In the Silence (Life Prison)
"Images came, like flickers of a candle: Dark stones. Dark metal. Faint fire. A spoon in his hand, as someone urged him to eat. A stinking pit that he knew he was duty-bound to fill. A loom nearby that he vaguely remembered he had once known how to work, but which now stood as silent as the rest of his world."
He can't speak. He can barely see. He experiences only fear and the faint whispers of something he had once known.
But an intruder into his secure retreat from danger will pull him into awareness of what stands before him. What stands there is renewed danger. . . and the hope of something more.
This short story can be read on its own or as a side story in the Life Prison series. Friendship, desire between men, and the costs of corruption and integrity are examined in this multicultural historical fantasy series, which is inspired by prison life at the end of the nineteenth century.
Some of the prisoners began to retreat to the back of their cells, made uneasy by this breaking of the silence. He ought to as well. A prisoner was speaking. A prisoner was shouting. No good could come of this. Nothing could come of this but pain and fear and screaming.
Tears were running down his face now. He gripped the bars hard, trying to figure out what to do. He had emerged from a dream, only to find himself trapped in a nightmare. How could he make it stop?
The solid door opened suddenly. The guard named Sedgewick stood there, breathing heavily. His hair was dishevelled; his jacket was torn; his neck was turning purple. "Get chains," he snapped at Milton.
"Chains?" Turning, Milton gaped at him.
"Chains. From the showers. The manacles on chains that we use when we give the prisoners the cold-water punishment."
"The chains are bolted to the shower walls," Milton protested. "They're attached high up on the walls, above the prisoners' heads."
"Pliers. Stepladder. Be quick about it."
"Sedgewick, it sounds as though you're killing your prisoner. If you kill him, our Keeper will be angry—"
"Go." As the shouts inside the cell reached a new high pitch, Sedgewick slammed the door shut.
Milton looked around the level uncertainly. But in all the cells he glanced at, none of the prisoners were moving. Swallowing hard, Milton retreated to the stairwell.
The shouts from the battle-torn cell were so loud now that he covered his ears. He could still hear the bellow of the prisoner, who sounded like a bull let loose in a ring. "I am going to maul you so badly that you'll never be reborn!" the prisoner was shouting. "Just watch me!"
There was a loud crack. Identifying the sound, he flinched back, as though the whip had landed on him. The only response from the prisoner was another bellow, this time of profanity.
He bit his lip. He had no doubt as to the outcome of this struggle. The prisoner could not hold out against two guards armed with whips and daggers. It was a miracle he had done so already. How long would this last?
How long had it lasted? He glanced briefly over his shoulder at his cell, but it looked just the same as it had the last time he had seen it – had truly seen it.
Only the loom was gone. How had they taken the loom away without waking him from his dream? And how long ago had they done this?
He felt the bars under his hands. Bars. There had been no bars when he last saw this cell – only a solid door. The solid door was still there, but it was an inner door now, open. There were two doors to his cell now, one solid, one barred. The barred one must have been added.
How could they have added a barred door without him noticing it?
Sweat was trickling down his back now. He tried to read the time passed from the amount of ashes next to the fire. But for all he knew, the ashes might have been scooped out a dozen times or more. A whole month might have passed. Or two months?
He put his hand upon his cheek, trying to wipe away the tears that continued to stream there—
And froze. Were those wrinkles he felt next to his eyes?
He was twenty-one years old. How could he have wrinkles?
¶ Available as a DRM-free multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): In the Silence.