Day Three in Hell
Day three in hell, otherwise known as Hoth. Why in hell am I here, and how did I get here?
I laughed at my own corny joke.
Of course I would find out how I got there and why I was there, but not on my third day. First I would learn about Hoth, how it became Hoth and what was happening to the planet and the people there.
I had arrived shortly after the longest day of the year or as we would call it, in summertime.
In most ways my third day and the days that followed were much like my first two days. Arn and I picked up our gloves and brushes at the shack shortly after dawn and returned them at dusk, ate our slime soup, and whispered to each other until we fell asleep.
Each day my body became more adjusted to the extreme heat. As I would later learn, the average daytime temperature that time of the year was one hundred eighteen degrees, although occasionally it would rise to as high as one hundred twenty eight degrees.
The heat and monotony of what we did, brushing the dust off the leaves in the enormous field of plants, was mind numbing. Occasionally the monotony was temporarily broken, but that was never a good thing.
Zeno Means Trouble
On my second day on Hoth, the field goon had tried to drag me away to who-knows-where, but Arn had stopped him. On my third day, one of Arn’s fellow field workers brought trouble to our end of the field.
After the field goon had made his mid-morning pass by our end of the field and had moved out of sight, the always vigilant Arn looked past me and focused on something in the distance.
“Someone’s headed our way,” he grunted. “Keep your head down and don’t look up or look in his direction.”
We worked quietly, pretending not to notice the person as he approached, even though I knew Arn was watching him.
I squatted, kept my head low and turned partly away from him. All I saw of him was his shoes and lower legs. All I heard of him was his dry, raspy voice. He sounded like he must be about forty years old.
Who’s Your Girlfriend?
“Who’s your girlfriend, Arn?”
“Hey Zeno. What ‘cha doing over here? Come to help?” Arn answered.
“Just came over to see who your friend is. Heard it’s a pretty female.”
“Come closer if you like,” Arn said. But before you get too close it’s only fair to tell you why the goons brought her to work with me in this corner of the field.”
“Yeah, why’s that?” Zeno asked.
“They said she may not have long to live, seein’ as how she has this contagious skin disease stuff they think is gonna kill her. So they brought her to my corner of the field to keep her away from the rest of the workers. Haven’t you noticed how we’re last in line at the shack both in the morning and at suppertime?”
“Let me see,” Zeno demanded.
Check Her Out After Supper
“Sure, but not now. If the goon catches you over here checkin’ her out, he’ll shoot all of us. Tell you what. You come on over after we’ve all turned in our stew bowls tonight and you can get a closer look. It’ll be getting’ dark, so you’ll have to get up close so you can see when she pulls up her hat. It ain’t a pretty site. Hope you don’t puke up your supper, Zeno.”
“You crazy man? You got some woman over here with some contagious disease that’s gonna kill her and you want me to get up close and look? Like we’re not all dying fast enough in this hell hole anyway?” Zeno slowly backed away.
“Suit yourself, Zeno. I thought you wanted to see,” Arn said.
“No way man! So how long does she have before she dies?”
“No one knows. The goons said it could be a few days, or a long time. In the meantime, they thought she could be useful here, as long as she stays away from the other workers.”
“She’s close to you. So you got it too?” Zeno asked.
“Not yet, but the goons said you get it before the rash breaks out. The rash is like the last stage of the disease.”
“So why you stayin’ close to her if she’s contagious?”
“The goons gave me a choice. Let her work with me, keep an eye on her and keep her away from everyone else, or a bullet in the head,” Arn said.
“Doesn’t she use the same equipment we all use?”
“Well, I hope they’re givin’ her a special set, Zeno. We wouldn’t want anyone else to catch whatever it is she’s got. Ma’m would you just pull up your shirt sleeve and show Zeno what you’re hidin’ up there? Make it quick. We don’t want this wind blowin’ none of that peelin’ skin on either of us,” Arn teased.
“Keep your sleeves down!” Zeno demanded. Zeno quickly backed away from us. “It’s been nice knowin’ you, Arn.”
Meat For Supper
“Wait, wait! I haven’t touched her, so I’m hopin’ I haven’t caught what she’s got. Someday soon you’ll probably notice she’s not in my end of the field, and that night there’ll be meat in the stew. Then we can be friends again.”
“That night nobody’ll be eatin’ if she’s got some contagious disease.”
“Hey, maybe it’s our quick ticket out of here, Zeno. Then again, maybe it’s our slow, painful ticket out of here. Tell you what, I’ll watch her die and let you know how it goes.”
“You’re totally creepin’ me out, man. I am so out of here.” Zeno turned and ran.
“You are such a good liar, Arn,” I said after Zeno had disappeared. “Are you a habitual liar, or would you classify this as the old ‘Jew-in-the-closet’ case?” I asked.
Arn stopped working and stared at me.
“You’re the strangest person I’ve ever met, Tammy.”
“Yeah, what about you? You just isolated yourself from everyone else here. No one will ever want to come near either one of us after what you told Zeno. I don’t think you realize what you just did.”
“I know exactly what I’m doing,” Arn told me. “It’s the only way you’ll ever survive here. I’m not completely convinced that what I just told Zeno will keep everyone away forever. But the little show we’re going to give them at suppertime tonight will.”
“What little show?”
“We’re gonna’ march right up to the stew line, pull up your sleeves, pull back your collar and show ‘em your terrible disease.”
“Arn! Are you crazy? I don’t have a disease.”
“You will tonight, sweetheart. Don’t worry. It won’t hurt and will wear off in a few days. I’ll fix you up all pretty on the way to the shack. You’ll see.”
“So you’ve decided to throw your lot in with me?” I asked.
“Looks like it, huh?”
“So what happens to you when I zap out of here like I zapped in here? You’ll be totally isolated.”
“I’ll deal with that when the time comes. Besides, what makes you think you’re gonna’ zap outta here? I think you’re stuck with me, maybe forever.”
“I was dreaming about some guy last night,” I teased. “It must be my boyfriend from wherever I came from. He’ll probably come rescue me on his white horse.”
“Look at me, Tammy.”
I looked directly into his eyes.
“I really hope that doesn’t happen. I’m afraid it might. That stuff you’ve been saying about Jews in the closet and the white horse. Where’d you hear that?”
“Hmmm! I don’t know. It must be from where I came from. Why?”
“Well, it didn’t come from Hoth. No one in Hoth knows of those things,” Arn answered.
I carefully considered what Arn had just said.
“Then you’re telling me something about both of us, aren’t you? Do you know that?”
“Do tell, Tammy. Do tell. Look, we’re drying out our mouths and getting behind on our work. Let’s close our mouths and I’ll be planning tonight’s big show for the citizens of hell. We should have plenty of opportunities to talk after that.”
And so it would be, but first the “big shew”.