The Burning Issue

Break down these walls
Leave behind these halls
Run free
Be me
Answer to no one
Except for the sun
Be free
Hold keys
Drive instead of walk
Smile when I talk
So free
To be…
Terry’s return to our cell breaks my concentration and I let the mantra of my hoped for future slip from my fingers and reluctantly return to my pitiful present. I turn my head towards him to find that he’s staring at me with a sly smile twisting his features. I repress a shudder and push up on my elbows to face him, sending our cot into its usual creaking, swaying dance.
“What’s going on?”
“Oh, nothing,” he says and disappears from view as he takes a seat on the bottom bunk. I frown and lean over to stare at the top of his head. He looks up at me with wide, blinking eyes, his smile twitching in and out of existence. “Why do you think something is going on?”
“Because you look like a cat that just swallowed the family songbird,” I reply. I’ve never seen Terry behave like this before and it’s extremely unsettling. A thought slams into my mind and I’m unable to keep the panic from my voice as I ask, “You didn’t kill someone, did you?”
“Manny, Manny, Manny,” he says with a deep chuckle, easing onto his back and resting his head on his interlaced fingers. “Do you really think so little of me?”
“Sorry man. No, I don’t. I’m just…” I let the words trail off into oblivion, unable to explain. “So what are you so bloody happy about?”
“I know a secret,” he says, closing his eyes as though he’s preparing to sleep. I’m glad he did; otherwise he might have seen my heart bulging in my throat. He can’t know what I’m planning, can he? Have I been so obvious?
“Everybody in here knows a secret or twenty,” I tell him with a weak laugh. “Where the bodies are, who is keeping the money safe, maybe even who really did what they’ve been locked up for. What makes yours so special?”
“Those are all Outside secrets. I know an Inside secret. This one has power where it matters, where it can be used.”
“I don’t have the time or patience for this stupid game, Terry. Just spit it out.”
“Oh? You got somewhere else you need to be?” He opens one eye and peers up at me. “‘Cause me? I got nothing but time on my hands.”
He can’t know.
“What, are you going to make me play twenty questions or something?” Sweat begins to form on my forehead and starts to march toward my nose. “Besides, what good is a secret if you don’t tell anyone? Who else you going to tell, Olsen? Come on man, let me in on this.”
“Nah, you wouldn’t be interested in this anyway,” he says, closing his eye and rolling onto his side. The urge to jump down there and punch him in the face until he talks is overwhelming. “Unless, of course, you want to hear about what our resident Maniac gets up to during her very… regular visits to the infirmary.”
I shut my eyes and let relief wash over me like a mid-summer breeze. I take a deep breath and release it slowly. Of course he didn’t know.
“Are you saying our fragile little fire flower is not so brittle as she seems?” I ask when I realize my silence has gone on too long. The next thought that occurs to me brings a laugh bubbling up to my lips. “She’s not screwing the doc, is she?”
“Even better,” Terry says as he returns to his back, an unpleasant smile cutting across his face. “Doc lets her burn things.”
“What? How do you know that?”
“Haven’t you noticed that it always smells like smoke over there?” I shake my head no; I do my best to avoid being on that floor at all. Too much screaming. Too much blood. “Well, it does. It’s like the carpet soaked up the smell and the cleaners can’t get it out. At first I thought the doc was a closet smoker but that was before I realized I wasn’t smelling burning nicotine. Then I noticed the smell seemed to be stronger whenever our little fire lover needed to get a wound tended. So I started keeping a closer eye on her, finding an excuse to be out that way whenever I saw her faking an injury.”
“You’re more of a detective than the prick that put me away,” I say, the right side of my lips lifting slightly. I never would have guessed that Terry was capable of such an investigation. Maybe I’ve misjudged him.
“Well, that ain’t saying much, but thanks anyway.” He laughs softly before continuing. “So. I saw her scurrying for the infirmary this afternoon and gave chase as soon as I could. And sure enough, it smelled like something was burning in there – I could almost hear the crackling of the flames. The nutter sounded like she was talking to someone too, but she was probably just talking to herself. Anyway, I barely got out of the hallway in time before she came striding out, healthy and happy as a newborn baby. That doc has got some good medicine, it seems.”
“So it seems,” I say and slowly shift onto my back. I wonder if this makes us even – Ana has Nevada, I have the fire therapy. Is that enough to keep her at bay or do I still have to play the ‘I’ll take you with me’ game? Maybe I’ll need to use both together to convince her not to interfere. Maybe both together will convince her to help.
A shout from the ground floor precedes the screeching and clanging of a hundred cell doors and we’re locked in for the night. A few moments later the lights go down and I’m left alone with my thoughts once more.

I hope Guard Small is on duty tonight.
Burn down these walls
Set fire to them all
Just run
Be done
With all of this madness
Feel no more sadness
Must run
I’m done…

The End

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