Monday, April 1, 2019
By Daniel Skye
The kid couldn’t have been a day over 19. And there he was, locked in with all the other animals: The rapists, the dope pushers, the child molesters, the cold-blooded killers.
He sat in the rec room, minding his own business, avoiding eye contact, ignoring the verbal harassment that the veteran prisoners spewed in his direction.
A short, stocky man in an orange jumpsuit walked past, looking the kid over like a piece of prime rib. “Fresh meat,” he said, licking his dry, cracked lips. Since his arrival, he’d heard the mutterings of the other prisoners. Fellow prisoners referring to him as “fish” or “bait” or “fresh meat.” One guy even called him a “prag”, a term he wasn’t sure he wanted to familiarize himself with, especially if it was what it sounded like.
“What’s your name, kid?” the man asked as he sat down next to him. The man was tall, well built. He spent a lot of time in the prison gym and out in the yard. He sported a livid, vertical scar across his right cheek. Dark, shaggy hair that covered his ears and concealed his thick eyebrows. But not long enough to cover the scar. But the man didn’t mind showing it off. The scar gave him street credit, something that was invaluable inside those prison walls. You can’t buy street credit. It’s earned.
“Julian,” the teenager said.
“I’m Eric. Eric Church. Don’t think of me as a friend. I won’t be around long enough.”
“Where are you going?”
“Tomorrow they’re moving me down to solitary.”
“I requested it. I have an uncontrollable temper. My anger gets the better of me. When I get angry, bad things happen. I can’t control myself.”
“Like the Incredible Hulk?”
Eric chuckled harshly. “Sure thing, kid. Let me give you a few pointers. A few words of wisdom, if you will. First, get used to the routine. Find your routine, and stick to it every day. It’s the only thing that’s going to distract you and help you pass the time. Second, find your group and stick with them, watch each other’s backs. Third, stay away from the bikers and the Aryans. They will chew you up and spit you out, sodomize your ass six ways from Sunday, then stomp you out and piss on your remains. You speak Spanish, kid?”
“Learn that shit. The Latinos are always plotting all kinds of shit behind your back. Keep your eyes in every direction. Never let your guard down. Always be alert and aware of your surroundings. Keep your back to the walls as much as possible. And seriously, don’t step out of line with anyone. The new guys always want to establish a reputation. They go after the biggest dog they can find in the yard. That shit works in the movies, kid. It never works in real life. You pull that shit and you’re gonna end up getting air-holed in the shower one day.”
“Shanked. And don’t be depending on the CO’s to protect you or save your ass, either. They can’t watch you twenty-four-seven and half of them are corrupt. A few of them takes bribes to look the other way. They’ll conveniently be on the other side of the yard, interacting with or reprimanding other prisoners, or they step away from their post a few seconds to take a leak, get a cup of coffee. Don’t trust them and don’t depend on them.”
“Yeah, establish a good relationship with your cellmate. Your cellmate can be your best friend or your worst enemy.”
“How long are you here for?”
“How long is the average life expectancy?”
“You’re a lifer?” The kid had only been behind bars less than forty-eight hours and he was already picking up on the lingo.
“Without the possibility of parole,” Eric added.
A CO poked his head in the door of the rec room. “Alright, maggots, back in your cells. It’s eleven o’clock. Lights out.”
Eric got up and waved good-bye to Julian. “Well, kid, best of luck to you.”
Eric Church was transferred to solitary the next morning. Solitary was a six-by-eight foot cell with no bars; just a solid steel door that locked from the outside. There was a thin slot in the center of the door for Eric to receive his meals. He wasn’t allowed to join the other prisoners for lunch or dinner, wasn’t allowed rec time, wasn’t allowed to wander free in the yard or exercise in the gym. Eric couldn’t even catch a glimpse of the sun. But this was what he had requested.
The cell contained a cot with a thin blanket and a single pillow, a metal toilet and an attached sink. The toilet bowl was so narrow and the water was so low, he couldn’t even drown himself in it if he wanted to.
He spent his day reading books he snagged from the prison library, doing pushups and sit ups, and counting down the time with an invisible clock.
Sweaty from his last workout, he sprawled out on his cot and opened up a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. It was only then that he noticed the letters carved into the brick wall beside his bed.
It took a few seconds for Eric to put it together. It instantly made him think of The Shining by Stephen King. Redrum: Murder spelled backwards.
“Rellik,” he said, reading the single word scratched into the wall. “Killer spelled backwards. Clever. Somebody thought they were smart.”
Not smart enough apparently or they’d still be occupying Eric’s current cell. Eric wondered who’d been in this cell before him, why they had etched that into the wall. Was it a nickname? Did it make the last guy feel like a tough guy, a bad ass? Or was there something more to the story? Perhaps Rellik wasn’t meant to be killer spelled backwards. Perhaps it had a different meaning, a greater significance.
For a moment, his mind drifted away from his reading material and he started thinking about his own transgressions. All the bad choices he made. All the people he hurt. All the people he killed. But that was business. Nothing personal. And now, he was paying for his sins. He tried not to let his thoughts consume him and turned his attention back to the novel.
He breezed through one book, started another, ate his lunch, then went back to his daily exercise routine. Prison is all about the routine. You’ve got to keep yourself occupied, mind and body.
At eleven o’clock on the dot, the slot in the center of the door slid open. “Lights out,” one of the CO’s yelled. “Get some sleep, dirtball.”
A few moments later, his cell went dark and he settled in for the night. The springs dug into his back, the blanket was coarse, the pillow was lumpy and unpleasant. But it would suffice. Not like he had any choice.
Before he could close his eyes, an enormous shadow fell over him. Someone–or rather, something–was locked in with him. His eyes drifted upwards to the giant thing that practically reached the ceiling.
The first thing he noticed were its stretched, mangled, distorted facial features. Lidless eyes stared back at him, glowing red like two burning embers. Angular mouth grinning from ear to ear, if it had ears. Serrated claws scratched against the wall where its name was engraved.
“Guards! Guards! Help me! Please, for the love of God, open the door!”
The guards heard his cries, but ignored them. A loud THUD emanated from his cell. Then all was quiet again.
“What happened down there?” the warden asked. He was a big, burly bastard with a red beard and ruddy cheeks, jowls that ballooned out over the collar of his white button-up shirt and swayed every time he spoke.
The CO’s were at a loss for words. They had no explanation. The coroner had to step in and speak up for them. “Disemboweled.”
Eric Church’s stomach had been ripped open at the waistline, intestines spilled out like raw, uncooked sausage links.
“How could he have done this to himself?”
“It’s nearly impossible. But that’s not the weirdest part.”
“You mean there’s more?”
“I’m afraid so. This wasn’t what killed him. He was already dead when his body was mutilated. He’s missing chunks of flesh from his back. If you look closely, you’ll see the teeth marks. And his bones are broken.”
“Which bones?” the warden inquired.
“All of them. Something lifted him up and threw him against the ceiling with such force that it shattered every bone in his body.”
They all stood there in stunned silence for more than a minute. Then the warden spoke again.
“Nobody breathes a word of this to anybody. We can’t have this leaked to the press.”
“Warden,” one of the CO’s spoke up. “This isn’t the first time. Remember Daryl Langtree?”
“How could I forget?”
“Well, there’s something else we overlooked. Something carved into the wall.”
“What is it?”
“Just a single word. I have no idea what it means.”
“What did it say?”
The warden sighed, exasperated. “Have maintenance paint over it. And clear out all the cells in solitary. Stick the prisoners in general population or put them in Unit J, where we used to house former police officers to protect them from the other prisoners. We haven’t had anybody in Unit J in years. The place is a ghost town.”
A young CO rushed in, his skin flushed, his uniform drenched with fear sweat. He struggled to catch his breath and squeeze out the words.
“Warden…they’re…they’re dead.” He stopped for a moment to take in the air. “They’re all dead.”
“Every prisoner in solitary confinement. They’re all dead. Every last one of them. Maimed, eviscerated, ripped to shreds.”
The warden stood aghast, his lips parted but no words exited his mouth. A single word had consumed his thoughts. It was only then he realized its meaning.