The summer after high school was the hardest I have ever worked in my life. I was working overtime and weekends at the Footlocker warehouse. Unlike my other friends who were working there for the summer, I got placed in shipping and receiving. I spent most of the days inside a dirty disgusting big rig packed to the gills with boxes upon boxes of sneakers. We would unload the trucks onto a metal slide and put them onto palettes. That meant these palettes were about 10 feet high. Each box had to get scanned before it was taken off the truck. We had an efficient system. Two guys were in the truck throwing boxes onto the line as two full-timers used the scanners to check in each box. The rest of the crew feigned being busy. This old guy would just lean on the palette jack waiting for the boxes to get stacked, complaining about how hot it was and how things would be different if he was white. Since it was a warehouse a large portion of the people who worked there were temporary.
Kids working there for the summer, recovering addicts, and people on work release. A guy named AJ who had done five years for hearsay as he told it, became a good friend of mine. You see only full timers and summer kids could use the scan guns. They didn’t trust temps to use them and not steal them. This didn’t go over well with many of the temps, who were also upset we got paid more. It really isn’t their fault they went to jail, right? AJ had a barcode tattoo on the back of his neck that I would scan whenever his back was turned. He used to hate that. Every morning I’d stagger into work at six in the morning and he’d already be in the truck. I’d reach the opening of the truck and I’d hear a voice echo out of the belly of the beast. Out of the dark depths, I’d hear, “Fucking Andy’s coming.” It was AJ mimicking Chucky from Childs Play. I remember one day inviting him to eat lunch with me and my friends.
Anyway, one day we had just got done with a long work week and we were hanging out at Eric’s. We were looking for ways to make some extra money. We made decent money at Footlocker, but when one of your history books cost $200 alone, we needed something extra. Eric was looking through the classifieds when he stumbled upon a notice that would change my life. “Chicken Catchers Wanted.” That is all it said except for the number below it. What is a chicken catcher? We asked ourselves.
Did they set traps? Did they use weapons or nets? Did they camouflage themselves and trudge out into the wilderness in hopes of bagging a big one? We were curious. Eric called the number and a woman answered on the other line. “Hello?” She answered brusquely as if she was doing ten things at once. “Quiet!” She yells to the apparent house full of kids she had running around her during this conversation. Eric asked her about the job to which she replied, “Are you sure you guys wanna do this?” That should have been our first hint that something was wrong. She said all we would need was a pair of gloves. Then she told us a van would pick us up by the McDonalds on Front Street in Harrisburg. We dressed in the most stereotypical redneck gear we could find and prepared for the worst. We even got a can of chewing tobacco at the gas station to get us in the mood. Me, Eric, and our boy Pete sat on the hood of the car and talked about the upcoming night. You see she told us the van would pick us up around midnight. As I was entertaining the boys with my best Larry the Cable Guy impersonation a white passenger van rolled up. A woman in the driver's seat rolls down the window and glares at us. I’m serious. She just stared at us. Didn’t say a word. It was obvious to her that we were the guys she was picking up. We walked around and slid open the door of the van. POW. A mushroom cloud of some type of fecal death spray saturated our eyes, mouths, and noses. The only thing weirder than the smell were the men originating it. Four rows of bench seating had one guy a piece. Two were passed out. One was rolling something into a cigarette. The last stared out the window apparently hoping that someday this all would end.
They were all covered in dirt or shit. I’d like to say dirt, but I know it was shit. I sat next to stargazer and kept my mouth shut. A few minutes into the ride and my phone vibrates with a text. It’s from Pete. It read: “Turn around.” I turned around. Eric was puking into his spit filled Gatorade bottle. The smell must've got to him. Maybe it was nerves. Maybe it was the fact that a van was driving us deep into the Pennsylvania wilderness in the middle of the night. People don't come back from stories like this, I thought. TO BE CONTINUED...