Ghost Story Behind Bars – Chapter 01



Chapter 01

A spark shone, sputtered, and died, prey to the darkness.

All that remained it was a small glowing ember, bobbing at the tip of a fag hanging out of the man lips with every word. He made no attempt to hide the contraband smoke. He was among “friends” – rat one out, rat ’em all – and besides, it was the holidays. (Well, if Halloween could be counted as one. It made an awfully good argument for why he should move south past the border if he ever got tired of jail-hopping.) Holidays made people generous, and Giancarlo Bourbon del Monte was the master of generosity in the penitentiary (but only when it came to holidays).

He was surrounded by circle of glowing butts. The smoke that trailed from the mouths of the grungy men like sleepy dragons was barely visible as they faded to black above their heads.

The smell was hard to cover up, but honestly, it was the holidays. Surely the guards could be generous, too?

(Or, rather, he’d asked for a “favor” from a special “friend” of his, and voila! Critical eyes and noses averted for a night.)

After a long drag, Giancarlo – Gian for short – chuckled. “And then, you know what she heard next? Her man gone just a second, and then, the next … skree. Skreeee.” He made sure to make his voice extra shrill and was satisfied when he saw a few sudden jerks in the dim red points near him. If the lights were on, their expressions would be pretty hilarious. “What’s more, the sound of the guy trying to crank the car up again, the steady thunk, thunk, thunk … suddenly stopped. ‘Ned?’ she cried. Panic stained her voice and gripped her throat. The moon wasn’t nearly strong enough, and stranded as they were, they were alone at the side of the road.

“Or so…” Gian paused for effect, his voice lowered an octave, “…she thought. Instead of the metal cranking that she should be hearing, there came muffled crunches.” Gian dragged his clod feet back and forth across the concrete floor, eliciting a satisfying rasp each pass. “But then, it stopped! She heard only silence. Nary a cricket chirped, nary a bird tweeted.

“Then…”

Clang!

Everyone jumped, Gian included. Before the echo had faded, everyone’s eyes had swung to the source of the loud metallic ring, eyes wide as children with their mangy paws still in the cookie jar. Gian’s nose curled when he saw who it was.

Of course. Of course it would be the one warden incapable of corruption who would be on duty tonight.

(Lloyd was probably sitting in the time-out corner.)

“I am going to pretend that I don’t see the obvious contraband in plain sight right now,” Joshua said disdainfully as his eyes and flashlight swept across the crowd of unrepentant faces. Some glared balefully up at him, others yawned (“Rude!” thought Gian), and Gian himself waggled his fingers sheepishly in greeting. “Put those cigarettes out and get back to your cells. It’s past curfew, and any dalliance is going to get you hauled into solitary, no questions asked.”

There was a general murmur of discontent as bodies shifted and clothing rustled and the lights went out one by one. Soon, it was just Gian and Joshua. The cigarette was still stuck stubbornly between his lips as a smirk curled upwards. “You’re lucky none of them wanted any trouble, Joshua. One against eight ain’t good odds.”

“I’d hate to see ‘murder’ added to their list of transgressions in a single night. It might bring the list to three pages. The horror.”

Gian snorted. It probably would be a horror for Joshua, who championed neatness and efficiency like a Holy Grail. A paper wasted with just one line on it. The absolute horror.

Quite honestly, if anyone were to find them, Joshua would’ve been the second safest choice. Lloyd would’ve been the best; heck, he probably would’ve sat right down with them. But since he was supposed to be keeping an eye out for wandering officers and stop them from patrolling…

…Supposed to.

“You’re not an exception, Gian,” Joshua said, his hand stretched out.

Gian looked up at Joshua’s no-nonsense expression and then down at the hand before sighing. He plucked the half-spent stick from his lips (what a waste…) and stuck it out for Joshua. The hack frowned and stared at the offered cigarette with dismay. “What, you don’t want it?” Gian quipped. “Well, then…”

But before he could pop it back into his mouth, Joshua snatched the cigarette, his finger pinched awkwardly around the middle body of the roll as though trying to avoid both fire and spit. Joshua was such a prude, Gian couldn’t help but chuckle.

His last joy for the day finally snuffed out, Gian stretched, his stripes riding up his back before he slouched forward with a flop. “Sigh, I guess there’s nothing left for the day now. May as well turn in for the night like a good little boy.”

This brought a small smile to Joshua’s lips. “The day that happens is the day pigs fly and Lloyd actually does his job for once.”

“Hah! …How long’d it take you to notice?”

“The moment I saw him in the office.” The two made their way back to Gian’s cell. Though Joshua was a warden, he was a pretty chill guy, and Gian wasn’t too worried about repercussions from the platinum blond. “He was projecting some semblance of professionalism, and that’s when I knew something was wrong.”

“Testament to your skills, I guess.”

“Or Lloyd’s lack thereof.”

It was at this point they arrived at Gian’s cell, and Gian climbed in like a good boy, no tantrums. However, just as he turned away to climb into bed, ready to round the day off with a good snooze, Joshua started speaking again.

“So…”

“Hm?” Gian cocked his head back. Joshua was looking to the side, and the wiseguy would’ve thought he was checking the perimeter if it weren’t for the fact that his eyes were fixed very determinedly on a single point.

“Your story. How does it continue?”

A surprised, but rather pathetic-sounding noise made it out of Gian’s mouth as an eyebrow raised. A full-blown beam creeped onto his face, one muscle at a time. “Really? You’re curious?”

“Well,” Joshua said as he fidgeted with his flashlight before snapping it off, “you looked rather enthusiastic telling it, and it was a shame interrupting it…”

“Well then.” Gian hopped to his feet, gusto renewed. He held out his hand. “Lemme borrow that for a sec.”

Joshua looked down at the cylindrical object in his hand before passing it through the bars. He probably couldn’t see any harm in doing so, and it was true. They were separated by iron bars, and the worst Gian could do was wail himself on the head (and he wasn’t keen on that). Well, no. The worst he could do was shine the light like a beacon through the jailhouse and set everyone on high alert, and though that was a tantalizing idea for a “Trick,” this was Joshua. Not Brooks. He might do it for that fat tub of lard, but Joshua deserved to have his trust (sparse as it was) repaid.

“Where’d we leave off…” Gian made a show of searching through his memories. Then, with a quick spread of his hands, he began. “It was silent. The wind stopped. No blade of grass shifted, no leaf dangling overhead rustled.

“Then…”

Then, with a quick swivel, he flipped the flashlight around and shone it on his face from below to cast an abnormal, unsettling shadow over his features. He was pleased to see Joshua actually jump a bit, though whether it was at the sudden movement or the Creepy Face ™, he didn’t know.

“Bang! Something made her jump in her shoes.

“Thump! She trembled as she heard the sound of something get dragged.

“Where was her guy? At the very least, he should’ve still been trying to fix the car, but there wasn’t any clanking or clunking to be heard.

“The rustling continued. Tshhh. Tshhh.

“And then … it stopped.” Gian snapped the flashlight off.

Joshua’s shoulders slumped down in relief. “What, that’s i-”

“But then, there it was again! The clanking. She breathed a sigh of relief. But the constant noise was softer, much softer than it was before, like there was a layer of cloth. She wouldn’t have caught it if it weren’t for the quiet.

“Her nerves raced again, and, in a panic, she raced for the car door and whipped it open and clambered in. She didn’t bother keeping quiet as she slammed it shut…

“…and that was her mistake.”

Joshua’s Adam apple bobbed up and down.

“A light washed over the place. A bright beam, like from a car. ‘I’m saved!’ she thought, but when she looked up…”

“‘Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!'”

(Gian didn’t bother keeping quiet, and the subsequent confused murmurs and thunks from adjacent cells amused him as the shriek probably startled the thugs out of their beds.)

“There was her boyfriend, dangling by his neck from the overhead tree! A noose was tied tightly around Ned’s neck … or, should I say, the thin flab of skin and fat holding Ned’s head to his neck because that thing wasn’t fully attached anymore. Someone’d hacked through it, and the cut was messy. Bits of flesh, deep, dark red, shone in the bright headlamps like stumps of grass, stuck out left and right, and the whole front of the guy’s dinner suit was stained a river of red. The bump, bump, bump was the sound of Ned’s knee thumping against the front of the car.

“She trembled, her whole body frozen, her brain so locked in place she almost didn’t hear the rap, rap on her window.

“She looked up, and there was a man dressed in policeman blues. She almost cried, so relieved she was, and crawled over to the driver’s side of the car. Her hand reached for the handle, and she almost opened the door when she looked down.”

Lights, on. “In his hands were a bloody ax, slick with red that reached up the cop’s arm as though trying to swallow him whole. The other hand, still gloved and white, knocked on the window again, right in front of her face. She jumped back as she heard a voice, healthy and hale. ‘Get out of the car, Miss.’ She didn’t move. The voice repeated itself. She still didn’t move.”

Gian shrugged. “Who would? But of course you know what happened next. The ax blade swung through the window door, glass shattering and piercing her face, try as she may to cover it. And the red hand came through the window. It unlocked the door. ‘Are you also resisting the word of the law?’ the man said. Outside of the bright lights, she could see the man’s body glow slightly. She reached for the door handle. Jiggled it, but it wouldn’t come free. She saw the ax rise up over the man’s head.

“And glint of that slick blade was the last thing she ever saw.”

There was silence, like in the story Gian had just finished. He resisted turning the flashlight on again just to see Joshua’s reaction. The slight stammering in the other man’s voice didn’t disappoint, though.

“W-Well then. I should’ve known you’d make a policeman the v-villain in your t-tale.”

“What’s this, Joshua? You scared?” If there was a twinge (OK, a saturation) of satisfaction in Gian’s voice, it was only warranted, right?

“Absolutely not. Y-Your storytelling skills aside (“D’aww, shucks”), the ending is improbable and illogical. It could never happen.” Joshua stuck his hand through the bars again, and Gian returned his prop without a question.

“It’s a ghost story, Joshua. It’s not supposed to make complete sense.”

“N-Nonetheless, you can’t raise an ax inside a car. The handle’s too long, and the position’s too awkward.” Joshua seemed to be regaining some his composure as the sentences came out smoother and quicker.

Gian cocked his head. He had a point. “Well, whaddaya know, you found a plothole. Too bad I’ve got no treats to give ya.”

Joshua snorted as he flipped the flashlight back on. It looked like he was about to leave, but Gian was gratified to see that there was a faint flush in the other’s cheeks.

He couldn’t hold it back. The blond chortled. “Joshua, seriously, you sure you’re good working here? You look seriously freaked.” Gian approached the bars and leaned against it. “Was the story that scary, or was my storytelling skills that good?”

Joshua rattled off, “Your ‘skills’ were above average, and the story wasn’t scary. I’m just not used to such things.”

“Whoa there, no need to get so defensive,” Gian said quickly, throwing his hands up. Though, to be sure, what other exposure would Joshua have? Lloyd? The man would probably end every story with a quick “session,” and that wouldn’t be a horror story then, would it? (He wondered if Joshua was used to more lurid tales, then.) “Thanks, though. I’ve been wanting to try that one out for months.”

The warden coughed. “Well, then. I’m glad I was able to … be your test subject.” He shifted from one foot to another. “I should get going. Need to finish patrols and such.”

“Hah! Yeah, no need to show favoritism to me.”

Joshua’s footsteps clanked away from his cell. Though he couldn’t see him anymore, Gian took great pleasure in hearing their unevenness: quick, staccato taps as though he were just on the brink of breaking out into a run. There were even some hiccups, as though the man had tripped and caught himself. Gian stuck a hand through the window and waved cheerfully, though he knew the other wouldn’t see him. “Don’t let the ghosties bite!”

Forget being on the brink. That was a full-out dash. Gian chuckled to himself and stretched high as he made his way back to the bed. Looking up, the moon was a great giant orb, peeking through his slit of a window like an eye. There wasn’t a cloud in sight, just like in his story. Too bad there were no woods nearby or it really would’ve set the mood.

He flopped onto the flimsy mattress, bouncing against the springs as the mattress bounced with him.

“Man, I really love prison life,” he muttered to himself with a Cheshire Cat grin as he shut his eyes, ready for a new day.

 


 

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