L. E. Wylde
The youth touched the tatoo of a knife with flames that covered his right cheekbone and neck. He didn't bother to look up at the burly newcomer as he answered, "None."
"Or, a gang of one. Take your pick."
Silent moments passed as they watched the inmates playing basketball at the other end of the exercise yard. An old man in dingy prisoner's garb motioned with his hand in their direction. The blonde-headed youth nodded his head slightly.
"What's your name?"
The youth thought about it, then said "Poet" and tensed slightly.
They listened to the sound of a harmonica nearby. Something to help the time pass and the guy playing was pretty good.
"Don't talk much do you?" Burly asked.
Poet glanced at the new inmate and said, "You're better off if I don't talk to you."
"Huh. I'm not scared of you, po-et. I can take you on. What? A hundred and fifty pounds soaking wet and all of nineteen." Burly's lip curled and his right hand balled into a fist.
The youth chuckled silently, he wasn't afraid of this jerk. Nineteen? Then, he remembered how old he really was and got pissed all over again.
They told him the principle was the same.
All they had to account for was body mass.
Put him under. And then, when the asteroid scare came up, they kept him under. In a light coma, as part of a new experiment. One that he sure as hell hadn't volunteered for. For ten freaking years.
Damn them. Damn them all to hell. Took ten years off his life. But he'd show them. He'd show them all.
Shaking his head to clear his mind, The youth got up and moved away from the belligerent newcomer without speaking.
"Hey, where the hell you think you're going. I'm talking to you, punk."
The youth turned and said, "I can't waste my time on you. I've got better things to do."
"Better things like what?"
"I've got a new poem to write. And you ought to spend some time thinking about making peace with yourself."
"Whaddya mean? I'm not a lifer. I've only got a twenty year sentence. I'll be outta here in eight years. My lawyer's working on a new angle."
The youth sighed. They never understood. "You're a baby killer."
"Yeah, so what."
The youth gestured with his hand, indicating the other inmates. "There's an unwritten rule in the big grey house about baby killers and animal killers."
"What unwritten rule?" Burly thought for a moment, then looked around and said, "Somebody mess with me, I'll ream them a new asshole."
By this time, the youth was safely across the exercise yard.
After a few moments, Burly looked sideways at the poet and said, "The guys that did this to me are scared of you. What are you, some kind of freak?"
The youth thought it over and said, "Maybe I am."
"I hear tell you're forty years old. You look eighteen or twenty tops, to me."
"A side effect of an experiment."
"Ah, shit. I have to put up with the pukes around here and have some asshole doctor poke around on me too?"
The thought gave Burly something to chew on in his mind for awhile before he said, "I know one thing. I'll never take freedom for granted again. I'm gonna go nuts locked up in this place."
The youth jerked and his shoulders hunched up as he said, "Freedom. You think this is bad. I'll tell you what is worse. Lying in a coma, alive and conscious the whole time. That'll drive you nuts, fast. If I hadn't found a way to move around, I would have lost my mind?"
"How can a sleeping body move around?"
The youth hesitated. Ah, what the hell, he thought silently before he said, "I was in an experiment, see. I volunteered for an experiment on aging, but they shifted gears on me. Seems some government types wanted a different kinda experiment."
"Whaddya mean different."
The youth decided to keep his story simple.
"Remember the asteroid scare ten years ago. Scientists thought an asteroid a mile wide was going to hit the earth and create a world-wide winter lasting three years or longer."
"Yeah, I remember. Didn't it pass inside the moon."
"That's right. Inside the moon's orbit. Which is pretty damn close."
"Anyway, I was handy, so they kept me in a light coma, used tubes to feed me. Looking back, I think they wanted to see how much it would cost to keep certain high level officials in safe underground locations. In hibernation like. One third would be awake checking on the chambers and computers. Then they'd rotate."
"Sounds kinda dumb to me. Didn't they have enough supplies for all of 'em?"
"They had enough supplies, I think they didn't have enough oxygen to recycle if all of them were awake. Or, the scientists thought they'd go a little nuts crowded altogether."
"The whole thing sounds nuts to me," Burly said. Then, he looked the youth over. "You look like you turned out okay."
"Well, yes. I survived. Because I learned something. Something the dumbshit scientists don't know about." The youth hesitated and then asked, "Do you know anything about astral projection?"
"A little. My sister was into that New Age shit. Isn't that where the mind or the soul, I forget which, travels outside the body?"
"Yes, the jerks didn't know what they were doing to me. I would have been better off dead, but no, they kept me alive. The bastards didn't think. They thought I'd be unconscious the whole time. Perhaps dream, if I was lucky. I was awake, dammit. With nothing to do but lie there."
"Aw, freaking A. I'd go nuts."
"You got it. I had plenty of time to think. You know, like the stories you hear about. Holy men who go to the mountains to contemplate reality. But I'm sure no holy man."
The youth paused and Burly said, "So what happened?"
"Well, after a long time of laying there, I can't tell you when. But, one day I got very angry. So angry at the injustice of it all. Really angry. Angrier than I've ever been in my life. Suddenly, I saw a red haze. This was something new. Something different. I leaped to join it. I can't describe it any other way. I literally jumped out of my body. Next I know I'm up near the ceiling looking down on the chamber my body was in. I got scared and tried to get back to my body. I couldn't."
"Well, looks like you figured it out."
"Yeah, it was real scary there for awhile. After a few trial and errors, I found a way to settle back into my body. Practiced leaping out and moving back in a few times, then I got bored again. And I wanted to know what month, what year it was. I had no way of telling time. So, I moved further afield. I can't explain the details, but eventually I found I could get into someone else's living body.
"Someone else's body. Like someone in a coma? What good would that do?"
"No, someone else's living body."
"Oh, f___ me."
"F___ me is right. You see it now. During that time, I lived in various bodies. I found out how long I had been in a coma and how much longer I had to wait. A very long time."
"So I experimented. I moved into people's bodies and made them do things. But one, day it..."
Burly interrupted with, "I never believed in this shit. I'm not sure I'm buying it now, but I believe you think this really happened. You're not lying. I can spot a liar a mile away. Say that you really did learn this trick. What good is this gonna do you now, locked up in here?" Burly gestured at the high walls topped with barb wire.
The youth paused for a long moment and then said, "Oh, walls and barb wire can't stop me when I've a mind to prowl. But, let me ask you a question. If a person commits murder when he's not in his own body, but is living in someone else's body, can he be charged with that murder?"
Burly was not especially a fast thinker, and after a while he said, "No. He couldn't be charged with murder. No motive. No opportunity. No fingerprints. They'd blame the fall guy." He grinned at the thought of such a murder and thought about getting some books on this New Age stuff out of the prison library right away.
"That's how I feel. So, I'm more careful these days. I may not be the only one doing this. There may be someone else who can move around in another way. The poet, William Blake, described some of his experiences. People thought he was stoned out of his mind, but I gotta tell you, I saw some of the same places he described. Sounds to me like he was a leaper, too.
"William Blake. Do I know him?" "Nah. He's been dead a hundred years or more." "Don't worry about it."
"Don't worry about another leaper?"
"Nah, don't worry about the killing." Burly wanted to hear more about how to get out of his body.
"Don't worry about killing? Maybe you're right. What is murder? A planned accident, more or less. Who came up with the term murder, anyway? Someone dies. So what. Maybe his number was up. Maybe I was supposed to kill him. Maybe this is why I was given this gift."
Burly interrupted, "Yeah, if you get away with it, someone died is all. But, if you're caught. Well, then it is murder."
"Yes, according to some archaic law."
"Who else knows about this?" Burly was still hung up on learning how to do this for himself.
Burly raised an eyebrow.
"Okay, the doctor has suspicions." The youth said quietly.
"Then, you've got to kill him. Who's to know?" Belligerent said seriously and then thought. "Wow, you'd make the perfect hit man."
"No. Killing is personal. I'm no hit man. I only need to put a couple more in hell. And then, I'm finished, for awhile."
Across the yard, the trusty was motioning time's up.
"Well, I've got to go." The youth said as he got up.
"See you. I really wanna learn how you do this," Burly said as he moved across the yard.
"Well, the baby killer, got it in the night," the old man said as he settled down on the bench.
"What do they say happened?" Poet asked.
"No marks on his body. Cameras didn't show anybody. Except he seemed to be having trouble breathing. By the time the guards got there, his breathing tube had collapsed. From the inside." The older inmate seemed to relish giving the details.
"Yep, they say that's the fourth mysterious death this year. Doc compared it to crib death."
"Crib death?" Poet asked.
"Yeah, where a kid dies in its own crib for no apparent reason. And what were you doing last night?"
"Writin' poetry," Poet said as he rubbed his right checkbone.
"Writin' poetry? About what?" The older inmate asked.
"Oh, about poetic justice, I reckon."
L. E. Wylde joined the U. S. Navy to see the world and ended up in California for five years. Also resided in Georgia and Texas. Currently working on a dark fantasy trilogy.