A large, ugly, and frightening imaginary creature.
"A monster with the head of a hyena and hindquarters of a wolf"
Synonyms: fabulous creature, mythical creature
I was nine years old when my father sent me to prison.
I didn't go because I was a criminal, a murderer, or a monster; I went because he told me to. He said it was time that I saw all that was bad in the world—who was really bad in this world. He told me that it would be ok, that he wouldn't let anybody hurt me. But, as he would’ve known, that was an empty promise.
When I first walked through the gates, I had imagined the great beasts that lay inside. Monsters—that’s what Dad had called them. They were hideous creatures that felt no guilt and killed for the thrill of it. As a child, I had imagined red skinned devils and blue eyed gargoyles staring out at me from behind bars, rotted flesh hanging from behind their pointed teeth and their blood stained hands clinging to the rattling railings.
Of course, it wasn't really like that.
They didn't have horns or fangs, they didn't have wings or talons, and they didn't have blood soaked clothing. They were people... normal, living and breathing, people.
A small part of my younger self was almost in denial; I had believed everything my father had told me—that they were monsters—only to find out they were the complete opposite. In my entire nine years of living I had imagined my dad a hero, catching the monsters that haunted the streets and locking them away, only to have that small fantasy crushed under the pounding foot of reality, never to be felt again.
"They aren't monsters on the outside Emily..." He had said. "They're a monster where even you can't see them. Up here," he said, running his hand through the blonde hair that stuck to my temple, "that's where the real monster lies."
When I was ten my father got sick of my rambling and started taking me into work with him regularly. He was the Correction officer of Connecticut's Northern Correctional Institution. Given his position, he had a key to almost every door in the prison. A Correction officer is responsible for the custody and supervision of inmates in the prison. He was highly trusted and regarded; there wasn't a single person living under that roof that my father didn't know. He was famous for his background research on inmates and his ability to figure things out that others couldn't fathom.
Two years later, when I was twelve, the staff could no longer satisfy my questions. I begged my father to let me talk to one of them, but it wasn't until I was thirteen years old that I was allowed near the prisoners. Surprisingly enough, the watchful eyes of an adult never accompanied me. While there were guards lining the halls, not one of them ever specifically watched me. Sometimes, I felt my father's eyes upon me as he stalked the hallways, but he would never enter alongside me. I didn't know if it was because he trusted me or because he knew something I did not. Maybe he just couldn't bare my endless talking.
Soon after, it had become normal for me to visit the prisoners weekly. It was hard at first, trying to get answers out of them. I think some of them were more shocked than anything to see a little girl wandering around their personal grieving grounds. Some even believed I was an undercover government employed child, and when they lashed out or got angry a guard would rush to my side and render them motionless with a gun pointed to their head.
In high school, when I was thirteen, I began to understand how people work, how I work, and how the human brain can function in so many different ways. I became infatuated with psychology and psychiatry, the most confusing parts of the human mind. Every single day I would wonder and question what it really meant to be human. Question after question I would ask myself, and my father, about these monsters. I wanted to learn and I wanted to understand.
My father finally began to understand this a few months later and gave me my first job on site. Armed with a voice recorder and a pen, I was told to record anything inside the prison that I thought was faulty or out of place. That included holes in the walls, missing knifes from the kitchens, and the occasional rat infestation. Sometimes, I thought my Dad had only given me that job as a way of distracting me from the things I really wanted to be doing; talking to and understanding the prisoners.
But even with this thought lingering in my mind, I still found an abundance of time to talk to the prisoners, whom I began to call my friends.
There was one man who always treated me with kindness, George Oles. He was an older man, in his late forties, when I first met him at the age of thirteen. He was kind, gentle and always seemed happy to answer my endless list of questions. I was not afraid of him, or any other of the prisoners for that matter, and I never quite understood why. Some part of me knew I should fear him—he was in prison for a reason—but my imagination of a true monster never added up with the likes of him. He was a tall man with a round belly, grey stubble sketched onto his chin, and if his sleeves rolled up a little too high you could see the scars lining his wrists. His face was cracked with ageing lines, making his forehead look like sheets of sand that had dried too quickly and been stomped on by laughing children.
I started calling him Uncle George at the age of fourteen and my father hit the roof when he found out. He screamed at me, asked me what the hell I was thinking, and took away my voice recorder, which was always carefully placed in my jacket when I talked to the prisoners. For me, this was the cruelest punishment someone could ever think of, and I cried for nights on end until he gave it back and forgave me. He told me to never get too close to one of them ever again and I had vowed to keep that promise on my ‘Mommy's heart and soul’.
What he didn't know was that I had never stopped calling Uncle George 'Uncle George’; I just simply never said it when I saw him lurking around in the hallways or watching me 'inconspicuously'. He also didn’t know that George was like family to me and I would do anything to keep him safe.
I was eighteen when I witness a prison brawl that would change my life forever. If I knew then what I know now, I would have never gone to prison that day, and I would have never let my guard down.
My heels clinked against the hard stone floor as I made my way through the hallways of Connecticut's Northern Correctional Institution. A distant scream echoed through the halls somewhere in the west wing. The sound ricocheted off my heart, sharing no empathy for his tortured soul. A home of monsters is after-all a home of death, horror and guilt. I straightened my blouse and turned a sharp corner but my feet slipped on a slippery substance and I almost lost my balance. My ankle buckled beneath me, making a sharp pain shoot up my leg. It felt like fire and ice were having a dance party in my calf, kicking and spinning slowly towards my ankle. I gasped and clutched my foot, cursing for wearing heels on my already worn out feet. I wouldn't be able to dance tonight; mother was going to kill me.
I reached into my skirt pocket and clicked down on the record button for the first time this afternoon. I looked down at my watch.
"4:45pm, Tuesday, March 24th. There is another blood pool on the floor. From the looks of it, no one has even bothered to try clean it up yet. The blood is probably a few hours old." I sighed and looked down the hallways. "The second hallway in the east wing is currently unoccupied by both inmates or guards. Security is lacking, I believe more guards are in need of accurate placing..." I looked down at my blood-coated heel and grunted. "And a few more cleaners." I ended the recording with another click of my fingers and continued on my way.
At least twice a day, everyday, I would record the events or strange happenings that went on in the prison. I got paid, handsomely, to report back to my father about the things that go unnoticed or disappear. Sometimes I would find the strangest things, like a cat in a prison cell or fingernail clippings hidden in a hole in the wall. It was quite sad, seeing the security fail so miserably around the prison, and I couldn't imagine what trouble I could’ve gotten some of the guards into.
On the rare occasion I would get assigned something more difficult, like to help find a missing object or, sometimes, even a missing staff member. I knew the prison like the back of my hand but still I found passages and hidden hallways that I never knew existed on these strange missions.
Two months before today, an inmate went missing and since then the staff had been in a panic. My father said that they knew he hadn't left the building, as there was no facial recognition of him, or any inmate, leaving the prison in the past few months. He was hiding somewhere within the prison, and it was amazing that no one had found him yet; they usually get caught within a week. The media didn't know yet and we were trying to keep it that way unless we knew for certain he had escaped. The state would go into panic seeing as our prison only harbored the most notorious criminals. Each and every inmate in the prison was on the execution list or awaiting trail to get off it.
I sighed and straightened myself, continuing down the hall. As I hurried through the building I couldn't help but notice the lack of vibrancy, the walls were a dull grey colour, there were absolutely no paintings, and to top it off all the windows were barred with five inch steel poles and the glass was so thick that the sun light barely escaped through the rims. I understood the security necessities but there was no place in the ratchet building that spotted one source of true natural light. No part of the building was really catered to the visitors or even humans for that matter.
It was yet another five minutes before I reached the cafeteria, better known as the prison most chaotic area. Food fights were common, waffles were mostly always stolen, and the occasional rat was placed in people’s chicken soup. Although the place wasn't always sunshine and rainbows, it was one of the only comfortable areas I could talk to some of the prisoners without being endangered. At least seven people guarded the area at any given time.
Uncle George was waiting for me at the far back table, away from prying eyes, casually slurping on a yellow soup. I smiled as I approached him and his head jerked up, already prison guarding his food. His arms relaxed around his food as he recognized me, realising his food was in no harm. I lowered myself into the seat opposite him and my ankle sighed in relief. The room was already bursting with prisoners, hungry for their afternoon snack.
"Right on time I see," George said as he placed his bowl down onto the small rectangular table. His lips quirked up at the sides, he never showed his teeth when he smiled. His front teeth were chipped and he was missing both fangs from being beaten by both prisoners and the guards. "What are we up to today?" He asked, a knowing twinkle in his dark brown eyes.
"The real question is; what am I not up to today?" I replied with a laugh.
"Answers a question with a question, typical, Emily." He rolled his eyes and crossed his arms. Shifting in his seat, he let out a small chuckle; his shirt matched the grey of the walls.
"What can I say? You know me too well." I said with a shrug. "How are you? Have you spoken to Lila yet?" I asked. His face crumpled and he shook his head.
"No," His voice cracked. "They won't let me till my behavior 'improves'" His eyes saddened and he looked at the ground. Lila is his daughter, aged 25, and she refused to talk to him since she was old enough to understand what happened to her mother. George was in prison because of the charges held against him claiming he murdered his ex wife and her husband. Those two murder charges left him in prison until his life is taken in execution.
"Oh... are they still holding you responsible for that beating a few months ago?"
"The bruises on my knuckles and my bleeding lip gave them every reason to think so, so yes." He said and slumped into his chair. There had been a beating of a guard a few months back and fingers were pointed at George so unfortunately they had to penalize him. They gave him a beating and no outside communication as a punishment. For a moment, I was angered that my father hadn't done anything— there was no proof that George did it, yet still they had to blame someone. That same day George had beaten a man who tried to rape him and I assumed that the same man who attempted his rape framed him for the beating.
"So what have you got for me today...?" I said, hoping to change the subject. He smiled, probably grateful to talk about something else. He glanced around, looking for prying eyes, before slipping his hand up his sleeve. Out came a piece of paper, scrawled with letters, black ink all over it. It was a page from a book, most likely Shakespeare, but if you looked close enough you could just see the tiny words written between the lines. I didn't read it, but tucked it into the waistband of my skirt.
Once it was out of site I picked the conversation back up.
"Anything that can't go on paper?" I asked. There were certain things we agreed to never put on paper, like names or cell numbers, in case it was ever found or stolen. The words that were written were always coded and to anyone else it would look like gibberish.
He picked up his bowl of soup, took a long slurp, and didn't remove it from his lips. "Evan Parker, cell 94. I heard him talking to some of the other prisoners in the yard. He looked tense and was speaking in a hushed tone. Like he was hiding something, you know?" He whispered, only loud enough for myself to hear. He lowered the bowl slowly and smiled, 'nothing suspicious going on here' it said. I smiled back and nodded, repeating the name three times over in my head. I wouldn't forget.
Movement flickered out of the corner of my eye. Something big, bad and bulky. Something with a face of the devil, and a heart of stone. Something called the prison rapist and the man who didn't get away with murder. I knew who he was as soon as he stepped up behind me and slithered a hand into my shoulder. Gary Ridge aged 66, also known as the River Killer. He killed at least 49 people, mostly prostitutes, who he would rape and strangle to death. The first five of his victims were found at a River, floating down stream like corks- bobbing along helplessly until some unlucky person happened across them. From the looks he was giving George, he wanted to add another murder to that list. It wouldn't be long before he got the needle.
I looked to Uncle George, his face was of stone. His jaw was clenched, the muscle popped and a crinkle formed under his left eye, and I knew his hands were in fists under the table. It then clicked inside my head; this was the man who has tried to rape him in the showers, the man who is stopping him from speaking to his only child. My heart thudded in my chest, I couldn't let Uncle George do anything reckless or he wouldn't ever be able to speak to his daughter again.
I cleared my throat.
"Mr. Ridge, apologies for the poor timing but I believe I must accompany George back to his cell. Since he's on high alert with the guards and all." I turned and said with a smile. His hand didn't move from my shoulder and his gaze didn't move from where George sat anxiously waiting for Gary to make his move. Lucky for him I was his get out of jail free card.
"By all means Miss. I just need a few words with old George over here and then I'll be on my merry way." He said, his grip tightening on my shoulder. I grimaced but bared the pain, passing a fleeting look over my shoulder to a near by guard. If he had any brains he'd get the memo by the look on my face.
"Sure." I said with a tight smile. I dropped my shoulder and inches away from him in hopes of escaping his grip. Wrong choice. He just tightened his hand even further.
He slid into the vacant seat next to me and smiled wide, like the world was his. Uncle George stiffened further in his seat; his eyes on the hand on my shoulder.
"George, how good to see you again." Gary started with a smile. George didn't return it. "I overheard some guards talking... They say you still aren't owning up to that beating. You know what I'm talking about, don't you?" George nodded stiffly; eyes flicking to me then back to Gary, concern and anger interchanging across his features.
"What do you want, Gary." George almost pleaded. The throbbing in my shoulder was becoming unbearable and a grunt of pain left my throat. This only encouraged him more.
"I want you to fess up!" He said, sweeping his free hand outwards and slapping the table. I jumped at the sound but refrained myself from saying anything.
Don't you say anything, Emily. Chances are they will just use it against you, you hear me? Be calm, patient. Nothing scares a monster more than the quiet ones, the ones that can control themselves. You just wait it out ok? Them guards will be right at your sides. And I'll be just round the corner.
Be patient Emily. Be patient.
My father’s words ringed in my head. My eyes focused on the guards ahead of me that seemed to be spreading out, creating a circle in the room. I think they had finally caught on.
"The guards are whispering George. They're starting to think maybe someone else is to blame. And they're pointing fingers at me for that idiot kids disappearance. They're saying he might even be dead. See how this won't work for me?" What the hell was he talking about?
"I didn't do anything." George growled, becoming impatient, he two must have noticed the guard’s slow behavior today. "Your the one who tried to ra-"
"Yes you did!" Gary roared, and the noise was finally enough to make the munching inmates fall silent around us. A silence fell upon the room. No one clicked a heel, no one said a word, and no one raises a gun.
"If you don't start owning up things are going to get a whole lot worse around here." Gary whispered, only loud enough for us to hear. "For you," he said jabbing a finger at George. "And for her." He growled, digging his fingernails into my shoulder. I let out a cry and threw my other hand up to my shoulder. He caught it before it reached its mark and pulled my face closer to his. "This is my prison Miss, don't you let your little uncle ruin that for me... Or there will be consequences." I gulped back a squeak of fear and kept my mouth screwed shut.
"And let's not pretend like you had that coming in the showers, faggot." Gary spat, turning to George.
My arm was on fire, Gary's nails now drawing blood. Then, in a split second, the pain stopped. I looked up just in time to see Gary beaten over the head with the butt of a gun, several guards surrounding us. He slumped to the floor like a bag of bricks, his arms all over the place and his cheek smacking on the floor. The guards looked pleased with themselves.
I spun at the sound of Uncle George's voice and let out a strangled cry as I processed what was happening. He was writhing in the grip of two armed guards as they pushed him face down onto the table. Handcuffs were swiftly clicked around his wrists. He looked up at me, desperation in his eyes, and that was when I was finally able to move.
"What are you doing?!" I screamed, stumbling over to the other side of the table. "He didn't do anything!"
"Pro cautions, Miss. New rule came in today. You should ask your daddy." He said mockingly. He held George with one hand and swept away his mop hair with the other. Another guard stepped up beside him, halting me in my path. I knew they wouldn't let me get closer to him.
"But he didn't do anything!" I yelled, throwing my hands up, my anger brewing.
"So beatin' a man senseless is nothing now? How bout murder? Looks to us like now he's stooping even lower by tryin' to bribe the guards and other inmates." He said drawing out the ‘s’. He looked to the other guard, who smirked and nodded, they just wanted a new punching bag for today.
"You know he didn't bribe no guards sir." I spat trying to hide my confusion. Who could be bribing the guards? Why does everyone keep talking about murder?
My hands were in fists, the pain was returning to my shoulder. By then we had the attention of the entire room of inmates, the most action they'd seen in days.
"That's not what we hear. And what about that beatin' huh? Got nothing to say about that?" My teeth grinded, but I knew I couldn't make a song and dance about the beating. He was already on probation for it; I didn't want to push it.
"He's been punished enough. The judge has already delivered her verdict. No further punishment is in place for him." I tried to keep my voice steady, inching closer to Uncle George.
"Not in our books." He said with a sneer. His hand swished past my face faster than I could see it before it found its mark on Uncle George's cheek, leaving a welting bruise that probably wouldn't go away for a few days.
"No!" I screamed as George cried out in agony. I ran forward, pushing at the guards with no luck, and never got close enough to help him. He groaned and slumped further into the table, his face smooshed against the wood.
Angry yells erupted from the nearby prisoners, some must have known George because a second later, chaos erupted. Someone punched a guard, then another and another. Soon, everyone was either fighting or pulling someone away. More guards surged into the room, being struck down in a matter of seconds. I frantically looked around for a way to get to George and then get out, there was nothing. All paths were covered with swarms of inmates, some unconscious or bleeding, the others still throwing around their arms like helicopters aiming to land a punch.
Arms wrapped around me from behind and I was lifted up, away from Uncle George and I screamed.
"No! Let me go! Let me go!" I screamed, kicking and screaming. I lashed my hands out, attempting to hit my assailant from behind, but found no mark. Smart guard. Weak girl.
The guards in front of me did nothing as I was pulled away from the mass. They made no attempt of hiding the hunger for blood in their eyes.
"Let me go please! I need to help him!" I begged the strong arms that held me. I received no reply, the hands only gripping tighter around me. As I was pulled further and further away I saw flashes of arms and fists being raised, all coming crashing down on the innocent man I called an uncle, and a single tear left my eye. Not because it was sad, these things happen in a prison. But because there was nothing I could do.
They had all made sure that in this place the only power I held was in my tape recorder, which had been on since the moment the River Killer sat down. That, at least, was something.
The doors swung shut in front of me and the noise dimmed until I could barely hear the commotion inside. I was left in the darkness, alone with a stranger. The arms around me loosened as my access to the cafeteria was shut off. I took the opportunity and jabbed my elbows backwards, finding solid muscle, and spun around quickly bringing my arms up. I had only ever taken one boxing class in my life when I was twelve but I still remembered the basics; arms up, weight centered, don't ever give them your back. I smirked when I saw my assailant clutching his side, head hung low, cursing like there was no tomorrow. It was a man, young at that, with a dark mop of hair and tattoos creeping up his neck. But then I realised the most important thing of all; he wasn't a guard, he was a prisoner. The uniforms absence I had clearly missed. At least he didn't have a gun. I took a few steps back.
"That wasn't very nice of you." He wheezed, finally swinging his head up to look at me. I froze as I took in his appearance. Not because he was attractive, but because I had never seen him before in my life. He had dark eyes in the shadows, I couldn't tell what colour they were, only that they were dark.
"Not nice of me?" I said in disbelief. "It wasn't very nice of you to drag me out here, prisoner." He smirked when I said that and straightened like I had never hit his outer oblique at all.
"FYI princess, a guard asked me to take you out here. Said he needed someone with a bit more muscle to get you out of there." He took a step towards me, smiling, like a cat stalking its prey. My mouth hung in disbelief. A guard never asks a prisoner for help with anything, there is always a price to pay and they will always want something in return.
"What did he promise you?" I asked, raising an eyebrow. My mind still reeling from what happened moments before. Confusion got the best of me; I had no time to focus on some inmate and his bribing methods. What I really wanted to know was what was happening to George, why my father was no-where to be seen and why everyone was shouting bloody murder. Literally.
"Oh nothing much really," he sighed and stretched his arms out in front of him. "Just to clear my name on this whole murder thing going round. Not like I did it anyway, I might be getting a re-trail soon." I took a step back and dropped my hands, wondering if I heard him correctly.
"Oh, do you really not know?" he asked, raising his eyebrows. I shook my head and took another step back towards the door. He smirked. "The mysterious Emily Silverman, whose own father is too busy to tell her about the most important information in town!" He laughed and covered his mouth with his fingertips. "Such a scandal." How did he know my name when I didn't know his? That never happens.
"Look, I don't know who you think you are but my friend is in their getting beaten to a pulp for some stupid beating he was accused of months ago and your out here wasting my time when I could be in their helping him. So why don't you just tell me what the hell your going on about or I'm walking back through those doors." I spat angrily. My fists were clenched at my sides, all I could think about was ripping his large intestine out and strangling him with it, I needed to get back to Uncle George.
The man just smirked, a gleam in his eye telling me he was having was to much fun irritating me. I growled out an inhuman noise and turned on my heel, back to the cafeteria doors. Just as my hand touched the handle it was ripped away and I found myself back into the grip of the aggravating prisoner. I tried to snatch my arm away, no luck.
"Hey! let me g-"
"I'm afraid you can’t go back in there Emily." He wasn't smirking anymore, and with his face so close to mine I realised his eyes were blue. His gaze sent chills though my body and I subconsciously shivered, he might have been handsome if I wasn't so angry and scared.
"Why. Not." I spat, finally ripping my arm from his grip. I think he let me.
"Because." He said, sighing and taking a step back. "Your 'friend' isn't being punished for a beating, Emily. He is the prime suspect for the murder of Harley James, the kid who went missing a few mouths ago. They found him dead about half an hour ago, a knife stuck in his back, in your mate George's cell."
After that moment, everything in my life changed.
My heart pumped in my ears, blood rushing in and out, in and out.
Only it was faster and everything was starting to blur together. The room tilted and I found myself in unfamiliar arms, the door shrinking as I was dragged away.
I shook my head, but it did nothing to aid my vision. My feet dragged against the hard stone floor, my armpits aching as I blindly blinked.
Pinkish light; like an afternoon sunset, swept across my vision. Someone's hand?
I blinked once, twice, and then nothing.
I awoke with my face smooched against a car window. The tinted glass now smudged with my drool. I slowly sat up and wiped at my mouth, my tongue as dry as sandpaper. Groaning, I rubbed my aching temples. My brain feeling as if it had been replaced by frog, frantically jumping and pushing up against my skull.
"Excuse me miss," I jumped as the voice spoke up next to me. Of course you're not alone you idiot, the car wouldn't be driving itself. It was a kind, middle aged, looking man with greying hair and a wide nose. I knew him, I think. Russell? "You had another of your fainting spells. Your father told me to give you this; he's not far behind us. You'll be home soon." He handed me some crackers and vegemite, probably from my emergency stash in the office. I muttered my thanks and gave him a small smile. This wasn't the first time I had had one of my 'spells'. Low blood pressure or something, but I usually only get them when I panic.
Panic. The fight. George. I jolted upright in my seat, one of the crackers shattering in my clenched hand.
"What happened? Is George going to be ok? Dad knows he didn't do it right? Right?" I spilled out, unable to stop my verbal diarrhea. Russell didn't take his eyes from the road but his chest rose and fell dramatically and he raspberried his lips. He wouldn't tell me everything; I knew that. I just wanted to know if George was going to be ok.
"Look honey," Oh god. "We don't have all the evidence yet," Oh no. "But it's not looking too hot." Oh shit.
I slumped back in my chair and raked my free hand through my hair.
"Shit." I stated simply. I sighed and continued to munch on my last cracker, the crunching barely soothing my worry. Brushing my skirt, I freed the little specks of food from the clutches of my fabric. Think you knob, think.
Anger coiled inside of me, as I knew I could not do anything to help fix the misleading situation. George was getting beaten to a pulp while I was sitting in a car eating freaking vegemite. I couldn't help it. I exploded. Lashing out, I punched the dashboard, hurting my hand more than the car. Russell didn't really seem to care.
"Ughhhhh!" I yelled and pressed my palms into my eyes. "What am I going to do?!" I whispered in defeat.
Nothing. There's nothing you can do.
A thought. An idea. A freaking light bulb.
I frantically patted my skirt pockets until my fingers connected with solid plastic. My heart soared in relief. This was something. It wasn't much. But it was something.
My fingers fumbled as I man handled the tape, desperate to hit the play button. The click gave me the sweetest satisfaction.
When it finished playing through I felt nothing but disappointment. What I thought was good evidence was barely anything at all. Russell cleared his throat next to me.
"Miss if you don't mind me sayin," he started, "but that recording ain't going to get you no where unless you know how to use it right."
"What do you mean?" I asked half-heartedly.
"What I mean is, that you think you got a whole lot of nothing on that tape yes?"
"Well you don't got a lot of words on it but you got what you need."
"What do you mean?" I asked, curious. But wary… very wary.
"Well you got time and place, that's it. Once the autopsy is done then we will know his time of death. Now, if your lucky, maybe he died when you were speaking with George. Not before. If that's so then George couldn't have killed him. Cause he was with you. Understand?" He asked quietly. I nodded slowly and thought it over a million times an hour in my head. He was right.
"If George was with me in the afternoon and he had already started eating then that means he couldn't have killed anyone in that time. Not a single person. Cause I was there. I was there. There was nothing off about him either when I was with him. He was normal. He wasn't jumpy or skittish. That has to count for something right? He wasn't hiding anything." I rushed. Talking more to myself than to Russell.
"Right." He replied. His arms twisted around the wheel as we pulled into my driveway.
"Russell you’re a genius." I smiled and straightened. I reached for the door handle, right as it unlocked, and stepped out into the cool evening. The sky was beginning to darken, but it wasn't black yet. Only the biggest stars were starting to wink from the sky.
Tape in one hand, I closed the door with the other, shouting my thanks at Russell. My foot twanged with pain as I began to walk, another reminder that what happened before was certainly real.
"Emily!" Russell called from the car. I spun, still smiling, and his face popped out the front window. He lifted his arm and threw something that jingled at me. I caught it (surprisingly). It was my keys. Idiot.
"My names Christian!" He shouted with a smile, proceeding to drive off.
"Sorry! Thanks! Christian..." My shout quieting as he drove off. I slapped my forehead with my palm.
Stupid, Emily, stupid. You so did not make his day.
I sighed and turned my keys over, the one for the front door was bright pink, so I wouldn't ever have trouble finding it in an emergency. I keyed the hole and spun the lock, the satisfying clink echoing into the hallway beyond.
The house was medium sized, two stories, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a lounge room and laundry and one kick ass kitchen. My room was on the bottom floor, the closest thing to the front door. I'll be the first killed in a robbery or a break in... Or the first to escape. I liked the second option better.
I dragged myself inside and shut the door behind me before rushing inside my room and crashing onto the bed. The shoes were the first to go, my ankle straining as I pushed them off the side of the bed. A wave of gratefulnessrushed over me as I silently thanked myself for arranging the bed so closely to the door.
My room was small and simple with no extravagant walk in cupboards or secret little holes in the floor (unfortunately). The single bed, which I laid on, was covered in an extremely comfy, dark blue duvet with orthopedic pillows. A small bedside table was crammed up against one corner of the bed, piled with an alarm clock and other small trinkets that I probably didn't need. Overflown dressers, piles of books and pens and highlighters, mostly occupied the other side of the room. I didn't have a mirror; the distracting and distrustful things always seemed to get in the way of my daily routine. There was a big enough one in the bathroom to reflect the entire parameter of the sun.
I sighed and braved a look at my ankle, nearly whacking my nose with my knee in the process. It looked all right, a bit swollen but it would go down in an hour or two.
I rolled over and gazed at the framed photos upon my bedside table. Some things never change; like your mums smile or the way your dad looks at her. At least, I hoped it never would.
I relocated the tape and clutched it to my chest. All I could do was wait. Wait until my father came home.
But I was waiting all night.
And he never came home.
I awoke with a piercing headache and spiteful motives. Every molecule in my body was telling me to either:
1. Kill my father.
2. Severely debilitate my father.
3. Scream and cry for 24 hours straight.
Number three seemed more likely.
When I stretched, my limbs crackled and popped until they reached their desired placements. Groaning, I rubbed the sleep gunk out of my eyes, surprised that I had any seeing as I only slept for about an hour.
Standing sure as hell didn’t help my sleep deprived hangover. I struggled to keep my balance as the room swayed beneath me. When I regained my sense of gravity I attempted to make my way over to the door. It had been shut since I had passed out this morning, meaning someone had come home.
“Dad…” I whispered.
A spark of hope came alive in my chest as I yanked open the door. Completely unaware of my physical appearance I raced down the hallway, past the paintings, and into the kitchen.
Disappointment punched hope in the gut with knuckle busters and beat its head in with a club. My father was nowhere in sight.
My mother, however, was sitting at the kitchen bench, squinting at me over her mug of coffee.
“Are those your work clothes?” Goodmorning to you too… I glanced down at my unchanged clothes, but before I could answer she continued with; “What if I was one of your fathers clients? Or his Boss? They’d think this was a nut house with you looking like that!” I sighed and picked at my skirt, crinkled beyond means.
“M-sorry… was waiting up for Dad…”
“Speaking of which, he hasn’t come home! I don’t know what you two were up to yesterday, but I didn’t even get a phone call! And I called him, like, a thousand times and—is that blood on your shirt?”
“Huh?” Was my reply.
“Come here, let me see.” She beckoned me forewords, eyebrows knitted together in concern. I waddled over to her and did my best to remain unsuspicious. Dad didn’t like it when mum found out about the violent things that went on in the prison. Every time something happened she would freak and tell me I could never go back there again; leaving me crying and Dad out of an important employee.
Her blond hair fell into her eyes as she leaned forewords to grab the hem of my shirt. My eyes were drawn to her unwrinkled face as she closely inspected my shirt. Her eyes were the colour of the sea; the deepest of blue accompanied by the undertones of black and green. She was near impossible to read at times and I think that’s a part of the reason Dad loves her so much. He likes challenges and when it came to her… things were always difficult.
“Emily Silverman! This is blood!” She exclaimed, pulling my shirt up so I could see it for myself. There was, in fact, a teeny tiny blood spot on my shirt; so small I was surprised that Mum had found it. But, she was Mum and she was stubborn, in a control freaky kind of way, and when she set her mind to something there was no stopping her.
When I thought about it, it was probably George’s blood; sprayed on me when he was hooked in the jaw. Or, even worse, from the criminal that dragged me out of there. I cringed and slowly attempted to take a step back, but my mother still held a firm grip on my shirt and her eyes blazed with a mixture of anger and curiosity. “Did something happen that I don’t know about?” Her voice got progressively louder as she spoke.
“Don’t you lie to me!” Her left eyebrow rose as she drew my face closer to hers. “Are you lying to me?”
“Nothing happened Mum… I had a nose bleed is all.” Smooth Emily, she always believes the nosebleed story. She leaned back slowly; her eyes squinting like she was trying to read my thoughts. Her grip loosened on my blouse, giving me the chance to take a step backwards.
“Mm…” Was all she said. I tried to calm my racing heart rate, afraid that she could hear it. But, I managed to hold her gaze, showing that I was telling the ‘truth’… or just a really confident liar.
Our stare off ceased when her phone buzzed loudly, playing the Apple harp tune. I sighed in relief and made my way over to the fridge; putting the counter between my mother and I.
Poring myself a glass of orange juice, she answered the phone with an irritated “what?” I snickered into my glass as I thought of the poor soul on the other end of the line.
“You’re kidding…Where is he now?!” Was all I heard from her side of the conversation, the rest was too muffled and quiet. My brain was too tired to process that something serious could be happening, so I grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl and scrubbed it under tap water, the noise of the running water blocking out the conversation. Once it was clean I made my way over to the couch and sunk my teeth into the delicious skin of the fruit.
Silence was the indication that Mum’s phone call had ended. I glanced at her through tired eyes; her hand covered her mouth while she stared at her blank phone screen.
“Who died?” I said jokingly, with my mouth full. I was aware of how insensitive I sounded, but I was too tired to care or realise how serious the situation was.
“Your father…” Jolting out of my semi consciousness, my mouthful of apple went flying across the room.
“…was in a car accident…” My stomach dropped. “He’s… in a stable condition…He’s in surgery now.”
“Shit…” I whispered, “How did it happen?!” I said more to myself than to her. The first thought that came to my head was; well, at least he’s not dead. Could be worse.
The second was; that’s why he never came home… oh god… How long had he been out there for?
I looked to my mother for answers, but she abruptly stood up and waved her hand as if slapping away the conversation.
She didn’t say anything, but I could see her eyes watering as she picked up the keys. I followed without saying a word, unsure of what to do. She walked out the front door, leaving the door wide open behind her, as if in some sort of a trance. I pulled the door shut behind me and ran to the car, hoping she wouldn’t leave without me.
“It’s all right, I’m sure he’s fine,” I said as I slipped into the passenger side. I buckled myself in and quickly wiped away a stray tear. I couldn’t cry, not now, because then mum would cry and I’m not sure if she would have been able to stop. “Mum?”
Silent tears had already begun to slide down her tanned cheeks, dampening her skirt, as she fumbled with the keys. At the sight of her, another tear escaped from my eyelashes, landing softly on my lap. If she noticed my gaze, she didn’t say anything.
Angrily wiping at her eyes, she continued to search for the car key.
“I just—I just need to f—find the key.”
“Mum…” I reached out and grabbed her shaking hands in mine. She didn’t look up, but her hands squeezed around mine.
I realised that while she scared about Dad, she was terrified at the fact that she was a control freak who had lost control.
Sighing, I plucked the keys from her hands.
My mother had been pacing across the waiting room for about an hour before it finally began to irritate me. She had eventually gotten me to confess about the blood on my blouse while we were waiting for news on Dad. She had a complete fit and in her current emotional state it was twice as worse as usual.
“You’re NEVER going back there, you here me?” She had yelled.
“Mum… I kinda have to… I work there...”
“Well then quit!”
“YES YOU WILL. YOU’RE MY FUCKING CHILD, YOU WILL DO AS I SAY.” Then everyone started staring so she stopped yelling. After that, she glared at me and began pacing, sometimes stopping mid stride to give me the evil eye. I knew that she wouldn’t actually make me quit work; at least, Dad wouldn’t let her make me.
If he’s still alive to do so… I shook my head and pushed my subconscious aside. He was ok. He was going to be ok.
So, now an hour had passed and all we knew was that Dad was in surgery, but we had no idea how exactly the accident had occurred. No one was telling us anything.
The cushion beside me sunk inwards as my mother sat down next to me.
“I’m sorry…” She said quietly.
“Its ok.” I said, because it was. I had forgiven the moment she said it, as I knew that if the circumstances were different then she wouldn’t have sworn. Maybe she wouldn’t have even yelled.
“Its just…” She raked her hands through her long hair and stood up again. “Uhh!”
“I know Mum. It sucks.” I gestured to the sickly room we were stuck in, but we both knew I was talking about Dad.
“Missesess?” A quiet voice spoke up from behind us. I swiveled around on the couch, slightly amused at the appearance of the young male doctor that stood before us. His lanky figure fit awkwardly into his blue scrubs, his height out of proportion to his weight. He was all arms and legs and he held a clipboard in his spindly fingers. I was afraid that his arms would break if anyone made him pick up a supplies box. “Silverman?”
“Yes, that’s us.” My mother piped up. She too, looked bemused at his boyish appearance.
“Mrs., your husband is going to be fine,” My mother let out a sigh of relief. Thank god. “Follow me.” He turned around and was off, my mother following quickly behind him.
I scrambled up from my seat, following behind the two adults. The doctors hair bounced as he lead us through the hallways of the hospital, occasionally ducking his head into other hospital rooms to check on his patients. It brightened my spirits as he spoke to the patients, as I knew my father’s condition couldn’t possible be that bad if he was taking his time to lead us to him.
At one point my mother leaded over and whispered into my ear as he checked another room.
“He has a nice behind.” I couldn’t contain the giggle that bubbled up inside of me. I was glad that she was brightening up about the situation.
We finally came to a stop at room 212 as the doctor turned to face us.
“Now, while he’s in a stable condition, he is still pretty bloody and bruised. You might not like what you see in there, but I ask that you remain calm for your husband’s sake. No use in him thinking its any worse that it actually is, ok?”
I nodded, but Mum was already pushing the door open, eager to see her battered love. I thanked the doctor and slipped through the door, he followed behind us.
I couldn’t hold in my gasp as I took in the sight of my father. His eyes, usually grey, were swollen shut by black bruise, contrasting the paleness of the rest of his face. Cause: Air Bag and loss of blood. His left arm was fixed in a bent position by a white cast; his right was stuck with an IV tube. Cause; significant trauma probably caused by the flipping of the car. The rest of his injuries were concealed by the checkered hospital gown, but we were told they included; a broken rib, several lacerations and internal bleeding. His hair stuck to his gaunt face with sweat, but that didn’t stop him from smiling like an idiot when he heard us enter.
“My girls!” He laughed, but then the laugh turned into a cough, and the cough turned into hacking. The doctor rushed to his side with a cloth as bile sprayed out of his mouth. I took a step back, frowning. Mum covered her agape mouth with the back of her hand.
When he stopped coughing, Mum rushed to embrace him, kissing his cheeks and his lips. She was wary not to bump any of his needles or injuries. Taking the dirty cloth from the doctor, she wiped the saliva from his chin.
Whispers were passed between them, ones I didn't care to hear, so I waited until they were done before I approached.
"Emi... Come here girl." My father called, using the old nickname he gave me when I was little. I looked to the lanky doctor and he smiled reassuringly. It's okay.
It only took a few steps for me to reach the bed, but by the time I got there my legs felt like that had walked a mile. I guess I kinda had, mentally at least.
"Hey Dad, how are you feeling?" I said softly. I reached out to grab his hand, but tubes flowed out of the back of it like vines, so I placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.
He didn't say anything for a moment, and I listened as he took a deep breath in, held it for a split second, and wheeze as he breathed out. I felt a sudden rush of despair and anger rushing over me—all at once, as I surveyed his injuries. Time and time again he had looked death in the face, flipped him the bird, and turned back around. But, he always managed to smile at his experiences. I admired him for that.
“Like shit.” He said. We both laughed softly and I gently squeezed his shoulder. He turned to my mother, who was on the other side of the bed, and beckoned her closer with a head gesture. “Could you give us a moment alone?” I heard him ask. Concern and curiosity swept through me. Why would he want to talk alone? Is this about the riot? Is this about George?
Leaning over to kiss his forehead, she whispered ‘okay’ and left a moment later with the doctor in tow. As she left, I hoped she would find out what exactly had caused the accident and why it took them so long to find him.
“Emily…” I turned back to my father with an eager heart, leaning closer to him so he didn’t have to strain his voice. “You smell like shit.”
I laughed, lifting my armpit to my nose.
“Well, that’s your fault, Dad.” I said softly. He laughed breathily.
“I need you to do… something… for me…Emily…” He said between breaths, voice turning serious. My curiosity heightened and I nodded, but then I realised he couldn’t see me and I eagerly replied;
“Of course, Dad. Anything.”
He took a deep breath in before he continued; he struggled to swallow his saliva.
“I need you to be my eyes on the inside for a few weeks… okay? I already know… they won’t let me work… until I recover… completely.” He paused as he swallowed, his Adams apple bobbing up and down. “When you get home… go into the second draw in my office… you’ll find all my files… on Harley James… I know that you think George didn’t do it… But all arrows are pointing to him… Emily… Do you understand?”
“Yeah.” I crocked out, my heart constricting.
“But… I know you trust him… and if it’s really not him… who killed that boy…then bring me the criminal who is.” My breath hitched. Is he really asking me to do this? Does he realise how much this means? Of course, he didn’t know. He didn’t know that by giving me permission to investigate something as big as this, he was allowing me to go behind the closed doors I had never dared to venture before. He had given me what I had always wanted; a case. A case that could save a life and a case that could end one.
“Are you sure you want me to do this? You could have Christian do it, or one of the other guards.” But, I was only saying it halfheartedly, and Dad knew that.
“Emily… Its time for you to step it up. I know you’ve always wanted a case… Now you can prove to me that George is who you say he is… but, understand… if he’s not… he will move foreword on the list.” Translation: If he’s guilty—he’ll die.
“I understand.” I said, rising from the bed. “I wont let you down, Dad.” I turned to go, a spring in my stride, but he halted me before I could take another step.
“Emily… You can’t trust them…” I frowned.
“Can’t trust who?” He paused for a moment, as if deciding weather or not he should say what he wanted.
“Everyone. You can’t trust them… Not even your Mother…” I sucked in a breath and let it out as I took it all it. I knew what he meant. A prison is no place for friends. People will stab you in the back in that prison as soon as you turn around. That’s why you always have to be watching, someone is always listening. But why couldn’t I tell Mum? Yes, she wouldn’t want me to do the job, but she could help me figure out some things. Surly she wouldn’t tell anyone. But, Dad knew what he was doing, so I agreed to not say a word.
“It’s a very corrupt world out there now, Emily. You’ve got to be careful.”
“I will.” I said confidently.
I was going to solve this and I was going to prove him wrong, for I knew that George didn’t do it.
It was time for those who were guilty to suffer—to die.
But in a prison filled with guilt, proving innocence was tough. You have to pick the right battles if you want to win the war.
And win the war I shall.