The sign on the door designated his title as Vocational Education Program
Administrator. His dark blue jacket hung on the coat rack next to the door. The
white shirtsleeves rolled half way up his forearms. He sat behind his desk with
his face in his hands attempting to calm the migraine. The stack of VEP
applications on his desk were at an unmanageable level. His staff of four
overwhelmed. There weren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week to
complete all of the required inspections and paperwork. His most experienced
and reliable inspector abandoned her position for maternity leave. She would
not return for at least 4 months and there was no replacement. The remaining
inspectors slow, sloppy and teetered on the line of incompetence. Government
funding for the program depended on the number of VEP applicants certified in a
given year. His boss breathed down his neck to increase productivity 8 percent
over last year. He looked at the stack of applications, he could fabricate the
reports and save time, no one would know.
The Cost of Debt
Family debt forced mothers and fathers to surrender their children to the state-run Office of Financial affairs. As commodities of the state, children could be bought and sold until the age of 18. By law, the collectors could gather children to satisfy unpaid debt using any means necessary.
It was too late. Pleading for more time and promising to sell a kidney, she watched as the collector and two armed security guards load her eight year old son into the back of a truck. The boy was crying. He begged not to go. She yelled out his name and cried, “I’ll get you back!”
The Truck Driver
The truck was government- issue, purchased from an army surplus sale. The driver worked as a subcontractor for the Office of Financial Affairs delivering cargo to different Vocational Education Programs around the country. He wore an old tattered shirt and a leather jacket that had seen better days. He smelled of armpit, cigar smoke and fast food.
The driver laughed as he pulled himself into the cab of the truck. His cargo this trip consisted of two dozen frightened children on a one-way trip to hell.
The Diner Owner
The young man behind the counter was tall and lean. His dark curly hair handed down from his mother; “God rest her soul”. With a heavy sigh, he wraps the food-stained apron around his waist. He loathed this place: the counter, the stove, the constant smell of grease. The diner and its associated debt belonged to his dead parents; their lives stolen as they returned home from a friend’s anniversary party by a drunk driver grieving the loss of his cheating girlfriend.
Matt considered abandoning the diner and its associated debt to attend college but his younger brother would suffer the consequences. The boy was only 15, and considered property of his parent’s estate. The Office of Financial Affairs could legally tag the boy as a commodity and sell him into slavery to pay off his parent’s debts. He would not reach the age of independence for three years.
Her entire wardrobe consisted of half a dozen blue waitress uniforms. As a child, she had been a commodity; life was hell. Her teenage years spent on the run fighting to survive in a world that treats children as less than human. Her employment at the diner began at the age of 18. The previous owner and father of the young man behind the counter had been good to her. She cried the day he died.
A member of a secret society of child advocates, she aids runners in evading capture by the retrievers.
He was in his mid-thirties but he looked older. 10 years spent as a retriever of runners had caused not one but two ulcers to develop in his stomach. He wore a black suit as required by the agency. A 9mm .40 cal semi-automatic pistol and a badge rested on his belt. The badge gave him the authority to capture runners. Dead or alive it didn’t matter. He had a quota and he was running behind this month.
The rain pounding on his windshield was making it difficult to see. He pulled into the Diner parking lot. The signal from the girl was weak but she was somewhere in the area. He slapped the side the tracking device a couple of times before giving it a big shake. The damn thing never worked right.
The Waitress Pt.2
The moment the diner door chimed, she knew a retriever had walked in. They all looked the same, black suit, badge and firearm displayed on their belts. This one looked unhappy. Something weighed heavy on his mind.
He walked to the counter and took the first available seat.
“What can I get you?” She asked as she listened for the young couple’s exit thru the backdoor.
“Just Coffee and toast.” he replied as he fidgeted with the non-functioning tracking device. The girl was close. He could feel it. If it weren’t for office budget cuts and a freeze on buying new equipment, he’d have this commodity bagged and tagged for the landfill.
“You look like you could use a hardy meal. The boy in the back makes a tasty breakfast platter. Let me serve that up for you.” She slaps the counter to get his attention. “It’s on the house!”
The diner was a temporary stopping place, a safe haven from the torrential downpour outside. The booth made of old wood was cold and drafty but offered a clear view of the road. Exhausted from their journey, her head of brown curls resting on his tired shoulders she whispers, “I love you”.
The waitress brings the weary travelers two glasses of water and a day old cinnamon bun. The young man scratches his stubbly chin and nods in appreciation. He could offer no more. His pockets were empty.
The waitress sighs, “There would be no tip from this table”. The Young Man
The young man’s tracking device ceased to function the day he turned 18. In a few months, the device implanted at the age of four would break down leaving a small scar, the only evidence of his forced servitude. He stood released from the life of a commodity. The Vocational Education Program that bound him, as slave labor could no longer force him to work. He walked a free man. His life his own, he could travel anywhere, go to college or seek employment. All traces of his life in hell erased from the books, sealed by the courts as governed by law.
The young man looked out the window; the rain slowed to a drizzle. “We gotta go,” he said nudging his girlfriend out of the booth. The Young Girl
Her brown curls were from her drug- addicted mother. Her father unknown, he could have been one of a thousand men. Life as a commodity started at the age of four. If the state penitentiary had welcomed her mother a couple years sooner she might have had a chance at adoption and a good home.
Her days of picking vegetables and daily devotional were numbered. Too old for the needs of the church, the elders had taken her picture and marked her for sale. The caption on the bottom of the Commodity Trade show flyer indicated she was a good reliable worker. She ran away from hell to stay with the young man. Pursued by a retriever, her tracking device still functioned.