Site powered by Weebly. Managed by SiteGround
In a prison filled to the brim with rotten men, I never found anybody rottener than the warden. Any warden could beat a man’s body, especially when he’s chained up, but Warden Tobias George could beat a man’s soul.
He had a reputation for being a tricky sonofabitch, so when he announced he was expanding the prison courtyard, we waited for the catch. He had one of the walls knocked down and even though we all knew it was a trap somehow, we couldn’t help but think about making our escapes. It looked so simple. Through the wall, two hundred yards over an empty field, and then into the woods. If we made it that far, we could hide.
It wasn’t that easy, though. We had to build the wall back up ourselves, working in a chain gang. Five of us together in shifts. Backbreaking work. Stone, mortar, stone, mortar, stone. All the while, freedom taunting us.
Bull ran on the very first day. The guard in the watch tower had dozed off, and Bull thought we could make it. He had his nickname for a reason. The four of the rest of us combined couldn’t have stopped him from running. Chained together at the ankle, we had to step as a team. We made it halfway to the tree line when Cobb stumbled and fell. He tripped me, and as soon as the chain on my other leg went taut, Bull lost his balance, taking Chambers and Beckett to the ground with him. We were just getting back to our feet when the warden rode up on his horse and shot Bull between the eyes.
I was surprised there wasn’t more blood, but Chambers said if you die quick, your heart stops pumping, and that’s that.
We thought the warden would cut Bull free, have us bury him under the wall we were building. Instead, we had to work around him. Laying stones while chained to a dead man is morbid work.
We kept on through the afternoon, long after the blood on Bull’s face had cracked and turned brown. Chambers and I had to drag Bull over every so often as we made progress. Chambers had the idea to slam a stone on top of the chain and try to break it, but I thought the sound might carry up to the guard tower. Instead, I set Bull up by some of the lowest stones and let his leg hang over. I figured he didn’t need his foot anymore.
It took about ten blows with the sharp edge of the stone. Beckett and Chambers were still chained to the dead man, but Cobb and I were free. I looked up at the watchtower and didn’t see any guard at all. Maybe he was on a break. Maybe he was on his way toward us. Either way, we had to get out now. I told Cobb to run.
Only, Cobb wasn’t so keen on the idea.
He said he had some powerful enemies out there and being in prison was the only thing keeping him safe. He said he tripped on purpose earlier and he’d do it again.
I brought the stone down on his skull. He didn’t even have a chance to cry out. I don’t know if he’d died completely yet, but I picked him up, slung him over my shoulder, and took off toward the tree line, praying no one followed.
My legs were burning from the strain, so as soon as I got into some cover, I stopped to catch my breath. Then, a revolver cocked behind my head.
“You know what happens to escaped convicts?” Warden George asked.
“Get it over with,” I said. “Shoot me.”
“Don’t think I will.”
I dropped Cobb and turned to face the warden. He lowered his gun.
“I think I’ll let you go,” he said.
“Hope is a mighty powerful weapon. Why do you think I took the wall down? If I let you go, then word gets out like wildfire. Everyone’ll hope they can be the next one to break out. All those prison dogs will be looking to make a run for it too, hoping to be like you. I can shoot any that try and I’ve always got an itch on my finger. Give a man hope and you can make him do the stupidest things.”
The warden reached into his jacket and pulled out a bottle of amber liquid and a slip of paper. “If you get caught, they’ll take you right back here and that hope dies. So don’t get caught. Deliver this whiskey to this address. Tell him I sent you. He’ll get you out of town first thing in the morning.” He hopped off his horse, gave me the bottle, and unlocked my chains, leaving Cobb on the ground. “You’re a free man.”
It seemed too good to be true, but I had to take him at his word. I waited until nightfall to sneak into town so my prison clothes wouldn’t be noticed. I finally found the address after an hour of searching and knocked gently on the door. A burly man opened and blinked at me.
I proffered him the bottle and said, “Warden George sent me.”
The man looked me over from head to toe, then ushered me inside.
“Why’d he let you go?” he asked after he shut the door.
“He said it was to give the other prisoners hope.”
“Why would he want that?”
“He said hope makes people do stupid things. Wanted to shoot some who followed me.”
“I’ll be damned. I owe that sonofabitch a hundred bucks.” The man threw his head back and laughed. “He really said that about hope? He ain’t lying. He bet me he could let a convict go free and still get him to turn himself in.”
My heart dropped.
He pulled a sheriff’s badge from his pocket.
“You poor, hopeful fool. You’re under arrest.”
Matthew Pritt is the author of The Supes, published by Future House. His work has been published by Dark Recesses Press, Dread Stone Press, and Cursed Morsels, among others. He is a member of the HWA and he lives in West Virginia with his five cats. You can see pictures of them on his Twitter @MatthewTPritt.
HalfHourToKill.Com is a literary website publishing authors of Flash Fiction and Short Stories in the genres of Fantasy, Horror and Noir. Feel free to submit your Fiction, Poetry and Non-Fiction work to us year round.