Graffitti on the Great Wall of China

Graffitti on the Great Wall of China

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Walter's Thumb

This is a super long post because it is actually a short story. A few posts ago (Cartoons and Anarchy) I talked about the first short story I had written. A friend of mine suggested posting it and, since this is after all a blog starring yours truly, I thought it would be kind of fun to post the first fiction I ever wrote.

It’s not a great story, not even really a good one, the dialogue is pretty wooden, its lacking description and there are some MAJOR plot holes but I wrote it ten years ago when I was like fourteen. I fought the urge to freshen it up and fix spelling and/or grammatical errors so it would be in its original form. You can definitely tell that I had been reading George Orwell and Aldous Huxley at the time I wrote this but its kind of a fun story to picture a shy, polite preteen girl (aka me) reading in front of a high school class. So yeah, here it is. Enjoy.

Walter’s Thumb

"It’s prison, man. Did you think it was going to be easy?" Vick Shrofeild, Walter’s cellmate, sat on his damp, military-grade cot and stared across the tent at Walter. "It might not seem like we are well guarded and you are new so you might think you can get away but trust me, you are going to fighting this war for the rest of your life. I mean think about it, they put a tracking chip in your thumb. Inside of your body. You could be a million miles away from any of the guards and all they would have to do to find you is boot up their compu-trackers"

Walter Peasly stretched his arm in front of him and examined the round, red scar at the base of his left thumb. "Not me. I may have committed a crime and that court may have decided that I am going to die in this war to make up for it, but that isn’t what I decided. If I die trying to escape, I will be just as dead as I would be if I died out there in the slaughter house they expect us to charge into everyday."

Vick stood up to leave but stopped to look back at Walter before he exited the tent. "Look man, do what you want, but don’t involve me. The less I know the safer I’ll be. You seem like a nice guy, but I am not going to get tortured to protect your secrets."

Once he was alone, Walter lay back on his cot and stared at the olive green canvas of the ceiling. He was 26. He was only 26 and he already had a life sentence hanging over his head. Two years ago, when he was still free, when he still had some sort of hope of making something of himself, he’d decided to risk all that to try and make some money in the black market.

He’d been successful at first, started out small with black market food exchanges and clothing distribution but then he’d gotten greedy and started trading in government grade stolen vehicles. While the cops had been willing to overlook someone skimming some profit on food rations, they had not been so forgiving when they caught him selling stolen military trucks to the private armies that had begun operating out of the Rockies. After he got caught, he’d been given a court date. He waited in a military prison for a few months while they sorted out his sentence and then taken to a hospital to have his tracking chip implanted. After that he was dropped off at the Great Lakes border, destined to fight in the war that the United American Federation had been waging against the Northern Resistance for the past forty-odd years.

But Walter had decided tracking chip of not, if he was going to die, he was going to die on his own terms. He stood up and walked to the door of the tent. Most of the men had gone to cafeteria to have dinner and the sleeping area sat empty in the darkening night. Walter stepped back into the tent and closed the flap all the while trying to prepare himself for what he was about to do.
With the tent flap closed, Walter knelt next to his cot and reached behind his extra uniforms to pull out the bottle of cheap alcohol he had stolen from the guard’s tent earlier that day. He pulled the greasy cork out of the top and, though he didn’t really like alcohol, especially the cheap stuff that the government issued, gulped down a third of the bottle in order to numb himself for what he was about to do.

Walter closed his eyes and sat perfectly still, gathering his thoughts and his courage. He then broke the bottle on the cement floor, pressed his hand flat on the pavement and used the broken shard of glass to cut his thumb off just below the line of the round, red scare.

"G-g-god." Walter bit back a scream as an angry, red bolt of pain sliced up his arm. "Oh god. Oh god." The room swam in front of him and he knew that he would have to act fast in order not to faint. He grabbed his first aid kit and used a cauterizing tool to stop the flow of blood. He grabbed the cut off thumb with his good hand and shoved it under his pillow so if anyone did a compu-track check it would register that he was in bed.

Walter tried to make his mind focus on escaping rather than letting it sink into the dark tunnel of pain that was tugging at the edge of his thoughts. He clumsily grabbed the bag he had packed the night before, pushed through the flap of the tent and raced into the dark forest that stood at the edge of base camp.

He ran for hours, taking breaks only to chew up tablets of pain reliever and take swallows of the lukewarm water in his canteen. The sharp pain had subsided a bit, but had been replaced with a dull, throbbing ache that threatened to knock him out if he concentrated too much on it. Finally, just as the cool blue light of morning began to creep around the edges of the horizon, he came to a clearing in the forest where an old, abandoned cabin stood.

There was no door, most of the windows had been broken out and he could tell from the smell of the place that more than one animal had sheltered in the cabin’s crumbling walls, but it would have to do. Walter knew that this quadrant of the border was mostly empty but he didn’t want to risk running in the daylight.

It wasn’t until he made himself as comfortable as possible on the wooden floor that he realized what he had done. He had run away from the United American Federation. He had cut off his own thumb. He was free. It was with that thought that Walter curled into a ball on the cold cabin floor and sank into the deepest, most needed sleep of his life.

Hours later, long after the January sun had risen to the center of sky, Walter awoke to a sharp kick in the base of his spine. Half asleep, unsure of what was happening or where he was, Walter attempted to push himself to his feet before screaming out in agony as he accidentally put his weight on his throbbing wound. He rolled over, clutching his hand and looked up to the circle of military guards that surrounded him.

The guard closest to him, the one that had kicked him, bent down to yell into Walter’s face. "Think you’re smart? Think you’re the first soldier that thought they’d slip out without getting caught? God kid, you aren’t even the first one to cut off your thumb!" The circle of guards erupted in laughter as Walter cowered at their feet.

"You think that you are smarted that the UAF? You think you, a disgusting criminal, could manage to outsmart the entire United American Federation? Ha." Walter tried to make the ball he was curled into smaller. "You know, cutting off your thumb seems like a pretty logical idea. You get rid of the tracker, you steal away into the night and between the chaos of the war and the craziness of the overcrowded camp, no one notices you got away, huh? But here is the fun news; that scar? That little marker that you thought was so clear? That’s just a decoy. We put that on there because if we let the soldiers know where the device was, they could easily get rid of it."

Between the pain and his fear, Walter was fighting to remain conscious. What was this guy talking about? A decoy? His vision started to go black but the guard grabbed him by the hair and pulled him up so they were face to face.

"Here’s the thing, Walt." The guard yelled, with a sick smile on his face, "You just ran through the woods for nothing. You didn’t get away, you aren’t free." The guard grabbed Walter's right thumb and lifted it up into the air. "The tracking device is right here, you idiot, you cut off the wrong thumb!"

So there you go. Brilliant, right? Rereading this, the whole "put a fake scar on to trick the prisoners" seems like a pretty elaborate ploy that doesn't actually seem to serve any function. And I love the compu-tracker, which if it had been written later than 2000 probably would have been called a GPS. Not to mention the fact that he had a cauterizing "tool" (?) in his first aid kit or that there is no way you could CUT OFF YOUR THUMB and then jog, all night, in January (in the Great Lakes Border BTW) without dying but, like I said, I was fourteen. An awkward, gossipy giggling cheerleader mind you.

On a side note, since I was fourteen, I am pretty surprised that the main character in my story was drinking alcohol and my teacher didn't care. But that's how I roll, I write about drinking and thumb amputations and oppressive governments and I don't let anybody stand in my way. I'm pretty hardcore.

1 comment:

  1. Yes!!! Wow, love it! I do not call myself anywhere near qualified to analyze literature or anything, but I really enjoyed it just as a glimpse into 14-yr-old J.

    If I think about the thumb thing though, I think it could actually be pretty effective. With one thumb missing you could still be pretty functional, but with two missing, your ability to perform manual tasks would decline greatly. So I don't think many people would be willing to cut off both, and so the military has succeeded in making anyone who might want to desert by this method a) still functional and b) largely unable to remove the real tracker. Unless they were just bonkers, and then maybe you wouldn't want them in your army anyway, especially not with two monkey hands.


Further thoughts on the subject? Let me know what you think.