by Gary L. Robbe
Halson rolled over on the hard floor when he heard the words "Last
call, Pompeii." A shuffling ensued, bodies pushing against one another
to rise up, up from the dead, feet stomping, unintelligible shouts and
cries, all in darkness until a door opened shedding light. Someone
close said, "This is the crud," and Halson recognized Wilson, the
closest thing he had to a friend in this hellhole.
There were forty bodies crammed in a little room. Halson pulled
himself up with difficulty passing tangled legs and thrusting arms and
fists and stood face to face with Wilson. A handful of prisoners
dressed in cheap wool tunics were pushed out of the room into shadows
One bearded fellow fought against the group pushing him, swinging
powerful hands that forced a clearing in the crowd. Four guards entered
in body armor wonder sticks and wondered the man senseless before
carrying him out blabbering.
Halson, looking at Wilson's melon head, lit like the moon and pock
marked with craters, said, "Well, we're in for it." The room seemed
infinitely thinner. He could breathe even if it was stale and fetid air.
"Do you believe it?" Wilson asked. He stared at the open door,
guards milling about on the other side. Wilson's eyes squinted in the
light. He kept them squinted when he turned to Halson.
"I don't believe it," Halson said.
"It must be true. Why would they dress us up like this, if they were
going to just kill us outright. The law says they can't kill us. It's
"They're going to kill us, that's for sure." Halson studied Wilson's
uniform, authentic to the last detail, of a British soldier destined to
be dropped in the heart of the Battle of the Somme on its first day.
"There's no such thing as time travel. No way they figured out a way to
pinpoint a specific moment in the past and drop us there at just the
"I think they can do it. It's their way to get around what to do
with us cons. Gets the job done. They put us in the middle of trouble
and let someone or something do the killin' for them." He grabbed
Halson's arms. "We have a chance!"
Halson glared at Wilson. They were lifers, cons with no chance of
ever getting out of prison, dirty, hungry, beaten men who escaped
execution when the government decided it could no longer morally do the
job. Then the rumor that scientists learned to navigate the space time
continuum. Then the rumor that tests with convict guinea pigs were
reasonably successful. Then the rumors that the government was granting
mercy to those on death row, the thousands of lifers like Halson and
Wilson who rotted away in the massive prisons. They were to be sent
back to disastrous moments in time, to be dispatched in an unobtrusive
way. Measures were taken to insure the time traveler's demise. These
were rumors, deliberately let loose ... All this took place over a
period of a hundred years. Halson was a newcomer to the prison--he had
been there only sixty three years. Wilson, one of the older convicts,
had been there nearly ninety years. With a life expectancy of close to
two hundred years, Halson didn't relish the idea of spending a lifetime
in an overcrowded prison, but he certainly didn't want to die.
Then from above, "Stalingrad!" More shoving and jostling as a
handful of convicts in tattered German uniforms were ushered out of the
room. One of the men was crying like a lost puppy. A guard quipped,
"Hope you like the cold!"
"How do they do it?" Wilson asked. He looked up to Halson, a man who
was educated, knew things, didn't get pushed around by nobody.
Halson stretched. The room was getting roomier by the minute.
Looking at Wilson he said, "Don't know. Some kind of new physics.
Wormholes maybe. Dimension shifting machines." He could tell Wilson
didn't know what he was talking about. "There is no time travel. It's
"Then what?" Wilson said. All the prisoners in the room were dead
silent now. Waiting their turn. Too terrified to talk, Halson thought.
"Maybe virtual reality. We experience the event and our hearts can't
take it. We believe we are dying, and we do. The outfits are for our
benefit, help convince us we really are going back in time."
"Why go to the trouble?" an inmate eavesdropping asked. The man was Asian, dressed in a khaki Japanese soldier uniform.
"It's how they get around the law. They're not killing us. We kill ourselves."
The Asian man shook his head. "I believe we are really going back. Never heard of Heroshinka," he said.
"Hiroshima," Halson said. "You get an atomic bomb dropped on your head."
Wilson patted Halson on the back. "I got a chance," he said. He wandered off with a few other men dressed in British uniforms.
Halson nodded. "Yes, you have a chance."
He moved away from the remaining cons, stood against the wall. The
rank smell of the dark room was overpowering, this waiting room for
death. He looked over his clothes, crude britches and a soiled shirt,
typical of a third class passenger on the HMS Titanic. He started to
have doubts about his own theories as to what was happening. He was
familiar with the Titanic, how the ship went down with most of its
passengers in the icy waters of the Atlantic. He wasn't given a life
jacket, and if they knew how to pin point where and when he would
likely be placed deep in the ship.
Halson smiled. He was in good shape. Even if it was all in his mind,
he could figure a way out of the sinking ship. He faced many physical
trials here in prison, the icy water just another obstacle to overcome,
and if he could make it to one of the lifeboats...
He moved to the door, several sobbing men moving behind him.
A guard said, "Hope you can swim!"
Halson said, "I can."
© 2017 Gary L. Robbe
Bio: Mr. Robbe has been published in Dark Corners Magazine, Sanitarium Magazine, Deadman's Tome, Bewildering Stories, and Shrieks and Shivers from The Horror Zine.
Gary L. Robbe
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