Tag Archives: prison

Rapacious – Friday Fictioneers

This is a hard week for me and I found this picture rather hard to turn into a good story. While pondering various story lines, I was musing over the idea of flash fiction. Rochelle, in her rules for the Fictioneers, always says that the challenge is to “Write a one hundred word story that has a beginning, middle and end.” I’ve been religious with the 100-word rule but I’m sure I’ve broken the beginning-middle-end rule quite a few times, although I try. What I also try to do is: 1) make sure there is some conflict and 2) make sure the characters want something. Without these, especially conflict, it’s not a story, it’s only a scene. Of course, Rochelle makes sure to point out that no one is ostracized for breaking the 100-word and she is very forgiving with other rule bends too. And now, on with the story…

copyright Danny Bowman

copyright Danny Bowman

Rapacious

The Mountain is killing me. I feel the life leaching from me into the pitiless walls. The Mountain claims all: innocence, youth, health, time. The walls are fat with my wasted years.

I knew it would take my life, but I vowed it would never take ME. I feel it, though, clawing at my soul. The ME is slipping away, no matter how much I clutch it.

When they bury me, write no name on the headstone, for what they bury is not me, but merely the husk of what the Mountain has devoured.

(found scratched into a prison wall)

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The Golden Circle – Sunday Photo Fiction

A piece for Al Forbes’ Sunday Photo Fiction.

copyright Alastair Forbes

copyright Alastair Forbes

The Golden Circle

“He’s the king.”

“We can’t trust him.”

“But he’s the king.”

“He killed eight people.”

“He’s the king.”

In the nation of Vallakha, there was no way to remove a monarch. He was installed by God and was above the law. So when King Jerome III began roaming the palace halls, killing servants and courtiers, there was intense discussion about to what to do.

“Execute him?”

“Impossible.”

“Imprisonment?”

“He controls the prisons. Nothing is higher than the king, except God himself.”

“Nothing but God . . .”

On the first day of summer, the king was imprisoned in his bedroom, surrounded by golden bars, which were blessed and made part of the Church. His guards were priests. His rule remained absolute through the whole nation, except for a circle, four inches wide, that surrounded him.


The Prison Key – A thought exercise

There was once a prisoner named Harry. He did not like prison (of course), but had gotten used to it. He stayed out of trouble and was mostly liked by both the prisoners and guards. One day, one of the guards retired and stopped by Harry’s cell.

prison cell

“I got a present for you,” he said. “You know that door at the far end of the cafeteria that’s always locked? It leads to E Block, which has been closed down for years. The far end of E Block is open to the outside. If you go through that door, you can escape.” He handed Harry a key.

“Why are you doing this?” Harry asked, taking the key in amazement.

The guard shrugged. “You’re a nice guy and I don’t care anymore. Just don’t tell anyone I gave it to you.” He told Harry how to evade the guards and leave without being noticed. Then the two shook hands and the guard left.

The next day, Harry thought about escaping. But, it was raining so he put it off until the next day. The next day as well he put it off. Finally, he hid the key in his room. Ten years later, he was released. On his last day, he handed the key to his roommate and told him the story.

“Are you crazy?” the man asked when he’d heard the story. “You could have left at any time in the last ten years and yet you stayed here? You suffered the bad food and the loneliness when you could have seen your family or eaten home cooked food? Why would you remain in captivity?”

Harry smiled. “But I wasn’t. From the moment the guard gave me the key, I had the ability to leave and so I was free. You’re only in imprisoned if you can’t leave, but I could have left at any time.”

keys

Do you agree with Harry? Is freedom being out of captivity or can it be simply having the option to leave captivity? Let me know what you think.


The Jailer’s Dilemma, Part 2 of 2

(continued from Part 1)

Crowfeather was almost asleep when he heard a key turn in the lock of his cell. The door opened and an uncovered lantern shone light on the face of his father, the head jailer. The older man stepped aside from the door and motioned him out.

“Come on, son. I volunteered for the first watch tonight; no one else is around. You can leave and no one will stop you.”

Crowfeather stood up but did not approach the door. “Why are you doing this?” he asked. “They will kill you.”

“It is my guilt to bear, son,” the jailer said. “Your crimes are because of me and although I tried to evade them with the name O’Keefe, I will always be Henry Robins: your father and a thief.”

“I have not seen you in many years,” Crowfeather persisted. “You are not to blame for everything I have done since then. You were right when you said that you did not teach me to counterfeit. I am a man now, father. I can stand on my feet, as you see.”

“If you will not go for justice, then go as a last gift to your father,” the jailer said. “Go and reform your ways. It took a ruined knee to teach me honesty, but it will not for you, I hope.” He tossed a small pouch to Crowfeather, which clinked as he caught it.

“Come with me then,” Crowfeather said, moving towards the door at last. “There is no reason why you should stay here to undergo punishment. Let us go together.”

The jailer was already shaking his head, a sad smile on his face. “I would just slow you down, and in any case, the guilt must be paid. Go and sin no more. I will stay.”

dungeon

*         *         *

Crandell, the deputy jailer came in to take the second watch of the night and found the head jailer not at his post. He walked the corridors and saw that the last cell door was slightly ajar. Inside he found the head jailer, sitting alone on the stone bench.

“Where is the prisoner?” Crandell asked in alarm.

“He is gone. I let him go. He was my son.”

“You are mad, sir! This is treason. You will be put to death.”

“Even if they transfer his punishment to me, I will take it calmly,” O’Keefe said.

“Do not even say such things,” Crandell said. “I would glad kill you here with my sword before I let you go through something that terrible.”

“Do not do that,” O’Keefe said. “Then the guilt would pass to you, since it would be seen as the murder of an innocent man. No, let me do this: the guilt must be paid.”

*         *         *

A month later, in a city fifty miles away, a man walked into an inn looking for work.

“What your name?” the innkeeper asked, sizing the man up with a critical look.

“Gabriel Robins,” the man said. “I just came in from the hill country. I can do anything you need me to do. I’m just looking for some good, honest work.”

“Well, there’s plenty of that around here. You can get to work mucking out the stables, if you wish. Hey, if you’ve just come from the hills, you must not have heard the news about the king’s head jailer. They beheaded him a week or so ago after he released one of his prisoners. They say his face shone with joy right before the axe came down. Do you know what his last words were?”

“What?”

“He said, ‘May God bless him.’ Now what do you think of that?”

 


The Jailer’s Dilemma, Part 1 of 2

“Sir, we just received a new prisoner. He’s under penalty of death.”

The head jailer Joseph O’Keefe nodded. “What’s his name?”

“They couldn’t find out his real name, but he calls himself Crowfeather. He—sir, are you okay?” The guard stepped forward, seeing the jailer sway suddenly, but O’Keefe waved him off.

“It’s just my knee.” He sat down, massaging his knee and not daring to look up in case his face betrayed anything. “Get out of here, would you. I’ll go check on the prisoner.”

The guard left and a moment later O’Keefe stood up and limped slowly down the dank stone corridor, all the way down to the Cells of the Condemned. He had never known it to take so long and his heart was pounding so painfully it felt as if his arteries were filled with acid.

Peering through iron bars, he saw the prisoner sitting in a pile of moldy straw. He did not see the baby that he had bounced on his knee or the little boy he had taken to market that first time. There was only a prisoner.

“Crowfeather?”

The prisoner looked up. “Yeah?”

“I like Gabriel Robins better.”

The prisoner was on his feet in an instant, his fists clenched. “How do you know that name?” O’Keefe looked at him steadily and watched as recognition grew on his face and the anger drained away from his expression. “Father. So this is where you ended up.”

“And this is where you ended up,” O’Keefe said. “What did they catch you doing?”

“Counterfeiting.”

A thrill of horror went down O’Keefe’s spine. “Counterfeiting!” he hissed. “Are you mad, boy? Do you know what the punishment is for that?”

The prisoner shrugged. “Death is death in the end, no matter how you get there.”

“I have witnessed many executions and not all deaths are created equal. Men would give all they had to choose their death; to avoid the one coming to you.”

The prisoner sat down again, shrugging in defiance. “So, did you come here to gloat? To say I was stupid? You taught me to do this, after all.”

“I never taught you to counterfeit!”

“No, you only taught me to steal, to pickpocket, to hold a crossbow to a man’s throat while our friends took his horse and everything he owned in the world. How is that much better?”

O’Keefe put his forehead against the wood of the door. His knee was throbbing.

“Father,” the prisoner said. “What happened that day at Hind’s Crossing, when the ambush went bad? You disappeared and we thought you were dead.”

There was a moment of silence before O’Keefe spoke. “After they counterattacked, I knocked one of the soldiers down with my staff. I thought he was out, but he crushed my knee with his mace. I killed him after that, but then fell into unconsciousness. After the fighting, when you and the lads had fled, I woke to find myself bandaged and lying on a stretcher. There were two groups of pilgrims in the party we ambushed and both thought I was part of the other one. They carried me with them, all the way to this city where I slowly healed, at least as much as possible. I changed my name and got a job as a jailer.”

“Why didn’t you try to find me?” the prisoner asked.

“It was too far for me to travel like this, and even if I had, I would have been a burden on you. I have found a better way, through my suffering.”

“When is the execution scheduled?” the prisoner asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Will you come to it, to see me?” For a moment, O’Keefe heard a touch of the boy he had known in the prisoner’s voice, the child looking up to his father for assurance and advice.

The jailer stifled a groan and punched his fist into the door. The physical pain seemed like a blessing compared the torture filling his mind. “How could I go? How could I watch them do that to my only son?”

“What will you do then?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know.” O’Keefe turned and shuffled back down the long hall to the guard room. His knee was screaming at him by now, the pain shouting accusations.

dungeon

The deputy jailer William Crandell was in the guard room when O’Keefe entered. They nodded at each other in professional acknowledgement.

“William, the new prisoner—do you know when the execution will be?”

“The counterfeiter? Yes, I just received the news. It will be in two days. They need time to fill and ready the cauldron.”

O’Keefe gave a quick nod and turned to hide his long, shuddering breath. He had only seen one execution that had involved that squat, black cauldron. The images were burned into his memory, and now his mind unwillingly combined the iron monstrosity with the tiny tin basin he had used to wash little Gabriel in front of the fireplace. The little boy had splashed and laughed, spilling water on the dirt floor. In O’Keefe’s mind, he could see the water thickening into oil around the small boy, the surface swelling and bursting in sickening pops as the oil began to boil.

(to be concluded in Part 2)


The Universe of Five

This story was inspired by the picture for this week’s Friday Fictioneers. I was originally going to use this story idea, but it proved to way too long, so I wrote it up properly here. I feel like I should continue it, but I don’t want to dilute the original story theme. Read it and let me know what you think.

cogs

She counted to five, because there were only five things in the tiny cave that was her whole world.

  1. The Bed, where she slept.
  2. The Hatch, where her food and water appeared while she slept.
  3. The Hole in the floor where the smelly stuff went that came out of her body.
  4. The Wheel. The Wheel was her life. She turned it in long, slow revolutions, around and around and around.
  5. The Light that was built into the ceiling and illuminated her world in a sickly yellow glow. When it came on, she got up and ate and began to turn the Wheel. When it went off, she went to sleep.

It was not a life without thought, but it was a life of small thoughts. She was not sure how she had ever learned how to turn the Wheel, or why she turned it when the Light came on. That was just life. She did not worry about how her food got there; the process was invisible and did not warrant thinking about. All that was real was in her small cave.

She counted obsessively. “1: the Bed, 2: the Hatch, 3: the Hole, 4: the Wheel, 5: the Light. 1: the Bed, 2: the Hatch . . .” She did not count with words—she knew no words—but only saw the images in her mind as she went through the list. She did not count her food. It was there, but then she would eat it and it would disappear and become part of herself and so ceased to be truly real. She did not even count herself. She could see her body, but it disappeared out of sight around her chest and shoulders. Her head was invisible to her and anything that was invisible was not truly real. So she moved like a ghost through her world of five real things.

Time was binary: there was dark and then there was light. The dark was the empty place, when things ceased to be real. Then the light came again and the world was recreated. Every time the Light came on, she would get up, count the world, and then eat. Then she would squat over the hole, and then begin to turn the Wheel. She had no memory of past events, because all events were the same.

universe of 5

Until the dark time when the Light did not come on.

She became aware of lying on the Bed in a world of nothing. This happened sometimes, but then the Light would come on. So she lay there and waited. The next thing she noticed was an uncomfortable feeling in her body. She needed to eat, and to squat.

She wondered if the food was there. That was impossible, since the Light wasn’t on. A thought occurred to her. Was the Hole there? It was a strange thought and at first she dismissed it. The Light wasn’t on, how could it be? But maybe it was like the Bed. The Bed winked out of existence with everything else when the light went out, but it still cradled her formless body as she slept. It had a sort of dark form. Could the Hole have that too?

After a few heartbeats, she crawled forward and felt the floor beyond the Bed. She kept moving and her probing hand felt the floor disappear in a small circle, just like the Hole. By now, the urgency in her body was frantic and despite the absurdity of the situation, she positioned her invisible body over the non-existent Hole and squatted.

When she was finished, she wondered if the Wheel was there. Did everything have a dark form? She moved forward and found the Wheel. She could even turn it. The idea of turning an invisible wheel seemed ludicrous to her and she laughed.

It seemed obvious now, but it had never occurred to her before. Everything must have a dark form. But already her mind came up with an objection. How could the Light have a dark form? It was a contradiction. That, at least, must be impossible.

She made her way to the Hatch and found that it was there, but with no food or water. That made sense, since the food came with the light, but she could not understand why her body wanted it so much. Noises came out of her middle. There was an indentation inside the Hatch where the food always appeared. She felt around with her hands, but nothing was there.

While probing with her hands, she found a small opening further up. She put her arm through it and continued to probe. She felt a dark form she had never known before—smooth and hard with small bumps. There was a bigger bump and when she pushed on it, part of the Hatch fell away and she tumbled forward, through the hatch and out of her known world.

It was still totally dark, which was almost comforting. It meant it was still like a dream. Perhaps it was a dream. She started walking, hands out in front, seemingly floating through an abyss of emptiness. Walls came up against her touch, but she floating around them, letting them effortlessly guide her progress.

She walked in a sort of reverie and it was a shock when she realized there was light up ahead. It was not the Light, but a different light. This was grey and faint, unlike the dull, yellow Light that she knew. It kept getting stronger until she saw that she was in a cave that was very long. All along the sides were things that looked like the Hatch. She could not count them, but there were more than five.

Ahead of her was a kind of floor that went up. It was the shape of the Hole, but much bigger. The light was coming from it, far, far above. The pain in her middle drove her on and she walked, up and up in a circle, going towards the light.

She came to the top, where there was something like a large hatch and something like a very small wheel on it. It turned like the wheel and then the large hatch opened. Light poured in.

It was a cave without walls, huge beyond imagining and filled with light and far, far too many things to count. The size, the colors, the numbers all overwhelmed her. She wanted to run back and hide, but she stood as if frozen, trying to take in this whole new world at once.

*         *         *

Captain Nuris piloted the jump-craft just above the blasted landscape, surveying the site of their victory. Not much was left; the enemy capital had been fire-bombed into oblivion. Smoldering wrecks and piles of rubble showed where the once powerful city had stood.

“No signs of life yet, Captain,” his navigator said. “Wait. There’s someone over there. It’s a woman, I think, but naked and filthy. Just look at that tangle of hair! How do you think she survived?”

Nuris stopped the jump-craft and looked over at the figure, standing frozen in front of a door. Behind her, a massive building lay in shattered ruins. “Must be one of the Cogs that powered the machinery,” he said. “This was a manufacturing plant here, I think.”

“I thought they were supposed to be non-intelligent?”

“Well, this one had enough sense to escape.”

“What should we do: pick her up or leave her?” the navigator asked.

“It’s been three days since the bombing—she’s got to be hungry. If she’ll come with us, we’ll take her.” He turned the jump-craft and started towards her.


Fantastic Travelogue #3 – The Light in the Woods

Sometimes you have some amazing adventures you just have to tell everyone about. Read the rest of this account here.

 

The worst part about being locked up all day is not being able to go to the bathroom. This wasn’t a dank prison cell I was confined in: it was a nice parlor with polished wood floors and walls covered with a pale pink, fibrous paper. It held nowhere where a civilized person could even hope to respectfully relieve themselves. At that moment, I had just eaten as much as I wanted to of the meal and was feeling very comfortable, but I did not count on that feeling lasting.

I knocked on the door some more and tried calling, but no one answered. Finally, I sat down and looked at the signboard above the door. I had noticed it when I was eating but now I stared at it and tried to make some sense of it. It looked like Chinese, but the characters were a lot more curvy than what I was used to. From what I could tell, it meant “the fortress of the rising light” which would have been typical of the grand and lofty names of most Korean palace buildings.

Name Board

Things were getting urgent in the bathroom department and finally I started pounding on the door, calling out in every language I knew just to let me out for a moment. The door opened without warning and the head woman stood in front of me, holding two fingers to her mouth. When I started to speak, she put the fingers on my lips, which shut me up quick. She evidently perceived my distress in my expression and in my stance since she made a little noise of comprehension and slammed the door in my face. The young woman I had met in the forest opened the door and put a earthenware pot on the floor along with a small basket of freshly-picked leaves. She gave me a smile and then shut the door again.

Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do, and I did what I had to do. The rest of the afternoon, I moped around, wishing I had a book at least. A couple times, one of the women would open the door a crack to push in a tray with water or some fruit on it. They were at least running a hospitable prison.

Dark Room

I must have dozed off because I woke up to find the room much darker. Peering through cracks in the shutters, I could tell that the sun had set outside. I could hear shouts and cries and some of them sounded male to me. The men are back, I thought, unsure if I was relieved or not.

I stuck my hand out the small window and managed to push the wooden shutter out a little. It was fastened at the bottom, but I could move it enough to see through a crack between them. There seemed to be bonfires built around the village and by the dancing red light, I could see the outline of the nearby houses and the dark wood looming up beyond them.

At that moment, a burst of white light erupted from within the forest. It coalesced into a pillar of white light that shone straight up. It’s a spotlight, I thought. It was coming from the area of the large stone ring and I realized that they must have been preparing for a concert or something there. Why they would need to lock me up to keep me out of the way, I wasn’t sure, but they had been nice enough to me besides that.

A ball of light flew away from the pillar of light and moved horizontally through the forest. Okay, that’s weird, I thought. More and more erupted and flew here and there. Some of them came over the houses and rested on the tips of the roofs. Ball lightning was the only thing I could think of. I’d never seen it, but I had heard that it acted crazy. An orb of light came towards me scuttling along the ground, but it missed the building and kept going.

A sound like a scream came from the forest. It could not have been human though, because it was constant in pitch and grew slowly in volume, until it sounded more like the roar of a jet engine. Shadows were being thrown around in the forest, as if things were dancing in front of the light pillar.

I sat down on the floor and pulled my knees up to my chest. Suddenly, I was just tired of being there. All I wanted was to go home.


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