UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
S. HEMMING

Bedlam

I turn my head as far as my inverted position will allow and stare in drugged-up fascination at the dirty water dripping from calcified

and rusted sprinklers recessed into the ceiling above me, doing nothing to dispel the fine flakes of ash which hang in the fetid air of the narrow corridor.

Heavy blue uniforms steam and glisten in the light from flickering fluorescent tubes. Solid work-boots crunch on polystyrene cups, kick unravelled and partly burnt rolls of toilet paper against stained and scuffed skirting boards. The air shimmers with menace. Shadows evolve and fragment, reach like fingers across whitewashed walls, thick steel doors and small barred windows.

Opposite is a narrow window the length of the corridor, opaque and grimy with dirt and dust, reinforced from within by a fine wire mesh. It shudders in its frame as a storm batters the outside of it, rippling waves of rain overlapping and pouring down its width before being snatched away by a howling gale.

These are the images that flash through my mind.

Through the drugs and the beating.

But I can’t hold my head up for long. When I let it drop I see other images, this time reflected in a film of water on the floor. I know I’ve been badly beaten but the only pain I can feel is in my shoulders as they drag me, face-down, along the corridor. As I look down the length of my body I see the toes of my boots shedding polish on rough, wet tiles. My vision is blurred, my perception distorted by something they have done to me, something like poison, cramping my guts.

I had been in the infirmary, that much I remember. I’m not sure why but it feels like I was meant to have been there. And here it gets a little hazy because I think I was waiting for them to burst in, expecting it, anticipating it; and sure enough I remember the door crashing open, the first boot in my stomach, the baton across my shoulders, a flurry of fists and feet.

It couldn’t have gone on for long and I must have blacked out anyway because I remember coming to and feeling the unmistakable pressure of two fingers pinching my nose, tasting something chalky and bitter, knowing they were forcing pills down my throat as I gasped for air.

All of them laughing.

Except for him, a true vision of knuckle-dragging barbarity.

Mordecai Manson.

Close to his side he carries his own favourite customised telescopic baton, the one with the ball- bearing soldered to it’s tip. As I’m dragged along, it swings in his hand, small droplets of my own blood making tiny ripples in the water. I can taste sick and I’m glad I’d vomited earlier. At least some of the pills won’t get into my system. But there were enough that had and for that I’m grateful for if nothing else they numb the pain.

Without warning I’m dropped to the floor. A cell door is unlocked. Instead of carrying me inside I’m kicked viciously. I roll with the blows as best I can as the door clangs shut behind me.

I’m propped against a wall. Nearby faces swim in and out of focus. I can make out some seven or eight people. I shake my head, trying to clear the blur. Someone holds a cup to my split and swollen lips. I take a sip. It tastes vaguely chemical, like it has come from the toilet - smells like it too - but it soothes my damaged throat.

“Hi ya, Jake,” comes a guttural voice. “Look’s like old Mordecai beat ya’ good.”

The voice bores into me. It jolts my brain enough for at least one of my eyes to momentarily focus and I feel a lurch of fear.

I see Billy Dodd and Paul Semenon; hunched, ragged creatures, wasted by addiction, who have shared a cell here for as long as anyone can remember. There was Craig Locke, the Beast of Bermondsay, and Vincent Degorray, the so-called Southend Stalker. It was the latter, with his closely-trimmed goatee and ice-blue eyes, who fed me the water and spoke to me.

But what’re they doing here while the rest of the prison’s engaged in a full-scale riot? I feel like I should know: did know.

I see a figure standing in a corner: the ‘ bogeyman’. The man-mountain known as ‘Halloween’, who used to be thought of as simply a bad rumour and who, it is said, lives in the deepest, darkest cell of the entire prison and who is never allowed to see the light of day. I knew his real name - wasn’t sure how - but knew that it was Isaac Jephson, born into incestuous depravity, who had gone on to murder almost every single member of his extended family. This much I knew, but the force-fed drugs were working an evil magic and anyway I didn’t have the time, much less the inclination, to figure out why I knew these things.

Which makes the whole situation more bizarre by the minute. Some of these guys have been in solitary for years, never let out except to exercise on their own for half-an-hour a day. So what the hell are they doing here?

The drugs seem to be slowly leeching from my system and my vision improves a little. In dribs and drabs it comes back to me. I have an idea what I’m meant to do, but it’s still illusory and distant. Nothing I can pin down.

Until I glimpse the man in the corner, purposely draped in shadow, observing me, it seems, with keen interest. And through the stench of sweat and evil, forcing its way through the blood in my broken nose, I feel a sense of purpose and in a heartbeat this small cell full of degenerate souls accelerates the adrenalin surging through me, and though nothing is quite clear enough yet, I begin to gleam a hint of understanding.

In a narcotic blur I can recognise the worst of the worst, knew what they had done, but not why they were here. With me. And there is worse to come.

Another who looms into my vision is called Slug Scarret, also known as Gollum, being a hunch-backed and twisted creature, but with a weirdly warped intelligence, which had kept him ahead of the law for ten murderous years.

I thought he had died long ago though somehow I know - or have been told - that he is another of those shadowy figures who is said to lurk deep in the bowels of the prison, in that area of dark foreboding, where no-one ever goes, except a couple of trusted screws, who feed and water them like zoo curators, tending to the needs of primeval and degenerate creatures spawned from the darkest nightmares.

“What you doin’ here boy?” Halitosis oozes like death, washing over me in nauseating waves. “Mordecai must be savin’ ye’ f ‘somethin’ special.”

“I….I don’t know,” is all I can mutter. It sounds pathetically inane even to myself.

Another face bores in from the other side. Out of the corner of my eye I see a huge puckered crater of scar tissue covering the whole of one side of a face. The other side, the ‘almost Human’ half, belongs to Serge Disarov, though even this part of him is disfigured below the jaw. Where the left side of the mandible should be is now no more than sagging folds of skin without form or function.

A Muslim extremist and mass-killer of men, women and children, a Serb sniper had finally ended his reign of terror in that part of the world, but after escaping the Balkans he soon found unwilling participants wherever he travelled. In England he’d gorged way too much and finally came unstuck in a dank and dingy basement full of bones and rotting flesh.

But in my mind he becomes another piece of the puzzle sliding neatly into place. His single eye is ablaze with menace, bright blue and stark. His other eye, normally covered by a worn leather patch, is a weeping, empty oval.

“You not like landings Jake?” His voice is sibilant, distorted by his deformity. “Bad people there, yes? Got y’self the pills and potions?”

“Yeah, but he kept the goodies for hisself’, didn’t ya’ Jake” My head stays still as I search for this new voice.

How bad can it get?

The owner of the voice fills the gap in front and with nowhere to go I force the back of my head hard against the wall. Something like acid burns my throat. I swallow repeatedly to avoid throwing up: “ Or did ya’ gi‘dem to ya’ mates wid’ de’ blue suits an’ hob-nail boots?”

Before me is a jet-black face like burnt mahogany. His face is criss-crossed with a Stanley-blade badge of office, noughts-and-crosses plain for all to see. It was a baptism of fire, inflicted by skinheads back in the seventies. His Haitian roots are strong in his soul and he is said to be a Houngan, or priest, of Vodou, and it is also said that he wears around his waist a hundred small scraps of Human skin which he’s took from those he has killed. He says it protects him from harm and gives him power, and maybe it’s true, because he runs a vast criminal empire from the comfort of his cell, fully supported, or so it seems, by the Governor. Not officially of course but we all know he has something on the man. What that is no-one knows, but by fuck wouldn’t we all give a year’s supply of snout to find it out?

His name is Leroy Wallace, known as ‘axe-man’, or more commonly as Mr. Wallace. But it’s a moot point because if you know him well enough to address him you’re either under his control or a dead-man walking.

Crouched behind him is his cell-mate and ‘wife’, Davey Platt. A deceitful man who revels in the pity of the prison but is in fact a master of his own destiny. If Leroy is the top predator then Davey is his parasitic twin, a permanently attached lamprey, thriving off the scraps of meat fed to him by his mentor. And Davey’s as bad as any of them. Almost angelic-looking this nineteen year-old had haunted the halls of residence of half-a-dozen north-eastern universities, beating, killing and raping male students with a savagery that defied explanation.

Somehow I know they are all meant to be here.

It’s the drugs, dulling my pain. Dulling my mind as well.

I think this as I look into Leroy’s huge, black pupils. I think this as I see his synapses burst with feverish activity as amphetamines blast his brain with psychotic fury. And I see the result of it as sweat gathers in the groin of his joggers where it pours from the matted tips of waist-length dreadlocks.

I know that if I look away I’ll be dead in a heartbeat. Though these people are animals the usual rules don’t apply. Not in here. You don’t avoid eye-contact as you would if faced by a predator in the wild. Or play dead. Or run away. Or climb a tree. You either become an anonymous victim or you grow within yourself a level of survival which transcends all moral and ethical codes.

“You doin’ that big Mordecai in the ass, boy.”

Before I say anything I feel an overwhelming, and quite bizarre, kinship with these predators. As terrified as I am I recognize the warped combination of diseased genes which makes them who they are.

If I’m honest I feel a part of the same in myself.

I try to make my voice as hard as possible. “Fuck off Leroy.”

Axe-man’ grins, as he is wont to do, usually before slitting someone’s throat. But I’m beyond caring.

The blanket of haze clouding my mind is beginning to dissipate. Adrenalin is helping. Certain fragments of information begin to seep into my consciousness. There’s a reason I’m here. There has to be, I’m sure of it. I have to focus.

I try so hard. As I look at the depraved creatures surrounding me it gradually begins to dawn why these low-life’s are locked up in here with me when they should be out there with the other rioting inmates. They are, after all, the kingpins of the prison. Between them they run the entire joint: tobacco, male prostitution, illegal drugs: you name it they control it.

I need time, just a little more. Just a few more seconds.

Now’s the time. I know without knowing why. The drugs are wearing off. Pain’s coming in waves and bursts, and along with it fragmented memories….

…like why I had been in the infirmary at that particular time. And why I’m here now, in this cell. With these people.

And with one in particular.

And as they crowd around me I know instinctively the time is right.

Out the corner of my eye I see Leroy slip something cold and metallic from the cuff of his designer sweatshirt into the palm of his hand.

I’ve already lifted one cheek slightly off the floor and in an instant I’ve reached for the small rip I’d made in the seat of my joggers. I feel for the shortened home-made handle of the scalpel wedged between my buttocks, feel the slickness of blood where it’s nicked me, and in an instant I’ve whipped it out and….

…little or no resistance as filthy knots of matted hair fall into Leroy’s lap along with a gout of blood: and my satisfaction that the last thing he sees is my smug smile as he skitters backwards on his arse, his impossibly high-pitched scream grating like fingernails on a blackboard, then ….

… my arm flashes right and….

…I’m amazed to see what the inside of Slugs throat looks like when it’s ripped open from ear to ear, how warm the blood is that splashes over me, how it tastes subtly different to my own when I’ve sucked at a cut or bitten the head off a scab, and then….

…a straight jab, my vision now focused with utter determination, as I see….

….Serge, struck dumb by the speed of my attack, transfixed for the briefest of time as my blade enters his one good eye, deep into his brain, then pulled out, his eye still attached, trailing bloody strings, and finally….

…Isaac. Immensely powerful and pathologically insane, but subdued by medication, his intellect tainted by in-breeding, and with a mind way too slow to react to my sudden lunge, or to do anything more than simply stare down at the rough square I have scribed through his shirt and on to the thick slabs of muscle beneath, so that all he can manage is a low, pitiful whimper before slumping forward to his knees…

I watch dispassionately as his face turns purple in the guttering light. His shirt bells outwards with the pressure of blood. A coil of intestine forces its way between two buttons and he sits back on his heels, trying to hold his torn stomach together, watching with childish disbelief as yet more of it slithers between his fingers and slops into his lap. He dies with a choking sob and bends slowly forward at the waist before me as if bowing in appreciation of my skill.

One look at Davy Platt sends him scurrying across the room to the two addicts. The three of them cling to each other in the corner. They sit cowering in a pool of piss. I pay them no mind. They were opportunist killers, not hardened sociopaths like those I had cut: not worthy of my attention.

One man steps out of the shadows. At his feet are the lifeless bodies of Craig Locke and Vincent Degorray, their heads twisted at unnatural angles, their eyes sightless and inches apart as if beseeching each other for answers to the last violent seconds of their lives.

He has long grey hair framing a face dominated by emerald green eyes. His cheeks are sunken and speckled with salt-and-pepper stubble. The moistened fringe of his moustache curls in toward bloodless lips as he smiles, his head cocked to one side, as if admiring the well-trained antics of a playful puppy.

Which is perhaps all that I am.

And I think of a mother I had despised for her weakness, and of a life dominated by this barbaric man; by his lustful deeds and unprincipled savagery.

Changing our name by deed poll, moving from city to city, living in bed-sits and squats with her ‘jacking’ up dirty smack or ‘snorting’ whatever she could get her hands on to dissipate the thoughts of this monstrous man. This man before me.

She had tried as best she could to hide me away from it all but all it did was endear me to his nomadic life of debauchery.

I smile back at him.

Joshua Heston. Old now but a psychopathic legend in his own lifetime. He and an accomplice had tortured and killed on three continents, evading capture for the best part of thirty years. But only Joshua had eventually been caught, his partner presumed dead after leaping from Tower Bridge as the police closed in on them. I had long ago forgiven him for the lonely and shameful death of my mother. I had known from an early age that she had meant nothing more to him than a means to an end, just as she herself was aware of the fact, reminding me of it at every opportunity.

I’d found out later that his whole reason for the relationship was to produce a son and heir. My mother had told me of the existence of sisters - when she was sober or ‘straight’ enough - and her shame at having to have them adopted. Only she had put it another way: ‘Had to get rid of them…before he did. They would’ve suffered so much….”

But I had no memory of them so they meant little more to me than the toys she’d bought me and then promptly sold to fund her habit. Because she knew that Joshua needed a son. Only a boy could follow in his footsteps. Only a man to continue the legend that was Joshua Heston.

And I believe to this day that she was unaware of my admiration for him. And sometimes, when her mad ramblings degenerated into choking sobs, I thought I heard a sense of loss in her nicotine-ravaged voice, a pining loss for what might have been, should have been. I just knew that it wasn’t always hatred. Not always. And even towards the end when her veins had collapsed and she was ‘ jacking up’ into her groin and between her toes she never realised that I listened to her endless stories with half-concealed glee. I was fifteen and wise beyond my years and to this day I feel no guilt that it was I who had supplied the almost-pure heroin which had killed her. A part of me was compassionate to her pitiful plight, but another part of me just needed her out of the way.

It was inevitable really because I had always felt that my father had simply been biding his time, waiting for me to come of age. He contacted me in due course, told me what I had to do. And when I committed my crime he had the influence to ensure I’d be sent to this particular prison.

And the revelation was that I knew in my bones I had been borne to it.

Knew that the work must go on.

I reverse the scalpel and take the pain as I draw it across my stomach. I cut deep, but not deep enough to cause serious injury. I repeat the process on my arms and legs. Finally my face.

Joshua steps forward. He takes my face in both his gnarled hands, kisses me on each cheek. He embraces me with powerful arms, squeezing me tight, smearing himself from head to toe in my blood. He takes the scalpel from my slack fingers and steps back. He lays one palm tenderly against my cheek and whispers in my ear: “Keep the faith son.”

I whisper back: “Never lost it dad.”

Then he turns to the three terrified men in the corner and wades into them.

Their screams have stopped by the time Mordecai bursts into the cell. He grins at me briefly before more guards rush past him. They fall on Joshua like a pack of rabid dogs. They beat him near senseless, then beat him some more because he doesn’t cry out or beg for mercy. One of them points at me and sneers.

“So he left young Jake alive, eh? Cut him up pretty bad though by the look’s of it. Still, serves him right, the bastard. Should’ve come quiet in the infirmary ‘stead of fightin’ like some mad fucker. Never would’a bin’ ‘ere if he’d listened.”

Mordecai stoops before me. He lifts my bowed head and stares into my eyes, and he smiles with concealed pride, and only I see the genuine affection behind his ice-cold gaze.

“Josh left him ‘cos Jake’s no killer, aint that right Jake?”

“Well one thing’s for sure Boss,” said the guard, “old Josh’ll be king of the hill now. Who’d ‘ve thought the old bastard still had it in ‘im, eh? Aw well, he aint never gettin’ out so good luck to ‘im.” He glances at me. “Want me to take care of that little twat?”

“No you go ahead, I’ll see to him. He’s no trouble, is Jake, just a victim like the rest of ‘em, be no trouble now. Couple’a extra months ‘cos o’him bein’ in the infirmary but he gonna’ be a good boy now. Now go on, get that piece of shit under lock and key and bring back a squad to clean this mess up. Then we got the rest of the place to sort out. Now go.”

As they drag old Josh away only Mordecai and myself notice his sideways glance and knowing wink.

Mordecai helps me to my feet.

He hugs me to him as the last of my strength fails. I speak through the pain, which I relish, and the intensity of the moment, which I can’t wait to recreate.

“Thanks for the drugs, Mordecai. I couldn’a done it without ‘em.”

“No problem, kid,” he whispers back, “you did good. Your Dad’s real proud of you, and so am I. He’s in here for the rest of his life and now he’s top-dog agen’. Back where he belongs. We were a great team, me and your Dad. When you get out you come look me up. You and me, boy, it’ll be like old times. By God, Jake, we’ll run ‘em ragged….”









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