The prisoner rolled onto his side and began to tremble.
He brought his knees to his chest and his hands to his ears. If only he could stop the voices, the nightmares. But the images of the distant past were as vivid as if they had just occurred. He couldn’t remember yesterday, but he could see the faces of the men charging up the hill, he could see the white smoke and the glittering steel of the bayonets as clearly as if he was there; like watching it in a picture show.
A picture show? Nobody calls them that anymore.
No, he meant in bright HD, or from a virtual implant… So clear… How long had he been here? He couldn’t remember. A week? A month? A year…no, not that long…less than a year but more than months…months of suffocating confinement in the darkness and softness of the padded cell, with the feeding tube and the voices.
Sometimes he got flashes of light and color, but he was never sure if he was just hallucinating. His limbs felt numb, weightless, like he was floating in a void constructed just for him; a private and personalized purgatory.
I am. I am. I am. I…am mad.
But no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t escape the knowledge that his sentence would soon be fulfilled. He reached out and kicked against the wall until he was exhausted…it didn’t take long. He was going to be here until it was time to pay for his sins. He hadn’t been evil, but he hadn’t learned his lesson. He had to be punished with the knowledge and consequences of his actions. The sentence was inevitable. Yet for all that he had endured in solitary confinement, he dreaded going out there. Where was he being sent? Wherever it was, it was a mystery to him; a mystery and a curse. He had been gone too long. Was this justice? The wolves would be waiting, like they always were for the newcomers…the helpless newcomers…
He began to dream; places and people that once seemed so familiar, so important, would flash across his mind’s eye like lightning illuminating a landscape of stark trees and farmhouses, only to be lost in a wash of inky darkness that obscured all the lines and unique features into a solid pitch emptiness.
He convulsed and struck out against the walls of the cell again. He would do this to alleviate the anxiety and release some of the terror that threatened to overwhelm him. It never helped, and afterwards the music would begin. It filtered through the walls from somewhere far off beyond the prison. He imagined floating away on its soothing harmonies, like an astronaut in his capsule drifting into deep space. He remembered how serene that had felt, once the horror had subsided. But then he remembered reading the holo placard in the museum when he was a boy, and thinking how primitive the little vessel looked on display. It had been recovered decades after its doomed mission, when humanity mastered trans space shifting…he thought the ship was so advanced as he prepped for lift off…or was it a relic on display that he saw when he was a boy…
Suddenly the music caught his attention, some ancient melody from one of the founding empires, noted for its intricate, incongruent, tonal patterns and mathematical perfection. But that hardly did it justice. He smiled at how sexy the flappers had looked on stage; how a colored man with skill and ambition could make something of himself in this new age. He had loved the way the white women glanced at him lustily while their husbands babbled with each other about politics. He felt the smooth curves of those milky thighs as he watched himself disappear again and again between them while she clawed for more.
And why shouldn’t he enjoy it, it was his nature after all. Hadn’t he argued as much on the floor of the legislature and at the rallies, defending decent God fearing white people from the uprising being fomented by the self-righteous war mongering abolitionists. No matter how many good men had died, it was all for naught. That nigger blood eventually polluted the whole nation. He puffed a cigarette and looked up from the piano keys at the pretty white woman putting her dress back on…
Sho’ nuff suh he thought with a smile. Sho’ nuff
The music stopped and he began to drift again. He knew the time was near.
The most important thing is to remember who you are.
But who was that? How would he reconcile all the dreams and memories, places and times?
I am. I am. I am…
Suddenly a strange sensation passed over him. He felt…euphoric…blissful…
Oh Christ it’s happening…they’re drugging me for the transition…
He wanted to fight, but the floating felt so peaceful. Then the jolts came and the cell shook violently. He was compressed by the softness of the suffocating walls as they pressed in on him.
No! I don’t want to go, he pleaded inside his mind, I can’t do it again, I’m sorry…
The pressure was relentless and there was screaming now from all throughout the prison. He could hear the wails through the dullness of the painkillers that coursed through his veins as he clawed at the prison walls…
Don’t make me go! Let me stay! I’m sorry! I know who I am, I know who I am…NOOOOOO!
The woman screamed in a final wave of agony.
“Just breathe, you’re almost there, you’re doing great!”
The man who stood beside her held her hand, his own turned white by the strength and fury of her grip. The doctor leaned forward,
He pulled the screaming baby from her and expertly disentangled it from her body, then quickly wrapped it in swaddling cloth.
“Woah he’s got quite a set of lungs on him doesn’t he?!”
He handed the bundle to the woman and she and the man beside her gazed in amazement at the miracle they had created. Her eyes welled with tears.
“Well hello there little man. Hello there.”
The man brushed away her tears and kissed her. “He’s beautiful. You’re beautiful.”
They shared a moment looking into each other’s eyes lovingly, then were brought back to the baby as he began to claw at the air in front of him. She looked down into his eyes and smiled.
“He’s an old soul. I can tell by the way he’s looking at us.”
But the look was fading even as she commented on its intensity. The prisoner was mercifully forgetting all the things that had haunted him in his cell, as he began the first day of a very, very, long sentence.
Copyright © 2017 Short Stories by Christopher Daniel Barnes - All Rights Reserved.