By Joshua Ryan
On the other side of the door there was very short hallway, with another door at the end. The first door was wood, but the next door was steel, and it had a lot of steel crossbars and rivets embedded in it. One of the WORC cops inserted a key and slowly swung the door open. Whoa! The thing must have been six inches thick! What the fuck! I saw a wide hallway leading back into the building. The floor was concrete, the walls were concrete, the ceiling was steel. Ugly? You bet.
There was a bunch of guys sitting on a bench in the hallway with their arms cuffed behind them. What do you think–maybe we were all there for the same purpose? More future workies!
“Sit,” one of the cops told me, and I dropped down next to the other guys. You probably never had to sit on a steel bench with your hands cuffed behind your back, so I’ll tell you–it isn’t easy. “And keep quiet,” the cop said. Then the two cops went on down the hallway and disappeared.
I was doing a lot of squirming, trying to get used to the bench, and gradually I noticed that the other dudes weren’t, which had to mean they’d been there for a while. I wanted to ask, but as soon as I opened my mouth the guy next to me said ssshhh! and nodded at the ceiling. Yeah, there were cams up there, pointed at us. So I kept quiet.
I looked at him and then at the others. There were four of them. All young. All looking confused, like I probably looked. One difference was, I was the only one you would call well dressed. I’d thought about showing up in some grungy old clothes, but I really didn’t have any! So I put on my second best sweater and my third best slacks and some shoes that weren’t actually designer shoes, just supposed to look that way–and even then, I was wearing stuff that was worth probably ten times more than any outfit on the bench. At least. Jeans and sneaks and hoodies. Two baseball caps.
OK, so now I’ve looked at the other guys on the bench, who are, like, enjoying the first day of the rest of their lives as workies. They’re not happy. One of them, this guy that looks like the last of the limp little fags that you see in the bar and you wonder how he got there, since he’s only 18.3 years old, was actually crying. How embarrassing can you get? After all, he volunteered! Maybe because he expected to get a lotta you know what, once he got into all-male Workieville.
I was embarrassed so I sat looking forward. Across the hallway was a counter with a steel shutter closed down on it. OK, that was educational. I sat there and tried to phase out. But I couldn’t. I was too fuckin nervous. Sure, it was only two days, but a lot can happen in two days. But what if nothing happened? What if I was gonna sit on that bench for two days? Fuckin Jerry! I didn’t want to admit it, but yeah, I was real real happy when one of the cops came back and relieved the monotony and banged on the steel shutter.
The shutter went up. On the other side of the counter was a workie. He was a big, heavy guy, like the guy that checks in your car when you take it to the garage, except that instead of garage clothes he was in a workie cap and a workie suit, with the workie label printed over his heart:
MY NAME IS
WORC NO. 17633
AT YOUR SERVICE
He was Clinch, workie number 17633, and he was at my service. Well, maybe not mine.
“Batcha five,” the cop said.
“Yes sir,” the workie muttered, while the cop walked away.
“All right,” the workie said. “Listen up.” All of us on the bench listened up.
“You’re gonna come to the counter, one by one. You first, Blondie.” He pointed at the guy that was farthest away from me. He was a tall and, yes, blond guy who looked like he’d probably bailed out of grad school in philosophy. I had a TA like that in Contemporary Values. Which you had to take. I don’t know why. It was shit. Anyway, the guy stood up and went to the counter and the workie said, “Turn around and put your hands on the counter,” and the guy turned around and bent over and pushed his hands, which were cuffed behind him, up and out so they got onto the counter. He was all squatty and red-faced because that was hard to do.
The workie unlocked his cuffs and told him that now he had to turn around and face the counter. Then the workie said, “Name, last name first,” and the guy said something and the workie typed something on his keyboard and looked back and forth from the guy’s face to the screen, which must have been showing the guy’s driver’s license picture or something like that, and he said, “OK, strip off. All of it. Hand it across the counter.”
The guy didn’t do anything. He stood there like he was deaf. Then the workie said, “OK. You’re the first, so I’ll take it slow with you. Strip. Off. All. Your. Clothes. Now. And hand them across the counter. THIS is the COUNTER.” He banged on the counter, and the guy looked scared and started ripping off his clothes.
Finally he got down to his shorts, and he stopped. “I told you ALL of it, dude,” the workie said. The guy handed over his shorts, and now he was naked. The workie scooped the guy’s clothes off the counter. “OK,” he said in a bored voice. “Put your hands on that thing there. Palms down.” The guy did it, and a light in the counter went on and off. “That’s your fingerprints,” the workie said. “Now I’m gonna get your measurements. What’s your height? What’s your weight? What shirt size do you wear? Pants size? Shoe size? Sorry, we don’t do half sizes here.” The guy answered, five ten, 160, whatever. Then the workie told him, “Belly up to the counter and bend your neck. Bend it lower. I need to measure the thing.”
The rest of us were all watching while the workie wrapped a tape measure around the naked guy’s neck. Why was he doing that? “16,” he said. “OK, stand at the counter.” He typed a bunch of things into his computer, muttered “OK,” then started typing again. There was a beep, and he typed in something else. A whirr came out of a little machine he had on the counter, next to the fingerprint taker. The workie turned toward the wall behind him, where there were a lot of metal things hanging on hooks. He took one of them and fed it into the machine. There was a little CRUNCH sound and a funny smell. He pulled the metal thing out and looked at it.
“OK,” he said. “Bend your neck again. Lower.” He did something with the metal thing that I wasn’t able to see. “All right,” he said. “It fits. Look up.” The thing he was holding looked like a circle that hasn’t been joined together yet. It was made in two halves with a hinge between them, and he was showing it to the guy. “This is your collar. It’s made outta steel, and it locks without a key, because there isn’t any key. Once it goes on, it stays on. Inside it there’s a GPS tracker. You know what GPS is?”
“Yes, I do. I was a . . . . ”
“That means your location can always be found. Remember that. Also, here on the front . . . . Look at the front, dude. OK, here on the front, this is your number. I just put it on. It’s stamped into the collar. It’s not goin away. It’ll always be on your collar. Your number is 24988. See it?
“Yes, I . . . . ”
“Say it back.”
“Say. It. Back. Dude.”
“24 . . . 98 . . . 8.”
“When somebody buys your contract, you’ll get another name. But that will always be your number, dude. Now bend down, I’m gonna collar you now. I said bend down.”
The guy bent his head. I heard a click and the words “Now you’re a workie.”
Then the workie behind the counter cuffed up the new workie again and sent him back to the bench. Now he was cuffed, and naked, and collared.
One by one we were called to the counter. I was last, and by the time the workie got to me he was slurring his words, he was so bored. I wasn’t. I was scared. Very very scared. Terrified. Taking off my beautiful clothes and handing them to an ugly fuckin workie with At Your Service on his shirt—unbe-fuckin-lievable. So was answering all his stupid questions. So was bending my neck to let this fuckin workie measure me for a collar with a number on it. He showed me the number. It was 24992. “My” number.
All that stuff was gross and horrible—and it would be fuckin unforgivable, once I got back to Jerry and settled accounts with that fucker. But hearing the workie say, “Bend down, I’m gonna collar you,” and feeling that collar without a key closing down on my neck–yeah, that was beyond just scary.
CLICK. The collar was on. “Now you’re a workie.”
He might as well have said, “Now you’re in Hell.” Even if I was only there for two days, how were they gonna take that thing off? It wasn’t thick, and it wasn’t heavy—except for that number engraved on the front—and people might not even notice it under my clothes, but . . . . He said it would never come off! And I wanted it OFF! NOW!
OK, there must be a way to do that. As soon as I got out. But while I was squirming on the bench, dressed in nothing but my handcuffs and my new steel collar, the cops came back.
The workie was putting things back in place in his cubicle. “Normal?” one of the cops asked him.
“All right, workies,” the other cop said. “You got your collars. Now we’re gonna put you in your house for the night. Stand up so we can take your cuffs off. Soon as you got em off, put your hands on your head and your face on the wall. Time for a search.”
Picture five new workies lined up naked with their faces pressed into the wall, and two cops going at them, one by one.
“Turn around. Face me. Open your mouth. Tongue up. Tongue down. Raise your arms, show me your pits. Turn around. Lift your right foot. Lift your left foot. Turn around. Lift your dick. Swing it. Lift your balls. Wiggle em. Turn around. Grab your cheeks. Your BUTT cheeks! Open em. Farther! Squat and cough. SQUAT and COUGH. Again. Again. Stand up. Face on the wall. Hands on your head. And keep your mouth shut.”
They started with me and went down the line, so I got to sneak a look at the guy next to me, squatting like a frog, face red, junk hanging down. I knew that’s what I’d looked like.
After they’d done all five of us, I thought that was the end. No way. I was standing with my face on the wall when I heard the sound of plastic gloves snapping onto their hands. Followed by the sound of my voice saying “OH FUCK!” as one of those hands went up my ass. When the hand heard me, it went up further. When it left, I felt a man’s breath on my shoulder, saying, “I thought I told you to keep your mouth SHUT, workie.”
So I gulped down the other things that were coming up in my throat, and when they’d finished us all, I turned and faced them, like they told us. By then, Clinch had closed the shutter, so there was nothing to look at except the cops. They were young guys with flattops, and attitudes to match.
“Short and sweet,” one of them said. “You got your number, you got your collar, you’re workies now. That’s what you wanted. That’s what you got. Like they say, welcome to your life of service. OK! Left face, straight ahead. Till I tell you to stop.”
The guy that looked like a little bar fag made the wrong turn and got yelled at. Then we all moved forward, down the hallway. There were doors here and there on each side. They were all shut. Then we got to a place where a big room opened off on the right. You could see that this place really was a warehouse, because the ceiling went up to, I don’t know, 20 feet, and the room itself was huge. You expected to see store employees riding around on electric carts. But what you did see in the big room was mainly just lines of boxy little storage rooms, like the little room I rented at Store Your Junk before I moved in with Mike and I thought I was gonna have to go back home with my parents. You could tell what the little rooms were, because there was just one door after another, lined up, and they were butt-by-butt with another line of the same things. Up above, there were signs saying WORKIES STAY SILENT and WORKIES FOLLOW ORDERS.
There was a workie waiting for us. He was leaning on a cart loaded with some kind of stuff.
“Stop!” one of the cops said. We stopped.
“We’re putting you away for the night. This workie will give you your blankets and feed. My advice—get to sleep quick. Tomorrow will be a long day for you.”
That’s when I realized that one of those storage compartments was for me.
The workie was a black guy. He was middle aged but he looked like he’d been passing out “blankets and feed” for the past hundred years. We were lined up and he handed everybody in the line a blanket and a little plastic baggie. Then the cops put us away in the storage compartments. A door opened in front of me, I stepped inside, I heard the door shut, I heard a click—I was locked in a fuckin storage unit!
The whole thing was about half the size of your bathroom. You could see it all at once. Four steel walls. A steel ceiling. A steel door. A steel platform riveted to a wall. A plastic (!) mattress lying on the platform. A plastic water bottle. A roll of brown TP. A bar of brown soap, half used. A steel can with the word TRASH painted on it.
Which brings up the question—where’s the toilet? There it was—on the floor! On the fuckin floor! It was like that hostel in Greece where I checked in by mistake. There was a hole in the floor, with rubber treads on each side of it, shaped like your feet. Somebody’s feet. You were supposed to put your feet on them and squat and crap in the hole.
I looked at my possessions. They were a thick gray blanket and a white plastic baggie. Inside the baggie I found a tiny toothbrush, a microscopic tube of toothpaste, and a package wrapped in some weird kind of orange paper that said “HASTINGS’ BEST WORKIE BAR–From the makers of HASTINGS’ 24-HOUR WORKIE FOOD and HASTINGS’ ALL-ORGANIC WORKIE DIET.”
I opened it. It was a hard chunk of brown, made out of something like beans. I wanted to puke just looking at it. I threw it away. But I needed to eat, dude! So I picked it off the floor and I bit off a hunk. Then another hunk. Until I managed to swallow it all.
I thought it would be easier to sleep if I wasn’t wearing a collar, so I tried to get it off. There was always the chance that it wasn’t actually locked on. In my case, especially—if somebody, someplace, knew I was only there for two days. I pulled on it, and it didn’t change. I got mad and pulled on it harder. It was locked, all right. The only thing I could do was to get my fingers behind it and feel how smooth it was, all the way around, and pull on it till it bit into my neck. I could feel only the tiniest hinge in the back, and little grooves where my number was stamped in the front.
Finally I lay down on my plastic mattress and pulled my blanket up over my head, because there was a light bulb in the ceiling that was always on, with steel mesh on it so you couldn’t hit it and turn it off. Which was good, because I woke up in the night and needed to get to the hole in the floor right away so I could shit Hastings’ Best Workie Bar out of my ass, and I could never have aimed it right unless the light was on. I could see myself plainly then—a collared workie, squatting over a hole in the floor and wiping its ass with brown stuff that bit like sandpaper.
To be continued …
Metal would like to thank the author, Joshua Ryan, for sharing this story, which is being be serialized here. Check back for new installments, which are appearing every few days.