Atomic America

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When in Rome

Water droplets splashed across his face, causing James to stir. His head was foggy while his limbs lay limp. Muffled bangs and voices echoed from far off in his ear drum. His senses all in a daze as he remained still. Flat on his chest in the dirt, James kept his eyes closed. His body not ready to fall back into consciousness just yet.

Then more water sprayed on his face, a clang against something metal accompanied it. James groaned as he felt himself began to wake up. He let out a cough, blowing away the dirt that had gotten in his lungs and mouth. His eyes fluttered as his senses began rushing back to him. Like earplugs had been taken out, James could suddenly hear the world around him with clarity. There were shouts and barks. Flames roared and crackled while metallic scrapes and clashes filling the air. James coughed again. This time a violent desperate cough. The strong scent of gasoline stung at his nose. James’ eyes fluttered open as he pulled his arm up to his mouth, trying his best to breathe through his hand; as if that would filter anything.

Shaking his head, James slowly put both of his hands under his shoulders, pushing his face up from the dirt. His nerves still shaking as he pulled himself into a sitting position, leaning back on the iron bars behind him. James then rubbed his hands over his face and focused his gaze.

Around him, was a small square of dirt that was boxed in by iron bars. James sat in a cage, the lock keeping the door pinned shut. But he wasn’t the only one. The room must’ve been the size of a couple large shipping containers. The ceiling was relatively tall and the walls were coated in metal shards and sheets, all welded together to make a quilt of red rust. In long rows were cages upon cages. A space of a wide walkway ran between the cells for men to move through. In the small prisons were people. Well, the silhouettes of people. Small dim lamps hung from the ceiling. Each one swaying from the chain they clung to. A few coughs and moans escaped from the other prisoner’s lips but no other noise escaped them.

After he had been pinned to the roadside, the men had hauled James back to the other pick up truck, tasing him along the way. James’ energy drained from him as he was thrown into the back, his hands still tightly bound behind him. The men then took up the truck bed cover and enclosed James inside, hollering as they did so. He had laid still on it's hard floor as the truck bounced onwards, back towards whatever fresh hell they were taking him to. The sound of the dog’s whines came from the trailer with each bump in the road. James would be tossed upwards and would thud back down hard; the air being knocked out of him each time. After about an hour of this, James rolled onto his back and began kicking up at the cover. Nothing budged. Another hour blew by as James focused on breaking out of the ropes instead, but to no avail. Then the car had rolled to a stop. James did his best to struggle and fight against them as the men dragged him out from the back. He then bit and kicked one of the men who tried carrying him. At that, they took out their stun batons again and tased him until he had blacked out.

And now he was awake, alone and locked in a cage.

“You fresh meat?”

James looked over at the voice to his right. He narrowed his eyes at the small shadow who sat in the cage beside him. The older man crept closer to the bars. He was scrawny. Messy patches of hair cut at different lengths grew from his head. He had dark circles around his eyes and pale skin. He looked on his way to becoming a skeleton man.

“Or have we just not been neighbors yet?”

James turned his attention down to the man’s hands. In his fingers, he gripped at a small damp washcloth.

“I was worried you were dead.” He whispered. “Just thought I’d make sure. Wish you were though. For your own sake.”

Just then, there was a pounding sound from over head. Like thunder booming from the sky. James snapped his attention to the ceiling, his breath quickening.

“Relax meat. It’s the game. You have nothing to worry about until they open that door there.”

He turned back around to see what the stranger was gesturing to. Looking over, the man’s eyes were on the cage door that enclosed James inside.

“But don’t worry, they’re doing dog fights right now to warm up the crowd so we got a little while longer.”  The man then took his rag and lifted it up to his mouth, sucking the water from it.

James shifted in his spot, trying to get comfortable with his aching shoulders. No position seeming to do much good. The air sat harshly in his lungs as he listened to the rumbling that came from above.

“Tonight’s my last night.”

James turned back to him.

The stranger nodded, giving the cloth one last squeeze into his mouth. “The whispers have been getting louder for a while now. They tell me tonight is it.”

Narrowing his eyes, James looked over the man at the blunt casual manner in which he spoke. The man then caught his eye and smiled.

“Don’t worry my friend, I’ve known for a while now. I’ve made my peace.” He wiped his nose and leaned backwards. “I’m glad to be meeting you stranger, in my final moments. Water and the company of a fellow Listener is all I could ask for.”

James wasn’t much for speaking unless he had to. Language was meaningless in a world like this unless you had something substantial to say. Anyone who wasted words would lose any strength they carried. They became something like a dull knife. Words saved were sharp with every cut. But this stranger’s phrase peaked his curiosity too much for him not to ask.


Edited: 04.09.2019

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