0002 – Prisoner: Escape, by Gareth

In the darkness, a prisoner hangs.

He has been hanging there for a very long time. He’s so used to seeing nothing but darkness that he can’t be sure his eyes work anymore – not that he’s thought about this for quite a while. As a matter of fact, he hasn’t thought about anything.

That’s the thing about being alone in the darkness, in the silence. After the initial screaming, the initial protesting, what sets in is a deep sense of ennui. The ennui is followed by boredom. The boredom is followed by more screaming, more wailing, more pleading, more begging. The cycle continues, but with every bout, every turn of the wheel, the cogs of the mind move a little slower.

With nothing to see, nothing to hear, nothing to taste, nothing to smell, nothing to touch, the mind shuts down, piece by piece. You know it’s happening. You know you’re not even going mad, you’re simply losing what it means to be yourself. You can’t do anything to stop it. After a while, you don’t even realise the tears are falling anymore.

You stop mumbling the names of your lost loved ones.

You stop screaming into the silence just to hear the echo.

You stop mouthing your own name, lest you forget it.

You stop remembering. You stop feeling. Slowly, you turn into hanging meat. Wasting. Putrefying. Health, lifespan, intelligence, all slipping away, all dwindling to a damaged, crippled point of light in the centre of your skull. And then it winks out, leaving empty, vacant flesh, beating heart and breathing lungs but staring eyes and slack jaw.

It has not yet reached this point for our prisoner. Not yet.

In the distance, a door slams, one of the few sounds left in this man’s world. Another creaks open, closer now, and then slams again. On the floor above, the cells are being opened and closed, one by one.

With each slam, our prisoner is jolted slightly into a free, swaying motion, suspended by his chains and manacles. With each slam, his bonds tug a little more on the stone from which they are suspended, in the ceiling of his miserable little cell.

The door being opened is directly above, now. As it slams shut again, the masonry shudders and crumbles itself free, the giant, heavy brick enters freefall, and narrowly misses the prisoner’s head by a matter of inches. Thrown to the ground, cracking and splintering stone erupting and showering him with debris, his emaciated body lies prone on the slimy flagstones.

But at least now, he is free to move.

In an instant, the dwindling light within his boredom-addled skull erupts into a flaming, hopeful inferno. Adrenaline courses into muscles that have lain unused for months. His heart pounds, his wretched little body springing silently into an agile crouch behind the door of his tiny cell.

His breathing slows. He is quiet now, so quiet, as the cell next to his is opened. It feels like an eternity before it shuts once more.

He holds his breath. The door opens.

The jailer gets only a few steps into the room before the prisoner is upon him. Chains, still attached to manacles, still embedded in sharp chunks of dark, wet stone, slip around the neck of the large, well-fed man. He is caught unawares, spittle trapped in his throat, making obscene glugs and gargles as he tries desperately to shake off his ragged, scrawny, bearded assailant.

Anger and instinct fill the small, dismal room. A scream that last rang out as a desperate plea rings out now in anger, in hatred, as the prisoner throttles his fading captor, the big man’s thrashing and fighting tapering off to a series of lifeless, sudden jerks, and then stillness on the filthy floor.

The prisoner catches his breath, but not for long. The yawning openness of the doorway behind him is almost palpable. In his mind’s eye, the heavy oaken door creaks shut under its own imbalanced weight, its cruel lock clicking shut once more. Spurred on by this mental image, he darts through the door and out into the corridor beyond, scrabbling like a spider, barely more than a desperate bag of bones.

Before long, he finds the narrow, spiral staircase, ascending floor after floor, scrambling desperately up into the light, following the faint breeze. Its smell is rotten and rancid from blowing through floor after floor of the squalid dungeon, but he knows that at its source, it is fresh. He can smell it freshening, now as he reaches the top of the staircase, his sunken eyes squinting at the bright light shining in between the bars of the distant door at the end of the corridor.

The prisoner flings himself at the door.

It is locked.

Rage erupts from him. His skeletal arms probe between the bars, reaching beyond into the bright, searing sunlight. And then, against all odds, against all explanation, the door swings open. He clatters beyond the threshold, body hitting the soft earth outside like a sack of sticks.

There are shouts from behind now. These are not jailers, fat and cruel and slow and dumb. These are guards, broad of shoulder and fast of foot. Nobody has ever escaped from this place. It should be impossible.

Somehow, the prisoner finds the strength in his legs. His pursuers are young, healthy men, but he outruns them all with ease, finding deep reserves of strength down in his tired bones.

There is nothing in him now, except the will which says to him: “Hold on!”

And this is enough.

His bare feet relish the feel of the dry grass. His tight skin is kissed by the free air. For the first time in so long, he laughs with a voice hoarsened by screaming. The prison is far behind, and never again will he step out of the open sky, never again will he leave the glorious embrace of the wide, open world.

He is free now. Forever.

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