I think this ending is my best yet. I wrote this when I first became a student of writing. It's gone through many revisions and edits, different endings included. It seems fitting for as of late. Thank you for hanging with me to number 10, everyone! Here's to many more!
The sun was setting and it was Monday. They always bring in the fresh squares on Monday.
We had already finished our supper and had set tending the garden and modest orchard behind the Warden's house.
Seemed like the only time we got a break on those days is when that grey bus would stop at the gated fence, wait for it to slide open, then head to Reception.
Heh. I always did fancy that name, Reception makes it sound as if you're checking into a fine hotel on Grand Avenue
Feels a lot more welcoming than Bridge jail for delinquent youth in the middles of nowhere. If you wanna get specific, geographically, then we were in the high desert plains of Cimarron, New Mexico.
Pancho Villa used to frequent the spot, though he never had to go in front of a judge to get there.
Now this bus, see, it's the last ride many of us take for extended time. And when it pulls in, every week, well that’s the first look us incarcerated get at our new members.
Trigger was already standing by the standing by the bus door waving that God-damn rifle from shoulder to shoulder. Scariest damn thing I ever saw when I first got here.
We all stopped in our gardening duties and stood to watch the show The other guards would never yell us to get back to work at that time. They thought it was a refresher for us, like we was too stupid to remember where we were at.
Trigger was getting the squares, what we called the new guys, in a straight line pointing at them with his damned rifle as if it were nothing. And that damned thing was always cocked and loaded. Yet there he was, waving the damned gun like he was a baton twirler at a fucking homecoming parade
Once all the squares were in a line and visibly shaken, we heard the screen door to the Warden's house creak open Everyone turned their heads to watch the fat man, lauded up in his clean white suit, waddle his ass down the steps and up to the newly arrived If Trigger was the baton thrower then the Warden was the god-damn ringmaster
Moose's, the big guy in oun camp, long shadow cast down by a half-set sun suddenly came over next to me. "Let the show begin," he heavily whispered. I let a rare smile rise.
"Now you are all here because you have done wrong," The Warden started. "Psalms 84:10, I had rather be a door keep in the house of God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness."
He stretched out his arms and then continued. "Welcome to the house of God, gentlemen."
The sun had cast golden hues all around the landscape of mesas to the north and the fields of long grass to the south. I'm sure that fat son of a bitch actually thought he was God himself every time he did that shit.
“Now my name is James Schafer, but you will refer to me as Warden," he put his greasy fingers on Trigger's shoulder.
"And this here is Officer Dayton. He'll be attending to y'all more than I will. And if I have to attend to you, well... Let's just say you'd rather have Officer Dayton here do that."
That's what Trigger's real name was. The one we said to his face. If he ever heard us call him Trigger he'd probably throw us in the hole for a week.
The Warden continued on with his speech. "Now I've only got two rules here. Two rules to live by. One, do what you're told, and two, if you weren't told to do it, don't"
Yeah two rules for sure. Eat when they told ya to. Work when they said so. Even crap when they told ya. I grabbed my dick so much in the first week, holding the urge to piss, that now I can do it on command, even if I don't have to go.
Slow breakage. That's how you get them prize horses. Only we weren't no prize, just the dirt swept under the rug, outta sight of the decent folks out there.
“Now ya'll follow Officer Dayton and he'll set you lot up right. Just remember our two little rules and y'all will be back to society, right and learned of your mistakes." The Warden took off his white brimmed straw hat and motioned towards Trigger.
“Everyone follow Officer Ristock into reception!" Trigger roared, causing most of the squares to be suddenly shaken.
They all turned towards Ristock, a nice enough guard really but they were all sons of bitches when you got right down to it.
That's when I saw him. Nothing really special about his clothes but it was his long black hair that caused my eyes to be transfixed. It had been awhile since we had an honest-to-God Indian here, in our quaint quarters.
As this native turned and started following everyone into reception, the sun finally sank and signaled a cool, welcome breeze to flow through the camp. We went back to finishing our duties. There would be plenty of time for introductions tonight.
As we got back in, ready to strip down for shower time, the squares were already in the back of the long rows of bunks. They had a system here. The closer you got towards the entrance the less time you left to serve.
I was near the squares, just getting here only a year ago. Only the lifers, what we jokingly called the ones in till 18, didn't have to move. They stayed right smack dab in the middle.
After showering the bits of dirt and weeds, we went to our bunks fresh and eager to meet the squares. We didn't get much in the way of visitors, most of our families being ashamed of us, so when the squares came, they always brought news of the outside or stories that didn't have to do with the bible.
I already knew who I wanted to meet, so after I settled into my bunk, letting all the loudmouths say their piece to the squares and then move on.
Finally, after everything settled a bit, I went over to the kid with the long black hair. He was lying on his bunk with his arms crossed when I sat on his bed.
The shudder from plopping down next to him caused him to open his dark eyes and shake his head, sitting up after and looking me straight in the eyes
“I'm Darrell, I said holding out my hand. "But everyone here calls me Darwood, ya know, like the funnies guy!”
The kid took my hand, firmly shook it, then said, "I'm Marcus, named after the last of the five good emperors of Rome.”
I laughed and asked him how the hell he, an Indian, knew so much about white history
“My father was an educated man, learned everything there is to know about you pale skins.”
He stared for what seemed too long into my eyes. Then he laughed deeply and then I got it and joined in the laughing.
I told him he shouldn't be talking about the white devil like that and we both cracked up again.
l asked Marcus why he, the son of a learned man, was here with the worst of the worst in North-East New Mexico.
“I stole food for my grandmother he said Judge saw it fit for me to come here for my crime.”
It sounded like bullshit, but we’re not here to confess. We’re were there for reasons unto ourselves. I told him to just forget about it. Just serve his time and keep his head down.
He then closed his eyes and crossed arms, just like I found him.
Weeks and Months went by. We worked in the roadside, during the day, clearing brush and digging out ditches. It was hard work, so church and Monday arrivals were the only high points of rest during that our time.
That, and listening to the radio on the Warden’s front lawn Tuesday through Saturday. If everyone was good and didn’t raise hell all day, the Warden would treat us to an half hour of tunes from the radio he brought out on the front porch.
“Music calms the savage breast,” he would always say right before he clicked the dial to the ON position.
Marcus and I had grown to be good friends. The only time guys like us spoke was to each other. Marcus would sit there on the Warden's lawn, cross-armed, not moving the entire time the music was playing. I asked him once why he didn't at least bob his head to the music.
He would reply, "I was somewhere else."
I would leave it at that.
As time kept going by, as it keeps doing, we kept hearing about this one flick that was coming in the summer. I had convinced Marcus that we had to see this movie, but it mostly me that wanted to see it. I mean it was The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad! How could anyone miss it? If I missed this flick how could I live with myself?
Marcus and I devised a plan. Ya see, everyday before we re-entered the camp there would be a roll-call. Before that there is no record of anyone going out. So Marcus and I figured that the best time to go see this flick was in the afternoon. After we got to the town of Cimarron and before roll-call, so as none of the guards would notice us missing.
We slipped out during road crew and hitched all the way to the town. When we got to the cinema, there was an old, gray haired man at the ticket booth. We gave him the fifty cents that we had been saving since we got to camp, trading and finding on the side of the roads.
We dropped the handful of change into the old man’s hand and then he just smiled real big and let us in. We got two buckets of popcorn from that fifty cents also, but I think that was just the old man being nice.
We watched the whole movie. It was magical. The way that Sinbad held himself against all sorts of magical foes was just mesmerizing. I’ll never forget those creepy skeletons lunging at Sinbad, but we knew Sinbad would win. He had to.
When we got out of the theater there was Trigger and the rest of the goon squad waiting for us.
I went back to that theater years after I was released and saw that old man again. He laughed and told me he remembered that night because he wouldn't let those guards in without buying a tickets.
He recounted to me in my later years, how they was so cheap they’d rather just sit on the sidewalk for an hour, waiting for us two to get out.
The ride back to Bridge jail was silent. Both of us knew we had done wrong and got caught. Getting caught felt way worse.
As the gated fence opened, Marcus and I could see the Warden sitting on his front porch, slowly rocking his chair back and forth.
The Warden looked at us for a spell. It was easy to see that he wasn’t happy, being up so late and all.
I looked over at the sleeping quarters and could see the glints of eyes staring at us as well.
Hell, the only one who seemed alright was Trigger, probably just happy to be able to point his damned gun around for a bit.
“I only had two rules for ya'll to follow," the Warden started. "Now did anyone tell you to go to the movies?”
"No sir," we both replied.
“Well then, I can only assume that y'all understood what you were doing. Officer Dayton..."
The Warden pointed his stubby finger at me. "Take Darrell here to the Hole. I need to have another talk with Marcus before he joins him.”
l looked over to Marcus, but he had his arms crossed and his eyes closed. Then I glanced over towards my new home for however long it took the Warden to forgive and forget.
The Hole was just a shack with a door on each side of the plank building, meaning there was four rooms in it, with a sheet metal roof.
That damned roof... during a rainstorm that roof was louder than the thunder.
Officer Ristock shoved me in and muttered, "Ya did this to your own self."
I told him “your mother”, and he slammed the door in my face. I heard the dozen or so locks go off and then it was just silence, me, and a bucket to do my business in.
I just replayed the movie in my head over and over again till I fell asleep.
The days turned into weeks and then I just lost count. I'd ask Marcus through the wooden walls if he knew how long we’d been in this damned shed.
"It doesn't matter," Marcus said. "I'm really not here most of the time."
I asked him what the hell he meant by that.
“I mean I close my eyes, cross my arms, and then I'm soaring over the landscape. My grandmother taught me how to do it. Called it spirit-walking." Marcus took a deep breath in. "I can teach you, if you’d like."
I agreed in a quick second. By that time I would've done anything to escape even for a moment.
It only took a few hours of Marcus' step by step instructions, which were mostly about breathing and not thinking about most things, before I had a few minutes of this 'spirit walking'.
It was sudden, but I was running along some snow-covered woods along with a pack of wolves. I could feel the wind bristling through my fur, the sting of cold ice between my paws, the sharpness of the cold mountain air in my lungs. Then as quickly as I was there, I came back to the reality of the hole
"Where'd you go?" Marcus asked. I told him what I saw and felt. "That's good. That's now your spirit animal. Every time you go spirit walking, that animal is who you’ll be.”
After that the time flew by, literally.
We even got so good at spirit walking we could do it together. Marcus always as a hawk flying high above me, a wolf, running through dark woods and great plains.
We would always try to reach out of the Hole, but we were always too far away. By the time the Warden figured we had spent enough time in the Hole, we didn't care if we had to go.
The sun blinded my sight for a second, and when my vision came around, that's when I saw Marcus for the first time since our night at the movies.
The Warden had cut off all of his hair.
That made me real angry. I couldn't understand. I guess they just wanted to break him, to shave away his identity. But it still made me real mad.
Later that night Marcus and I decided that that was our last day at Bridge jail.
We executed our poorly-laid plan the very next day, while we was on road duty again. We waited till right before noon and then took off towards the Eastern Mesas.
Trigger fired at us, but I think he was just trying to scare us frozen. Instead, we darted off even faster than we thought our legs were possible of going.
We knew we had a good two hour head start They'd first have to call in back-up for the rest of the kids still working the road.
We sprinted, then ran, and finally eased into a steady jog till the sun started setting and we finally reached the top of one of the mesas.
We watched the sun cast its golden streams along the plains, right to the edge of the. Mesa we were sitting on.
Marcus smiled, a rarity for him.
“When I'm out here, away from everything that man has built, I don't need to go spirit walking.”
Marcus then stood up, walked to the red-dirt ladened edge and out-stretched his arms.
"Here I am free!" He screamed towards the set sun.
We fell asleep soon after the night had taken over and cast stars across the moonless sky above.
I awoke to Trigger’s gun jabbing into my ribs. I instinctively screamed at Marcus and got a boot to my jaw.
My whole body screamed in pain as I saw Marcus scramble up and run to the edge of the Mesa.
The Warden stepped out, flashlight in hand, heavy sweat staining his white suit.
“Son, you’re going to want to step away from there and towards us,” he gasped through ragged breaths.
Trigger raised his rifle above my head and aimed the sights dead on Marcus.
“You got two choices here, boy!” He barked.
Marcus turned towards the darkened landscape, his form lit up by the stars in the night.
“Wrong.” He replied as he took another step.
“I’ve got three.”
The ride back was unmemorable. I just stared at my reflection in the darkened cab of the car as it drove back, again, to Bridge jail.
We came through the gates, headlights turned off as to not wake the other juveniles.
The Warden turned back towards me from the front seat, his suit now all red and dirtied, forever stained.
"You're going back into the Hole tonight and then you're going to the hospital tomorrow. We can't have you going all loony because of what you seen tonight."
Trigger led me into the Hole and opened the door. He silently closed the door behind once I was inside, not even giving me a glance.
It was dark. It was quiet. I was sad.
I closed my welling eyes and crossed my arms.
Running through the snow-covered pine forest, a scent driving my nose, my fuzzy ears hear a hawk cry out from above.
I give a howl in return and continue on through the woods, the hawk sailing the winds above me.