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Life Sentence

by Bertil Falk

part 1 of 2

Yet be warned, and on thee take
Ways more mild and more beseeming,
For perhaps thou art but dreaming,
When it seems that thou’rt awake.

— Calderón de la Barca, “Life is a Dream”

The life sentence was what had to be expected. She laughed when she got it, but it was a forced laugh. Nowadays, a life sentence not only meant a sentence, it meant life. Over the past fifty-three years, ever since the decision was taken to obliterate the word parole, not one single individual had returned from a life sentence.

Escapes were unheard of, even attempts to escape were unheard of. And she had no idea what fate stared her in her face. The only thing known was that a life sentence was a death sentence in the sense that the convicts would die in prison, whatever and wherever that was, for nobody knew where the prisoners were kept.

Neither was it known how they were kept, nor that they were kept, for that matter, even though the authorities swore that they were kept. The only thing known for sure was why they were kept.

They were prisoners for life because they were the most cold-blooded murderers in the known universe, the most incorrigible ones, the most relapsed criminals and the most compulsive rippers, the most anything and everything deadly criminal imaginable.

She did not pretend to be different from other felons. It was in her blood, she could not resist it. The media had called her a vampire, but her bloodthirstiness was more of a symbolic kind. She did certainly not drink their blood. It was just that she had taken a liking to human flesh. It happened during the atrocious famine on Minotaur XI in the Martinson system, when they all ate each other.

Her problem was that she had continued even after the famine. And to do so, she had to come by some raw material. And for that, she had to kill people. It was as simple as that, and she had been caught in the process.

And now she had to face... what?

They took her back to her simple cell and when she woke up the next morning, she found herself in a comfortable double bed in a big bedroom. She got to her feet and found a luxurious bathroom. Inspired, she took a shower. There was a wardrobe and enough exclusive dresses. Not exactly Paris originals but very good.

Breakfast was ready in a dining room, but there was no kitchen. And there was no knife, no fork, no spoon. She had to use her fingers. That’s why she was supplied with chapatis, bread that served as a tool for eating.

How clever the prison authorities were.

She dressed, had her breakfast and began to inspect the astonishing place. Was this supposed to be her prison? She soon found that there was no radio, no TV, no telephone, no Internet, obviously no means of communication. She walked out on a veranda and saw a garden with fruit trees and flowers.

That day she walked outside her house and discovered that there was a country lane outside and nothing that prevented her from leaving the house. But there were no means of transportation, not even a bike, much less a car.

Except for some birds in the garden, there were no signs of life. That evening, she scrutinized the rooms in the house. They were three, but she soon found that there was no library, no bookshelves, not a single book, only chairs and tables. The beginning of a slight suspicion made itself felt in her mind.

After a week she knew what the rest of her life would be. She would not hear any voices, not see any people, not read any books, not see any TV. The only sounds were the birds and her own voice and the noise she made when she ate and went to the bathroom.

She would be alone and every day there would be food on the table. She never saw where the food came from. She sat a whole day in the dining room waiting for it to appear. Nothing happened. Then she walked into what she called a living room and there was the food on the table.

It didn’t matter how she tried. The food was always served in a place where she was not. And after a while she realized that her meat-eating days were over. She was served only vegetarian food.

The next thing she found was that she was denied not only her ability to read. There was no paper and no pen. She could not write. For a couple of days she tried to find some ersatz, but there was nothing she could use as a replacement. The only thing she was permitted to do was to think.

Where on earth was she? Or rather, on what earth could she be?

She began to examine the neighborhood, if a neighborhood it was. She walked on the road, she walked one mile, two miles, forests and glades, meadows and lakes, no animals, not even fish in the waters.

She wondered if her warders were afraid that she would kill animals and eat them. If so, they had forgotten that small birds are delicious, but there was no way to fry them in butter, the way they ought to be prepared and eaten. But she could of course eat them raw for that matter.

She soon found that she could not walk too far and she could not stay away too long. She had to go back to the house and eat. She decided to save and collect some food and take it with her. In that way she would be able to walk further away from the house and sleep in the lap of nature and in that way penetrate the limits of her world.

But the food she got was not easy to collect. She had no frozen food. She did not even have a fridge. She soon found that the food she saved had a tendency to deteriorate. And the fruit trees turned out to be sterile: no apples, no nothing.

Were her captors watching her? She could not find cameras anywhere. She simply didn’t know. The truth was that this was a most efficient prison. She was free to walk around as much as she wanted, but her world was a very, very big solitary-confinement cell.

She felt cheated. She was sentenced for life, but there was nothing in the verdict stating that she was sentenced to solitary confinement. Or was it? Maybe she hadn’t been listening carefully when they read out the sentence. She could have missed the fine print.

Another thing was the lack of mirrors, but she was able to make up for that by using the surface of the nearby lake as a looking glass. But when she looked at her face, she didn’t like what she saw. Pale lips. Of course she had no lipstick, no mascara, no make-up kit. She looked the way she always had looked under a mask of cosmetics. It was a blessing that nobody could see her in this condition.

She remembered that play by Jean-Paul Sartre. Three people locked up together, all the time badgering each other, the two against the third, all the time in new constellations, the woman and the first man against the second man, the two men against the woman, the second man an the woman against the first man. And so on ad infinitum. They were dead and they were confined to that room forever. They were in hell.

She had considered it to be a very clever and interestingly concocted idea, but her own predicament was worse than Sartre’s hell. She was like a Robinson Crusoe without a Friday. Another cleverly concocted story with a moral, written by a man in the past, who was buried in the freethinker’s graveyard on City Road in London on planet Earth, together with William Blake and John Bunyan.

She had once seen it on TV. A documentary about the now destroyed City of London on that uninhabitable planet they originally came from. What was his name now? Daniel DeFoe.

Never did the slightest breeze touch the surface of the nearby lake. And she realized that the heaven above probably was an illusion with its stationary clouds. The same immobile clouds all day, day after day. And there were no stars at night. Neither the beautiful night sky of Minotaur XI with its colorful display of iridescent satellites, gleaming suns and eternal green holes, nor the more tone-downed night sky of Strindberg, a sky with gloomy stars, colliding asteroids and dangerous comets.

She undressed, stood naked in the sunless daylight and dived from a cliff into the lake. The water was temperate and for the first time she found something that could destroy the solitude that was her fate. She liked swimming. She had always enjoyed doing the backstroke; the crawl was exciting; the breast stroke good for thinking; diving below the surface was an adventure. Had her captors known that, would there have been a lake in her prison?

She laughed. A surge of happiness swerved through her being. She trod water and gazed across the lake. A sudden splash in front of her took her with surprise and something of incredible size reared its awful head through the surface and before she was able to fathom what happened, that wart-strewn monster face with bulging triple-eyes, big as manholes, hovered above her.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2009 by Bertil Falk

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