It's Killing Me
The SinkTo sum up a rather lengthy explanation which stretched well into the beginning hours of the afternoon, the Suited Men were a force of rash brutality and trickery.
They used these people’s weaknesses to worm their way into a society in which an already helpless lot was turned into little more that peons for what the Suited Men called ‘the greater cause’.
“Whatever it may be, their ‘greater causes’ is turning our people into mindless slaves. I’m not sure how much longer things can go on like this. Every harvest season, they take what they want of the pickings and leave us with the minimum required to survive.” Daniel told me as we sat at a bar, away from the others who were sitting on the floor, playing some game with numbered cards and elaborately decorated chips.
“Can’t you fight back?” I asked him.
“We’ve tried that one,” he said. “What few people we convinced to agree to a rebellion are either dead or holed up here.” His eyes drifted over to the far corner where Martha and Corey sat, huddled together, watching the others as they tricked each other out of mounds of chips, shouting, cussing, laughing with one other.
“Their father, Abel- he was a great man. In fact, he’s the one who suggested we fight back.” Daniel’s eyes dropped to the black granite counter top and he shook his head. “Of course, a few got apprehensive- thought it may be better to leave things as they were. I’m sure they didn’t know what the Suited Men would do…”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “Did someone sell you guys out?”
Daniel looked up at me, glaring. “No one sold us out,” he said. “Let’s get that straight right now. People were starving and afraid, and some of them just didn’t want a fight.”
The fury in his voice reflected something deeper. A struggle I could feel in the way he moved and see when his eyes darted around, as if his answers were written in the air around us, waiting to be spotted.
“Sometimes,” he said, avoiding eye contact with me, “I think we should’ve just listened to them in the first place…”
The word danced on the tip of my tongue for a few moments, threatening to escape. I wanted to tell him that he’d done the right thing. That his people weren’t just dogs that could be thrown out to toil for someone else’s indulgence.
But I was a no more than a stranger in that place, intruding on an already fragilely balanced system of existence. I had no right to judge him wrong or right.
I began to wonder how much longer I could actually stay here. A day? Two days? How long would it be before I became a burden for these people who already carried so much on their shoulders?
Sure, I had supplied them with a meal, but that was one meal in exchange for refuge, for survival.
In the grand scheme of things, I wouldn’t have stood a chance without Daniel having found me when he did.
I decided right then and there that the best way to show my gratitude would be to slip away the next morning, waking no one, taking nothing. It’d be as if I was never there, I told myself.
“Dan, it’s three hours until sun down,” yelled Alyssa from across the room, tapping at an imaginary watch on her wrist.
He cursed under his breath and stood up from his bar stool, wiping a trembling hand across his eyes.
“I guess I need to leave now if we’re gonna have water this week,” he said with a sigh. “Corey, you got the jugs all cleaned and ready to go?”
Corey nodded and hopped up from his place by his sister, sprinting to a door at the far end of the hall.
In a moment, he came out, bearing two huge eight gallon jugs.
“Jeez, we used both of those already?” he said. “Joe, Greg, do either of you feel up to helping me lug these things?”
The cousins took one look at each other and sighed.
“I’d love to help, dude, but this tibial fracture’s got me hobbling everywhere.” Said Greg, lifting up his pant leg to expose a basket-ball sized bruise the color of midnight covering his left calf.
“No, that’s okay, man. Just rest up and tag along next time. Joe?”
Joe looked to his tooth-pick sized arms and then to Daniel and shrugged. “I don’t know how much help I’ll be, but-”
“I can go.” I interjected.
“No, you don’t have to do that. Joe can handle it,” Daniel said, though not sounding completely convinced.
“No, really.” I said, looking at Joe. “If it’s okay with you, I’d love to help. It’s the least I could do.”
Daniel looked from Joe to me, then back to Joe. Contemplating.
“Alright,” he said, holding a jug out to me. “Let’s get going, then. We’ve got things to do and not much time in which to do them.”
I took the jug, which was surprisingly thick and a bit heavier than I had anticipated, and turned for Daniel to lead the way.
We made our way down a dark hallway, to an end door with a picture of stairs on the front.
A heavy metal chain was wound tightly through the handle and around a metal bar bolted to the wall vertically.
“What is this place?” I asked in wonderment as Daniel fiddled with the locks.
“Well, it used to be a drug testing facility. They had all kinds of animals here: monkeys, rats, dogs… hell,” he said, grunting as he jerked the door open, “I wouldn’t be surprised if they kept humans down here, too.”
“But wasn’t that against the law?” I said.
He held the door open for me and beckoned me through, then began winding the chain around the outside of the door.
“Celia, my friend,” he grumbled, “I don’t think legalities have been much of a concern to anyone these past few decades.”
True enough, I thought, and began climbing the stairs as the lock clinked in Daniel’s hand.
I’m not exactly sure what Daniel and I talked about the first half hour or so of our journey. Maybe we discussed our old homes, our favorite colors, or what we’d do if we ever escaped the wretched desert we were both chained to.
But in retrospect, it’s a large possibility that we didn’t speak of anything. Daniel, I learned quickly, was not a dreamer. He didn’t bother entertaining fanciful ideas of abundance and peace.
He simply wanted to free his people from the Suited Men and regain the independence he’d had before his world was turned upside down.
He, unlike myself, didn’t have a destination. He was a creature of habit, an introspective warrior-type person who knew that there was no sense in hoping for better.
“‘If I desire a better path to go upon, I must forge one myself’,” he quoted to me after I asked him why he didn’t have any dreams of where he wished to be years into his future.
“Oh, so you’re a philosopher?” I tantalized.
“No,” he said, “I’m a realist.”
I shook my head.
“Celia, can I be frank with you?”
“Seeing as you’ve been nothing but heretofore, I see no reason to stop.”
He chuckled, then paused for a moment before beginning. “When I first saw you, I thought you were crazy.”
“Well, you’re not the only one…” I said. And for the first time since I’d started my trip three days ago, I missed Luther.
And I didn’t just miss him, I ached for him. I could literally feel a cold, emptiness in my chest like I’d never felt before, even after my mother died.
I could hear his voice, see his eyes, smell him as his arms closed around me and for a moment, I trembled.
But Daniel didn’t seem to notice, so I carried on… as if the pain I felt weren’t real.
“Seriously, though. I thought you were crazy. I saw your eyes, so wild and intense. I thought maybe you’d just kill me right there, thinking I was a hallucination or something. I’ve heard of that happening often enough around here.”
“Have you got a point to this story, or are you just trying to politely tell me to go be a loon somewhere else?”
“Ha-ha, no. You’re fine being a loon with us. We don’t mind.” he replied.
“Well, thank you. You’re a most gracious and hospitable host.” I mocked.
He stopped again, without warning. And he turned to me and looked me in the eyes, his expression daunting. He wasn’t humored.
“I thought about it, what I saw in your eyes. It was something I’d never encountered before. Determination, I’ve seen. Insanity, I’ve seen. And what was in your expression was some undecipherable hybrid of the two and then some. You have hope that there’s something out there, something that you’ve never seen. You’re willing to bet your life on it. But you’re not crazy.” he said.
I moved a bit closer, dropping the jug to my side. “You’re wondering why I’m going down a path someone else has forged- a path I can’t trust. Because it’s not my own. Because you only trust what you can do for yourself.”
He smiled a bit and picked up my jug. “Precisely.”
“Daniel,” I said as he pivoted back around and resumed walking, both jugs in his hands, “can I be frank with you?”
“That’d be nice,” he said.
“You and I, we’re very different,” I said. “Not because we don’t think differently, but because we utilize our determination in completely different ways.” I thought for a second, trying to regain control of my thoughts.
“I guess what I’m trying to say is,” I told him, “is that just because my reasoning is different from yours, that doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. Just because I choose to believe there’s something better out there rather than settle on the fact that I’ll toil my whole life in bitter repetition, doesn’t mean that I’m crazy.”
He was silent, unresponsive. But I knew he heard every word I was saying.
“You have a cause,” I told him. “A respectable one. Your family, loved ones, friends. Everyone you know, you have them to hold onto, to fight for. But me, I have nothing. No one.” I said, the realization coming just moments after the words exited my mouth.
And then I felt it again, that cold, empty feeling. And it overwhelmed me.
“You can stay here and fight, and you can take back your town or you can die trying. And either of those will be your fulfillment,” I said, my eyes damp and itchy. “I have to do this, for the person that I loved. I have to prove to her, to myself that there is something more to this. Or die trying. I don’t have anything else to hold onto.”
His pace slowed, and he lifted his face to a warm breeze that drifted through. A chill went through me and I shivered a bit.
After a while, I realized I wasn’t going to get a reply out of Daniel. I thought that maybe what I said hadn’t made sense to him, that it was too much to process, or that he just had too much other stuff on his mind to care.
But I wasn’t going to hound him for a reply, or beg him to talk to me.
Walking with him was mentally draining enough. He didn’t speak, but somehow I could feel the mood of his thoughts radiating from him, weighing me down in a way.
I couldn’t be in his presence without a million thoughts running through my mind.
Finally, in an effort to stop the incessant headache I’d gotten from the unprocessed emotions sloshing around in the back of my mind, I spoke.
“Do you want me to take that jug back?” I asked.
“Nope, we’re almost there.” he said. And that was all he said.
I sighed, closing my eyes for a while, just following the sound of his footsteps. And then, his footsteps stopped and I opened my eyes.
Dusk was upon us, and the sun’s radiance was slowly fading against the red sky.
In front of us was an outcrop of rocks, like a shallow cliff face, colliding into each other to form a small opening just wide enough for Daniels to squeeze his shoulders through.
“The Sink?” I asked.
“The Sink.” Daniel replied, ducking through the entrance.
He placed his hand on the right wall and grabbed my fist with the other.
The contact startled me, but I didn’t have time to dwell before he was dragging me along the passageway.
It wasn’t long before I heard water dripping, and then we came upon an opening, like a meadow in a forest, but without trees and underneath a huge boulder.
A pool of clear water sat directly in the middle.
“It’s groundwater. Drips through the rocks, get purified, and lands here into the clear pool of clean, cool, hydrogen dioxide.”
I laughed, then fell to my knees, grabbing a jug from Daniel’s side.
We dipped the openings into the water, waiting as the liquid poured into them.
“Have you ever thought about what you’re going to do once you reach the coast?” Daniel asked me as we made our way back down the stone corridor.
I thought about this for a moment, then replied, “No. Honestly, I never thought I’d make it that far. Maybe…if I do make it, I’ll just lay down in the water and die of exhaustion.”
He laughed. “Well, that’s always an option…”
“Have you ever thought about what you’ll do once you purge your town of unfriendlies?”
“Live,” he said. “Just live.”
“Survival is key, right?” I said.
“Yeah,” he answered. “Key to what is the question.”
“Happiness,” I said, in a facetious manner.
“That’s so cliché.” He said.
“What do you have against clichés?” I asked as we exited the cave and I placed the jug atop my head, steadying it with my hands.
“Absolutely nothing.” he said, throwing his jug over his shoulder. “Shall we?”
And we made the journey back to base in the moonlight, discussing nothing until we could see the building as a little speck against the sky.
“When we get back, I want to show you something.” he told me.
“What? Do you have some secret, metal-sheeted ammunitions room I should know about?”
“If I did, why would I tell you?” He said mischievously.
“Good point. What is it, then?” I asked.
“You’ll see.” He said.
And by the time we made it to the front door, I thought my head might implode. My neck ached and my arms were ready to wither up and fall off they felt so dead.
I knew I’d be regretting it when I left in the morning, but in that moment, I was just hoping to make it down the stairs before passing out.
Daniel must’ve been able to tell when he looked at me because he dropped his jug, took mine and placed it on the ground, then handed me the key.
“Here, go unchain the dungeon and I’ll carry these down.”
I nodded, then made my way down three flights of stairs, rubbing my neck.
The chain took and ungodly amount of time to undo. It was tightly wound, criss-crossed and knotted.
If they were worried about intruders, they found a perfect solution.
I was sure the chains could be heard rattling across the ocean.
I was just finishing when Daniel made it down with the second jug.
He looked at the door, then at me with the chain in my hand with a puzzled but slightly amused expression on his face.
“What?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he shook his head. “I just can’t believe you were able to undo that.”
I shrugged and opened the door for him. “Crazy people have mad skills.”