Sunday, 25 December 2011

Gaolbreak by Joseph D'Lacey

When he heard the voice, Mathias’s eyelids flickered. He almost lost connection.

            “-lcome to you, agiters, miskers and malcos, and be at harmony for just this extremely moment. You’ve come to a here and now that most will never know. You’ve traversed the seas and deserts of consciousness to do it-”

            The voice faded out. Mathias adjusted focus, pronouncing silently: here i am, as he drew breath…nowww, as he exhaled. here i am…nowww…

            here i am…nowww…
            here i am…nowww…

            “-one knows you’ve made it. No one knows you’re here but you.


            “You’ve found it, oh my sons and daughters!

            “Inside your absolutely self.

            “Here’s a time for whispers and ecstasy, the notes and motes of secutime. This concast is for your minds only. This here’s the joy frequency, the universal peace band. And no one can steal it from you.”

            The voice was a conundrum. It came directly from silence and yet, when he was tuned with it, it filled him totally with a vast, consoling sound. He was afloat on the surface of his mind. The concast was a layer barely a millimetre thick. Experiencing it was like rising through a lake and trying to keep your eyes level with the surface. It was difficult if there were waves but the concast was a constant; only Mathias’s mind made ripples. It was all a matter of intention.

            A muted rattle signalled keys in the door. Though he was an uncrossable distance away in his mind, Mathias knew his body was sitting cross-legged on the concrete floor of a cell in the bowels of a facility that no ordinary person knew was there. From the world’s point of view, he didn’t exist.

            He struggled to stay with the concast but irresistible thoughts and distractions sucked him down. His mind fell through the sky and earth to where he sat. To the pain in his nailless fingertips and strained joints. To the bruises on his arms and legs and the soles of his feet. To the bleeding sockets of his missing teeth. To the infections creeping into every wound.

            “Time to spill your guts again, 457.”

            “I’ve told them nothing.”

            “Oh yeah? I’ve heard you squawk like a parrot before they even touch you.”

            Have I? he wondered. So difficult to be sure of anything down here.

            No. I’ve said not a word of value to any of you.

            If only he could align with the concast for longer; take it with him to the chambers. There had to be a way to stay with it permanently if the mind was focussed enough. But therein lay the problem. Wanting it was a thought. Thought removed him from the moment. Missing the concast was the very thing that made it inaccessible.

            That and the noises around him.

            And the things they did to his body.

            It had taken years just to find it and hear it for a few seconds. To start with he believed it was his imagination. Now he knew it was real. He’d been aligned often enough to know it was the salvation of his kind: Agitators, miscreants, malcontents - the opposers of the State. They were the souls that cried for peace and individual freedom, that were content with simple lives. The concast was for them. For all the good and for the good in all.

            But The State knew about it now. It wanted the concast they way they wanted everything else.

            “Stand up.”

            Mathias had lost count of how many times he’d looked at his gaoler and wondered if the man told his wife and kids what he did at work each day. Mathias tried to see his soul, find an ounce of goodness in him. Or pity. Or compassion. If it was there he couldn’t detect it. He didn’t even know the man’s name.

            Silently, he said:

            I love you, gaoler. We are brothers. I want you to be free. I want only the best for you. I want you to be released from the soul-perverting machine the State has become. I will always try to help you. It is too terrifying to refuse what they ask of you, gaoler. Too dangerous for your family and friends. I submit my defenceless self to you. I am in your hands. I trust you.

            This was Mathias’s response to all of them no matter what they did.

            As Mathias stepped forward the gaoler stomped on his bare foot with his steel-cleated boots. Mathias felt his little toe loosen and burst under the pressure. He clasped a hand to his mouth and did not scream. He met the gaoler’s eyes, crying without a sound. Words would earn him the kind of blows that meant he was carried to the chambers instead of walking. He said it all in his mind:

            Peace to you, gaoler. I wish you so, so well. I wish you released as I wish it for myself.

            The gaoler sneered and looked away quickly.

            Mathias managed not to limp though his little toe was dislocated and though he left a smear of blood on the filthy concrete with every step he took. The gaoler prodded the small of his back with a black baton but Mathias walked at his own pace.        Graceful, dignified, head up, steady.

            It wasn’t defiance. He merely knew his own worth. Understood it. He wouldn’t hold the posture for long. They’d beat it out of him in the chambers before they settled down to ruining him one piece at a time.
            They wanted information. He refused.

            “There are three separate joints on each of your fingers, two on each of your thumbs. That makes twenty-eight the total. Assuming we give you Sundays off, that’s one joint a day for the next month, 457.”

            The Minister placed a pair of gleaming, oiled wire cutters on the table. Unable to help himself, Mathias counted to make sure the Minister’s maths was correct. It was. One month and then his hands would be worthless. Actually, they’d be useless before the month was up, depending on the order in which the Ministers decided to remove the bones. Maybe they would do one hand first, leave him a little hope before they took it all away. They were patient men. Knew what they wanted and how to get it. He assumed they hadn’t once failed to discover what was inside a prisoner.

            After fingers, it would be the toes. Then God knew what.

            “You’re a criminal, 457. A terrorist. You’ve become subhuman. Out there in the world, your countrymen have the privilege of Ministerial care. In here you have our contempt. Despite your crimes, the State is offering you reinsertion into society. Under certain restrictions, obviously. You’ll never go back to the freedoms you used to have, but you will be out of gaol and you will have a modicum of liberty. All we ask in return is the names of your accomplices, their codes and signals and their meeting places. And access to the concast, of course.  Just a few words is all it will take for this unpleasantness to cease. We want to help you. But first you must help us.”

            This was the manner of their opening offers. Offers became less appealing every time Mathias failed to negotiate. Sometimes they showed him footage of his life. Mathias with his wife, Sunnie, and their twins, Raja and Rani. Mathias at work. Mathias with his friends. Mathias knew they’d been monitoring him and so he appeared to behave normally. Watching himself, even he was fooled. But no one saw inside. Only he knew what he’d thought and felt on those days.

            They showed him the footage while they monitored the response of his skin and his heart and breathing. Excitability wasn’t proof of anything, even to the Ministers, but they knew it was psychologically wearing for him to see his previous life and offer him a little freedom instead of more pain.

            It wasn’t as though he didn’t think about turning the others in - Dominic, Peter, Iain, Paul, Tracy, Giles, John, Ishbel, Vernon. Even Sunnie. They were all involved. He debated their betrayal at every shift in the negotiation. No matter what they’d done to him, he hadn’t yet found his own life to be worth more than the people he loved or the destruction of the State. His pain and his inevitable demise weren’t enough when, on the other side of the scales, rested the freedom of all.

            So they took him and broke him, piece by piece. First his body and soon enough his mind. His only salvation, his only escape was the concast. If he could access it, stay with it, then he would have his own freedom.

            “I’ve hurt no one,” he said.

            “You’ve hurt the State, 457. That’s far worse.”

            “The State is merely a phrase that has lost its meaning. It isn’t possible to harm a doomed concept.”

            “The State gives everything meaning. Ministers serve the State and therefore we have ultimate validity. Opposers of the State have no validity. You, 457, have made yourself worthless.”

            The fat, robot-minded Minister turned to his leaner, younger colleague. They both removed a pair of black suede gloves from their back pockets and slipped them on. The hungry looking Minister moved the table from in front of Mathias’s chair. He stood in its place, took a wide back swing and slapped Mathias across the face. The impact was numbing at first. It made Mathias dizzy. Then the pain freighted in. By which time, the Minister had done the same with his left hand. Then again with his right, and systematically every couple of seconds until Mathias’s head was flopping like that of a stuffed toy.

            The fat Minister stepped forward and took over. He loosened up, relaxed, took his time.

            Left side.

            Right side.

            Left side.

            Mathias’s jaw hung slack. His head lolled.

            Concussion had caused him to lose consciousness long before the fat Minister took over. They slapped him until they were flexing and rubbing their own hands between each strike.

            Mathias came round and his head was a whining gong.

            He was deaf on the left side. His face was swollen, he could tell because his eyes were narrow slits through which he saw only a sliver of the chamber. His cheeks and temples were heavy, full and hot. He explored the inside of his mouth with his tongue. Several teeth were loose. One disengaged from its socket and he cradled it on his tongue like a pill.

            Moving his jaw was difficult and he suspected they’d cracked it at the very least. He smelled tobacco smoke. The ashtray on the table was piled with butts and the two Ministers were leaning against the far wall talking too quietly for him to hear. The ashtray had been empty when he’d arrived. Even if they were chain smoking, he must have been out for quite some time.

            The Ministers didn’t notice he’d regained consciousness. My eyes, he thought, they’re so swollen they must look closed. He had a few moments - how long he couldn’t predict - to try and align again. But he mustn’t try too hard, he must just allow. The paradox of it was infuriating, especially with time so short. He put his attention on his breathing.

            Here i am…nowww
            Here i am…nowww
            Here i am…nowww

            Mentally, he rose up like a feather on the gentlest breeze. Soon he was away from the pain in his face and body. Then he was above the fear for his life. He passed through the torment of being separated from his family and it hurt him no more. The physical world was far below. All was silence but for the tidal flow of his breathing.

            “- to you, courageous men and women of this exact instant. Here is the time where all is true and peaceful. Now is the place to be. Stay with it…”

            A purple light filled Mathias’s consciousness, like something reflected from a very specific angle of a prism. This light was so intense and pure a purple that Mathias found himself smelling the colour. It cut into him without pain and wherever it touched was ecstasy. The light began to pale yet brighten. The voice of the concast grew distant. In some remote, detached and purely observational part of himself, Mathias knew he was about to experience something that would free him forever.

            There was déjà vu. He had been here many, many times. He felt a homeliness and welcome beyond any earthly experience. He was high above the world and yet he was still in the world. He was in a plane of perception that overlaid the template of the physical and interspersed existence. Yet he was light years beyond the reach of everything mundane and corporeal. Joy rose up within him, a recognition that he already knew and understood everything. The guiding principle that had led him through his life, the idea that love was the most important thing - it was no hippie fancifulness; it was true.  True in a way that no human could experience without the concast. The light opened before him and he prepared to be embraced.

            The grip was tight and rough. It felt wrong. The light fled. The freedom shrank. The Ministers had a hold of his left hand. One of them was lifting his little finger away from the others. A steely silver beak yawned and snapped shut.

            Mathias screamed. His phalange fell to the table, his tooth to the concrete. The fat Minister stamped on it, shattering the enamel and grinding it to shards and powder.

            The pain was feral, a parasitic organism that drained his will and concentration giving only crimson agony in return. Pursuing the concast was fruitless. He felt the walls of his cell like the planes of a contracting vice. The pain was equally inescapable, the worst they’d inflicted yet. Beyond that, he was sluggish and dizzy with concussion and assailed by long stomach squalls of nausea.

            His body had become a very efficient clock. It sensed tiny sounds in the walls and beyond his cell door. He always knew how long it would be before the next trip out to the chambers. Exhaustion and the need for shutdown took him. When he woke he saw the cold slop that was his food and knew he had less than four hours before the next appointment. Something had changed inside him and he tried to understand what it was.

            By refusing to cooperate, Mathias had chosen death. There was no cyanide capsule to give him his dignity, guard his secrets and end his pain. He would die their way. They would make it last as long as they believed there was still valuable information to glean from him. If he continued to tell them nothing they’d have that justification until he died. If they wanted, that final moment could be a year away. Longer if they gave him medical treatment between appointments. He’d be insane long before that, he knew, but it wouldn’t stop them destroying him at their own pace.

            In some private place, he’d kept a candle of hope burning quietly for Sunnie and the kids, that he would at least be allowed to see them again before he died. Allied to that hope was the possibility of revolution occurring outside and the State being overthrown. The dream of rescue.

            He tried not to look at his finger. His finger said it all.

            Mathias slumped back against the cell wall. It was over. There was no point trying to be courageous about it any more. He knew he wasn’t going to tell them anything now no matter what they did. He would go all the way with them to the end. He was not brave. He did not feel like the upholder of a cause. He merely felt doomed, his humanity wrested and obliterated by the Ministers of the State.

            He allowed himself the tears then, tears he’d held onto for the ninety-seven days of his incarceration. It was hard to release them quietly; he had to bury his face in his filthy blanket and press it hard onto the bunk. Every time he thought he’d cleared the sobs a new wave of grief would strike and he would lie back down on the boards to rock and tremble.

            Eventually, cleansed and drained by weeping, he sat upright on the edge of his bunk, crossed his legs and began to focus.

            here i am…nowww
            here i am…nowww
            here i am…nowww

            The pain in his left finger invaded like the instruments of the Ministers. It travelled up the outside of his arm, along the back of his triceps, across his shoulder blade and up into his neck and head. He focussed on the breathing with a clarity he had not achieved before and still the pain kept him from the moment. After half an hour he opened his eyes and his head sank to his chest in defeat.

            The pain worsened. It was all he could think about.

            Wait! he thought. The pain is a constant. It’s easy to stay with it because it won’t go away. Time was short, they’d be calling for him soon.

            He sat upright again and closed his eyes. This time he focussed on the pain, imagined that he was breathing in and out through the agony of the wound. Within minutes he was rising up through layers of awareness. Incredibly, the pain receded the closer he came to it.

            here i am…nowww, he said into the centre of his injury and his mind surfed him close to the moment-

            “Hey there all you agiters, miskers and malcos, you’re getting free right here on the liberty plane. This here, this now is where everything begins and ends and it’s you folks that need it more than any. Want to stay with us? Then stay right where you are. Fastest way to leave the here and now is to try and stay. Try and attach to the concast and you’ll never stick. Be where you are now and you’ll always be with us.”

            Mathias had it now.

            He had to not care whether he stayed with the concast or not. He had to not even think about it. He understood other things too. This concast was for freedom fighters that were captured and tortured. It was for people who cared about some thing other than themselves, people willing to make a sacrifice. It existed for anyone who found the moment through extremity of circumstance; people like Mathias and the hundreds of thousands of libertarians that had lived and died before him. It was the universe’s response to suffering - a lifeline that could be reached by anyone regardless of intelligence or education.

            So simple, he thought. So beautifully simple.

When the door opened, Mathias was standing ready.

            The gaoler made his usual comments and Mathias sent him love in return. It seemed like a very fair exchange. He walked to the chambers with the truncheon in the small of his back. His face was serene, without expression. The Ministers looked at him and he knew what they were thinking. They’d seen this look on people’s faces before. They patted him on the shoulder as they led him to the bloodstained chair and strapped him in.

            Mathias stared straight ahead, at something beyond the three of them, beyond it all.

            “We know there’s a place you go,” said the fat Minister. “We’ve heard so many of you speak of it. Last chance,” he said. “How does one find this place?

            “Stay right where you are,” said Mathias in flat tones.

            The Minister broke his nose with a chop of his flattened hand. The crack forced Mathias’s head back. Blood spilled from both nostrils and dribbled down his chin. It pattered onto his chest darkening the stains that were already there. It was the fourth time they’d snapped his septum. The pain was starry. Mathias used it.

            Focussed on it.

            The concast filled him up with light and love and vibrations.

            “It’s so simple,” said Mathias. Blood bubbled at his nostrils as he pronounced the m in simple. “We can all be here. Every single one of us. You can be here too. This is the freedom we’ve fought for. Beyond the restrictions put on us by other humans. The only true freedom. Right here. Right now. Why don’t you come with me?”

            The fat Minister sighed and looked over the instruments on his table. He turned to his colleague.

            “Ever seen a heart beating inside a man’s chest?”

            The younger Minister shook his head.

            “I’ll show you. We’ll need the scalpel and wire cutters to expose it properly. Then we can puncture it and watch him leak.”

            Mathias smiled. Those who wanted power over others, those for whom the lives they had were not enough, would be prisoners forever, tortured by their need.

            He focussed on the now of the instruments as they cut into him, stayed with the immediacy of the destruction as they clipped through his ribs and toyed with his heart.

            Mathias soared free.