The Prison held all kinds misfits. We were the dyslexics, the ones in wheelchairs, the scrawny, the overweight, the ones who weren’t athletic, and the ones who failed every subject in school. Some of us couldn’t pin point why we didn’t fit in. We just didn’t. We were all banished to our individual cells in the Prison so we don’t ruin the lives of “normal” people.
I hadn’t seen another person in years when he showed up. I opened my eyes from a restless sleep, and his wrinkled face and long, shaggy grey beard filled my vision. I shot off my straw mattress so fast I nearly collided with his head which was leaning over my sleeping form.
“How did you get in here?” I asked the old man.
“What do you mean? You are in here aren’t you? So why should it be surprising that I am?”
“But I’m a prisoner. I was put in here years ago. No one has been in this cell but me. How did you find a way in?”
The old man pointed to the door. “I walked through there.”
Thinking that somehow the door was left unlocked, I ran to it and twisted the doorknob. It didn’t open. My shoulders slumped. “Really how did you get in?” I looked at the walls and floor thinking maybe he dug a tunnel from his cell to mine. I didn’t see a hole, and none of the stones looked moved.
“I already told you son,” he said indignantly, “If you are going to ask a question, pay attention to the answer.”
“But it is impossible that you came through this door. It’s been locked for years!” The old man didn’t seem to notice the frustration in my voice, because he laughed.
“It’s locked! It’s locked he says!” He kept laughing while I stared at him, bewildered. “If it was locked, then how do you think I got inside?” he asked, still chuckling.
“I don’t know. That’s why I asked you.” I threw my arms out in frustration. The man stopped laughing suddenly and leaned forward, looking at me intently.
“Do you really believe that this door is locked?” I dropped my head and shook it, irritated. This man had been in the Prison too long. It turned him crazy. Of course the door was locked. All the cell doors were.
“I don’t believe it is locked. It is locked. See?” I wiggled the knob.
The old man shook his head and stroked his scraggily beard. “Yes, yes I see.” I was pleased to have finally broken through.
“You,” he spoke slowly, “believe the door is locked.” I let out a frustrated breath.
“I believe the door is locked, because it is!” My voice rose with each word. The old man didn’t seem to hear me. He started to pace.
“I believe the door is unlocked, and it is. You believe the door is locked, and it is,” he muttered more to himself than to me, “The door is locked, but it isn’t.” I threw my hands up and went back to sit on my straw mat. I thought being alone in this cell was the worst thing that could happen, but being stuck with a muttering crazy man was worse.
When he was finished talking to himself, he stopped pacing and stood in front of me.
“I know why the door is locked for you, but not for me,” he told me triumphantly.
“I’m sure you do,” I said in a bored tone.
“You believe that the door is locked…”
“I think we’ve already established that,” I murmured.
“And I believe that the door is unlocked…”
“I’m pretty sure we’ve established that too.”
“So for you the door is locked and for me it is unlocked.” He grinned widely at me like he’d solved all my problems. I gave him a deadpan stare.
“Don’t you see, son?” he said excitedly, “The Prison isn’t keeping the door locked. You are.”
“That’s ridiculous,” I snapped, “Why would I keep myself locked up?”
“That,” he wiggled his eyebrows, “is a question only you can answer.”
“Are you telling me that the door is only locked because I believe it is?”
“I believe we’ve already established that young man,” he winked. “Pay attention when I’m talking to you.”
“But, I’ve spent years in this cell. Are you telling me I could have left at anytime?” I stood up from my mattress and kicked at a bit of straw that was falling out. “I just can’t believe that.”
“Why were you put in the Prison?” asked the old man softly.
“I don’t fit in,” I mumbled, looking at the floor.
“Don’t fit in with who?”
I shrugged. “Everyone.”
“Everyone?” The old man whistled. “That’s a lot of people son. Are you telling me that with of all the people out there, you couldn’t find anyone that you would fit in with?”
“Yeah that’s what I’m saying,” I told him hotly. Telling me that the door was unlocked was one thing, but I didn’t want to be reminded of the rejection from the people outside the Prison.
“You don’t really believe that,” he told me. I scowled at him. What was with him and his believing stuff? You believe this and I believe that. It’s locked it isn’t locked. He was definitely crazy.
“I do believe it, because it’s true,” I growled.
“Who said it’s true?” the man raised a bushy eyebrow. “Who said that you don’t fit in and should be kept in the Prison?”
“The people on the outside.” I kicked the straw again. “They say I’m not like them. They say I’m not normal.”
“Normal?” he stroked his beard. “What is normal? Who decides what is normal?” He started walking back and forth again. “Is normal me or is normal you? Is normal what they say,” he held out the palm of his hand and looked at it, “or is normal what they say.” He looked at the other palm as he held it out. “What is normal to one isn’t normal to another…” he trailed off and muttered indistinctively.
He stopped pacing suddenly and looked at me as if he forgot I was there. “But, that is a different conversation for a different time.
“My point is that what they say is only true if you believe it is. How do you know that there aren’t more people in the Prison than on the outside? And if that is true, then by majority alone, which group is normal?” The old man’s eyes twinkled. I had never thought of that.
“Do you know that? Have you been to other people in the Prison? Are there more of us than people on the outside?”
“I could tell you what I know and what I think I know for hours, but it would be much better if you found these things out for yourself.” He tilted his head toward the door. My eyes locked on the door that I’d wanted to go through for years. It didn’t seem possible that I could walk through it now.
“It just seems silly that I would keep myself in the Prison,” I told him.
He chuckled. “It is son. It’s very silly.” With those words, he walked to the door, twisted the knob, and opened it. I stared open-mouthed as he turned to wink at me, and then left the cell. As the door banged shut behind him he called to me, “Now it’s your turn son. It isn’t locked.”
Prompt 33: Open the book you are reading right now, turn to page 33 (or 33% on e-readers) and write a super flash fiction about the first proper noun on the page!
My word, Prison, came from Sapphique by Catherine Fisher.
I have to apologize—I am way, way over the word count. Once I started this one, I just couldn’t stop. At some point in our lives I think all of us have locked ourselves in a prison because of what others say. We are told we don’t fit in or that something is wrong with us, so we cloister ourselves away thinking we can never do anything great because we aren’t “normal.” We think we are inhibited by our differences when it is our differences that are actually strengths.