His father came home from work, the shattered glass of a beer bottle imbedded in his back. Little brown spikes of glass speckled his shirt. With booze clotting the air, Bradley Apollo lumbered to a chair, feeling heavy and thick. His feet felt numb, catching beneath him with every step.
Holden Apollo watched from around the kitchen door jamb as his father fell into the chair. Bradley, rocking like a man at sea, cast his glassy eyes to his son.
“Get over here, boy.”
Holden flinched, quickly stepping out from behind the door jamb. He loved his father, but the sudden slurred voice broke the boy out of his staring.
“Holden,” his father slouched, his huge shoulders sagging like an abandoned toy.
“Get the bag.”
The boy shuffled to the counter, swinging up his small leg. His little pink hands grappled in the cabinet until he closed around a little velvety handle. Sliding the red bag forward and catching it to his chest, Holden hopped back down, bare feet slapping the floor. He walked over to his exhausted father and, using the second dining chair as a stool, stepped up onto the table.
The boy folded his legs under him and heaved the bag in front of him. The bag sagged. It looked like an exhausted old woman, sighing with the weight of responsibility. Holden rustled around inside the bag, pulling out a small blue box—inside was a reverse cutting needle and sutures.
“What happened tonight, Pop?” Holden’s young voice was casual as if it were a dinner table conversation. In a way, it was. Holden and Bradley were at the little, two-person dinner table that stood like a lone soldier in the wooden kitchen.
“You know Ed? Ed Mercer?”
The boy nodded, stringing the suture through the needle, “Sure, I know Uncle Ed. What’d he do?”
“Well,” Bradley shifted, grimacing as Holden tore his shirt way from the broken glass. “He lost his job this morning.”
“What? At the mill?”
“Yup.” Bradley chuckled, but winced as Holden began, pinching a piece of glass between his thumb and forefinger.
“Ah hell, get the whiskey, boy.”
The whiskey frowned at them from the old, bowed shelf. It looked lonely, standing among a few empty cups. Holden got up, swiping the amber bottle off the sagging shelf. His father accepted it gratefully, downing as much as he could without choking on the trail of fire it left in his throat. Holden began suturing again.
“The mill decided to lay off half the workforce this morning, claiming it was for the benefit of the community.”
The silence that followed marked the end of Bradley’s story. Father and son sat, tending to their tasks—the father with the whiskey and the son with the needle. Holden worked on removing all the glass before suturing.
“Yeah?” He took another hardy gulp.
“Why doesn’t anyone do anything about it?”
Bradley grimaced, “Because the world is full of scum, my boy.”
Holden went quiet as he yanked out a shard of glimmering glass. Blood held thick to the smooth surface, sticky like syrup. Thankfully, most of the pieces had fallen out when Holden tore away the shirt. It wasn’t long before the boy gestured for the amber bottle. Bradley handed it to him, gripping the chair in anticipation for what would come.
Holden emptied the bottle on his father’s wound, to which the grown man growled with clenched teeth. The actual suturing didn’t take the boy long; this wasn’t his first time stitching up his father.
“Do you think I could do something about it, Pop?”
The older man, appearing very weary, looked up to his son. The boy’s hands were a slick red and his young eyes were full of dull ambition. Suddenly sober, Bradley reached up and placed a hand behind Holden’s head. A tired, worn smile showed the father’s lack of hope. The world had broken him, as he knew it would one day break his son.
“In this world, people like us can’t do anything about it.”
Holden didn’t look convinced. Watch me.
His slim, powerful fingers flipped on the light switch, only to be jolted with an angry bolt of electricity. Holden, attempting to get more light so he could finish his final project, ignored the little spark. The rundown house had its quirks, which included a faulty switch that zapped everyone. He laid out the ten-page paper, scratching at his collar. The high school uniform itched, its dark blue fabric rasping against his skin.
It wasn’t long after Holden began working—maybe twenty minutes had passed—when the yellow-cream landline began screaming. Holden, idly procrastinating, eagerly picked up the phone. Any excuse not to do his work was welcome. Plus, it wasn’t due for another twenty-four hours, right? Plenty of time. He put the phone to his ear.
“Hello, is this Mr. Apollo? Holden Apollo?”
“Yessir, this is Holden,” His forehead pulled together, confused. He’d been expecting a telemarketer, not someone who called him by name. There was a popping noise, some static, and hushed voices. The phone was being passed.
“Holden, my boy,” It was Ed Mercer.
“Uncle Ed? What’s up?”
“Holden, it’s your pop. He picked a fight at work.”
Worry began to chill through Holden’s chest, his heart beating faster. Pop always got into little skirmishes, but they rarely warranted a call. The boy shivered, bringing a second hand up to the phone. He held it closer, as if he hadn’t heard Ed right and was listening harder.
Another rustle and crackling noise, but it was still Ed who replied, “I think you should come down to the plant, son.”
Holden dropped the phone into the dock. It didn’t take him long to scramble everything into his backpack, jamming the zipper shut. Slinging it over his shoulder, the echo of house keys remained by the time he was out the door. Holden was on his bike; the ground slipped away, the tires pulling him forward.
Hein’s Electric Plant had been established by Ed Mercer after he lost his job. Bradley quit along with the fired members. It was a day or two later that the Electric Plant opened. They ganged together, all working for the Electric Plant. Since that day eight years ago, Highland County Grain Mill had a vendetta. There had been safety reports, sabotage, and gangs of employees attacking the Plant.
Rocks clattered against metal paneling as the bike skid, abandoned, and clattered to the ground. Holden was already entering the Plant. He cleared the small staircase and ran for the office, “Uncle Ed!”
Sturdy with bush-like facial hair, Ed Mercer peered around a corner. “Over here!”
Voices dropped as they hit the walls, making everything sound short and clipped; all the walls were lined with thick rubber. Holden moved beside Ed and, before he could ask anything, was wrapped in a tight embrace.
“Uncle Ed? Is Pop okay?” His voice sounded faint. He had to be okay—the man could walk home with shards of a beer bottle in his back.
“No, son. He’s not.”
Holden had known. He could feel his father’s loss like a bullet wound in his chest. His heart sped up. The pain was deep and hollow, like a stomach ache. Holden’s breath quickened and he looked at Ed with wide eyes. “Where is he?”
“Upstairs. I’ll have the boys give you a minute before we move him,” Ed grabbed the back of Holden’s neck and pulled him in for another hug.
As soon as the burly man’s arms left his sides, Holden was walking away. His feet carried him like a ghost, all noise absorbed by the rubber floors. Bradley was on a catwalk by a transformer, lying still and prone. Holden lifted his chin as if it would hold back the emotion that burned his eyes.
Holden’s knees felt weaker the closer he got. When he saw the pallor of Bradley’s face, he went numb. From the inside out, Holden couldn’t feel anything. Losing control, he kneeled and bowed over his father. Little blue dots bloomed along the sharp red stains of his father’s jumpsuit. He was crying.
Ed came up. It had been thirty minutes already.
“Where did they go? The men who attacked my pop?”
“The men!” Holden shouted, shoulders trembling.
“I don’t know, Holden.” Ed stepped forward. A look of realization lit his face. “Your father was closing up. Only the front was open and I didn’t see anyone—“
The realization became astonishment. The astonishment became a bloody cough. Ankles bending from beneath him, Ed Mercer crumbled like a stone statue. Four men stood on the narrow catwalk, trickles of scarlet slipping from the knife like tears.
“I’m sorry, boy. We really need our jobs.” Their eyes were desperate and Holden frantically stood, his feet catching beneath him. As soon as he managed to rise, pain blistered in his side. Jolts of clawing electricity scorched the breath from his lungs and every hair stood straight. In a moment, Holden was on the ground, an electrified shard of rebar piercing his side and projecting out both ends. He curled in on himself involuntarily, muscles rigidly electrified.
A fifth man towered over the boy, looking conflicted. It took a moment before the men chose to leave, too guilty to properly off Holden. Instead, unable to navigate past him on the thin catwalk, the fifth man shoved Holden off the side.
Holden fell. The catwalk crossed the generators—mountains of giant metal objects growled with the rush of water. This was one of many sections of the plant: fifty water-powered generators that hooked up to a high voltage transformer. The rebar was clamped with a jumper cable, electrifying it, yet it also prevented Holden from falling smoothly.
He fell, unable to breath from the volts of electricity. The rebar snagged, the jumper cable going taunt and snapping off with a loud pop. Holden gasped, suddenly able to breath short, twitchy breaths. It happened in a matter of seconds until Holden slammed into the ground. The floor wasn’t insulated; instead, it was a thin pool of highly conductive liquid mercury.
Electricity flowed through him, stimulating every cell. Holden’s entire body ached distantly, as if his muscles had been tense for too long. His joints popped and his heart froze. He was acutely aware of being freezing cold, shivering uncontrollably. With a startling stop, everything went deathly still. Holden stared at the iron mountains around him, the growl of motion having stopped. The electricity had stopped, too. Unable to stop himself from shaking and twitching, the boy worked his uncooperative body to his feet. Shoulders bowed, Holden wiped a trail of drool and blood that slid over his lips. Prodding the rebar, his blurry thoughts forced him to rip it out. With the rending of flesh, Holden tore the metal from his side, a cry ripping from his lips weakly. The metal clattered to the ground. Holden stared.
Before his eyes, the wound stitched itself together. Holden choked on a breath and clawed at the hole in his shirt. Tendrils of blue light jumped between his fingers. They spread, crackling and popping, up his arms until his entire body was threaded with little bursts of lightning. An insane smile flashed across his face. He looked up to the catwalk, eyes becoming orbs of white-blue light. Sparks jumped across his skin; electricity crackled between his body and everything conductive in his environment.
Holden Apollo thought back to the men who murdered his father, to the Highland County Grain Mill that hired them, and to the words his father had spoken to him.
“In this world, people like us can’t do anything about it.”
Holden thought of all the towns who “couldn’t do anything” due to oppressive companies. Holden made a vow to wipe them all out.
His doubt told him he couldn’t do it.
A moral conscious told him he shouldn’t do it.