Written partly using the image: fav. me/d1bxay2, as a prompt.
It's difficult to get used to the darkness. It takes months, but eventually your eyes adapt. That's what they tell him. The other prisoners, they say they're able to tiptoe across the abandoned train tracks without falling through the gaps when you've been there as long as them. They're trying to trick him into memorising my way around these caves, so they no longer have to chaperone him around.
But, on principle, the boy won't learn anything he knows he won't need this time next year. He tells his comrades that no one truly knows where they'll be in a year, what they'll manage to achieve with their life in the future. They explain to him that such a chance to imagine is out of the option to the likes of them. They try to make him comprehend the idea that their fates were sealed a long time ago.
The prisoners here, they're old and tired and, though the boy can't see them often (because really, he's no more than a boy compared to them), he knows they're wrinkly. Each of their souls have lost the will to hope that they'll ever escape. Some of them have come to know that down in the caves is where they belong. They know for a fact that society doesn't need or want the murderers and rapists and thieves they'd thrown down here. Who were the prisoners to begrudge them of that?
There are whispers between the men of the caves, late at night (or what they assume is night as the sun is almost invisible to them at all points in the day) when everyone is asleep. They sit around campfires and tell stories about their lives above the cracks in the ceiling. The men watch each other with fond smiles, attempting to match the voices they'd heard for years to the pasty faces glowing in the light.
But the boy, this child who refuses to learn, refuses to accept his fate, lies in a small hovel only just big enough for him when he curls his spine and hugs his gangly knees. He's found a crack in the ceiling, wider than one he's ever seen here before. From his hiding place, he can see the stars. They blink at him, as though they can't be sure as to how a boy like him ended up in the hell he did. He smiles back. Don't worry, he says. Don't worry; I'll get out one day. (He doesn't know that stars don't blink and that he's probably speaking to an aircraft with innocent civilians inside, all of which would probably be glad that he's down there.)
Most of the guards don't care much for most of the prisoners and vice versa. The guards only have to make sure the same amount of coal is brought up each month, or else there'll be consequences. The coal is exchanged with the guards for food rations. Nothing fancy. It's usually a couple sacks or tins of something dried. But the men the boy has befriended have been down here so long that the guards and they are good friends. Occasionally they get sent things like alcohol and magazines and torches.
The boy has come to hate the nights where his friends are given alcohol. These old men have secrets they'd never share when sober. He wants to pretend that he hasn't befriended murderers and rapists, but the alcohol makes him sure which are which. Whenever the alcohol comes, he hides in his hovel. It terrifies him to listen to think of their darker sides, tales of death and screams and I still remember them crying for mercy, if I could only hear the blood splatter one more time-
And he can't take the thought any further. It causes him physical pain to imagine such things. His head throbs and his already limited vision goes cloudy. One night, after a similar episode, he dreams of a court room and preposterous accusations. Everything is too real and awful words like murder and guilty and cold blood are juggled between the monsters that surround him. He wakes up in a cold sweat and a determination never to remember what he'd dreamt. It doesn't work. The nightmare haunts his every thought.
It's not until the next morning someone tells him that one of his friends had slipped alcohol into his water bottle the night before. He decides not to acknowledge that friend for a week and it doesn't last. There're only so many grudges you can keep in a place where you share everything.
The boy never stops long enough to wonder why he can't remember much of his life before prison. He can't even remember how old he is. His name, he remembers. He asks a companion how old he might be and the man replies with an estimate between adolescence and adulthood. But he's still a boy to them, though most of them can't reach his head to ruffle the greasy hair atop of it.
He's learnt in the last few months that he's stronger than his comrades. He feels his bones growing stronger, unlike his friends who are closer to dying every night that he can see them through the flames. This boy worries that, one day, he might be the only one left. He promises himself that he'd be gone long before then.
There will come a day where he'll realise that he doesn't need a chaperone to show him where he's going. He'll realise that he's become too much like the murderers and rapists and he's adapted to the prison of caves. He'll break down and weep for the hope and ignorance he's lost by realising such a small thing. This boy, no longer a boy once he understands, will know just where the rest of his days will be spent. It'll be the next night he'll accept the bottle of alcohol when it's passed to him. He'll have become one of them.
But, until that day, he promises that he'll escape. He tells the other men that that day will be coming soon. He tells them it's because his family are waiting for him. He hasn't told anyone that they're waiting for him in the makeshift graveyard behind their house. He hasn't mentioned that he was the one to put them in the ground on a cold night, hoping no one would notice.