Debt. Short Story.

Jacob sipped his drink, it had been a long day and it wasn’t over yet. He could hear them yelling and screaming down below, but they could wait. He needed a moment. It was his second week working in the place and he thought he could handle it, now he wasn’t so sure. There was a roar from down stairs, the silence. Blessed, beautiful silence. He took another sip of his drink and felt the alcohol burn its way down his throat. He wasn’t sure what he was drinking and really he didn’t care. He had just grabbed the first bottle that came to his hand and poured. He had never been a big drinker before this job, now he was drinking four or five bottles of beer after work each night. He knocked back the rest of the contents of the glass, he coughed once, his eyes watering, and he stood. He felt a little tipsy, but that was good, it made things easier. He stepped out of the office, one of the other supervisors nodded to him as he passed. He stepped up to the railings and looked down at the people below. Some of them were clean, most were filthy, wearing tattered, stained clothes. One or two wore a business suit, a few more were naked but most were in pyjamas. They huddled together, some clung to one another, a couple were crouched down, arms wrapped around their legs. He couldn’t feel sorry for them, he wouldn’t. They had all done something to deserve this. It wasn’t his job to decide on punishment, it was his job to simple supervise them.

“Number fifty seven!” The crowd below scattered, all sense of community lost as they searched for who ever was doomed. One of them, a young girl, was shoved forward. Her hair was blond, but greasy and covered in dirt. She looked pale, tired. Most of them didn’t sleep. “Please, please don’t do this, I’ll pay it back, I promise!” Jacob took a deep breath “Please step forward into the containment cage.”

“No, please, you cant do this to me, you can’t do this to us!”
“If you do not step into the containment cage you will be tranquilised.”
“This is inhumane! It’s illegal!”
Jacob sighed and took aim. The gun wasn’t as loud as he thought it would be, and there was no recoil. The girl collapsed. Two men stepped into the pit, one grabbed under her arms and started dragging her back while the other trained his gun on the crowd. They wouldn’t attack, they were too afraid. The cage door closed with a loud clang. Jacob turned away from the crowd. He didn’t know what would happen to the girl, but he had some suspicions. It was most likely that she was going to be sold off to someone, as a maid or sex slave, or both. He had heard the others talking, whispering about the people undergoing training, how they were pumped full of drugs. They stopped talking whenever he approached, he understood though, he was the new guy, they were always wary of the new guys.

His shift continued as normal, mostly it was just keeping an eye on the crowd, making sure they didn’t get too riled up. They would feed them and give them water, both simple procedures, water filled a long trough on one side, food on the other. Jacob didn’t know exactly what the food was, all processed meats and vegetables, to him it smelled a bit like dog food.

In some ways he didn’t feel too bad about the people below. It had been their own fault they ended up like this. Borrowing too much money, making high risk bets and refusing to pay. Each one of them owed his boss and he boss always collected on her debts.

He had met her only once, it had been an odd experience. He had expected a man, someone tall and muscular, instead a short woman came in. She was about five foot, with a sweet face. She was thin, lithe and disarmingly friendly. Somehow during the meeting she had managed to make all this ok, even reasonable. Seeing it up close like this made him question it, but not too hard.

Below someone shouted, then someone screamed. Jacob leaned over the side and saw what caused the commotion. The people stood in a circle, framing a body. She was one of the naked ones, maybe twenty five. The harsh white lights above enabled him to see the pool of blood that was steadily expanding around her and the bright red gash across her throat. She had been pretty enough, a good shower, maybe some make up and she could slip over the line into beautiful. All that gone now. He shook his head, what a waste. “Please move the body to the cage.” After a moments pause two men stepped forward, they each grabbed an arm and started dragging her. This kind of spoilage was only to be expected, they averaged one or two a week. Jacob suspected that a few more killed themselves once they got to wherever they were going. Every effort was made to ensure they didn’t have any kind of weapons, or tools to harm themselves, but they could be creative. They would be questioned soon, if someone else was involved they’d be ratted out. It cost them little to throw someone a bit of extra food, or even release depending on the information they could bring forward. A month before he arrived someone had been freed after telling them about a small, jagged piece of metal that had been pried from the cage. It had been passed around from person to person, allowing people to slash themselves open. They had lost ten people in a week before it was discovered.

Jacob stepped outside and breathed deeply, the air was so clean out here, so fresh. He had managed to get used to the stench inside, a combination of the filthy people and the food. They were hosed off once a week, but it wasn’t enough, the smell was always there, it even seeped into his own clothes and skin. His shift was over for the night, but he’d be back tomorrow. It was a difficult job, but if he wasn’t doing it they would find someone else. The money was too good to pass up, besides, if any of them were good people they wouldn’t be there. Every last one of them had brought it on themselves.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 24 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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