It was a large spider crawling across his face that woke Nils Chapman up. It tickled his right nostril and then continued on its way down his right cheek and over his right ear. He turned his head and watched it as it went over the edge of the mattress. He didn’t want to get up. He wanted to count—one thousand nine hundred seventy-nine… No! No, he wasn’t going to do that. He felt sick to his stomach. He had felt sick to his stomach ever since he had seen the impossible undulating movement of the wall in prisoner 89’s cell. He hadn’t gone back to the cell since, but the uneasiness, the slowly creeping nausea did not go away.
He turned over and looked toward Karl Drury’s bunk. The sadistic guard was not there. On the one hand, this made Chapman happy, because he found that he was increasingly happy whenever Drury was not around. On the other hand, if he wasn’t here and he wasn’t on duty, he was probably in 89’s cell, abusing her. Chapman shuddered. He had become increasingly sickened by Drury’s treatment of women in general and this one in particular, but now he felt even more ill at the thought of the cell itself, and the wall, and the strange writing, and the undulating movement… He shuddered.
He sat up and rolled out of bed. Taney was the only other guard in the bunkroom.
“Where’s Drury?” he asked.
“The filthy bastard’s got duty at the loading dock,” came the reply. “I wouldn’t want to be one of the boys working down there.”
“Somebody should stop him.”
“Go ahead,” said Taney, “if you want a knife between your ribs.”
Chapman didn’t want a knife between his ribs, but he didn’t know what else to do, so he went down the ancient spiral stone steps to the docks. Six boys were unloading a skiff, but Chapman didn’t see any guards. But as he stepped out into the open, he noticed something strange. There was a shadow in the middle of the dock where a shadow had no right to be. As he stepped closer, he realized it wasn’t a shadow—not in the real sense of the word. It was a man-shaped blob of shadow, occupying the same area that a man would occupy had he been standing there, but with no mass and no substance and completely translucent.
“What is that?” he asked.
The boys stopped and looked at him.
“What is that?” he asked again.
“What is what?” asked one of the boys.
“Where’s Drury?” he asked, his voice rising.
“He’s standin’ right in front of you, you great tosser,” the boy replied, pointing at the shadowy blob.
“That’s not Drury! I don’t know what that is!”
Turning, Chapman ran up the stairs, oblivious to the open-mouthed stares of the boys. He ran past the bunkroom and down the corridor to the north wing. He ran into the door of prisoner 89’s cell, banging it with his fist, as if she could open it from the inside. Finally he rummaged through his pockets for the great key and unlocked the door, rushing inside.
Chapman screamed. Karl Drury was hanging, naked, upside down from the ceiling. His neck had been sliced open and his blood had been drained into the piss pot on the floor beneath him. His gut had been sliced open and long lengths of bowel and a few internal organs hung down like ghastly wind chimes.
Chapman screamed again, as he felt the feather light touch of the woman on his shoulder.
“I needed more ink.” Her sultry voice cut into his soul like a knife cutting through pudding.
She stepped past him and picked up the bucket of blood, tip-toeing like a ballerina to the north wall of the cell, where she dipped her fingers into the gore and began painting strange images onto the stone blocks. As she drew, she spoke to herself. Chapman didn’t need to hear what she was saying. It had been bouncing around in his head since he had gotten up.
“One thousand nine hundred seventy-nine days.”
“Stop it!” he shouted. “Stop it! Stop counting!”
The woman turned toward him and grinned fiercely. “Not much longer now— just a few more days. Go on back now. Don’t want to draw suspicion.”
He crept out of the chamber like a dog that had been beaten. He didn’t go back to the south wing though, instead climbing the stone stairs until he found an alcove with a small opening to the outside world. Here he dropped to the ground and curled up into a ball and wept.
* * * * *
“That’s pretty,” said Senta. “Is that a sunset or a rainbow?”
She was walking down Contico Boulevard, hand in hand with her cousin Bertice. Mrs. Gantonin, who lived next door, had told Granny about a family whose boys had died and who were now giving away their clothes. With a house full of children, free clothes were not to be overlooked lightly.
“What are you talking about, you little bint?”
“Up there.” Senta pointed off to the right.
“Didn’t you learn that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west? That way is south. How could it be sunset? Besides, it’s only half past four. I’d still be at work if they hadn’t run out of number four thread.”
“A rainbow, then?”
“There’s no rainbow. There’s not been a drop of rain for a week. How could there be a rainbow. I don’t see anything at all.”
“Well, I see something. It’s swirly with red and yellow and blue and purple, like a storm that’s coming, only made out of colors.”
“You need to get your eyes fixed, you do,” said Bertice, giving her arm a yank.