Chapter no 8

Winter World

HEREwhat I expect to happen next: tear gas through the vent, National Guard troops through the door, shootout, and then either death or more prison for me.

I’m wrong on all counts.

The inmates left in the prison rally to the laundry, seventeen in all. They probably figure their only leverage—Pedro—is here, and this single room, with only one entrance, is easier to defend than the entire prison.

The radio in Carl’s hand crackles, and the National Guard commander’s voice fills the now-cramped laundry room.

“To the man in charge inside Edgefield Prison, you’ve got a deal. We’ll do the trade.”

Cheers break out. A few high-fives. A not-so-friendly glare my way. Pedro struggles—they’ve tied his hands behind his back with duct tape.

“I’m not going.”

Carl smiles at him. “Oh, you’re going. In case you haven’t noticed, we negotiate with pigs outside the prison. Not inside.” He nods to one of his associates. “Gag him.”

In goes a wadded-up pillowcase, secured with more duct tape.

Carl presses the radio button. “That’s great news!” he says with mock enthusiasm. “Now let’s talk turkey. We need some assurances that our little free state of Edgefield won’t be invaded. And by assurances, I mean guns. And bombs. And a neutral zone outside our fences. Say, a hundred yards.”

“Guns are off the table.”

“Then so is our deal. No guns, no Pedro Alvarez. Alive, anyway.” A long pause. Then, “Stand by.”

The wait feels like an hour before the response comes. “Okay, you’ll get your guns.”

“Good. And we don’t want any old worn-out pea-shooters. I’m talking semi-automatics with plenty of ammo. One for each of my,” he pauses to do a head count, “seventeen men. And we want any prisoners you took during your act of aggression toward us. Guns for them too.” Another beat. He’s getting wound up now. “And throw in a spare rifle for everybody. Two hand grenades each. And seven RPGs.”

Grudgingly, the National Guard negotiator agrees. Over the course of a few hours, the inmates venture out into the prison to check it for hiding guards and ambushes and booby traps. When they’re satisfied that the prison is empty, we exit the laundry, with Pedro and me doing a perp walk in the middle of the procession.

In the yard, troops are stationed behind a barricade and troop carriers. The other prisoners are behind them. In front of the barricade, a half dozen crates sit waiting.

Carl calls out, “Gun demonstration!”

A National Guardsman with stripes on his shoulder marches forward, opens a crate, withdraws a mean-looking rifle, and fires a shot straight up in the air.

“Dump out the crate. Pick a gun. Two of ’em,” Carl yells. “Show me again.”

Carl definitely has some brains.

The guardsman glances back for confirmation. A man with a silver eagle insignia on his helmet nods. The guardsman marches forward and reaches for a rifle, but Carl yells for him to use the one next to it. Yeah, Carl’s got some brains. The guardsman fires the gun. It works. And so does the one after that.

What are these guys thinking, arming the prison? It’s a nightmare.

I stand in shock as the exchange begins. A prisoner holding a knife marches Pedro forward, stops halfway, and waits as the National Guardsmen release the other prisoners. The convicts rush across the yard, grab the crates, and make a break for Carl’s group. But the guy holding Pedro doesn’t release him.

Over the radio, the National Guard commander yells, “Let him go.” “We will,” Carl says. But he doesn’t give the order.

I feel sweat cover my palms. Let him go.

Surely, they wouldn’t…

When the prisoners reach Carl, they drop the crates and distribute the guns. The convicts hold the weapons above their heads and shout as if they’ve just won the Super Bowl. Then they train the rifles on the National Guard line in front of them.

Carl holds the radio to his mouth. “All right, release our guest.”

Relief washes over me as Pedro stumbles forward. Just before he reaches the barricade, he stops and turns. He searches the crowd of prisoners and finds my eyes. I can tell what he’s thinking: that if he stands his ground right now, demands they release me, that maybe he can swing it.

I shake my head. They have the guns now. It would be a bloodbath.

Before he can act, the guardsmen surround him and pull him behind the line. Just as quickly, the prisoners retreat, walking backward, guns trained on the troops. They corral me back toward the gate, and I fall in line. I figure my fate is pretty much sealed now.



INSIDE THE PRISON, they lock me in a cell. This is a step down in terms of accommodations; I previously lived in a low-security cubicle, sort of like a dormitory, with two other inmates. But I am, for the moment, still alive. So there’s that.

I lie on the bottom bunk. The knife-wielding guy who threatened me in the laundry stops outside my cell, grinning, a rifle in one hand, a cup of homemade wine in the other. He doesn’t say a word, just glares at me, like I’m an animal in a petting zoo.

I start to thank him for stopping by, but I doubt the joke would come off. Best not to antagonize my captors.

Instead I stare at the bottom of the bunk above me. In a strange twist of fate, I am the last prisoner at Edgefield Federal Correctional Institution, a place I could have easily escaped from. My fellow prisoners will kill me, and if they don’t, the Long Winter will.

Maybe I still haven’t figured out this human nature thing.

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