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  Table of contents Issue Twenty-five CASUALTIES

by
JOHN J. ZELENSKI
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F

lies swarmed throughout the office while Tom Mason sat at his small, particle-board desk, surrounded by filing cabinets, some stacked three high to accommodate for lack of space. He ran his fingers across his freshly, buzzed scalp and looked at the clock on the wall. An open pizza box lay on top of one the cabinets and contained a paring knife and carefully removed crust from a few stale pieces. Picking up a pile of stacked papers from a tray, Tom spread the sheets of paper across the desk in two rows with four papers in each vertical column. He began to read aloud names in rapid succession.



“Mary Beth Williams, Melissa Johnson, John Parker, Valerie Kiminiski, Francis Jordan, Anthony Lowman, Frederick Scavo, Mary Kay McGinnis.”



Beads of perspiration formed a thin line across his receding hairline. He again looked at the clock and pulled the knot tight on his necktie, then leapt from his chair – sending it crashing into the wall behind him. Tom gathered the papers and neatly placed them back into the tray before pulling a large keyring from his left pocket. He grinned, reached for the paring knife, then flicked the light switch to off and locked the door behind him.



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Rays of afternoon sunlight blasted through the thick panes of glass, casting various shadows beyond a yellow and orange, braided oval rug, positioned between two recliner chairs. Emily Sanders adjusted her unkempt blond hair in the reflection from her compact. She quickly unwrapped a breath mint and slid back into the pleather chair, her long legs not quite moving with her upper body.



A red steel door opened and a short man in a white shirt and dark blue slacks appeared, holding a clipboard in his left hand. He smiled briefly, adjusted his wire-rimmed glasses and walked toward his guest.



“Hello ma’am, my name is Tom Mason, and I’m the general manager of this fine establishment, McKesson’s Department Store.”



Emily casually scanned the building’s haphazard layout of dissembled shelving bins and a few empty, sales tables, some with metal sign holders still attached through the middles. She then deliberately glanced at the sofa and loveseat on each side of her, paying special attention to stains on the cushions and backrests of each piece.



“Hello Mr. Mason, my name is Emily Sanders, and I’m here about the cashier position, her voice calm and high-pitched.



Tom Mason cleared his throat and began, “Yes, Ms. Sanders, I see you have some prior experience as a cashier at…” Tom’s voice broke as he rubbed at his reddish, handlebar mustache, then again cleared his throat. “…as a cashier at Fontina’s Grocery on Foster and Penn Avenue.” He clutched the clipboard tightly and pretended to study blank pages.



“Oh yes, I was a cashier while in college - before entering the….” Emily wrinkled her short, stubby nose and again scanned the uninhabited building, her attention diverted to the right wall where a rusty, bow saw swayed from a coat hanger. “Tom, it is alright if I call you Tom isn’t it, Emily asked while scraping her broken, red fingernails against the pleats in her white bell-bottom pants?



Tom neatly folded his glasses and placed them into his shirt pocket. “Yes, of course Ms. Sanders.”



“Good, can you please show me around the store?” Emily casually removed a tube of lipstick and smeared a bright red stripe across her chapped lips; the color intensity nearly matching the splatter stain across her white blouse.



“I am reviewing several other applications upstairs in my office right now Ms. Sanders, but I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to show you around my store.” Tom Masson stood and nervously tapped his fingertips across his chin, then proceeded to lead Emily to the northeast corner of the cinderblock building. Broken clothes racks covered in soot and dirt sat motionless in small boxes, like twisted pieces of metallic limbs. A few yards to the left, steel shelves in various lengths lay rusted on the concrete, slab floor, waiting to fall over at the slightest misstep.



Tom removed a ballpoint pen from his shirt pocket and began to scribble a series of jumbled letters and numbers in various sequences while Emily nodded her head in approval. Taking a step back, she lifted her arms above her head and began to twirl her body in a counter-clockwise direction until she nearly lost her balance. Emily began to laugh, while tears streamed down her cheeks, and finally spilled onto the dusty floor. “You know Tom, this reminds me of the first time I applied here….when things were different…before that awful place.”



Tom stopped writing and studied Emily for a few seconds. He opened his mouth, but no words came out. Clutching the clipboard tightly, Tom took two steps backwards and released a long, shaken sigh. “Ms. Sanders, do we have to do this?”



Emily slowly and methodically dried her eyes in her sleeve, leaving two black, disjointed stains of mascara on top of the dried blood stains. She shook her head from side to side and curled the corner of her mouth into a snarl. At once, she lunged at Tom, stopping only a few inches from his face. “Do we have to do this, you ask?” Tom's body trembled until a trickle of saliva slid from the corner of his mouth. “You know they need our help, but yet you ask?”



“It’s just that I hate all of the blood and those sounds of...”



“Shut up! Just shut up, will you?” Emily began to pace in figure eight patterns while tugging at her blouse. “It’s hot in here, isn’t it?



Tom continued to stare at his scuffed, black combat boots.



“I said it’s hot it here!”



“Yes, Ms. Sanders, it’s very hot in here today.” Tom pulled a bandana from his pants pocket and dabbed at the beads of perspiration on Emily's forehead.



Emily then walked toward Tom, her smudged eyebrows twisted into a scowl. Stopping abruptly, she stiffened her spine and pulled her shoulders back. Standing several inches above Tom in her pink high- heel pumps, she let out a deep sigh. “Tom, you know they need us, right?” “You know they need me to fix them, and I need your help to do this, right?”



Tom brushed his nose with the back of his hand and nodded in agreement.



“They’ll never survive the way there are now. And their families need them back the way they sent them, right?”



Tom started to weep and shook his head back and forth. Violently, Emily slapped Tom on the side of his face with the back of her hand, causing him to drop the paring knife clutched between thumb and index finger. “Now, listen to me! You will carry out this mission with no questions and no excuses, do you understand me private?”



Tom caught his breath and bit his bottom lip hard, forcing two, small trickles of blood down the center of his chin. Rubbing at the back of his neck, he quickly nodded in agreement.



“Good, let’s continue with the tour of this store, shall we?”



Tom shook his head. “Yes, Ms. Sanders, please follow me.”



The pair then continued their course toward the rear of the building. Steel beams, spaced evenly every twenty yards, ascended on their left side into the flat, metal roof. An occasional bin of plastic hangers lined the remainder of the side wall, each shrouded by only dark, moist air. Sunlight from the front windows of the building continued to fade, while long and erratic shadows stretched like fingers across the cold, cement floor.



At last reaching the back wall of the building, Emily and Tom stopped at two large, rolling carts – side by side- each covered in a clean, white linen tablecloth. Directly beside both carts lay a large cardboard box; each covered on top with a dark, plastic bag.



Emily dropped to her knees and began to sob. “Tom, they are so broken. They need me to put them together once more. I can make them whole.” She leapt to her feet and wiped the last remnants of mascara into her sleeves. “Tom, you know what to do.”



“Yes, Ms. Sanders.”



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The slow and gradual tearing of muscle being pulled away from the tendon made Tom gag, but he caught himself before vomiting again. Sweat dripped from his thick, reddish eyebrows and settled into his mustache.



“I need more suction!” shouted Emily.



Tom put the garden hose back into his lips and inhaled, pulling pieces of gelled flesh and clotted blood into his mouth. Turning his head, he spat the rotting mixture of humanity into an empty cement bucket, then wiped his mouth into his shoulder.



At last, the limb broke free from the donor and Emily quickly placed the severed arm onto the table beside her. Emily’s wide-eyed gaze shifted between the two bodies below her; one the remnants of a once healthy twenty-six-year-old male, the other, an armless and lifeless, plastic torso manufactured in the very hell-hole from which she was recently spewed.



“Tom, get me the staples,” Emily commanded. “We’re going to lose him, and I won’t let that happen.”



Reaching into his shirt pocket, Tom pulled a small container of lighter fluid and poured the contents onto his clothing while taking several steps backward.



Emily immediately turned to face Tom, her eyes glared in a desperate rage. “What are you doing, you fool?”



Tears slide down Tom’s cheeks as he shook his head from side to side and removed a lighter from his waistband.



“Tom, these soldiers will die without me, don’t you understand?” I need to save them!” Emily began to tremble while a single tear slid from her right eye and fell into her bloody open palm.



“It’s over Ms. Sanders, don’t you get it? We lost this war. It’s time to go home.”



“NO!” screamed Emily as she charged at Tom, already engulfed in bright, orange flames.



Tom screeched in agony and grabbed at Emily’s sleeve, igniting her blouse into a ball of fire. Horrific wails echoed throughout the abandoned building as both burning bodies writhed and violently crashed into the two makeshift operating tables, setting them and their blood-soaked contents into one large pillar of fire.



   
   

 

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John J. Zelenski is the author of supernatural thrillers, Walker’s Vale and The Journal of Ezekiel Walker. Walker’s Vale is presently in pre-production being developed into a motion picture. John has a keen interest in the supernatural and paranormal and was in part inspired to write Walker’s Vale from his own paranormal experiences as a child. He has been featured on television, radio, and print to discuss his books and to tell his story. www.johnjzelenski.com.



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