The metal springs of the cot creak loudly as a muscular man with matted, shoulder-length black hair and an unkempt beard sits up, his ear turned toward the pit. The skin of his body is caked with month’s-old filth. His eyes are keen and wild.
He walks to his cell door and looks closely at the lock mechanism and waits.
Just outside the far end of the tunnel above, Sergeant Ibragimov decidedly turns left, back toward the guard office.
“You look pale, sergeant. Are you going to relieve yourself?” a guard says. Abdulin and the other guard laugh.
“He got too close, I think,” one of them says.
“No, He’s still tender. He’ll harden up. Give him time,” Abdulin says.
Abdulin and the guards saunter ahead, toward the inner corridor.
Ibragimov kicks aside a tin pale as he rounds into the second-floor hallway from the back stairwell. He takes out his gun as he approaches the office. He pauses at the door.
Through the muddy window, he sees a guard sitting at the counter spooning dumplings into his mouth while he flips through a newspaper. Two other guards stand in the far corner, talking.
Ibragimov pushes the door open, raises his pistol at the dumpling-eater and fires into his chest. The man falls back. Ibragimov fires repeatedly at the two men in the corner. They scramble to try to defend themselves, but they’re not fast enough to run or draw their pistols.
Ibragimov walks around the counter and finds the telephone. He picks it up and dials a number.
“Your brother will meet you. You will come to Taldyk Prison now to meet him . . . Yes, now.”
He hangs up the phone. He locates what he believes are the electronic lock controls under the desk, a row of switches covered with a large metal bar on a padlock. He stands aside, shields his eyes, and then shoots the lock to break it. He pulls the bar down and pauses to read the hand-written labels on the switches. He activates the one marked, Cell Block A, Pit.
Shouts emanate from down the hall. Another prison guard runs into the office with his gun drawn. Ibragimov shoots him in the stomach once and the guard falls against the wall. He shoots again and finds he’s out of bullets.
Showing little emotion, he turns around and rifles through the midsections of the two guards he shot by the back wall. He takes both of their guns, putting one in his holster and brandishing the other.
He walks out of the office, into the hall, and down the stairs back inside the corridors. Guards run past him toward the office, their guns drawn, clearly unaware Ibragimov was involved in what happened. Other guards run into the main corridor wielding their batons, yelling at prisoners to stay down and stay quiet.
A loud buzzer sounds, blaring on and off in a repeating pattern. This sends guards into a frenzy, carrying out procedures for which Ibragimov isn’t trained. Still, he walks calmly and intently forward, knowing exactly what he must do.
He enters the tunnel that will take him to the pit.
In the pit, the lock clicks open. The prisoner smiles. He pushes the door open and walks leisurely out of his cell and into the open pit. He looks up to the murky sun through the skylight and takes a long, deep breath.
After this satisfying exhalation, he steps over the body of the prisoner he killed earlier, and begins ascending the spiral staircase.
Ibragimov comes out through the tunnel entrance onto the bridge overlooking the pit. He looks down at the open cell door in the far corner and then walks quickly to the locked gate at the top of the stairs.
The prisoner steps up each stair, over the two bodies, and then rounds the final bend to meet Ibragimov’s eyes.
Ibragimov fumbles through his keys for the one that fits the padlock. He realizes he’ll take too long trying to find it. He holds his hand out to the prisoner to stand back, and raises his gun to the padlock, turns his head, and then shoots it.
He opens the gate for the prisoner, who walks onto the bridge, passing Ibragimov as if he isn’t there and proceeding into the tunnel. Ibragimov follows.
At the other end, they emerge to see two guards turning the corner from an adjoining hallway several yards away. The guards aim their pistols down the hall at Ibragimov.
Ibragimov calls to them. “It’s okay. Don’t fire.”
The prisoner looks in the direction of the guards. One of the guards drops his rifle and holds his head. He screams. The other looks at him quizzically and then turns his gun on him and fires. Then he stands up and turns his weapon on himself and fires.
Ibragimov dutifully ignores the fallen guards and continues walking through the inner corridor, his gun drawn. The prisoner walks behind him.
The hall is clear of prisoners as they each scurry deep into their cells.
“It is Kasym!” one of them yells in a ghoulish voice. “He’s loose! The monster is out! The monster from the pit!”
A guard yells from further down the hall, “Cell block A is unlocked! Cellblock A is unlocked!”
The prisoner, the monster—Kasym—continues to walk, with Ibragimov leading him through the prison.
Gunfire comes from a side hall. Ibragimov grabs his shoulder and falls. He returns fire with his good arm. Kasym turns his attention to the source of the gunfire. A single gunshot sounds, and a guard at the end of the hall falls to the ground.
Ibragimov gets himself up and proceeds down a stone stairwell, gripping his shoulder. Blood spills through the fingers. Kasym’s pace is steady, but his head is beginning to feel like a burdensome weight. He reaches a hand up to touch his temple.
They come out into the main corridor. The prison’s main entrance gate is visible at the end of the long hallway. Three guards, including Master Sergeant Abdulin, stand between them and the gate.
“Stop! Return to your cell!” Abdulin yells.
Kasym and Ibragimov continue walking.
Ibragimov turns to Kasym. His voice is halting, and tense. “I do not have the authority to open the main gate. They will stop me.”
“Stop or we will shoot you and your hostage!” Abdulin yells.
They ready their pistols. Kasym concentrates on the three men. He determines Abdulin is the leader. He will do nicely. The other two turn on each other and fire. They collapse to the ground around Abdulin, who is unfazed.
Ibragimov, the color gone from his face, sinks to the floor. Kasym walks past him.
Abdulin stands blankly in front of the entrance, his pistol at his side. He looks deeply into Kasym’s eyes. Kasym’s commands are clear, and needn’t be spoken.
Abdulin calls up to the guard in the gate tower, who looks down from its open window. “It’s good. It’s all right. Open the main gate.” He waves his arm. “It was a false alarm.”
Kasym lowers his head and closes his eyes. His head is throbbing.
The buzzing stops.
Kasym and Abdulin face the gate. Kasym has seen it in his mind for years. The peeling paint. The ancient stone walls around it. Now, at last, it will obey his command.
The wall of metal ratchets upward, pulled by two thick chains on each side.
Kasym squints at the bright midday sun that shoots through him with a blast of winter wind. He brings both hands to his temples.
Abdulin walks with Kasym outside into a barren expanse of rocky, snow-covered ground with a few shacks and some stone buildings sloping up a hillside. A lone second-hand army-surplus vehicle idles a few yards away.
As Kasym approaches the truck, Abdulin walks behind him, facing backward, his pistol trained on the upper wall and front tower of the prison.
Kasym’s steps become less sure. He head is on fire. He falls to one knee. He sees a drop of blood land in the snow, then another.
Hurried steps crunch on the snow toward him from the truck.
“Kasym!” a man’s voice cries out, a voice familiar to him, one that brings him great comfort.
The man embraces him and lifts him to his feet. “I knew you would make it.”
Kasym teeters, but can’t hide his joy.
“There’s no much to tell you, brother,” Kasym says, almost in a whisper. “I finally reached me a guard.”
“Your vision has been put in motion,” his brother says as he walks him to the vehicle. “There is much to tell you as well. But first, you rest.”
Kasym reaches the vehicle and curls up in the passenger seat. His brother gets in and drives off.
“Have you found them?” Kasym asks weakly.
“Yes, we have them.”