For some men, the world is an autoclave. A steam engine bearing down upon them. A tumbling aerial swan dive into a lake of uncertain depth. There is no society that stands behind them, no motion to follow their leadership, no positive reviews in the daily papers. Life is merely, as Hobbes said, solitary, nasty, brutish, and short. Life for such men—for (perhaps) most men throughout history—varies little in substance from that of the animals. Cattle in their stampede, sharks in their chum-fueled frenzy, armies of driver ants with their smothering razor-sharp jaws lined in charging columns… each of these bears a striking resemblance to the worst expressions of human nature in its unbridled chaos. And in the long catalogue of such expressions, from war to neglect to terrorism, little compares to a prison riot.
Sitting in the darkness, back pressed hard against the cold concrete bunk, Clay felt a terror well up in him that he had only felt once before in his life. His mind, still addled from the sense of displacement brought on by the effects of hypothermia and shock, flashed back to that moment when he was on the phone with Cheryl after the crash. It was the only thing he could hold on to, and it was also the worst. That infinitesimal micro-second when he just absolutely knew that everything he loved had just been taken from him. That was it. That was the moment. Sheer terror. Helplessness. Fear.
The sounds of violence punctuated the air and he closed his eyes wanting to wish himself invisible amid the pandemonium of Hurricane Sandy crashing outside his cell. What? No. This is not Hurricane Sandy. Sandy’s gone. Cheryl’s gone. Back in prison now. No, this was not the hurricane. Sandy was merciful.
Now there was loud shouting—sounded like Russian—and he could clearly hear Todd, though the words were in a language he did not understand, pleading as if for his life. Clay understood the language of pleading fluently. He had practiced it and was attuned to its inflections and lexicon, the nuances of its verbiage. He had pleaded with Todd to be let in; the inmates had pleaded with him for help; and now Todd was pleading for his life. He heard a shriek amidst shouts and what could only be described as a gurgling noise as he searched through his mind for some escape route. He hadn’t left himself one. He waited and held his breath.
More commotion now and the sound of upturned furniture and a turbulent ruckus as another door somewhere relented, pummeled into submission. Maybe they’ll just go. If they would just go out the same doors Clay had come in, they could get away. The entrance vestibule was right there. The fence was down. Is the blizzard still raging? Are they smashing in the doors to my left, or to my right? Can’t tell. His heart was pounding in his chest, and he could feel his elevated pulse in his eyelids.
And then there was silence. Blessed relief. Are they gone? He tried to calm his breathing and slow his heart rate and he took several deep diaphragmatic breaths trying to force himself to calm down. Panic never served anyone. He swallowed and listened and waited. Then he heard the jingle of keys. Panic. His heart racing again. Please let it be Todd. Please let it be Todd.
The key was in the lock now and before this fact had time to register, the reinforced wooden door to the Tank flew open and Clay was seized in the grip of a mass of humanity. There was shouting and anger, violence and the smell of unwashed bodies in the air, and he was enveloped in dark color and dragged out of the cell by his hair and his arms and feet. The lights in the hall had been extinguished and glass lay on the floor and as he was dragged down the hall his skin slid across it in dark, jagged slices. He kicked and tried to rise but he was thrown to the ground and fists and elbows began to fall on him like rainwater. Clay moved to cover his face and tasted blood in his mouth as a boot stomped his head against the cold concrete. His ribs were crushed by shadows and his feet were held down and someone stood on his arm and ground a heel in.
The beating lasted for an eternity. In reality it was only a moment but the brain fills in the spaces of such moments and the fluidity of sensory overload becomes a kind of infinite regress. The electrical impulses in his brain fired their neurons like scattershot in slow motion replay and then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over. He heard spit fly out of the shadows, felt the saliva in his beard, and there was a final kick… that was the one that hurt… landed next to his right eye and he saw stars—not stars but fireworks, firing upwards like rockets—and he felt like he was about to lose consciousness.
For a moment there was silence. The storm passed along the shores and the calm was felt, and there was more Russian spewed at him, angry and vicious, but it was only the lapping of waves on the banks. He collapsed against the cold of the floor for a moment then was dragged back into his cell.
The shuffle of shadows left the room and the door closed behind them and he was left alone in darkness and pain.
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