Hell on Earth
This is a short story I had on the site a long time ago. I took it off for submissions but nothing came to past. I have re-edited it to make it better than the previous iteration. I must warn you that there is language in here not suitable for those under 18 and virgin ears. Thanks in advance for reading.
Hell on Earth
By Robert C Price
“Hardgrove you got a visitor!” yelled the guard outside the dingy cell.
Reggie Hardgrove rose from the bunk, slow and steady, while he eyed Correctional Officer Stanley. He cocked his head to the left with an arched eyebrow.
“This ain’t my day CO,” as he strolled to face him. His scrawny hands wrapped around the bars like ashen clamps.
The guard stepped back and placed his hand on the pepper spray by his side. He didn’t want to end up like Bob Jordan did back in January with a shank in his throat or Terry Rico shopping for a glass eye. No sleep on the wicked.
“Damn, officer, relax,” said Hardgrove, “I ain’t givin’ you no problems. I’m just surprised I got a visitor, dat’s all. You all jumpy and shit.”
The well-dressed black man sat in the metal chair with his back straight as the guard towers that overlooked the prison yard. He sat in the cubicle, eyes downward, reviewing every contingency. A gray slab, posed as a door, opened to a lanky man with short dreads being led by a guard to a chair on the opposite side. Plexiglas separated the prisoner and his visitor.
Hardgrove plopped his shackled hands on the table and gave his visitor the once-over. He winced at the sight of the healed over burnt flesh on the left side of the man’s face. After he picked up the receiver, the prisoner motioned the visitor to do the same.
“Good morning, Reginald. How are your accommodations?” asked the man.
“Who’s you?” answered Reggie scowling like his wiener’s itching.
The man chuckled, “Is that how you greet a visitor? Back in the day, I was always happy to get a visit from anybody.”
“Fo’ real man, I don’t know you. Why you up here?”
“Well, I happen to know the young man you murdered.”
Reggie shook his head and snickered, “Yo, you some kin to that dude I shot on the bus? You here to gloat? I’m on death row, muthafucka,” as he emphasized every syllable of the epithet.
The man’s fingers rapt on the chair making a dull clanging sound.
“Do you think you’re the shit, Reginald? Is your manhood measured by how ‘thug’ you think you are? You got the heart to kill women and children? Could you do it? Watch their insides spill out in the street and have to shoo away dogs so they won’t eat them.”
The prisoner sucked his teeth, waved the man off, and slumped in the seat.
“You ain’t answer my question. Whachu here fo’? You lookin’ fo sorry. I ain’t give one in court. What makes you think Imma give one now? Dawg, you can leave on that shit.”
From his inside pocket, the man pulled out a photograph and held it underneath the table.
Reggie frowned and cursed under his breath at the stranger’s presence. Memories caused distractions. To dwell on mistakes left you vulnerable. In here, a prisoner can’t afford a long memory. They say time forgives, but it doesn’t.
“Do you know the definition of remorse?” asked the visitor when he looked up from the picture, “It is a deep and painful regret for wrongdoing. In fact, I read a quote just the other day that sums it up perfectly: There is no refuge from memory and remorse in this world. The spirits of our foolish deeds haunt us with or without repentance.
You can sit there and be as ‘hard’ as you want, Reginald. Nevertheless, I believe there is still some humanity left in you, so I’m going to help you break through that veneer. First off, let me start by saying it’s not your fault.”
Reggie arched his brow and glared him down. He looked for a quivering lip, a wink of the eye to signify a joke.
The man continued.
“You see, you’re a boy masquerading as a man in this crazy world. I mean, why else would you gun down a kid for stepping on your foot. No home training. I get it. No father in your life. Your mom raised you and your sister the best way she could.
She worked the stereotypical two jobs. Never home to supervise. You fell into the wrong crowd. It’s a story that writes itself.”
Frustrated with the rundown, Hardgrove clenched his teeth, “What do you want, dawg?”
“As I stated before, I don’t blame you, however, I do blame your mother. She should’ve done more.”
“Bitch, who do you think you are talkin’ about my Moms? You don’t know shit.”
“But I do Reginald. I know she’s dead.”
Blood flushed from his face, “What?”
“I killed her,” he whispered, “And before you get in a tizzy,” he held up the picture and asked, “Do you know who this is?”
Hardgrove’s hand slammed on the window, “That’s my sister, Aniya.”
“Correct. She’s very sweet and alive I might add. Beautiful girl. Going to college, I like that. She can stay that way as long as you keep quiet. See, if I hear that you went to the Warden about what happened, well, let’s say that will force my hand and I would hate to be unkind towards her.”
Tears caught in the wells of his eyes. In all the stupid shit that Reggie has done, he never dwelled on the consequences to his family. The look in his mother’s eyes at the trial told him his reality. He saw it if no one else noticed. Regret.
Since being in here, she hasn’t visited him or took his calls. Aniya has visited often, but he longed for the day of forgiveness from his mother. His date with the needle couldn’t come sooner now that she’s gone.
“See that, I knew there was a human being under that stony façade you wear,” as the stranger placed the photo back in his pocket.
“Dawg, if you hurt her…”
The stranger raised his hand. “Please, save your threats for knuckleheads in here. You’re in no position,” he paused and asked, “How does it feel? It feels like your guts been ripped out, don’t it? How you think those parents feel about the son you murdered? You think they feel like you do? What you care, right? It was everyday business to you. Collateral damage. Fuck him and his family, right?”
He leaned forward almost touching the thick glass and looked him straight in the eyes with a smile on his face.
“I want you to suffer, Reginald. I want you to lose sleep wondering if I changed my mind and killed her. Then, I want you to wallow in sorrow over your mother and ask God why she was taken away. See if he answers.”
The man rose from the chair and smoothed out his suit.
“You’re going to need some time to process all this. Therefore, in a week, you’ll receive a visitor who will confirm your sister is still among the living. Let me reiterate the seriousness, if you mention this to anyone, and I will find out, your sister’s head will be sent to you in a box. Hang up the receiver and go with the guard. Try to have a nice day.”
Hardgrove heard the clacking of the stranger’s shoes, but never looked as the stranger disappeared around the corner. Too much information swam around his mind. He kept his eyes closed and let the tears flow down his cheeks.
Reggie glanced at his calendar with the crossed off days leading to this moment. The walls of his 6 x 9 x 9.5 feet high cell became more confined and unbearable as the week progressed. He shifted his eyes toward the door where CO Stanley waited for him.
As the tension weighed him down like cinderblocks, he stumbled while rising from the bunk. He needed to believe his sister was alive. All instructions were followed. No mention or deviation. Now the time came for his answer. He wouldn’t lose Aniya like he lost his mother.
While the guard escorted him into the Visitor Room, his already weak knees buckled at the sight of his sister sitting in the rusty metal chair looking back at him. Reggie rushed to the cubicle and grabbed the receiver.
“What’s wrong? “ Aniya asked.
“You alright?” his eyes wide and frantic.
“I’m fine Reggie. Why wouldn’t I be?”
Hardgrove kept looking over her shoulder anticipating the stranger’s scarred face to peek around the corner like an anxious child.
“What are you looking at?” as she turned around looking for whatever had her brother so disturbed.
“I didn’t know what to think, ‘Niya. I didn’t tell anybody, tho. I kept it to myself and you’re here. Did he hurt you? Did he ‘Niya?”
“Whoa, slow down. Who hurt me? If you’re talking about Kevin, we broke up a week ago and I haven’t seen him since…”
“Not him,” he scowled, “The dude with the burned marks on his face. He told me he killed Moms and I thought he took you—“
“I don’t know who’s playing games with you, Reggie. Nobody took me and Mommy is out in the car. She made the trip with me. Couldn’t bring herself to get out of the car and see you.”
Bewilderment mixed with relief took hold as he stared into his sister’s eyes. For a week, worry had robbed him of sleep, appetite, and peace. He’d hoped no harm had come to Aniya, but the revelation of his mother being alive was too much to wrap his mind around.
“Aniya, I have to go. I’m glad you’re ok and tell Mommy I love her and I’m sorry.” He motioned to the guard that he was ready to leave.
CO Stanley escorted the prisoner back to his cell and watched him collapse on the bunk. He laid there, eyes closed, replaying the scene in his mind.
“I got a buddy that was a lot like you,” said the guard.
Reggie ignored him.
“Yeah, we grew up together. Got into a lot of dumb shit together, too. We did a stint in juvie. Never made it to the big show, tho. Well, he never made it. I’m the sorry- sack- of -shit that works here. Hey, thank God, we learned from our mistakes.”
Hardgrove rolled his eyes, turned on his right side toward the wall, and covered his head with a pillow.
“Anyway, he went on to join the Army, but before he left, he got a girl pregnant. He made sure money was sent home for her and the baby. They had a son. He didn’t get to see them that often because of his career. Took ‘em to different places all over the world. Most times no communication for long stretches of time. The girl and the son would move. Then the war broke out. You get my drift.”
Reggie turned back around, annoyed.
“Whutchu talkin’ ‘bout?”
Stanley paused and asked, “Well, aren’t you glad your family’s okay? The same can’t be said for my friend’s son that you killed. But like he said, ‘fuck him and fuck his family,’ right?”
The inmate sprang from his bed, arms stretched out, flailing and grabbing as they went through the bars. Stanley stepped back with his baton raised and struck Reggie across his hands.
As he shrieked in agony, the stoic guard grabbed him by the face and spoke in a low voice.
“If you ever tell anyone what happened, my friend’s still on the loose and still itchin’ to make you suffer. Don’t fuck up, Reggie. You got enough to worry about.”
He chuckled and shoved him to the floor.
Hardgrove laid there with no emotion, eyes fixed on a jagged crack in the gray ceiling leading to another crack and then another. For a while, he followed every tributary that led from the flaw and saw his life as that defect. One crack splintering into many.
Revelations always seem to come at the most inopportune moments.
Michael Jennings ran his fingers across the faded picture as he signaled the bartender to pour him another scotch. The photograph of a baby boy, dog-eared and worn from years of traipsing through countless countries, still looked fresh in his alcohol-diluted mind.
Downing the scotch in one snort, he let the warm liquid engulf his senses, taking him back to the memories of his son, Charles. Oh, what he could’ve become. He motioned for another shot and noticed his face in the mirror behind the bar. Burns and scars peppered the once handsome man. Result of too many skirmishes. Too many wars.
Once the bartender filled Michael’s shot glass, he raised it to the air and gave a toast, “May God bless you in heaven, my son, while we rot here in hell on earth.” And to his lips, the scotch caressed.