Ramsgard. The moment he saw the name three years ago, Larry knew his life had ended. There was no such thing as escape, no such thing as freedom, once you become a prisoner of Ramsgard. Parole had no definition, individual rights had no definition. The moment you stepped foot under the massive, steel archway, you were there for life.
From the day he had first enlisted, Larry had heard muffled rumors about Ramsgard. He’d brushed most of them off as just that, rumors. Sure, he could believe that no one had ever escaped—many prisons can claim that to be true. But the belief—or perhaps common knowledge—among the servicemen that no one had ever even tried to escape? That seemed a bit too unrealistic. Surely, at some point, someone would have made a run for it? And why not? Every prisoner at Ramsgard was there for life, guaranteed to never lawfully feel grass on their bare feet again. Why would they not take the risk, do whatever it takes? And what about the myth of the guards? That they were all inbred—dumb as logs, but grown to be more sadistic, more cruel than any other men dare be. He’d scoff silently at the ignorance of the others, at how naïve they were.
The day Larry walked into Ramsgard was the day he realized just how wrong he had been. The clarity—the empty, hopeless clarity—flooded his every cavity like a drowning child sipping his last watery breath. Every eye he passed was submissive, afraid, broken. They never looked at his face, certainly not at the guard’s. Their eyes would dance around the backdrop, focusing on anything that couldn’t look back. Their bodies were limp and skinny, evident of years of malnourishment. They looked more like caged animals, or perhaps Holocaust victims, than permanent prisoners of war.
Each cell in Ramsgard was a tiny box no larger than five feet by eight feet. Thin metal poles marked what was the entry way of Larry’s new home, complete with a three-by-six mattress and a toilet that overlapped its edge. He quickly learned that he would not leave the cell but twice a week: once for mandatory inspection—in which the guards fumbled about like children pretending to look busy—and another fifteen minute period during which prisoners could, one at a time, stand by a metal-gated window. Any disobedience was guaranteed to result in violence, with fatalities a common occurrence. Those who so much as spoke without permission were beaten, their jaws often broken to teach a simple lesson. Some were killed on the spot. Larry watched, during his first month in Ramsgard, as a guard—wearing handcuffs as brass knuckles—beat and killed a prisoner for tripping and knocking into him. The guard walked off laughing and left the body where it lie for almost a week. However, despite their sheer brutality, Larry could tell that the rumors of their intelligence were undoubtedly true. More than once he had watched as they collided with each other in the wide corridor, or spent hours silently drooling without so much as blinking. Yet their ignorance only made them more harrowing and more unforgiving.
Everything Larry had ignored, all the rumors, all the chances he’d had to escape his fate—to end his tour early, to opt out of following the invasion, to swap into a less risky position than spying—everything his life had been was now everything he had come to regret. Yet, for the last three years—three long, tiring years—he had focused on nothing but his escape. Yes, no one had even attempted it before, let alone made it out, but Larry knew that impossible always had a crack somewhere.
And so he planned. Every night, laying on his stiff mattress, he’d mentally devise—and eventually study over and over—a plan for escape. During the fifteen minute window break, when he could feel the cool wind against his pale, thinned skin, he would slip away into the halls beside the window. They were always loosely covered, coated in a darkness he’d spent years training to conceal himself within. No one ever went down the hall; it had been out of use since the first month he had arrived at Ramsgard. In fact, he was one of the last prisoners brought in through that entry. Since that point, it had simply ceased to be used. For this plan to work, the guard would have to be facing away and mentally absent, of course. While the guards may have been dumb as rocks with severe mental disabilities—as one would need to be to have such little concern for his fellow man—they were cruel, violent, and utterly unforgiving. If he failed, he would likely be executed; yet Larry knew that even death would be more welcoming than another week in Ramsgard.
Larry was aware the plan sucked, he knew it was flimsy and faltered everywhere that needed structure. He knew the chances of success were almost lower than the chances of a god damn unicorn crashing through the wall and carrying him across a rainbow to Valhalla. But it was a plan and he was more than ready to die.
So it began, Larry waited for the knock of the billy club on the steel gates to mark the last day of his life. He made his bed as neatly as he could and placed what few items he had in an orderly fashion on the floor. Once the metallic knock pierced the air behind him, he stood and waited for the door to be unlocked. A guard entered, drool oozing out the corner of his mouth, and patted him down with the delicacy of a boxer on a punching bag. He then pushed Larry out the door. The two walked, Larry less than two steps ahead, the soft pressure of the club buried deeply between his shoulder blades. Another prisoner walked—or was pushed, rather—in the opposite direction, eyes locked to an invisible line on the floor, as he returned from the window. A cool wind slid across Larry’s cheek as a thin glimmer of light became more visible ahead of him.
“Fifteen minutes,” said the guard, his eyes blinking without synchronization—one, then the other. He pushed Larry toward the window, stumbling and grabbing the bars to keep from falling forward. He straightened himself and stared down. It was beautiful out—even for the shithole of a country he’d called home for the past three years. The air was cool, he assumed it was Autumn. That had been his favorite season back home. He would go apple picking with his family, always picking too many and ending up tossing the rotten ones a month later. He closed his eyes and tried to remember the smell of an apple, the sound of his mother laughing as he’d pretend to throw apples at her. He smiled.
Larry opened his eyes. He figured it had been about five minutes. Silently, Larry twisted his head so he was looking to the far edges of the window. The guard leaned against a wall just inside his peripherals. He seemed to be facing away, body slowly rising and falling with each elongated breath. Was he asleep? Larry counted the seconds between each exhale. One. Two. Inhale. He tried to mimic the breathing. It felt relaxed, light. If he wasn’t asleep, he certainly wasn’t staring Larry down, ready to pounce. His heart raced as he shifted to the left slightly and peered out the opposite angle. The hallway was dark, nobody visible within or around it. He felt his body begin to shake as his stomach became light.
Slowly, Larry stepped toward the hallway. With each movement he’d shift his eyes toward the guard without moving his neck. Silent, motionless. He widened his steps and waited for the smash of the club against his ribs. Nothing. He slowly crept until the light from the window was replaced by the cool darkness of the hall. He slid into the shadows and glanced back. The guard had not moved, he stood motionless—save for his soft inhaling and exhaling. Larry turned back toward the darkness and silently moved, hand running along the wall as his pace quickened. An alarm shattered the air; Larry instinctively fell flat against the floor, concealed by the darkened hallway. The guard behind him was gone, his body was shaking uncontrollably.
“What’s that?” shouted a voice from a nearby room.
“Microwave?” replied another.
“That’s not a microwave,” said a third.
“That’s what my microwave sounds like,” the second said.
“Your microwave is an ear-shattering alarm?”
“My wife is hard of hearing.”
“Do we even have a microwave here?”
“We don’t have a microwave here,” said the first voice. “What the hell is that?”
Larry lay as flat as he could, listening to the confused conversation. His eyes widened—they had never before heard the alarm for an escaped prisoner.
“What’s going on here?” Shouted a deep, raspy voice.
“Sir, we don’t know. It isn’t a microwave.”
“I think it might be an alarm for wild dogs in the prison,” said another voice.
“It’s not dogs,” said the deep voice. “It’s definitely an alarm, though. Are you sure it isn’t a microwave?”
Larry stood back up and began running down the hall, foot slamming with each intervaled shriek of the alarm. He heard the stomp of footsteps as guards ran in every direction, searching for anything out of place. He followed the path he’d walked the first day he arrived, which had since stopped being used and replaced with another entry. Every fiber of his being hoped the door was still there. He felt the cold cement against his bare feet with every step, the ground becoming dustier and dirtier with each stride. The room was pitch black now, but his hand remaind his guide as it slid along the wall. Voices continued to shout in adjacent hallways and from behind.
“It’s not wild dogs!” echoed a voice from behind.
“Is it a riot? Are the prisoners rioting?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I think it might be a robbery. Do we have jewels in here?”
“No, or at least I don’t think so.”
Larry saw a thin line of light as he approached a corner. It grew wider with each step, spreading out from behind the angled wall. He turned, hand following the curve of the corner, and stopped. A massive metal door stood resolute in front of him. A big red button sat. A glass booth stared directly at the door, empty except for dust and cobwebs. It had clearly not been occupied in years. Larry ran to the door and pushed. It did not move in the slightest. He took a step back and stared at the button. He knew that—if it worked—it would produce an exceptionally loud buzz, just as it had on his first day in hell. He closed his eyes, heart racing, and thrust his fist into the button. The buzz echoed down the hall as the door clicked unlocked. He threw his shoulder against the door and fell forward into the cool autumn air. Voices echoed behind him, still searching for the root of the alarm. “What was that buzz? Is someone watching The Price is Right?”
Larry peaked around the corners of the door. The guard towers had been deserted – likely in a panicked attempt to find the source of the alarms. No one seemed to be around. He took a step forward, expecting the crack of a rifle to finally strip him of his last hope. The cool air blew gently against his sweat-soaked hair instead. He ran toward the exterior fence and pulled open the gate. It was unlocked. Larry stood for a moment, in awe of the lax security that had held him and so many others for years. The tree line grew closer as he broke into a full sprint, throwing off his clothes and diving into the thick of the jungle.
“It’s not a car alarm,” echoed a loudspeaker far behind him, almost completely out of earshot. “We don’t have a parking lot.”