoped. It was a scouted location for a distribution center for some cheap grocery store chain due to its vast size. His girlfriend’s father said he could work for him at his restaurant; that was before the break up.

Amor Cruciatus was beautiful. She was a Greek with dark skin and startling green eyes. A kind girl with a big heart. She knew all about Tommy Cludo from middle school, he was a few years older than her so he would’ve never paid attention to her. Once Tommy was no longer a big shot and working at Gelo though, she thought maybe she would be good enough for him. Since she was one of the few girls that hadn’t been pissed off by Tommy or didn’t realize what a shadow of his former glory he had become, she was more than out of his league. She did everything he could ask for, but he was already bitter, still waiting for the other ball to drop. It would only be a matter of time before she realized he was a piece of shit just like the other girls did. He did the only thing he knew he could do before she broke his heart. He dumped her.

She took it hard. Amor could not understand why Tommy would break up with her. She thought she was being the perfect girlfriend, her dad was going to let him manage bussers and hostesses at his restaurant. It didn’t make sense why he would get rid of her. She begged him not to end it, that she would fix whatever was wrong with her. She loved him, she always did and for a year she got to have him. Whatever she did, she would fix it. She didn’t see Tommy crying as he left her house, she didn’t know how much he actually cared for her, Amor had no idea that Tommy would get drunk and wreck his car that night.

Tommy felt around inside his pocket and pulled out the small flashlight to navigate to the bench. He knew the layout by heart for the most part, but he didn’t want to break the bottle he had kept down below. It was a bottle of Trace Buffalo, a Christmas gift from Amor. He had slowly been sipping it on his shift for the past month now. He quit drinking for a while after the accident. He banged up the car well enough, but he walked away unscathed. The bummer was he now needed to take the bus to work, or walk depending on the weather. He left the bottle untouched until the announced the closing of the plant. He thought keeping it up on the shelf was a reminder of why he had to deal with all the vermin in public transportation and what he had lost with Amor. Then when the word got passed down, he brought the bottle in and started drinking it before his afternoon nap. Today he was going to finish her off as a salute to Gelo and how it robbed him of a decent life again.

He drank deeply from the bottle. There was a decent amount left. More than he planned on drinking, he still needed to get the trash about 4:30. What the hell, it isn’t the end of the world if he screws up today. In a few hours he is unemployed, the garbage can screw itself. Tommy sets the flashlight on the table standing up to use it like a lamp. He takes another swing and chokes a bit. The bourbon burns going down and he sulks a bit. He doesn’t have the stomach to finish it now. Maybe when he wakes up he can finish it up. He glances around the room that has become the best part of his day. He turns off the light and lays down on the bench and slowly drifts off to sleep.

Like most of the time he drinks and sleeps, he dreams. About the night him and Amor broke up. As he ran out of her house he wiped away tears, making sure she did not see them. He drove erratically to the bar. Speeding down the bypass, needing to get a drink as quickly as possible, he understood the phrase “Move with purpose.” He waited ten minutes before he went in to Potus’s Tavern. His eyes were still a little red when he entered. There he shared intimacy with another friend, twelve shots of whisky and five beers. Big Tommy was hammered. Those who knew him pleaded with him not to drive home. He was a big man though, knew his limits and this wasn’t it. After slapping one of his former team mates across the cheek he grabbed his coat and left. Less than a mile down the road he crashed in to tree. When the cops found him his car was a wreck and he’d pissed himself.

Tommy awoke with a bit of a headache. He realized that he drank a bit too much for his personal goodbye party. His mouth was dry and he was hungry. Even after all the food he scarfed down at the carry-in the booze had made him want more. Plus, the cake was really good. Hopefully there was still some left. He wasn’t sure what time it was. With all the court fee’s Tommy had to give up any luxuries. Gym membership, going out money, and his cell phone. He stopped carrying it around a few weeks ago because he felt stupid. He didn’t own a watch so he just tried to train himself to sleep for thirty minutes and wake up. He was getting better at it, but the extra bourbon really had messed with the mental snooze button. He had hoped it wasn’t too late, he didn’t want to stay past five today considering he wasn’t going to get paid for overtime. Plus if the guys loading the extra parts in the basement saw him coming from out of the floor he might get his last paycheck docked. He grabbed his flashlight from the bench and flicked it on. He left the bottle behind, a gift to the old factory he thought. “If you are around, I saved the last bit for you dad”, Tommy muttered as he headed up the stairwell. When he got to the third to last step he pressed up on the loose boards. They didn’t budge. Tommy pushed harder, nothing. Panic ripped through his body and soul. Bending deep into his knees and summoning all his strength Big Tommy blasted forward. A faint pop emitted from his shoulder when the fire erupted in his brain. He stumbled backwards cradling his dislocated joint, falling down the steps back on to the cold workshop floor. Tommy Cludos was trapped.

Terror flew up Tommy’s throat and climbed out of his mouth. Interestingly enough terror smelled like cake and bourbon. Tommy blew his nose clearing the rest of the vomit out. He tried to choke out a scream, but it died in his throat. He propped himself up with his good arm. Clearing it, he managed to get out, “Help me”, meekly. Swallowing the rest of the booze and bile his normal speaking voice returned. Tommy knew if he had anyone was left it wouldn’t be for long, he needed to get someone’s attention. Profoundly he screamed the word, “Hey”, at the top of his lungs. He listened for a moment. Nothing. Not hushed voices growing nearer, not the click clack of machinery, only the scream of silence.

Tommy laid back on the ground. He didn’t know how long, the shock had worn away and his shoulder was throbbing. It would be far worse when he was no longer half buzzed. His mouth was dry and foul tasting, “A glass of water would be nice”, he thought. He slowly moved toward the tabe, scooting his ass against the ground. He wasn’t positive where he had landed and the flash light had rolled out of his pocket. He needed to get the bearings of the room back before he began his search back towards the steps. Feeling his way across the floor he found the bench against the wall. A few feet to the left would be the table, maybe he could swing a chair up in to the boards above and make some noise.

He wasn’t surprised he’d lose his license, and it’s not like he could afford to get the car fixed. He had a couple court fees to pay, but honestly the two weeks he did in jail wasn’t much of a sentence. Even though he had become bitter and hateful, people still remembered Big Tommy as a hometown hero, or at least felt sorry for the star that fell from grace. Even the judge.

Amor had tried to comfort Tommy a few times, coming to the hospital where he was treated, the trial, and his house when he was released. She stopped coming by after he tried to turn things sexual. She still cared about him, maybe even loved him, she began to think she was just another one of those girls he chased in his glory days, only wanting her for sex. If he had been a better communicator he may have been able to explain that all this had changed him. He was done drinking and knew they could have a real relationship together. That he ran away from her only because she was too good for him. Instead he told her “Stop holding out and to come a bit closer”, with awkward tension in his voice. It was the last time she came by his house.

It had hurt too much to crawl with a bad arm. After standing up Tommy slid his feet against the floor hoping to find the flash light. A few minutes in to it he kicked something in to the wall and picked it up shortly after. He flicked it on and the small workshop was lit faintly. It was a cheap light, he replaced the batteries in it often. Grabbing the chair with his good arm Tommy struggled to lift it up to the ceiling. Straining he banged the old wooden chair several times in to the boards. After the fifth swing it only sounded like someone was lightly knocking on a door four rooms away. He tried yelling a few more times, but it was pointless. Enough time had passed, Tommy knew the factory was empty.

While he wasn’t a genius, the man knew he was stuck. He had a bad shoulder and the parts sitting on the boards weighed several hundred pounds. Without proper leverage, there was no way to push the boxes off, and he didn’t have anything except a chair, a bottle, and a cheap flash light. He stood there for an hour, trying to fathom a million different ways this scenario could have played out. In the end, in all his day dreaming, this was his reality. Surely someone was going to pick up some of these parts. Sell them for scrap to the recycling plant. Tomorrow morning or that very night a couple of the guys would break in and take a few boxes on hand carts. He would just need to stay awake and listen for them to show up. Mike Stone, Jim Snow, and Bill Wares were always looking for easy money. He doubt they saved any up and would bail him out of this one. He moved and sat on the third step from the top, waiting for his rescuers.

Time slipped by slowly, Tommy didn’t know how long it would take his co-workers to get there. He would never have called them friends. Maybe beer buddies, certainly not friends. On occasion they would grab a beer or two after work, after the accident he stopped going for a while hoping Amor would see he was no longer dependent on the booze. When she rejected him he went back to it harder than ever. He didn’t want to catch a bunch of bullshit from those guys for turning down the offer to hang out after work now that he was “dried out”. Big Tommy was missed at the bars as he was buying cheap liquor a town over so no one talked about him behind his back. He knew they would, they were all still just a little jealous of him. They probably went to get drunk after their last shift, hopefully they will be feeling reckless and do it tonight. Waiting till tomorrow will suck. “They will probably mess with me for a while, getting stuck in this hole”, he thought. Tommy lingered on that, the catcalls and jeers they would mock him with, “Dicks”, he said to himself.

He had on and off again sleep over the night. Between sitting in darkness, his body trying to heal itself, and a lack of nutrition, Tommy was exhausted. He would wake with a jolt every few minutes, convinced he could hear his old bar friends above him laughing and joking around. Each time he’d yell out “Hey guys, it’s Tommy.” He would wait a moment and continue, “I got stuck down here, under the boxes, let me up.” His only replies were the echoes around him. Each time he yelled Tommy grew a bit less helpful. Minutes drug on like hours, without a clue how long he’d been down there, he started to think the worst. “Maybe they aren’t coming down here, maybe the thought didn’t even cross their minds”, he muttered. Tommy started shuffling back towards the bench. The stairs had made his back ache and the throbbing shoulder pains on top of it were too much to endure. Hope was a precious thing, and precious things are often rare: Especially for a man encased in a tomb.

It may have been the lack of food, but Tommy was sleeping in longer intervals, or at least he was tired more often. He felt like he was sleeping all the time and fearful he would miss his friends if they showed up. He didn’t have a clue how long he had been down there now. In and out sleep made him confused, one thing was for certain if food and water were as plentiful as sleep he would be much happier. There was a very small puddle in a corner of the room. Mostly just drips from the condensation from some old pipes against the wall. Tommy wet his tongue a few times from it, all he could taste was rust and the decay. He worried it would make him sick, plus after taking a piss a few times he was concerned the stream had ran into the tiny puddle. The only upside had been he did not need to do anything more than urinate. It would seem unnecessary for those actions as hunger was tearing in to his belly.

Tommy stretched his legs and walked around the workshop a bit. He thought about every decision that led him here. If he never would’ve gotten hurt he would have been a millionaire, if his dad wouldn’t have had a bad heart, if Amor would not have been so perfect. All these factors and decisions are what led to his inevitable death below the Gelo factory floors. “It isn’t fair”, he said in a whisper. He would have wept if his dehydration wasn’t at the point of being unable to produce tears. It had been quite some time since the last time Tommy had needed to relieve himself. His mouth was dry and sticky. “How much longer can I go like this?” Tommy thought. Through muddled thoughts he knew the answer, “Not much longer”.

He barely dreamt anymore, and if he was he could not remember it. If he had been able it would be the same as his thoughts. Amor. It was all he could think about, running to her, confessing his fears, his irrationality, begging to take him back. If he could get out he would change, they’d get married, have some kids, raise them right. Tommy would dwell on it for hours, then he would suddenly realize he was never leaving. It would appear he skipped town without ever saying goodbye. Her dad would tell Amor, “Do you see, Tommy Cludo is coward and a nobody, he didn’t even say goodbye”. Over time she would eventually stop defending him, until she started agreeing with him. Finally she would meet someone else and be happy. Again, as much as his body wanted, tears still would not spring from Tommy’s eyes. It was then, realizing he would never hold her hand or touch her lips to his again, or even see the sun, he had nothing to live for.

The flashlight Tommy had was barely even producing a dim glow, he knew soon the rest of his painful existence would be plagued in darkness. He was never much of a religious man, but he still believed in Hell. Suicide was pretty much a one way ticket there. Of course one can rationalize if no matter what you are going to die long and painful no matter what, is it wrong to just speed up the process? It’s not like God was giving him the signs he was coming in for some divine intervention and to wait it out as help was on its way. The phone lines were down and operators were not standing by. Tommy was given a choice few men ever get, he got to choose how he would die. Granted, there were not many options to choose from. For some reason hanging himself was all that could come to mind, he was barely able to stand anyway, it wouldn’t be difficult.

Tommy slid his worn leather belt through his belt loops. He fashioned it around his neck, quickly before he lost his nerve. At first he tried pulling it extra tight, each time he would get to losing consciousness his hands would slip and the belt would loosen. Oxygen would come flooding back into his lungs and give him the curse of a beating heart. Like everything in his life, Tommy was failing at his death. Strapping it around the pipe wasn’t working, he would start to lean over and would rock back up the moment he thought it would be over. His heart wasn’t in it. Although there are few who are passionate about ending their own lives, and those that were are not around to talk about it.

“A failure”, he thought. I can’t even kill myself properly. He had stared at the bottle several times. While not quite having a 4.0 GPA, even Tommy knew alcohol dehydrates you. There was just enough for a good long swig, enough to dull the senses. Hopefully the remaining bourbon was enough to keep him from turning craven so he could remove himself from the dungeon he inadvertently confined himself to. Tommy slowly treaded on his knees to the clear glass bottles wrapped in a green and tan wrapper. “This was meant for you dad”, he squeaked “I need it just a bit more than you right now”. With the lid off he tilted his head back and pressed the mouth of the bottle to his own. It was near impossible to get down. The desert that became his mouth revolted against the burn of the alcohol. Some of it went down rebelling all the way, the rest he spit out to the floor. Drinking was one of the only good things Tommy had been good at and he flinched at it like a first timer. The little bit of bourbon sitting in his stomach had made him convulse. His body was in an all-out war against the friend turned enemy. It burned at his stomach lining and had clawed at his throat on the way down. With an explosion in his head he lost all control, Tommy slammed the bottle in to the ground. Glass cut his now brittle skin sending blood pouring on to the floor. He stared at it for nearly a minute, watching streams of crimson drip from his fingertips. It would be gentle and he could probably even sleep through it. Tommy had found his way out.

Gripping the neck of the jagged bottle he cut the fore arm of his right side. Long and rough he carved down in to his wrist. His nerves protested in torment, but he was able to slide the glass horizontally across the incision making certain he would bleed properly. Tommy tried to clutch the neck handle with his hand on the disfigured arm. He couldn’t even make a fist, the remainder of the bottle dropped down. He laughed. His mouth still felt like someone had sandblasted it, so he we his fingers with blood and sucked on them a couple of times. It was disgusting, but more soothing than the dryness that had lingered for what he guessed were days. Tommy’s eyes were growing heavy, he was tired, more tired than he had been his entire life. The pain didn’t seem to last too long, it dulled within a few minutes. He questioned if this was shock. With his back against the bench Tommy slowly drifted into a dreamless sleep he would never awaken from. One would hope there was a lesson to be learned. He had no epiphanies, no better understanding of the world, and no great realization that his mistakes were his own. Thomas Cludo was a simple man who was selfish and arrogant. His last moments were the same as much of his life. Alone and feeling sorry for himself.

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