Eliot lifted his head from his chest and stared out at a different world. He was in a cell, an iron-ringed cage. He was no longer a feeble old man. His mind burned in anger. He felt electric with life.
He looked around at his six-foot by eight-foot world.
He was sitting on a sagging metal frame that supported a worn-out, filthy mattress, sheets, and a military woolen blanket. This pillow was too soft, too old, punched down to intangible uselessness. He wadded it up between his hands and threw it against the iron bars of his cell. It fell, noiselessly, to the floor. He hated that pillow.
It was sixty-five degrees in the cell; but with no room to walk around, it felt cold. His pent-up indignation at the unfairness of the universe took on a life of its own.
“Rosewater, Captain Eliot Rosewater, will report to theInterrogationCenter. Rosewater, Captain Eliot Rosewater, report to the InterrogationCenter.”
The speakers died. Echoes from Rosewater’s cement-and-dust world died.
Two large men dressed in gray uniforms, two large men carrying Taser guns, walked down the metal-grid walkway towards him.
One of them held his identification card out in front of a plate next to the door of Eliot’s cage. Next, the guard pushed his face up to an electronic scanner. The door slid open with a snakelike hiss.
Captain Rosewater pushed down against the bunk with his hands and stood up.
The second Corrections Officer, the one that hadn’t opened the cell door, was a middle-aged dumpy one with a shaggy moustache. He swaggered into the cell and said, “Let’s go.”
The first guard, a taller man about thirty, just stared down into the prisoner’s eyes. The fat one ordered Rosewater to turn around. After he complied, plastic manacles were fastened around his wrists, pinning his hands tight behind his back.
“Turn around,” said the fat one.
The tall one remained standing outside the cell, slapping his left hand with the Taser.
“Let’s go,” the fat one repeated.
“What’s your name?” Rosewater asked him.
The guard didn’t answer. He just jabbed his prisoner between the shoulders with the Taser.
Eliot was on the floor. He felt around with his tongue, to see if all his teeth were still in their right places. As his wits came stumbling back, he noticed a stabbing pain on the outside of my right calf. He looked down at it at the same moment that the two guards jerked him up by the armpits. He felt dizzy, banged against the cell door and reeled into the hall.
He twisted out of the guards’ grasp and smacked his back into the waist-high railing, trying to get his balance. He got punched in the left side of his neck for that. In three seconds, he was jerked back to the center of the walkway and shoved forward. He was having trouble lifting his feet and his prison-issue shoes kept getting tangled in the metal grid of the walkway. Ten feet behind him, the door to his cell sighed closed. Then, with a solid, metal clang, it shut itself and locked. Rosewater could hear nothing but the echoes of footsteps, his own ragged breathing and the grunts of the two guards who herded him off to theInterrogationCenter.
He was prodded again, this time by the bigger fellow. It was just a jab, though, no electricity. Eliot was grateful for that.
Imagine his surprise at finding himself standing in a field of poppies in a sunny field. His wife, Sylvia, was running towards him with her arms held wide.
“Eliot,” she cried out, “Eliot, I still love you. I will always love you.”
He raised his arms and reached out to her.
Just as they were about to touch one another, a deafening blast like a train hitting a rock wall snapped him out of his dream and he was shoved roughly into the Interrogation Room. The train’s siren continued to wail in Rosewater’s brain, though its volume grew lower as his eyes began to focus.
What he saw, then, was the greasy Lieutenant Colonel that ran the concentration camp. Eliot was three inches taller than the heavily-muscled man in the garish uniform; but he was probably outweighed by twenty pounds. The warden looked to be forty years old. Somehow, Eliot knew that he, himself, was in his late twenties. He didn’t wonder how he had shed seventy years: he had been having lucid dreams for decades and imagined he was having one, now
“Welcome back, Captain.” The raspy voice of the warden grated like rusted metal scraping against cement. “Take a seat,” he ordered.
Eliot said, “Please take the cuffs off”. The warden pretended not to hear and nodded towards a battered looking wooden chair. A child’s chair, it sat meekly just inches from the warden’s huge, weathered, desk. Eliot shuffled towards it. The taller guard who had escorted him from his cell kicked the chair backwards to make room for Eliot’s feet. His thumbs drove into Eliot’s shoulders and forced him down onto the miniature roost. Its legs had been cut short to make those forced to sit on it feel small and defenseless. Eliot’s chin was three inches higher than the top of the warden’s desk. The warden’s cold and soulless eyes were menacing, tiny lights, pinched tight to the top of his snout. Eliot felt small and defenseless. His knuckles scraped the seat of the chair and his shoulders were forced high, next to his ears, because there was no room for his gangly arms. His legs flopped out in front of him. He pulled his knees up so that his feet were flat on the floor. He felt like a helpless dung beetle under the field-glass of a bug-collector.