Following an uneventful evening, I fall asleep with no hesitation. Staying asleep, however, proves difficult. I’m repeatedly woken by random noises, the foot of another person kicking me, or the newly repeating memory-dream of the day I met Freckles, as if my brain is trying to make me feel guilty for losing my best friend.
And, of course, it’s working. I wake at nearly six in the morning, upset and a wreck from the memory that once again haunted me. A single tear rolls down my cheek, the last remnant of a long night of restlessness. It’s only the beginning of day two, but the pain of his absence is becoming unbearable.
Things are about to kick into action shortly, so I sit up, preventing myself from having the chance to fall back asleep or wallow any longer. I glance around the room, searching for my elderly companion, and spot her rubbing the crust from her sleepy eyes. When she notices me staring, she gives a little wave.
We both quietly sneak out of the room, careful to avoid the sleeping lumps strewn across the floor. A few others stir awake, but for the most part, everyone’s looking to get their last few minutes of beauty rest.
“I’m not gonna lie, Mary, I’m feeling awful hungry already.”
“One of the greatest troubles on the island,” she replies. “Breakfast will end by the time we make it to the mess hall, though. They close shop at exactly six to prepare for lunch, and we have to get right to business when the bell sounds off.”
“I wouldn’t say ‘no breakfast’ is the greatest trouble here. I’d probably say the whole ‘slave labor’ thing is.”
“Ah, well, I said ‘one of,’ did I not?”
“Alright, but there’s a sizeable gap between the two concepts.”
“Are we going to argue semantics all morning?”
“If I can get away with it, sure.”
We switch into fresh pairs of our respective clothing types, and not a moment later, the six o’clock bell rings, signaling that work time has begun. Like yesterday, I follow Mary to the shipyard, where she heads directly to the little shed for her equipment.
“I recommend busying yourself a little more today than you did yesterday, Luna,” she says, wringing a sponge out into her bent-up metal bucket. “There are many things to get accustomed to here, especially for an Overseer like yourself.”
“Yeah, I guess I better. Any idea where to start?”
“If it would make you feel more comfortable, the men here at the shipyard are more easygoing than the rest of the island.”
Taking her word, I begin my patrol of the dockyard. The large ships, which are still magnificent, sit idly by as people clean them, load things onto them, and congregate on their decks, planning their days.
I’m almost thankful I have this job. No worrying over black lung, or breaking my spine lifting things onto an airship, or standing in one spot, doing the same thing for ten hours a day.
“Well, if it ain’t the pipsqueak from yesterday,” I hear off to my side. I turn to see the larger-built Overseer walking my way, a humored face masking his tough-guy persona. “I didn’t think you’d survive the night surrounded by all of those ruffians.”
“I’d say. It was tough getting to sleep. And staying asleep.”
“It’s tough every night. You’ll get used to it.”
“Thanks for the glimmer of hope.”
“Yeah, no problem. Tell you what, I don’t know what you’ve done, but the other two aren’t that fond of ya. Lana’s a bit tweaked this morning, and Renet seems to be stewing, too. The name’s Arnold. I’m about the last person you haven’t pissed off, from the sounds of it.”
“Luna,” I reply, “and that figures. I had a standoff with Renet yesterday for getting after an old lady taking a break. Not sure what Lana’s deal is, though.”
“Eh, could be anything. She’s just like that, honestly. Well, good luck, I suppose, and if you need my help, don’t.”
With that, the large man walks away, off to visit some of the far-off quarries towards the center of the island.
Yesterday, he hardly even looked my way, but today he was willing to hold a light conversation and give me advice? An interesting way to make an impression on someone, I guess.
Following in his lumbering footsteps, I finish my round at the shipyard and make my way to the quarries, ready for another exciting day of trying to force people to work against their will for no pay. A surefire way to get everyone to hate you, and I can’t say I blame them all that much.
Still, I walk to yesterday’s problem quarry and find the group of men once again sitting idle. They watch me approach the entire way, not even pretending to act like they’re happy I exist.
“I see you guys still aren’t getting anything done,” I say, leaning on an inactive piece of machinery.
“I see you haven’t gotten the mechanics to do anything,” the main man from yesterday replies, getting a little too up-close and personal for my liking.
“As far as I was told, the mechanics were supposed to have come this way yesterday, but even if they didn’t, that’s no excuse to be doing nothing. At least go join one of the other quarries.”
“Oh, sure. As if that’s gonna happen. Everyone’s rock-noggin territorial over these darn quarries. Can’t have more than twelve to one dig site, anyway.”
“Well then, I recommend splitting up and getting a go-on.”
“For being both fresh meat and a foot shorter than me, you’re awful lippy, kid. Why are you even an Overseer? What favors did you do for the big man to get such a high rank in his abusive cycle, huh?”
“Yeah, who is you, anyway?” another asks, joining in on our less-than-cordial conversation. “We ain’t big fans of people dressed in yellow like you, in case you didn’t hear the news.”
I can feel the pressure of the situation closing in. If it came down to it, there’s no way I’d be able to fend off ten physically fit men, much less run away. “I don’t do favors for anyone, and especially not Slaphand. Just try to look busy, alright? The last thing we need is to have our hours extended any more than they are.”
“And whose fault do you reckon that is, might I ask?” Renet says from behind me, arms crossed. “Word on the floor is, someone messed with one of Slaphand’s pieces of equipment and sabotaged whatever operation he’s been running, forcing us to work overtime to rebuild the machine.”
I can feel adrenaline pumping into my system in real-time. Am I really the reason there’s ten-hour workdays right now?
“I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about,” I say, looking directly into his eyes, although I’m ninety-nine percent sure my goose is cooked. “I’m here for the same reasons as everyone else: I had to borrow some stupid-large amount of money, only to realize I wouldn’t be able to pay it. And, of course, it was a fake company loaning it.”
“For some reason, that’s hard to believe,” the main quarry man says, getting even closer. If I wanted to, I could strike him and break his nose without giving him a chance to think. As tempting as it is, I’m forced to pocket the idea as Arnold makes his glorious return.
“Everyone get to work, and now,” he half shouts, surveying the growing group of quarry workers that were accumulating nearby. All eyes are on the heavyset man. There was no need to yell. “I will not hesitate to use force.”
Either frightened or discomforted by the thought of a man of his physique committing any sort of bodily harm, the crowd disperses, leaving the original quarry worker and the three of us standing in a permanently hostile circle.
“Word of advice, Luna,” Renet spits, “if you’re gonna try to boss ten adult men around, actually have some authority.”
“Better than misusing it against a sixty-year-old woman, bud.”
“Alright, that’s enough,” Arnold says, drawing our complete attention with his demanding aura. “There’s no reason to be fighting over stupid little things like this. Let the other person handle things how they want, and if you have a problem with it, talk in a civil manner.”
“What if we discuss why she’s even here in the first place, Arnold?” Renet once again crosses his arms and gives me an angry glare. “Because of her, we’re working extra hours for those damned slavers. And now she’s supposed to be on our level?”
“We don’t know if the rumors are true,” Arnold says, visibly unsure if he believes himself. “And even if they are, I have also heard we will be returning to normal hours by the week’s end.”
“We’d better be, or else, kid.” Renet stomps away. I can almost imagine steam pouring from his ears. Arnold merely sighs and walks off in a different direction towards an unruly horde. I’m inevitably left alone, discounting the dismissive or hateful side-eyes of those I pass.
I walk the length of the quarries for another fifteen minutes before deciding I need to go visit Mary again. She hasn’t moved very much since I left, but there’s a noticeable sheen to the newly waxed areas of the gargantuan ship.
“Have I mentioned how much I hate this job?” I ask her rhetorically, leaning against an unwaxed section of metal hull.
“You may have mentioned it in passing,” she replies. “What reason do you have this time?”
“Well, not only are people upset that I’m trying to do my job, but there’s also a rumor flying around that I’m the reason we’re doing a ten-hour workday.”
“I must admit, it is suspicious that the day you arrived is the day that we were moved to ten hours a day. At the same time, I cannot imagine that whatever you did would warrant this much panic from those in charge.”
“You think there’s panic at the top?”
“Oh, no doubt. The last time we had increased hours was because of a part malfunction that wiped a brand-new airship. I shudder thinking about what could have caused it this time.”
I guess that confirms the rumors, then. I truly am the reason people are suffering more. Not that I could’ve guessed any of this would happen. I didn’t even know what I was getting into when Freckles found the device.
My poor Freckles…
I have to find a way off this island. My cat is stuck in a cage all because I couldn’t control myself.
“I just don’t think it’s fair, Mary. I hate having to boss people around like this.”
“What job did you work before being sent here?”
“I worked at a scrapyard, where I mostly kept to myself. I would be given orders, sure, but the day was mine as long as I was doing what I needed to. I never had to be the boss, and I never felt like I was under this much pressure.”
“I understand what you are feeling, Luna.”
“How can you possibly understand what it’s like to be forced to tell slaves what to do, Mary? This is like, next-level torture.”
“I was a preschool teacher for quite some time. While that is an awful comparison to our current situation, there are similarities in how sometimes we have to be the bad guy, Luna. Like those we are trying to tell what to do, we cannot always do what we want. If the kindergarteners want cookies, but you have explicit orders not to give them cookies, who here is the bad guy?”
“The administrator who made the rule?”
Mary stops to ponder my answer. She clearly wasn’t expecting a response quite so cynical. “Well, I suppose, yes. It is something the kindergarteners do not recognize in the moment, but it is true, nonetheless.”
“So, what I’m hearing is, we need to take this out on the guys up top who control everything.”
“I am not sure how you have managed to spin the lesson of my parable like this, but if it helps you realize you are not at fault, then sure. Take it out on the guys up top.”
“Thanks, Mary. You’re the best.”
I speed off to a more secluded area of the island, invigorated by a new idea. Today, I’ll devise a plan to scout the island. Tomorrow, I’ll find where my best friend is being held. And then, I’m going to escape this hell.
- United States
- Michael Heckman
Michael has always had a love for writing that stems from writing a short story about turtles on his family computer in second grade. From there, he never stopped writing, and wrote his first ten-thousand-word book in the third grade, igniting his passion for storytelling.
Now, the only thing stopping Michael from writing more is his schedule. Ideas like LUNA ON THE RUN and THE GHOST OF THE HINDENBURG keep him up at night, plotting his creative path forward.