If she had only stolen my husband, I would have gotten over her betrayal long ago. But Abbi Stronton wasn’t just my backstabbing witch of a best friend. She was prosecutor general for North America. Why should someone of her legal stature wait through a messy divorce?
Sedition was the charge, fifteen years the sentence. From the moment my rocket landed, I realized how thoroughly Abbi had stolen my life. My first month on Mercury was spent with laser chisel in hand, laboring in the underground prison to hollow out my own prison cell.
“A housewarming gift,” the aged warden said with an evil smile, tossing me a book. “The Count of Monte Cristo.” Thus began years of sadistic mental torture. By day I mined tungsten for export. Unlike the Château d’If, a tunnel on Mercury led not to freedom, but death.
At night I read stories of wrongful conviction, and raged hotter than the puddles of molten lead on the surface. With sixty-two notches, one per Mercurian year, carved on my wall, the warden approached me.
“They say our truth scanners are 99.9999% accurate.”
I shrugged. He coughed hoarsely.
“I say you’re my one in a million. This camp has made me wealthy off the labor of murderers and traitors, and deathly ill from lung disease.”
He coughed roughly.
“I see vengeance burning in your eyes. They say the best revenge is living well. I say one trillion credits could buy plenty of revenge.”
This modernization of The Count of Monte Cristo was written for Flash! Friday vol 3-30. Photo: Château d’If, Marseille, vu de la navette des Iles d’Or. CC2.0 photo by Jacqueline Poggi.
The mottled orange face of the alien sun loomed large in the viewscreen. Sweating bullets and gasping for breath, Dashiell pressed his browline glasses back up his nose. Blood dripped from the clawmark across his chest. “Just a scratch.”
Leaning against the cryogenic conduit to cool himself, Dashiell checked his .38 revolver. “One bullet left.”
With a crash, the hatch deformed visibly, struck by some awesome force. “I may be a washed-up pulp writer,” he shouted, “but I’m a fighter.” Razor claws forced the hatch open. Dash took aim as the reptilian entered. “Somehow I’ll get back to Earth. Then I’ll let everyone know aliens are real.”
The quadrupedal alien approached deliberately, licking its lips. He backed away. “They say write what you know. Want to hear the title of Dashiell Pendragon’s next bestseller?”
The creature lunged at him, seeming to soar through the air. Leaping aside, Dash took aim and squeezed the trigger. The bullet whizzed past the reptilian’s crested head, striking the cryogenic conduit.
As liquid oxygen gushed onto the scaly beast, it writhed in pain. Dashiell covered his ears to muffle its death shriek.
When it fell silent, Dashiell prodded the lifeless alien’s face with the muzzle of his revolver. “Slaying the Dragon.”
Winner of Flash! Friday vol. 3-29! Photo: Buster Crabbe as Flash Gordon. Studio promotional still photo 1936, public domain.
Another story for Flash! Friday vol. 3-27. The mandatory setting was a theater, along with the public domain photo shown.
“Our revels now are ended. These our actors… um… are melted into air.”
A flubbed line, but the show must go on. Not that these orange-jumpsuited brutes could appreciate Shakespeare. Empty eyes, emptier heads stare blankly — to them, Miranda is a warning, not a woman.
Long ago, Hamlet Jack and his bloody beheadings struck terror along Route 81. But that was a drugged-up lifetime ago… and seven consecutive life sentences to go. Now theater is my opiate; I am more grizzled sorcerer Prospero than brash young Ferdinand. Prison cafeteria performances break the ceaseless monotony of boredom in the yard and beatings in the shower. “And our little life is rounded with a sleep.”
In the back row, a heckler offends a rival gang. Heated words erupt into a tempestuous brawl as guards rush in, nightsticks raised. Nearby, one guard takes a chair to the head. Crouched by his lifeless form, I take his keys in my hand. “Most strange, beautiful fortune.” Freedom is but a concrete corridor and a locked door away.
“As you from crimes would pardon’d be, let your indulgence set me free.” I take a final deep bow amidst the cacophony. Hamlet Jack exits this tiny stage, making his return to the Globe.
For Flash Friday vol. 2-12.
When the judge sentenced me, I laughed. Life in prison, for a retiree?
Hard time changes even an old man. I fell in the shower too often, so the warden put me in solitary — “protective confinement”.
After ten years behind those steel bars, I learned to cry. I mourned the numerous victims of my messed-up life. I read Scripture. I prayed forgiveness.
Maybe I prayed to the wrong god. The talisman Bokor Gris gave me worked!
Here was that grungy welding shop from my childhood. My own blessed mother, a true Rosie the Riveter, unaware inside, welding steel to make ends meet.
That pinup calendar on the wall. January 1946!
I ran as fast as a septuagenarian can, up the road toward the brown wood-framed house. Inside, my gin-soaked stepfather’s torment of a certain little boy was just beginning.
The parole board said if I ever got out of prison, I’d kill again.
They were right.