Tag Archives: prisoner

Baker Hill

Inspired by a true story.

May’s legs burned as she pumped the pedals of the Schwinn, laboring up Baker Hill. Her brown braids bounced on her shoulders like lengths of sweaty rope. She looked back. Nell had given up already and was pushing her bike.

“I won!” May yelled. She reached the huge oak at the top of the hill and threw her bike down. The shade was cool after the burning summer sun and a small breeze played among the leaves above her. From where she sat, the world opened up in a panorama of fields bordered with dark clumps of trees. Right below the hill was a bricked-walled yard surrounded by low buildings and impressive guard towers: Huntersville State Penitentiary.


Nell reached the top of the hill and dropped her bike next to May’s. “What are they doing today?” she asked.

May looked down. “Nothing much. It’s too hot, I suppose.” The prisoners in the yard were clumped together in the shade of one of the southern guard towers.

“What do you suppose he’s doing?” Nell asked.


“That one man. He’s sitting by himself, out in the sun.” Nell pointed and through the shimmering waves of heat, May could just make out a splotch of tan and denim by the western wall.

“Maybe he’s got no friends,” May said. “Maybe he’s new there.”

Nell nodded, but then frowned. “But why’s he sitting in the sun? There’s surely some shade if he wanted it.”

“Perhaps he’s Mexican,” May said. “Down there it’s hotter than blazes this time of year. I’ll bet this is nothing to him. The shade is probably too cold.”

“And that’s why he doesn’t have any friends. He only speaks Spanish and so he can’t say hello to the others.”

“If he’s Mexican, what’s he doing up here?” May asked. “Maybe he’s a migrant worker.”

They sat for a while, watching the prisoners and enjoying the breeze that drew the sweat from their necks, leaving only a delicious coolness.

“What do you think his name is?” Nell asked.

“Pablo,” May said. It was the only Mexican name she knew, the name of a boy in her first grade class.

“What do you think he did?”

“He stole a diamond ring,” May said. She waved away Nell’s shocked expression. “No, it was really supposed to be his anyway. He loves a woman in Mexico and was up here working to save money to marry her. He saved up for a diamond ring, paying the jeweler a bit every month for it. But the jeweler was crooked and when he went to get the ring, the jeweler pretended he didn’t know anything about it. Pablo went to the police but he was Mexican and they didn’t believe him. So, he broke in and stole the ring that was really his. For love, you know. But the police caught him and now he’s in there.”

Nell stared at her. “How do you know all that?”

May shrugged. “It might be true.”

When she got home, May asked her mother for a Mexican woman’s name and soon the ill-fated love story of Pablo and Maria was firmly implanted in her mind.

After school started, May stopped going up Baker Hill as frequently, but still she never forgot about Pablo. Finally, when the weather turned colder, she took half the money out of her piggy bank and bought a pair of mittens and a wool hat at the general store. She did not want to tell her parents, but one day after school, when Nell had to stay late, May walked with slow steps and a pounding heart to the prison.

“And what can I do for you?” the guard at the door asked, not unkindly.

“I want to give these to one of the prisoners,” May said. She held up the hat and mittens. Her hands trembled.

“Well, okay then. What’s his name?”


“Pablo?” The guard wrinkled his brow and May realized suddenly that she had made up that name; she didn’t know his real name at all.

“I—I don’t know his name. He sits by himself in the yard all the time, away from the others.”

The guard frowned. “You mean Oscar? How do you know him?”

May wanted to run away from the guard and his uncomfortable questions. “Please just give him this,” she said and thrusting the package into the guard’s hands, she turned and ran.

The next day, May rode alone to Baker Hill. The weather was chilly and the fall wind charged up the hill, rustling the oak tree’s yellowing leaves fiercely. The prisoners below were crowded against the western wall of the exercise yard to stay out of the wind. She saw Pablo—Oscar—standing by himself and with a burst of happiness, she saw he was wearing the dark green hat and mittens she had bought.

As she stood there, looking down, Oscar raised his arm and waved. It had to be at her, there was no one else around. Thank you, he seemed to say. She waved back. You’re welcome.

As she rode home, her mind was a bubbling pot of thoughts and emotions. The story of Pablo and Maria was gone, but then again, it had never been true. But Oscar was real and he had accepted her gift. She was happy.

Mirror Man – Friday Fictioneers

copyright Janet Webb

copyright Janet Webb


Mirror Man

I spent eight months imprisoned in a bathroom. Food was pushed under the door.

Pancakes mostly; maybe some deli ham.

The only company I had was the man in the mirror. “Why? Why?” I screamed at him. He never answered, just childishly mimicked my every move.

Finally I really examined the door. It was locked from the inside.

That deepened my concerns.

Outside, I found a house with a woman living in it. Her wedding ring matched mine.

“Why?” I shouted at her.

“You made me,” she said, cringing.

No, not me. It was that damned man in the mirror.


Rapacious – Friday Fictioneers

This is a hard week for me and I found this picture rather hard to turn into a good story. While pondering various story lines, I was musing over the idea of flash fiction. Rochelle, in her rules for the Fictioneers, always says that the challenge is to “Write a one hundred word story that has a beginning, middle and end.” I’ve been religious with the 100-word rule but I’m sure I’ve broken the beginning-middle-end rule quite a few times, although I try. What I also try to do is: 1) make sure there is some conflict and 2) make sure the characters want something. Without these, especially conflict, it’s not a story, it’s only a scene. Of course, Rochelle makes sure to point out that no one is ostracized for breaking the 100-word and she is very forgiving with other rule bends too. And now, on with the story…

copyright Danny Bowman

copyright Danny Bowman


The Mountain is killing me. I feel the life leaching from me into the pitiless walls. The Mountain claims all: innocence, youth, health, time. The walls are fat with my wasted years.

I knew it would take my life, but I vowed it would never take ME. I feel it, though, clawing at my soul. The ME is slipping away, no matter how much I clutch it.

When they bury me, write no name on the headstone, for what they bury is not me, but merely the husk of what the Mountain has devoured.

(found scratched into a prison wall)

The Jailer’s Dilemma, Part 2 of 2

(continued from Part 1)

Crowfeather was almost asleep when he heard a key turn in the lock of his cell. The door opened and an uncovered lantern shone light on the face of his father, the head jailer. The older man stepped aside from the door and motioned him out.

“Come on, son. I volunteered for the first watch tonight; no one else is around. You can leave and no one will stop you.”

Crowfeather stood up but did not approach the door. “Why are you doing this?” he asked. “They will kill you.”

“It is my guilt to bear, son,” the jailer said. “Your crimes are because of me and although I tried to evade them with the name O’Keefe, I will always be Henry Robins: your father and a thief.”

“I have not seen you in many years,” Crowfeather persisted. “You are not to blame for everything I have done since then. You were right when you said that you did not teach me to counterfeit. I am a man now, father. I can stand on my feet, as you see.”

“If you will not go for justice, then go as a last gift to your father,” the jailer said. “Go and reform your ways. It took a ruined knee to teach me honesty, but it will not for you, I hope.” He tossed a small pouch to Crowfeather, which clinked as he caught it.

“Come with me then,” Crowfeather said, moving towards the door at last. “There is no reason why you should stay here to undergo punishment. Let us go together.”

The jailer was already shaking his head, a sad smile on his face. “I would just slow you down, and in any case, the guilt must be paid. Go and sin no more. I will stay.”


*         *         *

Crandell, the deputy jailer came in to take the second watch of the night and found the head jailer not at his post. He walked the corridors and saw that the last cell door was slightly ajar. Inside he found the head jailer, sitting alone on the stone bench.

“Where is the prisoner?” Crandell asked in alarm.

“He is gone. I let him go. He was my son.”

“You are mad, sir! This is treason. You will be put to death.”

“Even if they transfer his punishment to me, I will take it calmly,” O’Keefe said.

“Do not even say such things,” Crandell said. “I would glad kill you here with my sword before I let you go through something that terrible.”

“Do not do that,” O’Keefe said. “Then the guilt would pass to you, since it would be seen as the murder of an innocent man. No, let me do this: the guilt must be paid.”

*         *         *

A month later, in a city fifty miles away, a man walked into an inn looking for work.

“What your name?” the innkeeper asked, sizing the man up with a critical look.

“Gabriel Robins,” the man said. “I just came in from the hill country. I can do anything you need me to do. I’m just looking for some good, honest work.”

“Well, there’s plenty of that around here. You can get to work mucking out the stables, if you wish. Hey, if you’ve just come from the hills, you must not have heard the news about the king’s head jailer. They beheaded him a week or so ago after he released one of his prisoners. They say his face shone with joy right before the axe came down. Do you know what his last words were?”


“He said, ‘May God bless him.’ Now what do you think of that?”


The Jailer’s Dilemma, Part 1 of 2

“Sir, we just received a new prisoner. He’s under penalty of death.”

The head jailer Joseph O’Keefe nodded. “What’s his name?”

“They couldn’t find out his real name, but he calls himself Crowfeather. He—sir, are you okay?” The guard stepped forward, seeing the jailer sway suddenly, but O’Keefe waved him off.

“It’s just my knee.” He sat down, massaging his knee and not daring to look up in case his face betrayed anything. “Get out of here, would you. I’ll go check on the prisoner.”

The guard left and a moment later O’Keefe stood up and limped slowly down the dank stone corridor, all the way down to the Cells of the Condemned. He had never known it to take so long and his heart was pounding so painfully it felt as if his arteries were filled with acid.

Peering through iron bars, he saw the prisoner sitting in a pile of moldy straw. He did not see the baby that he had bounced on his knee or the little boy he had taken to market that first time. There was only a prisoner.


The prisoner looked up. “Yeah?”

“I like Gabriel Robins better.”

The prisoner was on his feet in an instant, his fists clenched. “How do you know that name?” O’Keefe looked at him steadily and watched as recognition grew on his face and the anger drained away from his expression. “Father. So this is where you ended up.”

“And this is where you ended up,” O’Keefe said. “What did they catch you doing?”


A thrill of horror went down O’Keefe’s spine. “Counterfeiting!” he hissed. “Are you mad, boy? Do you know what the punishment is for that?”

The prisoner shrugged. “Death is death in the end, no matter how you get there.”

“I have witnessed many executions and not all deaths are created equal. Men would give all they had to choose their death; to avoid the one coming to you.”

The prisoner sat down again, shrugging in defiance. “So, did you come here to gloat? To say I was stupid? You taught me to do this, after all.”

“I never taught you to counterfeit!”

“No, you only taught me to steal, to pickpocket, to hold a crossbow to a man’s throat while our friends took his horse and everything he owned in the world. How is that much better?”

O’Keefe put his forehead against the wood of the door. His knee was throbbing.

“Father,” the prisoner said. “What happened that day at Hind’s Crossing, when the ambush went bad? You disappeared and we thought you were dead.”

There was a moment of silence before O’Keefe spoke. “After they counterattacked, I knocked one of the soldiers down with my staff. I thought he was out, but he crushed my knee with his mace. I killed him after that, but then fell into unconsciousness. After the fighting, when you and the lads had fled, I woke to find myself bandaged and lying on a stretcher. There were two groups of pilgrims in the party we ambushed and both thought I was part of the other one. They carried me with them, all the way to this city where I slowly healed, at least as much as possible. I changed my name and got a job as a jailer.”

“Why didn’t you try to find me?” the prisoner asked.

“It was too far for me to travel like this, and even if I had, I would have been a burden on you. I have found a better way, through my suffering.”

“When is the execution scheduled?” the prisoner asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Will you come to it, to see me?” For a moment, O’Keefe heard a touch of the boy he had known in the prisoner’s voice, the child looking up to his father for assurance and advice.

The jailer stifled a groan and punched his fist into the door. The physical pain seemed like a blessing compared the torture filling his mind. “How could I go? How could I watch them do that to my only son?”

“What will you do then?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know.” O’Keefe turned and shuffled back down the long hall to the guard room. His knee was screaming at him by now, the pain shouting accusations.


The deputy jailer William Crandell was in the guard room when O’Keefe entered. They nodded at each other in professional acknowledgement.

“William, the new prisoner—do you know when the execution will be?”

“The counterfeiter? Yes, I just received the news. It will be in two days. They need time to fill and ready the cauldron.”

O’Keefe gave a quick nod and turned to hide his long, shuddering breath. He had only seen one execution that had involved that squat, black cauldron. The images were burned into his memory, and now his mind unwillingly combined the iron monstrosity with the tiny tin basin he had used to wash little Gabriel in front of the fireplace. The little boy had splashed and laughed, spilling water on the dirt floor. In O’Keefe’s mind, he could see the water thickening into oil around the small boy, the surface swelling and bursting in sickening pops as the oil began to boil.

(to be concluded in Part 2)

The Key of Spreading Branches

Read the previous stories about Klista here.



Bruce Riansson hung suspended in an abyss of blackness, a slender rope the only thing keeping him alive. He hated the dark and the oppressive, dead silence that he was forbidden to break. As he valued his life, he could not break it.

He was wearing bulky spectacles over his eyes. They were made to see in the dark but they could do nothing in absolute darkness and he was as blind as if he were not even wearing them. The spectacles were magic, of course. At least that’s what Klista said. Ever since he had joined her and she had whisked him away from Indrake and everything he had known, everything seemed to be magic.

Watch out for the moths, she had said, just before he had descended into the pit. They sense sound. Do not make a sound, or I will have to find another man with your abilities to help me. It was not very comforting.

The shaft had narrowed above and he had been forced to climb through, sweating and praying he would not trip or kick a rock into the chasm. He could hear the rope rubbing on the rock above him now. Scrap, scrap, scrap… It was a tiny sound, but it was magnified in the stillness of the cavern.

What am I doing here? he thought, not for the first time. I used to be an innkeeper. How did I ever get to this point? He remembered every step clearly, but it seemed so unreal—only a few weeks ago he had been a simple innkeeper in Indrake, and now he was breaking into an ultra-secure prison on another world to free a murderous, violent man.

There was a flutter of pale white in the darkness near his head. It was a moth, as big as his hand and faintly luminescent. It was beating its wings slowly, as if time had slowed down. Flap…flap…flap. More appeared around him, coming up from below, until he was surrounded in a cloud of white.

Bruce remained as still as a stone, trying not even to breathe. One of the moths landed on his sleeve and he saw its feet burn tiny holes in the fabric. A small tongue of flame came from its mouth and singed the cloth before it took off.

The moths swirled around him, but most did not seem to notice him. Bruce wondered if they were blind. They continued upwards in a shifting column of white wings until they were lost from sight. What if they were going for the rope?

At that moment, Bruce saw two small lights appear in the darkness in front of him—eyes, glowing brightly green through his spectacles. In their small light, he saw that he was hanging directly in front of a large cage. Inside stood a giant, looking out at him.

The rope shivered slightly. Bruce could imagine those tiny, burning feet walking along his lifeline as the fibers melted and popped. He held out his hand and the giant in the cage reached out towards him. Their outstretched hands were only a few feet apart. Desperately, Bruce swung his body, moving closer and closer until he felt contact and his hand disappeared inside the huge fist of the giant.

As he was being pulled towards the cage, he felt the rope give way above him. There was a jerk on his arm and a second later, he was being forced through the narrow bars of the cage. The giant man put him down and sat back, saying nothing.

Bruce saw now that the man was about eight feet tall, dressed in a dark-grey smock, with long, wild hair. For a moment, the two stood looking at each other until Bruce reached down into his bag and pulled out two circles of metal. He clasped one around his arm and gave the other to the prisoner, motioning for him to do the same. The man took it slowly and then opened it as far as it would go and slipped it onto his wrist.

“Can you hear me?” Bruce said, inside his mind.

“Yes,” came the deep reply, resonating inside Bruce’s mind. “How can I hear you if you not making any sound?”

Magic,” Bruce said with a smile. “Your name is Chirik? I am here to get you out.”

“And who are you?” Chirik asked. “Have the Feyluns sent you here?”

“I do not know who they are,” Bruce said. “I was sent here by a woman named Klista. She wants you to work for her. She said that if you agree, you would be free and would lead an army for her.”

Chirik looked steadily at Bruce and his eyes glowed a little brighter, then dimmed. “I do not know anyone named Klista, and I am a mercenary, not a general. Anyway, there is no way out of here. The bars are unbreakable and the only key to the cell door was destroyed. They pulverized it and blew the dust through the keyhole at me.”

“There is a way,” Bruce said, gingerly pulling out a large, metal key in the shape of a tree with spreading branches. “This key will open any door, Klista said. Put it up to the keyhole and it will do the rest.”

Chirik took the key. It fit inside his palm easily. He put it up to the keyhole and as the key touched the metal of the door, the spreading branches contracted and slipped through the small hole. There was a soft whine and then a loud clunk. Chirik pulled the door open.

“Magic, indeed,” he said through his thoughts. “I have sat here for time uncounted, hungering for a freedom I knew would never come. I would have killed myself if I had had the means, but instead I was left to be tortured in darkness and silence. Is this Klista a sorceress that she could find me here and find a way for me to escape?

“Possibly, but you will have to ask her that,” Bruce said. “She rarely tells me what she is thinking or how she does things, besides saying magic. She also told me to give you this.”

Bruce took out a bundle wrapped in cloth and gave it to Chirik, who unwrapped it. It was a hammer, about a foot long. Chirik held it up and as he did, it grew until it became a huge warhammer, taller than Bruce.

Chirik’s eyes glowed like white fire and Bruce could see the look of intense joy on his face. Suddenly, Chirik roared a battle-cry that echoed and re-echoed off the walls of the cavern.

“Get behind me and out of the way of the hammer,” he cried out loud—the words he spoke were foreign to Bruce, but the meaning came through to his mind. Chirik flung the door open and charged through, Bruce following as close behind as he dared.

They ran through narrow tunnels that got broader as they ascended. Bruce could only faintly see the path ahead of them by the light of Chirik’s eyes. A statue loomed up in the middle of the corridor but Chirik pulverized it with one swing of the warhammer. Another and another appeared in front of them, but all of them turned to dust a moment later. Chirik came to a huge door and started to pound on it with the hammer. After five hits, the door cracked, after twelve, it splintered, and after the sixteenth, Bruce was able to crawl out into the cool night air. A moment later, Chirik joined him.

The sky was dark blue and large red stars burned overhead, just as Bruce had left it less than an hour before. Behind them, a huge tower loomed up in silhouette against the night sky. The land about them was dead—no lights could be seen and only a faint wind sighed through the bare rocks.

“Why are there no guards in the tower?” Bruce asked.

“What guards there are, are usually sufficient,” Chirik said. He said this out loud, but it was still through his mind that Bruce understood the words. “Without your magic key and the warhammer of Clemin, escape would have been impossible.”

“I am glad to see again, Bruce,” another voice said in his head. Bruce turned to see Klista coming towards them, holding a glowing orb in front of her. She was dressed in her customary red cloak and smiling. “Chirik, my name is Klista. Remember it well, since I am your rescuer. Will you work with me?”

“You saved me from that hell,” Chirik said. “Whatever I can do for you, my lady, I will.”

“Good,” Klista said. “We have one more important person to get and then the great campaign begins.”

She touched both of them on the arm. A flash of light enveloped them and they were gone.

The Right Turn

This is a story prompt by my good friend, Sharmishtha Basu. Read the original post and her story here, and many others on her great blogs. This story is a bit darker than some of my other work, just as a note of caution.

The lightning crashed again, blinding him for a few seconds. It lit up the old building behind the trees. He noted that the road has forked to two obscure paths a few feet away from him, the right turn led him to an old, dilapidated mansion, which perhaps had some intact rooms and a caretaker. The left one disappeared in the shrubs and bushes.

Someone has been stalking him ever since his car broke down. He could hear him or it but had not been able to catch a single glimpse even after turning back dozens of times…

artwork by Sharmishtha Basu

Philip took the turn on the right. He wanted to get to the house before the rain started. He came out onto an overgrown lawn and saw a small door partially open on the first floor. Welcoming light was spilling out from the crack. With a final glance behind him, he hurried across the lawn and through the door.

He found himself in a corridor of whitewashed stone that immediately made him feel uneasy. There was a faint, chemical smell in the air that reminded him of morgues and taxidermists. The door creaked behind him. He leapt for it, but it was too late: the door slammed and a lock clicked.

Philip ran back and pushed on the door but it did not budge. With a sense of apprehension, he turned and continued along the corridor. It ran for fifty feet until it turned a corner and opened into a glass-walled room that looked out onto a stark-white laboratory lined with machines and microscopes. The glass room he was in occupied a quarter of the room. In the center of the room were two large, clear cylinders that reached from floor to ceiling. The further one was empty. Inside the nearer one, curled and immobile, stood a nightmare.

Imp was the word that came to Philip’s mind when he saw it, then hag. It was humanoid, with spindly limbs and a face that was pulled forward with a long protuberant jaw and exposed fangs. It was female, he saw, with withered breasts that hung limply down on its stomach. Long claws grew out of its hands and feet.

A metal door slid down across the entrance to the corridor, jerking Philip’s attention away from the monstrosity in the cylinder. A moment later, a man walked into lab from another door. He was dressed in all black so that in the purely white lab, he seemed like a hole in space, a negative of reality.

“It was you, wasn’t it?” Philip said. “Who followed me from my car? What do you want with me?”

“You can undress and pile your clothes in the corner,” the man said. “You’ll have no need of them anymore. If you don’t, I’ll have to gas you and do it myself, but I’d rather not. Don’t think about trying to call for help—cell phones don’t work in here.”

“What are you going to do with me?” Philip, as a feeling of dread went through him.

“I’m sure you have noticed Hecate,” the man said, indicating the cylinder. “This is the crowning achievement of my work. I developed her with specific goals: to be ruthless, agile, cunning, and fertile. She is almost ready now, just a little more and she will be ready to wait for someone—for you, in fact.”

Philip started to ask a question and then decided he did not want to know the answer. The man saw and laughed.

“Hecate was once like you or me, just a normal girl that got lost on her way home from a party. She came to the fork in the road and turned right, ending up where you are now. It will take more than a year, I warn you, but someday, you will be like her. Then the two of you will come together, the mother and father of a new race. Now please, remove your clothing.”

“I’m more comfortable this way,” Philip said.

The man sighed. “Have it your way.” He turned away and turned on a machine on the side table. As soon as his back was turned, Philip drew the pistol that was tucked in the back of his pants and pointed it at the man’s head.

The glass was thick, but no match for a .44 bullet. The shot shattered one of the panels of glass that made up the containing room, missing the man’s head by inches. He threw himself to the floor as Philip shot again, smashing another panel of the wall.

Philip climbed out the glass room, sending more bullets smashing through lab equipment and glass partitions. The man in black kept dodging and weaving, trying to get to the door. Philip’s last bullet smashed through the nearest glass cylinder and light blue fluid poured out onto the floor.

“No! She’s not ready yet!” the man screamed. He ran to a computer terminal and started typing in commands. Behind him, the thing in the cylinder moved.

It started with a slow unfolding of its limbs, as if it were just waking up. Then it lifted its head and Philip caught a glance of its watery yellow eyes before it turned them on the back of the man in black. It took one long, delicate step out of the shattered tube and then a flying leap, silently and with claws extended.

The man screamed and the two figures fell to the floor, locked together in a frenzy of limbs and fangs and blood. Philip ran for the door that the man had entered by and ran up the stairs. He came out into a dark, musty main hall and found the front door. Just before he left, he opened his Zippo lighter, lit it and dropped it on the carpet. Then he fled out into the night.

The next day, Philip read how the old mansion on the edge of town had mysterious burned down. The damage was further increased by the explosion of several large tanks of chemicals that had been stored in the basement. The eminent but reclusive Dr. Hasgrove was found in the basement, dead from unspecified wounds. No other people or creatures were found.

Philip moved to another city a month later. He kept his eyes open for news of strange attacks or disappearances. There were none that he could find, but still, when he was out at night, he thought he could feel something behind him, stalking him.


The Woman in Blue, Part 3 of 3

The Woman in Blue, Part 2

…Jack Simons walked into the house. It seemed mere seconds since he had left it that morning. He was tired and aggravated, although he didn’t know why. And his finger hurt. Slowly, he parted his fingers and saw two words, cut in tiny strokes on the side of his left ring finger. Stay calm.

Someone must have known about his outburst the night before.

He sat down at the computer. Hi, Sarah.

Hi, Jack. How are you feeling today?

He felt like crap and wanted to punch something, but he forced a smile onto his face. I feel great. How about you?

I’m good, Jack. I’m good.


Over the next few days, it seemed as if everything in the house began conspiring against him. The next day, the toaster started smoking on its own. That made the sprinkler system go off, which soaked everything in the house, including his bed, but strangely, not the computer. Sarah had no explanation for this, as much as he accused her of setting it up.

Stay calm. The words rang shrilly in his head, making him more angry, if anything, but he contained his rage. This got easier when he discovered an extra heating unit and other electronics stuffed inside the mangled remains of the toaster and he knew that they—whoever they were—were testing him, trying to get him angry.

On the night of May 21st, Jack was woken up by sounds of movement coming from the living room. He went out and turned on the light to see a burglar—no mask, though—standing in his living room, filling a large bag with electronics and knick-knacks.

“What in Styx do you think you’re doing?” Jack asked, although it was pretty obvious.

“Go back into the bedroom and you won’t get hurt,” the burglar said. He was young, in his early twenties probably. He gave Jack a saucy sneer and suddenly Jack wanted to kill him. Not for the stuff he was stealing—it wasn’t Jack’s anyway—but just for being an arrogant prick who thought he was tough and thought he was in control.

Stay calm.

Stay calm.

Stay calm.

Of course, this was only another test, to see what he would do. Jack forced a grin onto his face. Are you watching this, Sarah? he thought.

“Ah, come on. You’re not going to hurt me,” Jack said, suddenly changing his tone and giving the burglar a easy grin. “You just want this stuff and then you want to go, right? How did you get in?”

“Uh, the back door. It was unlocked,” the burglar said, suddenly unsure of himself.

“Makes sense, I honestly can’t remember ever locking it. Hey, do you want the TV?” Jack asked. “I don’t watch it anyway.” He unhooked the cables from the back and then carried it over to the door. “I’ll get the microwave for you too.”

Twenty minutes later, Jack and the burglar had stripped the house of anything of value and piled it by the back door. Everything except the computer and the telephone. Jack had offered them, but the burglar had declined, not surprisingly.

“Now go into the bedroom and shut the door,” the burglar ordered. “I’ll carry this stuff outside.”

“Fair enough,” Jack said. He went into the bedroom and lay down, listening to the burglar moving things out of the back door. He wondered if the burglar lost his memories every time he went through. That would be pretty funny. He wondered if Sarah was watching all this and what she thought of it all.

He heard the door shut and then there was silence. A moment later, the phone rang. Jack smiled and then got up to answer it.


“Hello, Jack. I saw you were up anyway.”

“Yeah, funny thing about that.”

“Jack, I’m here to tell you that it’s over. The experiment, that is. They say you passed.”

“Okay, now what?”

“Now, you can leave, for real.”

Jack heard a buzz and a click. Looking out in the hall, he saw that the front door was standing ajar.

“You’re in prison, Jack,” Sarah’s voice said. “You were sentenced to life in prison for killing two men, but you were lucky enough to be chosen for this experiment, to see if your behavior could change if you had no memories—to see if you were fundamentally bad or not.”

Jack knew he should shut up. His brain kept telling him to, but he couldn’t stop himself. “Is that what you think of me? That I’m a robot that has a GOOD-EVIL switch that might get flipped to GOOD if I couldn’t remember being a criminal? And you were going to prove this by trying to make me angry? Anger doesn’t equal evil, Sarah, and calm doesn’t equal good.”

“Jack,” her voice was sweet but warning at the same time. “They passed you; don’t try to convince them to undo that. This is only Stage 1. If you go out the front door, they will still be monitoring you, although you won’t know it. You’ll forget everything about this place and about prison. You’ll have a new identity and wake up in a hospital, supposedly with amnesia.”


“The Department of Corrections isn’t too creative with their ideas,” Sarah said and there was a hint of amusement in her voice.

“Will I remember you?”

“No, you won’t.”

“Then tell me: who are you, Sarah?” Jack asked.

“I am your fiancée,” she said, after a pause. “We would be married now, if two men hadn’t broken into your house a week before our wedding. You beat them both to death. The warden asked me to help in the experiment as a control, because I knew you. I was the one person you could never forget and they wanted to prove that you could. I love you, Jack.”

“I won’t do it,” Jack said. “If I have to be in prison for the rest of my life, so be it. I don’t want to forget you, out there. I’ve been trying to remember you in here and I couldn’t. I don’t want to live like that for the rest of my life, especially now.”

“Jack,” Sarah said, “you don’t remember now, but there was a time when you fell in love with me. You pursued me and charmed me and made me fall in love with you too. You told me you did this experiment for me, so let me do this for you, Jack. Let me find you and make you fall in love with me again.”

“Okay, I’ll trust you. What do I do?”

“Just walk through the front door. There are machines built into the door frame. You won’t remember anything after that and we can start again. I love you, Jack.”

He wanted to return the feeling, to say he loved her too, but the words sounded false in his mind. He didn’t even remember her. “I will love you too,” he said. Then he hung up the phone and walked out the front door…

The Woman in Blue, Part 2 of 3

The Woman in Blue, Part 1

Time flies when you only remember six hours out of every day and for Jack, the next few days seem to slip by like ghosts in the night. There were no more scratches on his body or messages in his briefcase, although he pored through every scrap of paper in it.

He talked for hours with Sarah, although the conversations were dry and often frustrating. She would not reveal anything about herself and he knew almost nothing about himself to tell. She was constantly asking how he felt: if he was angry, if he was relaxed. The questions themselves put him on edge, but he never told her that.

Jack began to fixate on her more and more as the days went by. She was the only person he knew in the world and his only contact with the human world. All his pent-up frustration, suspicion, loneliness, and lusty desires—they all became focused on her. He found himself loving her and hating her both, without even knowing who she was.

He wondered what she was like and if he had known her before—out in the real world. For all he knew, the Jack outside knew her and the two of them had lunch together every day. Not that it helped the Jack in here any.

If he was in a good mood, he would tease her and try to cajole her into telling him more about herself. What’s your favorite color? Come on, what’s it going to hurt? Let me guess: is it blue? All he ever got were smiley emoticons and avoidance.

On the fifth day—May 14th according to the computer’s calendar—Jack walked through the door with a sore foot. The pain was coming from the inside of his left foot. He sat down cross-legged on the floor in front of the TV, covering that part of his foot with his hand and slowly stripped off his socks. He pretended to be stretching and raised his hand slightly to see the side of his foot. Here, the cuts were deeper than before and easier to read. Sarah bday, they read.

He had sent himself another message—against the rules—to say it was Sarah’s birthday. That must mean he knew her on the outside, unless this was only part of the experiment. He was getting frustrated with the whole thing. Sarah would not even tell him when it was going to end; just to be patient. Maybe there were other, darker forces lurking behind her, telling her what to say. He tried to see her as a victim as well in order to shield her from all the rage that were boiling inside of him.

Jack sat down in front of the computer. Yo Sarah, happy birthday!

For a moment, there was no response. Then, How did you know?

May 14 is your birthday, right?

How did you know? Did you remember it? Tell me, Jack, did you remember it was my birthday?

It was either that or admit he had read it off scratches on his foot. Finally, he typed, Yeah, I saw it was May 14 and suddenly thought it was your birthday. I guess I was right.

What else do you remember? Do you remember me? Describe me.

The only thing he associated with Sarah was the icon of the woman in the blue dress, but that probably wasn’t even her. He didn’t even know if the person on the other end of the chat program really was Sarah. They knew he didn’t remember and they were trying to trap him. Suddenly, he didn’t care anymore.

You’re eight feet tall with a lazy eye and long fingernails, he typed. You like raw seafood and nude demolition derbies.

There was no response to this. “Answer me,” he growled. So, what are you doing tonight for your birthday? Got a hot date lined up?

He barely even knew what he was typing. All he wanted was to get some sort of reaction out of her, to make her show herself as human, to show even a little of herself to him.

Wanna go out with me? Come on, just come pick me up. Or just come on in and we’ll screw on the couch.

There was no answer. Jack had been getting more furious as he wrote and now something seemed to explode in his head. “Answer me!” he screamed out loud and picking up the chair, he hurled it at the window.

The chair rebounded off the glass without even leaving a mark. Bulletproof glass. He was looking around for more furniture to throw when the phone rang.

The phone was in the kitchen. Jack had picked it up when he had first arrived, but there was no dial tone and he had ignored it as only a prop. Now, he strode over to it, jerking it savagely off the cradle.


It was a woman’s voice on the other end. “Jack, what are you doing?” She sounded scared.

“You got me in a prison here,” he said. “And now I find I can’t even break the windows? I’m done with this. Let me out.”

“Jack, you agreed to do the full length of the experiment.”

“Yeah, well now I’m unagreeing to it. I want out and I want to keep my memories.”

“Jack, please.” There was pleading in her voice. “You must be patient. I know you don’t understand right now, but you have to trust me.”

“Why should I trust you?” Jack demanded. “I don’t even know you. Who are you anyway?”

“I’m Sarah.”

“Do I know you, out there?”

“Yes…yes, you do, but I can’t tell you how.”

“Just tell me if we are related. Are you my sister, cousin, mother?”

There was a slight pause. “No, we’re not related,” Sarah said. “Listen, I have to go. Remember Jack, be patient and trust me.” The line went dead.

Jack put the phone down and went back to the computer, but Sarah had logged off. That night he dreamed about her, but she always seemed to be just beyond his grasp.

The next day Jack got up and robotically went about getting ready. At 7:35, he stood in front of the door with his briefcase full of meaningless lesson plans and student reports. It seemed to get harder with time, having to walk through that door that erased all his memories and deposited him, a second later, back in the same place and hours later. Finally, he sighed and stepped forward…

…Jack Simons emerged from the model house attached to Northcross Prison and was immediately surrounded by guards. They took his briefcase and while they watched, he undressed and was handed an orange prison uniform.

Sub-Warden Neese, walked up to him with a tablet computer, shaking his head slightly.

“How did I do in there?” Jack asked.

“You got violent, Jack,” Neese said. “You tried to break a window with your chair. I was about to pull the program right there, but Sarah convinced me to let her call you and calm you down. You’re not doing well, Jack.”

“It’s not fair, though!” Jack said. “If you would just let me know what was going on, I’d behave for you. I’d be as good as gold.”

“You know why we can’t do that, Jack. Of course you can play nice for a while. What we are trying to determine is if you are a fundamentally dangerous and unstable person. I’ll see you back here in ten hours.”

“It’s all bull, if you ask me,” Jack’s cellmate, Chris Jamer said. They were lying on their bunks, staring at the ceiling. “Who wouldn’t get anxious and violent in a place like that, where they don’t tell you anything? They’re trying to get you to fail.”

“I have to try to get another message through to myself,” Jack said.

“Man, you know they said they would cancel the whole program if they caught you doing that again.”

“I’m going to fail anyway,” Jack said. “They said Sarah phoned me in there. I wonder if I recognized her voice. I gotta do this for her.”

“If you get caught trying to sneak another message in to yourself, you’ll never see her again,” Chris said. “You were lucky enough to be chosen for that program. Don’t screw it up now.”

“Give me your razor. I’ll make it small and put it between my fingers. They’ve never checked there yet.”

“You’re a fool, Jack,” Chris said, but he reached under his mattress and pulled out a tiny razor blade and handed it to Jack.

At 5:00, the guards came for Jack. They led him to a staging area where he undressed fully and stood naked while the guards checked him for contraband and messages.

“Arms up.” He raised his arms. “Fingers spread. I said, fingers spread!” One of the guards seized Jack’s ring finger. He looked at it for a second, then gave a harsh laugh and threw the hand down. “I didn’t see nothing,” he said in a low tone, “but you’d better follow your own advice in there, cuz after today, you’ll never see the inside of that house again, if you don’t.”

Jack got dressed in his teacher clothes and was handed his briefcase. Then he walked through the door and into the house…

The Woman in Blue, Part 3

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