There’s no better thing than to look up at a clear night sky with the crackling sound of fire in the background to soothe the day’s tensions. The ground was cool and hard against my spine as I lay on the thin wool blanket, looking up into blackness. It was a full moon tonight. The perfect rationale for my anxiousness. Throughout history, our ancestors had correlated full moons with times of anxiety, as opposed to the new moon, which was considered a time for renewal and productivity.
There would be no sleep for my exhausted body and racing mind, that’s for sure. Instead, I anticipated staring at these stars for quite a few more long hours, lost in my thoughts and plans. There’s no better thing than planning your next move. I loved the anxious feeling, oddly. It felt more like excitement to me. Tomorrow was the Fourth of July and I was ecstatic.
The next morning my good friends, Lena and Blake arrived at the campsite, late as usual. I wasn’t really a fan for fireworks, but Blake insisted we celebrate. He had loaded up a large plastic carton, filling it to the brim with a variety of prokinetics. Over my lifetime, I’ve learned the only way to make friends was to agree or, as society would say, “compromise”. So, I agreed to their little festivities. Before long, traditional American hamburgers and hotdogs were soon roasting on the grill, the scent of meat and potatoes hanging heavy in the humid air.
“It took me an arm and a leg to get off from work today,” expressed Blake as he turned over a charred burger. I stared at the burger in disgust. Not a chance I’d be eating that burger. It had shrunken to at least half the ideal size of a cooked burger and the upturned side was now completed coated in a black tar consistency. From the looks of it, the piece of meat was probably undercooked on the inside, as well. My compulsions itched at the back of my neck to take charge of the grilling. Society would think that’s rude or controlling, though, so I resisted, forcing to take my eyes off of the sad site.
“Doesn’t surprise me,” agreed Lena. “I literally had to request the holiday months in advance to get it off. Our company is the worst, I swear. Forcing us to remain open 365 days a year.”
“Nobody even buys anything on the holidays either,” added Blake. “We’re probably losing money on the holidays to be honest. Think about it: we have to keep the building open and they’re paying us double. Two expenses and no profit.” Distracted from the mundane complaints, I opened the plastic crate they had brought and began sifting through the supplies. Blake looked over at me, intrigued. “So, Mr. artist, you going to show us how to do some real wood burning today?”
Examining a small dull hatchet in a bright gleam of sunlight, I answered, “I’d like too. Not sure how efficient I can be though; with this poor quality equipment you’ve brought.”
“Oh, come on, Jeff. It’s not like we’ve done this sort of thing before. I just grabbed whatever I could find back at the worksite and at home,” complained Lena, plopping down on a green camping chair and cracking up an ice cold orange soda.
“Were you able to bring any saws back at least?” I interrogated, rather disappointed.
“Lena, that’s your job,” Blake accused, pointing a greasy spatula in her direction, oil droplets spraying in her direction.
Taking another fizzling sip from the dewy can and brushing off the grease from her jean shorts, she rolled her eyes, “Relax. It’s in the back of the SUV. Wouldn’t fit in the bin.” Getting up from her seat, she made her way over to the car and revealed a long wood-cutting saw. “Happy?” she sneered.
Straining to see the sharpness of its teeth, I replied, “It’s a little big but it’ll do.” She tossed it my direction, barely missing my arm. “Hey, watch it!”
“Jeff, Jeff, Jeff…you need to lighten up,” she teased, flirtatiously skipping by me and brushing the back of my auburn hair. I shook my head to release her finger tips then swept my hair back as I usually wore it.
“Someone has to be the responsible one,” I muttered. “After all, I was the one who did most of the heavy lifting while all that Blake did was open up the car doors.”
“Woah, woah, woah,” retorted Blake, slapping a couple of freshly made burgers onto their assigned buns. “You don’t get all the credit. Who was the one who held him down while you injected him with the anesthesia? Do you know how hard he was struggling? The dude doesn’t look it…but he’s strong.”
“It’s just the adrenaline kicking in. It was his fight or flight mechanism. Him kicking like that was probably the most effort he’s put into anything, honestly. I guess you made your point though,” I jeered. “I’ll give you the credit for holding down a guy who probably doesn’t weigh anything over than 150 pounds.”
Blake squirted a stream of mustard in my direction playfully, which I dodged with agility. “Well you were the one who came up with dumb idea that we should wear matching grey suits, pretending we were secret agents or something. Do you think he honestly believed our get up? I mean, do you think he knew it was us who kidnapped him?”
I let out a hearty laugh, “Ok, well we had to wear something convincing. A Halloween costume would have been a bit strange. Plus, I already had the grey suits from when I first interviewed for that job.” I redirected my focus back to organizing the supplies. “Something I never got to wear again…until yesterday, that is,” I murmured to myself, sharpening a small hunting knife. It wasn’t long before the bright sun turned into a deep orange, soon vanishing behind the luring mountains in the distance. The warm presence was replaced with a humid night time breeze, the eerie surroundings entirely lit by the large bright globe in the sky. As I bit into my second slightly charred cheeseburger, my ears suddenly perked at the sound of an agonized moan coming from behind me. Engulfing the dried-up bite quickly, I eagerly spun around. “You’re awake,” I smiled, tossing the last bit of bread in Mr. Fockner’s direction. The slightly distressed groggy groan was now replaced with a more frightened whimper, as air was failing to escape his soil-filled mouth. “Don’t bother wriggling or moving,” I explained, beckoning for Blake and Lena.
“Woah, dude, he’s awake!” Blake chimed in, surprised. “I honestly thought that dose of anesthesia was too much for him, but damn…I guess you knew what you were doing.”
“Of course, I knew,” I defended, narrowing my eyes at him and combing my fingers through my slicked-back hair. “I’m smart. I have potential.” Glaring at our victim, I took a moment to examine his tomb. “Lena’s a great gardener,” I nodded in approval. Mr. Fockner began to rustle more violently, opposite of what I had just told him. As he became more vigilant of the situation, his struggling grew more frantic and he began sobbing like a weak coward. Tears streamed down his swollen dirtied cheeks, puddling into the crevasses of the tree’s bark that surrounded his face entirely. “I said, don’t move,” I repeated, stressing my last two words behind gritted teeth.
“You can’t move,” Lena remarked, slyly. “You’re probably gaining feeling back in your limbs, but you won’t be able to move them. That’s because they’re gone.” We all let out a brief sadistic chuckle. “I had to remove them. Otherwise, I wouldn’t been able to have packed you as tightly as I did inside that log. It was a tight squeeze, but you’re scrawny enough, so I made it work. Even though you can’t move, I suppose you can still look up at that moon. Or watch the fireworks with us. Just think…this is going to be your last time seeing fireworks,” she motioned with her hands at the night sky as if she were unveiling invisible curtains. “The pressure is on, Blake. You better make it a good show for him.”
“You won’t see all of them,” Blake interjected. “But I’ll let you see the best four of the batch. Now, I bet you’re questioning, ‘what did they do with my limbs? I wonder if an ambulance will arrive in time, arrest these savages, and the surgeons will be able to successfully reattach my arms and legs.’ I’ll just remove that worry out of your head. We’re in the middle of nowhere. Not a soul can hear you, even if you didn’t have soil shoved down your throat. As for your limbs, I’ve harnessed each of them to a rocket. The biggest and best fireworks I could find. You’ll be able to celebrate our country’s birthday by watching not only the best firework show, but hopefully you’ll be able to see a wave of blood in the sky as well.”
“Lena’s the gardener, Blake’s the pyrokinetic mastermind, and I’m the artist,” I presented, flashing a cold smile. “You can’t see yourself, and sorry I didn’t bring a mirror, but damn, I did a fantastic job. How can I describe it to you…”? I muddled over my thoughts for a few seconds while he let out another couple of muffled screams. “You’re basically stuck in this hollow log that I’ve engraved all around the outside. It’s like a totem pole, that’s it! That opening you’re staring through is the single opening other than the ends, but I’ve capped those off. Your face is actually at the top of the totem pole. Once I prop you up, you’ll be looking over the entire wilderness from the top of tree, essentially. I didn’t know what to do with your face at first, but then I got the brilliant idea of fusing your head into the frame of the wood. That way, you and the wood will be one. Wouldn’t that be cool? A real face among the other faces within the totem pole. I’m no fire expert, though, so that’s where Blake came in handy.”
A sudden woosh blazed up next to my right ear as Blake ignited the blow torch and headed toward Mr. Fockner. Muted screeches were dampened by the thick trees and muggy night air. “Blake taught me something new, actually. He told me that I could use this special type of wood adhesive glue and apply it between your flesh and the tree. It’s apparently pretty durable and easy to work with. The glue should hold your body up nicely since we shaved off about half your weight,” I continued. “You’re probably wondering what’s stuffed into your mouth, too.” I gave Lena a sly look.
“Don’t worry, it’s not a poison, just planting soil. High quality, too. You know, a decomposing body actually helps the plant life cycle. It takes about a year for the chemical reactions within the soil and the decomposers to begin breaking down your body but once you’ve decayed enough, the soil will be enriched with nutrients to sprout new life. A life for a life. A new and better use of a life, anyway,” she sneered. The screams soon dimmed into pathetic whimpers, like a dog who had just stepped onto a bee. The sound of the blow torch went silent as Blake walked back over to the arrangement of fireworks.
“You ready to see some sparks fly?” He vocalized, beckoning for Lena and me to give him a hand. Each grabbing a large rocket attached with an oozing limb, we walked out about 20 feet to set them off. Warm thick liquid leaked in between my fingers from the fleshy leg stump, ironed black slacks still intact. It was heavier than I had expected. Blake insisted on doing two of the four launches, one arm and one leg. With minimal fuss, I let him have the extra since they were his fireworks. As we ignited the fuses we simultaneously sprinted back to Mr. Fockner. His round pudgy face now looked completely cemented into the wood. The totem pole lit up beautifully in the colorful sparks of the fireworks. Mr. Fockner’s face resembled white marble against a furnished piece of wood. This was really going to turn into a gorgeous piece of work, especially once the vines would start popping out of his eye sockets and mouth, strangling the rest of the pole’s length as time would wear on.
When the last of the sparks dissipated into the darkness we sat in silence for a moment, taking in the serenity. Then, I broke the deafness, “I bet he’s wondering what they all want to know: Why him? Isn’t that always the biggest question?” This remark made his moans louder. Mucus began drooping from his nostrils and his eyes had transformed from a slight pinkish tone to now a deep bloodshot red.
“He’s probably thinking the answer is more complicated than it really is,” Lena giggled sadistically.
“Honestly, the only thing I had against you was making us work on the holidays,” Blake blurted out, throwing a finished beer can at his face. Lena began to rock the log back and forth under her white converse sneaker. He was now almost completely turned onto his face, his one eye hidden by a long patch of grass. Desperately, he strained to look in our direction with terror.
“Lena?” I offered.
“Overworked, no breaks, no recognition. This could have been a rewarding career for me, but you had no problem destroying that,” she kicked out her leg, giving the log a hard shove. It then rolled down the slight decline towards me. Squelching squeals went in and out as if my head were being dunked into water. As the heavy tree stump slowly reached my foot, I gazed down at Mr. Fockner’s bloodied bald head, staring back up at me with swollen eyes. His nose had been crushed flat. Deep red burgundy poured profusely from his previously existent nostrils. I could tell he was struggling to breath. Sounds of quick raspy wheezes gushed violently in and out. He began to cough, choking on a concoction of sputum, blood, and dirt.
“Lena!” I bellowed. “Why did you do that? Now he’s going to suffocate.”
“Sorry,” she shrugged. “I didn’t think the roll would’ve actually broken his nose.”
I knelt down next to him, placing a gloved hand onto his stretched and scalded skin as if I were checking his temperature. “Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll stay alive long enough to hear the real ‘why’ behind me choosing you for my project. Lena and Blake were really here just to come along for the ride. After all, I’m the artist. Honestly, you most likely don’t even remember me. Hell, I never even worked for you. Thank God I didn’t. I remember you, though. Four years of experience I had in the industry and you were the one to interview me. Application after application, interview after interview, I was almost certain I came to the right job. Almost certain that you’d hire me. I had all the necessary skills and qualifications. Everyone else was pretty positive you’d hire me too. But you didn’t. You wanted to keep me on the streets. You failed to recognize any potential in my ways. I wasn’t a puppet and you knew it. I had my own ideas, different than the company’s philosophy. I lacked the socialization suave, the extraverted nature. Despite years of previous work experience and background knowledge, you rejected me. Instead, you hired some quack who’d had no more than six months on the job with less than a year at college. You’d rather take that ditsy college kid who’d probably never had gotten a single rejection in her entire life than me, an experienced hard worker.
Your decision ruined me. I burned through my savings until I had to resort to selling my artwork. It was then, though, when I found a new purpose. Your rejection reignited my calling. There’s no better thing than to mesh two things together that you are so very passionate about and then to make a living off of it. Did you know that the nature center had actually hired me to create this totem pole exhibit? Needless to say, there are no restrictions on the type of material I’m allowed to use. You should be thanking me, really. You’ll stay here as a permanent attraction in the park. Thousands upon thousands of campers and tourists will come to view your site.
You know, my reason really isn’t revenge. You’re the manager…you should already know this. I’ll give you a refresher, though, since not all managers are ethical. The hiring process really comes down to an employee’s personality, isn’t that right? You hire who you like rather than who is qualified. That’s not being a good manager, though. On the contrary, you have to count on all the differences in people's’ personality to make the workplace thrive. You cannot expect everyone to be so damn robotic. There was a large oversight on your part. When you turned me down, you never gave me the chance to explain as to why I had such a difficult time with socialization, with obeying rules—”
“Aw, dude, I don’t know if he’s still with you. He’s fading out. I can’t tell if he’s breathing or not,” interrupted Blake, placing the back of his hand against the squashed nasal passages of Mr. Fockner.
“Nah he can hear me,” I assured him. “And he knows why he really rejected me. He blatantly defied the ADA regulations after reading my so-called ‘disability’,” I crouched over closer and rasped under a clenched jaw, “I am, after all, a diagnosed psychopath.”