Kurt Newton lives as a recluse in the woods of northeast Connecticut. He has been spotted on his plot of land harvesting grubs from rotted logs, setting tripwires for small animals and drinking from fresh water streams. He uses wood pulp and dried viscera to make the paper on which he writes his stories. His fiction has appeared in Weird Tales, Shock Totem, Bare Bone and Fifty-Two Stitches. br> br>
I keep my head down, my mind focused on my work, but today my ears betray me. I hear the slap of a hand across Dave's neck, the thud of a fist grinding into Dave's ribs.
"What do you do all day, huh? Sit and stare out the window?"
Another jab. This one elicits a wounded "Oof."
Poor Dave. I've only been with the company for two months now but I've learned that the name Dave is synonymous with lazy, good for nothing, shiftless. Today's my first day actually working with him. To be honest, he doesn't seem like that bad of a guy.
"What do you want?" he cries.
My ears pin back. I have to look across the room. I feel compelled, my eyes drawn to the scene like a car wreck.
I see the brothers straighten up.
"Look, he talks," says the bigger of the two.
"Yeah," says the shorter one before taking his knuckles and rapping it hard on the side of Dave's head, which slams into the corner of a shelf. "Did we say you could talk?" A chuckle escapes the shorter one's mouth.
The bigger one grabs Dave by the hair. "Dad says you have to pick up the pace. If it wasn't for your helper here, we'd have to fire your ass. Got anything to say to that?" He lets go of Dave's hair with a shove.
Dave sits huddled over his computer screen waiting for the next blow. He flinches when the smaller one moves but the blow never comes.
The bigger one tsks. "You're pitiful, you know that. Now get to work." The brothers head for the door.
I quickly turn back around, but not before the brothers catch me looking their way. The brothers nod. I nod back.
Once they're gone, I glance over at Dave.
Dave sits staring out the window, his fingers idle.
The words lazy, good for nothing, shiftless come to mind.
Blednick & Sons Shipping and Storage. It's not my dream job but it's a start. Jobs are scarce around here, so you take what you can get. They started me off running simple errands: gassing up the trucks; trips to the hardware store. They even had me sitting at a desk taking telephone calls while the secretary was on vacation. When they put me out here in the warehouse to help Dave with the shipping backlog, I didn't mind one bit. Why should I? A job's a job. I get paid the same no matter what I do. I can't complain.
Unlike Dave. He's got big plans.
"I'm just waiting for that call from the State to come in," he tells me a week later.
It's hot in the warehouse and the backlog hasn't shrunk. In fact, the shipments seem to be giving birth to shipments all their own. I stop logging in the inventory and stretch my neck over the stacks of boxes. "You don't say," I say.
It's nice to talk now and then but man, I wish he'd pick up the pace.
"Yeah, this place sucks. The State pays twice as much as I'm making now. You should really look into it. When I get in, I'll put in a good word for you, okay?"
I look over at him. He's serious. The man can barely manage this job, what makes him think he can manage a job that pays twice as much?
"Sounds great," I tell him, "I hope you get it."
He doesn't even pick up on my sarcasm. It's kind of sad, really.
I get back to work.
I hear Dave clicking away on his keyboard. A quick glance over confirms what I suspect: he's surfing the internet, checking the government sites for new job openings.
The brothers come in an hour later, fresh from their lunch break. One is carrying a metal pipe; the other has a bicycle chain wrapped around his fist. They beat Dave until he's nearly unconscious.
I keep my head down, my fingers busy, and try not to listen to the awful sounds. But a part of me believes Dave deserves every painful grunt and whimper.
The weeks drag on.
There are days when Dave does pick up the pace and we manage to ship out more than what comes in. But it doesn't seem to matter. The brothers beat up on him anyway, taking a particular glee in watching him squirm before the impending attack.
I don't understand why they don't just fire him.
I feel like I should go to Mr. Blednick. Explain what's going on. Explain that it's not me who's holding things back...that I'm doing the best I can.
But I don't want it to seem like I'm complaining. I don't want to appear ungrateful.
So I handle it my own way.
The next time I catch Dave asleep, I finally lose my temper.
"This isn't your fucking bedroom!" I tell him. "You want to sleep, go home, you lazy son of a bitch!"
It feels good to yell at him. To finally let him know how I feel.
It feels even better when I walk over and punch him hard in his sad, pathetic face. So hard it chips a tooth. It feels so good, I do it again. And again.
He doesn't even fight back. He just accepts it.
This morning I arrive for work expecting to endure another long, depressing day in the presence of Dave's unrelenting uselessness. What I don't expect to see is the two brothers smiling and joking with Dave when I walk in.
"Hey, I got that State job!" Dave shouts. "Today's my last day."
He's a changed person. His face, though bruised, looks happy, confident…relieved. He already has some of his personal belongings packed into a cardboard box.
"Lucky bastard," says the shorter brother, who raps him on the shoulder with a playful punch.
"Sorry to see you go," says the bigger brother, grinning.
They're envious. Damn, if that doesn't beat all.
I don't know what to say, so I say the one thing that's foremost in my mind. "So who's going to do Dave's job?"
The brothers stop smiling. "Don't you have work to do?" the bigger one says. His teeth grind. His eyes condense into two sharp daggers.
I walk over to my workstation on rubbery legs and sit down. I begin logging in the never-ending stream of inventory. All the while I can hear whispers and subtle laughter from across the room. I begin to sweat. I can't help but sneak a glance.
All eyes are on me.
Dave is smiling.
I feel my heart race as the brothers approach.