The cafeteria was filled to the brim with inmates. As they were all lining up in front of the food dispensers, we were making our rounds around the place. The tall white walls made for a pretty crushing feeling. Then again, perhaps this was why we never had any discipline problems.
They all look so normal, I thought. If they weren’t all wearing uniforms, I’d say these women were completely ordinary citizens. And yet, they all deserved to be there, there could be no doubt. The legal system had at that point been refined to a degree that there was no possibility of a mistake. These women were all thieves, bandits, murderers. Yes, they looked like normal humans. But deep down, they were anything but. This white box contained the very scum of the Earth. And I was its guardian.
My job was to make sure all the automatic functions were implemented properly. I was in charge of checking if the doors locked the way they’re supposed to, if the bots guided the inmates to their proper cells, or if the food was delivered to the proper cells. The higher-ups always made a big deal over the health of the inmates, so we had to make sure the people didn’t get any allergies. What a waste of money.
This week was also my turn to patrol the West block in the evenings. No one ever wanted to do that – that block was the one where all the people with a life-sentence were. It never made a difference to me, however. The prisoners were all very quiet, regardless of the wing they inhabited. They were all criminals, sinners anyway, no matter how you looked at it. I just found patrolling extremely boring.
My first patrol night started pretty normal. The hall was two stories high, with two rows of cells with glass doors on one wall, a large glass window on the whole of the opposite wall, with a beautiful view of the forest and mountains, engulfed in a thick fog. They don’t deserve this kind of view, I would always think, but that’s just the way things work now. The cells in this block housed one person each, so they were quite tiny. Barely anything more than a bed fit in there, and yet the inmates still found enough space to clutter them with their own stuff. One cell was filled to the brim with abstract drawings, the walls of another were lined with books, and there was one that was filled with toy cats – probably presents from a kid or something.
And then there was a room full of crosses and other Catholic iconography. One picture that drew the attention in particular was a very ornate painting of the Black Madonna. Such a waste, I said to myself as I looked at the room. No amount of prayer is going to save you from going there.
“Hey,” I heard a voice from the cell. The person that up until that point I could’ve sworn was fast asleep turned to face me. Jennifer Stone, sentenced to life for the murder of her sister. Up until the last minute she swore she hadn’t done it. But the evidence never lied. The brown eyes of this forty-something white woman radiate gazed at me. Had I not known I was looking at a cold-blooded killer, those eyes would’ve definitely made me trust her. “You’re Laura, aren’t you?”
“Didn’t think inmates cared to remember our names,” I said. “Go back to sleep.”
“No, no, you’re Laura!” she stood up and approached the glass door, placing a sweaty hand against the door right in front of my face. Thank God for the glass.”I remember you! From back then.”
“You were there with me when the angels came, a long time ago… Ten years or so, I think.”
“Angels, huh?” I smirked. “Go back to sleep, Ms. Stone.”
“You don’t remember?” her eyes went wide in disbelief. I thought she was about to cry. “All those years ago we were taken, remember? There was so many of us… And you helped me get out.”
“That’s good to hear, thank you,” I smiled at her and wanted to keep going, but she kept talking to me.
“Please, you must remember,” she was almost sobbing. “They came to me in my dream. They’re coming again. The end of days is upon us.”
“Please go back to sleep, Ms. Stone.”
“You don’t believe me…” she whispered. “Check the mark below your left breast then. You surely have it. A small red star.”
“That is quite enough,” I said a bit too loudly. The prisoners around me started to emit irritated noises. I slammed the green button hidden next to the door and shutters fell down on Ms. Stone’s cell entrance. She wouldn’t bother me anymore that night. Or so I thought.
I couldn’t help thinking about what she said on the way home. I knew I had no mark there, I was certain of that. And yet, I had to check. Something about what she said stirred something bad in my mind, something I was supposed to forget. Something I couldn’t understand and that I knew would bring me pain. Ten years ago… Angels...
Amos, my faithful German shepherd, greeted me as he always did when I finally came home. I had not time to say hello to him, however. I rushed to the bathroom and stripped in front of the mirror. For a moment, I held my breath. Lifting and stretching any piece of skin I could grab, I scanned every inch of my torso. Then, finally, the breath came back. I felt so relieved. There was nothing there. And yet, for some reason, tears came rolling down my eyes, and my body wouldn’t stop shaking. Amos came to my side and started licking my face. I hugged him as tight as he would let me. The empty feeling seemed to slowly go away.
“Thanks, buddy,” I said to the dog once I was feeling better. I then dressed again and went to the kitchen to give him some food. I then took him for a long walk in the fog. That really helped ease my nerves. The lake was so close, and yet it was barely visible in these conditions. Still, just the smell and sound of it made me remember my childhood and how happy I used to be back then. For all the complaining I used to do, I now wished there was somebody who would nag to me about how I should be getting married and having kids.
For the next couple of days, I asked Maria Velasquez to take care of my patrols for me. I offered to take her shift next time. She agreed after I told her I wasn’t feeling that well. Though we didn’t talk much, I always felt a kind of bond with Maria. I knew that I could always count on her, and despite her cold expression, I could tell that she always cared deeply about other people.
I quickly forgot about the whole business, but was soon reminded of it. The other guards started talking about Ms. Stone. Apparently, something happened and her health was deteriorating rapidly. The doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with here. She wasn’t sick, she didn’t seem to have any physical injuries. She was just dying. Just like that. Even though there was no death penalty, we still had a policy of allowing dying prisoners to have one last wish fulfilled. As luck would have it, Ms. Stone’s dying wish was to talk to me. And thus, on the day she drew her last breath, I was called to the infirmary.
“Laura,” she heaved. “You came.”
“I’m sorry, Ms. Stone, but you must have mistaken me with somebody,” I told her. “I didn’t find any mark. I wasn’t there with your angels.”
“I see.” Her voice was faint. Barely a whisper. “That’s why you aren’t dying. Your surgery was successful.”
“Listen to me, Laura, and listen closely,” she whispered as she grabbed my hand. Her grip was tight despite her state. “The angels have chosen you. It is up to you. You are the one who will bring justice to this world and punish those who did this to us.”
“Ms. Stone. I’m sorry, but this all really is a bunch of nonsense to me.”
“The angels will come to you in a dream, as they came to me. They will take you. I was unworthy. For my crime, I was deemed unworthy. I couldn’t go with them… But you can go and you can make this right…”
A single tear rolled down my cheek. But she’s a murderer, I said to myself. She may regret it, but she still deserves all this. So don’t cry. Don’t cry for her, she’s doomed anyway, don’t mourn her.
“Goodbye, Ms. Stone,” I said. She nodded and closed her eyes. I left the infirmary and continued my duties like nothing happened. Because nothing happened. It was all a bunch of nonsense.
But then why did I feel like I needed to scream?