I DIED IN THAT room.
I died there among the corpses in the darkness at the bottom of the world. I died with the fires of the incinerator still burning on my flesh, like the devil himself had his fingers in me. I died with the warden’s howls of laughter ringing in my ears.
But it wasn’t a merciful death. My heart didn’t stop beating. My lungs didn’t stop clawing at the hot air. The white-hot pain didn’t leave my muscles, my skin, my bones. And I didn’t drift into oblivion the way I’d always dreamed death would be. No, I was in Furnace Penitentiary. And here even death doesn’t dare show its face. The Grim Reaper had abandoned me like everyone else, leaving me alone with my nightmares.
They say your life flashes before your eyes when you die. Well, that’s only half true. You don’t see the happy times, the laughter. You only see your failures. Lying there with the thunder of the blacksuits raging above my head and the smell of burning flesh in my throat, I saw the endless mistakes of my life laid bare.
I saw my crimes, the night my old friend Toby and I had broken into our last house. I saw the blacksuits, Moleface pulling the trigger that reduced Toby to a stain on the carpet. I saw my trial for his murder, the way the world turned against me with the crash of a gavel. I saw my first day in Furnace, buried forever beneath the ground.
I pictured Donovan, and Zee, our plan to escape. I saw us smuggling gas-filled gloves from the kitchen into the chipping room and blowing out the floor. I saw our punishment for trying to escape—trapped in the guts of the prison with the rats hungry for our blood, and the lightless coffin of solitary confinement.
I was forced to relive the horror of what they’d done to Donovan. Stripped of everything human, packed with muscle and gristle and something bad that dripped darkness into his veins. Then the horror of what I had done to him. Pressing a pillow to his face until he was no longer a monster, until he was no longer anything. I saw it all, the worst bits of my life paraded in front of me by my own stuttering heartbeat.
I tried to remember something good. Something hopeful. I mean, we’d almost made it after that. Me and Zee and the kid called Simon. We’d almost climbed our way to freedom up the incinerator chimney. I still had that splinter of daylight in my mind. I had seen the sun, and it had seen me, and maybe that was enough. Maybe I could die now knowing I’d broken Furnace, knowing that I had breathed fresh air once again.
Except the death Furnace had in store for me wasn’t a genuine one. The blacksuits had lit the incinerator when we were halfway up, and they had pulled us from the flames with hunger in their silver eyes. And I knew what was coming.
My my, look what the rats dragged in. Get them into surgery, prep the wheezers. We can still use them.
The echo of the warden’s voice, one of the last things I would ever hear. Because I died in that room. Like all the other lost boys of Furnace I would soon be reborn, but I wouldn’t be me. I would become a blacksuit, my heart as dark as my jacket. Or I’d become a rat, trapped in the tunnels of the prison and feasting on those I had once called friends.
But even as I felt myself dragged off to the infirmary I swore that it wasn’t over.
Just don’t forget your name, Monty had told me. I wouldn’t.
I died in that room.
I would be reborn as something else, something terrible.
But I was Alex Sawyer.
And I would have my revenge.
Copyright © 2009 by Alexander Gordon Smith
Alexander Gordon Smith is the author of the Escape from Furnace series, including Lockdown and Solitary. Born in 1979 in Norwich, England, he always wanted to be a writer. After experimenting in the service and retail trades for a few years, Smith decided to go to University. He studied English and American Literature at the University of East Anglia, and it was here that he first explored his love of publishing. Along with poet Luke Wright, he founded Egg Box Publishing, a groundbreaking magazine and press that promotes talented new authors. He also started writing literally hundreds of articles, short stories and books ranging from Scooby Doo comic strips to world atlases, Midsomer Murders to X-Files. The endless research for these projects led to countless book ideas germinating in his head. His first book, The Inventors, written with his nine-year-old brother Jamie, was published in the U.K. in 2007. He lives in England.