Chris Keller stood against the wall, looking out into the quad. It was damned quiet today, and that was usually a bad sign. Several inmates shuffled aimlessly around, inhabiting the restless shadows of Emerald City. Only Augustus Hill could be seen sitting at the table in full view of everyone, tossing cards into a pile, while a lone hack remained at the officer’s station flicking switches and mumbling into the radio.
Waking up from what must have been a heavy sleep, Chris stretched, clicking tired muscles too long unused, and in danger of getting weak.
In Oz weakness was death; physical weakness, mental weakness, emotional weakness, it didn’t matter, it made you vulnerable.
Chris Keller was never comfortable with vulnerability, especially the kind of need and vulnerability that Toby stirred in him.
He needed to talk to Toby; they had issues that needed resolving. Now he was back in Em City, Chris was sure they could sort things out, unless Toby decided to play the bitch of course.
Something had to give soon; he couldn’t go on this way. Toby had to forgive him, and together they had to remove Schillinger from the equation. There would never be peace between them while Schillinger remained a cold reminder of what had happened in the past.
Bury Vern and finally bury the physical embodiment of their pain.
Chris strolled out into the quad and sat down at the table occupied by Hill. He looked around, at the shadows behind the glass walls, and wondered where Toby was today?
“You wanna play?” Hill asked at last, offering Chris the cards.
“You seen Beecher?”
“Nope. So, you wanna play?”
Shrugging, Chris held out his hand, and took the pack. With practiced ease he shuffled the deck, and flicked out the cards. “It’s too fucking quiet in here today,” Chris insisted, looking around, and feeling a chill to the air. “I don’t like it.”
“You mean you didn’t hear that scream?” Hill frowned.
“Yeah, it went through my fucking head.”
“I don’t hear no scream,” Chris sighed grabbed for the cards. Suddenly, he turned around, and peered up at the balcony.
“What’s up?” Hill asked.
“I thought I heard Beecher’s voice?” Chris replied, looking from pod to pod, “I was almost sure...”
“Come on man, play!” Hill said with a snort.
Chris frowned and glanced at his cards. He was still feeling unsettled; he couldn’t even get his head around the intricacies of cheating at cards right now. He peered into the shadows, checking out the men lying in their pods, or scoring tits out of sight of the hacks.
“You gonna choose or just sit there and fondle those cards?” Hill interrupted his train of thought.
Throwing down a card, he took a moment to glance around again. He was sure he’d heard something. Someone...at that moment, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Toby standing on the balcony, looking down, his face awash with anguish.
“Toby?” he called, leaping to his feet and rushing for the stairs. By the time he reached the top, Beecher was nowhere to be seen.
The hack glanced up at him with a weary expression, “What is it, Keller?”
“Where did Beecher go?” he asked.
“How the fuck do I know?” the hack sighed.
“But he was here just a second ago!” Chris snarled.
The hack stood up, and let his hand rest on his nightstick, “Go the fuck away, Keller,” he insisted.
Chris had never felt so damned confused. He decided to go check Beecher’s pod, maybe Toby had gone back there, he usually sought solitude when he was upset, a solitude that Chris always chose to ignore and interrupt. The pod was empty, and almost unbearably tidy. In the years that Beecher had been in Oz, he’d learned a certain amount of bad hygiene habits from the other inmates, and his pod was never this clean.
Chris banged the pod wall with his fist. He’d schemed and manipulated until he’d been moved back to Em City, only for them to move Beecher out at the same time? Maybe if he spoke to Warden Glynn, he might be able to smooth things over, and have him transfer Beecher back?
Yeah, right, like they’re going to give a fuck that he’d lost his boyfriend, and he wanted to make amends.
Fucking hacks, they didn’t understand; Toby was in danger out there without protection, without him.
Chris wandered from the pod and leaned over the rail to scan the lower level. Suddenly a cold shiver ran through him, and he shot away from the rail. It was like someone just walked over his grave; the hairs on his arms were standing on end, and his flesh was pitted with goosebumps. He rubbed his arms, and shivered. He could hear something, like the sound of voices in a different room, just out of reach so that you couldn’t quite hear what they said, but they were there.
It was Toby’s voice he could hear. Toby, angry then pleading, then...a shout, no, a scream! Chris shot around, desperately trying to see where the voice might be coming from.
“Toby?” he yelled. Everyone turned to look at him; even Hill shot him a grin from his seat in the quad below.
Angry, and scared, Chris headed back down the stairs. Some fucker was going to tell him what the hell was going on, or he was going to start breaking body parts.
As he reached the bottom of the stairs, he heard it again.
“No!” Toby’s voice echoed through Em City.
Chris looked up, and this time he saw it; Toby was leaning over the rail he’d just been standing by, his hand outstretched, and a look of utter anguish on his face.
“Chris!” Toby screamed.
“Oh my God, Toby!” Chris started back for the stairs, but suddenly, the image of Toby melted away into shadow, and disappeared before his very eyes. “What the fuck?” Chris looked around, but no one else was paying any attention. No one even seemed to have noticed? Was he losing his mind? He stormed back to Hill at the table. “What’s going on here?” he demanded.
“You playing cards, Keller, or not?” Hill sighed.
“What the fuck is the matter with you, didn’t you see that?”
Hill shrugged, “Shit happens in Oz, you get used to it. Now you wanna play Poker or Blackjack?”
“I saw Toby leaning over the rail, screaming my name, I’m not fucking crazy, I know what I saw!” Chris paced around the table.
Sitting back, and placing the cards on the table, Hill sighed, “They’re the images you bring with you, man,” he explained, “Maybe that was the last thing you ever saw?”
“What?” Chris stopped dead in his tracks, “What the fuck do you mean by that?”
The look on Hill’s face was confusion and maybe a touch of amusement. “You don’t know?”
“Don’t know what?”
“You’re dead, man,” Hill laughed.
“Yeah, you bit the big one!” Hill chuckled again.
Chris reached down and angrily dragged Hill from his chair, “What the fuck you talking about, this is Oz. Look around, we’re in Oz!” he growled.
Hill began to laugh, “Just what the fuck did you think hell would look like, Keller?” he chuckled, “Some shit by Dante?”
Dropping Hill back into his chair, Chris looked around, suddenly the faces swam into view; Adebisi, Nino and Peter Schibetta, Morales, Andy Schillinger, fucking Said, and of course Brown, Shemin, and Barlog.
Another scream echoed through EmCity.