Breadcrumb #18


To an unsuspecting pair of nostrils, the odor could easily be mistaken for something pleasant. Hints of lemon and coyote berries assault her smell receptors and try to trick her into thinking she’s back in her mom’s kitchen. But no, the smell of human shit being repurposed for fuel is enough to make her sick. Not so sick to wear a mask like some of her older co-workers, but sick enough to make her take an extra cigarette break every shift.

     She’s been stationed here since the beginning of the war, which makes her work unclogging toilets sound exciting to those fortunate enough to be back home. She sends transmissions to them rife with the fiction she’d rather be writing full time. To the ones she loves, she’s a hero taking part in the decimation of the Enemy. But to the ones stationed here with her? She’s no more than a janitor, and a sloppy one at that.

     This warship, the Outlast 29, is designed to reuse 100% of the human refuse created daily by the 18,973 crew members it takes to successfully pilot it into deep space. This allows it to travel into Enemy territory without having to restock more then two or three times a year. The lemon and coyote berries weren’t added the the original Outlast. The soldiers on that first ship drove it into an allied planet, driven mad by the scent of their own burning excrement. The perfume exists now as a contingency plan — a way to prevent further mishaps.

The perfume exists now as a contingency plan — a way to prevent further mishaps.

     April’s tool belt is a treasure trove of power tools and toilet snakes. To an outsider, some even look like weapons, but she’s too young to carry the stun baton others in her department are allowed for self-defense. Staring at the remains of some other recruit’s half-digested slop from the kitchen, she tries to decide which tool will do the job quickest. Her shift ends in twenty minutes, and she’d like to use her four free hours to finish writing the short story she’d started last night.

     She eyeballs the toilet and considers all of the factors surrounding this clog. She’s in the forty-fourth subbasement rec room, which has thinner walls and therefore thinner pipes than any of the main floors. Her plasma snake is probably too powerful, as this part of the ship has yet to be retrofitted, and it would likely eat through and drench her like last week on the forty-eighth subbasement. She opts for a small and manual mechanism that gets the job done quicker than she expects. Another burst of perfume assaults her nostrils, and she almost succumbs to its sickly sweetness. She’s able to quell the urge by lighting a cigarette. She rushes out of the bathroom and into the empty hallway that greets her.

     April approaches one of the many viewports that litter even the subbasements of this great ship. She feels grateful for this architectural detail, knowing if all she could see were walls and plumbing, she’d be ripe with cabin fever. She lets the smoke from her cigarette fill her lungs and drift out of her nostrils as the Outlast 29’s cannons are armed somewhere below her. She can’t see them, but she can feel it in the inner workings of the ship. She knows how this old cat purrs, and is happy that she’s free to watch as the unsuspecting planet below is littered with its fury.

     She likes to tell herself that their impending victory in the war is due in no small part to people like her. The whole concept of the Outlast series is human sustainability, and without people to ensure that workflow, they certainly wouldn’t be the behemoths of vengeance that they are. She only wishes that one of the bastards in recruitment had warned her of the impossibility of rising through the rank and file when she signed up. They never told her what she was even signing up for. Only plied her with the promise of glory and a free education when it was all over. They never told her that she couldn’t go home until every last one of the Enemy’s home worlds was little more than dust.

     She isn’t sure of the name of the planet they’re bombing today. In fact, she has little idea of where they even are in the galaxy...or the universe, for that matter. She just knows that an unclogged toilet keeps the engine warm and therefore the cannons pumping out their fodder. And she prides herself in it, if a little spitefully.

• • •

Breadcrumb #14

Bob Raymonda

There is something special about the time she spends calf deep in the murky waters of a basement flooded by burst pipes. She takes her time, methodically searching for the source of the damage. With the water turned off, it isn’t as easy to discern as one might think. Especially when everything is so thoroughly wet. She wears her grandmother’s fading waders to keep dry, but secretly wishes to wiggle her bare toes in it. She has before, but resists the impulse, as this is a house call, a favor, and if she would like to keep making money, she has to remain professional.

     “Everything all right down there?” her temporary employer calls down to her.

     She takes a moment to survey the damage. Turning a full 360, she sees collapsing cardboard boxes, floating papers with splotchy running ink, and a small island of towels doing its best to soak up some of the newfound sea. She responds, “Might take a few hours to get the water out before I can really say.”

     An exaggerated sigh follows. “I was hoping to finish my laundry today.”

     She rolls her eyes. “Not quite sure if that’s going to be possible.”

     “Please do your best.”

     She wishes she could scream, I’d do better if you’d shut your goddamn mouth and let me do my fucking job, but instead says, “Why don’t you get yourself some lunch or see a movie? I’ll take this from here.”

     The widow upstairs, a friend of her uncle’s, slams the door without responding. Elle shakes her head and wraps a fist around the wrench at her hip. She’d love to take the wrench to the widow’s few surviving dry possessions, but she resists. She is sure to stomp some of the floating papers further into the depths, though the satisfaction it gives her no more than an empty gesture. No amount of time in the sun would have restored these documents to their original function. But no matter, she tells herself she had a brief hand in their demise.

But no matter, she tells herself she had a brief hand in their demise.

     She wades toward the stairs and climbs them, tracking grimy footprints on the steps behind her. She stops herself when she gets to the top and considers taking off her waders to walk barefoot through the widow’s home. “Mrs. G,” she calls out. “You here?” She takes the silence as permission and walks through the kitchen and out the front door to retrieve a Shop-Vac from her van. The destruction her waders leave is only temporary, she tells herself. She’ll have it cleaned up as soon as the water is out of the basement and dumped out in the flower bed in the backyard. 

     The back of Elle’s van is a treasure trove of power tools and toilet snakes. She has toys of all varying sizes to get a person’s shit to where it ought to be and out of their clogged pipes. This fills her with pride. Her kid brother may have his award-winning books and beautiful children, but she at least had the comfort of knowing hers was a trade that wouldn’t go out of style until humans figured out how to stop defecating. She’d never have to worry about her publishers shooting down her new idea, or her children growing up to hate her. She’d just have to keep taking her certifications once a year, and the cash flow would be steady.

     Armed with her giant water vacuum, she returns to the widow’s temporary basement ocean to do her work.

• • •