Monday, January 23, 2012

The Apprentice

We hope you all enjoyed your weekend! Now, in continuation of our collection of Edgar Allan Poe tributes, we bring you a tale that takes us inside the mind of a disgruntled transit worker, ready for retirement, but not before he takes care of a few things first. Ladies and gentlemen, here is the debut work of fiction from The Veillee's very own Em! Enjoy...

The Apprentice
By Emerald Nash

It started with the economic downturn, this mass hiring of young people. The stock market plummeted, the vice tightened on the middle class, and suddenly even college shoo-ins flocked to the Police Force, the Army, various construction jobs, and of course, us.
     Hell, even college graduates found us. Their fancy degrees, useless in the stagnate economy, were expensive, unpaid for, and still accruing interest.
     I would’ve felt bad for the sorry lot, except you can bet if I’d had the chance to go to college, I’da gone to be a doctor or a lawyer or something useful. None of this filmmaker/fashion-designer nonsense kids waste their money on these days.
     Now don’t get me wrong. The Transit Authority’s no stranger to young people. Way it used to be, once in a while they’d onboard a handful of green boys, or maybe even a young lady or two – usually single girls with babies at home. Always tugged at your heart to see that. The difference is: back then, the kids joining our team were here to work, to make a life. They had families to support. Couldn’t afford to keep running to the next best thing, and there were no illusions about that.
     Young people just can’t accept their lot in life the way they used to. In their heads everything ought to be better than it is.
     That’s just my observation though. And that’s certainly how it was with this particular kid. My apprentice, my protégé, my charge. He was a straight-up fool from the beginning. First day of work he says to me:
     “All right gramps, boss me around all you want. I’m just here ‘til my record label takes off.”
     Record label. They really give diplomas for dreams like that, huh?
     I couldn’t get over it. My total years of seniority were greater that his total years of life.
     He was always slouching and shuffling, all the things my elders used to harp on me about; can’t really fault him for that, I guess. Sometimes a man’s got to grow into his body. But the lack of eye contact, the casual way he regarded me – his superior! And the foul language – to say it irritated me would be an understatement.
     And he always had those head phones jammed into his ears, constantly emanating crazy rhythms -- which didn’t sound too bad if I’m being honest, it was just the audacity with which he wore the things that got me.
     I’m telling you, I could have dealt with those unsavory qualities had it not been for that damn tic. It was just too much. Always a sudden and startling seizure of the muscles on the right side of his face, the spasm made it seem like he was winking at me. And to make matters worse, it always happened when he got wound up, so any time he and I had an argument it seemed he was punctuating his sarcastic words with a smart-assed wink. I knew the physical action was involuntary, but it was fuel for the fire nonetheless.
     Ninety days with this kid. How would I manage?
     One afternoon my supervisor sent word (along with congratulations on my new eligibility for retirement) that they’d be walling up the unused public restrooms at the south end of the station. I’d been a booth agent at that location for the better part of 30 years and never before had anyone expressed an interest in doing something with those old toilets. The neighborhood is slowly changing, I guess, and the new crowd probably don’t like the thought of what bums, addicts, and horny teenagers get up to in there.
     I was in favor of the improvement; one less thing for me to keep an eye on. I wondered, though, why wouldn’t they just tear the thing down instead of plastering over it? Budget cuts, I figured. A quick fix instead of a permanent solution. It was then that the idea hatched in my mind.
     Just a spark of inspiration, I dismissed it all at first, but with each passing day I began to realize that a perfect, foolproof plan had landed in my lap. And each day that tic pushed me closer to my resolution. Finally, I decided to do it; I would just need to time everything exactly right. Waiting would be the hard part.
     When the day arrived I found myself calmer than expected. The kid came shuffling in as usual, twenty five minutes late for our 4:00pm shift. Eyes bloodshot,lids heavy.
     “You’re late,” I said.
     “Easy, gramps. You’re just jealous cause I’m gonna be a famous filmmaker and you’re gonna be here ‘til you die.”
     “I thought you were gonna be a famous DJ.”
     “Record producer. And I changed my mind.”
     “What a shame. And you went to school for it and everything.”
     “I told you, my degree’s in media studies. I can do all that shit.”
     “Still don’t excuse you being nearly half an hour late – every day.”
     No response.
     Excellent. So far, it was shaping up to look like a perfectly normal day. I was pleased with myself.
     Our shift passed as usual: me answering passengers’ questions, him commenting on the females that passed. At 12:45 I surprised him by standing and stretching.
     “I got to head out early tonight. Some things to take care of.”
     He looked at me for a moment then said, “What've you got to take care of at this hour, old man? If that were me leaving early, shit…”
     “Just make the rounds like you’re supposed to. And don’t forget to hang them signs I gave you.”
     “Yeah. I got it.”
     I picked up my jacket and bag and turned to go.
     “Oh, and don’t forget to check around the bathrooms. I found old Carlos in there two nights ago.”
     “Should get better locks.”
     He winked.
     I stared him down.
     “It’s the last time we’ll have to do it,” I said. “They’re walling it up tomorrow.”
     “Yeah,” he said. “I got it.”
     I stepped out of the booth, closed the door behind me, and ascended my favorite set of stairs at the northeast corner of the station. I breathed the crisp autumn air. The moon was full and round in its opalescent glory, hanging low over the brownstones. Savoring the late night silence, I walked the two blocks above ground to the other end of the station and down into the cavernous depths. Swiping my card, I moved through the turnstile, just like a regular old passenger. It was deserted. Not a soul in sight, nor would there be for hours.
     Arriving at the decrepit washrooms, I paused for a moment and considered that this would be the last night I’d see the old station exactly as it was when I started all those years ago. It was the end of an era.
     No time to waste though. I quickly unlocked the men’s room and slipped inside, leaving the door slightly ajar. That would guarantee success. One thing I had to give the kid, he wasn’t a coward. He loved knowing that he might discover something exciting or dangerous in those bathrooms. He lived for finding the broken padlocks, investigating, and, if he was lucky, getting to call the cops.
     I checked the time on my cell phone: 12:56. He would be here soon. I removed all necessary materials from my backpack and steeled myself for the moments to come.
     Soon enough, I heard the tell-tale shuffling of the young underachiever heading my way, keys jangling at his hip. The sound stopped just outside the bathroom and slowly the door eased open. Harsh florescent light flooded the room.
     “Who’s there.” A demand, not a question.
     With that I pounced! And within seconds had the little bastard bound by wrists and feet – mouth clumsily, but effectively gagged with a wool sock. He barely had time to make a noise. Woulda been fine if he had; no one to hear him at 1:00am in this god-forsaken corner of the borough. I switched on the workshop lantern I’d strategically placed there days before. His face was twisted in fear and confusion. Then, upon recognizing me, it softened in relief.
     Hands under his arm pits, I scooped him upright. He had trouble balancing, but succeeded in spitting out the sock.
     “The fuck you doin’, man? You scared the shit outta me!”
     His face was convulsing wildly, his eye blinking out of control.
     I helped him lean against an old pipe, which extended from floor to ceiling. He seemed grateful for the support and began breathing a little easier.
     “Seriously, man,” he said. “Good prank. Untie me now.”
     I didn’t respond. I simply gathered the chains and began wrapping them in an intricate pattern around his body, securing him to the pipe.
     “Hey, man. Stop this!” His pitch was beginning to escalate.
     I snapped the padlock shut, and stood back to admire my work. It was beautiful in a way. Another spasm seized his face. Between tics I could see the terror in his eyes.
     He screamed repeatedly now, struggling hopelessly against his bonds.
     I found the sock lying on the ground, picked it up and stuffed it back into his mouth – this time securing it with several layers of duct tape.
    His muffled cries were pitiful, but I gathered my things and faced him.
     “Goodnight, kid,” I said, and switched off the light.
     Closing the door behind me, I felt the strangest sense of relief at knowing the blinking eye, the twitching face, would be gone forever. I locked up the room for the last time and finally went home.
     The next morning men came with bricks and mortar and tiles. In 48 hours the whole thing was done. No more restrooms to check. And still no sign of the cops.
     After five days, I called my supervisor and told him the kid hadn’t shown up all week. He instructed me to give it another day or so before calling the police.
     I knew the kid had no family. Only a mother he didn’t speak to often; she had moved down south some years ago. And I figured a girlfriend was out of the question for his skinny, twitchy ass. No one to ask after him, no one to suspect.
     I eventually did call the authorities; they came and asked questions. I answered, I lied. They said there was no sign of foul play at his apartment; if anything violent did happen, it was probably drug related. Before long they stopped coming around, stopped asking questions. But I knew the smell would soon be a problem.
     And it was. I managed to thinly cover it up for several weeks with cinnamon scented air freshener, but people began to ask about it. The stench of human decay is distinct, and powerful. So I knew my time was running short. But I wasn’t worried. By the time the cops came back around, I’d be on a bus to the border with my retirement money in pocket.
     I wondered who would take my place.
     Probably another failed DJ or something, just waiting for his big break.
     And the kid? He would go down officially in the books as another statistic. One more example as to why this new generation is one big turn-over risk – the dreamers, the unemployable, the good-for-nothings. The kid still is good for nothing; he just ain’t around to bother me no more.


We hope you enjoyed this tale, and that you will provide your thoughts on it below. Stop back Wednesday for some more poetry, and for part two of The Ninth Victim on Friday. It's going to be a tantalizing week!

Emerald Nash is currently based in Brooklyn. She studied performing arts at The American Musical and Dramatic Academy, and received her B.A. in Literature and Screenwriting from The New School. Her current day job at The Explorers Club involves brandy-sipping adventurers, a plethora of dead animal trophies, and one really cool live cat named Lowell. 


  1. Fantastic! I love the calmness of the main character as he ties up the kid.

  2. This was great. I think you can totally expand this though to at least a 50 page story and really explore the everyday-ness of the story and the crazy ending.


    1. Thanks, Mia! That's a great idea. I think I will! X

  3. Replies
    1. Ah! Yeah...I didn't have it there to begin with, then I put in, took it out, put it back in...

      You're right. I shall remove it. Thanks!

  4. Terrific homage to Poe, and a smashing contemporary tale at the same time. I look forward to more Nash!

    1. BTW, I really like the way you captured the mental tone of the protagonist. Are you close to a crotchety old man?


Thanks for commenting! Please keep in mind that this is a place for new writers to get constructive criticism. So be open with your honesty, but go easy on the brutality.