Authors: Jamie Bowers
Joe reached up to the rail on the end of the bed and used all his upper body strength to hoist himself onto his right foot. Gathering his breath and straightening his hat, he took a small step forward. The sound of the weight bearing down on his shin made the bones give out a sound, similar to the snapping of a brittle tree branch. Joe screamed in pain before stepping back and leaning on the bed once more. He looked at the walking stick on the bed and considered taking it with him, but he knew that a guard with a walking stick would look out of place. Placing the head of the stick under the mattress, he held onto the shaft and pulled it up sharply, snapping it in half. He moved around the bed, sat on the edge and pulled the loose splinters from the wood.
A loud knock rattled the glass on his door and a voice shouted. ‘What’s the holdup?’ It was another guard. ‘We’ve been holding the elevator for you since last year.’ Joe hobbled himself over to the door and stood facing the guard through the glass.
‘It’s okay,’ he said, making sure he was close enough that the guard could see the uniform. ‘This one is going to be a while with these injuries. You go ahead and we’ll bring him down on our own.’
‘Okay, if you say so,’ said the guard. He walked away and Joe could hear his displeasure, ‘They could’ve told me instead making me waste half my fucking day.’ Joe gave a sigh of relief as the footsteps disappeared into the distance. He looked down at his leg and could see the blood was already starting to seep into his blue trousers. Hopping on his right foot, he got back to the bed and sat on the side as quickly as he could. Rolling up the trouser leg he could see the bleeding was being caused by the bone that had not yet healed. He grabbed his orange prison trousers and pulled them apart with both hands, tearing them along the stitching. He wrapped a strip of the material around the cut and tied it tight, grimacing in pain as he pulled the knot, to stem the bleeding. Picking up the broken walking stick, he placed it alongside his calf and tied it onto his leg for support. As he squeezed the bottom knot tight he heard a crack as his bone locked back into place. The pain didn’t stop him from pulling it tighter before slumping backwards to gather his breath once more.
Straightening up his trousers and making sure the splint could not be seen; Joe placed the keys, cigarettes and lighter in his pocket and slowly got to his feet. The pain was eased with the makeshift brace but it still made it uncomfortable to put all his weight down. Taking a few slow steps, he walked to the door, looking back at the guard’s bodies still lying lifeless; he wanted to leave this behind him. He turned the handle slowly and opened the door. Peeping trough the gap he couldn’t see anyone in the corridor, just a plant pot and a metal trolley, Joe opened the door further and put his head outside, looking both ways he couldn’t see anyone. He pulled the hat forward on his head to cover his forehead and the yellow bruising that decorated his eyes, stepped into the corridor and shut the door behind him. There was a key in the door, he turned it to lock the guards in and took it out of the keyhole. Looking around once more, to make sure he wasn’t being watched, he slowly walked to the plant pot and pushed the key into the dirt with his forefinger. Trying to walk as straight as he could without his limp showing, he proceeded to the end of the corridor to a door that didn’t look like the others. It was solid with no glazing and the paint on the edge was well-worn, as if was used at least a hundred times a day.
As Joe got to the door he could hear a voice from one of the other infirmary rooms. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow,’ It was Francis visiting another inmate with an illness. Joe didn’t want her to see him; she will be in enough trouble if anyone knew what she had done so far. He quickly opened the door and stepped through into a stairwell. Shutting the door behind him he could see steps going up and down to other floors.
Joe thought that if he went down he would be going towards the prison, but if he went up he will end up on the roof with nowhere to go. It wouldn’t be long before they started to look for him, so he had to make a decision soon. He went up the stairs as quickly as his leg would let him, constantly checking behind to make sure he was still alone. The stairs spiralled around the walls and the doors to each floor were directly above each other. By the time Joe had got to the next floor he had not seen any signs to indicate where he was heading. He placed his ear against the door and could hear many voices; this seemed to be where the staff for the infirmary were when they were not in the patients rooms. He stepped away and went further up the stairwell and onto the next landing. This was the last floor, the railing ended with no more steps, just a solid door with a bolt that was slid into the frame, but there was no lock. He placed the side of his head softly against the wood, trying to listen to what was on the other side, but there was no sound. Precariously, he slid the bolt open. Joe turned the handle and pushed the door but it was stuck, the top was wedged tight and wouldn’t move. He took a step back whilst pulling the handle down and with a swift, sharp jump forward he managed to dislodge the door from its hold. As the door opened Joe fell to the floor, his handles hurt as they broke his fall onto grit. He looked at the coarse surface and lifted his head to see the sunlight burning down onto the roof. Rolling onto his back to see the clear blue sky he kicked the door closed, wedging it back into the frame.
Joe brought himself to his feet and looked around. The roof was flat, edged with a wall that came to waist height made of the same red brick as the rest of the building. From Joe’s position all he could see was the chimney stack at the end of the wall and green hills in the distance, he was at the highest point of the prison. He slowly walked towards the wall and the first thing he saw was two guard towers on the perimeter wall, watching everything that was going on. Joe knew they wouldn’t spot him because they wouldn’t think to look up high, but still didn’t want to take any chances at being seen. He looked over the edge of the roof and could only see a drop around ninety feet to the ground, there was no way that he would live if he tried to jump. The end of the roof was the same, nothing but gravity stood between him and the unforgiving solid ground. He looked over another wall and this time saw the roof of the prison extending out, several pitched, tiled rooftops reach out to the edge of the prison walls. The roof was closer than the ground, around fifty feet, but he knew that he still wouldn’t survive the fall. He spotted an emergency escape ladder on the corner of the wall that went down to the roof. Joe carefully slid his body over the wall and placed both feet on the top rung. He looked around and could see the guards in the towers patrolling their posts, it would only be a matter of time before he got spotted so he placed his feet on either side of the ladder and slid down as fast as he could. Hitting the roof below, Joe’s leg didn’t support him and he fell in a heap onto the tiles. Scrambling in pain to get to his feet he got to one side of the roof, the guards view obscured by the small wall that ran along the edge.
He could hear inmates in the yard shouting. Joe slowly looked over the wall and could see two men arguing. One jumped on the other which drew the attention of everyone, including the guards in the towers who pointed their guns down to the yard as they watched. This was the distraction that Joe needed so he could run. Sticking to the side of the wall, he ran along the rooftop, keeping low as he went. Each incline and decline put strain on his leg but the adrenalin was preventing him from stopping. As he got to the end of the roof he ducked down behind a chimney stack and could see the guards were still watching the altercation in the yard, but it wouldn’t be long before the fight was halted. Keeping his back to the brickwork, Joe slid his body around the corner where he had no cover and no wall ran along the edge. Below he could see chain fences either side of an area and a dirt path that led out of walls through a gate secured by a single guard. The drop to the ground was shallow enough for him but he could still draw unwanted attention. There were three prison vans within a few feet of where he was that he could get onto in order to help him down. Joe stepped backwards to make a jump when he saw two guards step out from a door below him. He quickly stopped and lay on his front, watching them from above.
The men both lit cigarettes and started to walk around the vans. ‘We’ve got to make this quick,’ one guard said, ‘we have to be back at the cells in a minute for that guy coming back from the infirmary.’ Both guards stopped in between the vans and continued to smoke as one leant his back against the side.
‘What do you reckon will happen when the Warden gets his new job?’ Joe was intrigued by what they were talking about.
‘You know they’ll give me the job because they want a young man to shape up these shit-heads.’
‘Yeah right. You know that the job will go to Richards. He’s been sniffing ever since the Warden said he was going.’
Joe didn’t want to stay lying on the roof for much longer because he was exposed and soon he’d be spotted.
As Joe was trying to listen he remembered the keys he had taken from one of the guards. He placed his hand in his pocket and took out the small set on a brass clip. They were of different sizes, no clear indication what they are for. On one of the keys he could just make out a mark scratched into it. It was 03 engraved by hand, with dirt ground into the etching. Joe could see that the van the guards were using as a prop had 03 painted on the door, he figured that the keys must be for that vehicle, but getting the guards away was not going to be easy.
Joe’s thoughts were interrupted by the prison siren; they must have found out that he was now missing, so time is precious. The two guards quickly flicked their cigarettes onto the ground and ran in through the door. Joe looked up and could see that the men in the guard towers were now eagerly looking around for him. Without any hesitation, Joe got to his feet and pounced onto the roof of one of the vans as best he could. He slid himself down the side and dropped to the dirt covered ground. Without a thought for any pains, he scrambled for the keys in his pocket and took them out, opened the driver’s door and jumped into the seat the best he could and started the engine. Looking ahead Joe could see the guard on the gate was now extra vigilant and nothing could get past him without reason. He took off his hat to wipe his brow and repositioned it enough to shadow the marks on his face. Calmly, Joe drove the van to the gate and wound down his window to speak to the guard.
‘It’s going crazy,’ said Joe, trying not to make too much eye contact, ‘Warden wants me to drive around the perimeter to make sure it’s ok.’ The guard looked at Joe as the beads of sweat ran down his face. The few seconds of silence felt like a lifetime.
‘Sure,’ the guard said as he stepped back into his booth, ‘it’s too fucking hot to be running around for these ass wipes. Rather you than me.’ The guard pressed a button on the console inside the booth and the large chain-link gate started to open. ‘See you soon.’ the guard said as he waved his hand at Joe. Joe tipped his finger to the guard as thanks and slowly drove the van out. He couldn’t believe what he had just done, if he wasn’t before, Joe was a criminal now.
Still trying to keep his speed low, as to not draw any unwanted attention, Joe pulled the van out onto the main road that ran adjacent to the prison walls and followed it. As he got past the edge of the prison he continued down the road, looking at the fortress in his mirror. The prison disappeared from his sight and he could see New York City on the horizon. Several miles later and still some distance from the city, he saw an old farm. Joe turned the van off the main road and proceeded down a dirt path leading up to the main farmhouse.
Joe drove the van up the sandy lane towards the old farmhouse. The building looked beyond repair it was obvious that it had been some time since the wooden exterior had seen a new coat of paint. Following the path as it went around the back of the building he stopped the van in an area between the house and a dilapidated barn out of site from the main road. He turned off the engine and slumped over the steering wheel in relief.
‘What now?’ he said, looking at his reflection in the rear-view mirror, ‘What’s your plan?’ He took off the hat and belt and along with the baton tossed them onto the passenger seat. As he opened the door he could hear police sirens in the distance getting closer with every second. Joe jumped out of the van and landed awkwardly on his bad leg. Falling onto his backside in the dirt, he looked down at his trouser leg and could see it was stained dark with blood. He grabbed hold of the mirror on the side of the van he hoisted himself up, the pain was becoming unbearable and he didn’t know how much longer he could withstand it. Hearing the sirens getting closer, he edged himself to the back door of the farmhouse and saw the screen was hanging off its hinges. Pulling it to one side he turned the handle but it was locked. There wasn’t enough strength in his body to break it down. Leaning against the back wall for support, Joe shuffled himself through the weeds to the edge of the house. He carefully looked around the corner and watched as several police cars sped along the main road, on their way to the prison. It would only be a matter of time before they started searching nearby buildings for Joe and the van.
Limping around the van to the barn, Joe could see it was clearly locked from the front with a large padlock holding the doors together. He limped closer and scrambled through the shrubbery that was all around. Around the back there was a large amount of timber piled up below a window. He hopped onto the wood pile and sat on the edge and then pulled himself up to the next level where the window was. The window was made up of four small panes of glass, held in place by a very old and rotten wooden frame. Sitting on the pile of wood Joe tried to force the frame with his shoulder but it was still solid and hard to move. He grabbed the edges and tried to prise the edge of the frame with his fingers but struggled to gain a firm enough grip. All the while he could hear more sirens in the distance he knew that he needed to get inside. He grabbed a small rock from the top of the woodpile and gripped it tight in his fist. With a sharp movement he broke one of the small panes of glass, using the rock to knock away the pieces from the edge. He reached his hand inside and held the handle between his thumb and fingers. With some force, he managed to unlock the window and pull it open. Looking through the opening it was too dark to see, he could only see a few boxes under the window and the dust in the air being illuminated by the sunlight. Turning himself around, still sitting on the woodpile, Joe slid his feet gently through the window frame. The opening was just about big enough for him to get slide with no trouble. Holding onto the edge of the frame, Joe pulled himself through, resting his good leg gently onto the boxes below. Still holding the window ledge he stood up on the top box to look around. There were some shelves nearby with what looked like old car parts, but other than that there was nothing more that he could see. It was too dark for him to make out what he could see. Suddenly, the boxes he was standing on started to wobble and weaken. The top box began to collapse under his weight and before he knew it he plummeted to the ground with a great crash. Joe screamed in agonising pain as the fall had caused him to land on his broken leg. Lying strewn amongst tools, vehicle parts and pieces of cardboard box, the air was filled with years of dust that had been blown around the barn. Joe felt paralysed in pain, his leg felt worse than ever and he couldn’t do anything but lie there.
He rolled up his trouser leg and could see the blood had soaked through the orange dressing and was quickly pumping out of his veins. Without the need to undress the wound to see the extent of the damage Joe knew that he was losing blood at an alarming rate. Undoing the tie from around his neck, he quickly wrapped it around his thigh as a makeshift tourniquet. Pulling it as tight as possible, the pain became more of a throbbing sensation and this made him feel light headed.
The only light in the barn was from the window he used to enter and the dust in the air still made visibility poor. Joe turned his body around so that his leg was directly in the light. The orange cloth around his leg had turned blood red and was stuck to his wound. Gently untying the knots that held the splint to his leg, Joe could feel the blood had soaked through the material like a sponge. As he released the knots, the pain worsened and the bone started to protrude through his skin. He pulled the tourniquet tighter to reduce the blood flow as he continued to remove the dressing. He couldn’t leave it as it was unless he wanted to die in that barn. Shuffling himself around the floor some more, Joe turned his left foot and slipped it under the bottom of the shelves, lay on his back and reached above his head grabbing something that felt like a railing and placed his right foot on the edge of the shelf, above his left.
‘Here goes nothing,’ Joe said to himself. ‘1, 2, 3.’ As Joe finished the count he pushed with his right leg and pulled with his arms as hard as he could. He screamed in pain as the bone in his left shin was pulled straight. The agonising pain was a relief for Joe to know what he had done. Still feeling faint, he took off the guard’s jacket he had been wearing and bundled it under his feet for support. He ripped the sleeves off his shirt and tied one firmly around his wound; ripping the other sleeve into two he tied the splint back onto his leg.
Joe didn’t have the energy to try and walk just yet and knew that if he fell he wouldn’t be able to fix his leg again. He decided that the best thing to do would be to get some rest and hope nobody came whilst he was asleep. With the sound of sirens in the distance rushing through the countryside, he slowly closed his eyes and tried to get as comfortable as possible with the anticipation that sleep would eventually come.