The room was small and bare. Stephen could touch all four walls without leaving the wooden bunk, and he could touch the heavy pine rafters if he stood up. He could see his breath, but it was warm enough when he crawled into the pile of of bearskins they’d left him. The one tiny window was so badly grimed and scratched that it was more translucent than transparent. It let in thin, wintery light for a few hours every day. The room wasn’t far enough north for total darkness, but the days were short.
The supplies they’d left him were as minimal as the room – a bottle of cheap Polish vodka, a box of no-cook MREs, a wind-up flashlight, a pack of cards.
MRE – Meal Ready to Eat. Three lies in one acronym. Stephen hated those things, would have given anything for a loaf of bread and some butter.
It took him a week to realize why he was losing every game of solitaire. At first he assumed that, like everything else, his luck was down. Then he realized that the deck was missing the king of diamonds.
He spent a couple of days after that realization wondering if someone had done that on purpose – trying to tell him something.
He finished the vodka then.
He didn’t need to come hide in a tiny room this far north in the winter to get the message that they were underfunded. He knew that, all too well. He thought about opening the door, walking off into the snow – let someone else continue the struggle.
But he stayed huddled under the bearskins and waited.
He was running out of MREs when John showed up.