Snakes and Pills

100 - crutch

"It smells horrible," Riccardo said as he pulled back the grate leading to the sewer below. It was quite heavy, so with great relief he quickly let the cover fall off his crowbar. It fell to the ground carelessly, with a loud clang.

"You think it's bad now, rookie. Wait until you get down there," Tommy said gruffly. Tommy was Riccardo's senior by at least twenty years. The odor to him was not even perceptible now. But he could still remember his first day on the job, so he tried to cut the new kid some slack.

Tommy tightened the cinches holding his pack and rifle in place. Flipping his rifle over, he grabbed the charging handle and pulled back on it. A moment later, the rifle gave off its signature hum that indicated it was loaded and ready. A little yellow warning light quickly illuminated as well, reminding the operator that the gun should now only be aimed at that which needed to be obliterated.

Riccardo followed Tommy's lead, and also charged his weapon. Though he had been through the requisite training course, Riccardo was still somewhat clumsy and awkward when handling his equipment.

Nerves might have had something to do with it as well. It was the first time he was readying his rifle to face the enemy for real, and he knew it.

"Ready, rookie?" Tommy asked. Riccardo had too much adrenaline running through his system to take umbrage at the fact that Tommy had not yet ever called him by his name. In truth, Tommy hadn't even bothered to learn his name yet. Tommy had seen too many faces come and go. Let Riccardo earn his name.

The rookie nodded his head. Without another word, he swallowed and took a deep breath. He looked around at his surroundings quickly, wondering if this would be the last time he would see the surface. Then, there was nothing else to do but descend.

He lowered his foot down to meet the first rung of the access ladder. It was slimy, but his boots held on. His other foot moved to the ladder, then his hands, and before he knew it, he was working his way down the rungs to the sewer below.

The stink grew as each rung marked his descent. And, as if related to the immensity of the odor, it was getting darker and darker with each step as well. He hit the solid ground of the sewer unexpectedly, in complete darkness. The smell indeed was horrendous, just as Tommy had warned him. Riccardo was glad he was on solid footing, as it allowed him to double over from the smell of the place.

He might have begun dry heaving were it not for the sudden start he got from his partner hitting the ground behind him. Tommy descended much more quickly than Riccardo had. To him, it was all in a day's work.

"Forgot to turn on your light, kid," Tommy said in an ordinary tone, but Riccardo felt embarrassed enough anyhow. Once again in a clumsy fashion, he fumbled around with his rifle until he had hit the switch that activated the flashlight at the end of the barrel.

At least the world wasn't quite so dark now. But what Riccardo saw was none too reassuring. The place looked disgusting, and the intense stink suddenly made a lot more sense.

"Well, what did you expect a sewer to look like, rookie?" Tommy asked, as if he were reading Riccardo's mind.

Riccardo said nothing in reply, still trying to take it all in. Tommy, though, was having none of that.

"Come on, no time to dilly dally. Our patrol for the day is down in G corridor, so let's get a move on," he said confidently. He began marching off without a moment's hesitation.

Riccardo was quick to follow.


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