Proving yourself, innocent was easier than proving yourself sane. Vincent was learning that hard lesson as he sat detained in the special cell. Suffering the sight of the two demons loosened the confident consultants view on reality. Surely, he had attended church when convenient but he honestly did not believe in half the sermons. A moment was all it took to rattle him to the point he doubted every lesson life had taught him. The fear in his eyes did not dissipate. Long after the encounter, he still wished he had not witnessed the darkness.
The room was kept bright. He would scream if the lights were turned off or even down until they rectified the situation. Soon the guards would joke about how the state should bill him directly for the power. Craving his freedom and proof he was within his senses he would laugh along with them. The worst part of proving he was sane was his defense attorney purposely making him appear to have lost his mind. An insane client meant he did not get a loss on his career statistics. Proving incompetence did not sit well with Vincent. An argument could be made that his ramblings after the incident in the cell with Antonio was enough proof.
Wicked eyes, those damn wicked eyes were everywhere. He would look in the mirror and see them. When eating his food, they were there. No part of Vincent’s life did the fear they would return not touch. His arms were bound, as a precaution to him causing further harm to himself. Bloody fingers were enough proof he was capable. He was made even more defenseless against the hooded figure if it returned.
All Vincent could do with his days was to sit back and wait. Wait for the fate of the remainder of his days. It was clear the conviction meant he was no longer with the job that provided him with so much joy. Even if proven insane, the company would not bring him back. They would have less credibility in front of their clients if he was their face in business deals. Cutting the convict loose before his retrial was a solid fiscal decision made by managers. Firing one of their own meant an increase in workload but it also meant less heads to feed. They congratulated themselves for making smart decisions.
Solitary in a padded cell gave Vincent plenty of time for self reflection. Death was not in his future but it may have well had been. Eat, drink, use the bathroom, and sleep the days away, overlapped on top of each other without any change. Yesterday it seemed like he had seen the images, though in reality it had been a week. He needed to be free. A passing guard caught his attention. “Can you let me outside for a few minutes?” The air might do some good. It definitely would be a change.
The guard stopped a bit irritated that his own routine had been interrupted. “Can’t you just stay there and keep your mouth shut?” This holding area normally could be ignored, now, thanks to Vincent it had to be added. Until a proper evaluation of Vincent could be performed he was to stay where he could do no harm to anyone, including himself. He was a pure burden who did not even bring any entertainment or conversation to the guards. He only increased their trouble.
“Just five minutes, please,” he tried to act humble. In his core, he had been a salesman. Every person had a point where they could be sold a product. The product here was fresh air. The important point of the sale was showing the guard the humility of someone who was obedient to his commands. He had to appeal to his sense of control.
“I am not losing my job for you to see the moonlight.” It was the first time anyone told Vincent any clue about the time. Being sheltered, added to his loss of mental awareness. The trouble with the days passing this way wasn’t the confinement; it was the thoughts drifting toward what if they were correct what if he truly had lost his mind? The way the guards treated him did not help deter those thoughts. “When the shrink comes in tomorrow you can ask him for some outside time.”
“You don’t have to wait that long.” A soft whisper turned into quiet echoes surrounding Vincent. He was sure he had lost his mind, the question was no longer if, but when did it happen? Echoing both male and female voices old and young, the statement repeated. “You don’t have to wait that long.”
Reflecting the sound from every direction made it difficult for the former consultant to pin down the source. His head jerked in every direction possible as he tried to catch the person who was speaking. “You are not real! Leave me alone.” When he realized he had directed the statement to no one he felt more solidified in the insanity theory. “That’s it Vincent threatening voices only you hear will prove you are not crazy.”
“You know I am real.” The dozens of voices replied. Their tone was calm but firm in their belief. They were real. In the room, the only one doubting their existence was Vincent. His ears were convinced otherwise. “You have seen me. Do you not trust your eyes?” The voices seemed soothing. Taking his side was convincing Vincent that they should be trusted. “I can get you out of here. I require a small thing in return.” Darkness started to take over the room. It had not become hard. The elimination of power eliminated the lights.
The moment was a reminder of the episode that earned Vincent this room. Needing to get away to regain his sanity the consultant was open for negotiations. This was a test of his nerves. The darker the room became the more he wanted to scream. “Okay it is dark enough. You have the upper hand no need to keep doing this.” Experience should have cautioned him not to give up the advantage in the upcoming negotiations. Fear directed him otherwise.
Eyes formed as two flames burst in the darkness. The explosion of fire eventually shrinking down to the shape Vincent had been haunted by when he closed his eyes. Those eyes not only burned in the air, they had permanently scorched into Vincent’s memory. Whispering, “They are real.” It was the first time Vincent had to sell to himself. Portions of his logic still did not believe his eyes. Burning eyes soon illuminated the face. Shadowed by the hood, Vincent did not need the complete face to know the man would be considered handsome, if he had not been so creepy. Doubt fought visual proof as his mind rallied to place back into reality. Reality reminded the prisoner, he was being evaluated for psychotic concerns. Evaluators were going to get proof one way or another, as Vincent pushed with his legs to the corner, nudging a pillow up with his legs to shield.
All those tormented voices gave their attention on the deal. Presenting a calmer tone they tried to calm their mark. Very few times in Vincent’s life had ever recorded where he had not had the upper hand in any dealings. “What if I promise I can get you out of this cell?” Sounds did not project from the mouth moving in the firelight. Forked tongue darted out between each word but did nothing to form the sounds. The noises confused Vincent. He could not place them from a single source. An idea they were all in his head could not be dismissed by the logic. “Would fresh air be worth something you cannot even see? Something you will not miss while on this earth?”
Half fearful, half weary Vincent joked. “Sounds like you want me to make a deal with the devil.” Vincent had not spent a minute in any church or even in prayer in over a decade. Still even in his line of work the ‘deals with a devil’ meant they were giving up too much. As a consultant, Vincent used the phrase when he reviewed employee management relations. Especially when unions made it easier to convince his clients that a larger profit could be kept by moving jobs elsewhere, the phrase seemed to play into his hands.
“Have you ever seen proof there is a devil?” The question delivered by mocking voices. They toyed with the consultant’s logic. “You are a smart man. You know those things are just stories. Look into your mind.”
“What do you want from me?” Vincent was dry, for the first time in a deal he did not know what the other side wanted or needed to hear. He had no numbers to bend. There were no examples to give. He was purchasing his freedom without knowing the true cost.
“When the time comes we want you to take my place.” The voices switched from singular to plural references from voice to voice. Vincent still felt he was negotiating with a single entity.
“Sounds simple, are you sure you can get me out of here?” Doubts filled the conversation. Freedom meant lawyers, and all the right things, forms, and fines paid. Those were just to take care of the psychotic episode it did not consider the murder conviction. Limits on the creature’s power could not be surmised. Vincent was used to observing and making accurate guesses about the abilities of people and machines. So far, the only thing this hooded figure proved capable of was terrorizing him.
“Do we have a deal?” The voices turned to a pure feminine form. In Vincent’s mind females were not capable of harming him. Without realizing it, Vincent dropped his guard.
“How do I even know you can deliver?” His defenses lowered, Vincent tried to regain his own leverage. Confidence started to outweigh the fear. The softer voices started the ease. Reality of knowing there was no proof he was witnessing was real, allowed him to try to gain the advantage again. “I don’t even think you are real.” Soft laughs responded to his words. “You give me proof and you have my word we have a deal.” He had nothing to lose as he spoke the words. Proof meant he was free, though he suspected, it was all an episode in his head.
A wide smile revealed sharp teeth as the fire of its eyes added to the terror of rows of jagged teeth. “Proof means deal correct?”
“Yes, proof means we have a deal.” Stalling was usually the tactic of someone about to cave into his demands. That flaw revealed this was all in his troubled mind.
Sharp teeth lead the face as the creature opened its mouth and lunged at the seated prey. Despite the pillow shield, it did not seem slowed even a little. Widening to swallow its prey whole the shadowy creature engulfed the consultant. Despite screams of terror the attack was successful. The prisoner was gone. The lights and room had a distinct sulfur smell as the guards rushed in. When Vincent disappeared, and could not be accounted for, the guards sprung to life. Camera revealed him there and with a second he pushed off into the corner and disappeared. A psychiatric review of the man watching the camera, and a technical review of the equipment would soon follow any report the shift filed.
Screaming as the creature swallowed him whole; Vincent did not even realize he had made it out. Seated behind the steering wheel of a small sedan, Vincent received his proof. He was still bound in the restraining jacket from the padded cell. The surrealistic moment could not even be registered by his thoughts. “Is this proof?” The voices echoed to him from the entirety of the car.
“Yes, we have a deal as long as you get me out of these.” Restraining against his bonds, he pressed them outward to highlight them. When it was apparent the subject of his stipulation, they disappeared. Vincent stretched his arms. Muscles had tightened in the short time he had been restrained. When the task was done, he reached down to the ignition of the vehicle. It was a miracle, the keys were already in. With a turn of the ignition the sedan started. The engine noise had never sounded better to Vincent in his life. He was still formulating a plan as to his destination. Right now, the choice of not here seemed to be the perfect start.
Getting out of the parking lot became even more of a priority when he noticed he was parked next to a row of police cars. The deal put him out next to city hall. Had he negotiated a better deal, Vincent would have chosen a different location. Maybe an island far away from anywhere in northeast Ohio would be worth what he traded. The act was done. He would have to compensate for the shortfall it caused. Vincent obeyed every traffic laws for the first time in almost a dozen years. He had grown comfortable making a violation or a few since the years he first earned his license. There was no reason to draw attention repeating those mistakes. Fear and shock had kept him hostage the last couple of weeks, today he broke free.
Driving down the strip of local shops and two-story buildings the escaped convict focused on blending in. Just a typical drive, late at night, was what he needed to project. In his core Vincent was a salesman, all he had to do was to sell. The first refusal to his pitch came in the form of a patrol car at an intersection. Red lights last forever. All Vincent could do was hope. The street lights of the city let out a soft yellow glow. A soft glow illuminated the details of the man’s face. The light provided enough for a petite female officer to know exactly who he was looking at.
Extended time to study gave the patrol officer a chance to look over the only other car at the intersection. Late enough that anyone out would draw some interest. the officer did not need to hear the next thing out of his radio to gain his attention. ‘All patrols be on the lookout for a white male. Description is as follows: Five feet eleven inches tall, one hundred and fifty pounds, blue eyes, brown hair. Suspect likely to be wearing jail issued clothes and goes by the name Vincent Crosby. Suspect is considered dangerous.’
The call sounded like a checklist as far as the face was concerned to the officer. She had no idea on the height and weight but the face matched perfectly. Picking up her hand radio she called immediately for help in dealing with the threat. “This is seventeen, suspect travelling north on Lake. Assistance requested.”
It had been awhile since the officer had to respond to a truly dangerous threat. She knew what needed to be done. Standard procedures encouraged initial instincts. It would begin with slowly trailing the suspect’s car. State law meant she would not have to wait to call in the license plate of the car for others to catch.
Vincent had never been an escaped convict. Until a few weeks ago he was not even a convict. Ignorance due to lack of experience still did not prevent him from recognizing that he was being followed. The approach of the police car meant he had caught unwanted attention. Confident, he would escape, prevented him from worrying. Vincent made a deal.
Another police car driven by the patrol sergeant joined in the slow pursuit. Slow pursuit meant a block could be set up if the escapee’s destination could be determined. Three other patrol cars were running on roads parallel to the duo. The nine officers should be enough to handle Vincent. Clemmons knew who he was from firsthand experience; he brought the man in first time. It amazed him. the man was frozen in the shock of his actions at the bar. Remorse seemed to stay with the man all through the trial. Fate seemed to be leaning him toward life in prison, not driving to get away.
The way this suburb was set up all centered around a lake in the center of town. Roads ran parallel to the lake in all four directions. The layout made the trap easier to be set. Residences that lined the streets stayed Clemmons’ hand. He wanted to spring his trap but not at the risk of an innocent bystander. Vincent did not appear to be a threat to the masses. Clemmons did not think about taking a risk. Protecting the town sometimes meant even from those in blue. Unintentional consequences created victims if it was not guarded against.
Vincent had never felt alive as he pressed on the gas pedal. He was not going to become a prisoner again. The confidence of his deal meant he could get away. He had been promised freedom. He was feeling it now. Being restrained for days just amplified the feeling of freedom. Vincent knew he was never going to be bound again. He drove faster as the lights and sirens came alive from the two police cars. He was in the moment of his life.
Clemmons and the other cars gave chase. The roads started ending into each other the further the race went. Soon they were on the main road heading toward the canal lock. Vincent had run out of residential safety. Clemmons sped to get even with the sedan. The lower cylinder car did not have the power and speed to win this race. The lack of speed did not diminish Vincent’s desire for freedom.
Aggression inspired the escaping convict to try to push the officer off into the canal. It was his only chance. Jerking the wheel sharply to the right, the car responded by scraping into Clemmons’ car. Defensive driving courses had taught the old policeman how to handle situations like this. Clemmons was not aware he would ever need to use those skills. Today, he would have to update his life’s resume.
The cars scraped for another few yards before Clemmons slowed down. Vincent did not notice as he swung hard again on the wheel. The result placed the small sedan parallel in front of the police cruiser. Clemmons seized the moment and pinned the car against a tree. The chase had ended. The moment of freedom that he had prematurely celebrated from his cell had ended. The impact into the tree had jammed his door close. It was over. The deal had not been fulfilled.
Police in the chase surrounded the pinned vehicle. Pistols drawn, they were awaiting the instructions from Clemmons. The excitement had shaken him up but not to the point he could not do his job. The stroll from his cruiser to the sedan was slow but confident. He leaned down to the shattered passenger window. Propping his arm on the opening that once housed the window he shined the flashlight directly into Vincent’s face. Clearing his throat and calming his nerves, Clemmons finally addressed the escaping convict. “What were you thinking?”
“I had to get out of there. You don’t understand, that place was making me crazy.” Pleading his case, he could tell the officer did not care.
“Well, the good news is you are going to get your wish.” Clemmons kept the flashlight in his face. “You have proven you can escape that cell so we will have to send you up state to a more secure facility. They will be able to keep you there safe and sound for years to come. I hope you enjoyed your freedom.”
Photo Credit Rick Rupert (Rupertrick@gmail.com)