Vignette No.8 – Deserter

Deserter

The prison was the oldest in the world and no one had ever, ever escaped.

It was carved from a dead volcano, a ragged outcrop of rock jutting from the middle of a desert where the wind was harsh enough to scour the earth raw and crack it wide open like a bleeding red back. The only light came from irregular pockmarks in the stone walls, too high up to reach, too small to put a hand through even without the lacework of steel webbing across the crack; with it, even the most emaciated finger could not force its way free.

Inside the cells, the ceilings were very high and the walls very close together. It was either suffocatingly hot, during the day, or intensely cold, after nightfall. In the permanent twilight of the prison, the temperature was the only way of telling what time of day it was. Some prisoners perfected their guesses to a fine art and could tell the time to within an hour’s accuracy. It didn’t help them much.

And everywhere, wherever you went, from the titanium portcullis inwards, were guards in desert red uniforms and black visored helmets, armed with sleek black guns like muzzled dogs hungry to bite. They never removed their helmets. They never spoke. Their hands made signs and the prisoners obeyed, or were bitten. Perhaps the guards were proud of their prison; perhaps they felt as trapped here in the desert as any of those they guarded. Perhaps they really were as soulless as they seemed and felt nothing at all. It was impossible to tell.

The prisoners called them daemons.

They brought him in still drugged from the flight across the desert and chained him in a cell deep underground, where even the temperature could tell him nothing, always constant, always cold. And it was dark. The rocks were phosphorescent with a faint greenish glow – enough to let him see the corpse colour it gave his skin. Enough to make the chains that bound his wrists shine a sickly silver.

Outside, the sun burned down on the bloody desert. The daemons prowled their rocky keep. The portcullis stabbed the ground with steely teeth.

Which made it all the more embarrassing when he crept out as a cockroach.

© Faith Mudge, 2012

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