• Travis Ryan

Night-time canary

“You will hang at dawn” that was the assertions by the thin mustached man as he latched the rusty bars. Without the ability to speak back after the vicious beat down that seemingly unhinged my jaw, I spit in defiance of his overly certain statement.

It never hit mark, just dribbled down my stubbled chin, I watched it saturate and spread down what used to be a white shirts and slowly morphed into a pink star burst as it mingle with the blood coming from either my mouth, chin, or… who knows. Its been so long since I wasn’t bleeding from somewhere that I’m starting to feel like a salamander.


Sticking to everything around me, constantly concealing and converting old wounds into festering new additions.


How I got here is really not anyone’s concern, this droopy faced drunk seems to be convinced that I cut the life short on a couple of people I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting, and maybe I did. The whiskey is turning on me as it erodes more than the intended target and is now washing away more memory than it is pain. But I would still willingly stick my finger into a pickle slicer in exchange for a pint of bullet bourbon and a cigarette. The why, and the when being established, the last aspect is the important one, and the how has always been my strong suit. I’m going to get the fuck out of here, even if its swinging from the end of hemp and noose.


I’m able to see many things around me, none of which is helpful, I wish dead rats could bend steel, but I’m going to have to figure out something better. This pillar of law enforcement sitting comfortably at a battered wooden table, is getting drunk enough to make a catholic priest to look like a straight edge on Antabuse. I’m going to use this to my advantage but I need to wait, “please whatever god is on shift, do not let me pass out.”


As I start digging my broken finger into the bullet graze on my thigh in an attempt to make my already depleted adrenaline surge, having to settle with a trickle of blood and whatever couple of drops of energy are left. I’ve been running for so long that my mind and body are on stunned and numb auto-pilot. As I begin to sweat and feel my eyes widen, I start to solidify a plan.


“Do you have a copy of the good book sir?”


The fake cowboy jack-off has been looking for a reason to talk down to me about morals since they caught me and dragged me to what passes as a jail here. The bait is out, now I just got to wait for this catfish with a badge to bite.


“You God fearing?” he responds with a look of superiority on his weathered face.


“I fear a lot of things” I mumbled back through the ruins of my teeth, he’s red faced and has the hiccups so we’re just about on the same level of annunciation at this point.


“You aint' got much to fear much longer, who am I to deny a man the good word?”

The irony is that this man has no problem savagely beating me to the point of potential brain damage, and way past the point of reading comprehension, but will let me attempt a book about a pacifist before he strangles me to death first thing in the AM. Its not God that I fear, its this inbred rabid animal whom he created.


“God bless you sir” the concussion and fake respect for my captor causes me to spit a little bile and plasma. Despite my current digs, I try to be relatively honest, and lying to a man who is obviously cursed hurts my base principals and guts more than my new collection of broken ribs.


The book is heavy, good, I have to grip it between my fore arm and elbow as he slides it through the bars, viewing the damage he’s done and my near inability to stand or walk is sparking the first smile out of sheriff fuckface that he’s ever exhibited towards me. I don’t know how its possible, his grin is more shattered than mine, considering everything exiting my mouth for the passed 24 hours has included bone chips, splinters of teeth and sometimes full molars, but he somehow managed to treat himself the way he would treat others.


I sit down next to the shit bucket, already christened by another most likely dead man. And begin to plan my salvation. As I crack the old text, I land on a passage that states “Those who have led my people into captivity shall be led into cages”. The reflexive laugh that explodes to the surface is quickly muffled by agony and changed into a coughing fit. I’ve never heard a grinding sound from my lungs, but the noise is that of demons playing craps for my soul inside my chest, fuck it, you can have it, I’m already in hell.


As I turn the pages I weep from exhaustion and pain, but the upbeat feeling of the laughter will not subside. Each page I turn hides the sound of my ripping one from the back and laying it in the puddle of blood and grey water that I’ve decided to sit it. the ancient words melt unto a mess of dark brown pulp and sacred sludge, this is going to be a long night.


Based on it taking about 30 seconds to turn each page, I’m guessing that it’s about 1am when I have finally redistributed enough raw material to get the consistency correct. I ask the half-asleep man-ape watching me carefully with as much modesty as a man reduced to rubble can muster


“Would you mind giving me a little privacy while I empty the old’ pipes?”


“I don’t see why not” he turns his back as I drop my pants and crouch over the rusted steel bucket, he has no problem trying to pump hollow points into my stomach but has enough “respect” for dignity to leave the appraisal of damage to me alone. This suits me fine.


I used my shattered paws are gripping this paste made of Christianity between my palms while rolling it against the iron dust and dirt that coats my current reality. The moans escaping me are genuine, as this process is brutal enough that I fade in and out of consciousness, and I don’t lose control of my bodily functions from continuation of this twisted art project, finally I think I got the shape of the implement correct, it might not pass right now, but after a couple hours and endless shots, this pig wont know his badge from his chew can.


I push hard with my foot onto my salvation as the feeling of sheer determination comes back, “I’m going to make it” is the frantic mantra I must repeat over and over, the air in this cell is so hot and dry that it wont be too long, pulling the button off of my levy’s sent me tumbling to the ground in a heap. The bucket goes skittering across the floor like a stone on calm water, leaving a wake of organic waste.


“AWW goddammit you stupid mother fucker you made a fucking mess! I don’t know why you city folk cant act right!” he’s enraged by the smell of death that he willingly signed up to support


“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry sir” I say ask I roll around on the floor and slide the button into the tip of the new testament.


This time I stay down and count, he continues to throw barely comprehensible insults and jabs at me, his drawl has turned into a buzz in the background as much needed endorphins flood my body, temporary bliss. I must keep track of count as these numbers are my only hope at salvation.

1…2….3…60…


Its cool and dry by the time I get the strength to sit up, I must have dozed off and was awakened by the sound of snoring. My jailer is sleeping, head down on the table. Its time to look destiny in the face and defy its simple plan. As I stand up and grab the remnant of my graciously loaned holy book. I stagger to the bars and tuck the now dried freedom finding instrument into my shredded sleeve for quick access. I’ve never been much of a hand eye coordination expert but I landed this heavy bible hard enough to send the man exploding out of his drunken slumber in a rage as he knocked the oil lamp off the table. The obscenities fly forth and his breath is the only thing more fiery than the puddle of burning oil on the floor. He should’ve reached for a source to quench the fire but he’s in no mood to put anything out except my life. He reaches for the cell keys instead. Go time.


“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry” I repeat as I do my best beaten dog impression, its easier than I want it to be.


The loud clank of lock being popped sounds like a chorus of angels and as my hearing starts to fade, I know the necessary drive is there. Do or die, do and die, who knows I’ve always been a dice roller. He’s stronger when he’s drunk, as he throws me across the cell, but he’s slower than I am, I duck under his next sloppy hay maker and in the flickering light from the open flame sputtering on the floor as I pin his face into the corner. He begins to push off the wall but freezes when he feels something solid, round, and cold in the way that only steel can be press into the base of his skull.


“Keep your hands where they are, I don’t want to kill you but will”


“You’re making a big mistake” he replied with a shaking voice, I can hear the piss coming off his pants and hitting the concrete floor.


“I’m going to grab your gun now, if you struggle Ill put you down, if you scream, I’ll do the same”

No response. I slide the .45 out of his weathered holster and almost drop it as I remember the weight of a pistol. “stay put, sir”


As I back out of the cell and lock the door behind me the fire finally burns itself out. I grab the bottle off of the table and leave the keys. He’s screaming through the bars as I drag my broken body into the early morning dawn and fall to my knees staring into the life giving red orb rising over the mountainous desert of my mind and for the first time in who knows how long, I smile without pain, the bright and constant star drains all the pain, tension, and stress from my body as I stare in awe. The pistol goes off with an ear-splitting crack, as it falls from my claws onto the dusty ground. I don’t even jump, my consciousness is turning into sheets and tendrils of light, bypassing my eyes and threading directly through the battered sections of my psyche, lacing and pulling them back together and I gasped a millisecond before everything goes black, the air never tasting sweeter.


As I wake up startled, I half expected to be in that fucking dessert still but realize that I’m in a warm bed, more than relieved I get out of bed to start the coffee in the dark, marveling at how good my body feels. The doctors have recommended that I take medications for these “night terrors”, but I can’t imagine doing anything like that. My life is a contrast and I would not trade the painful lessons I learn about myself nightly for empty darkness that accompanies the medication. The terrors make me grateful for the wonders that come with daylight. By night I am not in terror, I am in training. Don’t let the boogieman scare you into silence, ask it what your purpose is.


“Sleep disordered” “morning person” “fugitive from drugs” “word enthusiast”


Keep expanding,


Travis Ryan






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