*This thing will never get done at my rate. Chapter Three "'Mornin' Sun'" Swish. Rattle. Swish. Rattle. Swish. Walter Zhentarsky woke up to that stirring tune. His crusted eyes cracked open from an uneasy slumber to the pleasantries of the real world. Light streamed past his slit eyelids, and his body suddenly remembered the roaring pain at the base of his head. His skull felt like it was about to rupture, building up with steaming pressure. He waited for the pain to abate. He was too weak to fulfill the impulse of cupping his hands over his temple. The pain was horrible, a reminder of the magnificent flurry of crimson color boring into his brain after inspecting the dark man’s (supposedly dead) corpse. But pain was merely a reaction, a synapse from the brain alerting that particular body part that it was in danger. Walt tried to assuage his body, reassuring it that he was fine, he would be alright. The pain was unnecessary (but thanks anyway!) because he had survived the dark man. So why was his body insisting that he was still in danger? Bastard body. I never trusted you anyway. Miraculously, the pain in his head diminished to a dull throb. But Walter didn’t relax just yet. His head had accepted Walt’s rationale but then decided to spread the warning sign throughout his body. The young man became aware of the sharp object digging into his back. He felt the exquisite pain of his arm, pressed down on his side, loosing circulation. He emphatically suffered the protests of his limbs, his atrophied legs and arms crying out for relief. Walt let the pain wash throughout himself, letting it wake himself. He tried experimentally lifting his finger but found that he could not do even that. The pain was the nearest to the surface of his mind but underneath the pain was dull worry. Walter didn’t especially like being in a position of vulnerability. It was his survival instinct that demanded reaction. He bid his time, waiting for the entropy in his limbs to dissipate. The pain was merely an added incentive. This time, Walt didn’t try to persuade his body to let up. This time, he exerted pure willpower over his stubborn and unresponsive body. Walt was lying on his right side, his helpless arm pinned down underneath. His back was pressed painfully against something. His body had curled into itself, a fetal position. The muscles around his limb were sore and tense. With a grunt, Walt forced his left arm into action. He used his body’s weight and momentum to turn himself onto his back, freeing his numb yet tingling right arm. The action was excruciating, taking more effort than climbing Everest, but yielding just as much satisfaction. He found that his lungs were heaving as they tried to inhale air. Walt waited, letting his thundering heart relax. With that part done, he straightened, ever so damningly slowly, his legs from underneath him. He was laying on his back now, blood flowing freely to his still unresponsive legs and arms. Walter gave a huge sigh. “Okay,” he panted, his tongue feeling slow and groggy in his mouth, “I can now die a comfortable death.” He tried to laugh but could only heave air instead. Both pain and laughter subsided. Walter found it more than a little disconcerting that he could not move. The fear of paralysis had at first lingered in his mind but was dismissed when he managed to move his arm. Still, he hated not being able to defend himself if the need required. Unable to use his body, Walt decided to flex his mind. All the possible options of finding an advantage, something to keep him one step ahead of others, were viable in any condition. Walter immediately realized he was in a jail cell. It wasn’t that he had been in numerous cells in his lifetime, though he had graced more than his fair share, to realize where he was. He saw the evocative drab green paint peeling on its walls. He felt the many dislocated springs of the mattress he was laying on that seemed mandatory of each prison mattress. He could almost imagine the familiar rusty cot it was on, squeaking and dying. From the corner of his eye, he could see the pristine steel toilet lacking a toilet seat cover and plunger. It was all the basic charms of a prison cell. But what made Walt aware of his incarceration was the sunlight. Above him, set into the wall, was a window that he could not quite see. Brilliant sunlight streamed through. Their interrupted beams fell across the middle of the cell. Though he could not see them, he knew that bars were blocking some of the sunlight. Swish. Rattle. Swish. The sounds were coming closer, echoing off the narrow walls of the hallway that his cell and others like it lined. He could hear the two brutish voices talking. “…I’m telling yah, Hank,” said one of the voices, “that boy is one hard customer!” The dialect sounded foreign to Walt’s ears. Walter heard the scuffle of feet and the mobile conversation stalls. He heard the voices just maybe three cells away. “You think so, huh, Bobby?” asked a loutish and guttural voice. “Gunning down an old man with his fly down in a shitty alleyway don’t make you tough.” Walt stayed deathly still on his cot, no longer trying to move his unresponsive limbs. The conversation between the two brutish voices escalated but Walter didn’t pay attention. He had more pressing business on his mind. They think I killed him, thought Walt. He had gone to the old man, finding him face down in the alley with blood pooling from underneath him. The dark man had done his handiwork and now Walt was blamed for it. He squinted his eyes, not quite closing them, as the two owners of the voices stopped at his cell. From the corner of his vision, he saw them. An overweight man in a tweed suit dominated the cell frame. A potbelly hung above his belt but the thick bull neck and the straining muscles from underneath his suit gave the suggestion that the man was more muscle than fat. His face was blemished and rosy, broken capillaries associated with heavy drinking or good cheer, and this brute did not look like a cheery fellow. A gleaming star with the word SHERRIFF emblazoned on it was pinned to the front of his coat. Besides the sheriff was a younger man, close to Walter’s age. He was dressed in jeans and a light blue work shirt, both several sizes too big for his small frame. His head was shaved and his skin was pale. He would have looked quite handsome, despite his pale skin and unsightly hair style, if not for the dominating hooked nose. Strangely, Walter thought that the young man closely resembled a condor. The sheriff fished a meaty paw into his coat pocket and withdrew a ring of about a million keys. He produced them with a flourish, making a rattle and a swish. Walter ground his teeth together, beginning to hate that noise. The large man began going through the keys, feeling the grooves of their teeth, dismissing them, and moving on. The keys moved up slowly on their ring. It seemed like an impossible feat. God, how can there be that many keys for so many doors in one prison? wondered Walt. He watched the sheriff huff and heave as his thick fingers did their magic. There were many keys of many descriptions: large, small, bronze, iron, dirty, clean, shiny, and dull. But all were liberation. “I don’t understand why you mean to keep so many keys on that damn ring, Hank,” the younger man said. “We can’t even find the doors to match most of them. It’s going to take you forever to find that one key.” Hank, the sheriff, didn’t stop flipping through his keys, shuffling them like a master card shark. “It don’t matter,” muttered the sheriff. “Ol’ sleeping beauty over there won’t be waking up soon.” Bobby scratched his pale cheek uncomfortably. “You didn’t have to hit him so hard with that shotgun, sheriff. You near well cracked the stock as well as the kid’s head.” The pressure in the back of Walt’s head increased in sympathy. He heard the keys rattle as the sheriff shook in laughter. “It don’t matter none,” said Hank. “A back shooter like that deserves no less.” Walt cracked opened his eyelids wider. He saw the younger man, Bobby, holding the massive hand cannon of the shadowed man. He pried open the chamber, letting it fall on its hinge, and whistled admirably. “Yeah,” repeated Bobby, “he’s one hard customer.” “And Adam Shapiro was a good man who wouldn’t hurt a fly,” muttered Hank. He finally found the key he was looking for and jammed it into the cell door. “Of all the men that boy had to kill, it had to be our top electrician.” Walter remained deathly still as the men walked into his cell but his mind was rolling with ideas. They thought he had killed an electrician, an act of sacrilege considering most of the cities after the war were still buckling for power. In this age, an electrician was as revered as the town minister. And the killing of an electrician always warranted death. He heard the heavy steps of the sheriff coming for him. His ears were so good that he could also hear the scrape of metal against cloth. Walter knew that noise; it was the familiar noise of a club coming unsheathed. “Time to wake up, sleeping beauty,” whispered the sheriff close to his ear, his breath already reeking with whiskey though it was early in the morning. Walter knew what was coming next. It surely wouldn’t be a kiss to wake him from his slumber. He heard the sound of the air whooshing as the backwater sheriff’s club came careening down. But he did nothing to stop it; partly because he did not wish to ruin his ruse and partly because he could not stop it. His joints felt sticky and his limbs numb. Walt imagined that this must be how a helpless vealer felt before it was butchered. Whoosh, came the sound of the air screaming. Crack, came the sound of the stout wooden club connecting soundly with Walter’s shin. The young man shot up, the synapse of pain enough to jerk his body wide awake. The sharp, silvery pain lancing towards his head was a familiar friend. He opened his mouth and forced his numb tongue to greet it with a scream. The sheriff laughed sadistically at the reaction. Deputy Bobby also walked into the cell. He shut the door behind him. It swung mournfully on its rusty hinge and then closed with a sound of finality. Like the sound of a coffin closing. “Mornin’ son!” the bulky sheriff shouted. “Welcome to Glow Prison!” Walter looked up at the fat man and saw the club descending again. The quickly diminishing space intervening between the club and Walt’s head shrieked. He ducked underneath it, letting it glance off his shoulder blade. Angry pain spread across his shoulder but it was at least manageable compared to what could have happened. Walt knew that the blow would have cracked his skull otherwise, making sure he wouldn’t wake up again. The sunlight was filtering earnestly through the bars in the window now. The beams reflected off the glossy finished wood of the sheriff’s club as he raised it again. Sheriff Hank’s face was livid, flushed a deeper red than when he had first walked in. Walter suspected he had tipped back a few drinks before starting the day. The young man propped himself up with one elbow and raised a hand. It did little to stop the club from solidly cracking him across the arm. Walter shrieked as he felt the bone in his left arm give away. He fell back onto his mattress. His broken arm sagged sickly onto his leg. “Wait,” Walt panted. He propped himself up again on one elbow. There was sharp pain at the point of where the bone had broken away in the direct center of his arm. The rest of his body, not that well off in the first place, was filled with a ringing pain that was just dull enough to not cause him to faint. The sheriff did not wait. He prodded Walt in his stomach, toppling him down again. The club flew high up again, ready to give out his verdict. Walter weakly held up both of his hands, his left one hanging grossly to the side. “Jesus Christ, WAIT!” Walt thought he would surely lose the use of his other arm when Bobby’s hand intervened, catching the club as it descended. There was a brief contest of might as the skinnier deputy fought for control of the sheriff’s club. “Wait, Hank,” Bobby protested, “let the kid explain hisself!” Hank glowered at his deputy but Bobby did not look away. He grunted and sheathed the wooden club at his side. Looking back at Walt, he barked, “Well? What you got to say for yerself, boy?” Walt couldn’t find the words. He sagged back down to his cot, his broken arm cradled at his side. He gasped for breath and tried to find his composure in the midst of his prison cell. In the mean time, the sheriff stared down, murder in his eyes, and rested his hand on the baton. “My name is Walter Zhentarsky,” he heaved. “I’m just a traveler.” “What’s a simple traveler going around carrying this?” Bobby asked softly in the corner. He held up the dark man’s hand cannon, nearly as big as he was. Walt gasped for more air, finding it imperative to give the answers quickly to avoid Sheriff Hank’s ire. “It ain’t mine. It’s the dark man’s.” Bobby’s already pale face turned corpse-white. He exchanged a quick look at Hank, whose eyes had narrowed sharply. “What are you talking about, boy?” demanded the sheriff. Pain in his broken arm and struggling for breath was taking its toll on Walt. He gushed out, “The dark man killed your man Shapiro. But I don’t think he was a man. He was much too big, bigger than you, sheriff. And I couldn’t see his face, not even in the light. I tried to stop him, killed him with my gun even, but he didn’t stay dead. He was either fooling or just came back. Blinded me when I checked his body. Then you found me.” The hand cannon fell out of Bobby’s limp hands. He looked like a ghost, his skin pale and his eyes wide and awesome. “He’s talking about one of the freaks, Hank!” exclaimed the deputy. He kicked the hand cannon away from his feet and wiped his hands frantically on his jeans. Hank’s mouth worked up and down, as if he were chewing on this new bit of information. He must have found it unpleasant, for he spat on the ground. Finally, he muttered to Bobby, “Tell Doc to fix up the kid’s arm. I want him questioned further.” Hank walked out of the cell, his feet tramping heavily on the floor and his ring of keys ringing loudly at his hip. Bobby took one more look at Walt before leaving, carrying the hand cannon carefully, as if he were handling atomic waste. Walter did nothing. He fainted in relief.