By John David Wolverton
You could no longer distinguish single words or even voices. Out in the dining hall the inmates' shouting broke in waves against the wall, reverberating from the farther wall. The floor thrummed like a guitar string. Most of the cooks were backing away from the service doors. They would take a step, glance back, take another step, ready to run for the escape exit. Only three of the cooks re- mained with Fletcher, who lay on his back with a bloody nose, clawing the wall with one hand, unconscious. "What's going on out there?" Willis asked from within his office. He'd been cracking nuts behind his desk with a pair of old steel pliers and eating them. He was balding, with puffy eyes and a mouth wide enough to swallow a cat. ''Fletcher wanted to see what was going on out in the dining room. He was out there for maybe thirty seconds before they beat the hell out of him and threw him back in here.'' Willis jumped up from his chair, looking from side to side. ''Are the doors open?" he shouted. ''No-only the one he was standing by.'' ''Watch the phones,'' he said. He dropped his pliers among the nut shells and ran past me, out of the office and up to where Fletcher lay by the stove. I was already by the kitchen phone-the one Control One would call on if they called. The phone had no dialing mechanism, but Control One could call in, and usually called through the kitchen phone when they wanted to get a count of the inmates. Willis and the three cooks stooped over Fletcher. Willis yelled something that was lost in the roar. Then they pulled Fletcher to a sitting position and made him lean his head back to stop the bleeding. They were all wearing their white cooks' uniforms; Mueller was wearing a blue baseball cap. When I'd let Fletcher in with the inmates, the light from the high windows didn't reach the floor. It kept the room and the men in darkness, their prison-blue uniforms faded gray. Fifty small tables had already filled, and men were lining against the walls and sitting on the floor. Maybe a dozen had brought spears. Others took clubs, iron pipes, and knives from beneath their pant legs and from under their shirts. We'd turned off the culinary lights, so the only light in the room had been a slash of sunlight that burned into the murals above their heads. In the murals thirteen left-handed Indians chased buffalo across barren plains. Painted ponies twisted under the clash of bodies, the jumble of hooves; their frightened eyes peered through blood-spattered death masks. The Indians never died. They leapt majestically to the backs of the buffalo, ripping with knives, breaking hatchets across shaggy backs. The buffalo shook their enemies, panted, stumbled, fell, rolling bloodshot eyes at the sky. I resented the left-handedness. In first grade, my teacher said, "Don't write with your left hand: that's the Devil's hand!" She made me stuff my hand under my belt loops. She cut her toes off with a lawn mower the day before Halloween and had to quit. The artist should have known better than to have painted himself, with his left hand, doing all that killing. A left hand is the hand of the artist, the poet. He should have known: God created the earth with his left hand. Franklin, the new cook, was sitting on a cutting table with his feet tucked up under his butt in a fetal position like a gargoyle on a cathedral wall. He was panting. He had frightened rabbit-eyes. A couple of cooks were still trying to peek through the cracks in the doors to the dining hall. One of them pulled Fletcher to his feet. Willis jiggled the handle on one of the kitchen doors, then checked the electronic lock on the big blue service doors, and finally had one of the cooks on the far end of the kitchen check the knob on the other little regular door. He ran back to me. ''I'm going to stay out here for a minute," he yelled over the roar of voices. ''You stay by the office phones.'' I took three steps into the office and stopped. Willis coming in behind bumped into me. "Do you feel something?" I asked. Willis hesitated. ''You mean tension? Yeah. Felt it for days.'' It hung in the air like electric cobwebs that brushed your face. ''No. Not that. Fear. Do you feel fear?" "You mean you're afraid, Animal?" He chuckled tight lipped. Why didn't he think I was capable of emotion? "No--I feel fear--I smell it in the air." I looked over my shoulder. "Is this room secure?" ''Well-yeah. Yeah. I think so,'' he said. ''Are all the knives checked in?' ' Willis' pupils didn't constrict. Nor did his nostrils flare or his lips quiver. "Yeah, they're in." I envisioned inmates hiding in the office, waiting for a signal to jump the guards to get to the knife lockers and the keys. I edged past the desks, turned the corner in the L-shaped room, and left Willis' line of sight. Willis stayed by the door. There were only four places in the room where anyone could hide; three were the cooks' coat lockers which sat in a row against one wall, and the other was a crack between some shelves. I touched the coat lockers with the back of my hand. There was a faint quivering there. I dragged the back of my hand across the locker and stopped. The quivering became stronger. "Animal, you see anything?" Willis whispered. I didn't answer. Each of the three lockers was large enough to hold two or three men. None were locked. I jerked the door open and stepped back. In the bottom of the locker, trying to conceal himself with coats, lay a thin, red-haired inmate, shaking like a trapped mouse. He was pale and he watched me from the corner of his eye, then turned to blink me away. Grabbing him by the shirt collar, I threw him to the floor and stepped on his back. I felt the lockers for movement. No one else was there. "Find someone? Who was it?" Willis asked, stepping around the corner and looking at the inmate on the floor. "It's Jeffrey Owen." I patted Jeffrey's legs and back, searching for weapons. Turning him over, I checked his sleeves and belly. When I was satisfied he was clean, I grabbed his wrists and dragged him across the room to the wall by the desks. "Was he in the locker?" Willis asked. I nodded. "How long do you think he was in there?" ''The last time I saw him back here was about forty minutes ago,'' I answered. "Is he dead?" ''No.'' "Poor beggar looks suffocated to me," Willis said hopefully, cracking a nut with his pliers. It sounded like small bones breaking. His eyes bulged. He devoured nuts. The volume of shouting in the dining hall rose; someone screamed. "Naw, hasn't suffocated. He was looking at me when I opened the door." Willis brushed some papers aside, sat down on the desktop, and stared out into the kitchens. Jeffrey felt clammy. He began to moan and writhe. Fletcher stalked into the office holding paper against his bloody nose and spat: " Willis, call Control One. Tell them it's gonna blow any minute. Have the SWAT team watch the back door." Turning to me he pointed and said, ' 'Animal, what is that inmate doing in here? '' Out in the culinary the clamour continued. Not yet, I thought. When they rise it will not be with a roar, but a shout. "I found him in one of the closets. He's practically unconscious. It's Jeffrey Owen." I pulled Jeffrey over to the wall and leaned him against it. Willis was dialing Control One. "Jeffrey Owen? Your secretary?" ''Yeah,'' I answered. "Old Animal sniffed out another one," Willis said, glancing at Fletcher, then looking at the phone's mouthpiece. " Wha . .. what was he doing in here? " Fletcher asked. I looked up at him. ''It could have been part of a plan ... .'' "He was just hiding ," I said, looking down at Jeffrey's thin arms. "Yeah," Fletcher grunted as he rushed back into the kitchens. "Control One?" Willis asked, too loudly. "It's about to break. No we haven't evac . . . " He dropped the phone. "Animal, you take the phone. They cut me off. Tell them to get the SWAT team out back. And get that inmate out of here! ' ' Willis ran after Fletcher, leaving me alone with Jeffrey. Willis and Fletcher were ashen faced, like bones, and they jerked like marrionettes as they walked. I wondered what to do with Jeffrey. I figured he couldn't do much harm, so I left him lying in a heap on the floor and grabbed the phone. From the desk I could see into the kitchen. Risenmay stood in front of the entrance of his meat cooler, wielding a boat oar that was kept to stir the steam pots. He looked like a white walrus with his yellow moustache, sagging jowels, and cook's uniform. He considered himself intimidating. Franklin still huddled on the cutting table, rocking. No one was on the phone when I picked it up. I'd heard that Control One could monitor the phones by patching them into the intercom, making it possible to hear what was happening everywhere at once, so I gave my message and decided not to say anything else unless something important happened. Jeffrey started vomiting and sobbing. I turned to watch him. He'd flopped over on his belly. One thin arm was stretched out in front of him, and the other held him up for a moment. "You gonna be okay?" I asked. He didn't answer. "Gonna be okay?" ''Give me a knife,'' he whispered. "Not today," I said. Jeffrey laid his head on the floor and brushed back long strands of dark red hair. ''Mark, kill me.'' He was serious and I considered it. At times I'd stood in the towers at night with the windows open, letting the rain wash over me, gripping my rifle in freezing hands, wishing some loser would climb the fence so I could shout my warning and blow him away. It had been so long ago it seemed as if someone else had done it. I told myself that Jeffrey's request was not unreasonable: if the riot came, he'd just be one corpse among many. If I were willing to kill a man for climbing a fence, I should be able to kill a man for mercy. ''No.'' "You're afraid the riot won't come." Jeffrey took a deep breath, "Mark, will you please kill me?" "No," I answered softly. "Then--damn you--give me a knife so I can do it myself!" he screamed. ''No.'' I glanced out toward the main kitchen doors. "Mark, do you know what I am?" Hearing him use my first name so often grated on my ears. I nodded. ''I'm a whore! I'm a whore!" he screamed. "I do it two, maybe three times a day for protection. My lovers protect me. Do you know what happens to whores in a riot?' ' I kept nodding. I had been called in to help mop up in New Mexico. I wondered why so many of the corpses were bald until I saw the men had been burned to death with cutting torches. Then there were the strangled men in the cells and service tunnels; and sometimes . . . . I knew what to expect better than he. ''They kill you! They use you to death! All of them-maybe fifteen, sixteen.'' He gagged and vomitted again. I started laughing. He wobbled to his knees and glared. Maybe it was just the tension, but I couldn't stop laughing. ''You should see yourself. You' re such a mess,' ' I said. Jeffrey stared up at me, then glanced down and self-consciously brushed at some vomit that clung to the pocket of his shirt. "You once told me that only a man could really love another man," I said. ''You were so seductive I almost believed you. I almost swore off my wife for a week. And now you're telling me you just do it for protection?'' Jeffrey didn't answer. "You'll go a long way for protection," I said. Voices mingled in a scream, followed by a rise in the shouting. I felt like it lifted me. Walrus dropped his boat oar and wallowed full tilt for the back door, his key ring jangling at his hip. There was a flash of white as another cook passed him. I turned to Jeffrey. His mouth hung open. I jumped over the desk and yelled, '' Get the hell out!' ' then grabbed his arm and started pulling him. Jeffrey yelled over the roar, "Are you taking me with you?" I hadn't considered. I pulled his arm so hard I was afraid it would dislocate. He struggled to his feet. We bolted from the office and followed the back wall past the refrigeration rooms. Jeffrey was limping. We were halfway across the kitchen when Willis stopped me with a wave of his hand. ''Animal! What are you doing with that inmate!' ' ''Locking him in the basement.'' "Not the basement. The elevator," he ordered. Suddenly all the cooks were piled at the front of the escape door. Sounds of shrieks and fists slapping on flesh came from the dining hall. Some men chanted ''Burn it down. Burn it down. Burn it down.' ' Others yelled ''No!' ' while some just screamed. It was too early to tell who would win. The cooks stopped and huddled around the door, ducking their heads in embarrassment at having begun to run too soon. The change in rhythm, the ripple in tension, had been a warning. I wondered if anyone was being beaten to death and if anyone could stop it. "The doors are down!" Jeffrey said in astonishment. I glanced over my left shoulder to the heavy folding doors-glorified garage doors really that separated us from the crowd of inmates in the dining hall. We were told that the doors would hold for about three seconds in case of a riot. "You don't think we'd leave them up with this going on do you?" "I've just never seen them down in the daytime," Jeffrey answered. He stood up straighter. We passed the cooks to get to the elevator; Fletcher grabbed my arm. "Where are you going with that inmate?" he yelled. ''Locking him in the service elevator--Willis' orders.'' Fletcher hesitated, knowing he had the authority to command me to do otherwise. "Hurry it up!" he finally said. We went through the escape door to get to the elevator. I took off my key ring and unlocked the elevator door. Jeffrey took a step. "Will I be safe in here?" he asked. I pondered the merit of lying. "It's a death trap," I answered. Jeffrey staggered back. "How?" ''The screens,'' I said pointing to the heavy-duty screen roof and walls in the elevator. '' If someone wants to kill you, all they have to do is throw flammable liquid through the screens. You die of smoke inhalation if you don't burn.'' ''They'd never think of that.'' ''That's what those three blacks thought last week,'' I said. (They were inmates his lovers had burned in their cells.) Then I nodded toward the fifty-five gallon drum of oil that sat in the far corner of the room. Jeffrey stared at his feet. He tensed as if to spring, then held his stomach as if he'd vomit again as he stepped into the elevator. I locked the door and pushed the down button. "Will I be able to get into the basement?"he yelled as the elevator descended. ''The basement door is locked,'' I answered. The elevator door was made of thick wood, but it had a two-square-foot section of heavy screen for a window. I watched him descend. "Can I break it down?" I gauged the thinness of his arms, the roundness of his shoulders. "Probably not," I answered. Probably not a chance in hell. "If you can get the door open or tear down the screens and get into the office, hide in the compressor rooms, in a corner. Don't go into the service tunnels. They'll crawl in there to hide from each other-the tunnels are deadly." I remembered tales of inmates dying in the tunnels. One little body-builder named Johnson told a group of inmates a story about crawling into a tunnel to hide during a riot and meeting a man in the darkness. The man stabbed him in the neck with a screwdriver and they fought in the cramped tunnel. After strangling his attacker, Johnson found that it had been an old cell-mate-one of his best friends. He warned, " If you 're ever in a riot, put your back against the wall and kill anyone who gets near you. I don't care if he's your best friend. I don't care if he's smiling. I don't care if he's weaponless. Kill him." I hoped Jeffrey would remember those stories. ''Thank you, Animal,'' he said solemnly. As the elevator reached the bottom, I flipped off its lights. The volume of the roaring had evened out again; the white plastic walls shimmered in unison with the voices. Since I was near the loading door, I considered opening it and keeping it ajar to speed our exit if the inmates broke. But it was against prison policy to have both the loading door and the escape door open at the same time, so I left it closed. Instead I wandered back to the escape door and stood in the doorway, watching the cooks. Most of them stood just a few feet in front of me, huddled together, smoking cigarettes and speaking in whispers. I didn't join them. Mueller, the little German, wanted to start breading the pork chops for dinner. Walrus said he'd help and they ran into the vegetable cooler to get some eggs for breading. The other cooks ignored them and huddled together in their white uniforms with their white faces. They all thought they were being some kind of heroes; they wanted to be there when the walls came crashing in so they could tell their grandchildren about it. I just wanted to go home. "Hey, Animal, you still up there? " Jeffrey yelled from the elevator. I didn't answer. "Animal, you up there? " His voice came louder. I didn't want to talk to him, figuring he'd be dead in a while anyway. "Animal, answer me! " he screamed. I turned, wandered around the corner, back to the elevator shaft. "Yeah, I'm still here," I yelled through the screen. ''Oh," he paused, not sure what to say. "Is it really true?--what you said about swearing off your wife for a week." "No,'' I chuckled. "I was just teasing you, man." I liked that word, man. It sounded so colloquial. "Oh. I really believe it, you know--that it takes a man to really love another man. Women can never really relate. They're all either prudes or bitches,' ' he stumbled over the words, trying to sound casual. ''Women aren't easy to understand,' ' I conceded. ''Yeah, I know what you mean.'' I cocked my head and listened to the rhythmic chanting. The voices were blending into one voice; the speed of the chanting was picking up. "Hey, Animal, what's Sandy like?" That he knew my wife's name threw me. I didn't know where he got his information, but it wouldn't have surprised me if he knew I had a cat named Custer. "Hey, Animal. Do you still believe in all that about God?" Jeffrey had asked me about my religion three years earlier when I first started working in the prison. I hadn't been to church more than three or four times since then. The last time I went we sang a song which said "Jesus bid the prison doors unfold.'' It gave me a sick feeling. ''Yeah, I guess I still believe it.'' "I don't," he said. "My parents tried to cram it down my throat for years. I don't believe it. How can you believe in God?" "I don't know, sometimes you just feel it. The way you can feel another person in the room when it's dark and quiet." "You think you can feel when another person is in a room? " ''Sure,'' I said. He'd be thinking I was crazy. "If you didn't know I was in the elevator, do you think you could feel me here?' ' "Of course, I always know when someone's in the basement." Jeffrey seemed to consider it for a long time. I could picture him counting the times I'd caught inmates in the restricted area of the basement. Or the time I got a sense of urgency on the way to work and drove eighty miles-per-hour all the way from Pleasant Grove. When I got to work, I ran down to the basement and found Salinas nearly beaten to death. Sometimes inmates went to the basement to take drugs or fight. More often, just one person would go there to huddle up on some flour sacks, rock in the darkness, and try to achieve the illusion of being alone, unwatched. I knew how they felt. Sometimes I wanted to huddle in that darkness too. There were rumors that I had microphones or alarms in the basement so I'd know if anyone was there. He knew I was telling the truth. ''Can you feel me here now?" Closing my eyes, I sensed him as a dark spot at the edge of my awareness. ''Yeah.'' "Aw, you just smell me or something.'' I wondered. I couldn't let a butterfly pass without listening for its wings. I'd stand in the forest and try to unravel the descent of one leaf among a thousand falling leaves. I would hone every sense, then drag them across the cold stone floors of the prison. Closing my eyes I tried to separate Jeffrey's smell from the other scents in the room. A gentle draft rose from the hot basement. I took a long whiff, discerned the smells of mold and dust, Jeffrey's vomit and body oils, the familiar smell of the prison-laundered clothing, flour, the musk of mice, and beyond them, ... yeast? And apples? Applejack? "Aw," I muttered. "Someone's making brew in the basement again." Jeffrey started chuckling. "Who is it? Wait. It's Vigil, isn't it?" Jeffrey snorted and pounded on the elevator door. "I knew it! I saw that little wetback in here yesterday. And he had sticky-looking hands.'' "We told him not to!" Jeffrey laughed. "We said you'd catch him. He just said, 'All I want is a leetle drink for Chreestmas.'" I heard someone walk up behind me. I glanced at the white of a cook's uniform, then Schaeffer whispered in my ear, "Get your coat and stuff. We're supposed to get ready to go. We just got a call from Control One: riot on A-block, inmates trashing the place, multiple fires." I nodded. Schaeffer left. "What'd ya say, Animal?" Jeffrey yelled. "Yeah, he'll drink water on A-block for Christmas. Hey, look, I gotta go.'' "Hah! You put that together pretty good, Animal. You know, you scare folks sometimes.'' He was just trying to delay me. "Yeah, I gotta go.'' I liked scaring folks--the right kind of folks. "Hey, Animal. Do you sense God in prison?" he asked too loud. ''Well, he's supposed to be everywhere, but I haven't felt him here.'' "Me neither," Jeffrey said. "But he's supposed to be here-even in prison." There was silence. "Maybe he's over in Minimum Security," he said. "They get everything over there.'' His fishwife accent made me laugh. It was almost like the old Jeffrey was back. Listening to the shouting and cries in the dining hall, I looked out the escape door into the kitchen. The cooks were still standing around, enjoying their adrenaline rushes too much to think about leaving. I stepped back next to the elevator. "Hey, listen," I said quickly. "Why don't you try stepping off the elevator and standing on the sill by the door. I'll try bringing the elevator up enough so you can crawl underneath it to hide.'' "Get under the floor of the cage?'' "Yeah, if you're skinny enough to let the elevator slip by you." "What if it squishes me?" ''It won't squish you. There's an automatic cutoff if anything touches the face-plate by the door. "No. I mean what if I get squished under the elevator cage?" "It doesn't go down that far. There's about a three-foot clearance space there that the repairmen use." I suspected that inmates sometimes hid under the elevator when I did my security checks. "Okay, give it a try," Jeffrey yelled. I hit the up button. The elevator rose for a moment, then stopped. ''Give it another try,'' Jeffrey said. ''I hit the face-plate by accident.'' I pushed the button again. The elevator rose a bit more and stopped. I jiggled the switch a few times till the elevator wouldn't give anymore. "How are we doing?" I asked. Pants and grunts came from the shaft. Finally he answered, "My thighs are wedged in tight. I can't even get my arms under it." I could go down and disconnect the fuse that operated the safety features of the elevator-but that would require about two-and-a-half minutes. It would take another minute to get Jeffrey under the elevator. Judging by the din coming form the culinary, it didn't sound like there'd be time. The sound of approaching footsteps made me turn. Franklin was watching me with his rabbit eyes, afraid to disrupt my conversation. ''Willis wants you,'' he said. ''Okay.'' I expected Franklin to leave, but he stood there shaking and licking his lips. "Hey, Jeffrey," I called, "I've got to go for a minute. If l don't make it back in time to do anything else, just remember to keep close to the inside wall, huddled down, so no one can see you from up here.'' And dodge the oil when it comes, I thought. ''Yeah, yeah. I'll do that,'' he answered. ''Hey, Animal. Know what? When I got up this morning, getting a haircut was the most important thing on my mind,'' he giggled. I walked out remembering the bald men in New Mexico. Willis was standing by the office door, telephone in hand. I waited for him to speak. "Where you been?" he asked. "Locking Jeffrey Owen in the elevator. Need me for something?" "No, I was just wondering where in the hell you were . We need to be ready to evacuate. I want you to stand by the escape door and hold it open till they start trying to break in. If the inmates try to force entry through the service doors, I want the escape door closed in no less than three seconds. Understood?" ''Three seconds,'' I nodded. I took my post and waited. The chanting continued. There were no more dissuasive shouts, just the steady throb of ''Burn it down . Burn it down. Burn it down." Standing at the door, listening--that's when I knew it would really happen. The cooks were still gathered in their circle, except for Mueller and Walrus, who were cracking eggs four at a time. I noticed that the motion of their bodies was in rhythm with the chanting: grab some eggs; burn it down. Crack some eggs; burn it down. Dump the shells; burn it down. One of the eggs had fallen to the floor. I stared at the perfect top half-shell, with the yolk spilling yellow beneath it. Once there was this scullery worker, a weasle named Gray. He begged me for an egg, but I didn't want to give it to him, thinking he'd throw it at somebody. He was so persistent I gave it to him. He took the egg and sat at a table all afternoon, delicately wrapping it in some rusty barbed wire that had fallen from the fences, ignoring the cuts he got. When he finally got it wrapped in a perfect little cage, he ran around the room showing it to people, pointing to the egg resting among the barbs, and saying, "That's me! That's me!" Then he went to his cell and hanged himself. I turned my eyes from the egg and listened to the sounds of the chanting. The cooks stood in their places, oblivious. They were childish idiots playing Russian roulette, planning to dodge when they heard the click and bang. I looked at Walrus. He'd probably die. Maybe Richardson would too, from where he was standing. They were cooks-even my bosses were cooks. I could understand their watching and waiting; they spent their lives watching and waiting for pots to boil. I could understand their lack of concern for the fairy in the elevator; they concerned themselves with the serving of things to be eaten. In such moments of clarity, life seems a very good joke. It made me smile. But I am a guard, I told myself. The pounding voices halted. The cooks turned and began to run toward me. There was a whoosh of indrawn breath and one commanding scream from the cafeteria. Then rose the shout. The floor felt like a rolling wave under my feet and I looked past the cooks running toward me. I could see the shapes of heads denting the big, blue service doors as inmates rushed against them. The little wooden doors on either side of the kitchen splintered under the pressure of bodies. I watched the faces of the passing cooks: Fletcher's eyes darted back and forth as he ran; Mueller's were glittering and dangerous; Rabbit eyes and Walrus were both crying. I began to swing my door closed. Inmate Kavika ran into the kitchen with a tide of sky-blue uniforms behind him. He stopped, cocked his arm, and threw something at Willis, the last in line, a few steps from my door. Willis was yelling, "Get out," waving his pliers and looking for stray cooks. Kavika's homemade brass shurikin grazed Willis' forehead and hit the wall behind him. Bottles and pipes hit the wall and shards of glass spattered around us. Ceramic tiles began falling from the roof, and the inmates all stopped and shielded their heads. I thought the roof was caving in until I saw that the metal tracks for raising and lowering the service doors were being ripped from the ceiling by the pressure of bodies shoved against the doors. None of the inmates made it halfway down the row of ovens before I swung my door shut. It was only twenty feet to the exit. The cooks opened the back door and an icy blast of air hit me; I double-locked the escape door while they ran out. Willis waited in the doorway, sillouetted by cold sunlight. I watched him. ''Why are you standing there? Come on! '' he said. The sun on his white uniform and his wide mouth reminded me of a frost-covered toad. ''Why are you looking at me like that? What are you doing!'' he yelled. ''Getting Owen out.'' Outside, the warning sirens started, permeated by the belch of riot horns. ''Leave him! That's an order!" he shouted, pointing the pliers at me. The action struck me as being very strange, as if he thought the pliers held some power over me. "Get out!" I yelled back. "Leave him!" I punched the up button, turned and waited. I knew Willis wouldn't report me; or at least if he did, I didn't care. Someone began beating on the escape door with something metal. There were yells to tear it down. I've failed, I thought. The demons are at my door, and it is within my power to save only one man. I smiled. The pounding on the heavy escape door grew more insistent; and there was scraping, as if they were tearing the walls down with crowbars. The door was supposed to hold for five minutes-but then the bullet-proof glass around the control rooms in New Mexico was supposed to hold for five minutes, and it had held up for only twenty-four seconds. Willis slammed the back door shut and took off running. The elevator's trip up took sixty seconds. It seemed longer. "Are you letting me out? Are you letting me out?'' Jeffrey kept saying. He was jumping up and down and climbing the wire walls inside the cage of the elevator. In that moment I felt great peace. The hammering on the doors became a distant rushing. I watched, unconcerned, as the door dented like thin aluminum. I realized the door would be down within a minute. It didn't seem to matter. Someone with a pry bar beat on an old metal plate crookedly welded to the escape door. He broke the plate at the weld, pushed the bar through, and used it as a lever to pry the plate free. The plate peeled back like the page of a book. A six-by-six inch hole opened at eye level. The hammering slowed for a moment while an inmate's eye passed in front of the hole. "Hey, there's a guard in there!" he yelled. "Who is it?" several voices yelled above a background of screams. A black face passed in front of the hole, was pushed aside. A third face appeared. "It's Animal," the face said. ''Animal?'' someone yelled. I recognized the voice of one of the inmate cooks, Nathan Stoneman. ''Let me talk to him.'' Some black I didn't recognize said, ''Yeah, let the man talk to him; let the man talk to him.'' Nathan's brown eyes appeared. "Hey, Animal, buddy, what are you doing in there?" I nodded toward the elevator. "I got Jeffrey Owen locked in the elevator. I'm taking him out." "What's that?" several voices asked. "He's taking Owen out," Nathan said. "All right! All right!" the black man and several others said. Nathan tapped nervously on the side of the door, the ring on his finger sounded small and tinny against the sounds of the riot. Only one person was still beating on the wall. "Hey, uh, Animal," Nathan said, "why don't you, uh, open this door and take us out with you?" I paused for a very long time, as if considering. 'I'd like to, Nathan. I'd really like to. But if I open this door, you know that you and I could never get it closed again.'' ''Let me talk to him,'' someone yelled, and Nathan was shoved aside. A mop handle with razorblades gouged into one end of it was clumsily thrust through the hole. I stepped aside, watching it clatter to the floor. There was a smack and a scuffle; Nathan reappeared at the hole. "Hey, I'm sorry about that, man. I didn't see it coming," he said. "That's okay,'' I said. "I did." "How much longer is it going to take?" ''About twenty seconds,'' I answered, thinking, if you hurry you can get me. "Twenty seconds?" he paused. "You got it man. We'll guard the door.'' "We'll guard the door?" the black man asked. "Yeah," Nathan said. "You mean we will guard this door?" "Yeah," Nathan answered. "Damn right!" someone else chimed in. "Far-out! We're guarding this door!" the black man said. The pounding ceased. There were screams and sounds of glass breaking in other places, but everything was quiet by the door. I knew they'd want payback and considered. Finally I laid the basement keys on the floor. ''I'm leaving the basement keys here for you," I said. "When you get done with them, put them downstairs in Vigil's hooch bucket.'' There were whoops of laughter from behind the door and exclamations of ''All right!" and "He's my man!" ''You guys stick together,'' I continued. ''In about six hours everyone is going to get hungry. They'll all head here. So when you see them coming, don't try to kill every gladiator carrying a stick. Just talk them into joining your side. Bargain with the food." The lights went out as the prison power supply was shut down. ''Just keep your heads and this whole thing can be over tomorrow." I stared at Nathan a moment before opening the elevator. Nathan nodded. The elevator was stuck a couple of feet from the top, but now that the power was off, the in-built security systems were defeated; I was able to unlock it without waiting for it to come the rest of the way up. Jeffrey stepped out like a woman in high heels who is afraid of turning an ankle. I stooped to pick up the spear that had been thrown at me. We walked out the back door, pulling it closed behind us, and headed slowly down the ice-covered loading ramp toward the fences. Cold sunlight burned our eyes, but we floundered ahead; soon we'd grow blind to it, and it wouldn't have power to harm us anymore. I warned Jeffrey to stay close to me and to stop when he reached the first fence, knowing he'd get shot if he tried to climb it. He might get shot anyway if the tower guards were too nervous. I wondered if I'd be able to cut small bushes with my spear. I suddenly decided that I was going to grow a garden with rose bushes in it--and I would prune them with the spear. And I would pull the earwigs and aphids from the leaves with my fingers and put them in quart jars and release them in the woods. And if the thorns cut me, I'd bleed on the ground, and my roses would be redder for having been watered with blood. It was cold and I was shaking. I looked over my shoulder; every window in the prison seemed to be shattered already; smoke was pouring from the laundry and C-block; someone screamed, "My God, My God, Save me!'' and a crackle of rifle-fire answered from tower one. And there will be weeds in my garden, I thought. There will be plenty of room for weeds. Tansy ragwort, thistle and dandelions. And when they are in bloom, I'll walk around them so they don't get crushed. I was so tired, I just wanted to get home and get to bed, to curl up in the darkness for a long time. Jeffrey was sobbing. "What are you smiling about?" he asked. I hadn't realized I was smiling. Do I always smile at the wrong time? ''Maybe it's because I feel a great and peaceful presence, moving through the basement," I said. Jeffrey wiped his eyes with his shirt sleeve and glanced up. I pictured my white teeth smiling and was suddenly very afraid they would crack and fall out and get lost in the snow.