Raymond sat in the holding cell of the Seminole County jail and thought about what to do next. Oh, this wasn’t the first time he had been in this cell, for sure. His first trip in was when he was fourteen and he had snuck into that Mexican’s house and stole a bunch of stuff. Of all the stupid ways to get caught… One of the radios the Mexican was using had an alarm clock on it and the damn thing went off right when the deputies got to his house. The Mexican worked two jobs and one of them started at three in the afternoon so the radio went off at two-thirty and as Raymond stood in the doorway of his mama’s house telling that fat old deputy he didn’t know a damn thing about any thieving done the radio started blasting away some Mexican music. The deputies started calling him “Chica” after that and he hated that it caught on, but that was a long time ago. He had sat in this very same cell many times since then, wrote his name on the wall, come back a few months later to find they had painted over it, or not, but this time, Raymond thought, might just be the last time.
Raymond knew that one day it would catch up with him. He figured as long as he was stealing then that was less wrong than doing something that got people hurt. He never used a knife or a gun, never hit nobody, and he sure as hell wasn’t into beating up old people for their checks. The law seemed to split the difference, too. They treated him better than they did the mean folks. Hell, they called him up on his cell phone one day and told him to come in because that warehouse he hit had a video camera. “Got fried pork chops on Thursday, Chica.” And the food wasn’t half bad back then. Then the county had turned the jail over to a “Justice Center” run by some company up north and everything changed. The tore down most of the old jail and instead of cells they had these tiny rooms without enough space to turn around good. There was air conditioning but it was stale air that seemed sticky. The food was processed little blocks that all tasted the same and they gave to a big paper cup of water to drink instead of sweet tea. Who in the hell came up with that idea? Raymond thought it was their way to keep crime down and he had to admit it was working some. He worked harder now to stay out of jail than ever before, but he knew it would come back on him.
He was lucky, and he knew it. Jimmy and Po Boi had planned to rob a store and he was supposed to be the wheel man. He parked the car two blocks over in Bainbridge and he waited just like they had planned on. Then it sounded like a dove shoot and Raymond had run like hell. A thousand times over he had thanked God he had the sense not to take the car, because that belonged to Jimmy, and all Raymond had to do was stop running, think about it, and then walk back to where a crowd was gathering around the store. Jimmy lay in the middle of the parking lot bleeding out. Po Boi was inside with most of his head missing. The owner of the store was dead too, and the police assumed that the car was there when they made their escape and no one ever knew Raymond was there. But God knew. And Raymond thought one day God would do something with that knowing. He just never thought it would look anything like this.
The law seemed to hate some people for no reason. Tommy Jinks was busted for breaking into a jewelry store and they beat him to death for it. Raymond knew most of it was because rich people got more protection from cops than anybody else, but damn, that was harsh. Now this… Raymond tried to block out the noise but there was that fat assed deputy Hanson and that over the top dispatcher from out of town both trying to break into his cell, putting their arms through the bars trying to grab at him. They had been at it now for the better part of three days and things in the cell were being a mite weird past that.
The electricity had died the first day but the water still worked. The holding cell where Raymond was still had one of the porcelain toilets with a tank and Raymond was never so happy in his life to have one of those. No power in that first day was bad enough, but then Hanson had stumbled through the door moaning and groaning at him. Raymond thought Hanson must have been in a damn car wreck because the man had one hell of a head injury, but that wasn’t it. That skinny boy from Blakely had been in the cell across the hallway and he got too close to the bars. Hanson grabbed him and started tearing him apart slowly. The dispatcher had come in and helped. Raymond screamed and hollered but that didn’t help any more than the screaming the Blakely Boy did. And that man did some screaming. He got away from him but the next day he looked a lot like they did. And now both Hanson and the dispatcher were trying to get into the cell with Raymond.
That was three days ago. Raymond flushed the toilet and the tank refilled halfway and stopped. How long could he live off that water? How much longer could Hanson and the dispatcher wave their arms through the bars and moan at him. For three days, day and night, that was all they did. Raymond tried to talk to them, plead with them, played the dozens with them, cursed them and ignored them but they stood there, day and night, with their arms sticking through the bars trying to get to him. The skinny boy from Blakely was doing it too, but they ignored him now. They all smelled like dead animals, and Raymond was sure they were dead, but there they were, trying to push through the steel bars.
All the new cells had electronic doors on them and Raymond wondered about the other guys who were locked up. What happened when the power went off? They had those new steel toilets that didn’t have a tank. Here in the middle of summer, with no air, how long would they last? Would they turn into…? Raymond wondered how many more there were. Was everybody like this now? Raymond dipped the last of the water out with the paper cup and ignored the debris in the bottom. How much longer would he last? A day? Two or three at the most, maybe. Certainly not a week. What were his options? Lying in the rack waiting to die of thirst or being eaten alive and maybe becoming one of those things? Raymond looked away from the cell door but he couldn’t shut off the sounds.
At dawn the next day Raymond woke from a dream where he was in a river, floating on his back, and there was a noise, a moaning noise. He woke up and there was Hanson and the dispatcher, arms extended, faces pressed into the bars, moaning at him, arms going up and down, fingers reaching towards him. They never stopped, never gave up, and now, Raymond looked at the paper cup, there was no water left. His mouth was dry and he could feel the heat in the cell raising. The smell was getting worse. Pieces of Hanson dropped off and lay on the floor, stinking. The dispatcher’s face was rubbing off on the bars. The skinny boy from Blakely had popped part of his jaw off trying to press through the bars. Raymond sat on his bunk and realized tomorrow was going to be just like today, except he was going to be closer to being dead.
At noon the next day Raymond took a step towards Hanson. Hanson’s face was a mess, and Raymond had never seen anything like it. The man, or what was left of a man, had pressed his face so hard into the bars one of them was embedded into his cheek. There was no blood but a thick gooey slime than oozed like peanut butter stuck to the ceiling. Raymond remembered how in grade school they had all thrown their sandwiches up on the ceiling and counted as each piece of bread had fallen, food, oh God, food, just one of those back, please, just one. Raymond took another step towards Hanson’s outstretched hand and wondered how long it would take. A minute? What was worse; a minute with Hanson and the dispatcher or another day waiting to die? A minute wasn’t so bad. He had gotten locked up in Dothan once and the first night in two of the larger inmates had gotten to him. That lasted a lot longer than a minute and when it was all over he was okay. It felt like hell during the fight but a week later it was like it never happened. No one knew. It would take a minute and then it would be over. There would be pain, and he knew he would scream, but it would be over. It would be over. No more thirst. No more stink. No more cell. God was punishing him now, but maybe this was His way of getting it all over with. Maybe this was hell. In one more minute it would be over with and whatever came after this would be not as bad as this.
Raymond stepped towards Hanson but his instincts took over and he ducked at the last second but it was too late. Hanson grabbed his neck, and pulled him close to the bars and Raymond did scream as Hanson’s teeth sunk deep into his flesh. He flailed and squirmed but Hanson bit him again, and again, and …Raymond broke free. Raymond leaped away but he was bleeding, and the blood seemed to excite Hanson and the dispatcher. The both got louder and louder. The boy from Blakely chimed in. Raymond put his hand to his neck and felt his blood flowing. He put part of his bed sheet on the wound and passed out.
When Raymond came to he was hungry. Both Hanson and the dispatcher were gone, but he was starving. He got up and stumbled to the cell door but he couldn’t remember how it worked. The door. It did something. What did the door do? He had to get out, get help, but the things in his mind were getting off the bus, one by one. Where was he? He was in the Seminole County Jail. His name was Raymond Richards. He repeated that time and again, but his voice began to slur. No more talking. My name is… You know your name, say it out loud. Raymond moaned and realized his name had left. No, not that. The robbery. Yes, it was still there. His mother, yes, no, wait, that was his grandmother, no, that was…He was hungry. The door. He pushed against it with his body but it didn’t move. Would it? He was hungry. Raymond felt his thoughts fleeing from his brain like water out of a cup with holes in it. No, keep it together man, Raymond thought, but he was hungry. Try to think. Where did those other two go? How was he supposed to get out of here he was hungry. Raymond tried to remember the store robbery and discovered it was still there. He had been there with Po Boi and there was… Raymond couldn’t remember. He was hungry. There had been shooting, where had there been shooting? What was he thinking about? Raymond discovered he had pushed his face against the bars but it didn’t matter because there was food somewhere outside and pushing… Raymond felt his mind flash with terror as it fought to stay alive and for a second, a fleeing moment, he had clarity but then it was gone. He was hungry. Raymond pushed against the cell door and knew nothing else.