‘Nathan Burgoine has started a Flash Fiction Challenge of his own, modeled after the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. The idea is; ‘Nathan draws three random cards which correspond to an object, a genre and a setting. Writers put those three things into a 1000 word story, due in a week. In this case, the three draws were for a tattoo machine, a fairy tale (as the genre) and a prison (as the setting.) Having written my share of prison stories, I couldn’t pass this one up! The object is to have fun, which I did! See if you can guess which fairy tale I’m riffing on! Here’s the story, all about someone called
By Jeff Baker
Life in the Scolfield Correctional Facility was pretty much routine, but Joey figured he’d use his time to better himself. Joey’s idea of bettering himself involved getting a new tattoo. He’d spent the last three years working out in the prison weight room, so he figured his arms were big enough for a major ink project.
“A motorcycle race,” he’d outlined to his cellies. “With bikes and smoke and speed and skulls.”
Unfortunately, the arts project Joey was outlining was beyond the scope of his circle of acquaintances, to say nothing of his budget. And that’s when he heard one of the other cons showing off one of his tatts and talking up the con that’d done the artwork.
Of course, it cost. Big. The tatt artist called himself Reynaldo and he only took people he wanted or needed something from. After asking around and calling in some favors Joey finally got a message delivered, supposedly to Reynaldo. Reynaldo’s cell was in A-Block, the part of the prison reserved for “special care” inmates. The guard unlocked the gate to D Block and let Joey in without a word. Joey wondered what strings the other con had pulled.
Reynaldo’s cell was at the far end of the top tier. Blankets covered the bars and cell door, against the rules in the main part of the prison but probably not here. Joey stepped up to the cell and a hand shoved a fold in the blanket aside.
“You’re Joey, right?” the man said. Joey tried not to stare. Reynaldo was seated in a small wheelchair in the middle of a cell crammed with table, steel bunk and toilet. Reynaldo looked about seventy, he was short, and had no legs. His face was a mass of wrinkles, like a light tan prune. And all around the cell hung drawings and sketches, some in pencil, some in pen, at least one that looked like it had been drawn in blood. Joey was no expert, but he guessed the drawings were of museum quality.
“Yeah,” Joey said. “You Reynaldo?”
“Who else would I be?” Reynaldo said. “You’re here for ink.” It was a statement, not a question. “What are you into?”
Joey outlined his idea of the motorcycle race, the smoke, the wheels, everything.
“Can you do that?” Joey asked.
“I can do anything,” Reynaldo said. He rolled his chair back (not a lot of room to wheel around in here, wonder if he ever gets out of his cell, Joey thought) and reached behind the toilet and pulled out a bag wrapped in dirty rags. Out of that he pulled a cylinder that looked like a thin metal box wired to a grubby tire pressure gage. He squeezed one side of the box and the machine buzzed. Joey caught a glimpse of a needle at one end of the tire gauge. “The consultation and this first bit are free,” Reynaldo said. “It’ll take a while, and you’ll pay as you go. Violate the rules and it all comes crashing down.”
Joey glanced down at the I.D. badge all the inmates had clipped to their shirts and read the name.
“Caesar Soler, huh? How’d you get Reynaldo?”
“So-LAR. It’s Spanish. Like me. And it isn’t my real name,” Reynaldo said. “A sorcerer’s name has power, and he has to hide that power.”
“Sorcerer, huh?” Joey grinned.
“This is sorcery,” Reynaldo said, holding up the tattoo machine. It wasn’t buzzing but the needle seemed to shimmer and glisten like moonlight. “And sorcery can vanish. Poof!” He let go of the machine, caught it with a swipe of his hand in the air and placed it back in its bag. “Session’s over. Next one will cost you.”
True to his word, the next time Joey showed up at Reynaldo’s cell, he demanded payment. Payment in information. “Knowledge is power to a sorcerer.” Joey was no snitch, but this was business. Besides, Joey kept his eyes and ears open and his mouth shut. He figured this was why he got accepted into Reynaldo’s exclusive little club. Besides, he figured Reynaldo was crazy. No harm done.
But Joey got curious. He started wondering about Reynaldo. From the prison number on Reynaldo’s I.D. badge, Joey figured out that he’d been locked-up for at least twenty years. From muttered hints during the tattoo sessions, Joey guessed he had taken another man’s name and was doing someone else’s time. Reynaldo had also muttered something about “location,” and “a sorcerer needs a cave.”
The bound copies of the newspaper in the prison library went back past twenty years so Joey figured he might be able to find what he’d hoped to find: NO CHARGES FILED IN MAN’S DISSAPEARANCE. Joey read through it twice. He glanced down at his arm and flexed his bicep. The tattoo was looking good. Bikes charging in and out of the smoke and dust. He could almost hear engines roaring
The next morning, Reynaldo quizzed Joey for the latest on a small-time drug dealer who had just bought himself a month in the hole. Joey looked up and grinned.
“How about we finish this and it’s on you,” Joey said. “Or I tell people you’re really a disappeared recluse from Ivor, Kansas named,” he paused for effect, “Vernon Glick.”
Joey didn’t expect the cold wind that ripped the drawings off the wall, his last backward glance was of Reynaldo screaming, slouching down in his wheelchair as if he was shrinking, waving the tattoo machine over his head, the silver tip shining like a sorcerer’s wand.
Word was that Reynaldo had left the facility. Official story was he’d been transferred out in the middle of the night. Unofficial story was that an inmate with no legs and confined to a wheelchair had vanished from a maximum security prison and taken all his drawings with him.
And the elegant tattoo on Joey’s arm now looked like a child’s drawing of cereal and spilled milk.