Empty

by Hugh Mungus

Yuri Oscar Ulisov.

"Stupid name," thought Randall. Fuckin' foreigners," he cogitated, the same way he had thousands - perhaps tens of thousands - of times in the past.

What else could he do? Sixty-two years in the same goddamned cell, and every night - or close to it - he'd awaken at the same time, and that Russian's name would be illuminated through his window. Damnedest thing, too. Not that he was an educated man - he'd been locked up for a crime he hadn't committed since he was 18 - but wasn't the Moon supposed to be at different points in the sky throughout the year?

"Why then," he wondered, "was that Red's name lit up perfectly, the same time every night?"

Didn't make sense, but he'd stopped trying to figure out the moniker engraved into the cold concrete wall of his cell, the same way he'd ceased attempting to decode the message carved beneath it: HAVE THE KEYS.

For years, awakening to YURI OSCAR ULISOV HAVE THE KEYS was a tick burrowing under his skin. Randall was no wordsmith, but even he knew the grammar in that sentence was more fucked than a pedophile in the joint.

"Dumb shit, Commie prick. It's Yuri Oscar Ulisov has the keys. Has, you sorry son of a bitch," Randall mumbled to himself.

He knew goddamned well why this lapse in language was suddenly bothering him after all these years. He was turning 80. Tonight was his birthday, and he'd spent almost his entire existence behind bars. There was no hope for parole either; not that it mattered at this point. He'd never even kissed a girl, let alone been intimate with one. The only times he'd fucked had been against his will, and even those horrific nights in the shower were long gone.

He was an old man, and nobody but death wanted old men.

"God fuckin' dammit!" he turned in his cot, to avoid staring at that Pinko's wall carving. In the sickly light, he gazed at the lone photo he had of himself and his mother. She'd just stopped visiting one day, probably 20 years ago. He didn't have to be some slick-suited lawyer to figure that one out. She'd been the only one who'd ever shown.

He surmised the others were dead, as well. They were far older than he was. He'd known he was alone for at least a decade; he could feel it.

It was impossible to believe that 16 year old kid in the picture was related to him...much less actually him. For 62 years, all he'd had was Yuri. Yuri god-fucked Oscar Ulisov.

Randall wondered what the prick was in for, how much time he did, whether he'd died in this shithole, or was released.

He would've taken the time to contemplate whether he, too, would end up dying in here, had he not understood that happened decades ago. Sixty-two years in an eight by 10 foot cell was death. He'd been existing, but hadn't lived a day, let alone an hour, the entire time he'd been on Earth.

In fact, he couldn't be certain if the planet - outside these walls - was still around. Apart from the news he caught on the dilapidated three channel in the rec room, he had no idea what the world was like. When he was first locked up, cars were the size of elephants, and couldn't travel more than 50 miles per hour. The rockets on wheels he saw on TV these days weren't even as big as the go-karts he'd built as a kid, and looked like they could reach the Moon before lunch.

And how about television? It hadn't existed when he spent his first night in the joint.

Fuckin' Yuri had probably driven fast cars and fucked fast women. He'd probably done his time, and been released early enough to own a house, and drown his liver in troughs of whiskey.

Randall's deep-seated hatred for Yuri Oscar Ulisov overcame him, as he twisted toward the wall, delivering a haymaker into the name that had mocked him for so long.

Though he'd braced for the inevitable physical anguish, it never came. Blood never spattered, and no bones broke. To the prisoner's shock, the concrete wall surrounding the Russian's name was thinner than Randall's see-through skin, and crumbled like the timeworn cornbread served in the cafeteria.

From the resultant hole his fist had created, something emerged. Whatever it was echoed with a metallic tone at the foot of his cot. Randall collected himself, before gazing at the corroded key on the ground.

Why wasn't he in anguish, clutching his obliterated fist, and what was this new development before him?

Trembling, he extended arthritic fingers, and grabbed the alloy object.

Sixty-two years confined here, without a clue what was now in his palm had been with him the entire time.

Randall stared down at his newfound discovery. "A key?...To what?" he wondered.

In his limited scope, there was only one option. The prisoner gazed toward the lock on his cell.

"Is it possible? Could the answer have been here all along?" Randall asked himself. Six decades in Hell, and the key to escape was with him the full sentence?"

"Is this what you've been trying to tell me all this time, Yuri?" the inmate pondered.

"You bastard!" Randall's mind raced out of control. "Why didn't you-?"

His thought processes came to a screeching halt, similar to a speeding train slamming into a mountain.

Whatever the elderly incarcerate had for dinner came up for air, as he realized he'd possessed the key to freedom all along. Randall collapsed to the floor, any strength remaining drained from his weary frame. In the sickly moonlight, he wiped the hunks of partially digested meat from his chin, pushing himself up from the freezing concrete.

"Yuri Oscar Ulisov," he whispered in the din of his cell. Over and over that name formed on his bleeding lips. "Yuri Oscar Ulisov. Yuri Oscar Ulisov. Yuri Oscar Ulisov. Y.O.U. YOU. YOU...You have the key."

The grammar had been correct all along.

With a quaking paw, Randall looked to the lock, raised to his feet and inserted the cold chunk of steel into the cylinder. Cinderella's foot in the glass slipper. Before turning the key, he prayed - for what remained of his sanity - it wouldn't work. How could he justify having the method for escape all along, yet allowing himself to be imprisoned for the past 62 years?

The loosening of tension, as the lock rotated, and the barred door before him opened.

Randall was a free man.

The guard station was less effective than a skull with no brain, as he passed a sleeping sentry in the midst of what appeared a fitful nightmare. From there, passage to the prison entrance was an obstacle course with no obstacles.

Seconds later, he was outside the penitentiary, headed toward a realm he'd never before encountered. His heart raced like a starving man for food. His breath nearly didn't come, as he ascended a ridge above a road, and gazed down on lights as far as the eye could see. He understood he was staring at a city; a metropolis he'd been a mile from almost his entire existence, but had never visited. The sheer expanse of the municipality frightened him to no end.

Out of nowhere, something roared overhead through the night, as he cowered in horror. He knew about planes, but had never actually seen one in person; and this variety appeared immense.

A train whistle announced the size of something monstrous, and the biggest truck he'd ever seen - he heard they were called semis - raced toward him, as he leapt to the soft shoulder for safety.

Attempting to calm himself, he stared across an open field at an immense sign. There, the largest photograph he'd ever observed showcased a smiling, young woman, clad in a bikini that left nothing to the imagination. In the background was a tropical beach.

Randall had never been to a beach, nor seen the ocean, except on TV.

This foreign environment around him was far larger, and much more intimidating than it seemed on television. An interstate sign above was the size of a cell block, and the city looming closer with each step, the entire Earth.

There was nothing he could relate to, and at his age, how could others relate to him? He was an infant in an 80 year old's body. Randall had watched the news, and seen the dreadful stories of how the elderly were forgotten in modern society.

Even out here in the middle of the country, everything was moving more quickly than he could comprehend. By the time he reached the city, he'd be lost.

He found himself atop an overpass, looking down, the fastest vehicles he could ever imagine speeding beneath him.

He'd never even learned to drive.

No, this was not a world he could live in nor adjust to. Hence, he quietly climbed the slick metal railing, and leapt into the rushing river of vehicles below.

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