As my eyes fluttered open, I was met with a outburst of pain that shot through my body, sending salty yet bitter tears down my dirty face, leaving trails and smears. My face met with a cool, rough surface, and I pushed my hands down below me to get myself off of the wet concrete ground. I finally stood up, touching a hand lightly to my head which was pounding shockwaves throughout my body. I turn in a small circle, my shoes scuffing the ground as I take in my surroundings. I’m blocked into a small room with concrete walls and floors. A small gray sleeping bag is set in the corner of the room, scratches and stains decorating the worn out fabric. I reach out to the forth wall, and my hands grasp around thick, black metal bars. I can barely see in between them, but I hear light sobbing coming from the cell next to me. On the other side of me, a deep, loud cough echoes throughout the hall. Before I knew it, a tight pain wraps it’s tentacles around me, squeezing what hope or life I have left in my body. I slowly step away from the bars and melt into the back corner, sliding down to the ground. I cover my eyes with hands and curl in a tight ball, hoping that when I wake up, it would all be a dream.
My most vivid memory was when I found one of the books that was listed as banned in the city library when I 12 years old. I was in the back corner that was hidden from the main desk where the librarians lay, and I was pecking through the books, looking for something that would interest my needs. All the spines and covers looked the same, manuals of how to be the best citizen you could be, fitting in with the crowd, and teaching you ethics of the modern world. I never thought too much about it until I found the book. The book was on the right most bookshelf, four down from the top. It’s spine was different. It was white, not the normal concrete gray that painted the rest of the bookshelves and library. I reached out and snatched the book from in between two others, opening up to the first page. I was immediately drawn in from the start, and couldn’t leave without it. The problem was I recognized the title from the list of banned books in the city. The reason for this was because it explained past society, where everyone looked different and enjoyed different things from one another. Everyone including the adults who taught us, explained that it was because life would be easier to live if people had more in common, but my parents knew it was because the government feared difference. They were afraid that violence and wars would spark between people and groups, leaving the city in shambles. I heard people speaking in low voices a few aisles away from me, and I quickly ripped my backpack off my shoulders and shoved the book in, yanking the zipper closed. I held on to the straps of the backpack and half walked half ran past the main desk and out the door, avoiding the strange glances and glares I got from the librarians. When I opened the doors and walked outside onto the sidewalk, a weight lifted off my chest as my world opened to the gray cars flying by and the pedestrians who kept their eyes forward, making little to no conversation with others. I reached my hand back and pressed on the backpack, feeling the pointy corners of the book. A small smile stretched across my face.
I stare into the gray scenery that I’ve been forced to see for what feels like all of eternity.
“Erik!!!” I shout though the space in between the bars, my hands closing around them. “Erik!!!!” My voice gave out at the end, and all that was left was dry sobs.
I lean my head against the metal cell bars. I was losing hope, and considered going to the sleeping bag once again and sleeping as long as possible to zone out my surroundings.
“Erwin!” A light, distant shout returns my call.
I wasn’t sure why but I began to pull against the bars, hoping that it would release me even though I knew that was a fantasy.
“Erik!!!” I shouted back at the top of my lungs. “Where are you?!”
“I’m in one the cells, I assume you are too?” He called out, a slight chuckle catching his words.
I didn’t know how he could laugh in a situation like this, but I caught myself smiling a little as tears splashed onto the concrete that held my feet.
“We need to get out of here!” I yelled, my voice becoming more desperate by the second.
“Well, I’m open to ideas!” He called back.
I sat there for a minute, trying to rack up ideas that came to my brain. I knew I was capable of astounding things, and I just needed one little idea to set Erik and I free. Before I knew it, a grin spread across my face, and for the first time in a while, I had hope. I had an idea.
I was a warrior. I was a leader. I was a hero. At least that’s what people called me. I wasn’t entirely sure how I grew my empire of followers but I had a decent amount by the time I was 16. It started with me informing my closest friend, Erik, about the book I had found at the library. Every day after school, we got off the bus and instead of taking a right down 134th street, we ran down the alley on the left once the bus was out of sight. We read and studied every section if not word of the book in an abandoned building, taking notes and gaining knowledge. After comparing the way of life in the old world to the life that we lived in now, we had come across a realization. Mom and dad were right. The government wasn’t trying to make our lives easier, they were destroying our differences to make us all the same. It all began to make sense. We did research for why we were all assigned a name that began with “E” at birth, and it turns out that it was the most used letter in the word “Peace”. The gray color that was painted on everything we saw was meant to keep us blind to difference, to something unique that stood out from the ordinary. When we finally had enough information, we risked it all for support from others. We held a meeting after school in the abandoned building, and finally explained to everyone what was happening. We were terrified to tell people, to tell them that they are being denied the right to expression, to be who they truly are. But, the results were phenomenal. We began a rebellion. Word spread quickly, and we gained popularity. We started to become more public, while keeping our identities hidden. But no matter how many supporters we had, we would always be outpowered. The government was quickly on our trail, and before we knew it, they breached the building during one of our meetings. Some people tried to distract them while Erik and I escape. We only got so far, and down the road we were caught. That’s what led to where I am today.
After talking to other prisoners, I had developed a good idea of the daily schedule that the prison runs. I wasn’t sure where the were, but once we broke out I wasn’t leaving until we freed the rest of our loyal followers. There was a small chunk of concrete that was missing from the bottom of the wall and led into the cell to the right of me. The person had some how been able to sneak a watch in, and they passed it through the hole. I shoved it into my sleeping bag, and kept checking it constantly.
“2 guards pass out dinner at 6:30, one on one side of the hall and one doing the other. The bigger man does the other side, the scrawny one does this side,” I kept repeating what I had learned from the other cellmates, trying to engrave it in my brain.
I continued thinking about the words in my head, even when sitting down on the sleeping bag to burn time. When 6:00 came around, I knew the dinner routine better than the back of my hand, even coming up with a rhythm that matched the words.
Time ticked by slowly, and my eyes were glued to the second hand on the watch which counted down the time until our plan was put into action. Easy, I think to myself. After all that happened, this is going to be easy. We just need to make sure nothing stops us from starting the plan. After that, it’s easy sailing until we’re out of here.
Surprisingly enough, the food wasn’t half as bad as you would expect. The breakfast for the day was a slice of bread and a very small portion of eggs. If you had been good for the past month, they even allowed a little bit of condiments. Luckily, the person in the cell next to me had been. He didn’t use all of the ketchup this morning, so he passed some of it through the hole and into my hand. He also pushed through a water bottle, something that I hadn’t been given along with the breakfast due to my arrival time which was later in the day.
In the far corner away from the bars of the cell, I wiped my hand on the concrete, trying to get as much ketchup as I could off of it. Then, I opened the cap of the water bottle and poured what little was left on top of it. Quickly, I began to mix the two together until the ketchup become a runny liquid. I looked over at the watch, desperate to see the time. 6:28. I quickly took some of the mixture and put it on the corners of my mouth, trying to get it to go down my neck in an attempt to make it appear as blood. 6:29. I splattered a little bit of the remaining liquid on my face for detail. I looked down at whatever was left of the ketchup on the floor, glad that it was so pigmented and that the color wasn’t too stripped through the use of water. 20 seconds remaining. I quickly got to the other, empty corner away from the door, and slumped against the wall hanging my limbs at awkward angles. A loud buzz came from down the hall, and I could hear a door slam shut after being opened. Footsteps. My heart pounded and I couldn’t hear anything except the rush of adrenaline through my head. All I needed to do was drag the guards into the cell far enough to grab their weapons. After that, I would lock them in the cell. I then would go find Erik and the rest of the followers and set them free along with the others prisoner who helped me escape. The footsteps grew louder. Suddenly, my heart dropped to a place I never knew existed. What was I doing? This plan wasn’t even close to detailed and there could be so many things that could stop us. I could be killed. The footsteps were now outside of my cell, and the guard was shouting to the other, trying to attract attention to my body in the corner. They got the keys into the lockhole and jangled them around until finally the cell clicked open. It’s too late to turn back. I can’t turn back. Cautious footsteps came closer to me until they were only a few feet away. I can do this. I can escape. It was now or never. I had to choose one. I opened my eyes to face the two guards peering down at me. Now.