Shifting States Sample


Authors note: All posted excerpts are rough, uncorrected text only.

This excerpt is the opening chapter from the Cerberus Conspiracy title ‘Shifting States’. I wrote this almost ten years ago, and the words still feel right.

Part one: Prison Break

They would come for him in the morning. He had overheard the guards gossip echoing from the other end of the cell block in the past few days. He knew the drill; already seen it, felt it, happen to three others in the past week. One guard would enter the cell whilst the other covered from the doorway with his handgun, pinion the prisoners arms behind his back, then the guard at the door would enter and Paul would be dragged down to the dusty yellow yard below, eyes taped shut. Forced to kneel, he would feel a sharp point jabbed in his ribs, and as the pain hit he would reflexively stretch his neck; and then bright red would splash in the sun scorched sand and his still living, still conscious head would crash into the hungry frozen dust before his separated body toppled. His. No, not today, not any day, not ever.

He was past the fear, past the jangling, paralysing panic of impending death to an emotional plateau of determined calm. A point of maniacally disciplined balance, poised and awaiting the right moment.

This cell must be where he made his move, with surprise his only weapon. The guards never fed the condemned much, and definitely drugged their water so that the selected prisoner would be weak and unresisting when they came to drag the unfortunate down the bare, rough concrete steps to waiting death. Down to meet the grinning swordsman wearing his executioners traditional red gingham cloth head-dress. So much easier that way. Less trouble for them. And these guys had gotten lazy and used to having it all their own way. You could tell by the offhand way they treated you, like some piece of refuse to be disposed of. Maybe not even that.

For two days he had sucked on a pebble and licked night time condensation from the northern cell wall to avoid drinking the sedative laced water. Averting his eyes from the guards, acting like the beaten man they wanted to kill. For these bastards a simple execution was not enough, you had to be broken down, mentally crushed and humiliated before they did you a big fucking favour and finally cut your stupid head off.

For a moment he examined his emaciated arms sticking out of rough cotton prison fatigues, and then up at the smooth grey concrete walls in the two and a half metre cube that had been home for the past six weeks. At this time of day, in full sunlight, it was warm and almost comfortable in London’s post cooling chill. When the wind was in the north you could smell the maddening freshness of brackish water from the ever-flooded Thames. The wind came from the north now. It smelt of change.

As the sunlit patch of wall slid floorwards he could hear the guards at the end of the passage, boots scraping grittily on the unswept floor. “Calvin?” Asked a gruff voice to be met by a grunted affirmative. Paul sat carefully, composing himself to appear weak and barely responsive, just what they liked; slumped against the wall, a multitude of maddening alkali sores leaving little red blotch marks on the grey above the rough concrete bench that had been his bed. “Has he been shaved?” The murmured question came from outside the door. Paul remembered the guards dragging him unceremoniously down to the washroom where all his thick black hair had been sheared off to lie in tangled damp mats on the shower room floor. It was that which had alerted his sedative befuddled mind to his pending execution.
“Two days ago.” Came the lackadaisical answer.
“That’ll do. Ready?”
“Yeah.” The tone came from someone who sounded like they were bored with the whole thing. Good.

It was hard not to jump as the electronic lock clicked back and his rough cell door swung open. “Stand up.” The guards bored voice snapped at him. He rolled his head back theatrically. “How much did you give him?” The guard, a heavy set dark skinned man with a coarse estuary English accent stepped closer, and cupped Paul’s chin in his hand. “Regular dose, same as always. Come on.” Urged the other guard at the door.
“Okay, okay.” The dark skinned guard reached out with his other hand to roll Paul onto his front, a loop of plastic tie strip held loosely in his right hand.

“Shiiiit!” He screamed as Paul’s rigid fingers lashed out to claw deep into brown eyes, spurting blood streaked clear humours down his sand coloured guards uniform, spattering the floor. “Ahh!” The finger punch, delivered two handed with all the force of desperation behind it dug deep into the guards eye sockets. The Guard screamed in a high keening wail. “Me eyes, me eyes!”
“What? Hugo, you shittin’ me again?” Came the disbelieving voice from just outside the open door. “Ah!” He called out in surprise as Paul left the first guard clutching at his wrecked eye sockets, toppling to the floor in slow motion agony. Three quick steps across the cell, loop of blue plastic pinion strap in his right hand, Paul swiftly whipped it around the lazy guards neck and pulled it tight. Using his momentum to swing behind the guards back, he looped the strap as tightly as he could in a rough knot at the back of the mans skinny neck, letting his momentum swing his much diminished weight onto the ligature. The lazy guards automatic pistol clattering onto the floor as he fell face down, scrawny broken fingernailed hands pawing at the rough plastic digging deeply into his larynx, light brown eyes bulging, tongue already protruding, gasping for air that would not come, canvas booted feet drumming desperately on the bare floor.

“Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!” Paul snarled, grabbing at the mans greasy dark hair and slamming his forehead repeatedly in time with each exhortation into the dusty grey concrete floor. On the third blow something made a hollow fleshy cracking noise like a huge boiled egg breaking. The first rush of adrenalin spent, Paul slumped against the corridor wall. “Fuck you.” He breathed as the mans last breath wheezed from his blocked throat. From the cell came the soft wailing of the guard whose eyeballs he had reduced to a pulp. “Yeah. Fuck you too.” He wasn’t going anywhere either.

Panting heavily, Paul wiped the stickiness of the first guards mashed eyes off on the others uniform, streaking it with reddened jelly. Reaching out he picked up the old-fashioned automatic pistol, stripping the slide back to pump a round into the breech with a metallic clink. “Yeah.” Exhaustion etched eyes glittered maniacally from emaciated features as he pushed himself unsteadily up the rough wall to his prison slipper shod feet. An old-fashioned electronic key fob sat pressed into a recess in the cell door handle. Another black electronic fob dangled from a well-worn key ring. “Keys to the castle.” Breathed Paul; allowing himself a triumphal neglect stained grin. He stepped across the dead guards body and took the keys from the lock, leaving the door to his grey walled cell open.

“Wassup?” A sedative fogged voice complained from across the corridor. Paul looked through an armoured glass porthole at the doped up eyes and felt a vague sympathetic stirring in his heart. Why not? Leaning up against the wall, Paul keyed the other cells electronic lock before, staggering slightly, he began to work his way down the twelve cell row, unlocking all the cells in the corridor whether they were occupied or not until he reached the already open barred gate at the end. His progress followed by various complaining noises from the other condemned inmates. From behind him he could hear two of them grunting as they kicked at the guards Paul had overpowered.

By now, if it all ran true to form, all the other guards would be at their chosen vantage points to watch the scheduled beheading of Paul Calvin.

No. Not today, not ever. Was the snarling litany which propelled Paul down through the cell block, through the deserted wash room and stinking latrines to the long rows of benches in the refectory, heading ever outwards, away from the central execution yard. They would be waiting a long time before they saw his head roll in the dust. Dumb bastards. Stumbling up to the servery and over the counter into the deserted kitchen he stole several ready made rolls of bread sitting on a tray and ate them carefully. From across the kitchen he could hear a slow muffled handclap begin as the viewers over the execution yard grew tired of waiting with the lack of proceedings. The sensation was a sluggish dark scarlet river of bloodthirsty impatience. Not now, not today, not ever, you bastards.

As he gobbled down a few sweet pastries made for the guards post execution breakfast, Paul could feel his talent reawakening as his blood sugar rose. From being a vague, hunger drowned sensation it rapidly focussed to laser sharpness. Thinking became a little easier. A sensation of deep warmth radiated out from his stomach. Food, he’d almost forgotten what it felt like to eat something other than the near tasteless grey yeasty prison stodge.

He hid himself under the counter for a few seconds so he could swallow the last precious mouthfuls. Just a few seconds so he could orient himself. Right, which way was out from here? Up until now he hadn’t really had the means to explore this part of the prison before. What he really needed was a plan or nearby mind to guide him.

A guilty shuffling of feet signalled the arrival of two of the prison ‘Trustys’, using the guards inattention to raid the kitchen. Their lowered state of anxiety suggested that this was some kind of regular errand. “Who is it this morning?” One whispered to the other.
“Guy called Calvin. Got him for sedition and treason.” Came the laconic reply.
“Poor sod.”
“Well I’m glad it ain’t me.”
“Me too. Come on, Mister Asif wants his breakfast. He always gets extra hungry on early chopping days.”
“They’re taking their time.”
“Well we’d better not or we’ll be out there too. Minus our heads.”
“Right.”

Closing his eyes, Paul let himself drift, letting his mind feel the two figures as they entered the kitchen using a smuggled key. A small flare of suspicion and alarm raised itself when they saw the gaps on the trays. Exits boys, think of exits.
“Let’s get out of here. It’s already been raided.” Gasped one voice.
“So we raid a bit more and blame the first guy.” Replied the second, a little more pragmatically. From the other end of the dining hall came the loud, confident voices of two guards going to find out what the delay was.
“Down!” There was a shuffling as the owners of the two Trustys voices took cover behind some partitioning. Paul grinned to himself as one’s panic started thoughts took flight down to the front gate where the garbage was removed. So that was the way out huh? Cheers my man.

The guards voices dopplered out through to the bare concrete wash room. Time to move. Rolling out from beneath the counter, he pointed the automatics merciless black circle at the two suddenly transfixed Trustys, who stared blankly at the gaunt, shaven headed scarecrow with the heavy looking Automatic held unwavering in his right hand. For a moment they seemed to be weighing up the options. “Get moving.” Paul’s hoarse voice rasped at them. “Go on, scat!” He twitched the barrel at their frightened, rabbit-like expressions. “Mister Asif can wait.”

In a sudden scramble, the two Trustys dodged out of the kitchen door and scuttled, keeping their heads low, making their way towards the general block to get away from the glassy-eyed maniac in the kitchen. Paul followed carefully, his radar like sense alerting him to the approach of anyone else. Out in the yard he could feel the resigned flatness of the executioner and his knife wielding assistant. Up above the mixture of bright anticipation of the other prisoners whose second and third storey cells overlooked the thirty metre square yard. There was even one vivid streak of sexual arousal out there above the yard. You’re going to be disappointed then. Paul allowed a little sarcastic thought to slip into his forebrain.

Slipping out along the deserted main corridor, Paul used the main key fob to navigate empty corridors to the front gate where one bored guard sat reading a pornographic story. No one was expected this early, and the man was too absorbed in his own onanistic pursuits to worry about anything else. His attitude seemed to be that he had seen one execution and that was enough. He was squeamish about beheading, and killing in general. Good man. The erotica would flood out the unpleasantness in the yard less than fifty metres away.

Paul crept past his turned back without making a sound. The barred front gate was locked and his newly acquired electronic key did not work, but there was an unlocked side door which led out onto a wide sun baked yard used for transport vehicles. Six little black domed cabs sat glittering in the yards thin early morning sunlight. This in its turn led out over the edge of a wide, rubble lined stretch of frost cracked and buckled tarmac. Maybe one of them was ready to start? Sidling his way round and behind the cleanest, he opened a fortuitously unlocked door and hit the start button. To his everlasting relief the little electric three-wheeler immediately whirred into life. Swinging into the drivers seat, Paul eased the centripetal clutch out and closed the outer door as softly as he could.

Tucking the gun down between the seat cushions he steered the little dark plastiglass domed cab out onto the road, away from the cheaply built grey cube of the prison. From behind him he thought he could feel a ripple of sudden nova flares of anger and astonishment as the prison guards realised that there would be no blood letting this morning.

“I’m happy with that.” Paul smirked to himself and headed northbound along the old A23, deserted this early in the morning. Accelerating up to a smart fifty km/h he was leaving an obvious fine yellowish foggy trail, but it didn’t matter, he was out of there and there was no way they’d catch him now. Even if they guessed which way he’d gone.

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