“One hundred and ten! One hundred and eleven! What! Are you weak! Another one! Now!” screamed Nate’s so-called workout coach, Jacup. He was actually just a muscular guy who Nate paid to help him work out.
The cold sweat dripped off Nate’s face, staining his already sweat-logged orange jumpsuit, but he forced in another push-up. His body was screaming in discomfort. The yellow sand of the prison’s workout yard came up to meet him as his arms finally gave out. Rolling on his back, he looked up at the blindingly hot sun, then pushed himself to his feet.
“Pathetic,” murmured Jacup, pacing back and forth next to Nate. He let out a long sigh.
“Nate, m’boy, how do you expect to win the push-up competition if you can hardly manage 100! See Bill Cask over there.” Jacup pointed to a short-but-sturdy, extremely muscular and tattooed guy Nate had never seen before. “See him? He can do 300 easily. Even your friend Mitchell is better than you!”
Staring at Nate sadly, Jacup turned and walked away, shaking his head. “Go take a water break, son”
Nate stood there silently for a moment, then muttered “Goddamn it.” He repeated the phrase with growing volume, “Goddamn it! Goddamn it! He can do three hundred goddamn push-ups! And what can I do! Nothing! Zip, zero, nada! Might as well be worth crap.”
Other prisoners had begun staring at him, but he didn’t care. Muttering a few well-placed curses, he gulped his entire water bottle in one sip, and slammed it back down on the bench so hard, a dent appeared.
He looked at the dent approvingly. It expressed his anger well enough. He was about to go do a set of pull-ups when the final bell rang. This symbolized that workout period was over, and that it was time to go back to your cell for bed.
Nate shared his cell with his best — and only — friend, Mitchell. They were both in for the same reason: robbery. But Nate still found himself the righteous one, which he had tried to prove in court (As you can see by his situation, that did not work.)
What had happened was Nate had seen a man being stabbed by another man. Nate had rushed over just as the man with the knife fled, leaving his knife at the scene. Nate grabbed the knife out of instinct, but set it down immediately afterwards. For several hours, he stayed next to the bleeding man. When the cops arrived, Nate was the only one who could have murdered the man, and he had even put his fingerprints on the knife. The deal was set.
Mitchell had done something like that, or so he said.
As Nate walked back to is cell, he heard shouting across the yard. He sighed. Another fight?! he thought to himself. It was the third one this week. With the Push-up Competition coming up next week there had been a lot of betting, and from that betting, more and more fights. He looked towards the commotion with little interest. He didn’t have much patience for the loud-mouthed, big-muscled, little-brained nimrods that usually got into fights.
But the moment he saw who was fighting, his whole perspective changed. Mitchell stood in a fighting stance, circling Samuel Campanelli, one of the most popular and most feared men in the prison. The two stood circling, eyes locked, looking for an open opportunity to strike. It was Mitchell who found one first.
Mitchell flung out a fist, slipping between Samuel’s guard, and getting solid impact on his ribcage. A fight-winning blow to a lesser opponent, but Samuel hardly flinched at the strike. Fear flashed in Mitchell’s eyes.
Nate dashed towards the pair, sure that no matter how hard he tried, Mitchell would lose. That would not only be painful, but after Samuel’s success, his cronies would become braver assuming that they could also beat Mitchell. This would be extremely dangerous, and it could put Mitchell at risk of being thrown in solitary, which would be bad for both of them. All of these thoughts whirled around in Nate’s head as he rushed to Mitchell’s aid.
Nate shouldered Samuel Blubb, the prison scapegoat, into the dirt as he dashed through the circular crowd that had gathered around the pair of fighters. He didn’t even have time to apologize.
I’ll do it later, he thought and continued to try to peek his head over the shoulder of Billy L. Jackson, Samuel’s main man, but Jackson kept on pushing Nate back persistently. Jackson finally turned around angrily and pushed Nate to the floor.
“Stoppit, dammit! Stoppit! Do you wanna fight Sam ‘long with Mitch, cause if yeah, I’ll grab you by yer damn, skinny neck and toss yee in there, damn bastard fool. I’ll smack yee so hard yer damned gramma‘ll feel it!” Billy muttered a few unintelligible curses before going back into his rant. “So yee wanna go in there? Issa yes er no, not maybe! C’mon Natey boy, yee damn bastard, whadda ya think, shorty?”
The two fell silent, Billy silently fuming, his phony question dangling in front of Nate like bait for a fish. Billy was asking Nate to go in there, but it wasn’t a question. Nate was going in there whether he wanted to or not. He half opened his mouth, but before any sounds could come out, Billy’s massive hands had picked up Nate by the back of his orange jumpsuit and pushed him into the circle.
“LOOK OUT LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!” Billy bellowed, making sure everyone in a ten-mile-radius could hear him. “A NEW FIGHTER HAS ENTERED THE RING!” he blasted, as if no one had noticed him pick-up Nate and practically throw him into the ring.
The crowd howled louder, the thought of even more people getting beaten to a bloody pulp whipping them into a bloodthirsty frenzy. People screamed Samuel’s name, booed, and chanted. It was like standing in a sound box. Too much to process. The sand rough against Nate’s hands as he lay on his knees where Billy had dropped him. Mitchell tugging on the back of his shirt, telling Nate he had to get up, that they had to fight together.
“C’mon, get up!” Mitchell was practically shouting, glancing nervously at the approaching Samuel. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no! Don’t go into one of your modes now! Why now?”
But Nate couldn’t hear a word Mitchell was saying. He was in his mode. The mode was… the mode. In the mode, the world is an observatory. You don’t move, you don’t hear, you just watch. Watch the world go by, like a lazy drifting river. There were many rules of the mode. Don’t talk, don’t move, don’t think, don’t blink, don’t listen. Only watch. Only watch.
As Samuel moved closer, Nate could only watch. Watch as Sam turned back his head and laughed, spitting out an insult Nate couldn’t hear. Watch him raise his foot back, and swinging it forward as if on a pivot. The solid connection of Sam’s foot on Nate’s temple. Pain lancing through Nate’s body. All Nate could do was watch. He landed back down on the ground from the force of the impact, and Nate’s vision slowly grew dark.
It was way too late when Nate opened his eyes. He still lay in the prison yard. Judging from his estimate, it was around 9:30. Not late enough for Nate to be in huge trouble, but he would be in trouble nonetheless. He dashed through the deserted halls, thankful that he didn’t run into any guard, and swung into his cell.
He checked his appearance. Nate had never been that good-looking, but never that bad-looking either. He was German, and had long dirty blonde, hair, which framed steel-gray eyes and sharp cheekbones on pale-ish skin. He was the complete opposite of Mitchell, who was Hispanic, with short, black hair and olive skin.
He sighed and leaned back onto his bed, sore and tired from the rough day he’d had. Taking off his boots and closing his eyes, he sunk into a deep, dreamless sleep.
A soft creak woke him from his sleep. He grunted, annoyed at being woken. There was another one, slightly louder this time. Suddenly, there was a crash, a shout, a bang, a curse. Nate jumped from his sleep.
“Did you hear that, Mitchell? Did you? Mitch?” Nate flicked on a light, and his heart stopped. Mitchell’s bunk stood empty, and the cell door wide open, creaking back and forth.
“Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no! Mitchell.”
The name came out hardly a whisper. A ghost of a sound that could be. A word that should exist, but can’t. He backed away until his back was pressed against the wall, and even then, kept on backing up. This couldn’t be real. He was already going into his mode, he couldn’t stop it.
He sunk to his knees, tears dripping from his eyes, muttering the name “Mitchell” until it had no meaning, and was just a sound. Just another sound in the midst of the dark night. Like the sirens that were wailing, the people that were shouting, the footsteps, rushing through the halls. The endless noise. That whole night seemed a dream. Nonexistent.
And through the whole night, he wished to be deaf. To end the noise. The endless horror of noise. He stared at the open cell door, but felt no inclination to go through it. To be with Mitchell. As far as Nate knew, or cared, Mitchell was gone.
Not a person, but a name. Like Bob. Or John. Or Gary. But not a person. Never a person. Never a friend. A friend would take his friend with him. At least say goodbye. And the horrible, bloodthirsty, mad part of Nate, the part we all have but choose to hide away deep within our consciousness pushed its way into his main stream of thoughts. And within Nate’s mind, he secretly hoped Mitchell had died.
He wished that Mitchell had died while escaping. But what did Nate know. If his only friend left him, without a “goodbye,” or even a “see you on the other side,” what was left of him?
He sat there the whole night, crying, letting his emotions disappear in the form of tears till he was nothing but an empty husk, dry and emotionless.
He woke up the next morning without ever remembering going to sleep. He stared in the mirror and tried to smile, but all that came out was a strange, open-mouthed, flat expression. Nate dunked his head under the pool of water that had been building up at the bottom of the sink. He combed his hair, brushed his teeth, put on some clean clothes, and took 50 deep, slow breaths.
Nate stepped out of his cell, steeling himself for the day to come. Sure enough, he had hardly taken ten steps when a prisoner rushed up to him. Surprisingly, it was the guy from yesterday, Bill Cask.
“Hey, there’s rumors going around that someone was trying to escape last night. And guess what? They’re saying he made it!” Nate stood there, unsure how he was supposed to feel about this. Happy? Disappointed? Amazed? So he just stood there with a blank expression on his face. Clearly this was not the reaction Bill wanted, so he went on.
“Aaaaand, they’re saying the person who escaped was your cellmate!” Clearly, Bill expected him to go absolutely insane, like he was on some game show.
He did not expect for Nate to turn around, and as he was walking away and say, “Well the rumors are true. Tell everyone: Mitchell A. Warren, cellmate of Nate J. Roosevelt, has escaped from Prison No. 61.”
After a long day of being harassed by people who wanted to know what happened the night before, Nate’s bed seemed his only saviour. The day had seemed an endless punishment of questions. Like, “How’d it happen?” Or, “Did you see it?” Once he was even asked, “Who escaped?”
It seemed fruitless to even pretend he knew what happened, so he mostly responded in a grunt or a rough “I dunno.” But the one thing that irked him the most, out of all the things that were occurring at the prison, was that they had cancelled the push-up competition, though he seemed the only one annoyed by this.
Then, one day, seven days after the escape, as he was heading across the rough gravel of the abandoned basketball court, the loudspeaker blared its static message across the prison:
“WILL NATE ROOSEVELT PLEASE REPORT TO THE MAIN OFFICE IMMEDIATELY.”
The loudspeaker flicked off and left the yard unusually quiet, all eyes on him. He walked across the yard, aware that the whole prison had their eyes on him, like guns tracking a target. The moment he left the yard and walked into the prison, he could hear the entire place erupting in conversation behind him, literally talking behind his back.
He made his way through the halls of pale blue marble, covered in stains of who-knows-what. Opening the dark green door to the office, he took his seat at the polished, wood table at the center of the office just as the warden walked in.
Two guards stood by the door, which seemed normal. But other than that, the office was strange, with trinkets perched all about the room; the assorted potted plants tossed about the area and scattered on various desks, stacks of papers which seemed to appear infinitely and placed precariously close to falling off of the edge, seemed to be a degree that certified he was, in fact, a warden.
The warden eyed Nate, scrutinizing every detail about him.
“Hello, Nate. I am not here to share pleasantries with you, and I can assume you are the same,” stated the warden. With his dark eyes, straight brown hair, and square features, he was clearly not one to be messed with. He even gave a cold demeanor, as if an aura of strictness surrounded him.
“I am here to talk to you about what happened the night of June 6th, seven days ago.”
There was a long silence. Nate wanted to speak, but words wouldn’t leave his mouth. Should he tell him? Rat out his only friend? But a true friend wouldn’t have left him alone? A true friend would have taken Nate with him. But should he?
All these thoughts whirled around in his head as the horrible disease that is indecision crept through his body. He took a long, deep breath.
“You want to know what happened on the night of June 6? Fine. But honestly? I think I know less than you do.”
And with that, he told him everything he knew (which wasn’t much.)
Many weeks had passed without Mitchell, and soon, the everlasting hunger of loneliness started clawing at his belly. He still had two years left in his sentence, so waiting to get out to find Mitchell was no option. Though there was still the nagging voice at the back of his head, saying “Escape! Go with him! Get out of this bottomless hell-hole!”
Of course, he ignored that voice and focused on his daily routine. (Heh, heh, heh. I make myself laugh sometimes. Yeah, I lied. I lied hard.)
The voice pestered him 24/7, digging its way into his thoughts, dreams, and subconsciousness. Every day, he wanted to do it more and more. He became obsessive, anxious, jumping at the slightest of sounds. Voices pierced his dreams, screaming at him to follow Mitchell. Every night, he watched the scene, the escape, and every morning, he awoke with a cold sweat. His heart beat out of rhythm, and instead, his fingers tapped at a fast pace. He could not stop the beat, whether the tap of the foot or finger; it seemed endless. His mind could not think. All he saw was Mitchell’s face laughing at Nate, endlessly. He was officially insane.
He needed to escape. He needed to escape! He needed to escape!
The question of “But how?” is one of the biggest and most challenging questions the Earth has ever faced. We wanted to make a teleporter. But how? We wanted to build a time-travel machine. But how? We wanted to build a super awesome deathray. But how? How? If we knew the answer to the question of “But how?” the world would be a very different place. And Nate was just about to find that out.
Nate sat on the small, wooden chair his cell came with, leaning back on it very precariously. He had given up his tapping habit, and was now completely focused on finding a way out. As simple as it seemed, it proved exceedingly difficult. It was not that hard coming up with ideas on breaking out. It was just that every time he did, he immediately thought up a reason why it wouldn’t work.
Cursing his own pessimistic personality, he got up and walked over to his bed for an evening nap. He had never before taken naps, but he found being well rested helped him think. He glanced over at Mitchell’s bed. He had not touched it since the day of the escape, and dust sheeted the unmade blankets.
Just as Nate started to get comfortable, a sudden thought struck him like a hammer blow to the temple. Leaping to his feet, he shot across the room and began rummaging through Mitchell’s blankets.
If Mitchell escaped with a tool of some kind, he might have left it on his bed! Nate thought, his heart racing.
But as he continued his search, his hope slowly left, leaving him dead inside. There was nothing there! Nate’s eyes began to narrowed and his teeth clenched together.
Wait! Nate thought Maybe it’s under the bed! He searched relentlessly, trying to find anything, but all he found was a stupid comb. Fury built up inside of him. He threw the comb down so hard it shot halfway across the room, but he didn’t care.
“AAARRRGGGG!” Nate shouted. Disappointment seeped into his veins. He knew it wouldn’t happen, that of course Mitchell wouldn’t have left his tool there. But it had been his only hope, and getting your hope crushed makes you mad. And Nate was no exception. Every inch of his body was on fire with with hot rage. He stared at the wall, and then and there, punched the wall. Blood spurted from his knuckles, and his anger was now seconded by pain. But this only made him angrier.
He punched the wall, both fists drilling against it, blood splattering everywhere, until it looked like murder scene. Tears fells from his eyes, and time had no meaning. He could have been there for minutes, seconds, hours, years. But he would never know. All he remembered was passing out. His limp body falling to the floor.
Then, the darkness consumed him.
Nate woke up, the cold stone floor pressed against his cheek. Dried blood crusted his knuckles, and dried tears crusted his eyelashes. He was too tired to even yawn. He forced himself to his feet and began stumbling over to the sink.
Suddenly, before his slow feet had time to react, he felt something slide out from beneath him. He was unceremoniously tossed forward, his forehead bashing on the sink in front of him. Landing flat on his face, he struggled to roll over.
Reaching up, he felt his forehead. A large, goose-egg-sized bump was planted smack at the center. Cold blood slid down his face from a heavy nosebleed he’d gotten. Nate let out some words even he didn’t understand. He just wanted to say something offensive to whatever god did this to him.
He cleaned himself up, then bent down and started examining the floor where he tripped. He wanted to find the thing that had made him fall and make it pay. He knew he couldn’t make an inanimate object pay, but he didn’t care.
It was probably the comb I threw away earlier! Nate cursed.
He reached under the sink and let his fingers run wild over the surface of the floor, searching for anything that might cause him to trip. His fingers ran over something unusually cold, and he grabbed it and pulled the object into a better light.
He stared at it with wonder, his eyes glowing. A polished, silver key laid in his palm, sparkling in the warm light that the small window in his cell provided. It was small with a smooth edge. There was a little, round hole located in the corner, as if it was once attached to a ring of keys.
Rolling the key around in a closed fist, he realized the ingenuity of where the key was placed. It had been located between two pipes that formed almost a box around it. It was also smartly balanced against a wall, to block off one place in which it could be seen. Nate had found it out of sheer luck.
He glanced at the barred cell door, tilting his head. Cautiously, he got to two feet, approaching the cell door the same way you might approach a wild bear. Holding the key pinched between two fingers, he slid it into the lock. He took a deep breath, and turned the key. A soft click echoed through the prison.
Excitement built up in his chest. He gave the door a soft push, and it creaked open. Nate wanted to scream, dance, and sing at the same time. He had found a way to escape! But he needed to think. If he left now, he would be caught and the key confiscated.
He needed a plan.
Locking the door so he wouldn’t arouse suspicion, he walked over to his bed, then to his sink, then to the door again. He repeated the walk for over 3 hours, but couldn’t think of a strategy. It was clear that he had to do it at night, to limit the guards’ vision, but he didn’t know anything else.
At last, he decided to make a map of the prison, so he could sneak out. Nate already knew his way around the prison, but he had to know more: where the security cameras were, where the entrance and exit to air vents were, what the guards’ shifts were. He had to know the prison inside and out.
For weeks onward, he made it his mission to map out the prison. He used paper and a pencil that were supposed to be used for writing letters to your family. Nate laughed at their stupidity. He had no family. He was an only child, he never met his father, his mother had died at birth, his mom had gotten into a fight with his uncle so he had never met his uncle, and his grandparents had died before he was born. It was fine though. You couldn’t miss something you never had.
Soon, he had a large and detailed map of the prison. Nate unfolded the map and laid it on the miniscule desk in the corner of his cell. Hunching over it, he began to devise a plan.
On the night of December 24, six months after the escape of Mitchell A. Warren, and the day before Christmas, Nate J. Roosevelt planned to escape from Prison No. 61. Nate had chosen this day specifically, because 1) No one expected it, and 2) The guards would also be partying and getting drunk.
Picking up the key from under his bed where he hid it, Nate scanned the area. On his left, a guard stood, although he was facing the other way and leaning on the railing of the second floor stairway. The man’s head lolled to the side, and he seemed pretty relaxed.
To his right, stood nothing but a dead end.
Unlocking the cell door, he slid out of his room and silently crept toward the guard. Nate had a plan, though he wasn’t sure it would work. At the guard’s side, a gun hung loosely in a holster, not strapped down by anything. It was probably just a mistake of the guards ignorance, but it proved greatly helpful to Nate.
Standing right behind the guard, Nate realized how easy it was to sneak up on him. Then, he realized the guard was asleep! He pulled the gun from the man’s holster, then suddenly put the officer in a chokehold. Weaponless and half asleep, the guard easily submitted and fell unconscious.
Stripping the guard of his uniform, Nate put on the officer’s outfit and gave the officer a prisoner’s outfit. In the dim light, Nate looked no different than the guard he had just knocked out. Checking his badge, he was now Officer Jasper H. Parkins.
Not a bad name, Nate thought.
He reached into the outfit’s pocket and found a large ring of keys. Putting them back, he moved the body to the bottom of the stairway. He had to play this off right.
Suddenly, Nate started shouting “Dear God! What happened! There-There’s a body on the stairwell! Oh Lord!” and stuff like that. Of course, Nate knew exactly what happened. He just needed needed to make at least one guard came over.
Sure enough, Nate soon heard footsteps rushing towards him. A group of three guards came rushing over and stopped in front of the body.
“Dear God, what happened! I see now why you were screaming…” the shortest of the guards assembled said.
Trying to sound as shocked as possible, Nate responded “I was just s-standing there, doing my job, when I heard a-a thump at the bottom of th-the stairwell. I go down to investigate, and this i-is what I find,” all the while shaking his head back and forth.
“I’ll go tell the warden,” one of the guards volunteered.
“Not yet!” the short guard interrupted, “We need more details! Who is this prisoner anyway?” He said crouching over Jasper’s body. “He looks kinda familiar.”
Nate, sensing danger, immediately stepped in. “That’s because this fellow is Bill Cask!” The small group assembled all turned to look at Nate, blank expressions on their faces. “Oh, you probably don’t know that that’s his name, but you’ve definitely seen him before. He’s not too smart, not too funny, not too buff, but he’s just there.”
The other guards seemed to be okay with this explanation, but the short guard wasn’t having it.
“What’s his number?” Shortie inquired.
“212!” Nate blurted out.
“Isn’t that the number of that Mitchell kid?”
An erie silence seemed to spread almost cancerously about the area, until Nate finally broke it with a nervousness-filled word of, “No.”
No one bought it.
“No, I think that that is the escapee’s number. We’ve only been hearing it for the past 10 months!” This time, it was a taller, pale-as-the-moon guard who was talking. “I would know that damn number in my sleep.”
The small group laughed uneasily, but it only grew the tension, the guards becoming more sure that something was off.
Suddenly, Nate burst out laughing.
“Oh, you idiots!” he let loose another burst of giggles. “Once Mitchell got out, they switched around the numbers. Now a random kid, Nick, I think his name is, no Nate, is number 212!”
This explanation made absolutely no sense. Shortie was the only guard who seemed to have picked up what a BS answer it was, but the other guards were already laughing along, saying it was their bad, that they should have known.
“Go to the warden and ‘report the incident’ man,” the tallest guard said, as if it was a joke they had shared before. But Nate just laughed along, even though he had no idea what was so funny about that sentence. Nate just smiled, waving over his shoulder to say goodbye.
He walked through the prison at a measured and calm pace, walked to the exit, searched through the ring of keys till he found one labeled Exit Key, fit it into the lock, opened the door, and walked out.
He kept on walking away from the prison, shocked at what had happened. He had escaped so easily. It wasn’t mission impossible. But now, he had nothing to do. What was he supposed to accomplish with his life?
The answer came to him like a wave crashing onto the beach: Find Mitchell.
Mitchell had once told Nate his address: Brooklyn, NY 4th Street 1123. After asking a slightly rushed man out getting late Christmas gifts for directions, Nate was off.
After several hours of walking through the dark streets of Brooklyn, he was there. Standing in front of the house, Nate took a deep breath.
The word echoed across the night, shooting about the universe. And then and there, Nate knew, that somewhere, on some alien planet, a far away alien just heard the word “Mitchell.”