“Tell me your name and date of birth.”
“Zach Martine, September first, 1985.”
“What year is it, Zach?”
I made a face. “Hard to keep track in prison.”
“At least you still know where you are.” Dr. Luis Serrano crossed his arms and leaned back on his stool. “Tell me what brings you here today, Zach.”
“Headaches. And I’m seeing things.”
“What do you see?”
“I see people. I hear them talking.”
“What do they say?”
“I can’t make out the words.”
Serrano tilted his ample chin down and studied me. “How about the nightmares?”
“Not so much. I get woken up by mutilated bodies only once a week.”
“I see.” He switched on his scope and shined a blue-white light in my eye. “Look at my right ear.” He moved the light back and forth. It burned. I tried to focus on his ear.
The damned light was too much. I clenched my eyes and turned away from the searing glare.
I blinked. Dr. Serrano, still perched on his stool, pressed a phone to his ear, nodding as he listened.
The door opened, and a male nurse I did not know entered. The nurse stared at Serrano and said, “Luis. What’s wrong?”
Serrano dropped the phone onto an instrument tray and gripped his knees with both hands. “It’s my mother. She’s—”
I stared back at Dr. Serrano. The nurse was not in the room. Serrano still had his scope in his hand.
“Zach, did you just have an hallucination?”
“No. I mean, yes. It was so real. This one was more distinct than the others.”
A long sigh. “You may be entering Stage 6, which often brings on hallucinations. The strange thing is that when they started those experimental treatments, you were only presenting Stage 3 symptoms. I’ve never heard of early onset Alzheimer’s advancing so quickly.”
“So my concern is that the spinal taps you received were—counterproductive.”
The thought of those needles burrowing into my spine made me squirm in my seat. “You mean they made my condition worse.”
“I’ve never liked the idea of using prisoners for human subject research. I know you volunteered but—” Serrano clasped his hands together. “Let’s schedule an appointment for next week, see how you’re doing. Okay?”
Dr. Serrano stood and pressed a button on the wall. The medical facility’s security doors creaked open and my guard, Bob Hammer, strode in and led me into the prison’s main corridor.
Hammer grabbed my shoulder and I stopped. Three inmates with shackles on their feet waddled past, followed by four armed guards, one with a half-dozen handcuffs jangling on his belt. A muffled call on the PA system requested backup for a disruptive prisoner on B Block.
Hammer and I continued toward the Alzheimer’s pod. Despite his appearance, not to mention his name, Bob Hammer was friendlier than most of the guards. A solid man of average height, he had fierce eyebrows, thick facial features, and an air about him the Marines would call “command presence.” Hammer kept order with a lightning-fast baton and a cruel sense of humor.
An inmate I did not recognize limped toward me. He was only four feet away when Hammer stepped into his path and stared him down.
The inmate leaned to his side and glared at me. “What’s this walking pile of shit doing here?”
“Step away, prisoner.”
The man didn’t budge.
Hammer pushed him. The man stumbled back and nearly fell, but kept his eyes locked on me. He pointed and said, “You’re a damn traitor.”
Hammer gave the inmate a final glance over his shoulder and nudged me forward.
“Your fame continues to spread, Martine.”
“Cons don’t mind counterfeiters, drug lords, or scammers. But there’s something about betraying your country that really pisses ‘em off.”
I kept walking. Five years ago I might’ve argued that exposing crimes against civilians was the opposite of treason.
But that was five years ago.
An inmate named Lonnie Gorcy moved toward me, fast. One hand hung low at his side, with something couched in his palm.
Gorcy veered toward Hammer, but Hammer didn’t react. Another inmate, a rat-faced man we called Nikita, stepped in front of Hammer as if he wasn’t there. Gorcy’s hand shot out, and a metallic flash sank into Nikita’s belly.
I froze in place, unable to speak.
“What’s the problem, Martine?”
I gaped stupidly at Hammer, and turned. No sign of Gorcy or Nikita.
“You seein’ things again?”
“Get over it. Remember, it’s all in your head.”
A week later, I waited for a guard to escort me to the medical facility for my follow-up exam. If Hammer was on duty, he was late. And Bob Hammer was never late.
Minutes later, he called to me from the barred window at the entrance to the Alzheimer’s pod.
“I can’t take you to the doc, Martine. The prison’s on lockdown.”
“Gorcy finally iced Nikita.”
A chill rippled down my back. “When?”
“About ten minutes ago. Right in the main corridor, where everyone could see him. The man must’ve snapped. He only had 30 days left in his sentence.” Hammer’s dark eyes glowed. “The real mystery is why it took him so long.”
“Yes,” I said. “A true mystery.”
The next day, Hammer rattled his baton against the bars on my window.
“How’s everyone at Memory Lane?”
A couple of my bunkies looked up.
“You guys are the only prisoners who’re breaking out of here in plain sight.” Hammer laughed. “Hey, Martine, you have an appointment.” He unlocked the door and I shuffled out.
We moved slowly, too slowly, along the busy corridor. The rhythmic slapping of flip-flops on the floor, occasional shouts, and the clanging of metal doors opening and closing faded into a distant hum. I kept my head low, eyes on my feet, hoping to move past any visions along the way.
Hammer checked me in at the medical facility and I sat down. A male nurse took a stool in front of me. I tried not to stare. He was the nurse I’d seen in the vision a week earlier.
“I’m Akira, and I’ll be filling in for Dr. Serrano today. After I take your vitals, we’ll run through a Mini-Cog to test your memory.”
“Where’s Dr. Serrano?”
Akira opened his mouth, shut it, and studied me a moment. “That’s personal.” He shifted in his seat. “Well, everyone will know soon. His mother passed away this morning.”
It took me a moment to catch my breath. “Were you with him when he heard the news?”
That question got me a long, blank stare. “That’s not important. Now listen carefully. I’m going to say three words…”
We went through the Mini-Cog, and Akira entered notes into a laptop. Judging from his many frowns, I didn’t do well.
When we were finished, Bob Hammer escorted me back to my pod. As we crept down the corridor, I tried to make sense of what was happening to me.
There was only one possible explanation. I could foresee death.
My affliction, the experimental treatments, and witnessing death so many times on the battlefield had apparently left me with this ability—one I did not want.
We stopped at the entrance to my pod. Hammer said, “You’re kinda quiet today.”
“Dr. Serrano’s mother died.”
Hammer shrugged. “Yeah, I heard.” His mouth curled into a half-smile as he unlocked the door. “Probably for the best.”
“Why do you say that?”
Hammer pulled the metal door and it screeched open.
I shuffled in and Hammer locked the door behind me. He gazed at me through the bars.
“You know, that’s the thing about this pod. I can tell you guys anything and know it’s gonna be forgotten. We’re not supposed to talk about the personal lives of our staff. But the truth is, the Doc’s mother had been in hospice almost a year. She’d been in pain. Bad pain.”
Hammer raised a wooly eyebrow and disappeared.
I sat in the swivel chair at the pod’s only desk and aimlessly searched the faces of my bunkies. The second youngest was 27 years older than me. He’d been flipping through the pages of an old magazine when he looked up and our eyes met. His face, free of guilt or worry, radiated childlike innocence. It was almost beatific. And it sparked a question.
Why had I volunteered for those experimental Alzheimer’s treatments? Gazing at my bunkie, it puzzled me that anyone would resist the advent of such gentle peace.
I closed my eyes and focused. Finally, I found the answer. Though I never renounced my actions exposing the war crimes I’d witnessed, I could not help but feel guilty. So many had judged me so, that it eventually sank into my soul. Letting the Hourglass Corporation experiment on me was a way to make amends. It would help others, they said.
I spun around in my chair. Dr. Serrano bent close to me.
“I’m sorry, doctor. I didn’t hear you come in.”
Serrano cocked his head. “He’s not responding. Go ahead and prepare him for transport.”
Bob Hammer stared at me, his feral eyebrows arched. “But he still has that look in his eyes. Something tells me he can hear us.”
“Maybe, but I doubt if he understands. It’s common at Stage 7.”
“Damn.” Hammer’s broad face turned impish. “Hey, Zach, congratulations. You made it. First jailbreak under my watch – evah.”
Serrano cut his eyes at Hammer and cleared his throat. “Zach, you’re going to a facility that can give you the assistance you need. You’ll be fine.”
Hammer slipped behind me. “You hear that, Zach? You’re gonna be okay.”
I turned to ask him what was going on, but in the space where Hammer should have been, two of my bunkies stood smiling at me. And when I twisted back around, Dr. Serrano was gone.
I remained at the desk, determined not to budge until I understood. Slowly, glimpses of things long hidden came to me, and I realized how wrong I’d been about so many things. My advancing condition was not a tragic loss. It was a gift.
The spinal taps hadn’t given me the power to see death approaching. It was better than that. I had the power to see wishes about to come true. I’d foreseen the secret wishes of Lonnie Gorcy, Dr. Serrano—and my own. The part of me that kept my deepest desire hidden was ebbing away, leaving behind a shock of insight that both enshrouded and comforted.
Maybe I’d forgotten some things, but I’d learned others. Now I knew there was an end to my sentence. I’d been staring at growing darkness, unaware it came from a light rising behind me, a light I knew would soon sweep me up and cradle me. Forever.
M. C. Tuggle lives and writes in Charlotte, North Carolina. His fantasy, science fiction, and mystery short stories have appeared in several publications, including Mystery Weekly, Hexagon, and Metaphorosis. The Novel Fox released his novella Aztec Midnight in 2016. He blogs on all things literary at https://mctuggle.com/