I knew a man, a dead man who was nameless, and a spectre that every sane man forgot. He told me his story in my nightmares and my dreams and he’ll repeat it to me every goddamn day.
The days long ago were harsh and black; every man’s life was more a dead living then living until death. In this time, there was a young man, a defiant man with eyes of the bluest, deadest ice.
No one knew his name, no one could care, and life was too much of a struggle to be involved. This young man was taken away as prisoner for a crime to his dying day would say he did not commit. He was a lonely man by any means, a quieter man you’ve never met yet a friendlier one you’ve never seen, but there was a scent of madness on this man. It was in his skin, his breath, his essence, it was the scent of a dead man walking and he knew it but he’d fight it to the end.
They took him in cuffs to his court room drama, and he fought it all the way. The guards, they tore at him and ripped his clothing to shreds. With both hands tied, he broke their skulls with his head alone but for every man he broke in survival, he lost every chance, every possibility of walking free.
Fate pulls at the heartstrings in all of us, but it seems only the worst of luck would place a laughing judge behind the desk in front. A Judge, a Jury and a Warden, and whose corruption was at peace with the time of the world, when money and numbers meant everything and names and lives meant nothing. The prisoner fought telling the court he was innocent, innocent.
“I’m Innocent!” He cried.
It was all in vain. The jury just laughed with jeering cries, calling for a harsher punishment, calling for death and execution. All the while the judge just sat behind a quiet smirk, for of course he knew he was getting his money and his time was not wasted.
The guards eventually subdued the young mad man, and when they had him on all fours, they didn’t waste a second on him, for he was scum in their eyes. They beat him to an inch of his life, let the blood pool in his kidneys and his lungs, pummelling against flesh and bone, for they enjoyed it all. They enjoyed beating the animal senseless.
To them, he was filth, just another criminal, another piece of trash on the street, garbage as if the world wasn’t full of it and each and every one piece protesting their innocence. They cried and sobbed, still yelling their innocence until their throats was raw. He was no different.
Blindfolded, his pride destroyed; they stripped him down and dragged him to his cell. The guards opened the door, threw him in wrapped only in a small loincloth made of rags. The cell was cold and damp, a reminder this wasn’t just a prison but a camp.
Slowly the man was broken down. For that first day his screaming would not stop, instead it would turn to sobbing or hysteria and who could blame the prisoner? Stripped of everything and left in the cold to die like an animal, would you not cry your sanity away as well?
Two years passed and the prisoner had lost his words. He could think, he could hear, see and smell. He could touch and feel and he knew where he was, but he would not talk. After that first day in his cell, no man ever heard him utter another word. Instead he remained in a near catatonic state, always on the very edge of sanity. Until one day in his second year of imprisonment his world changed.
The guards were always cruel and for their own messed up reasons, he was their special prey. They always made sure to include him in their sadistic games. One special occasion, a guard had a twisted game for his meat. Armoured and tall the guard strode in; rifle under one arm and a red fountain pen in the other. The pen was small, thin and sharp but solid and strong.
The guard told the prisoner to make it easier on himself, that he would exit the cell and give the prisoner enough privacy to kill himself quietly, provided he wouldn’t make too much of a mess and for the first time in his life, the prisoner had an option could think about even if it was only briefly.
Slowly the prisoner nodded his head to the guard, indicating he wanted to go through with it. Laughing savagely the guard wandered off, leaving the man with a choice.
The prisoner sat quietly on the cell floor, both hands wrapped around this pen full of bloody ink. He thought about everything his life had once been, about everything that had been taken away from him.
Half an hour later the guard came back and found the prisoner asleep. He looked through the bars in the door at the prone figure, swore quietly to himself about people being weak and stalked off.
The prisoner lay sleeping and for the first time in a long time he found himself dreaming, not just sleeping but actually dreaming pictures and words. He found himself dreaming for one thing: freedom.
The next morning the prisoner awoke his new weapon in hand. From morning to night, night to morning he tapped the butt of that god forsaken pen against every inch of wall in his cell, always listening closely for any hollow noises, anything to indicate a weakness in the walls. The endless TAP, TAP… every few seconds was enough to drive those still sane mad.
For ten years the prisoner tapped every morning and every night. For those ten years his other prison-mates complained. One night in his tenth year, the prisoner heard a hollow noise from his tapping; weakness in the wall just above his bed frame, maybe from water damage or heating. He tapped as a mad man, the echoing thuds loud enough for everyone to hear. This prisoner had the scent of hope, and hope is something no prisoner should hold, at least not in the eyes of their keepers.
His keepers, his guards dragged him from his cell in the eye of the morning to a room in the back, a place away from passing patrols and surveillance cameras. They beat him, they beat him so hard. They pummelled him with batons and broke his ribs with their fists and boots. The morning air was filled with the sound of bruised flesh and breaking bones. He had been close to death many times before but not as close as this. They flayed his flesh with whips and stabbed him in every area not vital with glass and nails, anything they could use to take away his hope.
Torn asunder in mind and body, they left him there to die, and die he did until a petite figured nurse with blonde and black hair found him. She was beautiful and rare, something the prisoner could barely see through eyes so swollen. She spoke about everything and anything while she worked and he loved every moment of her company, but the hours passed too quickly and his keepers came to claim him to his cell.
Days went by and she was all the prisoner could think about. He wanted to escape, to take her away from this devils paradise. The more he thought about her, the quieter he became, a fact his guards hated. He would give them no response; no gasp of pain even a goddamn glance. They laughed at him, jeered at him because they knew he could never speak a word.
Night by night they beat him and they laughed and every night he woke to the voice of the petite blond and black haired nurse. She spoke words he could not comprehend, but only hear in blurs and muffles in his broken head and deafened ears. Through blood-cracked lips… he smiled.
The guards were ruthless in their taunting, in their effort to break him. They would point and laugh at him, knowing he had no words to come back with; until one day... he snapped. A man already broken can snap, and when he does death is always waiting close by for him and those around him. He walks beside them all but when a broken man cracks, death breaks into a run and the scent of agony fills his senses with ecstasy.
The prisoner pointed at all of them with fingers snapped in all directions and he laughed. He laughed beyond everything and all he was for a moment was hysterical, hurting laughter. It was as if every beating, every hurt his heart had felt was coming back up in his bray, like he was telling the world and the guards to get lost, to go screw themselves and lose themselves in their pathetic lives.
He could not talk, but he could think and this laughter was the closest thing to true defiance he had ever had before.
This scared the guardsmen, it scared them in a way they had never known. The beatings came faster and harder every hour and every day, and every day he’d wake and laugh. He’d laugh so hard and so hysterically through bloodied lips and cracked ribs. Blood would pool on the ground from teeth that had been knocked out, from cuts and scrapes and skin in strips, but still he would laugh. He knew what he was doing in his own mind. Because every time he’d laugh, they would beat him and he would wake up in the arms of his lovely nurse. The pain was worth it, the beatings were worth it just to wake up in the arms of company.
Her small expressions of kindness were enough to get him through his days, to help him weather the pain of his own life. He thought that if he could do this long enough, maybe he could grow stronger and accept that he was a prisoner, he would never truly leave his cell behind.
But the keepers were not stupid. They caught on to his fondness for the nurse, the game he played. For a time they stopped their beatings. They never came to take him away to the back room, away from the world. Even when he laughed and pointed at them, they walked away.
He never could understand why until it was far too late and this time, they would not hold back. There was no back room this time; there was no hiding from other patrols or the surveillance.
This time it was pure, raw hatred for a man who they saw had wronged them, had used them. In front of the crowd of in-mates they beat him worse than they had ever. They broke both his legs and shattered his kneecaps to being useless. They broke every bone in his body and saved the spine to last, just to watch him squeal and scream and he held on. He held on with every part of his soul, all because of his nurse.
Little did he know of the news they held back. They waited for the right time to tell him. They waited three weeks til he woke from his battle coma. They smiled at him and waited eagerly for his reaction as one of the smaller ones piped up.
His nurse was gone, they sacked her for stealing. She lost her job, her references and any hope of survival. They made sure she’d never work again. They’d beaten her and raped her, scarred her face with their sharpened knives meant for unruly prisoners. They’d made sure she would never earn a dollar on the streets even, for no man would take a night out with a hooker with a carved mask for a face.
To their delight, their hard work paid off, for at the start of their shift that day, they found her body in the street; malnourished and frozen, she lay on the staircase to their entrance her fist frozen to the door, her pleading to be let in still caught on her still-beautiful face.
The looks on their faces that day when they shared their news with the prisoner, they giggled and laughed and made every crass joke under the sun. They watched him cry and plead, something he had not done for a long time.
With broken legs they dragged him one last time to his cell. With broken legs he dragged himself through the cell door, his legs like splintered ivy, bones shooting off in all directions.
For three days he lay there on the floor, on his stomach. For three days he cried.
On the third night, a small fountain pen with red ink rolled out from under his bed towards him. He wondered how, for there was no one in his cell. Without light he could tell there was no one beside him.
The guards that morning heard his tapping, the endless procession of eerie, tiny taps and then the loud thudding began. Hope in his heart, he had found the weakened wall again, but he wanted them to know. He wanted to see their eyes when they knew he had discovered his hope again. He wanted them to be scared, to be terrified of a man who had lost all and only recovered the maddening of a slim hope and so he pounded that pen against the wall, against the weakened mortar.
They rushed to him and he waited. He waited for their yells, their curses. He waited until they had just pried his cell door open. He waited until they bent close to him, and tried to grab his arms.
To this day, be it my dreams or my nightmares, the strength behind a desperate act still scares me, as did the look in this man’s eyes. He has left his soul behind and now only clings to his flesh.
As the guards bent down, his will returned. With broken arms and fingers splayed in all directions, he fought them off. The sheer power in those broken hands was enough to snap his captor’s wrists as he pried them off. Slowly he stood on broken legs with agony passing through every vein. The guards… they cried out for help, any one to stop this mad man, but on that day time came to a slow. The first step he took, he nearly fell, but he regained his balance quickly as the second step came down faster, and in a heartbeat later he was close to running.
His keepers stood in silent fear, in a world of awe as he charged full speed at that weakened wall. A man’s cell is his prison, as is his heart; but that day the prisoner was free from his jail. Six inches of mortar and brick become dust as the prisoner hit. A demolition crew couldn’t break that wall like the prisoner did that day.
He was free...
But freedom comes with a price, and this is something we all know. For some of us the price is too high and we choose keep being prisoners from our own fear. For others, the price is just right and they pay it willingly.
For ten years the prisoner had never known the layout of his jail, for ten years he had never known how high or low he was off the ground, and that there was his mistake. A mistake he would pay for with his life and this he knew at the very end.
As he fell through the wall, his momentum carried him on and before he fell, he turned himself over to look at his captors once more. He looked into their eyes one last time and kept their glance, laughing all the way down. With tears in his eyes, his thoughts were chaos, all but two.
His last thoughts were two things a second before he hit –
His blonde and black haired nurse, whose beauty he would never forget, but name he had never known.
His very last was – “I’m finally free...”
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