A storm, a prison, a relief
The apartment is breathing more, or at least trying.
I was back in my old neighborhood. The house across the street from my parents’ house was where I was staying or looking after. While wandering outside in my pajamas on a muggy evening, enjoying the change to twilight, I began to feel strange. The edges of the sky and the horizon turned black. I am in the eye of the storm, I thought immediately. I noticed others realized it too as they started to panic. My first thought was to get to the safest place possible. I knew it was probably a basement. In my mind, I saw the image of me heading to the basement, but my body didn’t move; a second thought came along: If I am about to die, I want my last moments to be with my family. I headed across the street. My family had lawn chairs set up in the garage and were watching the storm. They greeted me warmly, and I took a seat next to one of my brothers. They seemed awfully jovial considering the circumstances. They made jokes and drank cola and beer. Being in their presence lightened my mood as well. The storm no longer carried impending doom, instead, it promised certainty and maybe a kind of liberation.
We watched people scream and run through the streets; we watched cars zoom by, intent on out-running the storm. Houses were boarded up. The winds knocked over mailboxes and assaulted trees. Structures collapsed; skies turned; the world changed. We sat and laughed and talked. We watched the world fall to pieces, and I was eternallygrateful that the last sounds I heard, before the winds obscured all else, was the unrestricted, bittersweet and honest laughter of my family.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
My brother is in prison; we have to get him out.
I am not sure who “we” are; the names and faces are blurs. Nothing makes sense to me in this world. All I know is that my brother was taken from his home abruptly and thrown into an ancient dungeon with inhumane wardens.
The elusive “they” make a plan. The body count within the dungeon must stay the same. The wardens check numbers, not faces. They forget who the prisoners are, but not their assigned values. They tell me that I have to take his place for a while, until they can wage war on the state and liberate all the prisoners. They tell me it won’t be long. Only a couple of days, I just need to hold out only a couple of days. They tell me that they are more likely to pity a woman. If my brother is in solitary confinement, I just may be lucky enough to go completely unnoticed, completely forgotten.
I say I’ll switch with him to save him from torture.
We locate his cell. There is a high, barred window that we manage to reach and bend or break. We pull him up a rope, and he squeezes through the small space. Lucky for him that he is skinny. I crawl in to take his place. He looks more terrified at the turn of events than relieved. I suspect he would have traded himself for me, but this is what is happening now.
They say they will come back for me as they clasp hands over my brother’s mouth and drag him away. I don’t believe them, but I believe him. I see his eyes full of confusion as he is dragged off and I wonder: Is he imprisoned no matter where he is?
Night turns to day quickly. I notice the details of my cell. All walls in this place are tan; they look to be made of clay and dirt. It smells dusty and dry. The inside of my nose is rough, caked with dust. The sun filtering in through the window fills the cell with gold. The light is bright, harsh but somehow comforting. The shadows remind me of unearthed soil. The air shifts from dry to blood-thick.
The locks on my door are no better than locks on old bathroom stalls. I don’t seem to wonder why they are on the inside. My hands do not touch the lock, but it moves free and the thin wooden door creaks open. Three or four large men are about 20 feet away. They see me; I see them. I quickly close the door and fear men like I was trained to do. Are they going to rape me, beat me, kill me? They are too big for me to fight… The panic lasts for what seems like hours, likely it was only a few minutes. No one comes to the door; no one disturbs or threatens me. I stop fearing; I am ready to escape on my own.
I don’t remember how, but I end up outside. A warden argues with me, trying to pull me back inside. I tell him I am free citizen, and I show him my ID. My name is something that starts with an S. My last name is Woodrow, same as my brother’s, and I think that maybe showing him the ID was the wrong move. He seems unsure so I make threats that I cannot, in any way, back up. “My family has political power. If they find out that YOU threw me prison, you AND your family will live out the rest of your lives in that hell hole.” He lets me go. As I flee, I see a twinkle of recognition in his eye. It is misplaced, though. He is probably wondering to himself why I am switching certain circuits in his brain, why I may seem so familiar. What is it that he is missing that is of the utmost importance right now? I clear the hills, and I am gone from his sight.
I wake up back in the prison. I remember escaping the first time so I know that it happened. I do not question my reality or memory, rather I question the lost time and the way I somehow returned to this place. My first instinct is to escape again. Maybe I try or maybe it is a scene enacted in my head, but they don’t let me off the hook this time. I don’t have my ID. And if I really AM “Woodrow,” then I may be an asset.
I do not fear this place. I leave my cell to walk among the other prisoners. No one really seems to have their own cell unless they choose it. There are some that mill around in empty rooms or halls, others that confine themselves. Some live with 2 or 3 others behind bars, others claim whole rooms as their territory. Some rooms are relatively clean, others reek of human waste and have blood smeared on the walls. Almost all the rooms are empty, no beds, no chairs, no toilet. I walk up and down stairwells that I previously didn’t know existed. The lower levels have far less light and prisoners that were less articulate, more aggressive, more deranged or hopeless.
As I progress downward I notice that the bones and corpses on the floor increase in number and volume. I am not sure how far down these staircases leads. On this level, the corpses are stacked so we are all ankle-deep. Three men stand in a room, breathing heavily, obviously in pain. They are all covered in blood. They have broken appendenges and mutilated faces. They growl and heave insults at each other dispite the fact that they can hardly move. I watch them heal in a very short span of time. They wail as their bones reset and wounds begin to close. The body doesn’t heal completely, just enough to allow them to fight each other more. And they do. As soon as they can move, they attack. They beat each other to pulps and tear at each other’s flesh over and over again. They don’t leave the room.
I walk down one more flight of stairs. It is colder and darker. The air is heavier; it restricts around my lungs so I am wheezing as I reach the landing. As soon as I reach the landing, the climate changes to unbearably humid. I do not step into the room for I fear I may drown in the corpses. The dimensions of the room are hard to judge. The floor looks like it may be 10 feet below the landing. The corpses fill it so they reach what looks to be floor level from where I stand. There are rafters above, but no ceiling. In each corner there are barred off areas to fit one person in standing position. I hear cries from the corner next to me. There are at least four faces I can make out. They look like children, and they are standing on top of one another. There is enough room for them to claw their way to the top, but only enough room for one to stand at the top. The bars run all the way to floor. All the children at the bottom can see are the feet of the others standing above them and the corpses piled in front of them.
From the rafters, there swings a emaciated, blood-stained body of an older man. He is suspended by hooks in Christ-like pose. He seems to have passed out, but I doubt that he is ever relieved from his perpetual suffering.
Turning around, I walk back up through the prison. I no longer know which level I originally came from. I continue walking, and it is getting lighter. The air is getting thinner and cleaner.
I choose a level to visit. Walking in, the atmosphere reminds me of a dorm or academic building on college campuses. The architecture is sturdy and aesthetically pleasing. The people on this level are smiling. They have furniture and food; they have windows and pool tables. Small domesticated animals run throughout the halls.
I am directed to a shower and given new clothes. Dressed in velour shorts and a thin cotton tank, I make my way to a large room with windows for walls. I walk through the first portion of the room where 20-somethings are playing games and watching a documentary. As I walk into the window-room, I see plush neon chairs and a sparkling water fountain. I take a seat on a fuzzy fuchsia chair and wiggle my toes over the fabric.
A familiar face greets me. It is a friend from undergrad. I haven’t seen him in years. He looks younger and his hair is lighter. He is beaming as he hold his arms out to hug me. We laugh and trade stories. Some time goes by and I see my partner walk in the room. He looks relieved, amused and slightly confused. I take his hand and lead him to the fluffy chairs. A few of the crowd starts singing acapella. Their voices rise into the clouds interspersed on a canvas of radiant blue as time drifts by sweetly.
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