Short Story: Smiling

This is a short story I wrote just before my last post about mysteries.  In fact, this story sparked the discussion in that post, as I tried to figure out if this would work.  I’m still not quite sure, but I’d love to hear your reactions to it.  It’s a little darker than I usually do— not as much humor, definitely.  I don’t think it’s my best work, but it’s definitely unique for me, and I hope you enjoy it.  Bonus points for unraveling the mystery.

They took my picture today.

I write this on a piece of notepaper the warden gave me.  I’m allowed to write one letter home, to you; but I’m not sure if this will get to you.  They will try to read it, but even if they do, it won’t be in time.  The mail here is notoriously slow.  And if they do read it, it will not get to you, for I will be in a different cell, possibly a different jail, pending further investigation with no contact allowed.  I will disappear, and they will be victorious.  But that is only if the mail is not slow.  It will be.

I was captured yesterday, trying to sneak a bribe to the warden.  Never mind that he took it— it was a foolish plan, ready to fall apart the moment it began.  I was easily caught.  I was sick, never a good thing on a job, and that slowed me down enough that they caught me before I had gone ten steps.  They slapped me straight into solitary confinement, then transferred me to a shared cell with a man named Sam.  Sam used to be a con artist, but turned thug the moment they put him in the slammer.  No inmate goes near him now, and he’s supposed to be in solitary, except the warden thought I’d be a good cellmate.  Sam’s been fine so far— we’ve met before.

You might be wondering why they’re so adamant I have a bad time here.  All I did was question the warden’s already stained reputation for justice— why would I be so cruelly treated?  Well you might ask, since I haven’t seen you in five years.  You probably didn’t know I was a criminal ‘til you got this letter.  If you get it.  Well, the warden has it for me anyway.  Like Sam and I, we’ve met before.  A couple years ago, I stole a sample of “edible metal”— a small batch that could theoretically enclose a micro-transmitter or some such technology.  The warden caught me on the way out— he was still in the field then— but couldn’t detain me because, without evidence, I’d done nothing wrong.  I had swallowed the metal, knowing it would be reusable once it reappeared.  It made me slightly sick, but it was worth it.

No, the warden doesn’t like me all that much.  He isn’t quite experienced enough not to make things personal between himself and his convicts.  I almost pity him, the way things will go down after this.  But not that much.

But let me tell you how I met my friend Sam.  He was a con man, as I said, but that’s not all.  He was a small fellow, shrimpy but sharp— always, even here in the prison, using his intellect instead of physical charm or strength.  He was a skilled actor, as well as a highly accomplished computer technician.  He worked on remote mechanisms mostly, making them smaller and smaller.  He once created a button that would open electronic doors, which he used every time he went to a grocery store.  Never mind the doors were already automatic.

Sam was a little obsessive, however— he idolized many of the great escape artists of the past, but thought the one trick they missed, never even attempting it, was getting free of a state-of-the-art prison without a trace.  I worked with him a while, encouraged him, for an entirely different reason.  He wanted to emulate and outdo all his heroes.  I wanted to make an example, to make the prison system better.  You and I both know why.

The warden knows Sam’s history, of course— minus my involvement, which was secret.  He made sure to make Sam’s cell the best in every way.  Electronic everything.  The locks, the lights, even the toilet.  He gets no visitors, no gifts.  He has his own fish-eye camera in the corner, with no blind or dead spots, protected by plexiglass.  Sam may have gotten himself into prison for this trick, but the warden meant to make sure he never came out.

If only they took the same precautions with everyone.  If only they had thirty years ago.  You remember, don’t you?  Or have you blocked it out like everything else you don’t like, everything else you knew about him?  The father who vanished from his cell to reappear at his home, finding the children he never loved gone?  The father who tracked us down afterwards?  Perhaps the prison could have taken better care to keep him under lock and key, the certified psychopath with three past restraining orders and an attempted murder.  Perhaps they could have seen it coming.

That’s why I’m here.  I think you’ll appreciate it, showing them at last how much they miss in their pride and arrogance.  I think you’ll enjoy seeing it unfold as we, Sam and I, escape forever.

I was sick today.  Had to throw up on my bed and clean it myself.  Sam could barely keep from laughing out loud— but that would have brought the warden.  No, we don’t need him yet.  Not until it’s time for you to turn on the TV and see what we did.  See what happened after years of work, the culmination a mere press of a button.  You’ll love it.

I had my picture taken today.  Beneath the scowl of my mug shot, you could see, just barely— I was smiling.

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44 thoughts on “Short Story: Smiling

  1. Oh my gracious.

    I’m so confused. Apparently I’m not so good at solving mysteries.

    Um…this guy writing the letter has a plan. That’s why he’s smiling. And it has something to do with Sam’s electronic door-opener-button-thing. Right?

    Perhaps the warden is more connected to the letter-writer than he told. Something to do with that father, which I’m guessing might possibly be his father? And who’s he writing the letter to? I got in my head a picture of a sister or something, but maybe that has something to do with the warden too.

    Basically, I’m just really confused. Good job…I think?

    1. Rereading helped… a little. But I’m still lost. I think that second paragraph might be important, but I don’t quite understand what it’s saying… is it supposed to be confusing, or am I just reading it wrong?

      I’m probably thinking about this a little too hard…missing something very obvious, aren’t I?

      1. Same. Same same same. I usually notice details and make way too much of them, then miss the thing right in front of me. Ugh.

  2. POV and Sam are working together to get out of the prison. POV swallowed a microchip or something in the edible metal which made him sick. He threw up to get whatever it was. It sounds like they are possibly going to frame the warden for all this or that the warden was actually on their side. I’m not entirely sure how POV’s dad fits into all this. I wonder (and this is really far-fetched) if POV and Sam are actually undercover cops or something trying to improve prison security. Or they might be spies. Or I’m entirely missing it. May come back and comment more later…

  3. Okay, I think I got some of it. POV swallowed Sam’s button which was enclosed in the “edible metal” that he had saved from a couple years ago. POV then threw it back up when he got sick in the jail cell. Like you said, everything in the cell was electronic, so Sam’s button would open the door and allow the two to escape.

    That’s all I’ve figured out right now…I get the feeling that the warden is somehow related to POV or Sam, but I haven’t found any evidence to prove that. If I unravel any more of this mystery, I’ll leave another comment. 🙂

  4. That was amazing! I’m eager to see how the rest of this unfolds… you will please write a second short story, right?
    This was to good not to be added onto…

  5. Alright, this is my comment having read the post but not the other comments. I may comment again after reading what the others have said.

    The narrator is writing to his brother. The two had a psychotic, murderer father who escaped from prison thirty years ago and tracked them down, even though they had fled home. Because of the trauma of his youth, the narrator’s life goal is to make prisons more secure. Towards that goal, he befriends a con man, an escape artist, Sam, and helps him escape from prison, while ensuring that the escape is caught on camera, so that everyone sees how they escape and measures are taken accordingly to make prisons more secure in future.

    This is how they escaped: years ago, the narrator stole a micro-transmitter and swallowed it. (I think this micro-transmitter was designed by Sam — either that, or Sam simply knows how to operate it because he’s really good with that kind of thing). He knows that later he will be able to excrete/vomit out the transmitter and it will still work. Later, when Sam is in prison, he deliberately gets himself caught, and is sent to Sam’s cell because the warden hates him and wants to doubly punish him. He vomits up the mircro-transmitter and they both escape on camera, using Sam’s super tech skills and taking advantage of the fact that the whole cell is operated by electronics.

    Cool story: it took a lot of brain engagement, two and a half readings, and I’m still not sure I’ve nailed it… yet I feel like all the clues are there.

      1. Mwahaha, thanks Amanda. The only thing I don’t understand is, what was the significance of the mail being slow?

      2. If the mail was quicker, the warden would have read the letter and possibly figured out the significance— as you did— before the plan could be implemented.

      3. It was certainly one of the least readable of your stories, but also, I thought, one of the cleverest. I’m sure I wouldn’t know how to lay all the clues, making it possible to decipher and yet at the same time very difficult.

      4. Ah… I think that makes sense.

        Perhaps readable isn’t quite the right word. At any rate, it’s not something that’s bad in the context of this type of story, I don’t think — it’s just something that’s difficult, or that takes a lot of brain engagement. Rather like listening in on one side of a stranger’s conversation. In other words, it’s un-readable in the sense that it doesn’t make any sense if you just read it passively. Which is not a bad thing, unless you have a lazy audience.

        (sorry, I don’t think that made sense, I’m sleepy)

    1. My apologies. I was in Europe for the last two weeks, and scheduled this post in advance. i was unable to comment. But congratulations anyway.

      (I’ve already offered two others guest posts here, but you deserve one too. I should have a guest post week soon.)

      1. No worries, I was being melodramatic. Hope you had a great time in Europe.

        (I’m sure I deserve no such thing. But if I do get one, I should be honoured.)

      2. I did. Thank you.

        (Consider it yours. But be warned, you’re in competition with a couple others— whoever gets theirs in first gets it posted first.)

      3. (Thank you! I’m in no hurry to go first though — In fact, I am tremendously busy until August 15th, so I wouldn’t do it before then anyway. I hope there’s no deadline?)

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