by Mark C. Frankel
It began with a cell. Most times that’s where it ends, not so in this case. It was an unused, dim confinement that had been vacant for several decades. Dwayne visited often, dreaming of its past dwellers.
The mattresses were gone, allowed to rot until not even the rats could make a nest with their flesh, but the bones remained. Undoubtedly in a few more decades they too will become dust. Sometimes he sat on them. That day he did not, unconsciously fearing the inevitable flaw that would cause collapse. In the chamber he enjoyed most, the sink and toilet still stood, entirely intact, although without working water. Nonetheless, he pretended that he washed the blood off his soaked hands. Why else would he be here?
Chernobog Prison was silent. That was his favorite part; Dwayne had silence. It was a peaceful palace for plotting, no yelling or cantankerous elders to order him about. Even older sisters don’t follow boys into broken buildings. If they didn’t follow, they couldn’t call him names, he reasoned, nor laugh and tease him about his now emerging acne. And in this horrific haven, they could not watch him pull on his organ, something he knew was wrong but could not resist.
One of them caught him once. Not here, but at home in the dark where he thought he was safe, burrowed beneath the blankets. She told everyone. She told everyone it was small, too. They all laughed. It’s not, he tried to say, it was only startled. He still wanted to choke her when he thought about it. One day, one day…
None of that mattered today. He was blissfully alone and began to strut through the halls. Today he imagined being the guard rather than the prisoner. Dwayne had a stick that he rattled on the bars as he passed each cell. Da-ding, da-ding, da-ding…
“Lights out, five minutes!” Dwayne bawled, the echo of his voice reverberating along the empty corridor. In his mind, the prisoners muttered, some daring to stick their hands out of the bars. He struck sharply at them with his baton and paused before those cells, glaring as if to intimidate the felon. He smiled a toothy grin as if to say, I’m out here and you’re in there, whatcha gonna do?
Dwayne paused before his cell, the place where he dreamt most often, and then with some hesitation, entered. He rattled the bars as he did. Kicking the frames, Dwayne used his stick to poke at the nonexistent mattresses.
“Bed check,” he said “you all better be tucked in tight. Don’t want no bed bugs biting ya. Dirty, filthy bastards, here because you do dirty things.”
It was hard to ignore one bed; without the mattress, a large black stain could be seen. It had seeped into the floor, becoming an indelible piece of this penitentiary. Dwayne was drawn to it, gazing at the grisly blemish in wonder. Today he leaned over to touch it, as he had done many times in the past. He kept waiting for the day when he would reach out and feel not cold stone, but hot, wet ichor, the lifeblood of some sleeping inmate. As he extended his arm, the hairs on it and the back of his neck pricked up sharply. Quickly he jerked back, not quite reaching his goal. It looked wet today.
His head swung around and Dwayne’s eyes scanned the whole room. He turned his body about, but nothing, or more correctly no one, was seen. He looked up. It must be a leak, he thought, yet there was no hole in the ceiling. It was just a cement bulwark, the construct so solid that not even a chip appeared in it. Don’t build ‘em like they used to, he could hear his grandfather say.
The dim light from his little flashlight shone on the puddle. Steam seemed to rise off of it like a recently erupted geyser. Dwayne shook with both apprehension and anticipation. He reached out again, actually getting down on his knees next to the pool and carefully, but absently laying his weapon down next to him. His index finger found the sodden floor, and as he often dreamed, it was damp. Dwayne brought his hand up to his face and peered at his digit. Not only did it feel wet, it looked it too. He smelled it. The liquid had a hot, acrid smell. With little hesitation, he inserted it into his mouth. It was sharp, even bitter, but it was blood, of that he was sure.
Dwayne knew how blood tasted; he had many experiences with his own. Usually he lost his battles; frequently the sanguine fluid would ooze from his nose, a river that most often became a lake at his mouth. However, that was not the only way he knew its tang and texture. Dwayne liked to cut himself, usually with a small Swiss Army knife he kept in his pocket. He never did it where anyone could see him, often choosing his upper arms or inner thighs, and always made sure to be alone when he made his sacrifices. Usually, he was at the prison.
Out came the knife. After a few phantom slashes into the air, Dwayne began to make downward stabbing motions above the puddle. It was a repetitive, ritualistic gesture; he had made it hundreds of times before. I bet this is how it was done, he always thought. I bet I could do it. Dirty bastard, probably needed a good shank. He began to chuckle. With a measured slash, Dwayne cut a crevasse across his forearm. Perfectly formed and matching several other recently healed canyons, it bled a dark red liquid. He held his arm over the pool and allowed the colors to mingle with each drip. The hot stream soothed his earlier astonishment, allowing him to almost meld into the cell’s floor from his kneeling position.
Clank! Abruptly a loud crash sounded behind him. He didn’t need to turn around to know it was the door sliding from its rusted open position into a fully closed lock. Nor did he. Dwayne understood on some level that he was being confined here, but that was perfectly acceptable. He liked it here. He didn’t care that it was improbable for metal rusted solid to become operable. He was so engrossed in his macabre mixture that didn’t even care who perpetrated the deed.
“I’ll tell you a secret, you dirty bastards.” Dwayne said in a low, hushed tone. He giggled a gruesome soft laugh as he slashed at another appendage, allowing the blood to stream down his thigh and past his knee. He crawled directly into the puddle, kneeling amidst the center and letting the tributary flow into it. He hacked his other leg so that it could do the same. “I’m a dirty bastard too.” He giggled again, this time with more force and timbre.
He thought about releasing other tensions into the growing lagoon, but instead Dwayne decided to keep his experiment unadulterated. There was enough liquid for his purpose, no need to be excessive. A cut on his other forearm should be sufficient. With a quick motion, it was complete. He let the solution saturate his surroundings, watching it gather about him. There was almost enough.
Finally, Dwayne had sufficient means. He cupped his hands and raised as much of the blood as he could to his mouth. A small sip first, followed by a splash on his face as if cleaning himself. With increasing alacrity, he brought up more and more of the liquid, finding his face, his limbs, his chest and then continuing downward until he had lathered his whole body. He covered himself, leaving no bare skin at all. He rolled in it, like a dog in grass.
The job done, he smiled a sickly crescent, the white pearls of his teeth a decisive contrast to his blemished brow. “I’m the dirtiest of all you bastards,” he said.
Standing abruptly, he turned toward the cell door and promptly walked through its bars. He had to go home and wash himself off. Dwayne didn’t want to be late for dinner.