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       Otherside, p.1

           Robert L. Shelby
 
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Otherside


  OTHERSIDE

  By Robert L. Shelby

  Copyright 2014 Robert L. Shelby

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  8: THE PRISON

  The Moon was shining down on him, as he stood on the rooftop; it already had the intensity of a full Moon, although there were still a couple of days of fattening left. He did not mind the autumn breeze coming through his jumpsuit – or evening gown, as it was referred to by other inmates. It was a nice night for escape, he thought, while looking down on to the office block where they stored clothes and personal belongings after they bring you in.

  It’s almost time...

  At 10:30pm the guards make their rounds; at 10:37pm they will notice he is missing. One minute later the place will be on lock-down. That leaves less than an 8 minute window. After that comes the tricky part – to stay hidden until midnight.

  Level G of east wing is comprised of the entrance hall, offices and visitors center; above that is level 1 which has the storage room, utility room and toilets; and above that is level 2 with a couple of rooms, reserved for prison workers who are further away from their homes and are not driving home every night. At the far end is the watchtower, overlooking the central yard and the rest of the U-shaped prison. Level 2 of east wing is also the only place that does not have barred windows. The north and west wing had all the cells, with level G-west having solitary cells for those deemed unfit to mix with general population.

  It took him almost an hour to reach the rooftop from W-1; he had to start right after dinner and without a guarantee for success. Right now he was not quite sure how to make it to the storage room in under 10 minutes, but there was no other choice and walking back was never an option. He knew he only had this one chance, if he failed he would join his former cellmate down in W-G where the poor guy was sent after his parole was denied and he took it out on a guard.

  Day shift ends at 10pm and night shift begins just in time for rounds. Within those 30 minutes all the guards are in one room – his target room; the only room where the windows stay open most of the time, as it is the only place where the guards can enjoy a cigarette break in peace. Most of the day shift have left by now and the night shift was just about to start work – it was time, he said to himself, then ran across the rooftop above everyone in W-block, then everyone in N-block, reaching east block in record time, if there would have been anyone timing him for the record.

  He waited until he was sure there were no more guards inside, then jumped down on to the watchtower’s deck, which was unattended most nights, as there were usually no problems and the nights were kind of chilly. From there it was a pretty simple and short climb to the open window, but something told him to check the door first. They were unlocked. He walked right in. The lights in the room were left on, as the night rounds normally did not take long and the guards would retreat back here and play cards, drink or catch a bit of sleep. None of that tonight, he thought, and a barely visible smile escaped his otherwise serious face.

  He made his way down to the room where all the things from all the prisoners were kept and within a minute he located his box, made easier by the matching number on his uniform. He quickly went through the box – being reminded of what he came in with almost three months ago – and tightly grabbed a silver pocket watch. At the same time a massive siren penetrated the quiet night; one of the alarms was located on the opposite wall of the storage room.

  Now came the interesting part – a game of hide and seek. He figured they would probably start looking on the outside of the prison since the general idea is to break out of it and get as far away as possible, something he did not have to worry about. He also knew the guards would be coming through here very soon, because it was the way to the watchtower and to that big white search light that would, without a doubt, be used tonight.

  One hour and twenty minutes to go...

  1: THE OLD MAN

  Jason had been working as a delivery guy for a famous restaurant in his town – the place did not reach fame by reviews, but by the number of owners it accumulated over the years. The building started as a shoe-repair shop, then it became a watch store owned by an eccentric watch maker who later closed the store, but not sold the property or the business. It stayed closed for almost five years, when finally it had been sold by the watchmaker’s daughter to a small shoe-selling company, looking to ride the wave of former related history. After four years the growing company decided to move business elsewhere, selling the place to a young couple who re-opened it as a coffee shop, calling it ‘The Shoelace’. When they separated, the place went through three quickly-exchanging bar owners, with the last one expanding it into a restaurant before selling it to the current owner, Darren – the childhood friend of Jason’s father; which is how and why Jason got the job.

  His day consisted of coming to work around 9am, in time for the first round of deliveries – breakfasts for two large companies and occasionally a nearby fire station. Some 30-40 minutes before noon was his break, where he could eat whatever could be made as fast as possible before going out for round two – lunch time specials, mostly for private clients in their workplace or home. One of them was an elderly man – a man to whom Jason could never quite determine exact age. On some days he seemed to be in his mid-sixties, on other days in his late seventies.

  Mr. Moore was a man of few words, the everyday conversation rarely exceeded more than ten words, including greeting and farewell. He lived alone, with no sign of a former spouse or children, in a small apartment on the 8th floor. Once entering the flat, you could not help but breathe in the smell of a poorly ventilated place. The entrance door was across the hall from an always-closed door, believed by Jason to be the bedroom. To the right of the front door there was a small but functioning bathroom that had everything except a window, as was standard practice in such buildings. The narrow hallway unfolded into a larger room – to the left there was a living room area with an old TV and a rundown couch that looked like it served as a bed more often than not. It was surrounded by shelves filled with books about geography, architecture, astronomy, geology and more. One shelf was more organized than others and contained works by authors separated by centuries, from Ptolemy, Al-Muradi, da Vinci, to Lovelock. On the table were all kinds of maps – local cartography maps, as once pointed out by the old man. In the middle there was a big wooden pendulum clock, with silver mechanics behind a glass front. On the right side there was a tiny kitchen where Jason would place the everyday noon meals that included soup (sometimes), a main course with salad, and dessert, all served in plain white plastic containers.

  Mr. Moore had the appearance of someone with a long hard life behind, and a future that could not bring the sweet relief of eternal slumber sooner; at least that was how Jason saw him. Often he would take a long time to come and open the door – after two or three doorbell rings and some knocking – looking exhausted from the few steps he had to take from the couch to the door. Most times he was hooked up to an oxygen bomb that was placed on little wheels and connected to his nose via see-through foggy plastic tubes. He had a peculiar habit, noticed by Jason, of wearing two wrist watches; but so far Jason had not come to ask the old man why he does it. He would always light up a cigarette, as if to spite the cancer within, stand back and watch Jason place the food on the counter and take back the containers from the previous day. The money was on the counter every day; 8 bucks per lunch, sometimes in coins, other times in a combination of coin and paper. Sunday was
the only day when food needed not to be delivered.

  2: THE EARTHQUAKE

  On this one particular Tuesday Jason had been standing outside Mr. Moore’s door for almost ten minutes, ringing the bell and knocking on old wood, but no response came from the other side.

  Is this it? Am I the one who finds him dead?

  They had joked about this at work – how the old man looks like he might be done for any day now, but now when that day could have been today the joke seemed disgusting and wrong. Then, without warning, three things happened all at once – a huge earthquake shook the entire building, causing Jason to lose his stance and slam into the wall, dropping the day’s meal on the cold concrete floor; the big pendulum clock in the middle of the apartment went off to announce mid-day; and an inhumane scream was heard from within. Without much consideration, Jason broke down the door that was just about to come of the hinges from the shaking, tried to run towards screaming, but stopped after three steps and stood there as if bolted down to the floor, unaffected by the quake. In silence and shock he looked upon the grotesque scene happening in front of him. Through the windows he saw the city, realizing how strong the earthquake was – the outside world moved as viewed from a ship caught in stormy weather, rocking from side to side, furniture moving along with the waves. More frightening than that was the sight of the old man, he seemed like he was suspended in the middle of the air, like a magic trick gone horribly wrong. Screaming in agony, he turned to Jason and shouted: ‘The watch! Take the watch! Quickly!’

  A shot of adrenaline rushed through Jason’s body and he jumped, without even knowing why, towards the watch lying on the carpet below old man Moore. Once there, the magic trick revealed itself to hold no magic - or was it really so; instead he saw that Mr. Moore was actually inside the wall, his legs all the way from his waist down and his right arm had been somehow cemented into the bricks that divided the bedroom and the living room. There was blood dripping down the old wallpaper and another strong shake caused Jason to fall.

  ‘The watch! Take it and go!’ , the old man shouted again.

  Mr. Moore’s left arm was waving crazily and indicating exit strategy. After what appeared to be forever, Jason awoke from shock by means of the old man’s painful screaming, got up and ran away from this insanity, taking with him the pocket watch held so dear to the old man.

  He ran down the stairs and out of the building along with some other occupants just in time to see the concrete bindings fall apart and the whole building collapse onto itself. And just like that, everything stopped. Jason looked around and saw destruction and smoke; there were at least two more apartment buildings like this one that fell apart, along with some houses and trees. Car alarms were the only thing louder than the screams of the people in panic or pain. The police and fire department were quick to arrive, and he was greeted by an old classmate from school, now a fireman, who took him from the destruction and made sure he was not hurt before sending him away from this place.

  Jason returned to the restaurant still unsure of what actually happened; the boss sent him home, as he was to close for the day. There was no damage done the workplace, but so much of the town had been affected that there was no reason to continue working, everyone was sent home to their families and loved ones.

  After a phone call to his parents, assuring them he is fine, Jason went back to his place, a 15 minute drive from town, and today’s epicenter. His flat was mostly alright, a couple of broken glasses and fallen pictures were all the evidence that something happened. He took a cold shower, then sat down outside on his small balcony on the first floor, just above the garden. He took out the round object from his pocket and starred at it.

  Why? Why, of things, this watch?

  He opened the silver pocket watch by pushing the tiny button on top, releasing the lock that holds the front side. On the inner side of the frontal part there was a reflecting surface, not quite like a mirror, and a normal looking watch on the main part. It had a white background with black Roman numerals and two reasonably large pointers, without a third one for counting the seconds. The watch appeared not to be working and he could not find anything to indicate an opening for the battery or a winding system. He went back inside and placed the silver pocket watch on the wooden table in the middle of the room. The image of poor Mr. Moore would not leave his head, becoming even more clear when viewed through closed eyes.

  3: THE FALL

  The big pendulum clock was dancing around him, then it transformed into old man Moore; then the clock and the old man became one, looking like a demonic version of Cogsworth from hell; then it marched straight for him, but he could not run, his feet were firmly stuck to the ground; and then the old man started screaming, louder and louder; and then his screams turned into ringing bells, and they got louder and louder; and blood started pouring from the wood, and the ringing and the screams got louder and louder; and then he woke up, violently and full of sweat, almost falling off his bed. He got up, realizing sleep was not going to be on tonight’s menu, and went back into his living room. He turned on the TV just in time for the 11pm news. Current body count stood at 30, but there were many people still missing. Four casualties from Moore’s building, no names given. Damage reports were yet to be announced, but judging from the destruction of property and lives, the cost would be enormous. A great victory for some team in some sport. Weather forecast predicts warmer days.

  He stepped out to the balcony again and inhaled the cool night air. He looked towards the horizon and the town that experienced such horror earlier today; it all seemed to be at peace, like nothing had happened. As midnight approached his thoughts were still with Mr. Moore and the impossible situation he found him in. Should he tell anyone, he wondered, and what to say? How to describe and explain what he saw without understanding it himself, and without being dismissed as crazy or attributed to shock? He was so deep in those thoughts that he did not notice how the silver pocket watch, left on the wooden table, began to glow in a deep blue light.

  The next day, after a sleepless night, he came back to work and retrieved the telephone number of Mr. Moore’s daughter from his boss. He called her around ten in the morning and her voice told him she had a similar night as he. Jason introduced himself, explained how he knew her father, but did not tell her he was there just before he died – he withheld that information from everybody – simply saying that some days prior to the earthquake the old man gave him this pocket watch and that he now felt she should have it. The daughter, Alice, started crying; told Jason she did not want the watch, told him to do whatever he wanted with it, and hung up the phone.

  The boss, Darren, could see that Jason was not in a right state of mind to work, acting all strange and stressed and lost. Also there had not been much work expected today or within the next couple of days at least, so he sent him home. The effects of a sleepless night got to him by the time he reached his place, and he barely made it to the bed, crashing into it fully dressed.

  He slept throughout the day, waking up in late afternoon – the time of day when you can’t really tell if its the same day’s sunset or if you have slept the whole night and woke up into a new morning. He prepared some food, sat down in front of the TV and waited for the evening news. There were no new developments on the story, it barely got mentioned. Two minutes of screen time, one day later. Another victory in some sport, details after the break. He turned off the TV.

  There were three phone calls that evening – one from his mom, checking up on him; second one from his boss, saying he has another day off tomorrow; and the last one from a friend, asking if he wanted to go out for a beer or two. He told mom he was fine, he told his boss he wanted to come back as soon as possible, and to his friend that he was going to bed early today. Three lies in a row.

  He stayed up until midnight, deep in his thoughts about the events that he witnessed, and he would have continued this way, if it were not for the little pocket watch that began to glow again in that
deep blue light. He picked up the watch from the table, mesmerized by the glow, drawn closer by light like a moth. The watch felt warm in his hand and he pushed the tiny button on top, opening it up. The pointers were moving, but they were moving counterclockwise. He noticed they look right when viewed in the attached mirror on the other half. The deep blue glow became brightest at midnight straight, the watch became warmer, and without reason or thought he pressed the tiny button again.

  The deep blue light silently exploded all around him, filling up the room, the warmth encompassing his entire body. The next second it felt like someone took away the floorboards from beneath him and he started falling. He fell to the ground in the middle of a grassy field. He got up, momentarily blinded by what looked and felt like high noon Sun shining directly above him. He looked around and recognized the surroundings – it was home, but without any of the familiar structures or roads, as if nothing had ever been built.

  4: THE PARALLEL

  He found himself in a world exactly the same, yet completely different; there were no people around, no man made objects to be seen, no traffic noises to be heard. He began walking in a random direction and soon after he noticed breathing became difficult; he was grasping for air.

  Air...

  The oxygen tank of old man Moore made its way into his thoughts, followed by a flood of unanswerable questions. There seemed to be so many pieces of a puzzle, waiting to be uncovered and put into place. Thinking it might help, he started walking slower; it also made it easier to control his breathing at this pace. He walked pass where the skate park was supposed to be, and further down to the train station that had the best burgers in town next to it; ‘When you wish the train was late’ – was their slogan, he remembered. He could go for a burger right now, he thought. Sadly it would remain but a wish in an empty world. He needed to take a break, the lack of oxygen was getting to him. He sat down close to where the tracks should be and enjoyed the view for a while. The atmosphere was strangely nice, this known place without known things, only nature. The Sun was nice and warm, and he felt a tiredness he never experienced before, it was dragging him down and it soon became to hard to oppose the forces of this extraordinary world.

 
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