The Box - Short Story

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The Box - Short Story

Post by Fleetwolf on Sat Aug 12, 2017 1:41 pm

The Box
By: Sean M. Walley

A soft whoosh of filtered air stirred scents both living and metallic. A leather nose twitched then flared as it caught the scents. The smells of morning cleaning solvents, fabric softener, bacon, powdered eggs, and tension registered chemically to a slumbering mind.

I opened my eyes. Intelligent blue eyes cast around my cell. I remained prone on the cold metal grate that was my cells floor. Thick fur gave some padding for sleep unless you slept a lot on the floor.

The high pitched squeaks of a cart were heard and my tri-tipped ears flattened against my skull. Private Benny making the chow rounds. I released a long, annoyed sigh and pushed up from the floor. I began to pace the ten foot by ten foot by four foot cell that was home. Another yawn showed teeth capable of killing man and beast locked in a powerful muzzle. I’ve seen myself once in one of those things humans call a mirror. A blurring of the lines between man and wolf.
 
I gazed down at my forearms, shaved of fur and tattooed with my designations. I gave the heavy muscles under the inked flesh a flex. I was male and the only clothing allowed was a pair of olive green boxer shorts. Several patches of fur were shaved off from my body. Every day some new sensor was glued to my skin. A needle poked me. A light shown into my eyes. A tread mill to run. Those were the good days. What I hated were the lavender days, the smell of flower so strong it almost hid an acrid scent I couldn’t place. Those days the blackouts came. I would wake with a blinding headache a few more new stitches in my collection.

The squeaks grew louder. My mind turned to Private Benny. He was your typical government issue human. Dressed in olive green fatigues, a shaved scalp and well . . . Mock growls flung at a pair of creatures in the cell next to me dropped that thought. They looked like me, younger though, one male, one female.  The male was black furred and the female had cream fur. Their clothing was no better than mine, though I felt a pang of pity at their site. Whole bodies with no fur missing, not a single stitch on them, yet.

Benny tried to incite the pair into growling at fake cat yowls. I flattened my ears. I wouldn’t mind wrapping huge paws around his tiny neck and snapping it. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to take my clawed fingers and squeeze Benny's throat shut. Then we all could bear this crowded metal box easier. The scents of the morning meal slapped the thought away from my mind. There was an odd phrase the humans used on some of the creatures who misbehaved. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. It was often followed by a long metal pole that left you numb and hurting. Other times it was followed by the sharp crack of a .45 pistol. The gun only came out when one of 'us' was too riled up to calm down.

A glance at the gutter outside of my cell revealed a mix of urine, blood, and other wastes best not thought about that hid a few mushroomed bits of metal. Those bits of metal told the tale of five in my section that died by pistol. Clang of a metal ladle on the bars of the cell door brought me to the present. Benny wore a smug sneer that matched the attitude of ‘I’m out here, and you’re in there’. He ladled out a mix of runny eggs, half cooked bacon, oatmeal, and by the chemical smell of my daily vitamins.

I crouched near the door and held my paw out near the food slot. Benny slid the bowl in then filled a tin cup full of cold water.

“How’s E blocks favorite little mental case?” He asked with a disgusted laugh.

“Much happier when you’re gone.” I said. Did I forget to mention that I could speak? I was one of the few types of creatures in this place that could talk and think; thus my label as a mental case.

“Happy as ever.” Benny said with a laugh. “Enjoy your meal today, L21. Tomorrow, you’re leaving the Box.” His tone was cynical.
“Leaving the Box? You’re mind games are a bit too childish for me.” I said. A tired growl was added for effect.

“Oh, I am not playing this time. Just eat your slop and be nice and strong now. You may last longer than most that leave.” Been said. He pushed the squeaking cart on down the row of cells rattling his metal ladle along the cell bars.

I sat by the door, leaning heavily into the unforgiving steel bars just staring at the food and the water. Those that left the Box never came back. Never heard from again, not even smelled in any other areas of the Box. My neighbors ate noisily as I tried to think of why I was being removed from the Box.

Did I fail a test of some kind? Was I getting too old? I glanced over my shoulder and noted the plastic green collars on the pair under their neck ruff. A letter and numbers on each one indicating the identity of each subject. So the humans went to collars now instead of tattoos? Guess they got tired of shaving fur to keep the numbers exposed.

The males collar read L322, the female was L354 marking them as fairly new pups. I growled at the word ‘pups’. I didn’t know much about what I was except the stray bits of conversation the human scientists would let slip thinking I was too dim witted to understand them. I know I was born to parents who were in turn born to parents that were created by the humans. We were a small part of a large genetic research race if I had that idea right. No idea what a genetic was, or how it smelled, but I guess it’s what made me. How I knew that they were new pups was that the last group brought into E section had numbers ending in the 290’s. I turned back to my food and ate the salty, slimy meal and washed it all down with chlorinated water. Never could get used to that taste.

With the only meal of the day eaten, I went back to envisioning my fate this morning. Most of us creatures, I don’t know what we are besides flesh, fur, hide, mane, and tails with numbers assigned to us, are put through a series of physical and mental tests. Some of the apelike creatures speak of holding guns and firing them though they hate the noise and the smell of the gun powder. Humans are surprised at how much we know about what’s around us and that’s due to the fact that we listen to everything and smell everything. Back to the Box though, you were always lead back to the Box after a test, if you were lucky to be awake for it. Otherwise you just woke up from a test in the Box. If you are like the pair behind me, you were brought in as young things and deposited in the Box. Leaving the Box was always a one way trip.

The Box from what I could smell and hear from the others is a large ware house with no windows. The Box had one door to get in or out leading to a hallway of doors with various tread mills, weights, and even a swim tank. The endless humming of fluorescent light bulbs drove you mad. Sometimes a few of the privates on duty had a transistor radio they would leave on.

We got to listen to and learn what music was, as well as what the outside world must be like. Most of us loved the sounds of a human called Elvis Presley, the King. Some days radio programs would play. I loved Superman. I bet if he had fur and a tail like mine he wouldn’t need the cape. It was heaven compared to the humming lights. We also learned that we were living in 1955 and humans called Russians had sparked an arms race due to a Cold War with humans called Americans. The voices on the radio though didn’t seem to realize a separate arms race was happening with living and breathing beings.

The Box was sectioned off into sections with a letter of the alphabet attached to each one. We haven’t figured out what the letter for the sections meant as we were moved around to different sections. Each section though housed the same type of creature for that section. I and the two behind me and the others around us in section E are called Lupinossai. No idea why we were named that though the scientists in the test rooms called me that. The numbers and letters on our hide or on the new plastic collars we all figured out quickly as to what order we were born in and what type of creature we were. I am Lupinossai twenty-one.

Other sections of the Box held apes, tigers, bears, foxes, and plenty of other creatures with humanoid bodies just like mine. All caged and waiting to be poked, prodded, or fall asleep for some bizarre reason.

Most of us don’t dwell on our tests as they usually are boring jaunts on a treadmill, showing how much you could lift or how long you could swim. Others though who have fallen asleep wake to something horrifying that leaves them wedged into corners of their cells. Those souls don’t last long. Some just died the next day, others were shot. My eyes drifted back to those bits of bullet. I knew each creature that those metal kisses of death took. L7 was a Lupinossai just like me, brown fur, and blue eyes, male and quite talkative. Everyone loved him until his last black out period. When he was brought back to his cell his head was shaved, huge staples held his scalp together and he ranted all night about pain, and visions of sharp things cutting into his head. The morning held the crack of the pistol for him.

Then there was L54, a female Lupinossai younger than me who was timid and seemed to be the target of a lot of injections. She really hated the needles and was prone to panic attacks. L7 had kept her calm for a long time, chatting to her to ease her mind off of the tests and the pain. Not long after L7’s death she had rushed a private during a routine retrieval for her next test. The private didn’t survive his throat being ripped out nor did L54 survive the bullet to her head.

The private wasn’t a bad guy at all. He was one of the few humans that loved to talk to us and even snuck us cookies. Larson was his name, I think. The last three were actually a set of young felines, Lions, I think they called them. They refused to leave their cells for their first tests and latched onto the cell bars forcing the tranquilizer guns to be used. I’ve never seen a tranquilized body lock its muscles into place.

The scientists cussed up a storm that day. Seems the young lions were part of a new innovative breakthrough in the genetic research race dealing with making stealthy weapons. With their body’s seized up and their willingness not given, the cracks of the pistol happened that day. I do hope that they are happy now wherever they’ve gone. Their numbers were Li4, Li5, and Li6.

Now that I think about Private Larson, having a real name must be really nice. I’ve always fancied myself an Edwin or a Guthree. L21 was too impersonal and harsh to my furred ears as if saying my own number was a growled threat. I turned to watch the young pair in their cell and soon rolled back over to stare at L54’s empty cell. The pair was asleep, but I knew why they had a young pair of Lupinossai in that cell. Eventually they would be part of the mating program the scientists had set up to keep a new supply of test subjects on hand. I stared hard at the empty cell. Humans had scrubbed the cell clean. My mind could still see the blood and brains plastered on the bars and floor. I bet she would have enjoyed the name Carol or Lidia.

I found the wandering of my mind amusing as I went from one thought to a completely random thought with no ties to the later one. Time passed in the cold Box. Creatures left for tests and creatures were carried back in after tests. Two cracks of the pistol were heard today, but I didn’t ask who left us for freedom. My day to leave the Box was soon, I could feel it, and the thought just filled my belly with cold dread.

Would I be killed? A bullet to the head or some new form of test that would make sure I died? Benny said if I stayed strong I might last longer. Did that mean that some survived leaving the Box?

The smell of lavender wafted in my cage at some point during my thoughts and I almost gagged. I really, really didn’t want to black out with the looming question of my existence at paw. I sprang for the door and slammed my 280 pounds of muscle at the metal bars. They creaked and one or two bars bent. My blue eyes saw escape and salvation in those bent bars. I’ve been around for a long time in the Box and new that running and escape was a sure death, but at least I knew what that death looked like, smelled like, and thought I might know what it felt like. The lavender scent was growing stronger as the chemicals being used were sinking heavily to the metal floor. Others near me were passed out on the floor already which happened often when this smell came.

I backed up and slammed into the cell door again. The crack of metal shearing off and the door slamming open was my reward. I was sprawled on the floor now. I saw freedom in front of my muzzle and I stood up to run into its open arms. Several Lupinossai called after me to let them out. Not smelling anymore lavender nor the sound of booted feet that heralded guards; I stopped and went back unlatching cells. I managed to get four Lupinossai free when the first crack of the pistol was heard. A Lupinossai to my right fell over, dribbling brains and blood from the large hole in his head. The other three Lupinossai scattered and I listened to their unspoken advice.

We ran down section E, and hung a left at section D, and sprinted for section C. Guess all of that treadmill running was useful. We all knew that the doors near section A were our only escape. Humans were now shouting and I heard several pairs of boots hot on our tails. The soft hiss and a thwip sound past my ear told me that the some of the humans had tranquilizer darts. I had to wonder who the idiot was that used the pistol. The Lupinossai on either side of me fell to the floor in drugged stupor. I ran harder, the fast red furred female in the lead.

We past section C in a blur setting off a whole section of Apes, and ran past section B to the cheering yips of coyotes. We rounded section B to hit the stretch of section A and the door. The pistol cracked.  I watched the female Lupinossai tumble to the floor gasping in pain, her paws clutched tight against her belly. I couldn’t stop in time and tripped over her hitting the grating myself. I rolled into the closed door of an empty cell. Another crack of the pistol was heard and the whimpering Lupinossai female went silent. I looked up and my blue eyes saw Benny with a look of pure blood lust on his face.

Benny just stared down at me, the .45 revolver smoking slightly in his right hand. I remained on the floor and stared at death. Sure, I’ve done my fair share rebelling in the Box when younger, but the metal rod or the tranquilizer is all I was ever hit with. I’ve never been this close to courting death. No matter how well you think you know death or how many times you see death; when death has you in its sights we all turn to cowards.

“Get up L21. Run. I love a moving target.” Benny said, then he sneered.

The other privates were getting closer, shouting over cells to coordinate an effort to cut off the escapees. They were working their way towards section A. Benny looked to either side hearing the voices. He fixed me with a cold, malicious glee in his eyes.

“Get up so I can shoot you. This is the most fun I’ve had since being stationed to this stinking kennel. I wanted an active tour overseas, but no, I get stuck in some underground refrigerator in the middle of Nevada pandering to a bunch of mangy animals.”  He took a step closer to me, his boots vibrated the section of grate I was laying on.

I didn’t move. Here was my chance to attack him while no one could to stop me, but a quick glance at the red Lupinossai lying in her own blood strangled the thoughts of killing him. I cursed myself for the lack of courage wishing I had super powers like the Superman on the radio. I bet Superman wouldn’t be laying helpless on a metal grating with a gun pointing at him. Unless it was a Kryptonite packing gun, then Superman would be like me, staring at death.

The other privates were now a section away, their boot steps vibrating the whole floor. Maybe if I just laid here and kept still I could live. I could live another hour or so then black out to die in my sleep? Do I really want to fade from this existence that way or do I want to make sure that Benny takes the same trip to oblivion with me. I felt the man had to pay for killing two Lupinossai when tranquilizers would have sufficed. I watched Benny step closer to me. The muzzle of the pistol was just ten feet from my head and I felt red creep into the edge of my vision. I lost control of my mind and I heard myself speak without control of my muzzle.

“That pistol making you feel like a man finally, Benny? I think you wouldn’t be so hot if you tried to kill me with your hands or that knife on your belt. Be a real man, a real hunter. Or do you feel too inadequate to handle something larger than what's between your legs.” My voice felt like it belonged to someone else who was not worried about dying in seconds.

Benny’s face went red with rage. I recalled he had a problem with a short temper. That explain why he was assigned to watching ‘beasts’. Cage a beast with a beast and he’ll either wise up or die. Then it dawned on me that my brain, locked with fear, had latched onto attacking him where it hurt most. His pride and his male security were nice fat targets. Unfortunately he didn’t drop the pistol. Instead the hammer clicked back to a full cocked position ensuring a hair trigger death. Benny had made one mistake though.

I’ve watched the other creatures hassle the guards in the Box. Most guards with the metal sticks and tranquilizers knew to keep their distance from creatures with longer arms than they had. The humans with deadlier toys grew arrogant and forgot to keep that distance. Benny was now just three feet from me. His boots were in reach of my paws I just needed one distraction. The pistol cracked forcing my thoughts to the pain that shot through my right leg. I curled up from the pain and clutched my bleeding thigh.

“Not so mouthy now are you?” Benny said with primal satisfaction. The boot steps of the other privates were almost on top of us.  

“I’d take my time and make sure you suffered, bleeding you dry with each gunshot but time is short. You’ll just be another victim of ‘He jumped me’ alibi.” He cocked the pistol again.

My death was not going to be that alibi. I was not going be put down like some unintelligent animal. Benny started to line up his sights with my head and my distraction came. One of the other privates rounded the corner and shouted for the gun to be dropped seeing that I was obviously not a threat. Private Benny just laughed in a cynical tone and kept the pistol on me.

“He tried to jump me just like that bitch on the floor. She got what she deserved. A bullet to the brain pan for being what she is. A mindless beast thinking she can play human.” He said.
Killing fever was apparent in Benny’s voice and the other private shouted for him to drop the gun or face court-martial charges for abusing government property.

“Not if you aren’t around to tell the others.” Private Benny swung the pistol around and shot the other private in the chest.

The man dropped to his knees clutching the hole now leaking life’s precious blood down his uniform. I didn’t wait any longer. The pistol off of me now, I grabbed one of Benny’s boots and twisted with both paws. The wet crunching pop of bones and dislocated tendons greeted my ears as well as Benny’s howl of pain. He flopped to the metal decking like a boneless chicken. The pistol went clattering into an empty cell. It was odd how section A was completely empty, but I shoved that thought away as I clawed my way up Private Benny’s body. He tried to pummel me off of him with his left fist as his right hand went for his combat knife. I shrugged off the pain of the punches; the bullet in my leg was more painful.

Once I was face to face with him, I pinned both of his arms down to the metal grating with my own large paws. He tried to bring the knife to bear and I squeezed his right arm crushing muscle and bone. Another scream of pain and I growled as loud as I could right in his terror widened eyes.

“You don’t deserve to live killing two unarmed Lupinossai and a fellow soldier. Private Benny you have been court-martialed.” I said.

A flash of white canines, a splash of hot scarlet and a gurgled scream was all that I remember after ripping his throat out. I felt hot blood down my furred chin, and heard it patter into the gutters under the grates, spurting from his savaged throat. I didn’t feel the tranquilizers that hit me, nor did I hear the privates looking over the scene and discussing the words they had heard. Nor did I see the general coming down to look over things. I do vaguely recall being drug over the grated floors to the doors I was so close to reaching on my own power. I was pulled through them and I blacked out.

I awoke on something soft and cushy, to my relief my head didn’t hurt but my leg throbbed some. Opening my eyes I found that I was in a room that was painted white and something bright was shining in on me through a window. Beyond the window were large green things with thorns all over them and lots of yellow dirt. The room didn’t smell of sanitizers, nor did it have the feel of a small holding cell. Did I die? A door to my left opened and a human walked in. I recognized her. She was one of the scientists that ran tests on me all the time. She dragged a stool over to sit by me. I stared at her then recalled someone once called her Agatha. Agatha gave me a short smile.

“Nice to see you awake L21. You had a nasty accident with Private Benny. Your leg has been patched up and you’ll be resting in this room till it heals.” She said.

Accident? The murders that human had committed was called an accident? I must have looked unsettled. Agatha had a hand on my right arm petting it.

“Easy L21, the military handles violence among its ranks in a closed closet manner. Private Benny has been considered a misfortunate victim of failing to observe safety protocols around lab equipment.” Agatha said.

“Lab equipment? He killed two Lupinossai and even shot another soldier.” I said.

“That is true, L21. We’ve known Private Benny had a short fuse, but you seemed to have neutralized that bomb. Did it feel good to kill him?” she asked.

“Feel good?” I asked in a shocked tone.

Why did she ask me that? I thought back on the incident briefly and felt a thread of pure revelation breaking the man’s bones and feeling his hot blood in my mouth. I guess it did feel good though I felt that taking pleasure in killing him was unsettling.

“Yes.” I said.

“I hear hesitation in your voice L21. Good. That tells me that though you enjoyed his death you also feel disturbed by it. You will make a fine soldier.” Agatha said. She seemed bored as she wrote her assessment of me down on a clip board she had with her.

“You are making me a soldier?” I asked.

“Yes. You have shown remarkable endurance levels from all of our tests, and few birth defects that we have surgically removed. Your mental evaluation shows you have high intelligence, and this recent incident indicates you can recognize when to kill. You will be placed into the LUPINOSS project as soon as you are healed.” She said.

“The Lupinoss project?” I asked.

“A military genetic experiment, designed by Dr. Lupinoss, that sends anthropomorphic soldiers to fight in America’s wars using guerilla warfare in the many jungles, forests, deserts, urban areas and wildernesses of the world. They are also used for taking care of business that the government can’t use its military for. You have shown a lot of promise over the years and have been granted life past the Box.” Agatha said.

“So I am not going back to the Box?” I asked.

“No. You will be going into active duty. Only those worthy of the various programs the U.S. Government funds make it out of the Box. Those not worthy, well you’ve seen what happens to them. Now, I will leave to let you rest, but I have one more thing to tell you. Your serial number is L21, but to keep human soldiers feeling safer around you the government has issued you a name.” She said.

“I get a name." I stated

Agatha nodded, stood and walked to the door. She paused for a brief second. “Welcome to the United States Military, Lupis.” She opened the door and left. The door clicked closed and I heard the click of a lock.

Lupis? I liked the sound of that name. Well I wasn’t in a metal cell anymore just a really cushy cell. But I was out of the Box. I was out of the Box and alive. I leaned back and took a few steady breaths. Maybe I would live a long time. War can’t be all that bad right? I closed my eyes and for the first time I slept soundly away from the smell of metal, fear, death, and the crack of the pistol. I thought I was safe but my nightmares were only beginning.

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