by Laramie Graber
The prison had been covered in fog for so long no one remembered what it looked like any longer. They all just assumed it was drab and gray and that it was good it was covered in fog. Not that many people even saw it. It was at the edge of a cliff, the ocean below. There was no beach and so really only the prison staff and the arriving prisoners ever saw it. The inmates never did because they never went outside. Leaving prisoners never saw it because there weren’t any leaving prisoners.
Joey liked the prison or at least he told himself he did. Joey couldn’t remember the truth any longer. He had to like the prison because it was his world. If he didn’t like the world how could he like living?
This philosophy caused trouble because it made Joey smile. The other inmates didn’t like this and so they hit him. They hit Joey more when he shouted at them that they were only beating him because they were too weak to adopt his philosophy. They hit him especially hard when it was true.
Eventually Joey didn’t leave his cell much. The prison guards wouldn’t let him. His cell mostly became his world. However, occasionally guards escorted him on walks and so Joey still liked the prison. Possibly it was so ingrained in him that he wouldn’t have been able to stop regardless.
Joey thought about his time in the prison frequently. Mostly it was because it was all he could remember. It was as if the fog that surrounded the prison had entered his mind. The other thing he thought about was the sound machine he had once had. It was his only memory thanks to the ocean. Joey loved the ocean.
Ceaselessly it crashed against the cliff below. When the prison lights were dimmed it would lull Joey to sleep just like his sound machine used to. He would imagine he was back in his bedroom. It was always a very nice bedroom, but it changed each time. Only the sound machine in it was actually from memory.
The prison and Joey’s life in it never changed for years and years and years and years… However, even though almost no one was aware of the fact, they were both a part of the world and so inevitably things changed.
People began to leave their cells with two guards and they didn’t return. Joey knew this because the sounds they made no longer echoed throughout the prison. It frightened him. He changed from staring at the ceiling trying to think, to sleeping on the bed with his eyes closed, trying not to think. He tried to just focus on the ocean’s steady rhythm. Finally, he worked up the courage to ask the only person he ever talked to what was happening.
His name was Prison Guard. At least that’s what Joey called him because he could never remember his name. Prison Guard was delivering lunch just like he always was.
“I’m getting out soon, right?” Joey asked the same question he always did. It had started out as a joking plea. Now it was just what he said.
“You murdered your wife. You’re in here forever,” Prison Guard said because he always said something like that.
“No, I was drunk. I crippled someone for life.”
“Oh.” Even though Joey always said this Prison Guard always forgot. Truthfully, Joey didn’t know if it was true anymore. He just said it because he always did.
“A storm’s coming. The waves’ll be rough. They won’t sound like your sound machine anymore.”
“My sound machine had a storm setting.”
“That really was a remarkable sound machine, huh?”
It had been an ordinary sound machine, but Joey agreed because he had forgotten.
“I could try and find you one like it.”
Joey shook his head. He took a deep breath and another deep breath. “Why are the prisoners leaving?”
Prison Guard’s face was blank for a moment. Then he said, “They’re shutting the prison down.”
“Yeah, they’re shutting it down. The inmates are being moved to new prisons. Actually, a lot are being pardoned, no more crimes for them.”
“What’s…What’s happening to me?”
“I don’t know.” And then Prison Guard hurried off with a little wave because he was on a needlessly tight schedule.
Joey didn’t sleep when the lights dimmed, clinging to the repetitive crash of the ocean.
When Prison Guard returned to Joey’s cell he wasn’t bringing him lunch. He opened his cell door. “Come on out. You’re leaving today. Your crimes have been forgiven.”
“Crime,” Joey corrected numbly.
“It doesn’t matter now. Come on, come on!”
Slowly, Joey left his cell. “What about the ocean?”
“You can still live by the ocean. You’re lucky you know. You’re the last one to leave.
We almost forgot about you. No one asked about you.”
Joey blinked. At least half of the cells he could see were full. “I don’t…” He pointed at a woman pacing in her cell ahead.
“What? There’s nothing there.”
Joey squinted. A woman was definitely straight ahead. He frowned. Fog played oddly across her body. “Hey you,” he called. “Woman in the white t-shirt.”
“What the…?” Prison Guard was staring.
Why is she ignoring me? Joey thought. “Hey. Hey!”
The woman continued to pace. Prison Guard continued to stare.
“Look at me!”
Prison Guard grabbed Joey. “Inmate! Inmate, there’s no one there.”
Joey allowed himself to be led away. The woman was lost to him. “Do you ever remember anyone besides me?” Joey whispered.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes. I’ve just been in here so long. Do you ever remember anyone besides me?”
“I… No, just you.”
“I guess because of the sound machine.”
Joey nodded. He looked around at the inmates still in their cells. They were slowly fading away to nothing. He began to cry. The world that he loved was becoming lost to him.
Laramie Graber recently graduated from high school and will be attending Franklin and Marshall College to study English with a concentration in Creative Writing. Currently, he lives in Durham, North Carolina. Laramie has received an Honorable Mention for Science Fiction and Fantasy in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.