Friday 15 August 2014

A Taste of An Odder Quintet

An Odder Quintet was my second collection of short stories (following on from An Odd Quartet). For this teaser I have provided an excerpt from the opening story - 'Prisons Without Walls':

Prisons Without Walls

I’d have never have seen the outside world again if I hadn’t agreed to take part in the experimental procedure. At that point, about a year ago now I guess, I’d completed ten years of a life sentence. Well, two life sentences, the first for murder, the other for intent to murder because they didn’t know what else to call it.

I wasn’t anything special. Many like me enter the system every year; it’s a mundane story, barely worth telling so I’ll just give the high points. My wife cheated on me, no big deal now, but then I was royally pissed off. My lawyer tried claiming ‘temporary insanity’. I didn’t mind; I didn’t think it would work, but he had no other strategy available.

The boyfriend I killed, nothing fancy, I simply slit his throat. She made more noise watching than he did dying. I had to kill him, her on the other hand. Well, she was the one who cheated, I couldn’t really blame him. She used to be a looker my wife, not any more though. I didn’t kill her, make the punishment fit the crime I say. She won’t be having sex again, not even a little hand fiddle as she lies alone, unwanted by anyone at night.

That thought pleased me.

The police caught me literally red handed. I’d finished down below and had started on the face job I’d promised her while slitting lover boy’s throat. I guess the surgeons may have been able to clean that up. I don’t know for sure though, no-one would tell me.

Despite my lawyer’s best efforts I was tried, convicted and sentenced within three months. The courts can work quickly when they want to and I had been big ticket news. The Judge sentenced me to a life sentence with no parole for at least fifteen years. Then another for attempted murder, with another tariff of fifteen years added for the mutilation.

I’d been in prison awaiting trial for all of those three months so I’d learned the ropes pretty quickly. The first thing I learnt was the hierarchy. It seemed simple at first, the violent at the top, molesters and rapists at the bottom.

My place in the hierarchy appeared a little ambiguous. At first they considered me another domestic murderer, a crime of passion. I had no real criminal standing, but anyone who has killed someone is treated with a little caution.

At first at any rate.

Then came the trial and all the sensational news about my dear wife’s injuries. That confused things, most didn’t care, if anything it set me apart. Others weren’t so enlightened and marked me as someone that preyed on women. Not a good tag to have in prison.

One such group caught me two days after sentencing in the showers after the evening meal. Three of them, not exactly huge, but not small fellas either. All sported the same shorn convict look. I’ll admit they intimidated me a little.

All right, truth be told, I almost shit myself.

Sure I had killed a guy and mutilated my wife, but I’ve never been a fighter. The last time I had been in a fight was in school and that wasn’t much of a fight. Unless rolling around in the dirt pulling each other’s jumpers counts as a fight.

I noticed that they all held toothbrushes in their hands. That struck me as an odd choice of weapon. As they moved closer I noticed the razor blades sticking out the end. In that moment I didn’t know what to do. There’s the standard fight or flight response. I couldn’t decide, not that I had anywhere to run.

In effect I froze for a crucial instant.

If they’d attacked me straight away I would have been done for. They probably wouldn’t have killed me, just sliced me up a bit. Maybe give me some of the same treatment I had given to my sweet wife. Instead they elected to tease me first, inform me of what they had planned.

There’s a motivational technique I learned on a management training course. It’s called visualisation. When you want to achieve a specific goal you first play it through in your head. Keep doing that until you get it perfect and then when you do it for real you simply follow the plan you created.

For me it happened in reverse. I saw what would happen to my flesh. I imagined it in great detail and my fear fled. They still talked through their attack; too late they realised I had charged towards them.

I ran straight down the centre, using my body weight to knock the middle one to the ground. As I said, I’m no fighter but I caught him off guard. I landed on top of him and before he recovered I grabbed his face and smashed his head into the tiles.

Pain sliced across my shoulders, but I ignored it and continued driving the head into the floor. He made noises at first, then the only sound was the wet thud of his broken skull. Voices intruded, they shouted to the same beat as the slashes across my back.

New voices intruded and strong arms lifted me from my opponent and threw me to the ground. Shouted commands instructed the others to back away. They dragged me from the showers and after being sewn back up I spent my first night in solitary.

That night, alone in the darkness, I discovered something about myself. I’d quite enjoyed that little tussle. I didn’t enjoy getting cut up, but in a strange way it felt satisfying. In a way it made me feel alive.

I also realised that I had nothing to keep my nose clean.

You see most people, when sentenced to life, will keep their head down. They live with the hope that at the end of their very long tunnel they will see daylight. They dream of a life outside of the walls. It keeps them going through the years.

Not everyone though and most definitely not me.

Killing my wife’s accountant boyfriend had been a spur of the moment act; I hadn’t had the time to appreciate the moment. Sure, I can recall drawing the blade across his throat whenever I wanted, but it wasn’t the same.

The man in the shower didn’t die, although the next one that tried the same did. This one tried robbing me. That’s not so common in lifer wings, but it does happen. Again the weapon of choice had been a razor blade melted into a toothbrush.

On that occasion I’d been more prepared; more than that I was willing to do battle. You don’t get a lot time out of the cell, so I took advantage of every opportunity, the most common being visits to the gym. I applied myself and pumped the weights and ran the circuits. I got stronger and fitter and that resulted in this fool’s undoing.

I took my time with that one. I smothered his cries so that we weren’t disturbed. I hadn’t been too inventive but I did make sure he was dead.

After a few more incidents I made a name for myself as a difficult prisoner. By the time the invitation to join the experiment arrived I’d earned myself another seven life sentences and had been told that I would never be eligible for parole. I’d also earned myself a permanent transfer to ‘the block’.

‘The block’ is a fun place; you get the same slop for meals, no talking allowed and no access to the gym. None of that bothered me. I had nothing to talk about. It was easy enough to exercise in the cell, despite its small size.

As for the food, it’s amazing what you can force down if you’re hungry enough.

Life had settled into an easy routine and it came as quite a surprise when I was taken unannounced to the hospital wing. There I met a doctor; he introduced himself as Doctor Marsh. The doctor asked me if I minded undergoing a physical examination.

I didn’t but I wanted to know why first.

“I’m afraid I can’t tell you much at this stage,” his voice matched his cultured appearance.

“So why should I give you what you want?”

“It could be to your advantage.”

“But you can’t tell me why?”

He nodded.

I let him and the two orderlies conduct their tests. I might be happy to live inside my head, that didn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy the change in scenery.

The tests seemed routine, although it surprised me how well equipped the hospital wing looked. The machines looked brand new and well maintained. I’d visited various medical facilities in different prisons; none had looked as good as this one.

They extracted blood samples, measured my blood pressure and other vital signs. They scanned me inside loud machines and x-rayed every part of my body. For lunch they provided sandwiches, nothing special you might think, but then you’ve probably never eaten prison food.

All through the afternoon the tests continued and when they were done they returned me to my cell.

I heard nothing for three days and then two guards escorted back to the medical wing. The same doctor sat behind the desk waited for me.

“Good morning doctor.”

“Good morning.”

“More tests?”

“Yes, if you don’t mind.”

“Do I get to know why?”

“Sorry, I can’t tell you anything yet.”

“Why not?”

“We need to make sure you are suitable first.”

“Did the last day of tests not answer that for you?”

“Partly, which is why you are here again today?”

“For more tests.”

“Exactly, although different tests this time.”

And he was right, they were different tests.

I spent the day like I was back in school.

They filled the morning with what I guessed where intelligence tests. I remembered similar tests from the Sunday newspapers. I’d not been any good at them then, and I found them no easier this time round. I spent a frustrating morning scratching my head as I pondered the puzzles.

A nice lunch, a cheeseburger this time, restored my inner peace.

The afternoon tests were a lot more fun. They must have been psychological tests, much more entertaining than boring intelligence tests. I quite enjoyed visualising the scenarios and writing down my responses.

Naturally I left the turtle on its back in the baking sun.

The guards took me back to my cell and I waited.

The break in my routine had unsettled my calm and I became curious. I assumed they were conducting a medical test, but for what? The puzzle nibbled at me for over a week. In truth I didn’t mind too much, playing possibilities through in my mind had become my favourite pastime.

I waited for over a week, then on the rainy Sunday afternoon two different guards escorted me back to the medical wing. I noted that I had never seen any other prisoners in this part of the prison. In these days of prison overcrowding that seemed strange. Although having said that, I did have a cell of my own, one of the advantages of being in ‘the block’.

Doctor Marsh waited as before behind the desk. I’m sure this wasn’t the opulence he was used to. I believed the doctor to be a man who preferred the finer things in life. I didn’t hold this against him, after all, who doesn’t?

“Please sit down,” he offered.

Read the rest of the story and four others in An Odder Quintet:

An Odder Quintet explores a world of dark and strange happenings. From new technology to ancient legends, nothing is quite what it seems.

Prisons without Walls
A prisoner serving a life sentence takes part in an experimental programme that manipulates the perception of time to rehabilitate prisoners and ensure they never reoffend.

The Tapestry
Legend speaks of a Great Loom, operated by three women who guide the fate of every living person. The secret kept for thousands of years has now been found by someone with his own designs for it.

Ghost in the Cloud
Everyone knows not to click on links in strange emails, but what do you do when the link comes from your dead husband?

In the Depths
This story continues from ‘Forced Entry’ in ‘An Odd Quartet’.
Bravo Team took part in a hostage rescue mission in what they thought was a normal suburban house, now trapped in the basement they try to find a way out and only discover only more insanity.

Not Welcome at the Gate
This story continues from ‘The Reluctant Demon’ in ‘An Odd Quartet’.
Morlock failed his possession exam in the most spectacular way possible, now ninety years later he faces returning to Hell.

An Odder Quintet is available from:

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