The Commission needed a Volunteer, so Carlisle gave them me. My willowy bones were perfect for The Bucket, he said. Plus, I already had the helmet.
I didn’t have the heart to tell Carlisle it was just a novelty, a door prize won at the Grand Opening of a beauty supply store. There was a button you could push to play “Camptown Races” but it was neither the time nor the place.
I was ordered by Carlisle to think about all of the good I would be doing with this Retrieval. I was thanked in advance for my commitment to The Commission in these crucial first few days after The Dissolution.
Rinse cupped his hands under my armpits and lifted so Ernest “Malbec” Redwine could tuck my feet into a pair of fluorescent blue galoshes. Next came the lead apron, festooned with a daisy chain. The latter was handcrafted by the daughter of a Commission chairman during a recent sojourn in The Country, where she reconnected with The Soil for class credit. It was believed that something, anything, borne of the few remaining acres of undeveloped land before The Dissolution had curative properties. I wanted particulars as to what ailed me.
It was hard to say, said Malbec. Too young for gout. SupraOccipital Sunlight Avoidance Disorder (“SO SAD”)?
The Bucket was retrieved from the back of a hearse-cum-Crisis Management Vehicle. It reeked of pine, which was comforting. It meant the scraps of the last Volunteer had been powerwashed into The Sluice and its inner walls were wiped clean with bare, disinfectant-soaked hands, per industry standard. All the top Volunteer sites agreed that if you had to tangle with The Depths, you needed a clean Bucket. The Den Mothers didn’t land on Destiny Beach so you could settle for bush league equipment.
A three-step flight of stairs was provided, and to spare me the embarrassment of asking Rinse and Malbec for a solid. I barely had a leg over the side The Bucket when the mobile crane lowered the graphite hook, almost braining me. Carlisle gave the Operator a dressing down that bordered on sacrilegious but pulled back. For the good of The Objective, Carlisle said.
Handshakes were exchanged with Rinse and Malbec, who insisted they’d see me at tonight’s Retrieval Feast. A request was made that I not wear The New Shirt, The One With All The Beadwork. I made no promises as the mobile crane swung The Bucket ninety-degrees counterclockwise, over The Depths.
I removed the foam pad on the floor of The Bucket so I could make use of the Viewing Glass. As the winch screeched and The Depths swallowed me whole, I waited. The sites said you could see Specks as early as five minutes in, or never.
Thomas Mundt is the author of the short story collection You Have Until Noon To Unlock The Secrets Of The Universe (Lady Lazarus Press, 2011). Additional risk management advice and teambuilding exercises can be found at www.jonathantaylorthomasnathanmundtdds.com.