Tell A Tale in 500 Words

Inside out By Martin Richmond

An overpowering stench of stale urine assaulted young Jack Pringle’s senses demanding vomit and he gagged. His first day as a prison warder was punishing and the walls were closing in. He quickly backed out of the cell, the night stick at his hip jarring his leg as he fumbled with his heavy bunch of keys. Each clang of a door constantly jarred his nerves.

He’d returned the poor wretch, awaiting transportation, to his reeking cell after monitoring hours of pointless toil operating a crank machine. Then a brief break in the fresh air and a double shift plunged him into the thing he dreaded most, night duty!

Darkness soon turned the jail into a cavernous abyss.

With only fear for company he toured the oak-floored galleries; his new, hobnailed boots ricocheting bullets around the empty hall.

He began checking through the spy hole of each cell door demanding a response from every man within to confirm the number of inmates left in his charge. Then the hammering crack of his boots, the liquid rattle of an inmate using his pot or the occasional, night terrors scream were the only things that broke the silence. Hour after hour he pounded the galleries jerking his heavy oil lamp nervously towards every soaring shadow, only to create far more.

Jack scaled the staircases to the topmost gallery and gazed out of a side window facing the nearby estuary. Beyond the workhouse and the brick factory chimneys he could just make out the silhouette of the terraced street he called home. He shook his homesick head and turned towards the dark. A nearby church clock struck one as he strode over to the first cell and slid the cover gently from the spy hole. He was very cautious, having heard of warders who were now one-eyed due to a piercing, six-inch nail!

The full moon had silvered wherever it peeked inside, allowing him to check round the hopefully sleeping inmates.

A figure in the cell, totally clad in white, was seated by the barred window, gazing back!

Jack’s terrified voice called out.

“W-What is - are you?”

The figure coughed and spat, slowly lifting a skeletal arm to point upwards. Jack squeezed in closer to the glass to reveal the answer to the frightening wraith.

A hole gaped in the ceiling!

He realised the exhausted convict was covered in plaster dust attempting to escape through to the roof! Jack gave a shout through a side window and soon officers arrived to drag the escaper away to the punishment block.

Jack received praise for averting the escape and grew to be more at ease with being a turnkey. He accepted he was merely a cog in a machine separating society from their darker elements, out of sight and out of mind. And tomorrow he would bid farewell to the prison ship leaving with the wretch being deported, for although he may have abandoned him as a child, he was still his father!

The end

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