I HAVE A CONFESSION.
I’m not a good person.
I always said that I only stole from strangers, that I only took stuff they’d never really miss: money and electronics and the sort of things you can’t cry over.
But that was a lie. I didn’t stop there; I couldn’t. I stole from the people I loved, and took the things that meant the most to them. I didn’t just break into their cupboards and drawers, I broke into their hearts and ripped out whatever I wanted, anything that would get me some easy money down at the market.
So don’t go fooling yourself that I’m a good person, that I’m an innocent victim, someone who didn’t deserve to be locked up inside the hell on earth known as Furnace Penitentiary. I’m not. Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t kill my best friend Toby when we broke into that house. No, the blacksuits did it, they shot him then they framed me for his murder. But I’ve done things that are just as bad. I’ve killed little parts of people; I’ve cut them up inside, hurt them so much they wished they were dead.
There isn’t time to confess everything, but I have to get this off my chest. If I don’t do it now then I might never get the chance. Death’s coming up fast. I can feel its cold fingers around my throat.
Two years ago, when I was twelve, my gran died—had a fit in the middle of the night and swallowed her tongue. Mom was devastated, like any daughter would be. She cried for weeks, she didn’t eat, she hardly spoke to me or Dad. She’d just sit and hold the little silver locket that Gran had left her, gently stroking the scarred and crumpled photos inside.
I guess I don’t really need to tell you what I did. But I’m going to anyway. I need to.
I waited till she was asleep one night, ten days or so after Gran had been buried. Then I sneaked into her room and pried that locket from her hand. Ten quid. Ten lousy quid is what I got for it. A handful of dirty coins for the only thing my mom had left of her mom. I watched the man I’d sold it to rip the photos out from inside and chuck them in the bin, and I didn’t feel a shred of remorse.
Mom knew I was the one who’d taken it. She never said anything but I could see it in her eyes. There was no warmth there anymore, no love. It was like she looked right through me, at a phantom over my shoulder, at the son she wished she could have, the son she’d lost forever.
See what I mean? I’m not a good person. Don’t forget that. It’ll make my story easier to stomach if you know that I deserved to be punished for Toby’s death, even though it wasn’t me who pulled the trigger—that I deserved to be sent away for life in Furnace, deep in the rancid guts of the planet.
And that I deserved everything that happened to me there. Because Furnace is no ordinary prison, it’s a living nightmare perfectly designed for people like me. A place where freaks in gas masks—wheezers, as we called them—stalk the corridors at night and carry boys screaming from their cells. Where those stolen kids are brought back as monsters, all rippling muscles beneath stitched skin. And where the same poor wretches are eventually turned into blacksuits, the warden’s soulless guards.
I saw it happen with my own eyes. I saw it happen to Monty. I saw what he’d become, right before he died.
So, never let yourself forget that I’m a bad person, that all us cons are, even the “good guys” I met inside like Donovan and Zee and Toby (no, not my old friend I’m supposed to have killed—a new friend with the same name). The four of us thought we’d found a way to escape, blowing a hole in the chipping room floor with gas smuggled out of the kitchen. But nobody can run from their own demons. Donovan was taken by the wheezers the night before we broke, and as for the rest of us—me and Zee and my new friend Toby—well, maybe even Furnace was too good for us. It was certainly too good for Gary Owens, the hard-case headcase who discovered our plan and followed along like a bad smell.
No, maybe our fate was to find out what horrors lay in the tunnels beneath the prison.
Because that was our way out: the river that runs deep underground below the bowels of Furnace. We didn’t know where it led to. We didn’t care. Anywhere that wasn’t Furnace was good enough for us.
Or so we thought.
Oh yes, beneath heaven is hell, and beneath hell is Furnace. But the horrors that crawl and feast beneath that—now that’s a truly fitting punishment for someone like me.
So there you have it, my confession. It may not seem like the best time to share it, but it’s funny what races through your head when you’re plummeting into the darkness with only razor-sharp rocks and rapids to break your fall.
Copyright © 2009 by Alexander Gordon Smith