PRISONER ONE AND PRISONER TWO
by Jeff Tully
After twenty years of imprisonment Prisoner One is still a relatively young man. In a cell occupied only by him and various scurrying creatures Prisoner One receives news from his detestable keeper, The Warden, a vile excuse for a man with a seemingly endless reservoir of phlegm. This pock-marked boil delivers upon Prisoner One the news that he will be host to a cell mate in one month.
"One month?" …Prisoner One recounts feverishly to the mice. Prisoner One, not completely certain if he knows how long one month even is anymore, tries to tackle the equation. His brain gnaws on the now abstract concept of time. "I do not get fed daily, that is for certain, for I have been told that much." "How long do you suppose a man can go without eating?" Prisoner One asks of the spider knitting a structure as immense and complex in design as any cathedral. The spider stops his project and considers Prisoner One's question for a moment. Prisoner One nods in agreement, "Yes, of course no more than three or four days. So then how many sets of four in a month spider?" The industrious spider does not stop his work this time. "No, I don't know which month this is you silly thing. We will assume this is a thirty day month." Prisoner One puts a knee to the ground and carves numbers frantically into the floor of his cell that most would call soil. "Why that comes out to be little over seven days for me spider!" Prisoner One shrieks as he springs up from the floor, one hand stretching to his companion the spider. In one quick movement Prisoner One tears down the Spider's testament to superior spider architecture. Spiders all over the countryside still talk about the disaster. There is talk that a monument will be built in remembrance.
At the same time Prisoner One begins what can only be described as the most exhaustive spring cleaning project ever embarked upon in a dungeon. Prisoner One's murder of the spider and subsequent demolition of his house certainly is not in vain. Over the course of thirty days Prisoner One uses his clothes and most of his water supply to mop the floor and scrub down the walls. He uses a piece of the plaster wall and the last of his water to mash it into a paint-like substance. Prisoner One cuts his wrist with a splinter of wood and uses his blood to tint the paint to a pale rosy color. Please make allowances for the fact that prisoner One's impression of "rosy" and your own vary immensely. His spectrum of colors is limited to varying ranges of chalk-white-walls to shit brown to the black of night. And, I dare-say that even the reader with the slightest of experience in pre-industrial revolution European penitentiaries might have found this cell to be quite possibly habitable. Which of course goes against the basic design of the structure.
On the thirtieth day, Prisoner One is not only extremely famished and thirst ridden for starving himself in order to "dress up" his cell. But he is also quite unequivocally lonely, for he has methodically murdered each of his cell-mates. And to give Prisoner One credit, this was no easy task for him, for each rodent and insect had a place in his heart. Prisoner One had managed to convince himself that he was eliminating these roommates for a greater good. For all that mattered to him was that his new cell partner be comfortable. He could only imagine how abominable the first day of imprisonment must be. He reminded himself that he himself had a first day of imprisonment. But, as he scrolled through the recesses of his mind he could find no trace of memory of that day. He pledged to himself, "This new prisoner will never forget this day, for this will be the most appealing cell he will ever see. I will be the most inviting host and we will live out our days telling magnificent stories that never end -- stories that will sweep us away from the confines of this hateful confinement and take us across the sea in tremendous Spanish galleons. And think of the games! We will challenge each other with games that keep us interested and amused for years. And I will be his greatest friend, his deepest confidante. Oh yes, this prisoner will be the luckiest prisoner in the world!"
Prisoner One could hear the slightest of shuffling from what must have been a hundred feet away. The Prison Keeper was flanked by two guards by what sounded like at least three guards. "Three guards? Prisoner One thought to himself. This prisoner must be dangerous, maybe even a murderer, or better yet, a pirate. Imagine how many stories a bloodthirsty pirat e must have." Prisoner One's excitement grew to an almost intolerable level, like an itch inside one's own brain.
And suddenly, they were upon the door. A few cursory blows about the new prisoner were given and then... The metal door swung open, a loud metallic shriek. The Keeper's back was to Prisoner One as he spoke loudly.
"You will do well to follow these guidelines, (kick to the face) and you may live as long as your new companion." The Keeper glanced over his shoulder toward Prisoner One.
"How long have you been here you sack of puss?"
Prisoner One answered a firm "Twenty years, sir." …As he jockeyed his position to get a look at the man in front of the keeper. Prisoner One found himself anxious as a puppy waiting for a twig to be thrown his way.
"Twenty years? Why, you were only sentenced to ten. Well that
seems to be a rather large error. Well, I'll see what we can do
about that. Give me another decade to correct that grievous
miscalculation." Proudly, the putrid mule testicle turns to his
guards and guffaws at his cruel jest in a fashion that will be
repeated by all villains for centuries.
But, for the first time in years Prisoner One didn't feel sick to his stomach. For the first time Prisoner One had truly accepts the fact that he would surely die in this room. Prisoner One has become content with this newfound truth that he would die never seeing the rays of the sun nor the glow of the moon. He would never hear a child's laughter or a woman's sigh. But, Prisoner One was also sure of one more thing... He was no longer alone
Prisoner Two was given one fare-the-well kick to the groin and then launched into his new home, at the feet of Prisoner One.
Prisoner One sat across from Prisoner Two, staring intently. Prisoner Two lay on his back quietly wheezing out of what sounded very much like a shattered nose. Prisoner Two was laying on a custom made bed of straw tightly wound with string made from a burlap sack that had once been a shirt for Prisoner One. Prisoner One waited for Prisoner Two to speak first. He was certain that Prisoner Two's first words would be something to the effect of "Oh woe is me, I will not be able to endure this torture." And from there, Prisoner One would take his cue to comfort Prisoner One.
It was not long before Prisoner Two did speak. And when he did, Prisoner One was amazed at what he heard.
Prisoner Two raised his upper body and rested on his elbows. He winced in pain and hacked up fluids, probably from the broken nose. Prisoner One offered him a bucket, to which he spat a bloody globule. "This cell is without a doubt impeccable, I am truly awestruck. I have been in less sanitary hospital wards." Prisoner Two stood up and nodded approvingly.
Prisoner One could not believe what he was hearing. It was one thing to expect that in time Prisoner Two would come to be a reasonable and perhaps even pleasant cell-mate. He thought after a year or two, after Prisoner Two stopped feeling sorry for his self perhaps then they could be friends. But, to start off a prison sentence on such a good note was more than he dreamed of in a thousand dreams. Oh, the joy Prisoner One felt in his heart! It was as if he was floating hundreds of miles above the sprawling fortress situated on the jagged sea cliff. Prisoner One felt as if he were to look down he would see the tiny ant like silhouettes of the guards outside and the pinprick dots of torches along the prison walls far below his perch in the clouds.
"Thank you, I have tried my best to…"
"Friend, you are a truly fortunate individual. I have been in many prisons, but this, this is by far the most luxurious."
"The most efficient.."
"The poorest excuse for a brig I have ever seen."
"I beg your pardon?" Prisoner One felt as if his heart had stopped beating. The clouds in the sky and in his heart blew away.
Prisoner Two gazed disapprovingly at his reflection in the finely buffed metallic door. "You must understand my friend that I'm sure a man such as yourself would do well under such accommodations. I mean to say that this place is fine for a petty thief or some peasant that could not afford to pay taxes. But I, I am too good for this. Or rather this is too good for me."
Prisoner One's feet now felt squarely on the ground once again as he tried to kick up what little dirt was left on the floor. Even though they were standing on ground, it was so well manicured, it let loose very little actual dirt. "I'm s-sorry, too good for you?"
Prisoner Two fired back, "Friend, I am an enemy of the state. A true criminal's criminal. I have stole from the church and state. I have murdered. I have escaped imprisonment and I set blaze to a carriage full of royalty. I am dangerous, and my reputation reaches from here to the coastline."
Prisoner One simply stared at Prisoner Two.
"Don't you understand man!" Prisoner Two moved up into the face of his new companion. His face large and leathery. His beard coarse and dark, a silver loop pierced the flesh between his nostrils. As he drew nearer, Prisoner One stared into Prisoner Two's saucer sized pupils and recognized the telltale sign, his eyes large with fear. As imposing and truly ugly as this man seemed to be, Prisoner One could see it in his eyes. Prisoner Two was afraid, of this Prisoner One was certain. Twenty years in a cement room that blocks out the sun, the moon, everything but the cries of the men down the hall. Twenty years of that, and you get a feel for the look of fear. Even if you haven't seen it face to face in a very long time.
Prisoner One looked straight into the eyes of Prisoner Two. "What
"This prison is a joke, a jape upon my name! I am a hated man, feared by the most loathsome of criminals. If any of them should ever get so much as a peek at this cell. I mean pink walls man!? I will surely be the laughing stock of Europe!" Prisoner Two kicked the straw bed Prisoner One had so carefully arranged, sending tufts of straw into the air.
"Calm down friend, I have been a tenant in this room for twenty years and except for a handful of guards, I have never seen a soul. So if it is visitors you fear, you can dispel that notion. For I am sure none of your wretched crew will ever bare witness to your luxurious quarters." Prisoner One was appalled by Prisoner Two's vanity.
"Ah, but you do not know what I do. Tonight my shipmates plan to deliver me from this prison. We have but hours before they appear at this very door . And when they do..." Prisoner Two holds back a sob. "And when they see that their leader, their feared leader has been imprisoned in this, this... ROADSIDE INN! They will never again respect or fear their Captain."
"You're a pirate?" Prisoner One could hardly control his excitement. The prospect of not only being, dare he even think it; freed from this prison. But to spend out the rest of his days as a pirate, his heart sang. He had to do what he could to accommodate his new cell-mate.
"Friend, listen to me. You must help me, we must turn this place upside down. And hurry man!" They kicked up dirt, overturned trays, pissed on the walls. "It can't be, it just can't be!" Prisoner Two exclaimed.
"What friend?" Prisoner One looked around, surveying the damage done to his creation. He felt a sadness in his heart.
"I have searched all about this cell, why can I not find one rodent, not so much as a baby mouse?"
Prisoner One finally had his fill of this selfish, insecure, pirate. "Do you want to know what happened to all the rodents and insects?" Closing in on the pirate he continued, "I ate them ALL. One by one, I wiped out nests of rats, I destroyed colonies of roaches, earwigs and termites. I spent endless days wiping away the soil. Binding together straw, painting the walls with paint hued with my own blood!" As he reached his conclusion, he found himself nose to nose with Prisoner Two.
"Why friend, why would you do such a thing?"
"Do what? Ruin a perfectly good cell? I confess that on top of my various crimes against the state I should be added an extra sentence for compassion. Yes, for caring. Please call in the judges for I have committed the ultimate sin, I have reached out for my fellow man in an attempt to make his life a little more tolerable. When I heard that I was to have a cell mate. After twenty years of being confined to what can only be described as the Devils Toilet. I heard news that I would have a new cell mate, after twenty years of silent penance. I thought only one thing, how can I make this life in this cell more tolerable for him? And God forgive me in my error of caring. I toiled day and night mistakenly. I toiled to make a home for a complete stranger, and for that I throw myself upon the mercy of the court." Prisoner One falls to the floor in an exhausted heap.
Prisoner Two walks over to Prisoner One and puts a hand on his shoulder. "Friend, I am truly sorry. Really I am. I was being unfair to you. It's just that you must understand, if my shipmates ever thought for a moment that their Captain were no longer considered a threat to the law. They would surely cut my throat. That is truly my only fear, that those I elude ever stop fearing me. For without fear, I am nothing." Prisoner Two looked into the eyes of Prisoner One. "I hope for that you can understand."
"I will make it up to you when my lackeys arrive. You can come aboard my ship, it is a beautiful sight you can be sure."
"I, I am speechless." Prisoner One's heart began to sing again.
"That is, if we did a convincing enough job of wrecking this cell." He laughed loudly and slapped Prisoner One on the back.
"I think we have." Prisoner One said while staring at the wretched mess.
"Have you truly not had a cell mate in twenty years?"
Prisoner One smiled, "It is true. Although..."
"Yes, tell me." Prisoner Two begged.
"There was a period, after a failed escape attempt on my part a very long time ago."
Prisoner One became excited to tell the Pirate his tale. "You see, I had tried to escape, oh you would have been proud. It was a brave attempt."
"Yes, go on." Prisoner Two urged.
"And carefully planned."
"Yes." Prisoner Two agreed.
"We dug a hole under the wall of this prison. It took almost three years.
"And what happened after you emerged from the hole?"
"We didn't, as you might have noticed we are very closely
situated to the ocean.
Prisoner Two's eyebrows raised. "It flooded?"
"Yes, I nearly drowned." As Prisoner Two shook his head Prisoner One wished he had never told that story.
"Chin up mate. To be captured is not cause for shame, to stop trying to escape is. I was caught trying to escape from a prison in Shanghai many years ago. They tortured me for days. That's how I lost these fingers." Prisoner One nodded. And then, there was a long silence. The most uncomfortable silence ever endured up until that point in history. Prisoner One knew that he had nothing in his life experience to share with this great adventurer. So Prisoner One decided to lie. And fortunately for Prisoner One, he was struck with a brilliant story.
"After I was captured..." Prisoner One hesitates and Prisoner Two turns to face him. "After the tunnel, I was tortured -- whipped in the courtyard for hours." Prisoner Two barely regarded the anecdote. Prisoner One's eyes brightened as he gained confidence in his lie. "But that was not my true punishment. For the next five days I was to share a cell with each of my companions that tried to escape with me. At first this seemed a blessing, for one's greatest enemy is silence. The guards told me that my punishment was that only one man could be allowed to wake up alive the each morning. That was my punishment, to wonder which one of us would wake up alive the next day. Forced for five nights to fight for my life with my cell-mates." Prisoner One looked to Prisoner Two uncertain if Prisoner Two even heard a word.
Prisoner Two's bearded mouth exclaimed, "Now that is a story that would send a chill down the spine of the most vile of scurvy pirates", slapping Prisoner One on the back heartily. "My mates would never doubt my strength if that story were…" His speech slowed as his mind choked down a revelation. "...Added to my legend." Prisoner Two raised his eyes as if struck with a sudden enlightenment. And as their eyes met Prisoner One realized that he had slept his last night in this cell.
A wave crashed against the bow as the recently escaped Prisoner recounted the story to his shipmates. They stood huddled around him, captivated by his tale. "Twenty years of rats and roaches gobbled up just to impress the new cellmate? I have met some lonely fellows on the sea, but this story of sorrowful solitude bests them all!" Proclaimed a man with a gaping, scabby scar on his forehead.
"A man that lonely is the most dangerous kind of man indeed!" A man with two missing teeth and a musket declared. "To the Captain!" the man cried to his mates.
"No, to the new Captain!" An even more toothless man exclaimed.
"He proved himself a better man than our former." Ranted the scabby man.
"Truth be told, that crusty bastard deserves what he got for not holding your restoration in the highest esteem." Whistled the toothless scallywag. "Unappreciative sod who got what was coming his way, I say!" And with that they all continued to cheer and drink and sing and vomit and fight and other pirate stuff you'd rather not know about.
Prisoner One however, turned toward the sun. It was fading into the sea. And the moon on the other side, already on it's way up. Prisoner One marveled at how he never knew that you could see both the sun and the moon in one sky. It was though, he thought, a very big sky.
I have seen the inside of your cell.
It lies behind your eyes.
Break free my friend, break free.
Escape as many times as necessary.