The door clangs shut. He tries to get up after being thrown inside. The nude man stumbles to the bars and shakes them. A laugh echoes from the darkness behind him.
“Don’t be such a cliché,” a figure rasps from the floor. “What’s your name?”
The man holding the bars doesn’t even turn around. He begins sobbing.
“There there,” says the figure in the corner. “You need to adopt the philosophy that you have no control anymore, so you may as well just lay back and enjoy what time you have.”
A silence follows that seems to envelope the whole room, until all he hears is the sound of his pulse in his ears. He sniffs.
“Come on, you might as well tell me your name. I’ll probably be the last person you ever talk to.”
“Are you serious?” he asks.
“No one who leaves ever comes back. You must know what happens here.”
“How long as you lasted?”
“A week,” the man laying on the ground says. “You can call me Blue, by the way.”
“I’m Henry,” he says, stepping forward to shake the man’s hand. Blue awkwardly offers his left hand to shake. “Sorry, I’m left-handed, and… well… I’m down to my last limb, literally.”
Henry squints and sees that Blue’s right arm is gone, all to the way up to the shoulder, and his legs are gone up to nearly the hip. The remaining stumps of his legs are covered in bloody bandages, and the right arm of his shirt is tied off.
“What’d you do before the war?” asks Blue.
“I, um, I sold insurance.”
“You’re fucked, then,” said Blue. “You might try saying you were a pastor or maybe something useful, like an electrician or plumber. These people have no need for what they’ll no doubt see as a gambling scheme.”
Henry begins to feel cold. He sits down against the wall next to Blue.
“I bet you think I lost my arm and legs in the war,” says Blue. “I didn’t. I was fine until these pricks picked me up. You wanna know what happened, why I’m still alive like this?”
“I had fallen asleep while I was on watch. I was with my wife and two children. By the time I realized what was happening, they had surrounded our home, blocking all of the exits. I saw who it was, the Baptists. I couldn’t stand to know that would be happening to my family. I’m sure you can understand.”
“I killed them. I slit their throats, doused their still bleeding bodies in gasoline, and lit them on fire. They burst in before I had time to off myself. To punish me for my actions, they decided to deny me a baptism. Instead, when they get hungry for a snack, they come down here, knock me out with an ether rag, and they chop a part of me off. A foot at first, then part of my leg, then a hand… then, usually as I’m coming to again, they cauterize the wound with an iron. I heard them say yesterday that I look so sick that they’re feeding me to the dogs.”
“Don’t let them hear you say that, or you’ll end up with a seven foot spit shoved up your ass and out your mouth, then slowly cooked alive.”
Henry begins sobbing.
“Come on, you’re a survivor. Well, you were a survivor. You must have seen some horrible things to have made it this long.”
Henry wipes the tears from his eyes and sniffs hard. “I just… I guess I just thought I was special, that I could just rise above it all, that I would be fine.”
“You will be fine, it’ll be over before you know it.”
“I don’t want it to be over.”
“Well,” Blue says, then chuckles. “This was a post-dated check written the moment you were conceived, my friend. As an insurance man, you of all people should know about the inevitability of disaster.”
“But not like this,” says Henry. “Not this soon, not as a spectacle.”
“Why not go out with a bang?”
Henry shakes his head. “Like I have a choice.”
“Look,” Blue says, leaning to face him. “We don’t get to decide what happens to us, but we decide how we respond to it. You know what the difference is between laughing at someone and laughing with someone?”
“The only difference is whether or not you laugh. Either you’re in on the joke, or you’re not.”
Henry sighs. “I don’t have time for this.”
“Oh, do you have someplace to be?” asks Blue.
“No, but I don’t want to spend my last moments like this, waxing philosophical with someone who killed his own family.”
Blue goes back to reclining against the wall, facing the same direction as Henry. “Fine. If you’d rather sit in silence so you can dwell on your ill luck, go ahead. I won’t disturb you.”
Henry hangs his head. He sits quietly only for a minute before he apologizes.
“It’s fine,” says Blue. “I mean, you have every right to be a bit pissed off.”
“What’d you do, like, before the war?”
Blue smiles. “You remember that sitcom about an American that moves to Canada?”
“You mean ‘Round Bacon’?”
“Yep,” Blue smiles. “I executive produced that.”
“So, does that mean you paid for it to be made?”
Blue sighs. “Where did people get it in their heads that the executive producer financially backs projects? I was the creator and head writer.”
“Oh, well, I was never really a fan.”
“Now why would you say that?” asks Blue.
“Well… I mean, like, I’m just saying…”
Blue turns to face Henry again. “It’s not like I’m going to reminisce with you about old episodes or give you a pop quiz. You didn’t have to tell me you didn’t like it. Let me guess, you liked those cop dramas where they’re always extracting semen from the stomachs of 11 year old girls? ‘Well, based on the blood splatter pattern, it looks like she was clubbed to death with her own hopes and dreams.’”
“Actually, all I really watched on TV was SportsCenter.”
“Wow. Worked in insurance, watched SportsCenter. Lemme guess, white picket fence, drove an SUV, 2.3 kids, and you had a golden retriever named ‘Marley.’”
“Maybe silence was better…”
“Sorry, sorry. I’m still a little sore about your comment regarding my familicide.”
Henry stands up and begins pacing. He asks, “What are we going to do?”
“Well for one, you can stop making me nervous by pacing. Also, what’s this ‘we’ stuff? Don’t even think about having your way with me. I may only have one arm, but I still have my teeth.”
Henry walks the whole length of the cell, staring at the bars. He grabs and shakes them as hard as he can at various points. He steps back and kicks them as hard as he can. There is no give. Henry steps back further.
“Wait,” says Blue.
Henry throws all his weight into the bars. It feels like he ran into a brick wall.
“The room is solid. Your best chance for escape is when they come for you, though they’ll have stun guns and you’ll probably be on the ground before you even know what happened. No clue how you could even get out of here if you manage to overpower the four men being sent down here to get you.”
Henry rubs his sore shoulder. “How long do you think I have?”
“Honestly,” Blue coughs. “I have no idea what time it is now, let alone what day it is. But I can tell you this, most of my guests aren’t here very long.”
“How long is not very long?”
There is a screech far away, a door opening.
“Farewell, Henry the insurance salesman who watched SportsCenter.”
The sound of dragging chains gets closer. One of the men in white robes puts a key into the cell door. He looks at the others and asks if they are ready. They nod. The key is turned, they bob their heads in unison a few times, and they throw the door open.
In the end, Henry does not even resist. He slinks to the corner near Blue, and a man with a taser lunges for him. Henry is in chains being marched away as Blue begins singing the theme song to “Round Bacon.”
Henry shuffles through corridors, half being pulled by the man in front of him holding his chains, and half being prodded by the man behind him with a baseball bat. Organ music can be heard faintly. Finally, a door is opening in front of him and the sound of the organ is overwhelming.
“Bring the convert to the font,” a booming voice says, and the crowd cheers. Henry is brought to a recess in the marble floor. He looks out over the congregation. Stern looking men, smiling women, sleeping children…
The boiling water hits him so fast that he is in shock.
“For while they baptize with water,” says the booming voice behind the pulpit. “We baptize by fire.”
A woman with a surgical mask strikes a blow torch and begins pulling the hair off of Henry’s body. Where it is too thick or the boiling water did not reach, she uses the blowtorch to burn it away.
“For this is my body, and this is my blood, which I give unto you, the flock.”
Henry collapses, and the woman with the blowtorch continues her work as he slumps to the ground. When she is finished, she stands and nods to two men, one holding a bone saw and the other a meat cleaver. They waste no time in butchering Henry.