The Joke

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: The Horror House
The Joke is R J Dent's short story about two prison guards who play a macabre practical joke on an unsuspecting prisoner.

Submitted: April 20, 2016

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Submitted: April 20, 2016

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The Joke

by R J Dent

 

 

“How about that one?” Guard 2932 asked.

Guard 1548 looked across the enclosure at the shuffling prisoner. Gaunt, stooped, hollow-eyed, clearly not long for the world. He nodded.

“Okay. He’ll do. Does he have a friend?”

The two guards stood and watched the gaunt prisoner as he circumnavigated the enclosure. Every few yards the prisoner stopped to inhale and exhale deeply, as though he was having trouble breathing when he walked. Once or twice he looked through the security wire at the drab and featureless surrounding countryside. Sometimes he stopped to mutter a few words to other prisoners.

On his fourth circuit, the guards had determined that he spoke mostly to a tall fellow with yellow skin and protruding teeth.

“That’s his friend,” Guard 2932 said.

“Let’s call him over.”

“You!” Guard 1548 bellowed. “Come here!”

The gaunt prisoner trotted over to the guards and halted smartly in front of them.

“Yes sirs?”

“Go and bring that tall prisoner over here,” Guard 1548 ordered.

“Yes sir,” the prisoner responded, turning and jogging over to the tall prisoner. The guards saw the prisoners exchange a few muttered words.

“This will be a very good joke,” Guard 2932 said, smiling in anticipation.

Guard 1548 grinned. “Have you checked your pistol?”

Guard 2932 nodded. “Of course. Now, pretend to be serious.”

The guards stopped talking and put neutral expressions on their faces as the two prisoners hurried over and stood to attention in front of them.

Guard 1548 stared at the gaunt prisoner, then transferred his gaze to the tall prisoner.

“I have heard from a reliable source that your friend here is a spy,” he said softly. “What do you think of that?”

“I think spying is bad,” the tall prisoner said carefully.

“As bad as treason?” Guard 2932 asked.

“Sometimes it can be,” the tall prisoner replied.

Guard 2932 pulled his service pistol from its holster. He held it out, the grip towards the tall prisoner.

“Take this pistol, put it to the spy’s head and squeeze the trigger. As a reward for your loyal service, we will let you live.”

The tall prisoner took the pistol. He raised it and held it to the gaunt prisoner’s head. His arm trembled. The gaunt prisoner’s expression was unreadable.

“Go on – shoot!”

For the briefest of moments, a look of defiance crossed the tall prisoner’s face. Then he shook his head, sighed resignedly, placed the pistol under his chin and squeezed the trigger.

A dry, metallic click sounded, followed by almost complete silence.

Neither of the guards spoke for nearly a minute.

“You have just ruined a very good joke,” Guard 2932 said, his voice a velvet whisper that barely suppressed his fury.

The tall prisoner looked puzzled. For the first time since being called over, the gaunt prisoner looked scared.

Guard 1548 snatched the pistol out of the tall prisoner’s hand and examined it. He flicked the chamber open, reached into his uniform pocket and began feeding rounds into the chamber. Once it was full, he snapped it shut and cocked the pistol. He looked contemptuously at the tall prisoner for a moment. Then he spoke.

“If you had done as ordered, you would both now be alive.”

He raised the pistol, took careful aim and shot the tall prisoner in the forehead.

The report echoed around the enclosure. The other guards and prisoners turned to watch the tall body as it folded gracefully to the ground. Then they resumed their talking, walking, standing, sitting.

Guard 2932 spat on the crumpled corpse. Both guards looked keenly at the gaunt prisoner.

“It was a very good joke,” Guard 2932 said.

“I hate people with no sense of humour,” Guard 1548 said.

The two guards walked away, leaving the gaunt prisoner standing there in the centre of the enclosure.

 

*

 

The Joke

Copyright © R J Dent (2009 & 2016)

 

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