Sixteen Unsold Canning Jars
by Nolan Devine
They collected our passports at the bunker door, rendering us stateless tourists. They’d be returned when our bachelor party flew home to those who only ever witnessed our more socially accepted selves. One day they’d understand and perhaps even participate. Until then we’d enjoy our time as nameless helpers. Cash dropping daddies set free in this forgotten hole surrounded by the soil of a subhuman country. With all they’d been through our economic charity was the least we could contribute.
Our housing was dinky but the product within made the place an oasis. There were no windows. Diesel was in short supply. The generator choked in thirst for sips off a red jug, each gulp growing the lights brighter. All six of us doubled down on sagging mattresses. Each bed sat beside another in this cement room with wet floors. I’d known these men since childhood. So I spent my first moments of rest reflecting on how our sleepovers had evolved.
In the room next to ours were a series of stalls with swinging doors. Each led to things much brighter than this building. We’d had a long first day of play and so felt tuckered. As I drifted into sleep I heard the groom marveling just one bed over. “Christ that kid made me pop off like a pipe bomb.”
That night I woke to screams of nonsense. At first I wrote them off as compadres carried away within their stalls. In time I realized the cries emanated from beneath me. I looked below and let my eyes adjust to a figure moving rapidly in the dark.
Thrashing on the floor was a maroon-colored man tearing at his face. His skin was shredded and coming off in curled pieces as he raked his claws across it. He was naked and rib-thin. The entirety of his body oozed from what seemed to be boils. His eyes were clasped shut and he didn’t flinch amidst the mutilation. He seemed to be in an unconscious state despite his violent spasms. I screamed for him to stop as I required my rest. Maroon beat at the bed bottom, his fists vaguely aiming for the source of his dismissal. I could feel his punches ever so slightly, like that princess and her pea. I called for the passport collector to rid this weed sprouting from the soil of our proto-Edenic hovel.
Maroon’s fist snapped a board on the bed’s frame. My friend slid into me as the mattress went lopsided. He was warm and wet. We both got up and hurried to the wall most distant from the nightmare man. In my crotch I registered the generator’s starting rumble. With new light I could see more of my friends stirring under covers and asking what the hell was going on.
The click of four approaching boots beneath burly men echoed from the stall room. Upon entering they saw the problem and kicked until it awoke and went limp. It seemed to sense no pain.
One of the armed men looked me in the eye. “We give our sorries for this disruption.”
I appreciated the politeness from these casually dressed, dark-hued men. They picked the man up by head and a hole where genitals once hung, digging thumbs into the wreckage of his skin. He was carried to another room I hadn’t noticed. Its door remained open.
They booted his ribs as he huddled on the ground and made pleas, now seemingly aware of the world. “Oh God, will nowhere take me?” His inside pieces crunched beneath each heel. “Oh God, will you take me now?”
Through a scraped open cheek I could see a black tongue flicking as he formed a series of sickening cries. Over and over he screeched, demanding they end him. It caused me to reminisce on my boyfriend’s pet, the creature he called his only son.
The dog passed in winter. We couldn’t penetrate the frozen ground to form a grave. I set the old thing in a snowbank until springtime. When the ground had give I came for the body with a barrow. Something got at the corpse over the snowy months — its face picked apart. This bone bag now carried so little dignity in death. I was overwhelmed with compassion, feeling I must guide it to peace. I knew once buried it’d enter dog heaven where networking is key. I thought to make it look as if he died in a fight. I bit at sockets flecked with fur and caved its face with a shovel. That night my boyfriend lay between my legs. The dog’s soul entered his tongue and gave me thankful licks upon my pole.
The last of my friends finally arose from bed due to the screams and stomps upon the maroon-skinned man. One buddy, plump and sweaty, stomped from the stall room in mesh panties. He was upset at the disruption. The big men told him there’s no problem. To go back to what he was doing. They assured him he’d still get his herpes.
He picked at his dead worm. “Mmm, down there?”
A stall door swung and he resumed his work.
The rest of us went into Maroon’s room and demanded answers. They said this man broke in two nights prior and did the same. Now he was back despite warnings. This confused boy wrapped in a man’s husk was known for delusions and destruction. He wanted a family but never found one. He claimed to have fathered all the workers. I was told he tore himself into a eunuch before puberty.
He often plied a statue of Judas with cigarettes and booze to make the universe send him what he wanted. The man acted out if they didn’t come. A week prior he torched his own shack when a tin of snus failed to yield forth a wife. Now he was lonely and distraught, clamoring for death. I felt bad for the troubled soul and wondered how I could help. I walked over and asked one of the large men for his handgun. I told maroon skin he could rent it from me for self-infliction. Just one penny.
He began to sob. “I can’t afford it.” The man begged me to shoot him.
I called out to the room. “Anyone got a penny for my friend?”
The room shrugged and laughed at what they thought to be a joke. I understood their mistake. I believe every man should work for what he has but at the same time feel anguish when someone is in need. I handed the gun back to the big man. I asked if he’d help this invalid by letting him swap work for pay.
The two enforcers huddled to formulate an idea they soon relayed. Maroon could pull the trigger on himself if he first gutshot an aging whore. Her monthly discharge was antithetical to the brand they were building. The client who liked to slurp it from a jar never came ’round anymore. This overripe apple had to leave the tree.
I told Maroon it was a fair offer. That he should take the deal. I gently patted the burnt-up man as he thought of accepting this win-win. He did.
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