The Guinea Pig

Posted on February 29, 2008


Captain Peterson leaned up against the counter, seeking some refuge from the teeming humanity around him. He had been waiting for hours…
For the hundreth time, he glanced at his watch. At this rate of going, they would never be able to fly back before nightfall. He disliked flying single engine over mountains at night. It just pushed the risk factor up a notch. Without good reason.
Why, oh why was it so often the same foul up?
They would call him several days beforehand. Telling him where and when to pick up the prisoners. He would make his own phone calls the day before. His standard patter:

Yeah, good morning. We’re flying down to you tomorrow morning in a light aircraft, to pick up Doyle, James A. I just wanted to make sure that the prisoner is ready, and that you have all the required paper work. The file number is GU2345-000087422…..

Then the fun would begin. If it was a smaller gaol, a mere five hundred inmates or so, you had a reasonably good chance that the process of eliciting information would not be too painful a one. You would quickly be put through to somebody who actually could help you. And many correction officers you dealt with, despite the staffing shortages, were extraordinarily helpful. Even offering to come and pick you up from the airport.
The bigger they got though, with inmate numbers stretching past one thousand to multiple thousands, and even tens of thousands, the more chance you had of the dreaded
“WHO? Never heard of that name?! “
Sometimes, you would be left hanging on, for an eternity. With maybe the background noise of gaol. A harsh melody. People shouting. Orders being given. Orders being given again, in an exasperated manner. Inquiries. Urgent inquiries. Somebody hollering.
Somebody screaming… A cacophony of disjointed input. Anger, despair, frustration.
Overworked, understaffed, under supported officers trying as best as they humanly could to deal with “swamped “.
Welcome to America.. and some of the parts OFF the tourist trail…

And so, here he stood, despite his best efforts, seven hundred miles and four hours flying time away from home. Tired already. He had been up since five o’clock that cold spring morning, had been airborne at six, and walked into the gaol at eleven. Now it was past three in the afternoon, with still not a sight of the prisoner…
Situation normal. They were overcrowded. Five thousand prisoners in a gaol built to house three thousand. Understaffed. Overburdened. Intakes took priority. Cell searches took priority. Lots of things took priority. Over supplying one solitary prisoner to a visiting officer from another state…

The counter, in the reception hall, strong and solid, was now his refuge.
He could lean against it, taking some of the weight off his feet. And survey his surroundings. And the hundreds of people, coming and going. Take in the noise, the smell, the tumult, the pandemonium of a busy gaol reception hall. Endless counters, cubicles, and holding cells. With glass walls. So you could watch the prisoner easily. In case of contraband, drugs, knives, fights…
They were like… like monkeys, in a zoo. No, more like a collectors’ exhibit….
If this was a museum of the future, with holograms depicting the participants, then he could just imagine a prim and proper school ma’am of the future, guiding her troupe of chattering school children past the exhibits.

“And now, children, you can see a prison two thousand years ago, in the year 2007. Notice how mean and brutish some of these people look. These people here are the guards. They used to call them “correction officers “. They were supposed to “correct ” the bad behaviour of some people. As you can see, a lot of these guards are not very happy. You can see from their body language that… “

He winced a little at the sudden yelling beside him. An officer, a guard, was bawling out a prisoner. The prisoner was shouting obscenities. Shouter and shoutee, it was hard to know which was which, faced each furiously with only one inch of plexi glass between them…

“…that they are very stressed. See this one? He is shouting at a prisoner in a cell, behind a glass wall. You can see the guard is very, very angry. They are both shouting now. Nobody is listening. Aren’t they horrible? Look at his face, can you see how contorted and ugly it is? You can see the veins standing up. Maybe he has high blood pressure problems… “

He wanted to move away from the shouting. But it would be over in a minute. And he liked leaning up against the counter. He didn’t want to give up the spot…
So, maybe he could just pretend that this wasn’t happening. Maybe he could just tune out the shouting and the threats… and ignore the smell of violence. He gazed at the lights, the artificial lights. Everything was artificial. There were no windows at all.
It might upset the town’s good citizens. Because of this, there was this peculiar air of unreality. The shadows cast were false shadows. The figures moving back and forth became extensions of the false shadows… And the chain gang that had just been brought in, fourteen prisoners straight off the prison bus, chained together two by two, did not exist, if he decided so….

“…and here, children, you see a gang of prisoners being transported to gaol. Notice the prison jump suits, bright orange, for easy identification. Do you see how they are chained together in seven pairs? Look at their expressions! Remember what you see there. DO you see anger? Bitterness? How about this one, this very young man. Do you see fear and bewilderment perhaps? How do you think he feels, children? “

His gaze, detached from his mind, swept sightlessly past the rows and rows of glass cages. He had seen it all before. Many times. Nothing about it was new. It was, on the contrary, old, decrepit, soiled, dispiriting. He wanted to leave. He felt trapped, imprisoned, in this airless, hot, stifling, suffocating torture chamber. How many souls were there in this hall? Hundreds… Was God here? Aware of each and every person here? Aware, divinely, of their loves and hates, their consciences and their failings?
It seemed impossible that any Being could, or even would, reach down to these simple, fallible, imperfect mortals. It seemed incredible that many people believed so firmly and seemingly unshakably in an all powerful, all knowing Supreme Power…

“…as you know, children, people’s lives in the society in the twenty-first century were not very nice at all. In fact, their lives were nasty, brutal, and short. There was very little compassion, and most people who were not in gaol just thought all the people in gaol deserved everything they got… “

Maybe it was true. Maybe they deserved everything they got. Maybe they were the lowest of the lowest, the scum of the earth. Unworthy of pity. Maybe…
The glass cages were full to over flowing. All except one. Only three men in that one.
Two of which were leaning silently, unmovingly against the wall. Their mean, hard faces were expressionless, and coldly, contemptuously, ignored the third man. The latter, a younger man in his mid twenties, seemed engrossed in a slow, silent, mime of some kind. His expression indicated that he might be mentally retarded. As he moved about the cage, seemingly unaware of his surroundings, he seemed at peace with himself. He would face the wall, and his lips would move, as if he was in silent conversation with an unseen friend. He would smile, and nod wisely. Then he would move slowly, his arms miming a strange unheard music, and move over to the two men. It was as if he was making them an unspoken offer of some kind. They, coldly ignoring him, wore contemptuous expressions when he came close, and he, seemingly sensitive to the rebuttal, smiled serenely, and glided, arms still slowly moving to an unheard melody, away from them.

Peterson, shaking his head to surface back to the real world, glanced at his watch.
This was… getting worse with the minute. He needed to get out of here!
A correction officer leaned across the counter.
“Captain… I’ve phoned again. They said they’ll be bringing him down in fifteen minutes. “
Peterson smiled his weary thanks, and his gaze moved slowly, inexorably, back to the mime artist. The officer, following his gaze, murmured quietly:
“You see him…? See those two villains in there with him? Those two are crystal meths manufacturers. The worst… The P.D. just rolled them up. Turns out that they were in the experimental stage. The poor retard there… “
He nodded his head towards the distant glass cage.
“They used him as an expendable guinea pig. Didn’t care if it killed him or not. As for him… He’s just harmless. Gentle as a lamb. They filled him up with all sorts of filthy chemicals, and as you can see, he’s away with the fairies. Mind, he was like that before those two sadists got hold of him… “
Peterson shook his head, and felt a sad, quiet stab of pity for the mime artist. He had seen the so-called drug labs. If only the public could see the appalling lack of cleanliness and hygiene in these back street drug dens. The cavalier, reckless, indiscriminate mixing of chemicals, normally used for mundane purposes such as cleaning toilets, that would now end up in people’s bodies. Maybe then, young people might just…

“…We talked about drug abuse, children, and the dangerous chemicals people would stick in their bodies. A lot of these chemicals were dangerously toxic, even if mixed by people who knew what they were doing. In the hands of amateurs, operating only for greed, these dangers escalated exponentially. Now here, you see a sad result of the sadistic cruelty of some of these drug manufacturers. This young man, mentally handicapped, was recruited for the sole purpose… “

The lights were tiring him out.
This false shadow play, this flux of humanity passing over, this excuse for an existence!
How he wanted just to get the hell out of there… There was an awfulness here, a hidden, hovering cruelty, that made him question the very concept of Reality?
What was Reality? Was this gaol real? Was the retard real? Were those who passed by his cage, in chains, and who looked up and mocked him, were they real?
The floor of the glass cage was deliberately designed to be two feet above the corridor. The purpose of this design was so that prisoners could be closely observed, even with persons passing by in the corridor, The unintentional side effect however, was that the appearance of a caged exhibit was heightened. It was as if the mime artist was performing on a stage, his slow expressive dance for the benefit of the chained prisoners and officers passing by the dozen below him. They, for their part, thanked him not. Their eyes, full of ridicule, or empty of emotion, contained no warmth. No light.
And still, the mime artist performed…

Could there be a God, who saw this act?
A merciful, compassionate God, who saw and noted mens’ hearts? The God of Abraham, and the God of Moses? Surely not. In this setting? Surrounded by steel doors, bars, chains and handcuffs? Curses, taunts, and blasphemies? The God of Jesus? Mohammed? Here?
Why would he even bother?

“…of experimentation. The drug dealers would give him their newest drug, to see what effect it would have on him. To see how potent they could make it. They didn’t care about his health, or even his life. Unfortunately, his already handicapped brain, damaged at birth due to oxygen starvation, in this manner suffered additional degradation as a result of toxic compounds entering the anterior cortex, and setting up the conditions for cerebral cancer. Associated with this cancer is swelling, hallucinations, and extreme migraine headaches. Life expectancy in such cases… “

credit: Andreufg

Oh…! The retard was looking straight at him. Despite himself, despite his experience in dealing with prisoners and mentally handicapped persons, he felt a shiver run down his spine. Across the melee of the booking hall, across the desk, the filing cabinets, and the heads of several hundred people, there he was, staring, staring, directly into Peterson’s eyes.
What….? Quit staring at me, you fool!
It annoyed him, and he looked away. A safe distance in time later, he carefully, casually, looked back, his face composed in a professionally neutral, practised non-seeing mask.
And still the little bastard is staring at me…!
The retard, smiling ephemerally, into a far distant galactic spectacle of the myriad mysteries of the Universe, was still there, looking directly into Peterson’s eyes. Then, casually, gently, as if it was part of his mime, he beckoned the uniformed spectator to come to him…
The correction officer, observant, still leaning over the counter confidentially towards Peterson’s ear, chuckled quietly as he watched the silent invitation..
“He likes you…yeah, you know, he’s super friendly…! I don’t even know why the cops brought him in. He’s done nothing wrong. I think it’s gonna be protective custody for a while, until he sees the medic… “

Peterson forced himself to look away. He wanted not to see that horrible mime any more, that strange shadow play, the fluent conversations with unseen visitors. The lips that moved as if in earnest discourse, the nods, the head movements, the silent assent when agreement was reached on an important item of philosophical interest…
Peterson wanted to fly home, back to the comfort of his wife, his dogs, and his computer.
Almost angrily, no, angrily, he dismissed the creature from his mind, and, with his own prisoner now finally making an appearance, chained and escorted by two officers, he was glad to involve himself busily and importantly with the paperwork.

He left the building, ten minutes later, but not before he had sneaked one last glance at the mime artist. For a brief millisecond. And realized, with a shock, that the retard, unmoved, was still standing in the same place, smiling peacefully, looking straight at him.
And waving goodbye…

Despite himself, he had felt a peculiar wave. In that millisecond, before his bullet proof protective shell had slammed down around him, it was as if he had been… what?

Who, he asked himself, is the incarcerated one?
In this bi-polar world…. the Godless, tragic, futile one that he saw and worked in, that wrestled furiously with the unseen, maybe non-existing spiritual world that was nonetheless a fervent reality in many people’s minds… who was free?

Who was it that was locked up? The retard, in his glass cage?

Or… himself, stepping out even now, strongly, in the bright sunshine, down the sidewalk

hopelessly locked up
in the prison
of his walled, dull mind
penned up,
in the cloisters
of his starving

Francis Meyrick

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on July 16, 2013, 9:27 pm

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