Chuck pulled at the tie around his neck, the loop tightening under his chin, his eyes staring into the hazy, rectangular mirror above the sink. He looked good, rather more corporate than he expected—almost as if he belonged. He had never pegged himself as someone who would look good, or proper, in a suit, but anything was possible after such a week. He brushed his left hand down his lapel, cleared his throat, then turned toward the door. The janitor, apparently waiting for him to move from the sink, nodded as he passed.
Chuck was more than a little nervous, his left eye twitching beyond his control. It was the fourth time he had gone into the bathroom to ensure his tie was still a tie, and not two limp strands of spaghetti swirled around his throat, which he had dreamed would happen the night prior. Part of him hoped that, as his eyes focused upon the mirror, he’d see the thin ropes of pasta encircling this neck—at least then he’d have a reason to leave, telling his new boss he had a sudden-case of “pasta-tie” as he rushed out the door. Anything to get him out of starting a new position.
Today marked the beginning of Chuck’s first job. Not his first job in a while, or his first in a few years, or his first “real” job, but his first job ever. At Chuck’s age, most people had already settled upon a career and were several years invested in it. They had families, houses, zoos, fortresses, and all the other trimmings of a nice, comfortable life Chuck assumed was normal. He, however, had opted to live a different life, to evade the workforce for as long as possible. He spent years wandering the New York City streets, eating what he could find littering the ground and sleeping where he wanted. He was not homeless—in fact, quite the opposite. He simply chose to spend his time being free. Chuck lived with his mother, a comfortable life until she had betrayed his trust and forced him into the workforce after a mere forty consecutive years of unemployment. Sure, she cooked him dinner almost nightly, made his bed and did his laundry when necessary, and paid for all he owned in the world. Those facts, however, did nothing to lessen the betrayal she had inflicted upon him with her rash, unjust request that he get a job, followed by the near-abusive act of securing him a position via a former coworker.
Chuck wandered out into the hallway, considering whether or not to turn around and, for the fifth time, head back into the bathroom to ensure his tie was still just a tie. He began to turn, a familiar sound droning into existence from behind him.
“Chuck, how’s it hanging, guy.” It was Bruce, his stupid, raspy-yet-high-pitched voice unmistakable as ever. His mother always invited Bruce to his birthday parties, she and he talking about numbers and whatever else they had in common after once being coworkers for a few measly decades. He hated him and his stupid, corporate face.
“Hey,” Chuck said, grabbing for his tie. It felt cloth-like between his fingers, a sense panic spreading over him as his excuse faded.
“Welcome to Goldbaum, we’re glad to have you on the team,” Bruce said, walking over to Chuck. He pat him lightly on the back. Chuck jutted his chest out, arching his back to avoid the next hit.
“Thanks,” he said.
Chuck’s work-related knowledge had been limited severely to movies about prison and pornography he frequently fast-forwarded through. As a result of his deep desire to avoid anything work related, he put forth his best effort to never watch, read, or play anything that so much as mentioned work. His fear—that a recruiter would find him on the street and quiz him on the day-to-day of a worker, then force him into corporate slavery upon answering correctly—kept him ignorant of how to truly survive in the work-world. However, Chuck had an in-depth knowledge of prison-life, thanks in part to memorizing The Shawshank Redemption, Oz, and Prison Break; he knew the differences between prison and work could not be that vast. After all, he had overheard adults claim that “work was like prison.”
“Let’s get you over to where you’ll be working, Chuckster,” said Bruce. He raised his palm, signaling Chuck to take the lead. Chuck began walking forward, already feeling as though he had become a corporate zombie. He wanted to run, crawl into a sewer and live amongst the rat-people like humans were born to, yet simply kept walking. Bruce followed behind, quickly catching up to his lethargic stride. He was talking, his almost contradictory voice droning monotonously from too far within Chuck’s personal space. He stared forward as they walked, intent on not listening to whatever Bruce was saying.
Chuck continued down the hall, mind lost in his own thoughts as Bruce spoke. He had never had a first day before, never experienced the unique, strange feeling of being so alone and out of place. When he was home, he knew exactly where he belonged and what he should do; he knew everyone and everything. Now, he was alone, lost, vulnerable. He knew he needed friends, back-up in case he got into a brawl over purchases from the prison commissary. He needed to be accepted into a gang immediately. But which gang? There weren’t many options apparent to him. He’d seen a few people, some wearing suits, some wearing polo shirts, and some even wearing plain T-shirts. Chuck assumed that the different styles of clothing correlated to some sort of gang-affiliation. Considering he was already wearing a suit—a gift from his mother—he figured his best bet would be to amalgamate with the suit gang. He just wanted to do his best to avoid the white supremacists. They never seemed to bode well in the shows and films.
“Does that all make sense?” Bruce said, placing his hand on Chuck’s shoulder.
“Huh? Yeah, definitely. Where do I sit?”
Bruce smiled and pointed at a small desk in front of them, which he and Chuck had been standing in front of for a few dozen seconds now. Chuck slowly walked behind it, rolled out the chair, and then plopped down into it.
“Anything I can get you in the meanwhile?”
“No,” Chuck said. He picked up a pen and began twirling it, eyes prowling the walls behind Bruce in search of some sort of gang signage. He needed to know who was in charge, to get involved with them first and foremost.
“Great, glad to have you aboard. Enjoy the lunch,” Bruce said, turning and walking out the door to the left.
Chuck placed the pen flat on the desk in front of him, cap removed in case he had to use it in defense. He was vulnerable, open to attacks from any angle. He had seen how things went down on Oz, how he was only a few seconds away from rape and death at any point. He wasn’t sure why his mother wanted him in this position, why she wanted his life and orifices to be put at such risk without fair trial. He was content at home, comfortable and safe. When he wandered the streets and pretended to be homeless for scraps of food and loose change, he felt secure and invulnerable to sexual attacks of any kind. Now, however, he knew he was at risk.
Chuck pushed himself slightly off the bottom of the desk, the chair rolling backwards in response. He spun slowly, observing the room as the chair rotated. It was perfect for assaulting a new prisoner sexually, threatening their lives and forcing them to become prison bitches. The office was no larger than a mobile home, with three doors leading into other various areas Chuck cared not explore. A half-dome security camera stood in the far corner of the room, likely where the security guards would watch in sadistic, perverted pleasure. The walls were covered in bland, beige wallpaper, floors grey with black couches against the far corners. A single, plastic plant stood in the middle of the room, the green leaves almost neon in comparison with the living trees outside the lone window. It looked exactly as he imagined it would, except for significantly less bars over the window. It seemed he had identified the first major difference between work and prison.
A light knock echoed through the room, its origin the door on the far right. Chuck remained seated, knowing from Oz not to go out of his way to do something for others, lest he be seen as an easy rape target. He definitely did not want to get raped. The knock repeated, Chuck’s eyes fixed on the door. It slowly opened, a man’s head peaking in.
“You Chuck?” said the head.
“Who wants to know?” Chuck replied, doing his best to appear larger than normal.
The man smiled. “I’m Dave, I’ll be your boss.” Dave pushed the door open the rest of the way. He was wearing a black t-shirt, visibly cheap blue jeans, and white Nike sneakers. Sunglasses rested upon his neatly groomed, yet disturbingly moist-looking, hair.
The boss. Chuck knew he’d meet him eventually, but didn’t think it would be so soon. The warden didn’t usually go out of his way to meet the new prisoners, or any prisoners. Chuck glared. He didn’t want him as an enemy, but he knew that if he wanted respect from his prison mates, he didn’t want him as a friend.
“Hi,” Chuck said, partially mumbling.
“Welcome aboard,” Dave replied. “We’re glad to have you at Goldbaum and Steinberg. Just so you know, Friday is casual Friday – so feel free to wear something a bit more relaxed next week.”
Chuck stared at him, unsure of what he meant. All Fridays were casual, that’s why they were Fridays. If they weren’t, they’d be Mondays.
“Your mother is Linda, right? How is she?” Dave said, breaking the silence.
“I ain’t no snitch,” Chuck replied, rising to his feet. He still had his chest puffed out.
“Funny guy! I like you already,” Dave said, laughing. “Hope you’re hungry, we’ve got a great lunch lined up to welcome you aboard and let you meet the team.”
Food. Chuck signed, his eyes losing their focus on Dave. He had been hoping the whole “food” thing wouldn’t come up so soon, but would rather give him at least a few hours to build some rapport amongst the bigger prisoners. Now he’d have to think fast to avoid having his food stolen, then being sexually assaulted by it. He’d seen it in Oz, on the Discovery Channel, even read about it on the Internet once—he knew they’d torture him, steal his bread, punch his pudding, whatever they could to intimidate him and label him a bitch. He wished he’d taken more time to prepare, to set a game-plan up, rather than procrastinating with his spaghetti-tie. All he had now was his most base, and perhaps violent, of plans; all he could depend on was making an intimidating strike before it came time to eat. He just needed an opportunity.
“Absolutely,” he said, squinting his eyes and pretending to look excited.
“Hey!” said a voice from behind Dave. A man in a sports jersey, the numbers 88 plastered across the front, stepped into the room. He had his arm raised in the air, almost like a salute. “New guy!” Dave patted the man on the back. It seemed Chuck had found his Nazi.
“Howard, this is Chuck. He’s the new assistant here. Chuck, this is Howard, Chief Technical Officer. You’ll work with him pretty frequently.”
So he was already a bitch? The warden had personally picked out who his owner would be, which gang he’d be affiliated with. Chuck shook his head, they were so naïve. There was no way he’d join the white supremacists, especially with how high the risk of man-rape was amongst them. He’d do all he could to show his cell-mates he was no bitch, and certainly wasn’t going to be forced into any gang he didn’t choose.
The man, Howard, was huge—clearly the biggest guy he’d seen yet. His belly jutted outward almost a foot, making the 88’s look more like two O’s wearing tiny hats than numbers. He knew he’d find a white supremacist eventually, someone who would try to take him in and then make his life absolute hell. He’d seen the 88’s in so many prison movies, learned years ago that they stood for HH—or “Heil Hitler.” Chuck refused to become his bitch. For all he knew, Howard was already plotting—at this very moment—how best to molest him with staplers, highlighters, and various other office supplies. Chuck would have none of it. Instead, Howard would be his key to survival.
Chuck walked forward, his right arm a Trojan horse outstretched to shake Howard’s hand. Howard reciprocated and stuck out his hand, a clearly deceptive smile spreading across his face. Chuck could tell from the glimmer in his eye that he would rape him when he had the chance, force him to submit and become a fellow Nazi, then probably worship Hitler-Satan or whatever they worshiped. Yet Howard had made a major mistake: He had attempted to corner Chuck when he was ready and willing to strike. The circumstances could not be more perfect.
Not only was the warden there to bear witness to his defiance—a convenient way to further show the prisoners how fearless and tough he was—but Howard had left him an opportunity to attack. He wrapped his right hand around Howard’s, Chuck’s left hand stiff against his side. Howard began shaking it and welcoming him, voice energetic and filled with violent lust. Chuck whipped his left hand forward, shoving his pen deep into the space between the two 8’s on his jersey. Howard screamed as he fell to the floor, Dave staring at them in confusion.
“Don’t ever try to fuck with me again, Nazi,” Chuck said. He looked at Dave, his eyes wide and mouth agape. “Tell others what I did here, and we’ll get along much better.”
Chuck stepped over Howard, who was now grabbing at the pen sticking up from his chest, then walked out the door in search of the cafeteria. It seemed work would be easier to survive than he thought. Now he just needed to join a gang.
Writing Prompt: Your character, on his/her first day of work, accidentally mixes up advice on “how to survive at work” with “how to survive in prison.”