A Viking's Release

(Viking is an interesting character, and he seemed to me a complex soul, masked underneath his very insidious exterior.)

The pain had eventually dulled, even the anger, but not so much the humiliation. The little flip Horowitz didn't get off easy–he had two months in the box. That damn box drove the boys crazy and Horowitz would again resort to behaving like the volatile, caged rat he was. However, the kid got his sweet revenge on him, which would carry him through the rough spots of his incarceration.

He traced the fine white scars along his right eye. He had nearly lost his eyeball after that kid's stunt. A small boom box had been left on his bed, and it was timed to explode when he fiddled with the knobs. The force knocked him right out of the cell and onto the floor screaming in bloody agony. After all this time and pain, he had to admit, it was a great payback. He felt his broad, aquiline nose, it was amazingly still intact. The rest of his face was smooth and chiseled with a pallor that only captivity could bring. Could he thank God for small favors? Viking Lofgren now tried. His four-month extension ended tonight and he would finally be free.

He doused his face with cold water and the last of his ivory soap. A line from a movie he had recently seen came to him. The teachers had insisted they watch an old version of 'Les Miserables.' They told them all to take a long, hard lesson from Jean Valjean. Never one to admit his foibles, at least he thought it was, Viking enjoyed the classic film. He afterward read the entire novel. A deep chord struck him when the the kindly priest told Valjean,

"Free? When is a man free? I wish someone would tell me that?"

Viking was going home, but he wondered if that would be any less of a prison sentence. There, he was captive to his mother's frailties. Her nervous breakdowns in the last few years had made her quite daffy. He could already smell the pancakes and he groaned.

"Your father loved my pancakes! Why don't you, John?" She would whack him with the spatula when he wouldn't eat them.

"I used to make pancakes in my daddy's restaurant when I was a little girl, it was a breakfast favorite…"

Viking decided that the brain was an amazing organ of the human body. It made up a person's entire life force yet was extremely delicate at the same time. Viking's curiosity for psychology grew the more he thought of his mother. Somehow that one childhood memory of making breakfast was trapped in her mind and she would harp on it, over and over and over.

He didn't tell anyone, but his small collection of books doubled with texts on the study of the criminal mind, psychology and other related topics. He devoured them in the quiet moments, and there were many quiet moments. He filled the waiting time with reading and sketching, a talent he had honed since childhood. He no longer strolled throughout the cell blocks looking for trouble. If trouble came to him, he ignored it, kept his cool, and walked away. The eyes of the guards and staff were on him at all times and his current behavior impressed them beyond words.

Being in and out of this rut for five years now, Viking created a simple truth. 'It takes all kinds to make a world.'

He pulled out his comb and ran it through his thick hair. He had let his trademark pompadour of frizz deflate. All that was left now were masses of uneven curls; the striking bleach blonde he had colored his hair was fading fast. Some of the other inmates had taken to calling him Shirley Temple when he walked by. But, he figured, at least he would grow old and die with his hair. Viking let it all go. He was on his way out; they could all rot in this sinkhole, but not him. He was a fighter.

He quickly thought of his old crony, Tweety. That bastard deserved every bullet that was pumped into him. Three bullets took him down, the so-called 'King' of Juvie Hall. The incident occurred only a month after his release. Although at first stunned and angry, Viking soon wished it were a more brutal punishment.

'One for every time Tweety molested that kid.' He let the thought go. Viking figured if he happened to die on upon his release, he would deserve it. Silence was just as condemnatory as committing the actual crime.

He supposed he knew the deeper reason for keeping quiet. It was fear. Tweety was not one to be toyed with, though he took delight in toying with everyone else. Viking knew a lot of his 'peeps' on the outside would kill you for a glance. Their loyalties to Tweety didn't end with his death. Viking didn't want that threat hanging on his head, so he clammed up. It made no sense to tell the truth now, Tweety had already paid the ultimate price. However Viking was still paying for his involvement with Tweety. Constant feelings of guilt and vivid nightmares attacked him.

The other night was a little different. In his dream, Viking had thrown himself over the railing and grabbed onto the desperate kid for dear life.

"I won't let you down this time!" He promised him, but the outcome was always the same.

The kid smiled weakly, but then slipped from his grasp and landed on the tiles below, his skull cracked and neck broke, just as it really happened. Viking often woke up in fits, and several times the guards had to run in and calm him down. He was learning to control that reaction whenever the nightmares came. He developed a system of counting backwards and telling himself it was 'Just a dream, just a dream.'

He adjusted the cuffs of his jeans and packed the remainder of his clothing. His load consisted of a few t-shirts and denims, lots of white socks, and a pair of old running sneakers. He gave a quick glance in the mirror. He wore his fitted blue, 'Crush!' shirt and comfortable brown loafers. He flexed, sometimes amazed with how much his muscles grew since he came here. The frequent gym visits had paid off well. Viking had long, powerful arms and sturdy thick legs and they complimented his six-three frame.

"Pfft! Too bad you still look like Lurch! You raaaaannng?' He drawled sarcastically like the Addams Family butler with his deep voice.

Viking wasn't completely hideous and he knew it. He resembled his mother, inheriting her round, yet sloping shark-like eyes, a shade of light violet-blue. He had high cheekbones, along with a sensuous grin he made his own. In every other respect he was his father, practically an outline of the poor veteran. After the Korean War, his father married, then Viking's older brother Hank was born. Hank had since escaped to Texas and was actually running a successful bar and grill. It had been a while since they corresponded, but Hank tried to be supportive and encouraging. Viking missed his father. He was always the rock, and the voice of whatever wisdom he uncovered. When he died, Viking's world collapsed. His father insisted on taking a tour in Vietnam, but died three years after his return. The army released him for frequent bouts with pneumonia. Apparently the Agent Orange weakened his lungs, that, and his bad habit of smoking a pack a day.

Viking's books were carefully placed underneath the clothes, along with a few personals. He had salvaged his art supplies, soaps and shampoos, deodorant and a shaving kit he managed to scrounge from the local dealer of the joint. The books came at a price too, seeing as he didn't want to borrow anything from the school library and have everyone make a fuss like they did over his artwork. Nearly all his smokes went to retrieve them.

'That was a way to quit fast.' He reasoned.

He had one remaining pack of cigs with two missing. He placed it carefully on the made-up bed. Let the next delinquent take it. After a week in the cell block he would crave them. As if on cue, a rowdy noise swelled from below the catwalk. Viking peeked out. The newcomers were here again. It was the same trite ritual, curse, scream, hit and spit. Viking recalled the days when he would be the last on the line. He made sure he had hacked up the biggest glob of phlegm for right between the eyes. Watching the scene now, his stomach churned. He grasped his suitcase as one of the solemn delinquents finally approached his cell.

The new boy was scared; he looked no older than fifteen with big, winsome eyes and shaggy dark hair. He didn't have any noticeable scars, nor the world-weary expressions and attitude most new inmates brought with them. This boy had first time offender written all over him. He was still short, but time would tell. He inched into the cell, desperately seeking to wipe off the spittle that ran down his tear-stained face.

"If you're gonna spit on me too, get it over with." He cowered.

Viking shook his head. "Sorry, I'm all out of good loogies today." He pointed toward the sink and finished packing. As the boy washed, Viking attempted casual conversation.

"How old do you think I am, kid?"

The boy looked up surprised, he didn't think the golem wanted to talk to him. "Uh, I dunno, twenty?"

"Twenty-two, thanks for not thinking I'm forty. If you want to be stuck in this crap-hole for as long as I have, you'll start to screw up and break all the rules... my advice to you, don't. Do what you're told, stay out of everyone's way, don't conceal weapons, and do your damn homework."

The kid nodded carefully and took to the bottom bunk. Viking placed a box by his bed. Inside were a few worn out girlie mags, a pack of stogies, chewing gum, and playing cards. He threw the cigarettes on top. Viking was sick of it all, the women had no more effect and everything else was just junk he wouldn't need.

"Here, my welcome to hell present. Knock yourself out. What's your name?"

"Richard…Richie."

"What are you in for, Richie Rich?"

"Uhh…I don't wanna say."

"Get over it and spill, kid. You're not special!"

"I…I molested a few kids on the school bus!"

Richie hid his face in the pillow. Viking felt every muscle in his body clench. It was better that the kid did that; he wanted to smash his face in. He took deep breaths and kept his voice steady, yet firm.

"What the hell possessed you? Are you on drugs?"

"No man! It started as a joke, but then I was getting away with it and it became a sort of game. I don't know why I did it, I don't like kids like that! It was just…"

Viking knelt down to him, his long face and grim mouth sent shivers through the kid. He tightly gripped Richie's shoulder.

"It's not a game to screw around with kids you dirty punk. What? Do you think you're some big crap 'cause you got power over babies? You better watch your ass around here; these guys have little brothers and sisters they love if you can believe it. I almost feel sorry for you, because trust me, they will find out why you're here. If you had caught me just a few months ago, I think your teeth would have been in the back of your throat right now."

Richie gazed at Viking relieved. "Thanks!"

"Don't thank me. If we were on the outside you'd be laying in the gutter, but I want to get of here today. Look, you got a serious problem and you better nip it before it eats you alive." Viking's stomach jumped as he thought of Tweety.

The call for lights out was made and the other boys began piling into their cells. Viking stood up with his suitcase and stepped outside for the last time.

"Sweet dreams, Richie Rich. You're really gonna need it in here."

Viking walked leisurely down the catwalk, everyone cheered his departure and spewed threats of murder and hatred at him. Some were just spitting. Viking didn't flinch as spittle hit him on his hair, his shirt, his face. He deserved it. He knew all of these boys, and probably bullied each and every one. Their angry faces would be etched in his mind forever, every experience would. He held his head high and didn't look back. Like Jean Valjean, this phase of his life was over.

The End