I spin around and see two women rolling on the ground, hair flying. Fights are a pretty rare occurrence, but when they happen it’s nasty. I once read that men fight to injure, but women fight to kill.
The women roll closer to our table, and we all jerk out of the way in case some of the action heads toward us. I can hardly see who it is, but Georgina is quick to say it’s Roxie and Jinx. And they are going at each other: hands whacking, hair pulling, face slapping, and rib kicking. The whole nine. But it doesn’t go on for too long. Two guards descend on them, yanking the women apart. Some damage is already done. Jinx has a bloody nose and a swelling eye, and Roxie’s lip is split open.
“Fuck, man. Did you see that? Roxie almost killed the bitch! Bam!” Margot slams her hand on the table and my head rings. Jodi laughs. Must be nice for her to sit back and chuckle, since she’s never actually fought in here.
“Enough, Margot, or the guards are gonna be over here next.” Steph eyes her and Margot settles down.
The cafeteria is returning to normal so we sit again, and I try to force a spoonful of my cold, lumpy lunch down. It takes all my concentration to swallow the disgusting mouthful. My stomach clenches, so I drop my spoon.
“No offense, princess, but you look like shit,” Georgina says in between shovels. She’s a fat pig. No matter how disgusting the food is in here, don’t take your eyes off your plate or it’ll be in her goddamn mouth before you know what’s happening.
I lock my gaze on her. “Thanks. Just giving you a chance to feel a bit better about your ugly ass.”
She shoots me the finger.
“Seriously, you look pale, like even more than normal,” Stephanie chimes in, sounding far too motherly for my liking.
I smile. “Thanks, ladies. You sure are the fucking cheer committee today.”
“This shrink is really taking the piss outta you, huh? I ain’t never seen you so frazzled before,” Jodi says.
“I’m just tired. Been sleeping like shit, the food is inedible, and yes, talking in circles about your feelings is agony. So I’m taking donations—any booze, pills, or weed is welcome.” Most of what I say is bravado. Keeping up appearances is key to survival in this hellhole. I can’t afford to get caught with any contraband in case a miracle happens and I have a chance of getting out. What a kick in the tit that would be, if I got approved only to have a stupid joint found in my bunk.
“We’re all suffering in here, princess, so buck up.” Georgina braces her gigantic noggin on top of her propped arms.
It takes all my strength to stay calm. Sometimes people in here forget what I’m capable of. Maybe some of them don’t believe in my history and are willing to take a chance by coming at me.
Too bad I’m on my best behavior.
Margot puts a hand in Georgina’s face. “Lay off her, Gina. Ain’t none of us know what being examined under a microscope like that feels like. I know I’d be stressed to fucking shit if my whole future relied on talking to one damn bitch for a couple of weeks.”
“Thanks, Margot, but you don’t have to defend me.”
“Yeah, princess is a big girl. She can take care of herself, or so she wants us to think.”
I glower at her and swallow the scream that threatens to explode out of me. I’m afraid if I release it, I’ll never stop. “You got something to say?” I sit on my hands. Just in case I’m a little too tempted to gouge her eyes out.
Georgina stands up from her spot at the table across from me and walks around to my side. “Actually, yeah. I think you’re a fucking weak-ass bitch who ain’t no one afraid of in here, especially not me. You walk around all high and mighty, thinking you’re better than us, smarter and prettier than us, but guess what—you in here just like the fucking rest of us, and I ain’t scared by your supposed past.” She makes finger quotations an inch from my face.
I stand. We’re eye to eye. I can feel her hot, stinky breath on my face. Her finger jabs me in the chest. My blood fills my ears and I can’t hear much past the intense rushing. I clench my fists at my sides. Ready. I want her to come at me so badly. “Is that so? You gonna do something about it then?” I say, smacking her finger away from me. My eyes narrow on her acne-scarred face.
Before I can register what’s happening, I feel her two bony hands dig into my chest. The air is pushed out and I gasp. My legs tremble. Teeth clench.
It only takes me a second to leap onto her. Her fingers are entwined in my hair and I can feel the pressure as she yanks. I elbow her, and she lets go. The top of my hand swings across her cheek and I hear a loud slapping sound. Her head flies back, her arms wave wildly as she tries to grab a hold of me, but my adrenaline is pumping so hard that I don’t feel anything. My hands find their way to her neck. I squeeze and squeeze. Teeth gritting.
The power of my fingers pressing into the flesh of her neck makes me shiver with excitement. It feels like I can breathe for the first time since that day in the library all those years ago.
I have tunnel vision. I only see her eyes rolling back and her mouth attempting to suck in air. My heartbeat increases in my ears. Thump. Thump. Thump. My hands and wrists must be aching, but I don’t feel them.
Her arms keep flailing. Her fingers attempt to dig at my face. I don’t feel that either, I just keep pressing my hands into her. Squeezing. I wonder how much longer until she dies. I’m tingling all over.
And then I feel hands on me—pulling and yanking me off her. I fight harder, and then so do the hands.
My grasp is broken. I’m being lifted into the air. I’m screaming and swearing. I’m shaking, ferocious with rage. It’s a sensation from a time very long ago, yet it’s so familiar to me.
A man’s gruff voice breaks into my trance. My arms are twisted behind my back where I’m cuffed. Tightly. “That’s enough, Wilkanson! You’re done! You’re done!”
Now that I’m off her, I realize in a sobering moment that he might not be talking about just the fight. A hurtling wave of nausea makes my stomach twist and my mouth water.
I may have just ruined any chance I ever had to get out of here.
I’m whisked away by two guards who throw me into solitary.
They aren’t gentle with me as they literally launch me inside the room. I’ve never been in here before, but I’ve heard enough horror stories to know I never wanted to see it. I land on the ground with a thud. My bones vibrate from the motion. My arms are sore and bruised above my elbows where I was manhandled.
“I got to say, I’m surprised to see you in here, Wilkanson. There goes your perfect record. Was it worth it?” The guard, Han, shakes his head. He looks like a disappointed daddy and not some guy who’s getting underpaid to deal with us lowlifes.
I remain quiet, as is my right. It’s about the only thing I can control in here.
The other guard that has kindly accompanied me to the hole is Rickers. Unlike Han, has a smug smile on his face, like he’s been waiting for this moment with a lousy fifty bucks riding on it.
Han spins me around and unlocks the handcuffs. My wrists are sore from being forced into the cold, hard metal. I rub them, trying to get the circulation back into my hands. My brain finally registers where I am as I look around the closet-sized room. There’s nothing in here but a sweat- stained pad on the floor and a disgusting dirty blanket that I wouldn’t touch for fear of contracting scabies or countless other contagious diseases.
“Someone will be in later to bring you to your hearing. Do you want anyone else there with you?” Rickers asks.
“What do you mean? I don’t understand what’s happening,” I say, and it’s the truth. I’ve never committed an offense before. My anger has dwindled, and I’m left in a state of confusion and shock. My body trembles. I can even feel my ribs shaking. What did I fucking do?
Han stands tall, shoulders squared, with his hand on his baton. He looks like he’s ready to take down a linebacker and not some hundred-and-ten-pound chick. “You’ll be taken in to see an adjudicator. You can bring in witnesses if you think it’ll help your case. You’ll tell them what happened and plead guilty or not guilty of the offense—in this case, assaulting a fellow inmate.”
“But Georgina started it. She hit me first!” Ugh. I hear the pitiful whine in my voice and I wonder how I suddenly became a petulant child. I need to get my shit together before the hearing if I have any hope in hell of being taken seriously. “Can you ask Stephanie Harvey and Jodi Brown to come? They were there.”
“We’ll see what we can do,” Han says.
“So what, I have to stay in here until then? How long does this hearing take to set up?” I ask. My palms are slick, and I wipe them on the thighs of my pants.
“It could be a few hours.”
“Oh, great,” I exhale, relieved.
“Or it could be tomorrow,” Rickers adds.
My eyes and mouth widen. “What? You mean to tell me that I could be stuck in this hell
hole overnight?” My mind reels. My bunk is shitty, but it’s the Westin compared to this hovel. “That’s right.” Rickers smiles. “Shoulda thought about that before you tried to kill someone in here.” He walks out with Han right behind him.
My hand goes up and I wave for them to stop. “No, wait. You can’t leave me.”
Han takes another step away. “I’m afraid we can, and just in case we’re not back today, sleep tight.” The hefty steel door slams shut. The sound reverberates, echoing painfully in my ears. I’m dizzy. The walls look like they’re getting closer. The air is cold and stale. My stomach turns over.
Think, Ryann. Lunch was served at one o’clock. The fight happened just after, which puts it around two. There’s got to be enough time to get a judge or adjudicator to see me. What if the warden won’t let Steph and Jodi out to testify for me?
I need water. My mouth is so dry.
Surely someone will come soon. In twelve years at this prison, I’ve never so much as hid a candy bar I wasn’t supposed to have. I don’t deserve this.
Fighting is a major infraction. Georgina wanted this. This was probably her fucking plan the entire time.
What the fuck did I do?
What you are about to read is a true story. It’s from my book, Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups. It came about because my editor hounded me for two years to put all my short stories into one collection. Actually, it was supposed to be a two-volume set because there was so much material. I fended her off for as long as possible. I didn’t want to do the work of editing all the stories. There were a lot of them. But she finally wore me down. Instead of two volumes, I put all the stories into a single book because I wanted to get the whole thing over with. I had other books to write.
Bedtime Stories is made up of fiction and nonfiction stories and some of ’em are about my criminal youth. I must tell you, I never thought any of these stories would see the light of day. I wrote them for myself and then forgot about them. By the way, there are all sort of genres within its pages, from westerns to detective stories to love stories and just about anything else that you can imagine.
There are a whole lotta stories in the book—700 pages worth. Enough to keep you reading for the foreseeable future.
Here’s one of my hitching adventures. By the way, in the hitching tales, I use my real name, Billy Doyle—Andrew Joyce being my pen name.
John, Kris, and Me
It was 1968; I was eighteen-years-old, and I was hitchhiking from Miami to New York. I had gotten off the beaten track, so to speak. I should have stayed on US 301 (this was before the Interstate Highway System), but instead found myself just south of Memphis, hoping to catch a ride into Nashville by noon and then catch a long haul out of that city.
It was early morning. The traffic was light, and I wasn’t having much luck when, suddenly, a black Mustang screeched to a halt, and the guy driving leaned over and said through the open passenger-side window, “I’m headin’ to Nashville, that do you any good?”
Of course I said, “Yes,” and jumped in.
As he’s accelerating, he’s looking straight ahead, not saying anything, which is kinda strange but not unusual when you’re hitching. So I said nothing and stared out the windshield at the fast approaching skyline of Memphis. Then it hit me. I know this guy; I should have tumbled from the voice.
At that time in my life, I was not into different types of music; I liked rock n’ roll. Since then my taste in music has matured to encompass all types. But even though this guy wasn’t a rocker, I knew him and his music. A couple of his songs had crossed over and were played on the top forty stations.
The driver was intent on what he was doing, but I think he caught me looking at him out of the corner of his eye. I noticed he had a firm grip on the steering wheel, his knuckles were white. After a few minutes, he turned to me, saying, “Howdy, my name’s John.” At the same time, he raised his right hand from the wheel and stuck it out in my direction.
We shook hands, and I said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Cash. My name is Billy.”
Once John and I shook hands, he became more talkative. Hell, he became downright verbose. He told me about his hitchhiking adventures and asked me about mine. We were three hours out of Nashville and I don’t think there was another quiet moment for the whole three hours. We talked about life, women, and we even got into a metaphysical discussion. He told me about his army days and the time he was arrested in Texas. Just to keep even, I told him stuff that had happened to me while on the road. We didn’t talk about his music or anything like that. I’d been around enough to know that coming off as a gushing fan would have been a major turn-off for him. And besides, at the time, I was not a fan, gushing or otherwise. But by the time we hit Nashville, I was becoming a fan … of the man if not his music.
As we neared Nashville, he told me he’d just gotten married a few months back and was dying to see his wife. “I’ve been gone two days and it feels like two years,” he informed me. Then he said, “It’s about dinner time; why not stop in and get something to eat and then hit the road. June’s a great cook.”
Dinner is what country folk call lunch.
I accepted his kind offer, and we got off the highway and headed for his home, which was only a few blocks away. When we got to his house and as we were pulling into the driveway, he said, “Looks like June is out somewhere, but don’t worry, we’ll rustle somethin’ up.”
I told him not to bother, that I could cadge a meal down the line. He looked at me, shook his head, and in that deep voice, he asked me if I had any money. Of course, I didn’t and I told him so. He told me that he’d been on the road and hungry, and that if I didn’t get my butt in the house pronto, he’d drag me inside.
So in we went, and we walked right back to the kitchen. John told me to sit at the table as he opened the refrigerator and looked around for a moment before saying, “Ah ha! It’s still here.” And he pulled out a platter with a ham on it. I mean a real ham, bone and all! He also came up with a jar of mustard and a hunk of cheese. As he started to slice the ham, he told me where the bread and plates were kept and asked me to get them.
When the sandwiches were made—two of them—he asked me if I’d like a beer.
So there I am, sitting in the kitchen of a man I’d met only a few hours before, and I’ve got two thick ham and cheese sandwiches and a can of beer in front of me. Not a bad score and the day was still young!
I asked him if he was going to eat, and he said beer would do him fine.
We’re sittin’ at the kitchen table, shooting the shit, when the doorbell rings. John gets up, but before he leaves, he takes a long swig of beer. “Be right back,” he says. A few minutes later, he comes back into the kitchen with this guy.
“Billy, I want you to meet a friend of mine. This here is Kris.”
I had my mouth filled with ham sandwich, so I mumbled a hello. He waved and smiled, “Glad to meet ya, Billy.”
John asked Kris, “How about a sandwich and a beer?”
“Just a beer, please. It’s my lunch hour, and I’ve got to get back to work. But I have a new song I’d like you to hear and see what you think of it.”
By now, I’d eaten my two sandwiches, and I had nothing to add to the conversation, so I figured I’d just finish my beer and get the hell out of there. But before I could say my thanks and hit the road, John leaves the room and returns a moment later with a guitar.
Prior to my going any further, I’ve got to lay the scene out for you. We’re sitting at a round kitchen table. To my left is John and directly opposite me is this guy, Kris Kristofferson (before he was famous). John and I were hitting our beers and watching Kris tune the guitar. Then he picked at the strings and started to sing. I don’t remember what the song was. I wasn’t really paying attention. In my mind, I was rehearsing my good-bye speech to John.
When Kris was done, we all three sat there looking at one another. I didn’t say anything because it wasn’t my opinion Kris sought. Kris didn’t say anything because he was waiting for John to say something, which he finally did.
“It’s not bad. But I don’t know if it’s for me.”
I’ve got to hand it to Kris; he smiled broadly and said, “That’s okay. I just wanted you to hear it and get your thoughts.” Then he lifted his beer and said, “Prosit.” That was my cue to leave. I stood and told John I had to hit the road. He said he’d drive me back to the highway, but I told him not to bother, he had company, and besides, it was only a few blocks away. Kris said if I could wait a few minutes, he’d drop me off at the highway on his way back to work. I declined his offer. I didn’t want to wait around. I had a full stomach and New York City was calling to me. I said my good-byes and walked out the front door, retrieved my case from the Mustang and headed off for further adventures.
Just one last thing: When I got to New York and opened my case, there was Benjamin Franklin staring up at me from on top of my clothes. John must have put the C-note in there when he went to let Kris in.
Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups is a jumble of genres—seven hundred pages of fiction and nonfiction … some stories included against the author’s better judgment. If he had known that one day they’d be published, he might not have been as honest when describing his past. Here is a tome of true stories about the author’s criminal and misspent youth, historical accounts of the United States when She was young, and tales of imagination encompassing every conceivable variety—all presented as though the author is sitting next to you at a bar and you’re buying the drinks as long as he keeps coming up with captivating stories to hold your interest.
Comprised of 218,000 words, you’ll have plenty to read for the foreseeable future. This is a book to have on your night table, to sample a story each night before extinguishing the lights and drifting off to a restful sleep.
Mr. Joyce sincerely hopes that you will enjoy his stories because, as he has stated, “It took a lot of living to come up with the material for some of them.”
Andrew Joyce left high school at seventeen to hitchhike throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico. He wouldn't return from his journey until years later when he decided to become a writer. Joyce has written five books. His first novel, Redemption: The Further Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, was awarded the Editors' Choice Award for Best Western of 2013. A subsequent novel, Yellow Hair, received the Book of the Year award from Just Reviews and Best Historical Fiction of 2016 from Colleen's Book Reviews.
Joyce now lives aboard a boat in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with his dog, Danny, where he is busy working on his next book, tentatively entitled, Mahoney: An American Story.
“Rahym? Rahym Tezel? Is that you?”
I still, recognizing the voice. A million and one memories seem to physically hit me, sucking the air out of my lungs.
“Yes, it’s me,” I say warily. “Who are you?”
Please don’t let it be him. Please don’t… both my subconscious and I chant.
I really don’t want to deal with that asshole right now. Or ever again, for that matter.
I get my answer. One of the hooded riders dismounts, landing in the sand. He lifts the hood back and looks at me, his emerald green eyes glowing with unearthly power. The sharp planes of his face are exaggerated by the light from the Door as he gives me a lopsided smile.
“Nakir,” I say, with a false sense of bravado, and I wish I were seeing him under different circumstances. I’ “What are you doing here?”
The smile grows, as a second rider swings a leg over the side of their horse. The rider strides up next to the asshole that I blame for the shattered remains of my life. This much closer, I can see that it’s a woman, although she doesn’t lift her hood, so I can’t see her face.
“We’re on the road, Rahym,” Nakir says, drawing my attention back to him. “And we need your help.”
“My help?” I ask.
“I’m flattered, but I don’t do that anymore. People tend to die around you.”
To my surprise, the woman next to Nakir chuckles mirthlessly. She may be crazier than I am. Not a good sign.
Nakir smirks. “Dying. Right. That’s exactly why we need you, Rahym.”
Nakir exchanges a glance with the woman. She pulls back her hood, and from the depths of my memory, I recall her.
Well, this night has taken an unexpected turn.
“Jennet,” I say, calling out her name. It’s been years, and the last time I saw her, we were teenagers, but the curve of her lips tells me that I identified her correctly. A new sort of horror overtakes me; what is Jennet doing with Nakir?
“Hello, Rahym,” she says in a clear voice. “We’re going to lift the curse. And we need you to lead us through the Door to Hell.”
About the Author:
S. K. Gregory is an author, editor and blogger. She currently resides in Northern Ireland.
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”