Wednesday 28 August 2013

Conroy’s Shuffle

By David Allsopp.

When Conroy first regained consciousness it felt like someone was playing the bongos inside his skull. The throbbing sensation was so powerful it took a few moments before any thought was possible. Opening his eyes, he found his vision was blurred – like trying to look through a fogged-up window. He had to fight to keep his eyes open.

Conroy looked around, trying to get his bearings. On an instinctual level he knew he was somewhere indoors; it was a still darkness with vague shafts of light at regular intervals. The only sound he could register was a soft ringing in his right ear. As his vision started to focus, Conroy could make out what looked like rows of wooden benches in front of him, with something large hanging on the wall at the far end of the room.

The Prison Chapel. He should know it well enough by now; he was here at least twice a day.

But what happened? It was so hard to think, let alone remember. All Conroy could manage to piece together right now was the fact that he was in the Chapel, he was lying on the ground and his head hurt. Why couldn’t he focus on anything?

Taking a moment, he reached a hand up towards his head to feel if anything was broken. As soon as he made contact the throbbing sensation intensified – the drums playing in his head temporarily kicking into overdrive.

Quickly taking his hand away, the throbbing started to diminish once more and his mind again started to clear. He was in the Chapel. What time was it? It was too dark to be his morning patrol, so it must be in the early evening before the end of his shift.

Conroy eased himself up from the floor with difficulty. His coordination felt foggy, as if the signals were getting crossed during transmission from his brain. With great effort he managed to crawl across the floor to the nearest pew, clasping onto it as he took a deep breath and tried to focus his memory.

It had been just before the evening count, and the prisoners were supposed to be making their way back to their cell blocks. There were always a few stragglers, so Conroy would wait in the yard and then walk back to the blocks after the last of them had gone through the gates.

He remembered walking towards East Block as per usual when he thought he saw something moving in the shrubs next to the Chapel. He paused next to a fence and waited for a minute. Nothing seemed to move, so he just dismissed it as a result of his imagination and the fading daylight.

But just as Conroy started to walk again he saw the shadowy outline of a man appear from behind the shrubs and quickly dart into the Chapel. Conroy rushed over to investigate, and as soon as he walked through the door he tripped and fell to the floor. The last thing he could remember was turning to see two prisoners reaching for him, one swinging something directly at his head.

It was an escape attempt.

A prison break. Next to a riot, it was the second worst thing a guard could encounter, and this one was going to be his fault. Conroy knew he’d made a rookie mistake by charging into the Chapel without calling it in on his radio, and if his head wasn’t already pounding he’d kick himself. He hadn’t been sure what he saw, and that doubt should have told him to call it in, but instead he just went in there like an idiot and was now paying the price for it.

He knew he’d probably lose his job over this. It wasn’t his first mistake, and he was already on the Warden’s bad side. Emma would absolutely kill him when she found out. The baby was due in a couple of months and they couldn’t afford to have him to lose another job.

Conroy had to shake himself out of it. He could worry about the repercussions later; right now he had to get his head back into the moment and figure things out.

The prisoners. He only saw them for a moment, but he thought he’d recognised Stark as the one who tripped him, and the one who’d hit him looked vaguely like Rosetti. Were there only two of them? Conroy had no way of knowing for sure.

His radio! Where was it?

Conroy pulled himself up against the pew and looked around the Chapel. The radio lay on the ground not far from the door, smashed; circuitry hanging out as if it had been disembowelled.

Conroy tried to shout, but could barely make out the sound of his own voice over the constant ringing in his ear. Tentatively touching the side of his face, a trickle of blood was working its way down towards his chin. Not a good sign.

Well, if the radio was dead, and yelling wasn’t going to work, he’d have to make a run for it to the nearest guard station and get the alert out as soon as possible. Vasquez should still be stationed around the gate to East Block, so that’s where he’d go.

Conroy tried to run towards the Chapel door, but instead found himself face-down on the floor. His body still didn’t want to work properly. This wasn’t going to be easy…

Pushing himself back up onto his hands and knees, Conroy crawled his way over to the door. Using the door handle for leverage he managed to pull himself up onto his feet. It took a few moments to gather what was left of his strength. If he felt this drained from just crossing the room, how was he going to make it across to the gate?

He knew his job was on the line. If he could get to the gate and alert the other guards then the prisoners might not get very far. Conroy didn’t know if the prisoners were using a tunnel, cutting through the fences, or using some other means of escape. Right now it didn’t matter; he just had to make it to that gate.

Conroy pushed the door open and stumbled out into the yard, leaning against the wall of the Chapel for support. It was dark now, but he knew that East Block was around the corner to the right. Gathering what strength he could muster he started to shuffle awkwardly in that direction. Slowly moving one foot in front of the other, each step came like that of a child learning to walk, with unsteady legs feeling like they could collapse beneath him at any moment.

He thought of Emma and what she’d say if she were there. As annoyed as she’d be at his mistakes, he knew she’d want him to do everything he could to make up for them. Emma always believed in him, even when he himself didn’t. She’d tell him he could do it. Eighty metres wasn’t very far, and it was just one leg in front of the other.

He kept moving, shuffling from one foot to the other – momentum now kicking-in and propelling him onwards.

Left then right. Left then right. All he had to do was keep moving.

The throbbing in his head was getting more intense with each step. His vision was starting to blur once more, and blood was dripping down the length of his arm. Conroy’s entire body was in revolt against him now, and he knew he was running on an empty tank.

He just had to push through the pain and keep going.

Rounding the corner, Conroy could now see the guard’s post outside the gate to East Block. A figure he recognised as Vasquez slowly turned towards him.

Just a few more steps. That’s all he needed; just a few more and it would be done.

Vasquez shone his flashlight in Conroy’s direction, like a lighthouse on a rocky shore sending a bright beacon out into the night.

Conroy lurched forward, and with his last iota of strength tried to shout out to Vasquez, not knowing if any sound came out as he lost all sense of control and fell to the ground.

The gravel felt as soft as a cloud.

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