You just never know who you will be sharing a jail-cell with...
|This story was written for a competition.
The picture was shown and a story had to be created involving the picture within 2001 words.
This is my entry - enjoy
15 years of my life; lost, just like that.
The bars of my cell slammed shut with a certainty that echoed around my head. Neither the head-juror's delivered verdict, nor the judge's sentencing had penetrated my denial.
But now, staring at the cold steel, I knew my life was over.
Immediately I noticed I wasn’t alone in my new home. A gaunt form stood listlessly by the window. He faced away from the limited light, casting his face in partial shadow. Multiple scars crisscrossed his arms, but they faded to insignificance compared to the jagged lines circling his bald head.
He wasn’t wearing the same blue overalls I’d just had unceremoniously flung at me. Instead he wore a dirty white vest and torn, non-descript pants. His feet were bare on the concrete floor, but of all the concerns his face showed, this was probably the least.
The only sign that he’d noticed my arrival was a slight movement in his eyes. His face looked dejected, but his eyes still burned with a dark passion. Another ugly scar jutted down his right cheek.
The sort of cellmate you pray you don’t get.
"What's your name, convict?"
His voice was softer than a whisper; yet it penetrated my mind as if he'd shouted. Not answering didn't even enter my mind.
"Name's Brown. Yours?"
An involuntary shiver ran down my spine at having so boldly asked a question back. He didn't seem to notice and ignored it.
"Louie," I replied. He didn't move. "Do you mind if I take bottom bunk?" I added into the silence, gesturing to the dilapidated metal frame.
Again no response.
Neither bed seemed taken, so I nervously took his silence as an okay and dropped my few belongings onto the thin mattress. I sat down, catching the faint odour of industrial detergent from the bed, and decided to try again with my strange cellmate.
"So...er, what's your name?"
His eyes flickered, yet his head never moved from where it rested lightly against the far wall.
Taking this as an opening, I jumped in.
"Good to meet you Pete. How is this place? Screws tough?"
He may have intended to say more but at that moment a siren rang out and a guard's voice floated down.
Repeated clanging bounced around from all directions as other cell-doors slammed shut. Next came the click of lights turning off. It swept down the line like a depressing Mexican wave and without warning the bare bulb in my cell winked out. Only a faint silhouette of the window hinted at anything in the black.
I hastily pushed my belongings underneath the bed, and laid back. My head instantly protested at the hard surface under the woefully inadequate pillow but I ignored it, suddenly sensing movement in the dark. The slightest of creaks sounded, and a weight seemed to settle down in the bed above.
I must have fallen asleep then because the next thing I heard was an identical siren.
My eyes flickered open, revealing my cell lit up by the dubious brightness of day. I noticed nothing else because I was shocked to discover Pete stood in exactly the same place, and position, as the night before.
The eyes flickered and I quickly masked my shock with an exaggerated yawn. With some trepidation I resumed communication.
It was still a soft whisper, the command ringing in my ears. Suddenly it irritated me. I'd tried to be pleasant but all I got in return was half responses and orders.
He seemed to detect my annoyance because before I could reply he said it again.
A slight hiss seemed to be on the end of the whisper this time, but something in his eyes made all thoughts of a retort vanish and I did as he said.
The blue overalls were exactly that, and whilst I preferred them to the black and white stripped PJ suit you see in old movies I knew I'd soon hate them.
Almost instantly after I finished dressing, the siren went again, followed by the now expected guard's voice.
"CELLS OPEN, MOVE OUT."
With a massive clanging of gears the doors slid open in pairs. I moved to the front and saw that the tenants of each cell immediately stepped out and stood in line facing down the block to the left. My own cell door sprang to life and I jumped back in surprise.
"Better get out there." The whisper made me jump almost as much as the door had
I turned around to find Pete still stood by the wall.
"You not coming too?"
Silence greeted me, but I heard a guard shouting and ran out my cell. I wasn't going to get in trouble just because I had a cellmate who was on some kind of protest. At least that seemed the only explanation.
I quickly learnt the prison routine. Sirens, orders, more sirens and more orders. If you understand English then you can't really go wrong in jail. That is until 'freetime' when you have to spend time with the other prisoners. My first experience of 'freetime' came after lunch.
We were paraded out to a square, roughly 50m each side, and surrounded by the expected concrete walls. There must have been about a hundred of us. Within seconds, I realized my cellmate was nothing compared with some of the brutes I could see. At least four stood out like man-mountains, and many more could easily snap me if they were so inclined.
Unfortunately, in jail, most require only the slightest reason to be so inclined.
One of the mountains materialized in front of me almost the second the guards disappeared. My first thought was of death, followed swiftly by just how lucky I was to have Pete as a cellmate. Despite the scary voice and the eyes, he was a skinny little thing that probably couldn't do me any harm.
"Ahar a new 'un. Who are you, runt? What could you have done to get put in 'ere?"
I'd faced this sort everyday of my life. I had to be strong.
"Louie Brown, murder."
I hadn't murdered anyone. But he didn't need to know that. I was a county judge that got caught embezzling a few hundred thousand tax-payers' dollars. Typical cliché, I got greedy, I got caught.
I forced a tough-look on my face. His small eyes screwed up as if thinking, although it seemed to cause him a lot of effort.
"You ain't killed no one. I recognize you..."
My heart did a back flip as I, in turn, recognized him. How could I have forgotten him! Multiple homicides in a grueling holdup with hostages that went very wrong for all involved. Over half the hostages were killed out of desperation to get the escape transportation they wanted from the authorities. I'd taken pleasure putting him away in this hell hole. Too bad I was now here too.
"...you that fucking Judge that sent me here instead of the federal playpen I was promised if I cooperated."
He struggled with the word 'co-operated' and spat it out like it tasted bad.
I woke up lying in my bed in my cell. I felt like I'd fallen off a cliff and then the cliff had fallen on top of me.
"Been having trouble?"
The almighty whisper hammered through my mind as I tried to dredge through my hazy memory.
"What happened?" I appealed.
"Someone hit you," came the reply as if explaining the answer to one plus one.
"Oh," was all I managed. I was alive though. The Mountain had hit me yet I was still alive! My brain started working and I managed to lift my head off the pillow and look at Pete. I wasn't surprised to find him still stood exactly the same, although his eyes had a softer light to them. I went to ask how I'd arrived back here but his voice assaulted my senses once again.
"Who was it?"
"Some thug, I'm not sure who." I responded without thought. Then my tortured head somehow came up with a name from my past life. "Stockton," I whispered. "Michael Stockton."
"Would you like me to take care of him for you?"
Such a long sentence in the whisper-scream made me wince and I laid down again. What did he mean?
"Erm sure. That'd be great?"
I looked sideways and his eyes were suddenly hard again, and burning into me.
What was he on about?
"Yes?" I ventured.
The siren rang and I was plunged into darkness. Again I felt the slight weight above, and again nothing until the siren the next morning. With little surprise I found Pete once again in place by the wall.
I felt pretty good, and got dressed quickly. Pete made no effort to speak and I left for breakfast.
It didn't take more than a few minutes to spot that the routine was broken, despite only being here a day. Guards ran around urgently, whispering to each other. By the time I arrived in the breakfast hall I had discovered one of the inmates had been found dead in his cell. A few minutes later I found out the name.
The day went by in a blur, and 'freetime' was spent stood in a daze. No one came anywhere near me. I hadn't seen Pete anywhere, not even at meal times. Finally it was time to go back to our cells. I watched everyone in the queue and saw no sign of Pete. As such, I wasn't surprised to find him in place against the wall when I made it to my cell. Maybe he had a deal with the guards? Special privileges? I suddenly didn't want to know.
His eyes flickered to me at my arrival, but he said nothing. I tested the water.
"Er..thanks for taking care of Stockton."
Silence. I persisted.
"No one bothered me today."
More silence. My true thoughts broke out.
"THE GUY WAS DEAD IN HIS CELL. HOW DID YOU KILL HIM DURING THE NIGHT?" I exploded. I was shocked at my own volume, it echoed down the block and I feared the reaction of the other inmates. They didn't make a sound.
Nor did Pete.
On schedule the siren rang and the lights went out.
I sat on my bed in the dark. I couldn't see Pete. His eyes suddenly appeared in front of me, just inches from my face and burning a bright red.
I let out a startled yelp, but no sound came out. I tried to push myself back, away from the eyes, but I couldn't move either.
"Mantoswawim," he whispered.
The wall is smooth against my head but such thoughts barely concern me any more. With Pete's 'moving-on' much understanding passed to me. I am now sentenced to far longer than fifteen years. I will stand here, with my head against the wall, until a cellmate agrees to swap with me.
Pete had done me a favor. And without realizing, I had agreed to my end of the bargain. The restrictions on the curse meant speech was severely limited, but a 'yes' was all he needed from me. He'd explained as well as he could but he couldn't explain any more.
He has gone now, and instead my spirit is left to occupy the curse. He killed me of course. Twisted my neck around with one flick of the wrists. Nasty stuff, but holding on to emotions, anger, is impossible now. It drifts through me and slips through my grasp like an eel. I just want to rest.
I need to work on my new cellmate. He's been having trouble with one of the guards. Maybe he'll deal, otherwise I'll just have to kill him and wait for the next one. I carefully frame what I have to say to him, I know it will be distorted by the curse.
"Man to swap with me."