By Edward Andrew Parks
Life used to be simple.
This is what came to mind as the whip lashed and sliced his back, a lash for every minute he didn’t work. The flogging wasn’t so bad. His body ached and his bones groaned, but that was from the work. Only a few hours in and his legs rattled with each step and his arms grew as weak as a newborn’s. Every breath pained his lungs until finally collapsing while pulling a full cart of stone. The rest of the workers carried on as normal until the guards found him lying on the ground. They asked how long he had been on the floor and the workers promptly answered. “About five minutes” they had said. “A lash a minute then,” the guards responded. Once the flogging ended, he was sent back to the mines to pick up where he had left off.
“No breaks. We have a cave to mine. Back to work,” the guard demanded, a look of disgust and malice written on his face. “Filthy human,” he uttered before walking away.
“You alright, Anders?” Janson asked, “Looked pretty bad.”
“Yeah, it’s not so bad. I’m just glad I got to rest for a few minutes. Felt like my heart would stop if I kept going. Damn sun got to me is all,” he said, lifting a large stone into the wheelbarrow.
“Be careful next time though. If you ever need any help you just ask, alright?”
“Thanks, I will.”
“Oh, by the way, did you hear the others talking about what happened to Gregory?’
“Nah, what happened?”
“Well, I heard—” Janson shut his mouth as soon as a guard started walking their way. It was Konrad: a bloodhound with a strange fixation on the two workers. He had been inspecting their section of the mine, sniffing the walls and the workers while eyeing them up and down. His uniform was immaculate, not a single scuff or ounce of dirt down to the minute detail. He carried himself with great vanity and confidence.
“Worker #415, what’s the chatter about?” Konrad asked.
“Nothing, sir. Just asking if #554 was able to work,” Janson replied, keeping his head low to the ground.
“Doesn’t matter if he’s able. I’ll work him ’til he dies on me. Isn’t that right, 554?”
Anders said nothing, and only nodded, knowing full well that Konrad would do just that for no reason at all.
Being called by his work number always reminded Anders that the names they called each other meant nothing really. They were names one of the workers gave to the rest when they were children, a worthless tradition really. He bent down and ran his fingers across the branded numbers on his ankle, thinking that this was the only name that mattered. Every worker was the same; each had been branded at birth and was regarded for the rest of their lives as a number. It was just the way things were. Simple to understand.
The heat in the mines were as unbearable as always and the only sound allowed were the clangs of picks hitting rock. The work was gruesome, but it was easy enough to grasp. There are two teams for every section of the mine. The first team, which was deeper inside the mine shaft, always came out with wheelbarrows full of all kinds of different rocks and stone, some even looked quite shiny. It was his job to roll the wheelbarrow out the mine shaft and take it back to camp. That’s what they would do all day, every day, without rest. Before and after work were the only times during the day they could eat. The food served was usually a slop of some kind, said to contain the necessary nutrients for humans, alongside a biscuit which was delivered with a small bowl of water next to the straw beds. The workers had five minutes to eat before promptly going to bed at seven o’ clock sharp. The living quarters where everyone slept was an old wooden building which hosted several compartments fenced off from each other, with a straw bed in each. That’s how it had been for as long as anyone could remember, and no one felt the need to complain.