Vivre La Vie Dure Journée Par Jour
By: Amber Owen
Once there was a man, who seven years ago, was sent to prison for a crime he didn't commit. Betrayed by a dear fried and business partner named Anton, he was forced to leave his thriving business and newly acquired wealth behind him. For five out of his twenty years he served his sentence faithfully, but then something inside of him snapped and he realized that he could not bear this drudgery any longer. This man, was me.
Night after night, I would lie in my makeshift bed and chase after the sleep that so cleverly evaded me. One night something changed. I conceived that I couldn't live like this any more. I was sick of spending never-ending days breaking my back in the harsh rock quarries in the French countryside, and my nights lying awake, waiting for the rest that my muscles longed for, but could never receive. That night a new emotion swelled within me –hate. The self-pity that usually consumed me was gone now, long forgotten, and replaced by this new, passionate emotion. I now felt a surging hate towards Anton for banishing me to this French purgatory. I was now determined to get the revenge I deserved on this former friend, and I knew exactly how I would get it.
Pacing the room, I drew back a faint memory from long ago. The memory was of a high security penitentiary I had helped build- the exact one that held me now. I couldn't stop my face from breaking out into a smile seldom seen these past few years, as I realized that I still remembered the detailed plans perfectly. Slowly, my plan began to form.
The next few months were extremely tedious as I anxiously bought my time. Using all of the preciously few breaks the prisoners were allowed, I observed the behavior of the guards and noted the times that the shifts changed. One day in May, I woke up earlier than usual. Today was the day; I could feel it in my bones. I alternated between pacing and fidgeting nervously as I waited for the horn to sound that signaled the start of the workday. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity the signal sounded and the guards came to fetch us inmates from our holding cells. I couldn't stop moving as the guard on duty snapped the iron shackles onto my ankles and wrists, never before had I been this impatient; It seemed to take longer than usual to walk the three miles to the quarries and I could hardly stop myself from urging the rest of the line to move faster. I could already taste the sweet taste of freedom on my tongue. As our destination crept into sight and saw which guard was on duty today my hopes slowly sank. It was Labruere, who was most feared among the guards, and for good reason.
Labruere was the most brutal guard and loved to torture us inmates. It infuriated him that we couldn't be constantly punished by lashings, but that punishment was reserved for only those who tried to escape. People like me. When I first arrived a story was told to me by my cellmate about a man who had crossed Labruere, and soon after he had been found dead by a muddy pond, headless and with what appeared to be stab wounds. Labruere was suspected by all the inmates to be the murderer. To tell the truth, I didn't hold much stock in the story, until the same fate found my cellmate after only a few days. Since the incident almost six years ago, I had become Labruere's new target. He often took out his frustrations on me, usually by throwing my measly meal of bread and occasionally cheese to the fish in the muddy sewage pond, or "accidentally" knocking the only water bucket to the ground when it was my turn to drink, spilling the water onto the parched ground that greedily swallowed it. He hated me, and made no show of hiding it, and these past few months I had grown to loathe him in return.
Having Labruere on guard duty would only make my plan more dangerous, and difficult to achieve, but I was determined to escape. Had planned to work through all of the breaks we received to put a good distance between the others and myself. Labruere was always looking for an excuse to try and break my spirit, and would be sure to notice if I was absent from an opportunity to be used as a frightening example. I stood frozen, trying hard not to sink into despair as I struggled to come to a decision. I knew I couldn't limit my working to the regular work times, even if I did work extraordinarily fast I would probably still be close enough to the rest of the group that I would have eager witnesses that would be willing to give any scrap of information they could manage to dig up over to the guards in order to possibly be rewarded. A rough hand push me out of my reverie quite forcefully as I finally came to a conclusion. Not wasting time I immediately set to work.
I prayed for the gift of speed as I worked through my break. I had decided that the best idea would probably be to work through only one of my two breaks and hope that Labruere would either fail to notice my absence, or just see it as a sign of a weary worker eager to be done with a days work. But of course I wouldn't be so lucky. My strength was already beginning to deteriorate with the heat and dehydration and I wasn't so sure how long I could keep going. As I worked I couldn't help but be suspicious, I was sure that Labruere would have noticed my nonappearance during a break, and would come looking for me. Maybe he wasn't as predictable as I had thought. My paranoia, and fatigue immediately subsided as I spotted what I had been looking for all this time. No more than ten feet away was an old, small, drainage grate imbedded into the stone wall. I broke into a full out sprint, not holding anything back, neglecting to notice the ominous footsteps that were following closely in the wake of my own.
As I reached for the grate I was suddenly grabbed from behind. I spun around to see Labruere's ugly face pulled into an unnatural snarl and his black eyes daring me to move. I tried in vain to loosen his tight grip on my shoulder, but seeing my struggle he squeezed even tighter. He laughed at my futile attempts with a maniacal laugh. A laugh that I had heard only once before, many years ago when my only close companion in jail was slaughtered mercilessly in his bed by a masked killer. Bitter memories that I had buried deep inside came angrily to the forefront of my mind. This man would pay for what he had done. With strength I didn't know I had I wrenched my arm free of his death grip and grabbed a nearby stone. I heard a sickening crunch as the improvised weapon in my hand collided with the mans head and sent him sprawling limply to the ground. I could hear his heavy breathing so I knew he wasn't dead yet. I raise my arm to strike once more when something on the ground caught my eye. A small silver cross lay on the hard dirt beside Labruere. I stared flabbergasted and angry at the symbol. How could a man so evil carry such a meaningful charm? Enraged I thrust my arm back into the air and prepared to administer a terminating blow.
I exercised all of my self-constraint in that moment, just to keep from killing Labruere right then and there. I had dreamed of his death for so long, yet here I was, about to fulfill that dream and I felt the overpowering need to control myself. I turned and unleashed the blow on the lock that held the grate closed. I had decided that Labruere wasn't worth it, and that only one man would die at my hand tonight. I turned, taking one last glace at my enemy and noticed that I could see workers approaching and I slid quickly and quietly through the grate and into a dark tunnel.
It was I tight squeeze to fit my entire body into the tunnel, and once I accomplished this feat it was nearly impossible to move. Using my arms I pulled myself for what seemed like miles across the jagged rocks, trying to ignore the pain as they cut deeply into my now tender flesh. At this point the only thing that could give my aching muscles the will to carry on was the thought of my revenge on Anton. I envisioned my knife cutting his throat, and stabbing at his heart. I continued on this way, calculating how I would carry out the act, for the longest time until I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. With renewed hope I crawled with great agility towards the light and stretched out my arm as far as it would go, eager to finally have some part of me, even if it was only my littlest finger be free. I continued moving forward until I felt the iron bars that hindered me from completing my journey.
I stayed still for a moment silently pondering the irony of escaping one prison to die in another. In my hast to put as much distance between the prison that lay behind me and myself I had foolishly forgotten to bring with me a rock to break the lock on the grate. Carefully, I slid my bleeding arm through the narrow bars and started groping blindly for a loose stone. People passing on the street screamed in terror as they beheld before them a monstrous arm with no visible body attached to it. Finally my fingers encircled a smooth stone about the same size as the lock. I stuck the rock clumsily against the wall, missing the lock by centimeters. Calmly I attempted to strike the lock once, twice more. As I started to panic I began to swing harder than before, each time putting all of the force available into the swing only to have it hit the wall with such force that it wildly bounced backwards. Dropping the stone I defeat I hung my head. The threat of death hung in the air over my malnourished, overworked body. The walls of the tunnel started to close in tighter around my body as if trying to suffocate me and end my suffering. Then a thought occurred to me. What if the guards found me here? They would surely drag me back to that infernal place. That would be far worse than dying here alone in a tunnel, mission left incomplete.
Every voice outside the grate now suddenly sounded like a guard come to take me away. My breath quickened and my heart pounded against my ribcage as full out panic took over. Once more I pushed my arm in between the bars, not bothering to be cautious. I wildly grabbed at rocks searching for one I could easily clutch. Wrestling with the rock I struck at the lock with no success. Struggled to calm myself and slow my breathing. When I was calm I gathered what was left of my strength and threw the rock at the lock one last time. Instantly my efforts were rewarded by the sharp sound of metal snapping. I was free. I silently slid onto the vacant streets. For minutes I just sat where I landed outside of the grate, hungrily gulping down my first breaths as a newly freed man.
As I started to rise a machine that strangely resembled a carriage, but had no horses, passed by at an unimaginable speed. Successfully splattering me with mud left from a resent rainstorm. I stood frozen in shock at how badly my endeavor was going. Not even ten minutes into my new life and I already was cold, wet, hungry and homeless. I looked down at my clothing, tattered, as it was the ostentatious black stripes still glared back at me with a ferocity that brought back fresh memories. This would not do. New clothes were a necessity if I was to walk into the wealthy part of the city without sticking out. Sighing I wandered into a nearby store, not sure what I was looking for, only to be immediately thrown out by a man in a suit and hat. I continued my adventure down the street, stopping here or there to gaze longingly into a store window, but never attempting to enter. Suddenly I was blinded by a dark piece of fabric. I pulled away from my face a pair of trousers. In great awe of my luck I looked around to find the street littered with clothes, obviously thrown from above. Grabbing a handful of clothes, I ran into an ally to change.
I emerged from the ally some minutes later deep in thought, only springing from my reverie when I collided with someone. I looked up to see Anton, staring down at me, clearly expecting an apology for my dazed state. I couldn't believe it, how could it possibly be this easy? For months on end I had spent my nights plotting to kill this man, and here he was, delivered into my mists by a happy mistake. Quietly I murmured an "excuse me" and mad a show of traveling in the opposite direction of Anton. After going a few feet I doubled back into the shadows, which made my hunched form close to invisible, and followed him to a nice house. Since my newly acquired clothes were almost as worn and ragged as the old ones I was able to spend the night on Anton's doorstep, pretending to be a beggar. In the morning I was greatly rewarded for my patients. The maid, being a kind and compassionate woman, invited me in shortly after her master had left for work. I stayed the entire day in his house, and on the pretext of helping the maid clean I scouted out every inch of it. As the day grew dark, I hid in a closet, and the maid, assuming I had left the house went back home.
Not long after the maid left the front door creaked open and Anton appeared looking weary. I waited silently listening intently for the groan of the mattress, anticipating the hour that he would retire to his bedroom. Finally that blessed hour came. I held my breath, hardly able to swallow the shout of joy that was advancing in my throat. Not Yet! I thought. I jumped as the clock in the hall stuck midnight…had I really been sitting here for that long? Painstakingly I rose, taking great lengths to make sure that I didn't make a sound. I crept into the kitchen; delicately studying each knife, looking for one that would cut Anton's neck like butter. Finally I chose a sharp butcher knife and left the room as silently as I came. I edged towards the bedroom door, all the while straining to hear any sound that would signal that I had been detected. Feeling along the corridor with my hand I felt the rough wood, unexpectedly turn smooth. I halted outside the door. Violently I swung the door open, causing it to hit the wall with a resounding bang. I froze in front of the bed, just feet away from the man I had sworn to kill. Anton was sitting straight up in his bed; his eyes wide in terror. The look on his face was like one of a man witnessing his worst nightmare come true. It was then that noticed the pronounced purple bruises under his eyes, how many nights had he stayed awake- waiting for me to seek my revenge? For what seemed like hours neither one of us moved. I stood rooted to the floor, my body tense and ready to pounce, my knife poised above my head in a striking position. The raw fear portrayed in his eyes forced me to pity him, and I realized that I couldn't kill him, and yet I couldn't understand, for months the only thing that could keep me going was the mental picture of his body lying crumpled and lifeless on the ground. I had needed the revenge to make me whole again. It was then I realized that this callous shell of a man wasn't me. The old me would have never relished the thought of killing an animal, nonetheless another human. Yes Anton had betrayed me those many years ago, and I would never forget that, but hadn't he paid for it in these nights of turmoil and unrest? In the very terror in which he lived his day-to-day life? I knew what I had to do. With great Stealth I slid open the window and disappeared into the night, never to be seen again.
So you can imagine my surprise at seeing you here, detective. These many years no one has bothered to search for me among the wealthiest and most popular in France, and many probably wouldn't believe my story if I tried to tell it to them. The police wasted their precious time and resources looking for me among the beggars and murderers, the scum of the streets that I almost was. Certainly no one has ever cared to listen to my story, all-willing believing that I was a respectable business man from southern France. I am at your mercy now monsieur, do as you see fit. But I have just one wish, please do not force me to return to that infernal place, send me to the maiden, or to the gallows, death would be better than that prison from which I escaped so long ago.