--- 5 ---
I don’t think I’ve ever been this nervous in my life. Thoughts of the outside skitter across my mind. I don’t usually think about the outside -- that way lies madness, you know what I mean? But now I’m thinking -- about restaurants, and rivers, and movie theaters, and spray paint cans. About sleeping in and hanging out and owning my own stuff that nobody else can touch. About showers every day and more than three changes of clothes. About real food. About privacy. About silence. About girls. Elements of another world -- a world now so, so close.
I’m bouncing on the balls of my feet, standing next to the smoke detector, matches in hand. Down the hall is a locked door we cons never go through -- but I found out a long time ago that it leads to a closed-off area outside, to the back side of the kitchens. And right now, this time of day, is the garbage pickup.
Kamikaze is in the cafeteria with a second ball of rags doused in cleaning fluid. It’s got a long fuse, so he can light it and get out here before it really blows. We’re hoping that the diversion will mean the hacks forget to sweep this hall on their way out the door with everyone. The door to the kitchen yard automatically clicks unlocked in case of a fire, so we need to make sure we open it as soon as we can. The garbage men will have to leave during the fire alarm, so Kamikaze and I can sneak in among the trash, lay low until they get back, and enjoy our ride into freedom.
My matches are in case something goes wrong and Kamikaze’s diversion doesn’t go off as planned -- I can still set off the fire alarm, but we’ll have to move faster and hope the hacks don’t reach this hallway before we’re out the door.
Footsteps sound from down the hall and I stuff my matches into my rolled-up sleeve and try to look benign. If a guard comes along and tells me I need to be somewhere else, we’ll have to wait until next Tuesday.
I sag with relief when I see it’s only Kamikaze. But I don’t hear any commotion from the cafeteria -- has something gone wrong? Then I notice the ball of rags Kamikaze is swinging from its fuse. He’s whistling as he walks along the corridor.
"What’s wrong with you?" I sputter when he gets close enough. "Anyone could see that! Why didn’t you light it?"
"Lost my matches," Kamikaze says, dropping it at my feet. "Never mind -- we still have Plan B."
"Yeah, whatever." Lost his matches? Some accomplice. I’d give him some and tell him to go back, only soon enough they’ll empty the dumpsters and we’ll lose our chance. So I light a match, grab a bar of the cell nearest me, and lever myself up to hold the flame below the smoke detector. Meanwhile, Kamikaze makes his way to the door at the end of the hall.
It takes a few seconds, but then the alarm howls into action. I dash for the door, which Kamikaze already has open, but he holds up a hand to stop me from bashing through.
"The garbage men are still out there," he mutters.
I glance behind me, nerves making me shake. The alarm might turn off if there’s no more smoke. Or the hacks might come by. Finally, Kamikaze pushes the door far enough for us to peer out. It exits onto a metal stair dripping with rainwater. Below stands the truck, our chariot, the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. The garbage men in their neon uniforms are just exiting into the yard out a side door, leaving the full dumpsters ready for us to climb into.
Kamikaze gets out onto the landing first, and I follow him. The door behind us closes, but the alarm still sounds loudly out here. A chortle of glee issues from me as I rush to the stair-rail to gaze down at our ride to freedom. Then Kamikaze pulls something shiny from behind his back and slaps it over my wrist and over the stair-rail. I recognize the sickening click as it tightens.
"What is the matter with you?" I bellow, clanging the cuffs against the railing as I try to pull free.
Maxwell opens the door back into the hall and steps inside, out of my reach. "Amazing what someone can fit between two pieces of bread," he says casually, and I remember the "hamburger" he snuck out of the chow hall the other day -- the day after my prank on the Berger.
"Let me out, man." My voice rises in panic. Cuffs make me remember -- remember coming here.
Maxwell props the door open with his toe and pats his sides, as if he has pockets. "Oh -- you know -- I forgot to ask him for a key."
I lunge forward, stretching as far from the railing as I can, but I can only get halfway in the door and he just steps back out of the way.
"Why?" I demand.
"Because, Myron," he begins, and I flinch, "because I realized something. You don’t deserve to be on the outside."
"How do you know?" I yell. I don’t care who might hear me over the alarm -- Maxwell will get into just as much trouble for this as me. "What do you know about me, Maxwell? I mean really know, not just what you’ve heard. What if I have things to do outside -- important things. What if I have family to take care of?"
"You don’t." He’s so flippant and casual, arms crossed, leaning against the side wall. "If you did, you wouldn’t have risked getting caught just to have a laugh at someone else’s expense." He turns and starts up the corridor, toward the cafeteria and everyone else.
"Don’t you go down there, Maxwell," I holler. "Don’t you tell them . . . do you know what happens to snitches in this place?"
He turns. "Oh, I’m not snitching, Myron. I’m turning myself in. I’m not going to tell them anything about you--I’m just going to leave you here. I’m sure you’ll have plenty of time to think about what you’ll tell them. Garbage only gets put out here twice a week. Oh, the garbage men might notice you once they come back today -- but they don’t work for CCDC. For all they know, you’re undergoing a routine punishment."
"Wait," I say to his retreating back.
He stops. "Yes?"
"Why aren’t you going? It’s right there. Your ride to freedom."
"Freedom, Myron? A life on the run? Where would I go, dressed like this and covered in garbage? Like you reminded me, I don’t have friends."
"It could be done. People do it all the time."
"People not me."
I can tell this hits home, because he freezes. The fire alarm shuts off. "Yeah," he says into the quiet. "You’re not the first one to call me that. But who’s the coward, Jellyfish? I want to live the rest of my life as Richard Maxwell, not as a fake identity created to hide me from the law. A false name isn’t the freedom you think it is."
I watch him stroll farther down the hall, hating him more with each step he takes. He pauses when he reaches my bundle of rags where I left it, then picks it up.
"Just in case you get bored," he calls, and flings it at me.
I leap to catch it with my free hand, and only then realize I’ve let the door close, the lock click. I crouch down, leaning my head against the damp railing, the thought of restaurants and movie theatres making my eyes tear up. I know I won’t be stuck here until Saturday. The hacks will comb the place looking for me once their four p.m. count shows I’m not around. In the meantime, I could light my bundle of rags and get somebody’s attention . . . but, no. I toss it up to arc, fuse streaming, into the dumpster below. For good measure, I reach with my free hand into the cuff of my sleeve and toss the matches in after it. The hacks are gonna have nothing on me. I’ll deny everything. Maxwell’s going to get the full punishment for this affair. And then he’ll get the full blame for all kinds of other things. I start coming up with ideas right then and there. My cellmate is my enemy.
The garbage men don’t even notice me as they tramp in muttering about false alarms. They don’t see me watching them empty the dumpsters into the back of their truck. They don’t feel my sorrow as they drive away. I close my eyes and listen to the sound of a freedom that isn’t mine.
I found George Kyes and confessed it all to him. I said, "I was planning to escape." I said, "I was going to use the garbage truck." I said, "You really ought to do something about the door to the kitchen yard -- it unlocks automatically with the fire alarm." He just sort of blinked at me for awhile, then he thanked me for the advice, and for not running away, because fugitives are a lot of money and a lot of paperwork and a lot of bad publicity. Then he walked away.
It’s not that I don’t want out. Believe me, I want out. But I don’t want to be tempted to do it this way again. The opportunity I had today was like that dream of mine -- the prison doors had been blown askew, the cells burst open. But I didn’t go. I didn’t go because the ease of escape was only a trap. If I’d left, a worse prison was waiting for me -- one of fear, of hiding, of faking -- and that one would have lasted for the rest of my life.
There is no Whittaker to pull me out of this one. I have to wait through the fire, and hope I come out unscathed.
I did something very right today. I flatter myself that you would be proud. Now the guards know the escape plan that might have worked for me and Myron. Now Myron can’t get out that way. I may not be able to get Blackgaard in here, but at least I can keep somebody else inside who doesn’t deserve to be out. That’s something, isn’t it?
--- 6 ---
It’s dark and freezing when the hacks finally find me.
"Jellyfish!" Larsen bellows, as if he thinks I cuffed myself out here for kicks.
"Maxwell," I snarl. "It was Maxwell."
I’m too hungry and freezing to pay much attention to how they get me out of the cuffs and which corridors they take me down. I just know I have to make them see it was Maxwell’s fault.
They take me to George Kyes, senior hack on duty.
"We found him in the kitchen yard, sir," Larsen reports. "Handcuffed to the stair-rail."
"Maxwell put me there!"
Kyes takes his time stirring his coffee, sips it, then shrugs. There’s bags under his eyes. What with two fire alarms in the last week, he’s probably tired of the commotion and this is the last thing he wants. But I’ve got to make him understand.
"He opened the door after starting the fire alarm," I explain. "He shoved me out there and cuffed me to the stairs."
"Richard already confessed to his escape plan," Kyes says to his coffee. "He didn’t admit to starting the alarm, though."
"Well -- well, he did that, too!"
"Naturally." Kyes puts a hand to his temple and sighs. "No harm done, Myron. I’ll lower his privileges to four for whatever it is he did, all right?"
"Four? What’s four? No commissary? Who needs commissary when you have your own supplier right in the kitchens? It’s that one kid, that . . . Green something-or-other. From Odyssey. That’s who he got the cuffs from."
"I’ll look into it, Myron. Take him back to his cell, Larsen."
"Is Maxwell in there?" I ask. "Because you know what I’m gonna do to him? I’m gonna--"
"You finish that threat and your privileges will be docked as well," Kyes barks. "You carry it out, and I’ll put you in administrative segregation for a month." I stare at him. Then I remember. He brought Maxwell in. He and Maxwell are chums.
Larsen ushers me back to 337 while I try to decide how bad a month in the hole would really be. By the time he shoves me back into my cell, I’ve made my decision.
I leap on Maxwell before the door is all the way closed. I get in a few good punches before he elbows me in the face hard enough to send me staggering against the far wall. I hit our lockers and they both pop open. I can hear the hacks rushing in to restrain Maxwell. I snatch Maxwell’s notebook from his locker, then turn around and try to look innocent.
"You boys get a free pass for this, ‘cause I am not bothering Mister Kyes again today." Larsen prowles into our cell, wrinkling his nose. "I’m just going to separate you two, and you’re going to have nothing more to do with each other. Phinney, Take Maxwell to cell 356; there’s an empty bed there."
"My things," Maxwell protests.
"They’ll be brought to you."
A couple of hacks drag Maxwell down the hall. Larsen glares at me while stuffing a bag full of Maxwell’s things. He’s so busy glaring that he doesn’t notice the contraband package of udon as he tosses it in along with everything state-issued. He’s so busy glaring that he doesn’t think the notebook in my hands might belong to Maxwell.
After he leaves, I open it up, and I read, and I laugh.
Next day at breakfast, I notice Edge has been let out of the dungeon. I wonder if he’s taken care of Maxwell for me, before noticing Maxwell at the corner table with Wall. His lip looks a little puffy, but I'm pretty sure that's courtesy of me, not Edge. I get my food, annoyed to recognize the watch on the arm handing it to me. Kyes didn’t listen to a word I said. Well, people are gonna listen to this.
I choose a spot against the wall and try to wolf down my breakfast even though chewing makes my jaw hurt where Maxwell's elbow hit. When I'm finally done, I get up on my bench. It’s attached to the table and makes the whole thing tilt, and guys start cussing me out, but I ignore them.
"'Dear God,'" I begin. "'I can write to you even if I don’t believe in you, can’t I? It’s just I can’t think of anyone else. My father has forgotten I exist, my mother wants to forget I exist, and my sister doesn’t care I exist. And everyone else I know hates me.'"
"What is this, Jellyfish?" Cali demands. "We’re tryna eat breakfast here."
"I decided to class up the place with a little literature," I explain. "This here is written by our very own Kamikaze."
Everybody turns to look at Maxwell. I glance at him, expecting his usual glare, but instead he’s just staring at me, intent and impassive. Well. He can just wait until I get to the good parts.
People chuckle when he compares himself to a Christmas present. They laugh when he talks about his nightmares. But then I skip to the part about all the people he thinks he's hurt, and Edge starts howling with glee. Everybody else kind of joins in, because we really don't have enough to laugh about in here. By the time I'm done, people are throwing around jibes like, "I stepped onna cockroach this morning -- I sentence myself to another two years!" and "Maxwell beat me at checkers and it hurt my feelings; he deserves three more years for that, don't you think?"
Nobody’s calling him Kamikaze anymore. He ain’t the crazy daredevil we all thought. His diary here reveals how cautious he is, how much he overthinks every move he makes. And there’s nothing to fear from a guy like that.
So when he bumps into me on our way out of the cafeteria, I think he’s about as threatening as a feather.
"What are you going to do, Maxwell?" I ask. "Aren’t you worried you’re gonna hurt me? I wouldn’t want you to feel guilty or nothing." Everyone who hears me laughs, so I continue. "And you’re too afraid you’ll get caught misbehaving to do anything to me. Well, I’m gonna make sure you get caught . . . for everything."
"Okay, Myron," he says conversationally, "Say I’m not going to retaliate . . . now. When I see you on the outside, I'll be more than ready."
"I’m terrified, Maxwell, really."
He steps in front of me, and there’s a sort of demented mirth in his eyes. "You should be. Because there’s one thing you didn’t know about me before you decided to read that today."
"It’s that I never forget."
He walks away, ignoring the guys who tease him as he passes. And I get the sense that he wasn’t kidding. That every word they say to him will echo in his mind for as long as he lives. And that he’ll blame me for those memories.
I try to shrug it off. I try really, really hard.
I hope you understand this code I’ve developed. I realize it’s a little obscure, but you should be able to figure it out. I might even worry that Myron has the brains to figure it out if he gets hold of my notebook again, but he’s too busy making me look like a troublemaker to bother deciphering it. I stole the remaining black knight from the chess set, twin to the one he embedded under his skin. I guess it makes me feel like I own some part of him, and maybe that is pathetic, but it’s sort of all you have in a place like this.
My privileges have been lowered to a 2 for Myron’s latest prank he pinned on me (involving basketballs and the barbed wire fence around the yard), which means I’m restricted to my cell and the cafeteria. Gavin gave me another package of udon today. Soon I'll have enough for at least a layer under my pillow. Then maybe I'll sleep well and stop having these dreams.
Nobody calls me "Kamikaze" anymore, for which I’m grateful. They all laughed when Myron read my stuff to them, but the teasing stopped shortly. Guys just avoid me now. I think it’s because my words voiced something of what they’re all going through. All of them have the same kind of guilt I do. Most of them, anyway. Not Myron.
Edge hasn’t confronted me. The one time we locked eyes in the last couple of days, he just nodded at me. So maybe he gets it, too.
Wall hadn’t really spoken to me since Myron read my journal, but just this morning he did confront me.
"You write to God?" he asked.
"Do you pray?"
"But I thought you -- you didn’t believe."
"I don’t." Then I clarified: "I can’t."
Wall narrowed his eyes. "You think God is some kind of a joke or something?"
"No," I said. "Never. I don’t know who I’m writing to. I don’t know who I’m praying to. Whoever cares enough to listen, I guess. Does your God care?"
Wall nodded. "He cares a whole lot, man. You have no idea."
"I think I do." I’ve heard the message before.
"I saw what Jellyfish made it look like you did," Wall said. "How come you didn’t stand up to him? The way you took on Edge at first, I figured you were fearless. A real kamikaze."
I laughed bitterly. "I’m no kamikaze. That doesn’t mean what everyone thinks it does, you know."
"Yeah? I’m not so good with Japanese etymology."
"It’s history," I said. "The World War II pilots took it from their history. 'Kamikaze' means 'divine wind' -- it’s the name they called the typhoons that rescued them from one of the invading khans. It’s not about honorable suicide. It’s about a rescuer."
"And I’m not that," I said. I only know one person who is. Whittaker. Even now, I can’t wrap my head around what he did and why he did it, and for that, he has my awe and admiration. When I dare to think of myself as someone like him -- a rescuer -- a real kamikaze -- the idea flashes in my mind like a brilliant ray of hope. And it’s quenched a second later. That is not me. "I am not a savior."
"No," Wall agreed. "No, maybe you’re not." He tossed his Bible from hand to hand. I respect him for not saying what we both know he wanted to say. He knows that I know that he knows a savior.
Myron and I ignore each other now, but my threat to him remains. I will remember every single slight he causes to my reputation. And I will meet him on the outside. And I will put him back in here. When I first got here, I thought he and I were similar enough to be friends, but now I see that the only thing we ever had in common was boredom. What we choose to do with our boredom differs entirely. I’ve gotten good at restraining myself from getting back at him, because I know I can’t risk it. He’s getting me in enough trouble, and I want to get out as soon as possible. Which means I have to wait.
So I’m waiting in here, God. Just waiting for my kamikaze.