Friday, February 1, 2008

Groupthink: the Lighter Side - Chapter 3

Previous Chapter | Contents | Next Chapter

Year 8

If Nate hadn’t already been sure he was crazy, he would have started wondering.

It seemed like he couldn’t do anything without someone anticipating it and helping him before he even started. There hadn’t been a real fight in his cell block for 2 years and even the guards called it “creepy.” Lately, he wasn’t even sure about them either.

And just to put the cherry on the whole shit sundae (as Nate liked to say), lately he was getting these weird feelings. Every now and then, he would be doing something when he suddenly realized that he wasn’t the one doing the doing as it were. On one occasion he had glanced in the mirror and seen someone else.

While in many ways Nate felt more in tune with everyone around him, he also felt incredibly alone. Many of the things that used to part of his life were gone. Beating other people up: gone. Fear of the guards: gone. Black market: gone.

To take away the structure of his life left the man feeling uncertain. Frightened. Alone.

Nate had never been able to talk to other people before, but now he did so even less. While it seemed like he didn't need to talk, he also missed it. How can you ask for a magazine when someone hands it to you before you ask? How can you threaten someone when they know you can't follow through?

While this applied to the "members" of his "group," the other inmates avoided him like he had a disease. Everyone seemed to think that Nate and his crew were "spooky" and "weird." Nate's crew did not use drugs, they were inhumanly helpful to each other, and they didn't start fights. If someone else messed with them, however, they stopped fast or they got dead.

Four other people had died since the incident with Bull. Two of them were run of the mill prison deaths involving a fight, but the other two had involved threats of some kind against one of Nate’s people.

While none of them died by the same means, Nate was certain that he was somehow the cause. In one case, the guy had died of a supposed heart attack. This was fine as far as the infirmary boys were concerned, the inmate had been incredibly overweight and had a family history of coronary problems. It was just that he had been 40 years old at the time. Unlikely but it did happen.

Somehow, Nate knew that it had been potassium cyanide. Mind you, Nate couldn’t even spell the phrase, but he felt certain that it could be mistaken for a coronary if you didn’t know what you were looking for. He could describe how to get it from some of the stuff around the prison, how to make it tasteless, and how to get it into the man’s food without him suspecting. He could visualize some of the steps.

The other man, whose nickname was Shark, had died in a fight, which was not remarkable in a prison filled with violent offenders. What’s more, Shark was known for his violent moods and had gotten into several fights during the previous weeks. What made it strange to Nate was that he somehow knew what had set him off. He could recall talking to the people he had fought and telling them some bit of information that would set Shark off. It seemed to Nate that Shark's fights were a series of carefully orchestrated events with one goal: eliminating him. While Nate was sure about how it had been set up, he was equally sure that he hadn’t done it.

Every time it involved many people, acting seemingly on their own, but with an incredible degree of coordination. It would have been impossible for a bunch of men like Nate's crew to do this on their. Someone would always talk or it was just one person.

It never occurred to the warden that it was a conspiracy. He was just happy that he was able to run the prison on so little money while still managing to keep his "retirement fund" going.

And then there was Mr. Doe. John Doe, the gimp just lay or sat around most of the day. But Nate could swear that he had talked to the guy. There had been one incident where a letter had arrived for John from the state telling him of the death of a relative. Nate had opened it and exclaimed “Aunt Jo died?” At that moment, he could have told you everything you ever wanted to know about “Aunt Jo.” Of course, Nate had never even seen her.

All-in-all, the peace and serenity that permeated Nate's block just seemed more and more…unnatural.

* * *

Year 10

Things had reached “critical mass.”

Nate was sure that something big was about to happen, but he couldn’t say what. Sometimes, he felt like he wasn't in control of his body. He would have periods of time that he couldn't account for.

Then there were the periods where he remembered things that he was sure did not happen to him. A shrink would have described Nate's "whiteout" periods as delusions. Of course, the fact that they were actual events made things a bit more complex.

The feeling decreased as time went on, which was comforting. Then one day the prisoner realized that it wasn't happening less, he was just becoming accustomed to it.

He’d been trying to deal with the feeling all morning when he realized that a guard was yelling at him.

“It’s lunch time, idiot!”

“I heard you the first time.” Nate growled in reply.

The guard looked at him strangely and walked away.

“And get Mr. Nate to move too!”

Nate opened and shut his mouth. He glanced over at a bewildered man who stared back at him like he had grown another head. Abruptly, Nate realized he was looking at himself.

“Stop it!”

Nate looked around and was calmed by the fact that he seemed to be back in his body. He heard yells from around the block. It appeared it was catching.

As the inmates of Nate’s block shuffled towards the dining room, bumping into each other, doorways, walls, etc. one of the guards shook his head and said:

“Think they’re on some kind of drug?”

Nate turned and glared at the man, who suddenly took a step back. Normally, the guards never showed that kind of fear in front of the inmates. Nate realized that everyone had stopped to glare at the guard.

Self-consciously, the men got moving again.

Sitting at the lunch table, Nate grumbled: “Pass the damn salt.”

He looked up to see 6 salt-shakers and dozens more being handed to him from all over the room.


The last word had been echoed by everyone in the room. Nate glared at one of the salt shakers, and realized that he was not Nate.

In a flash he realized that he was.

He had hundreds of arms, legs, heads. He could see everything in the room in precise detail. Consciousness was a vast and unexplored universe that he had never visited. Knowledge undreamt of was his to command. Someone else was in his mind.

Just as quickly as the feeling had come about, it shattered. Nate found himself sitting in the lunch room holding a salt shaker. He felt his blood turn to ice as he realized what was happening; as he realized that he had no way of stopping it.

Everyone around him seemed to be dazed as well.

Nate looked around, desperate to find something to latch on to, something that he could concentrate on that would prevent that…thing from taking control. He looked at the table, his plate, his hands, his shoe anything that he could focus on.

The minutes crawled by. How long could he keep this up?

The bell rang, signifying that lunch was over. All around the room men got to their feet, all of them trying to avoid letting their minds wander. Trying to hang on.

It was hard to walk and do this at the same time, you tended to bump into things. Abruptly that passed. Nate let out a mental sigh, seeing the way ahead…even though he was looking down. The consciousness returned. The feeling of the other returned.

For most people, the feeling that they are, that they exist as something separate from everyone else, is something that does not occur at a single point. For this new collection of people, the transition was abrupt.

I am.

Previous Chapter | Contents | Next Chapter

No comments: