Dude said he was in here for jaywalking. Maybe you didn’t hear me. Dude said he was in here for jaywalking, casualty of Mardi gras. Add one part beer, one part youth; shake well and there you go. Actually, he would have been fine on the stupid crossing the street charge if he hadn’t thrown his beer can at the pig on a horse who stopped him. Big no-no. None of us down here like these tourists fucks with their beads and their loud drunken bravado, least of all the cops. Doesn’t anyone get online before they come and see that New Orleans is the murder and missing person capital of the world? What was his dumb ass doing off the quarter anyway? Two steps to the left, or two steps to the right and your ass is ganked right proper. He is probably lucky to have been arrested truth be told… probably.
So there he stood in his just too tight orange jumpsuit with bold black OPCP stenciled across the back: Orleans Parish County Prison. Welcome to hell kid. Rob was already eying him like a plate of delicious prime rib. He might have had better luck getting murdered.
Officer Balaban swung the steel door shut with a deep, low clang behind him. Balaban the hack, Balaban the Baboon.
“Sleep tight sweetie.” he chuckled as he walked off. What an asshole. I pointed to the only empty mat on the floor. Kid seemed lost. He tossed his bedroll down and looked out the bars into the common area.
The cell was a big trapezoid with double bunks against the three walls facing the front of the cell. The front of the cell was lined with solid steel bars, old school. It was designed to hold 6 but this time of year the prison held overflow from the county. There were 4 mats on the floor bringing the head count to 10. The only way to fit more people in here would have been to start stacking inmates on top of one another. Rob wouldn’t have minded.
The only piece of anything other than the bunks was a steel shitter in the right corner. It was a single piece of steel attached to a sink which only trickled cold water and ended in a sheet of polished metal imbedded in the wall pretending to be a mirror. It was cold on the ass and hard on the legs if you sat on it for any length of time. But a person could get used to anything.
We were all County. The segregation, at least, extended that far. All pretrial, assumedly to keep someone not yet proven guilty from being damaged by someone who had been proven guilty. But we were all headed for the other side of the prison, trading in our orange for khaki. Nobody would get off. It was just a matter of time. No one is innocent.
Personally, I was looking to beat a kidnapping charge my ex was trying to hang on me. It was a vindictive, spiteful game she was playing; made all the more dangerous by the fact that kidnapping was federal. She had to hang something on me though. Nothing I did these days was illegal, not too much so anyway. I’d done 2 bits already but my criming days were over. Wouldn‘t you know I decide to go the straight and narrow and I still end up back in here. Women, they‘ll get you every time. Like the song says, ’It’s cheaper to keep em.’
It didn’t phase me much. I chewed up time like Boss Hog chewed up cake. Besides, I was fairly confident I would beat the charge. The case they had built around her testimony was full of shit. Soon as she hit the stand it would all come tumbling down. It was just a matter of waiting, waiting and watching my ass.
I’ve done all kinds of time, and County is by far the worst. Everyone is all bundled together in one huge snot ball. Rapists and pedophiles neck to neck with embezzlers, drunks, and… jaywalkers.
One of my fellow cellmates was a scrawny piece of white trash called ‘Cooper’. I don’t know why everyone called him ‘Cooper’. When the nurse came around in the morning with the daily meds she called him Fitzsimmons. Funny how nicknames stuck. He probably didn’t know himself why he was called ‘Cooper.’ It just kind of was.
‘Cooper’ was arrested with 300 LAW rockets he’d stolen off an Air Force surplus armory. A LAW rocket is a one-shot disposable rocket launching system; the kind you more than likely have seen Arnold Schwarzenegger throw over his shoulder before he blew something the fuck up. Coop told me they sell for 1200 dollars a piece on the street, which is a pretty stupid thing to tell someone before you get convicted. But I don’t guess you have to be smart to drive a pickup truck onto a military base and drive off with 360,000 dollars worth of black market rockets.
My point is that I had a goddamned terrorist in my cell, not a turbine wearing ‘lalalalalalalalalalalala’ terrorist, but the government didn’t really give a shit. He was going down as such in their book. I was in a cell with a terrorist and a jaywalker. How fucked up is that? That’s County, fucked up from the word go. I almost didn’t care if I were convicted or not, just as long as I got out of here as soon as life permitted. You get ten guys in a cell this size and you get stink… simple as that. County stank.
And there was Rob, Robert Paul Williams, street name Rob Base, some hip hop homage to my clearest reckoning. Rob was the real deal, a shank your ass on the yard pull-up doing tattooed-ass convict. He was in here because upon his most recent release he had walked out of the prison, yanked some poor old lady out of her car and drove off.
They caught up with him 2 days later at his cousin’s house with a strawberry’s face in his lap, everyone stupid on pot. He didn’t care. He was 113 until the day he died. It was tattooed across his huge tight pecks in big, bold black letters. Zip code 70113, province of the Kings Street gang. They rolled mob deep both inside and out. One was as good as the other to Rob. He was also a member of Trey Deuce Mafia; an international prison gang which helped various street gangs insure their numbers on the inside. There was no such thing as a fair fight with Rob.
Rob didn’t mind me and I didn’t mind Rob. He knew from day one, (playing me dirty hearts for pushups in the common area,) I knew what’s what. He saw I had been down, knew not to mess with me. It was unspoken dogma. We were both wise, nuff said. He knew I wasn’t easy prey, probably kill him in his sleep, and I knew to look the other way. Since I’d been here, I’d already had to block out one kid’s screams as Rob fucked him in the shower. That was County, stink and sodomy. During the day we played cards, watched bad daytime T.V, and took quick showers with our back to the wall.
The kid shouldn’t be in here. Mardi bitches usually stayed in street clothes in a holding tank to sober up over night. Those porkers put him in here on purpose. He hit a cop and they were going to teach him a lesson. They knew about Rob. Nothing was a secret in here. Still, it wasn’t any business of mine. I was wise. The kid’s asshole was not my concern.
“Wanna smoke?” Rob shook out a cig to the kid. Everyone else looked the other way.
I just read my Reader’s Digest. I hated this rag but it seemed to be all they had. Some old geezer mob wannabe spent years fighting his case in here and had loved the magazine. Now the place was filthy with these things. They were like lice.
“Sure man, thanks.” trying to sound tough.
Rob smiled a golden smile.
I read about lung disease and how links to tobacco might have been exaggerated by the media. What a crock of shit. I took a drag.
“Sure is loud in here.” The kid lit up.
I hadn’t noticed. You learn to block it out, the inmates shouting to one another from cell to cell. All night long. Many of em slept well into the day, only getting up for meals. County time wasn’t like other time where you had a schedule, or a routine to take your mind off things. All you had in here was waiting, almost endless waiting. It could and did drive people mad. Inmates screamed, inmates prayed, inmates bit derivative raps of the latest pimps they saw on Rap City the day before. They were just in here waiting to be discovered I guess. Sometimes it felt like I was the only one not incessantly babbling incoherent gibberish. Seemed that way to me.
To fresh ears it must have seemed like a chorus of demons, but to me it just was. The hacks didn’t pay it any mind either. They walked through every 4 hours and counted the heads in the cells. If the number in the cell matched the number on the page they were gone for another 4 hours. They didn’t give a shit. This place was a human garbage dump to them. They just worked here. Then they left all this glory behind and went home to their bars and loveless marriages to beat their kids. Stupid fucks.
“If you don’t like it, go home. Shut your pie hole.” It was Smelly. He almost never spoke. Wonder what crawled up his ass and died. Smelly was an old white supremist from Oregon. He had a bushy white beard, bright red skin, a big belly, and wild long hair. He probably would have been nicknamed Kringle had it not been for the garlic pills he took every day. The smell seeped through his skin and permeated his every pore. He had been arrested with nearly 50 pipe bombs in his garage and a copy of ‘Mein Kampf’ on the kitchen counter. Now he spent his days playing chess with niggers for smokes. All that street shit stayed on the street. In County we were all equal. In County we were all shit.
The kid hesitated and Rob smiled. “Shut your old wrinkled pussy up Smelly before I smack you upside the head with ten inches of LIMP dick.” He looked at the kid. “Never mind him… hey what’s your name shug?”
The kid was uneasy. At least he was smart enough to be that.
“Eugene. Gene. They call me big G.”
Even Smelly had to laugh at that one. Everyone in the cell was laughing so hard they were almost crying. Everyone except me. The kid blushed. There was a certain us against him sentiment hanging in the air. It was hot. The smell of danger hit me hard. Rob’d never been foolish enough to tag a fish in the cell before, not with all of us watching. Still…
“No one here cares what your butt buddies call you on the street kid, take a squat and shut the fuck up!”
It was the best I could do. More than I needed to do. Rob looked at me a moment, wondering. I didn’t pay him much mind. I was invested in an article titled, ‘Ryan Seacrest: The Seacrest of His Success.’ Who sanctioned this drivel?
The kid sat down, almost instinctively and the ruckus died down. He could thank me later. Or not. What did I care?
Rob lay down on his bunk, reached up and began doing lay down pull ups using the bar under the bunk above him. Never miss an opportunity to work out in here; or to demonstrate your protective value to a newcomer green off the bus.
“You know Gina, things can be rough on a cat like you in here.” Rob wasn’t breaking a sweat. He wasn’t breathing hard. The pull ups were but an afterthought.
“Won’t be in here long.”
Rob didn’t break stride.
“Won’t take long.”
The peanut gallery snickered. To me it seemed like what the commoners attending one of Shakespeare’s original productions must have sounded like. The word ‘ribald’ came to mind. So did Jr. High. I didn’t belong here but I could deal with it. This kid certainly didn’t belong here. Those cell doors open tomorrow morning and he gets rushed into the shower for a down home proper gang bang by Rob and the boys. If he made it through the night. Not that it was any concern of mine.
“Whatever man.” Again trying to sound tough, but the cracks were there. The kid got up and walked over to the shitter, making to take a piss.
Rob swung his feet onto the floor and sat up. “What you think you’re doing?”
“What the fuck does it look like I’m doing?”
Rob stood up. “It looks like you bout to take a piss standing up.”
The kid looked confused.
“That’s a right you have to earn around here. That’s how men pee. For the time being you squat when you take a piss, like a bitch.”
The kid was speechless. He looked at Rob. He looked at the shitter. Then he looked around. Nobody was looking directly at him. Not even me. Not my fight.
Then the kid surprised us all.
Rob was between me and the kid. But even if I were in the middle I couldn’t have stopped him, wouldn‘t have. Rob’s fist connected with Eugene’s left ear with such force that the kid flew past the last set of bunks and into the bars hard, landing on the floor like over cooked pasta.
The kid surprised us again by getting back to his feet. Even Rob seemed stunned, briefly.
“Rob!” he was halfway there. It had been pure impulse on my part. He swung on me.
I let that one slide and nodded to the huge clock in the common area.
Everyone looked at the door leading into the cell block.
‘Please be on time.’
‘Please be on time.’
The huge circular key grid rotated and the heavy metal door swung inward with a clang, revealing officer Balaban. It was time for his 10PM.
Rob spat on the floor and returned to his bunk. He glared at me and lay down.
I went back to my piece of shit mag. Shouldn’t a got involved. What the fuck was I thinking? Not my business. You don’t survive 2 bits inside pulling crap like that. What’s mine was mine; everyone else could go to Hell. I hoped the kid cherished these next few moments of air. I hoped they were sweet. They were most likely his last. Maybe mine as well.
Balaban stopped in front of our cell.
“Awe, did widdle precious fall down an go boom?”
The entire left side of the kid’s face around the ear was one big bruise. Balaban didn’t care. This is what they wanted. Bastard hacks and their bastard sense of filial brotherhood. Where was the law when you needed it?
“Nah, I’m fine.”
I had to give the kid props. He was coming harder than I would of thought possible.
“Yeah, well, we can keep you in here for 72 without so much as a charge newbie. Doesn’t that just blow your mind?”
Balaban chuckled and walked down the block.
The kid rubbed the side of his face and sat back down on the mat.
We were all waiting for Balaban to leave so the show could continue. The crowd smelled blood and now that the taste was in their mouth they wanted more.
“Well, if yall aren’t going to use it I’ve got a turtle that needs to be released into the wild.”
Smelly got up and sauntered over to the steel throne and slid his arms out of his jumpsuit. Then he dropped it down to his knees and sat his old, pasty, pimply ass down. The groans were unanimous and involuntary, but I had never been happier to watch an old man take a shit. The focus had shifted… for now.
What the garlic pills did to the man’s skin, they did ten times to his poo. The smell in the cell was unfathomable. Men began to choke back bile. If you have ever been in your personal bathroom, and had a really nasty dump, then sprayed store bought spray to cover it up only to find there was no masking the odor you have some small idea of what it was like. Only now imagine that the bathroom door was locked and it was someone else‘s asshole producing the shit. A yak dead and bloated in the summer heat for weeks on end smelt better.
Through the horror of it all was the comrade like quality of a shared experience. We laughed and jibbed each other in the face of the simple human indignity of having to defecate in an open crowded room. It was so surreal as to be fucking hilarious. Even Smelly did his part, emoting his pleasure at leaving such a foul resonance. He groaned with effort. It was sublime, if by sublime I mean to say sublimely fucked.
And through all this joking and laughter, (extra hearty, everyone’s adrenalin above normal,) I noticed something odd. Smelly was shaking. At first I thought it was just watching him shake his shit out. Then it seemed subtly more, little quivers, involuntary. His eyes seemed to roll back in his head. Was I the only one seeing this?
“Yeah Smelly wipe and flush already man. Damn man. Damnit all to hell man. Flush.”
“Shut up Coop. Smelly? Are you O.K.?”
Smelly’s body was jerking on the shitter but his eyes were wide open. His eyes told the story. I had seen eyes like that before.
When Katrina hit, I was fresh off paper from bit number 2, proud to be a free man renting a house with a yard and a dog. I wasn’t going anywhere when that bitch came. I had a couple cases of water and a couple cases of Ramen Noodles. Just seemed like any other storm to me, common case of over exaggeration by the media. Common that was until gulf waters were flowing through my living room floor. My dog swam away. I guess he figured once the water was over the fence in the yard that was his chance. Never saw the fucker again. I took my noodles and water and went up to the attic.
Just me and the rats up there, watching the world float by. I had to eat the noodles uncooked, but I didn’t mind much, crunchy like chips. With the soups, my water, and the solitude it was just like being in here. Didn’t bother me much as most. Just outside the window everything under the sun passed by. It were as if the earth opened up and released all its deepest darkest secrets. I saw it all float by: boots, trees, cars, a kitten, televisions, a kitchen sink or two, and of course a corpse. Many people died in the weeks after that national clusterfuck. In this very prison, perhaps this very cell, men drowned. The body was purple and bloated, dead and gone for days. But its eyes shone bright as ever like gems in the night, white and lifeless. Those were the eyes I saw in Smelly’s shaky head.
The body began jerking spastically. Smelly’s head lolled back, his eyes looking at the ceiling, his jerking jaw hanging open slack. Rob moved away from the spectacle to the far end of his bunk.
Then we saw them.
Small worm-like tendrils squirmed into sight from somewhere down his throat. They wriggled in the air spastically and it became clear they were the cause of his body‘s jerking. And it dawned on me, as impossible as it seemed, they had come from beneath him. They had come from the shitter.
Someone screamed. I’m not sure who, it could have been me. And those things lost their shit. They tensed out rigidly causing Smelly’s mouth to stretch into an impossibly wide ‘O’. Then his flesh gave out. Seven or eight tendrils smacked flat out onto the floor from the base of the toilet at all angles. Smelly’s body was ripped open like a flower and his gutty innards spilled out onto the cell floor. Nothing resembling a human being was left. The motion within the cell was sudden and chaotic. Tendrils grabbed the tumbling organs and began dragging them down into the steel gullet. Bloody water sploshed over the sides in the flurry of activity.
Men ran to the bars and began screaming bloody murder. They banged on the bars. Rob hopped into the bunk above like a ninja and threw its current occupant out into the mess below. The tendrils wrapped around this hapless fellow and tried to drag him whole into a hole not size appropriate. More wormy arms appeared from below and snaked out into the cell. The screaming inmate mired in the mess had his leg separate at his hip. Out of his mouth poured blood and bits and pieces of his body squeezed up from the inside. He became a human tube of toothpaste and this thing, this whatever it was, tried to drag him whole down the drain.
I lay in my bunk in mute shock. My body shut down as I became an unwilling witness to this theater of the macabre. The tendrils grabbed another inmate as he banged on the bars in a vain attempt to gain the attention of our keepers. His screams as he struggled were horrible to hear. Much worse than Rob’s rape victim from days past. It was unlike anything I had ever heard, the sound of certain death, a lifetime’s worth of vanity all escaping at once. The remaining tendrils circled his body and squeezed. His body exploded out into the cell like a rotten tomato and we were covered in blood and flecky bits of gut. The tendrils flailed vainly in the air, almost comically trying to catch these flying bits of flesh.
I was silent. What was there to say as some random piece of my former cell mate slid down my cheek?
“Mother fucker!” Rob couldn’t have said it better.
The tendrils swept the floor collecting bits and pieces to drag down to whatever unimaginable connective matter lay beneath the shitter. By now everyone was off the floor. The men were all cowering in the bunks, like boys playing sailor, afraid to touch the floor. There were 2 men in the bunk above me, Rob alone in the top middle bunk, two men atop the far bunk, and the kid, alone like me in the bottom far bunk. The slick snakes slid across the floor like sweepers collecting every gory chunk destined for some unholy maw.
“Hey.” It was the kid. I could hardly hear him. He was just barely talking. “Hey.” he repeated, just as soft.
“What the fuck did you say man?” screamed Coop from above me. He was hysterical. The tendrils shot, almost in unison to the bunk above and I heard Coop cry out.
“No Man! Awe Hell naw! Jesus Man! Oh God help me man!” Both men above me came crashing down to the pavement. Coop’s head cracked open upon impact spilling his brains out into the soup. It was probably the most merciful thing that could happen. Both bodies were strangled and ripped by these pawing servants from Hell. I looked up over the mess to see the kid staring at me.
I made a rolling motion with my finger.
“These things respond to loud noise and motion.”
I had to really focus over the slurping slop of gore being drug down the steel hole. I looked up at Rob and he nodded his understanding. The things were almost done dissecting and collecting our fallen convicts. Several tendrils had begun to sweep the floor outward in search of more sustenance and succor. I looked up at the 2 above the kid and they nodded their understanding. One of them wrinkled his nose and suppressed a sneeze. His whimper caused several tendrils to rise up off the floor. His bunk partner looked at him like he was crazy, But the man held up a finger and his face relaxed. The other man looked at me and made a short nod at his partner, as if to say, ‘Geez, some guys huh?’
Then an explosion from the second man as he sneezed loud and hard. I’m pretty sure the snot hadn’t hit the mattress before those things were upon them. They both flailed and screamed in vain protest. Their objections did not go unnoted by the writhing mass emanating from the dark depths below. The tendrils flailed in spastic excitement at each scream and struggle. The kid, Rob and myself sat paralyzed in our bunks. We barely breathed.
These last 2 were taken apart systematically and parceled off to the shitty bowels of the earth.
“What?” it was Rob.
“We need to alert the guards.”
Rob looked at me as if to say, ‘New guys, huh?’
“They won’t come.” I explained. “Not until 2AM.”
“We have to try.” the kid replied. We were all just talking barely above a murmur, three amateur ventriloquists.
“You want to shout, it’s your ass.” Rob smirked.
“I have another idea.” replied the kid.
“What is it?” I shot Rob a look. This was no time for petty bullshit.
“I’m going to throw a blanket out of the cell. They will see it on their camera and come check it out.”
Rob kept quiet, but still managed to stress his scorn. “These fuckers will be all over you the second you make your move.”
“I know.” The kid slowly reached over and grabbed the green plastic pillow. “That’s why I need a distraction.” he slung the pillow at Rob, causing him to reflexively grab it.
Satan’s snakes weren’t far behind.
The kid slung his blanket out the bars while the tendrils were preoccupied.
Rob grabbed the edge of the bunk with both his hands on his way down and hung tough.
“I’m going to kill you bitch!”
Every muscle in Rob’s sinewy back and shoulders tensed out rigidly as the things tugged hard. The bunk was bolted to the wall and Rob held on.
“I’ll fuck you silly you fucking green fish cunt!”
One of the tendrils spiraled up the inside of Rob’s pant leg and coiled around his crotch. There was a dark red instant patch as the slithering arm squeezed and pinched. The patch grew as the tendril withdrew with its bloody morsel, formerly Robert Paul William’s, street name Rob Base, cock and balls. Rob’s face lost all its color and became an ashen mask.
“Fish…” he cried and let go.
The feeding frenzy was a ruthless carnage. The slapping slimy slugs slithered inside and out as Rob’s body was rent asunder bit by bloody bit. The kid and I watched in mute witness. I wondered who else on the planet might have witnessed a similar sight. And if so, were they alive to tell the tale.
As soon as it had begun it was done. The feeding frenzy calmed and the last bits disappeared down the shitter. We waited. The wait was unbearable. Seemingly endless writhing masses of the things swept the floor and climbed the walls. They hit the kid’s bunk first. His dumb luck. He tried to lie still as they slithered over his body. He froze mouth open, his mistake. One of them found their way into his mouth and he gagged as it probed deeper and deeper. Then the thing shot down his esophagus. I saw his throat swell and the rest came alive and took him. He couldn’t produce a scream with his throat clogged, but I saw it in his eyes. Nothing but pain and death.
I clenched my mouth shut, covered my nose closed my eyes and waited in mute dumb darkness. Soon I felt them crawling over my body, looking for any sign of life. It was an eternity. I couldn’t tell if my skin were crawling or it was those things. They eventually moved on but I didn’t open my eyes. I couldn’t. If I saw those things sliding all over everything I would have lost it, screaming, ending it all. I stayed frozen in that position until I heard the last slithering splash as the final tendril slunk back to the murk from whence it came. Still I kept my eyes closed, gently crying into my palms, shivering.
After an unidentifiable measure of time I heard the massive clank of the cell block door being swung open and I opened my eyes. Everything in the cell was slicked with blood, but not one morsel of flesh had been left behind. The cell was picked clean. The toilet was bowed and warped but still basically intact. I had the cell all to myself.
Balaban stopped in front of my cell looking at his clipboard. He looked up and began counting.
It didn’t take him long. His jaw dropped.
I just pointed at the warped toilet.
To me, the one word summed it up.
Balaban fumbled for his whistle and blew with all his might. Can’t say I really blame him. The riot team came in with their plastic head shields and their head gear. They stripped me and threw me in solitary which was fine with me. Later, after they scoured the cell with a fine tooth comb there would be questions. There would be inquiries and investigations. There would be oversight evaluations and committees would meet. But all that didn’t matter to me.
All that mattered to me was that I was in solitary. All by myself. Just me and a bucket.
No goddamned shitter.