I am cutting it close this week, I know. This weeks challenge was to pick one of five titles generated. I picked:
(comments are, as always, more than welcome)
Riding The Corpse
By Trine Toft Schmidt
I’ve been calling Lone Island my home for the past 17 years. It’s an island (duh!) and maximum security facility far away from the mainland, in shark infested waters. My cell mate Manny West, who was a geologist before he cooked his neighbour, say that the island is an old extinct volcano, slowly dissolving back into the ocean, leaving a ring of steep rocks around fertile bowl of land. We’re so far away that supplies and fresh guards are shipped in once every month. So we farm the land, grow corn and potatoes, raise pigs and chickens. We are pretty self-sufficient that way. I take pride in that. If the miracle ever happens, and I get out again, I will find me a pretty girl and settle down on a little farm, raise a herd of those Scottish Longhorns. Maybe even have kids.
But I seriously doubt that I will ever leave this place alive. Lone Island is where they send the most violent, the most incorrigible, the most heinous of criminals. If you come here, you know it’s for life. I can only think of one exception.
When Houdini came to Lone Island, he’d already escaped five prisons, one more secure than the last. Of course he became instant prison royalty. Everyone wanted to make friends and get the inside scoop on how to escape. Its been almost ten years since he left, but his name is still whispered reverently. When letters from home cease to come or when you are going insane with the endless screams from the demented at night, he is the tiny flicker of hope you try to comfort yourself with.
The guards, not surprisingly, didn’t like Houdini one bit. A cough or a wrong look warranted punishment, which on Lone Island means he was set to do the worst jobs. He weeded endless rows of potatoes alone on his knees, cleaned out slop troughs in the pigsty for weeks in a row, he cleaned toilets over and over again. But nothing ruffled his feathers. Not even when he got sent down the chute.
The chute is the worst. Since Lone Island has no mainland connected sewage system or a water treatment plant, our waste is sent straight into the ocean via the chute. It’s a long steep tunnel, hacked into the bedrock until it breaks through the rock just over the sea. A couple of times each winter seawater build an icy layer on the grates at the end, blocking egress, and inmates are sent down to clean it up, hacking away at frozen shit and piss for hours. Needless to say Houdini got sent there often. After he escaped it became my job.
It took me months to put together, but I think I know how he got away. I have never told anyone though, if I do, I think start a riot. You see I think he rode Evan Thomas.
When people die on Lonely Island, bodies are prepared and stored, waiting for the next supply ship to sail them back to whatever family is left. But that summer was hotter than hell. Hot as in 100 degree days and 80 degree nights. Inmates got heat strokes left and right. The electrics went haywire, the lights flickered on and off constantly and the refrigerators couldn’t keep the food cold. We were all going crazy. Tempers flared easily, and one morning Evan Thomas got shanked over a bar of soap and died. There was no contingency freezer then, t in case someone kicked the bucket and the ones in the kitchen were on the blink. So Evan was stored in a shed, almost stinking up the whole island.
After three days with unbearable heat and stench, Warden Casius made a decision. He declared that Evan would be given a sailor’s burial of sorts. He would be sent down the chute and into the sea. It was unfortunate, the Warden said, but could simply not be helped. Tempers flared more, even Houdini seemed to lose his cool, and got in a shouting match with a guard. So he was the one they picked when the chute had to be prepared for Evan’s last ride.
I am sure that is what Houdini had planned for all along. I think maybe he messed with the electrics and I am pretty sure that he messed with Evan Thomas and Charlie Kokoma as well.
Houdini created a chance and then he took it.
The funeral was a quick affair. A brief sermon and a quick prayer by the chaplain, and then Evan, clad in heavy canvas tarp tied with old belts, was sent on his way through the chute. No one waited for the sound of his body hitting the sea, the stench was making everyone sick by then. The warden hit the levers controlling the trap door and the grate at the far end and then it was all closed up.
It wasn’t until the nightly roll call that they discovered Houdini was gone. They searched high and low, for days, and found nothing. They hauled me in for interrogations, since we’d shared a cell. But I had nothing to tell them. I was as confounded as the them. They didn’t believe me though, and soon they gave me the same shitty jobs Houdini had gotten, including sending me down the chute that winter.
There’s this lip of rock that finishes off the chute, hanging out over the sea, safeguarding that the sewage and garbage doesn’t end up on the rocks. Just within reach of the grates, on the side of that rocky lip I found an old shirt snagged on a branch of something long dead. Its arms and neck were tie in knots. A makeshift bag of shots. It was empty, tattered and disgusting, but I was curious and examined it. 548 it said in faint black numbers across the chest. Houdini’s number. He’d had escaped through the chute. And the only way that was possible, I think, was if he rode something big enough that needed the grates opened. Evan Thomas.
I don’t know. I don’t think he survived it. It’s a big damn ocean, and a long way to swim. I don’t see how he could have made it. I really don’t.
But when I have trouble sleeping, I fantasize about Houdini.
About riding the corpse.