Wednesday, February 24, 2010

On the Chain Gang.

RUN!  (On the Chain Gang)

“RUN!” the chorus of three men sounds as the sergeant is down. “DON’T LOOK BACK!” With that I’m on my feet charging through the Mississippi cotton as fast as I can go. Run or be dragged. Guns sound. Explosion cracks across the open fields.

Hot sun beating on my neck. Air is dry and crisp. Standing out in the great outdoors on a summer day. Beautiful green earth as far as the eye can see in any direction. One of finest moments a man can have in this life. That is unless you’re in a line, neck to neck with the man next to you. Shackled by the leg and fitted with a brace. Swinging a shovel to the pace of a militant prison Sergeant. You can stop now and again to wipe the sweat off your brow, but it isn’t recommended. Nelson finds out the hard way as he breaks formation to clean off the dripping sweat. Sergeant takes out his Billy Club and cracks the man over the head. The chain takes a small breath of pause. Gregson clears his throat and Miller nudges the rest of us to jump back in line before the Sergeant catches on. Sergeant falls back into his pace and the rhythm of the line continues on. Afternoon heat drives us harder than any whip could. Roadside cleanup, repaving parking lots and digging ditches are all cheap labor for the state and exercise for the hardened criminal. We’re not all toughened men cynical for our crimes. As a matter of fact, not all of us are bad men. Felons, but not bad men. No one here has killed anyone. Petty theft, grand larceny, assault, and plain old wrong place wrong time. These are our crimes. Can’t mistake the good ones for bad ones though. Chains are necessary in any outdoor work arrangement. We aren’t the only ones out here. Down the road about ¼ of a mile, is another set of inmates with a similar work order. The guard overseeing the bunch flashes the Sergeant with a hand mirror every 15 minutes to give the ok. Down even further than that about a ½ mile away is the third and final set of working men. Flashing lights reflect the sun in unison.

It didn’t take long to realize something was up. Nelson was watching the line down the way. Gregson has an eye on the Sergeant. Back and forth the Sergeant moves in the sweltering daylight. The roadside reflects in the glare off his sunglasses. Sweat pours from his brow as he looks down the line at the sparkling lights. Miller gives me sharp elbow to the forearm before swinging another scoop of dirt aside. As I look upward, down comes the club across my head. As I make my way backwards and stumble, the moment is instantly changed by the quick swing of a shovel. Gregson lands the spade across the back of the Sergeant’s neck. The powerful man plummets downward unconscious. Miller grabs the keys. Gregson and Nelson are already twenty yards ahead before Miller has me on my feet and moving.

“HOWARD! GET A MOVE ON IT!” yells the chorus surrounding me. “We don’t have long. The others will be coming soon. We only have small lead.” And they’re right. CRACK! There’s no missing the sound of the gun across the open expanse. No time like the present. Freedom or shackles? RUN!

The story? Came from a set of notes I'd discovered from last year. It felt appropriate. It was from about the time I wrote THE CHAIN. That was in response to my trying to mesh out the idea. I finally did. Two more to go this month. enjoy. kisses.  m.

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