Damn it, Sean Whitaker thought to himself, shrugging resolutely while he plodded back down the factory lane to get to the janitor’s room he had locked not five minutes before. He had been trying to get a quick jump on leaving early, but, sometimes, when he got too excited, he forgot things. Not that he was stupid, mind you. Not as stupid as they thought he was, anyway.
Sean fumbled his keys from his pocket and unlocked the door, feeling with his hands in the darkened room for his ball cap that he had left behind. He found it perched on a leaning mop handle, swept it up and plopped it on his head. Sean tugged the brim to make sure it was firmly in place, then relocked the door and hurriedly repeated his steps toward the main entrance.
The reason for his quickened pace was because it was simply Friday, and he wanted to avoid the cluster of coworkers that so often made fun of him while he swept up their mess around the machines. Any other day, by the time he reached the empty expanse of the parking lot, it would be deserted, the lingering smell of exhaust and a discarded soda can or two the only evidence that anybody had been there at all. But Fridays were different. Today they hung around purposely, under the supposed guise of discussing what bar they should kick the weekend off at, but Sean knew it was to start the fun a little early at his expense. If he rushed, he could still be well on his way across the parking lot before they gathered.
It was the stutter that did it, that and his own unfortunate circumstance of going no further in his professional life than a measly janitor. The stutter had been a problem his whole life, even in those early days when the future was promisingly vague and open, and had been a constant hindrance between him and making friends. When he was younger, about nine or ten or so, he had attended regular speech therapy classes, but had soon grown bored and quit. Sean also hadn’t cared for his teacher’s attitude, a condescending better-than-you mannerism that verged on contempt for Sean’s inherent disability. So, he quit.
Sean would have loved to quit this job as well, but finding good work was becoming scarce, and the position paid decently well, the factory almost comfortable enough to work in. If only it wasn’t for the damn other workers. Sean looked at his watch, making a beeline toward the swinging doors that led outside, hoping he wasn’t too late. He burst through them, realizing with a sense of dismay that he was.
Brian Tronowski elbowed his friend, David Sowers, the moment he saw the janitor exit the building. He took a final puff of his cigarette and threw it down to the pavement, extinguishing it beneath his heavy work boot. David looked in Sean’s direction, expressing a mischievous smirk. Chris Chambers stopped talking to Danielle Brinson, a vision of beauty even in her dour work clothes, and waved at Sean fetchingly. Chris was the biggest jerk of them all, Sean knew, and he certainly didn’t want to head over there. He pretended not to see them, continuing on his way across the parking lot, purposefully circling around them in a wide arc.
“Where you going, buddy boy?” Chris’s voice rang out in the darkening gloom of a dawning day, the last weekday before the fun of the weekend could officially start.
“I…I…have to…to…go” Sean stammered, his nervousness exaggerating the halting fluidity of his words.
“You…you…do?” Chris asked. A volley of laughter erupted from his friends, even the lovely Danielle, who Sean could admit to no one but himself that he had a crush on. The group steadily advanced toward him, blocking his path to the street.
“Come..Come on…guys,” Sean pleaded. “If…if…I don’t…don’t make it…to…to the bus on time…it…it will go with…with…without me.”
“Awww…” Chris replied, drooping his chin down in a mock gesture of sadness. “We don’t want to do that Seany-boy. Can’t have our favorite retard-“ he made a show of catching himself with an upraised hand to his lips, “I mean, person missing his bus now, can we?” Another choir of laughter followed this.
Sean shrugged, looking at each one of them in turn before fixing his gaze on his run-down shoes. He made a half-hearted attempt to push by Chris, keeping his head down and raising his shoulders. The more solidly built man remained immobile, however.
“Whoa…whoa…Seany-boy,” Chris chided, holding a grimy hand up to Sean’s chest. “It’s the weekend; you have to be in such a rush, even on the weekend?”
“Yes,” Sean simply answered, intently studying the pavement of the parking lot.
There was a light tsking sound as both Chris and Brian shook their heads. “Come on, Seany...” Chris continued. “We were going to invite you to have a drink with us, you know, to celebrate the weekend. How would that be?”
Sean didn’t know how to exactly answer him. He knew that it was a joke, it couldn’t be anything but a joke, but there was no proper reply that he could make to stop the jest. He waited in silence instead.
Chris leaned in close to him, as if to whisper in his ear. “You do understand what I’m saying, don’t you!!” he suddenly shouted, making Sean jump with surprise and invariably setting off another round of laughter among his friends. “No, listen,” Chris commenced after he managed to stifle his own outburst, “I wanted you to come because Danielle here thinks you’re really cute, you didn’t know that, did you?”
Sean glanced at Danielle, privately admiring her big brown eyes, flowing blonde hair, and shapely figure. She pouted her full lips at him teasingly. “If you get her drunk,” Chris pushed on, “there’s a hell of a chance you could be getting some serious pussy tonight, my man.”
More laughter, a few tears rolled down blackened cheeks in unrestrained mirth. “Hey!” David shouted out. “I wonder what you’d be like drunk, Sean. You guys ever wonder?”
“I can only imagine,” Chris stated softly, almost reassuringly. He clamped a hand down on Sean’s quivering shoulder. “What do you say, pal?”
Sean met his gaze directly, his hands relentlessly fidgeting in the pockets of his pants. “Please…please…,” he pleaded, “my…my…bus. I’ll…I’ll…be late.”
“Ahhh!!” Chris acclaimed in disgust. “Go on, then, who needs you? Here we invite you to have a good time, and you diss us. What’s that all about, huh? Go on, you party pooper, go catch your precious bus.” He stepped aside so Sean could pass.
Sean shuffled past him, keeping aware of Chris’s legs, making sure that one of them didn’t suddenly jut out to trip him, which had happened before. This time, thankfully, Chris kept his legs planted where they were, and Sean continued toward the street, breathing a sigh of relief as the others piled in their cars, their destination likely the first seedy bar or roadhouse they came across. For Sean, there was no place like home.
He walked into the small living room of his cramped apartment, still a little angry that he had missed the first bus and had to wait for the next scheduled one to arrive. He did have work to do, after all. Sean removed his ball cap and threw it down on the overflowing stack of Quantum Weekly and Science Today magazines, causing some of them to spill from their precarious perch on the shabby end table and riffle down toward the dusty wooden floor. He ambled toward the makeshift kitchen area, flicking on the fake Tiffany light, and pulled his refrigerator door open with a shudder. Sean selected the taped package of week-old cheese he kept in the crisper, shut the door, and leaned against his meek counter space. He opened the package, scanned the Swiss for any signs of visible mold, and gingerly peeled the first slice from the top, shoving it in his mouth.
When his hunger had somewhat abated, Sean rewrapped the cheese, and placed it back in the refrigerator. Those bastards, he thought to himself in the quiet din of the apartment room. I’ll show them...I’ll show them all. He moved toward the icebox, a necessity that had nearly cost him a full week’s pay, and listened to its steadily chugging motor for a long moment before opening the lid. Wisps of dried ice floated around his outstretched hands and grinning face as he reached down to lift up what was inside.
The bomb was nearly ready; he had just a little more work to do on the fusion core he had personally modified. As of now, it was currently unstable in any temperature above fifty degrees Fahrenheit, hence the reason for the icebox. Sean had quickly calculated that he could work on it roughly fifteen minutes at a time before he had to put it back in its subzero vault. Because of this, it had taken him much longer than he originally thought to complete, but it was nearly done now, almost ready to do his fatal bidding.
Sean carefully, ever so carefully, placed the bomb on the counter and began tinkering around with the coded wiring. He immediately recognized a spot that he would have to cauterize, and went to get his heat gun. I wonder just how much they’d like this little surprise in the locker room, Sean thought along the way. “I can only imagine,” he said out loud, mimicking Chris’s words from earlier. He laughed heartily at this, fleeting images of flying body parts and disemboweled heads, charred beyond recognition, swirling in the void of his mind, sending tears to his cheeks as he laughed even harder.
The bomb waited on the counter for Sean to return from wherever he went to locate the heat gun, ticking softly as it cooled off. Sean was so thrilled to finally complete his long-overdue project, greedily envisioning its disastrous effects, that he had completely forgotten to set the oven timer for fifteen minutes, like he usually did. You see, sometimes, when he got too excited, he forgot things like that.