Loaded (Pt. 2)

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In part 1 we met Craig, Brittany, Travis, and Sally. Now in part 2 we will see what will become of these people. Who will win the game and make it out of the room? Is it ultimately worth the price they must each pay? Part 2 of 2.

                            .Loaded.
         A short story by Oscar Lopez, Jr.

Part 2/2

Craig took a breath in, and let it out casually.
   Click.
   He placed the gun back on the table and slid it in Travis’ direction, never breaking eye contact with the man. He could tell Travis had been quite scared, just from looking at his gray eyes. He didn’t show it on the outside, but Craig knew. After all, he had organized many games over the last 10 years.
   Travis picked up the gun and gulped down, sweat sticking that trendy hair to his face.
   “I’m not gonna die here.” He said aloud, holding the gun against his temple, inches above his ear. “I’m not gonna fuckin’ die here!” He yelled and pulled the trigger.
   Bang.
   The spray of blood barely struck Brittany’s blue and white sweater sleeve. She watched the body fall to the black ground, blood from Travis’ head gushing out in a stream towards his nose and open eyes. Her eyes focused on the slightly stained sweater and tried to clean off the blood with her fingers, but instead ended up spreading it around the sleeve.
   “Is he dead?” Brittany mumbled, ringing sound echoing in her ears.
   “I’d say so.” Sally leaned over the table to see Travis’ body sprawled out across the black plastic floor. “Good thing they made us take those enemas, right?” She glanced from Craig to Brittany with a twisted smile on her face.
   “How can you laugh so freely?” Brittany cried, body trembling, lips quivering. “How can you sit there and laugh at all of this death?! You’re not human! People don’t laugh when others die!”
   It was obvious she’d had enough of this, of all the sarcasm, all the jokes. She just wanted to leave, to go home. The money didn’t matter to her anymore.
   “He was your boyfriend, wasn’t he? That’s the reason that you’re defending him, even though he treated you like an animal! Girls like you make me sick.” Sally crossed her arms, leaning back in her black stool. “Good riddance.”
   Sally turned her towards Craig, who leaned down to pick up the weapon, and then took a seat back at his stool.
   “He wasn’t my boyfriend.” Tears welled in Brittany’s eyes with. “He was my brother. He didn’t force me into doing this, it was my idea. I didn’t know they’d group us both into the same room. He had every right to be angry at me; it’s my fault that . . . that he’s gone.”
   “I’m sorry.” Sally said with some sincerity in the words. She brushed the red hair out of her face, again revealing that green and bluish eye.
   They sat in silence for a time.
   “Does anyone want to know why I’m here?” Sally asked for the sake of making small talk.
   “Go ahead.” Craig’s eyes were on the piece.
   “I have cancer and I can’t afford my medical bills. I figured I might get enough out of this to pay even a fourth of what I owe. That or maybe this’ll be it and I won’t have to stress over money anymore.” She smiled awkwardly. “Who’s going to inherit my debt?” She laughed a soft hollow laugh. “My fucking cat?”
   “That’s so awful.” Brittany said, shivering.
   “I lied.” Sally added. “I don’t have a cat.”
   Craig cleaned the weapon, ignoring them both, thinking his own thoughts, no feelings towards the deceased body in the room. Seeing people die day in and day out is just something that comes with the territory. He’d seen everything come through those doors, stepping over that same welcome mat: junkies, desperate single parents, kids no older than 18, and the homeless more than any other. Every last one of them knew what they’d signed up for.
   “I guess we’re up.” Sally said more cheerfully as the gun was set down on the table before them. Her fingers moved to pick it up, to take the first turn.
   “No!” Brittany rose. “I don’t want to do this!” She stepped back, knocking the stool over in the process, backing up against the plastic covered wall. Her fingers touched upon the surface of the plastic, feeling the sticky blood splattered there. “Let me out!” She screamed, sweater soaking up more of her brother’s blood. His body lay a few feet from her, she gaze downward upon him.
   “Sit down, now.” Craig reached for the backup weapon he had holstered on his side. “I am giving you a warning. Either you sit or I take you out of the game with force.”
   “No . . . I don’t want to!” She walked towards the door.
   “Sit down, dammit!” Sally barked, standing before her seat. “Do this the right way, Brittany!”
   Craig drew the 9mm pistol, removing the safety and aimed it at Brittany. “Either, you sit down now or I make you sit.” Craig maintained a relatively calm voice. He had no qualms about ending her life. That would only serve to reduce the playing field by one participant.
   “Your brother died for nothing, if you just give up now.” Sally beckoned to her. “Please, Brittany, sit the fuck down!” Sally closed the gap between her and the other girl. “Here let me help you out of this thing. It’s covered in blood.”  
   Her hand went up Brittany’s wrist, pushing the sleeve up, and that’s when she saw the dark bruise. And just then it became apparent that it wasn’t a bruise, but a tract mark.
  Brittany pulled the sleeve down and met Sally’s eyes, “Thank you.” She said and went to take her seat. She picked up the stool, trying to ignore the dead body beside it, and placed it upright.
   Craig again holstered his weapon and returned to his own seat. “Now let us proceed. Who will go first?” He looked from Brittany, sitting on his right, to Sally sitting on his left.
   “Do you need a moment to decide?” He stared at each girl.
   “No.” Sally took the gun from his hand. “I’ll go first.” She popped open the cylinder and spun it around, closing it just then. “Besides,” She stared at Brittany, smiled the warmest smile the other girl had ever seen, “What’s the worst that can happen?” And with that she pulled the trigger.
   Bang.
   And just like that the second body hit the floor, sound of the muffled shot echoing mildly in the room, vibrating the plastic momentarily. The entire room had acoustic foam panels so that not a single sound could escape and disturb the other visitors and workers on duty.
   “It’s down to you and me.” Craig said walking over to the deceased body. He took Sally’s hand and rubbed it slowly, removing the gun with the other. He rubbed the head of hair, and closed his eyes for a moment, then walked back to his seat. He sat atop his stool and cleaned the weapon, not saying another word to Brittany.
   Brittany sat there, on her stool, simply staring at the table. It was just her and Craig now, like the other two never existed. She turned her attention to Travis’ body and asked, “Is it possible for someone to still be alive after being shot in the head?”
   “It’s possible. Not likely to happen, but it is possible.” He went over the weapons contours with the white cloth. This time it had been stained with blood, so he went over it slowly, removing any trace of it from the weapon. “If something like that is to happen, it is the responsibility of an operator to finish the job. We do run a humane business after all. No real need in prolonging a dying soul’s life for pure amusement.”
   “The amusement comes out of watching the tapes of us dying, doesn’t it?” Brittany asked, eyeing the camera at the corner of the room, behind Craig.
   “Perceptive, I see.” He said, glancing at the camera and then back at her. His eyes jumped from her to the gun in his hands. “The tapes are sold, yes. That is no secret, it is written on the sheet all three of you were asked to sign. I do not know who purchases this snuff, and frankly don’t care.”
   “You have a pretty passive stance on all of this, don’t you? Nothing seems to affect you. Sally was different. She only acted like nothing affected her, but deep down she was only lying to herself. You don’t fear or feel . . . you just are.” Brittany moved to the seat directly before him, as it was now down to the two of them.
   “You are a much smarter girl than you appear.” He looked up at her again from the gun. “You are right. I do not fear death, as it is such a trivial fear. One day, each of us, whether we are willing or not, will die. Mother, father, aunt, best friend, they will all die. Tomorrow is only a promise, and promises are often broken.”
   “At least they’re afraid to die.” She searched his features for a compassion she knew she wouldn’t find. “How can you love, if you don’t fear loss?”
   “Alright, since you won that last round, and I am a gentleman, I will go first.” He ignored the question, loading the single bullet into the chamber. He spun the cylinder and clapped it shut. He took a breath and placed it again his head.
   Click.
   Craig placed the gun atop the table and slid it towards Brittany.
   “You know,” he said with a soft chuckle. “The sad thing is that vacation time had literally been right around the corner, and I did have a few plans lined up for that week long break.”
   “It’s not over yet.” She stared at the gun. “You might still win.”   
   “Lust and love are different after all, aren’t they?” He asked rhetorically, staring at the table.
   Brittany watched the gun rise in her fingers, blue polish over her small nail plates. She looked at Craig, and for a second thought of turning the gun on him, and making a break for the door. If she could get past the welcome mat and out to the world outside, she might make it. They would find her, she knew, so she pulled the trigger.
   Click.
   The gun slid back towards him, and he took it into his right hand, pressing it against his temple. He cocked the hammer back manually, with his eyes wide open, and took a slow deep breath. He watched Brittany’s teeth chatter and her arms and legs shake.
   Click.
   Instead of sliding the gun again, he took it and placed it before her. He set it down gently atop the plastic wrapped table, for her to pick it up.
   Without hesitation Brittany placed the barrel against her temple and pulled the trigger.
   Click.
   She no longer cared to sit atop the uncomfortable chair, or breath in this air filled with death. She’d had enough of this and simply wanted out, wanted to get her money and go. Her palms were sweaty, and her breathing became erratic, knowing that her next turn will be her last.
   Craig took the gun up off the table, Brittany’s hand sweat still around the grip, and placed it against his temple.
   “I lied,” he said to her. “The woman I love, her name is Shawna. I’ll be seeing her again soon.” Craig said with a smile and cocked back the hammer. “Nothing is ever promised to anyone, not even a new tomorrow is assured.” He looked into Brittany's eyes, his brown eyes into her gray eyes and pulled the trigger.
   Bang.
   Brittany rose from the seat as men in full gray body suits walked in, faces covered with gas masks. She looked from one man to the next as they laid body bags down on the ground beside each person. They went over to Travis first and one of them, a taller one, began to clean up the side of Travis’ head. The other unzipped the bag and spread it open to place the body within.
   One of the men turned towards Brittany and nodded at the other suited man, “What about her?”
   The other man turned to face the girl. “Get out of here. Go collect.” He said and returned to cleaning the face. He tapped the other man to help him place the body within the bag. One of them zipped it up, and together they heaved it to one side of the room.
   They then sauntered over to Craig’s body and began to do the same again. One of them took the used gun, placing it within a red zip up bag with white biohazard sign on its side.
   Brittany stepped from the room into the whiteness of the lobby. To one side of her were people sitting, waiting for their turns to play a deadly game, and to the other were booths. She glanced up from Booth A1 all the way to Booth A24, and that’s when she heard someone calling out to her.
   “Excuse me, miss?” The voice spoke with a southern accent. It was the voice of an elderly woman, one waving at her to step closer. The woman sat at a desk separate from the booths. She sat at the pay desk.
   “Yes.” Brittany spoke, stepping closer to the desk, watching the gray woman sitting atop the red rolling chair.
   “So, you just came out of room #3. That means you were playing . . .”
   “Russian Roulette.” Brittany interrupted.
   “Yes, that’s right.” She looked up at the blood and sweat drenched girl in her stained hoodie, “You were playing yourself an excitin’ game of Russian Roulette.”
   The sound of a radio went off in the background. The sound came from Booth #3 where she and the others were. Brittany turned slowly to look back towards the room, and heard the voices chattering.
   “. . . What was that, again? Over.”
   “Woman, ‘bout 24-25. Red head, Red, bluish, and black plaid shirt. She’s still breathin’. Over.”
   “Well, it is our job to do the humane thing. Over.” The radio responded.
   “Finish’er off? Over.”
   “ . . . .”
   “I didn’t catch that. Over.”
   “I said, ‘Yeah’, finish’er off. Over.”
   The door closed swiftly, and Brittany’s attention returned to the older woman at the pay desk. She watched the woman fumbling around at her desk looking for a black stapler.
   “Do I have to sign anything?” Brittany asked, looking down at her.
   “No, dear, I’m lookin’ for ma stapler so I can give you this stack of activities.” She turned and looked up at Brittany through her frames, “Just in case you ever decide to come back. It shows how much we pay per game.” She eyed Brittany’s tired face and blood-stained sweater. “Looks like things got messy in there.”
   Brittany glanced down at the sweater. She would pull it off and toss it in the trash once she got outside. “It’s fine, ma’am. I’d really like to get paid, so that I may go.”
   She was hoping the woman would hurry up. She really needed that money, now more than ever, with Travis gone.
   “Nonsense.” The old woman brushed her off. “Look! I’ve found it. Found you, you little hidey stapler.” The old woman said and giggled. She took three sheets of paper and stapled them together, handing them over to Brittany. “You’re lucky you weren’t out here fifteen minutes ago. Boy come outta room #5 gushin’ rivers of blood. He had himself a knife fight with another not so fortune young man, and he had to be rushed to the hospital. Do hope he comes back so I can pay ‘im his two hundred and fifty dollars. He won ‘em fair and square.”
   Brittany took the stapled papers and glanced over them with disgust. She rolled it up in her hand, waiting to receive her payment, watching the woman count it out. The woman’s white hair had been tied up in the back with a black scrunchie. Brittany wondered how someone ended up working in a place like this, seeing death daily, and not being affected by it. People like Craig, this old woman, and those workers tossing bodies around like scraps of meat—how did people get like that?
   “There are some cheaper activities, too. Guess the Cup will get’cha two hundred. Five cups of soda, you drink the four that ain’t poisoned. No blood, no guts, but you may foam up at the mouth if you lose, well, and die. But that’s only if you drink the poisoned cup. All five cups are lined up before you, single person game, and you choose the ones you wanna drink. If you make it to the fourth and down that one, then congrats! One man played it three times in one day, himself. He won four hundred dollars from the first two games. Too bad he couldn’t spend ’em.”
   Brittany wanted nothing more than to leave this place and never return.
   “Anyway, here you go; 500 smackers. You are a very lucky person. Not many can handle room #3, reason why it pays so much; only for the truly bold, such as yourself, girly. Feel free to count it out. My mind isn’t what it used to be, might have miscounted.”
   “That’s alright.” Brittany said and quickly pocketed the money, rubbing her pale nose. “Thank you.” She began to walk off towards the entrance door, towards the welcome mat.
   She glanced over at the people sitting in the waiting area. They were mostly young, with a few homeless mixed in for good measure, and she could feel herself caring little about what happened to them. They probably could have cared less what happened to her, after all. Part of her started to understand why Craig looked at life the way that he had.  
   “We’re expendable,” She mumbled, “every one of us.”
   “Excuse me, miss!” The old woman called from the desk.
   “Yes.” Brittany approached her cautiously.
   “Come a little closer.” The old woman beckoned with a weak smile.
   Brittany stepped closer, somewhat wary of her. And when she least expected it, the elderly woman slipped a hundred dollar bill into her hand and closed it tightly. She felt the old tired fingers over her young trembling hands.
   “Thank you.” Brittany whispered.
   “You take care of yourself now.” The old woman said, watching her head towards the entrance door. “And remember: if you ever need money, come to us . . . and not one of our lower class competitors!”
   Brittany nodded solemnly at the old woman, heading through the sliding doors towards the world outside.

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