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The fat, blurred letters roll off the blunted tip of my pencil onto the smudged, yellow paper furnished me by one of the guards for half a week's ration of tobacco. The stubby carpenter's pencil had been discarded by one of the crew renovating the filthy, rat infested west wing that serves as the galley. As I scribble across the crude page, I wonder what day of the week it is. Streaks of cold, gray light squeeze through the cracks between the boards that were nailed over the single barred window of my cubicle, tiger-striping my make shift journal with sufficient lumens to scrawl a few words before I have to reposition it.
It's autumn now, I think. Outside I can hear the weary moan of the wind stroking the tensely strung barbed wire atop the high stone wall that surrounds the complex. The chill of the icy concrete floor seeps through the thin, rotting, cotton mattress, forcing its way deep into my stiffening joints.
A cockroach trots into the middle of my page, waves his antennae a couple of times, and journeys on to a darkened corner of my home, perhaps hoping to find a few crumbs of nourishment to see him through the approaching winter. Likely he himself will become a meal for the huge furry spider that claims the corner as his turf.
Beyond the rust-brown steel door come the distant groans of the less fortunate ones in the "infirmary." Those who enter for such maladies as exhaustion, crushed limbs, and strokes become guinea pigs for the "doctor" to use in his experiments. The few who recover from their illnesses seldom survive the "cure."
I wonder how that I who was once one of the city's "finest" could come to such an estate. Until the government crumbled before the invading hoard, I had been an esteemed officer in one of the nation's most efficient and best-equipped police forces. I had earned my gold detective shield and attained the grade of senior lieutenant. I had driven to work each day in a German sedan that would have been mine in another forty-two months. I wore clean white shirts, silk ties, and fine wool slacks every day, along with spit shined Italian label shoes.
Now, I wear threadbare, grimy coveralls, which (if I'm lucky enough to come up with laundry soap) are washed once a week. My vinyl, simulated leather shoes are split and cracked, their laces made from short lengths of nylon clothesline, their insoles re-enforced with cardboard.
The low growl that rises from my stomach only serves to remind me how long it has been since I had a decent meal. As a police lieutenant, I had been a steak and potatoes man. God! I'd kill for a cheeseburger and fries right now. But today's ration (like yesterday's and the day before, and the day before . . .) will consist of the unique goulash made from tossing dozens of unlabeled cans into the huge community pot and stirring it over a crudely fashioned wooden stove and scooping it back into the same cans which now serve as dinnerware.
The grating sound of un-oiled metal parts meshing breaks my concentration. The heavy steel door slowly creaks open and a tall, thin guard with a week's worth of stubble covering his jaundiced face steps through the opening.
"It's time," he drones without emotion.
"Time?" I respond, trying to sweep the cobwebs from my malnourished brain and grasp the significance of the distant sounding words.
"Yes. The prisoners are assembled and waiting for inspection, Commander."
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