The Story of To

short story about prison

Short Story

 

Winston stopped and turned to the three new correctional officers.

“Alright guys, that concludes orientation. Your lunch is at noon, and you’re on your own now.”

The three young men looked at each other like kindergartners confused as far as what they should do. They glanced intermittently at the portly Winston. He sighed deeply.

“Alright, here’s what we’ll do. Bradley, Cozza, you guys stand in the mess hall, they’re rowdy during breakfast. Don’t worry Hisari will be there to help you. Davenlock, you come with me.”

Winston took off in one direction with an eager Davenlock following, as Bradley and Cozza left opposite. Davenlock seemed very inquisitive, but was visibly reluctant to ask a question.

“What is it, rookie?” Winston asked.

“Well, sir,” Davenlock stammered, “I actually had a question about a prisoner.”

Winston stopped and turned towards Davenlock lazily. “Look, just don’t look Fitzhugh in the eyes.”

“No, no, I had a question about To.”

“To? Don’t ask questions about To. There are no answers,” Winston replied as he turned and continued his walk. Davenlock walked closely behind him once more.

“Well, sir, that’s the thing. Why?”

“Why what?” he wasn’t even breaking stride anymore.

“Why aren’t there any answers about To?”

“Because, no one has any answers,” he replied lazily, as if asked a thousand times.

“Then…I–Why is he here then? That doesn’t make sense,” Davenlock reiterated out of frustration.

“Look! Kid!” Winston was now visibly upset. “No one knows about To! This prison was built to house To! Somewhere, we have a cavepainting of his mugshot! His booking number was written in a hitherto unknown alphabet!” His tone calmed, “Although IVS has been suggested.”

“IVS?”

“Indus Valley Script, the written language of one the earliest, if not the earliest, civilization.”

“Well, couldn’t he transliterate it?”

“To doesn’t talk. To eats, sleeps, can kick a ball better than Pele, plays senet by himself, and ages. He’s probably 10,000-something, has infinite secrets, but he doesn’t speak. He doesn’t show emotion, not at all, he just politely nods.”

“Why don’t we let him go?”

Winston turned and backed the rookie up into a wall. “We don’t know why he’s here, but he’s supposed to be fucking in here! That is the reason this prison was built out of mud, dung, and bones, and why it’s built of metal, concrete, and computer technology now! Whatever he is, he’s not allowed to exist outside of the walls of this institution for eternity!”

Winston’s red face turned back to pale white, and he chuckled.

“Is that clear rookie?”

Davenlock nodded sheepishly.

“Good.”

Winston turned to carry on his business. He caught a glimpse of To, sitting at a table, playing senet against an inmate he had taught the game to. To nodded politely, and Winston nodded back, and turned down a separate corridor.

Davenlock stared worriedly at To, and To stared back, but with no emotion. After about three minutes of the staring contest, Davenlock nodded, and To nodded back.

 

Davenlock spent a lot of time watching To. To was bald, but he had a tremendous white beard, which wormed down to his knees. His color is puzzling. He doesn’t look Indian. He also doesn’t seem to have the color which Davenlock thought was indicative of Ancient Egyptians. He sure wasn’t white. He could pass for Chinese in color, but lacked the obvious facial features.

Davenlock watched To attempt to instruct an illiterate Arab prisoner on how to play senet. Curiously, he pointed with his pinky finger, when indicating attention be drawn to a particular piece. He nodded for yes, and shook his head for no, but these may be learned idioms.

Over the next few days, Davenlock learned that many prisoners have different nicknames for To. There’s Alpha, Bazurg, Pazuzu, Oldilocks, and LG, which stood for Lanky Gentlement, a nickname he likely acquired in the 1800s.

Davenlock decided to talk to the second oldest inmate about To. This man’s name was Jon Bread, and he was 104. He had tried several times for appeal, but all were denied due to the brutality of the murders he committed as a young man. Bread had been in this prison since he was 19, and was the oldest person left with knowledge of To.

Davenlock approached Bread’s cell.

“Is it time to take my pills already?” Bread asked, sensing his presence.

“No,” responded a nervous Davenlock, “I just had some questions.”

Bread slowly sat up, with the use of lightweight, but supportive, cane. “I don’t know anything about what happened to Henderson,” he stated abruptly.

“No, I have some questions about To.”

“To? What is there to know?”

“You were once young and new here, right?”

“Well, yes, a long time ago.”

“And, what were the other inmate’s opinions of To back then?”

“They respected him…they feared him…anyone with a lick of sense has always feared him. We don’t really know why, but it’s best that you fear him. It’s not like he’s uncompliant. He doesn’t do anything that would force a guard to show authority. He’s always been that way,” Bread stammered out, before erupting into a coughing fit. Bread waived Davenlock off as his deep, phlegmy, cough continued.

Davenlock decided there must be an easier way. The next day, he cornered To’s cellmate under the stairs.

“I didn do nuffin’!” Masters shouted.

“Calm down, calm down. I just have some questions.”

“I don’t know nuffin’ ’bout Henderson,” Masters retorted as he began to walk away.

Davenlock pulled Masters back against the wall.

“No, I need to ask you about To.”

“Whabout ‘im?”

“Have you observed anything…anything that may suggest his origins?”

“Uh…nah man…nah…” Masters began to walk away once again, but Davenlock pulled him back. Davenlock’s eyes got wider, demanding answers.

“K, look…I heard ‘im talkin’…whisprin’ in his sleep…is not loud or nuffin’, bu’ it’s weird for ‘im.”

Davenlock let Masters go. The next week, he traded shifts with Cozza, so he could work the late night.

 

Davenlock brought a tape recorder with him to work, smuggling it in his lunch bag. It was getting dark out as he pulled up. He exited his car, and it began pouring rain immediately. He slowly walked through the front doors, and checked in with Susan at the front desk.

He had five minutes before his shift started, so he headed for the lounge. Winston was sorting through the fridge, as he noticed Davenlock enter.

“Hell of a day today, Davvy!” He shouted, unfortunate nickname and all. “We nearly had a riot today.”

“What happened?” Davenlock asked curiously, but cautiously.

“Someone shanked Masters. The inmates began a witchhunt before we even knew what happened. They nearly killed Silverstein and Fitzhugh. Nine other inmates are in the infirmary, and twenty guys have been transferred to the SHU.”

A chill went up Davenlock’s spine. He managed to let out a hoarse “Fuck…,” nonetheless.

“Don’t worry, shit has calmed down. You and Hisari won’t have anything to worry about tonight.”

Davenlock nodded as Winston found a yogurt in the fridge, and began to eat. It was odd, considering he could eat at home in just a few moments. The clock struck 9, and Davenlock punched in.

He had never been in the prison at night, and it certainly was an eerie feeling. He sauntered through C and D block, banging his baton against the bars to signal lights out, and the prison darkened considerably.

A crackling broke the air, causing Davenlock to jump and the inmates to laugh.

“*Davenlock? Come in, Davenlock? It’s Hisari.*”

Davenlock picked up the walkie talkie, and radioed back. “*Yeah, I’m here*”

“*Radio me if you have any issues. I’m going to stick to A and B. I’ll let you know if shit hits fans.*”

“Roger,” Davenlock responded as he returned the device to his pocket.

He made his way back to D block, to check on To. To was laying in bed, eyes wide opened. He nodded at Davenlock, and Davenlock nodded back with a faux smile on his face.

He performed a “bed check”, and walked back towards C block, but decided to go back once he heard whispering. It was To, he was asleep. He pulled out the tape recorded, but it was soaking wet, and refused to operate.

Davenlock listened to To’s whispers. Gibberish, of course. Some language unknown to Davenlock’s simple high school education. Compelled to listen however, Davenlock stayed at his position, listening to the whispering.

Suddenly, there was silence. He looked over, and To was standing at the bars, his hand clenched around them. Davenlock jumped again, although it was too dark for other inmates to see.

Davenlock stammered to his feet, and then whispered, “Are you going to hurt me?”

To shook his head.

“Are you a demon?”

To shook his head.

“Are you human?”

To nodded.

“So…you’re not like…a fallen god or anything.”

To shook his head

“Well, did you commit a crime?”

To nodded.

“One that warrants a life sentence?”

To nodded, but was obviously done with questions. Instead he pulled up a chair, and his senet board. He motioned for Davenlock to also grab a chair.

“I don’t know how to play, sorry.”

To simply stared, and was more forceful about Davenlock grabbing the chair.

Davenlock, perplexed, but not wanting to anger To, grabbed the chair, and sat down. To balanced the senet board on his boney knees, and began motioning towards the pieces.

He was grunting at Davenlock, which seemed odd, while pointing out which pieces went where.

Suddenly, the door to D block opened. Davenlock instinctively stood as a flashlight shined on him. He turned back, only to see To back in bed.

“Why weren’t you answering your radio?!” shouted Hisari, exasperated from running.

“It didn’t go off,” responded Davenlock. “It must be broken.”

“Well, come on, we’ve got a huge problem!” Hisari immediately turned, and began running, expecting Davenlock to follow, which he did.

 

Hisari and Davenlock rushed to the prison’s infirmary. Masters was vomiting blood at an ungodly rate.

“He was fine!” Hisari shouted.”His wounds were stitched, the area is sterile! It doesn’t make sense!”

Davenlock was silent in shock, but Hisari gazed at him, clearly expecting a response.

“Did you page the prison doctor?” Davenlock asked nonchalantly. “Did you call 911?”

“The landline is dead! The doctor hasn’t responded to his pager! My cellphone can’t even pick up a signal!”

The color faded from Davenlock’s face. He froze, nearly unable to move.

Then, he took off like a cheetah.

“Where the fuck are going!” Hisari screamed. He tried to give chase, but slipped in the blood.

Davenlock tore through A block, breaking no strides, losing no speed as be pushed through to B block. His furious running woke up many inmates. They yelled, taunted, and even threw feces at the running guard, but nothing could slow him down.

He stopped cold, when he got to To’s cell in D block. To was standing, smiling the most wicked smile.

“You…” began Davenlock, trying to catch his breath. “You killed him!”

To nodded, careful not to break eye contact.

Davenlock began to shake, and he stammered for words. “You…y–ya–you lied to me,” he stated with a crackling voice.

To shook his head, but this only made Davenlock angry.

“Yes! Yes you fucking did! I asked if you were human, and you said yes! You fucking nodded!”

To slowly opened his mouth, which exposed his rotten teeth. He spoke in a soft voice, but with a thick, unplaceable, accent.

“You asked if I was human, and I said yes.”

“B…but…you…you killed Masters! Did you stab him? Did you poison the blade?”

“Neither,” To answered, as his soft voice trailed off.

“But you killed him!”

To nodded.

“How?”

“You see, I am supernatural. They built this place to house me, but my powers still work within this facility. People only stay here as long as I permit. Just ask Bread.”

Davenlock was very scared. He took a deep breath, “but…”

“My crime is of no concern of yours!” As he shouted, the lights flickered, the bars rattled.

To smiled, and walked slowly back to his bed.

 

more by Charles Solberg

photograph by Scott Webb

 

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