It’s dusk. Outside, I can see the sky burning a deep red above the wasteland. The slit they call a window is a good six feet above the cool stone beneath my feet. I’d be able to look straight out of it if I weren’t restricted by the chains. I’m sitting four feet away by an old steel bed, just thinking, watching the day’s light ebbing away. I wonder for a moment if I’ve made a mistake, that maybe it’s going to take longer than I have. The walls are three feet deep, judging by the window ledge. The door is solid iron, bolted from the outside, and there are long rusty chains binding both my legs to a bracket in the wall. Escaping seems nearly impossible. Nearly.
Some people believe that anything is possible, given the right incentive. Let’s say a man is locked in a cage. He’s warm, he has water, maybe some food. That man’s in no hurry to leave. He figures he has some time to think about his next move. Now stop feeding that man. He gets a little worried, tries to think of a plan. He knows he needs to get out in the next few days, before his strength wanes. Then you take away his fluids. Now he knows he has to get out or he’ll die soon. He starts thinking of ‘when’ rather than ‘how’.
Now, tell the man in the cage, who’s tired, starving and thirsty, that you are going to take the life of his wife and child.
Even an ordinary man would start clawing and tearing at the walls with his bare hands. An ordinary man would possess the rage and power of ten men, and he would scream and kick and tear at those walls. An ordinary man would fight against those walls until he drew his last breath.
An ordinary man.
I have seen every type of prison ever designed. Pits, dungeons, water traps, cages. I’ve seen hundreds of them. From the inside. Now a man has put me in one so he can have my family. I know they won’t let him. I know they’ll fight him, and I know he’ll kill them.
So I know I will get out. There is not even the slightest doubt in my mind. The question is how.
I draw one final, calming breath, and begin. It’s nearly black in here now. A rat brushes over my toes and I smile in the blackness. If a rat can come in, I can get out. I pull the chains as far as they’ll go from the wall. They don’t budge, but that doesn’t surprise me. A man has more strength available to him than the strength of his arms. If I could use my legs against the chains I could loosen them up a little. If I could also put my whole body weight against them I’d be in business.
I carefully wrap one of the long chains around the strongest steel bedpost. It’s not as strong as I’d like, but it’ll hold. Now the chain holding my right arm to the wall is no longer doing its job. It’s linking the wall to the bedpost and the bedpost to my arm. The bed is braced to the cold floor slabs and creaks only slightly as I climb onto it. Maybe it’s sturdier than I thought.
I leap as high as the chains will allow and bring all 220lbs of my bodyweight smashing down onto the chain. My body is jarred with the collision, and a flash of pain shoots through my foot, along my spine and spears into the base of my skull. I lose my footing in the very same instant and crash awkwardly onto my back . For a moment all I see are bright purple lights, and I have to bite my bottom lip hard to make sure the world doesn’t swim away. The taste of blood feels good in my mouth, and I get back onto the bed.
The chain is still very much attached to the wall, but there’s now a sliver of black between steel and stone. I leap even higher, and as I fall I kick downward with both feet, like a kid stomping in a puddle. Again, the shooting pain from the base of my feet. The chain gives a little this time, and I manage to steady myself against the wall. I just stand there, breathing in and out, swaying on the creaking chain. A bead of sweat rolls down the side of my face, and I notice a single, solitary star, winking at me through the window grate. Time’s moving on Jack, back to work.
The wall bracket has been hauled out maybe an inch now. I calculate three foot of wall, standard bolt of around a foot and a half. Seventeen inches to go. I wrap the chain around my right arm and use my left to grab the bracket. I take a deep breath, and lunge backward with all my might. Nothing. Not a creak.
I unwrap the chain from the bedpost. I run perpendicular to the bracket, hauling the chains behind me, like an ox ploughing the field. I nearly break my wrist when the chains reach the end of their slack, but I don’t feel any give in the chain. So I go the opposite way, running with the chain, and jolting the bracket to the right. Like working something side to side, but very slowly, with more purpose, more power. I go back to the bracket and try and jiggle it again. I’m about ready to try the bedpost again, when a tiny wedge of the stone wall closest the bracket chips off under the pressure.
It wakes me from my trance, and I notice that my knuckles are bleeding from contact with the wall. Outside, the star has moved a quarter width of the window, and winks flirtatiously.
I turn my attention back to the wall bracket. I wrap the chain around my arm twice, and pull with all my strength. At first there is nothing, but then steadily, like pulling something heavy from thick, deep mud, I feel the bracket grate against the wall, and it squeals out perhaps two further inches. This boosts my adrenaline levels and I place my foot against the wall, and I pull against that chain with everything I have. Sweat floods down my face, and my whole body burns with effort. The bracket holds for a few seconds then finally and reluctantly screeches out, and I crash onto my back on the hard floor. I lift my arms in front of my face as the heavy rod, bracket and length of chain fall on me.
I am now a free man in a small room.
For maybe four or five minutes, I lie on my back, the rod in my hands, just thinking, planning. There were two reasons for pulling the rod out of the wall rather than breaking the chains at the wrist. Number one was the timescale. It would take nearly double the time to release both wrists. Sure, I’m now trailing around ten feet of chain, but I’m mobile. Second reason was for this rod I have in my hands. Nothing in the whole cell is as strong as this eighteen inch piece of fat steel. Not the bedposts, not the chains, not the bars on the window, not the bolt on the door.
Not even the door itself is as thick as this rod I now have in my hand, working with me instead of against me. I pull myself up onto my haunches, and glance one last time out the window. My lucky star has gone, but in its place are a dozen more, twinkling and smiling at me. I smile right back at them as I tighten my grip on that rod and I turn my back on those stars. My family needs me, and I have work to do.
Escaping had seemed nearly impossible. Nearly.