In the darkness before dawn, Morris contemplated his situation. A coat of perspiration glistening in the moon-light intensified the sensation felt from the cool morning air and the concrete surface which he is lying on. From his approximation, three years of practice had passed now. During this time, tremendous accomplishment had been made. One might assume that his skill is purely physical in nature, requiring little thought. Yet the deed is no simple task; it requires tremendous strength of both the body and the mind. Morris considered himself an amateur at best. In fact, he can think of no other human being who has accomplished such an act.
On schedule, footsteps approach from the outside and the sound echoes within the cell. Even after all of this time, he is not immune to the foreboding sound. The sinister unevenness of gait (favoring the right side) is indicative of one man. He is the only personal contact that Morris has had with the outside over the years, yet he has no name. An irascible scoundrel of a man who never provides any sympathy, sometimes for personal pleasure, he leaves Morris’s daily meal within sight, yet just out of reach. In order to eat regularly and therefore to survive, Morris has learned to treat him with the utmost servility.
The footsteps grow louder and suddenly, the cell door swings open with much force, slamming harshly against the unstopped wall. The quiet solitude of the cell broken in this violent way causes Morris to wince slightly, yet he remains steadfast, he must. He can show no fear, for this would please the guard too much.
“Wake up!” the guard said, eyes squinting and lips curling upward, before completing the statement, “. . . swine.”
Morris acknowledges by moving his head slightly, but avoids direct eye contact. The scent of tobacco accompanies the man.
“Prepared for you I have some grub, fit just for your kind.” The guard drops the ancient container next to his head. “You helpless infant” he then forces the large straw into Morris’s mouth, “suck.”
The fair is the same today as it has been for years: some combination of unknown solid softened by spoiled milk. It is never fresh, and the putrid smell fills Morris’s nostrils making his eyes water. Any civilized person would turn away with disgust, yet this abhorrent smell does not deter him, it cannot. Abidingly, he slurps down the mush with a sense of urgency. He knows that he only has so much time to get his day’s fill.
“You greedy pig. How is it that your appetite continues to increase day after day, year after year?”
Morris manages to gather one last mouth-full, before the straw is ripped from his mouth. He swallows, then replied, “Thank you sir.” following with a slight belch.
“You disgust me, you filthy swine. You know that you will die here. Why not save us both the trouble and give up? – But no, you are proud.” The guard said and spits on the ground on his way out, leaving the lingering scent in the air.
Gazing down, Morris assesses his situation. Wrapped around his wrists and ankles are shackles, which are connected by chains. The wrists are connected by one foot length, the ankles the same. Additionally, there is a short two foot section of chain that connects the upper and lower portion. As a result of this configuration, Morris is forced to remain fixed in a fetal position, curled up and laying on one side. For all of these years he had remained bed ridden, unable to walk, for the distance between hands and feet is so very short.
Long ago, Morris had developed a plan, a workout routine of sorts to overcome the situation. At first, he was able to practice the technique for only seconds per day. His skin was weak and would cut and bleed easily. Yet, over time his wrists and ankles hardened. They thickened, becoming callused in a monstrous way. When compared to the remainder of the limb, the site of the shackle was just as thick as the forearm, rather than the usual taper observed on those with a normal build.
As light from new day’s sun crept farther in through the small crack of a window, Morris inspects the metallic apparatus for signs of progress. There are surface scratches, the normal wear and tear, but still no signs of the metal giving way. No cracks are visible. Damn, he thought. Hastily in an attempt to remove further negative thoughts from arising, he peers around the cell and observes his surroundings. The concrete surface is covered with a thick layer of dust from the complete lack of disturbance. The cell is quite small, approximately ten by ten feet. There is a solid metal door and a window too small for anyone to escape. A sickening stench of stale mold fills the air; although, Morris has grown accustomed to the smell.
Filled and falsely content after the daily meal, Morris drifts away into sleep. Fragments of a time long past overcome his mind as he slips away.
He is a child, running in the Midwestern fields with his brother, Michael. The verdant oasis of spring alfalfa adorning the rolling hills flows by as they both laugh heartily together. Lacking responsibility, they continue running carefree until exhaustion sets in. They both fall to the ground. Looking up at the clear blue sky with cotton clouds drifting slowly overhead, Michael said, “One day, I want to fly. To reach up, and touch the clouds.”
“How do you suppose you’ll do that?” Morris said, “You want to be a pilot or something?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“What kind of pilot do you want to be?”
“The kind that shoots down bad guys, of course.” Michael points both fingers toward the sky, “uh, uh, uh, uh” making a machine gun sound. “What do you want to be?”
Morris begins to reply, “I want…”
Heavy uneven footsteps cut the dream abruptly short. As Morris slowly regains consciousness, he notices that light is reflecting upon the west side of the concrete cell. It is morning. Had he slept for an entire day?
The door opens with a bang. Grimacing, reality sets in. He had in fact over-slept, and therefore, had missed the chance to practice. Morris regretfully exhales an audible sigh.
“What was that?” the guard said.
Morris said nothing, and turns away.
“That’s right, be quiet. You know that I respond to such hostility with fists only.” The guard said, “You should be grateful. It’s feeding time. Ready your snout.”
The guard bends down, hovering just above Morris. He can feel the heat radiating from the scoundrel’s body and smell the familiar stench of tobacco smoke. A straw is forced into his mouth. He begins swallowing instinctively.
“That’s it, suck away you infant.” The guard is still bent over his body. Morris feels spittle land on his own exposed face as the guard says this, but he remains steadfast.
Morris manages to choke down a few large gulps before the feeding tube is removed.
“That’ll be enough for now. You have a long day of nothing ahead. You had better get to work.” Then the guard laughs as he walks away.
The cell door slams shut, leaving Morris in silence again. The perpetual solitude of the cell allows his thoughts to become clear. He has grown accustomed to the silence. It is peaceful in a way. He makes use of this time with tactical precision.
During the daylight hours he rehearses, mentally. As not to raise suspicion he follows this routine each morning after feeding. Historically, the guard had responded to the clanking of chains at all other times of day with a sharp and piercing rap of the stick on the cell door, along with a verbal reprimand, “Stop your wallowing!” before beating him mercilessly. The mental rehearsal serves an additional purpose; he cannot practice his art physically for long. So when not training he fills his time in this way. An aspiring expert requires much practice. He visualizes the forceful contraction of his trunk and limbs. In his mind, the chains break free under the strain.
Following the mental rehearsal, Morris rests his eyes. He drifts off until a distant bell from the outside world rings midnight. Eyes slow to open, he begins to move.
The physical training itself consists of a series of isometric contractions. A curling movement of the arms combined with an extension of the legs, systematically abducting each limb. During the protocol, he performs each movement slowly at first in order to warm up, before progressing to full contractions. He completes the workout with a total body contraction, curling, extending, and abducting with full force all at the same time. Now that his skin had hardened sufficiently, he has begun to add an explosive set of plyometric movements. This is the culminating movement that hopefully will enable him to break free on day, in one victorious motion.
This morning, Morris begins the warm-up. He has much more energy than usual. He had not rested a full 24 hours for quite some time. In fact, he had never rested, not since he had began the training regimen years ago. As he begins the warm-up, the chains clink in their usual fashion. The sound reverberates within the cell, a muffled metallic echo. As the minutes pass, Morris can feel his pores open up and the sweat seeps through, dampening his ragged garments.
The final contraction of the warm-up provides a surprising sensation of loosening – the predetermined length of movement so often reached before, suddenly is slightly longer.
Morris relaxes, fully collecting himself, appearing sage-like. A bead of sweat runs down his brow, and falls to the floor splashing in slow silent motion.
Suddenly, his eyes grow wide and his nostrils flare, as the long withheld rage emerges. His body contracts with symphonic perfection, moving the chains to the limit with a violent force never before attempted. The long restricting metallic contraption stands no match for his developed expertise. In a seemingly effortless motion, Morris’s arms and legs continue along on the path, through the previously predetermined range. Brilliant flashes of metallic tails swirl before his line of sight, then make contact with the floor and nearby wall, sparking radiantly. Morris is temporarily blinded, caught in a suffocating stupor of delight.
Morris remains in the conditioned cradled position for some time, breathing in the combination of the dust and the sweat in the air – hours pass. An unfamiliar expression is on his face: lips curled upward and eyes relaxed. It’s not until the first rays of sunlight breach the darkness, that any further movement is attempted. He gathers the broken chains slowly, trembling. He quietly positions them in the usual fashion.
Heavy uneven footsteps soon can be heard from outside. Morris is facing away, but can hear the door slam open. Lying motionless, he is not startled by the sudden entrance.
The guard is silent this morning, but Morris can smell the tobacco grow stronger as he approaches. The ancient container thuds as it hits the ground by his head. The guard leans in closely whispering in his ear, “Eat.”
Unbeknownst to the guard, Morris’s body lay poised like a jack-in-a-box, wound up to the springing point – no longer restrained. The simple, one word command provides the additional crank necessary for the full release.
In one perfect motion, Morris springs out. Spontaneously all four limbs extend, following the practiced path with such a speed that no observation is detectable by the human eye. The guard, still positioned by his side, doesn’t have time to flinch. The shackle on Morris’s callused wrist makes impact with the guard’s jaw with a force that could shatter boulders. The guard’s body is sent across the cell in flight.
The limp body hits the wall then lands with a thud on the concrete floor, stirring up a cloud of dust in the cell. As the dust settles, Morris observes the broken body – no life remains.
He begins to extend his arms and legs from beyond the long held fetal position. . .
Yet his face soon transforms, straining and revealing lines of deeply engrained despair. The movement of his arms and legs are arrested at the point where the chain had so long held them. Attempt as his may, the shaking limbs move no further.
As an expert, he had performed his skill perfectly. The practiced movement was strong, well rehearsed, but no farther point could be reached. All other unpracticed attempts (for example, to stand) are futile. He slowly makes way, crawling on his side in the only capable fashion, across the cell in a series of short spasmodic movements. The sound of rattling of broken chains combines with the sobs of failure and echoes beyond the open cell door. He doesn’t notice the approaching footsteps until it is too late. Without warning, a blunt object strikes his skull.
Head ringing, Morris opens his eyes and investigates the new situation. Although he is in the same cell, he is now alone. The body is gone. Looking down, his blank expression soon changes. His mouth opens, his pupils dilate. Then slowly, his lips begin to curve upward. He stares in awe of the contraption – the new chains are fully double in size.
About the author:
Darren Young was born in 1981 and grew up in the rural Midwest. He served for 10 years in the United State Army before settling down in Arizona, where he earned a Master of Science from Arizona State University. Darren has upcoming publications in Black Mirror Magazine and Beyond Science Fiction. More about the author can be found here.