[This is my entry for Chuck Wendig’s latest flash fiction contest. In in the spirit of killing two evil demon cat-birds with one stone, it is also my answer to a challenge from Twitter friend Ellie Soderstrom to write a story with a sympathetic protagonist who was…well, you’ll see.]
Casey Jones doesn’t know that he’s lived his entire life in Cell Block C of the Westborough Correctional Institute.
Casey Jones doesn’t know the name of the man who lives with him in solitary confinement cell number 17.
Casey Jones doesn’t even know his own name.
Casey Jones only knows that he needs food. He searches for food in all the dark places, in the cracks between the cinder blocks and in the damp and safe place behind the cell’s stainless steel toilet. But he finds the most food every day when he feels the vibrations of steps coming down the hall and senses the clatter of the tray in the slot of the door.
He does not know that the man who brings the food is named Conrad Bingham. He doesn’t know that his cellmate once saved Conrad Bingham’s life. But he knows that when the food comes his cellmate will be sitting on the floor with the tray, eating with a plastic spork. And when he’s done eating Casey’s cellmate will spoon out some of the food into his hand and Casey will scutter over and gobble it up.
While he’s eating Casey Jones will feel his cellmate’s fingers brushing softly against his carapace, but he will not run away. He likes the food, and his cellmate does not try to hurt him or make him go away.
Casey Jones does not know that his cellmate has nightmares at night, that he sees the face of the woman he bludgeoned to death over and over in his dreams. He only knows the sweet taste of sweat on his cellmate’s trembling skin.
He senses the vibration of the air in his antennae, but he does not know it is his cellmate telling him how he wishes he could take it all back.
One day Casey senses a strange sound, the sound of scratching, but he does not know it is the sound of his cellmate scratching the words, “Get me a shiv. You owe me,” into the cover of the Styrofoam tray that Conrad Bingham will come to pick up later.
And on the next day when the shiv arrives Casey does not know that Conrad Bingham had to give up something precious to get it. He eats the food from his cellmate’s hand and he smells the tears in his eyes.
Casey doesn’t hear when his cellmate sings the words to a song about a train engineer who sacrificed his life to save the lives of his passengers.
He doesn’t understand when his cellmate’s voice cracks halfway through the line, “He’ll be waitin’ at the station in the promised land.”
He doesn’t know when his cellmate drags the shiv down along his wrist tearing through the skin and deep into the vein.
And when the blood begins to spurt from the wound Casey Jones only knows how deep and wonderful the warm red liquid smells.
He drinks his fill from the growing pool. He makes no notice of his cellmate’s death rattle.
A little later he crawls over the cooling skin of his cellmate’s corpse and tastes the sweetness of his sweat for one last time.
And when the men in uniforms come to take the body away Casey Jones hides in the dark place behind the stainless steel toilet. Only later when his cellmate is gone and a new man has come to take his place does he dare to venture out into the open.
He does not understand when a voice cries out in revulsion.
A shadow of darkness, a descending boot, a falling soul, and-
[By the by, the contest I mentioned will be open till Friday, so if you think you can do better then head on over there and give it whirl.]