New Serfdom — We Interrupt this Program for . . .

I don’t usually pay much attention to the idea of a muse that inspires your writing, but it’s a pretty good metaphor for when things just aren’t going the way you planned. One of the possible plot points for TNS is a freshly arrived convict (the owner of the barony, like a lot of barons and businesses, uses convict labor to supplement that of his own people.), a young man who somehow gets involved with the baron or some of the other characters. Just an idea, right? Something that I might or might not develop.

But then The Muse stepped in and said this could be really interesting. Let’s get started and see where it goes. Before I had a chance to say no, this is a side issue that I don’t need to be spending time on right now, I was writing about a convict named Andy. So I now have a 1,500 word short story?/backstory? about a character who doesn’t even have a role yet, and may never have a role. Do I work him into the outline? Or pretend he doesn’t exist until after NaNo? Whatever I eventually decide to do with him, this 1,500 words won’t be added to the NaNo word count, but maybe Andy’s mere existence will influence how the novel is written, and that might be the most interesting development of all.

In the meantime, here’s Andy. First and only draft until I know whether I’m keeping him.

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Andy shut his eyes quickly when the hood was pulled off. Even back here, jammed up against the cab, the light coming in from the open doors of the van was too bright. He’d been desperate for light, for air, fighting to keep panic from taking him over in all the hours since they’d left the prison. And now he had to shut his eyes against the light. He opened them slightly, squinting, trying to adjust to being able to see again. He had to see, had to know where he’d been taken without a word of explanation, without any idea what was ahead.

Seven men in front of him had also been freed from their hoods, but they were all still shackled, waiting. Andy had been the first one in, shackled and hooded, so he’d only been able to guess, by the sounds, that a dozen or more men had filed in and taken their places in front of him. The space between himself and the man who’d been locked in next to him in was so small that the heat of the other man’s body had become an additional torment during the hours of the trip. Now he could see that they’d been packed in like sardines. But the van was half empty; some of the sardines had been taken off at that long stop when a little of the accumulated heat and the stench of sweaty bodies had mixed with fresh air. The hood had kept him from breathing in the cleaner air, but at least he’d felt it on his hands. Until the sounds of men being taken out had stopped and the doors had slammed shut again.

How long had he been standing here, unable to adjust his position and relieve his aching muscles, his bladder filling to the point where he was afraid he couldn’t hold it any longer, the sweat itching madly on his overheated body? It had felt like an hour or more before the van was loaded and they finally took off for — wherever. And more endless, agonizing hours bouncing and swaying, kept from falling by the shackles that bound him firmly in place.

Now there was not only light, but air that he could actually breathe in, gratefully, straining to fill his lungs with it. After a few deep breaths, he tipped his head to one side, trying to see past the heads in front of him. The van had backed up to a building — no surprise, but what he saw offered no clues. He could hear voices at the side of the van, but nothing was happening. Not even in the van.

There probably wasn’t one of them that hadn’t learned, the hard way, to keep their mouths shut until they were given permission to speak. It didn’t matter how curious they were. Or how afraid. All eight of them would stand quietly, like the cattle they’d been trained to be, waiting — and hoping that this wasn’t going to be worse than Quincy Adams Correctional Unit. Worse than the hole.

* * *

Andy shuddered. The hole had been a refuge — for the first few days. Of all the horrors he’d anticipated, entering Quack, the one that drove him to the edge of madness was the noise. Relentless, overwhelming, and inescapable. He’d thought the jail was bad. He’d never considered what hundreds of men shut up in a huge hard-surfaced box would sound like, and by the third day of trying to shut it out, curled up on his bunk with his thin pillow and his arm covering his ears, he broke. Screaming and pounding on the bars of his cell, he was oblivious to the guards’ commands to shut up, to back away. Beaten down into unconsciousness, he woke up in the blessed silence of a six by ten concrete box, protected by a solid steel door.

He was so grateful for the silence that he was able to ignore the pain of a possibly cracked rib, ignore his split lip, the cut on his head, and the multiple bruises that had come up all over his body. It didn’t matter that he’d been stripped down to his shorts and bare feet, or that his bed was a thin pad on the floor. None of it mattered until the chill got into his bones, and the new bruises from sleeping on the floor left him no position in which he could be comfortable. He learned that complete silence wasn’t the same thing as peace and quiet. Every time the food slot slammed open it startled his heart into slamming against his chest.

He had no way to tell how much time had passed. The cell had no window and it was lit round the clock. Eventually, it didn’t matter. He sank into a numb apathy that even the food slot could hardly disturb. It occurred to him that he could very well die in this cell, and that was perfectly all right. He just hoped that the moments when he did care would come less often.

Then the cell door opened and someone threw clothes at him. “Get your ass up and dressed.” The door stayed open when the guard left, and Andy just stared at it, not sure it was real. He could hear cell doors being opened all down the line and wondered, vaguely, what was going on. “Stand for count!” reached him and he still wasn’t able to get himself up off the floor. He laughed, the way he had the first time he’d been rousted out of his general-population cell for the twice-daily count. All they had to do was look inside each cell to know if everyone was there.

“Lazy bastards. We gotta do everything for them.” His laughter was cut short by a sharp kick to his head.

“If we have to drag you out and dress you, you’re gonna regret it. Now move!”

He moved. As soon as he stepped out, dressed in the standard shirt, pants, and soft slippers that were always too big to stay on, one of the guards headed for him, restraint belt in hand. All the other men were already lined up, wrists fastened to their belts. Andy moved into line, trying to avoid being shoved.

“Right turn!” The guards quickly chained them belt to belt, and ordered them out the open door at the end of the corridor.

Weren’t prisoners supposed to be informed about transfers? Andy’s mind hadn’t had time to adjust to the sudden change in his circumstances, and the question of transfer rattled around as something he thought he should be concerned about. And where were the leg cuffs and chains? But prison wasn’t jail and he hadn’t had enough experience yet at Quack to know all the routines.

Another door opened, this one to the outdoors. Andy cringed and blinked as the bright sunlight hit his eyes. In front of them was a prison van, its doors open, waiting to take them — where? Why was he being transferred? He’d only arrived a few days ago. No, he corrected himself. That was before the hole. He didn’t have time to think about that any more because one guard took hold of his arm while another released the chain that held him to the man in front of him. He was pulled to the step and as he climbed up into the van, he saw one more strange thing to add to all that had happened in the last few minutes.

There were no seats in the van. Instead of the normal benches along each side, there were two rows of floor to ceiling poles running down the center, with sets of cuffs hanging from them. The guard shoved him to the very back to stand between a pair of the poles. “Eyes front.”

“What’s going on?” Andy asked, as he turned around. “Why am I being transferred?” He couldn’t help asking, even knowing that he wasn’t likely to get an answer to either question.

“Shut it, slime.” The guard slapped his head and pulled his left arm out to his side,

Andy watched in horrified befuddlement as a cuff locked around his upper arm and the guard reached across his chest and did the same to his other arm. The same operation was repeated at his waist and his feet, and now he understood why they hadn’t bothered with hobbles. After a few adjustments, he was locked immovably between the poles. Without warning, a black hood came down over his head, and before he could open his mouth to yell out his panic, he heard the guard’s voice next to his ear. “You ain’t being transferred. You been sold.”

2 thoughts on “New Serfdom — We Interrupt this Program for . . .

    • I hope so. I’ll need to fill out his backstory. He’s a lifer without hope of parole. Stupid kid caught up in a “prank” robbery that got out of hand.

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