WASTED - NANCY HAYDEN
Some say that when you’re going to die you’ll know it. You’ll feel it. You will wake up in the morning with a queasiness in your stomach, a slight uneasiness about the shoulders or maybe a nervous headache. You’ll go through the day looking over your shoulder, seeing things that aren’t there, hearing voices but not catching the words. And when your last minutes on earth are coming to a close, your life will flash before your eyes. You’ll see the innocence of your childhood, the first time you made love, your wedding day, your children, and all these will pass before you in an instant. And perhaps, for one brief moment, your last conscious thought, you will be overcome with a feeling of complete and utter happiness. Bliss. Then, you’re gone.
But Tyler woke up like he did everyday - with a hangover, a dry mouth, a craving for a smoke and a strong need to piss. The sick feeling in his gut was from eating six Texas-style chili dogs at Jackie O’s Bar the night before, and his shoulders ached from his constant hunching. The headache, well, that was from too much booze and not enough sleep.
He made it to work at the wastewater treatment plant early, though, like he did every Tuesday; that was delivery day. Nobody was there to see him. Even though it was a small plant, most of the treatment processes were automated. If there were problems, safety alarms alerted the chief wastewater treatment plant operator, Nic. She arrived exactly at seven A.M.
Nic was starting to take notice of things; Tyler knew that. The unsavory characters that occassionally stopped by were making her suspicious. He caught her writing things in her notebook a few days ago. It turned out to be some license plates numbers. Luckily, he noticed and stole the book, and then quickly deep-sixed it into the cart filled with sludge from the wastewater influent screens. Nic always made him clean the screens every week, even though there were others to do it.
“Low man on the totem pole,” she’d said in that slight southern drawl she used whenever she wanted to put him down.
The nastiest job in the wastewater treatment plant and one of the few that wasn’t automated, hand-raking off the toilet paper, condoms and other crap that collected on the large metal bars. And he always got stuck with it. That and septage delivery detail; another putrid job. Maybe it was time he fixed Nic.
“Get her before she gets me.” Tyler liked the sound of that. Good thing she didn’t hear him spouting off the night before, though, or she would have definitely figured out what’s what. Good old Nic would turn him in without any qualms, even though he had worked for her, put up with her and everybody’s shit, for months. But he needed to be more careful, stop running off at the mouth whenever he had a few too many.
He bent over and removed the grate. He looked down into the churning brown water and thought about the microscopic world in there, pushing, shoving, eating, killing. This was where the wastewater that had already gone through the first stage of treatment - the screens and the settling basins, mixed with the bacteria and other critters. Once mixed, the wastewater flowed into the aeration basins, where the bacteria decomposed all the remaining waste in the water.
“The aerations basins are the soul of our town’s treatment of human waste,” Nic always said to the school kids who visited the plant.
Stupid bitch, Tyler thought. Little did she know this had been his hiding place for months. He reached into the little box housing the controls for the probes that continuously measured dissolved oxygen and other conditions within the aeration basin; the perfect place for his dirty little secret. He pulled it out, set it down and replaced the grate.
Yeah, it was about time he fixed old Nic for good.
Tyler didn’t feel any prickles up his spine in premonition of someone sneaking up behind him and he didn’t turn, just in time, to stop the blow from crashing into the back of his skull. And, certainly, his life didn’t flash before his eyes, his rotten childhood, his perverted lovelife, his wasted existence. No, when the blow hit, his thoughts were of some twisted scheme to get Nic, and it stayed with him until he hit the cold, slimy brown water. He floated there as the blood drained from the back of his head, buoyed up by the bubbling brown bacteria busily consuming their morning meal. But all thought had long since vanished by the time he slipped below the surface, his body slowly sinking, landing ever-so-gently on two of the air diffusers at the bottom of the aeration basin, the soul of wastewater treatment.
BIO: Nancy Hayden is a writer, artist, organic farmer and engineering professor at the University of Vermont. She has taught about water and waste treatment for twenty years. Nancy is also one of a handful of writers submitted to A Twist Of Noir from Libby Cudmore and Matthew Quinn Martin’s writing workshop and chosen by yours truly to represent the workshop.