From the lightning in the sky / As it pass’d me flying by- / From the thunder, and the storm- / and the cloud that took the form / (When the rest of Heaven was blue) / Of a demon in my view-
Edgar Allan Poe, ’’Alone’‘
Jackson Bennett jerks awake, disoriented by a flash of light. The thunder that follows helps him focus – he’s still in jail, and a spring storm is raging outside. He sits up and blinks. The lights are turned down in the cell area—it must be past midnight. His stomach rumbles, and he wonders whether breakfast will be better than the Dinty Moore that he had for dinner.
Across the aisle, someone stirs in the cell acros from him, sits up, lets the blanket fall to the floor. Jackson can’t see his face, but the shadowed outline of the body tells him the other man is big. He hadn’t been there when Jackson went to sleep.
“Hey … when did you come here?” Jackson asks as he stands and moves closer to the bars of his cell.
The other man doesn’t say anything. Another bolt of lightning and Jackson catches a glimpse of a pale face, cloudy eyes. When the thunder follows, he thinks it might cover the sound of the other man’s heavy panting.
“Hey, man—you okay?”
The other man stands, well over 6’4”, thick arms hanging by his sides, and steps towards the bars. One slow step, then another, until he stands in front of them. Another flash of lightning, and Jackson gets a glimpse of teeth, bloody gums.
Jackson frowns slightly in concern. “Umm… what’s wrong with you?” he asks, and starts to step back from the bars of his own cell.
The stranger lunges forward, one hand gripping the bars, the other stretching out, trying to reach Jackson. Did he growl? Jackson wonders. I think he might have growled. “What the fuck are you doing now?” Jackson yelps, hopping backwards, and then calls out more loudly, “Guard! Guard!! Need some help in here!”
The man’s outstretched hand grasps at empty air for several long seconds. Jackson’s heart pounds, and then he hears someone open the door that leads to the cells. “Keep it down back there, Jack,” Deputy Masters calls back. [[:jimmy masters | Jimmy Masters]]; Jackson went to high school with him. “It’s hard enough to hear the radio over the storm without your caterwauling.”
“Jimmy … man, Jimmy … This guy is crazy or somthin’. He – he tried ot grab me,” Jackson stammers, pointing to the guy in the other cell and stepping forward a bit.
“Him?” Jimmy steps into the hall. By now, the other man has dropped his arm. “Don’t mind him. He’s just a little loopy. Public urination—pissed on the bushes outside the library. It ain’t like he killed anyone.”
Jackson remembers that Jimmy is – or was – related to Peggy Willis somehow, on Jimmy’s father’s side. Lots of people were related to Peggy. Jackson isn’t a very popular guy in town right now.
Jackson drops his head. “Yo, man … low blow. The guy just looked a little weird … he scared me a little is all. Sorry to have bothered you.” He keeps his head down, flushed wiht shame, the sting of tears in his eyes.
Jimmy steps closer to stand between the two cells, thumbs hooked over his belt. The stranger barely moves, obviously watching. And quick as another flash of lightning, his arm shoots out again, fingers latching on to Jimmy’s wrist. Thunder drowns out the deputy’s startled yell.
“Jimmy!” Jackson lunges forward, reaching to grab a piece of the deputy, to try to wrench him free of the other man’s grasp. He can feel the sleeve of Jimmy’s uniform brush against his fingertips, but he can’t catch hold as Jimmy is jerked off-balance. Jimmy’s left hand fumbles for his handgun, struggling to pull it free of the security holster as the man yanks his right arm, to wedge his right shoulder against the bars. When the man bites, Jimmy’s yells rise in pitch, a scream of sudden pain and terror as the teeth rip through cloth and flesh.
Jackson crouches closer to the floor, straining to grab whatever he can to pull Masters free. “Hang on, Jimmy … I’m gonna help.” The deputy’s legs flail. With his left hand, he unlatches the holster, but he fumbles the gun, which skitters across the floor towards Jackson. For a moment, it seems it might slide too far, but Jackson hooks one thumb around it and pulls it closer. He lifts it with a hand as shaky as his voice. “Let him go, or so help me God I will shoot you.”
The other man doesn’t react to the warning or to Jimmy’s pleas and struggles to free himself. “Let him go now!” Jackson roars. “I will shoot you, man!” The bullet hits the other prisoner in the upper arm, and he lifts his mouth, dripping with Jimmy’s blood, from the deputy’s arm.
“Shoot him again!” Jimmy almost squeals. “Shoot him again!” He struggles to get to his knees, to gain better leverage to pull himself free.
“Okay, okay!” Jackson tries to steady the gun, and pulls the trigger again.
The surprise of the second bullet rocks the other man back, and Jimmy yanks his arm free. He scrambles across the floor, closer to Jackson’s cell, and pulls his feet out of the other man’s range. The deputy’s bicep is a mangled, bloody mess. “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit,” he moans. He can’t move his arm. With his left hand, he fumbles the keys free from his belt and slides them to Jackson. “I … I … I need help, I gotta get to the hospital. You … you fucker!” he screams at his attacker.
The stranger just sits back on his heels, not obviously bleeding from his wounds, and says nothing.
“Okay, hold on,” Jackson mutters. He picks up the keys with one trembling hand and somehow manages to unlock his cell without dropping them. He stuffs the handgun in the front o fhis pands. “C’mon, Jimmy.” He helps Masters to stand, and tries to lead him down the hall, hugging one wall, as far from the other cell as possible.
Storyteller’s Note: This photograph used under Creative Commons license.