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I Dreamt That I Grew Wings

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Martin is wearing an orange jumpsuit. He’s carrying a pile of sheets and a folded blanket, a pillow, and a toothbrush. He’s walking down a long, grey corridor, through doors that have to be opened for him and lock again after him. His footsteps echo.

He’s in handcuffs.

A prison guard, Mrs. Knapp-Shappey, is next to him. She’s talking about procedures and his rights, but Martin barely hears her. They pass by series after series of half-opened cell doors and they all have men inside. Some are glaring at them.

One licks his lips at him, and Martin nearly trips over his feet.

The guard asks, “Hardened criminal, are you?”

“No, I’m… not.” Martin can barely say it. Plus, how does one speak to a prison guard? She’s an older woman, around sixty maybe and Martin needs to be polite, he’s aware of that, but he’s also so nervous that he can barely breathe.

She sighs. “Clearly.”

Martin wants to tell her that it’s all been some enormous mistake. That he doesn’t belong here. That he’s not a bad person at all, and that he’ll never do it again if she would just please, please let him go. But she isn’t talking anymore, and he doesn’t dare to say anything else.

After a couple more steps, she stops in front of a door.

His cell.

Mrs. Knapp-Shappey pushes the door open to reveal a small cell with a bunk bed. There are two men already inside, and she says to them, “Now, before you say anything...”

“Oh, Mum, no!”

“Carolyn, we don’t have space. It’s against the rules, and you know it.”

“Yes, I’m well aware. But -” Mrs. Knapp-Shappey takes Martin’s arm and pulls him inside. “Here, look at him! What else am I supposed to do with him?”

Martin can see a young man sitting on the top bunk bed, dangling his legs, and an older one on the bottom bunk. Both are in orange jumpsuits just like him. They look him over.

Yes...” The bottom one sighs. “I see what you mean.”

The top one wavers. “Douglas, we could, couldn’t we? Just for a bit?”

“Fine. We’ll keep him for now, but you know what they say, I give you something, you...”

“Yes, yes, I know.” Mrs. Knapp-Shappey uncuffs Martin brusquely, then says to him, “There, good luck. Or as much as you’ll need with these oafs.”

“Oh, and Mum...”

“Yes, a Calippo on Saturday, I remember. Good night, dear.” She closes the door behind her.

It locks with a heavy-sounding click.

Martin looks at the door, and then slowly turns around. He is standing here, holding his pile of sheets and a blanket and a toothbrush, looking at two prisoners - his bunkmates. Martin has read about this, about how to appear cool in prison. Only he’s not cool. He’s not even a little bit cool. And they are going to find out and he is going to die.

The man on the top bed jumps down. Martin takes a fast step back towards the wall. Is he getting attacked already?!

But the man extends his hand. “Hullo, I’m Arthur Shappey.”

“Um. Um!” Right. Martin shifts his pile of things in his arms and takes the man’s - Arthur’s - hand.

Martin shakes it, and that’s nice, right? That’s good. Except, what if it is drugs that Arthur is slipping him already? Or maybe it’s a way to get close to him so he can shank him, or... Martin lets go abruptly.

He eyes him - Arthur. ‘Shappey’, maybe - should they use last names?

“And you are?” The man on the bottom bed prompts, sounding a bit bored.

Martin stammers, “Ma... Martin. Crieff. Martin Crieff.”

“Hm. Douglas Richardson, pleasure.” Douglas doesn’t reach out his hand, so Martin doesn’t take it. He’s aware that he shouldn’t touch anyone here. Ever.

Douglas looks him over. “So, first time in the joint, I take it?”

It’s probably really, really obvious, so Martin admits, “Yes.”

“They’ll bring you a mattress for tonight.”

Martin nods. He didn’t even think about where he was going to sleep. So he’ll be on the floor? He did read an article about overcrowding in prisons. Martin wants to tell them that, that overcrowding is a real problem, but then he stops himself. These people won’t care about what he’s read, will they?

Martin is gripping his blanket so hard that his fingers are turning white.

Simon told him, before dropping him off at the prison gates just now, “Just let them do whatever they want, Martin. Don’t fight, otherwise they’ll kill you.”

Arthur is looking at him curiously. “Are you all right?”

Martin doesn’t know what to say. Is this a test? Is everything he’s asked a test now?

“Wait, let me guess.” Douglas says it lazily. “Speeding, or careless driving. You ran someone over with your car.”

Oh, they’re trying to figure out what he... Martin shakes his head. “No.” He’s an excellent driver. He’s always really careful in traffic.

“Stalking? Some sort of love obsession with your favourite singer got out of hand? You killed her so she could never love another the way she loved you?”

What? “No!” He’d never kill someone! “I, um... well…”

There’s a mechanical hiss at the door and it opens again. There’s someone else in a guard’s uniform. “Mattress delivery?”

“Yes, for us!” Arthur accepts it. Martin has to step out of the way, only that means he bumps the back of his legs into the toilet. He moves away fast, but there’s nowhere else to stand, except right by Douglas’ bed which Martin doesn’t want to do either, so he stands with his back pressed to the sink.

Arthur drops the mattress on the floor. It only just fits on the rectangle of floor between the toilet and sink, the door, and the bunk bed. Arthur pushes it to the wall. And then looks at him.

Martin lowers his packet of blanket and sheets onto the mattress. Only, he’s trying to appear confident, so he throws the sheet open... and his toothbrush rolls onto the floor and disappears under the bunk bed.

Douglas watches it roll away, but he doesn’t get up to take it. Instead he asks, “How long are you in for?”

Martin looks at the toothbrush. He doesn’t know if he should get it. Would that be like stepping onto Douglas’ territory? Will he be punished for it? Martin starts spreading his sheet over the mattress instead, it feels safer. And then remembers the question. “Oh, ah, six months.”

“You’ll be out in three on good behaviour.” Douglas sounds sure about that. “That’s nothing.”

“Really?” Martin can’t quite keep the note of hope from his voice.

“Yes, really.” Arthur agrees.

Douglas nods. “Providing you don’t kill or maim anybody in here - definitely.”

It makes Martin feel better, just a little. His lawyer did say that, too. But then lawyers say things. If people here think that too then maybe it’ll really be true, and that sounds... Well, it’s still a long time, three months. But it’s better than half a year.

It gives Martin enough confidence to get on his knees and quickly crawl after his toothbrush. He has to lower his head and get half under Douglas’ bed. Martin grabs it, fast, and then bangs his head against the bed frame coming back up.

Douglas looks at him, but he doesn’t say anything.

Arthur is kneeling by the mattress now. Martin thinks that maybe he should tell Arthur not to touch his bed. Only it’s their cell, technically, and their floor, so Martin doesn’t dare to. He holds on to his toothbrush and hesitates. Arthur isn’t doing anything wrong, really, he’s straightening the blanket. And tucking in the corners. It’s odd.

It’s silent, for a moment, while Arthur uses his hands to stroke the sheets to lie perfectly even. Martin tries not to stare, but why is Arthur doing that for him?

“Done!” Arthur says it proudly. “I wish we had chocolates.”

Is that it? Is Martin supposed to pay him with something for making his bed? Martin doesn’t have chocolates. Or money, he realises, he has nothing at all to pay Arthur with. Except… favours. So is that, is that what…? Martin can feel the panic rise again.

Arthur looks up and smiles wistfully at him. “You know, those little ones? That they put on pillows? Or mints. Mints would work, too.” He frowns. “I could put some gum on your pillow?”

“Arthur, I think that you are making the crucial error of mistaking prison for a four star hotel.”

Arthur looks a bit crestfallen at that.

Martin says, quickly, “I don’t need a mint. Or chocolates.” He adds, “Thank you?”

“Oh, it’s no problem, I love helping!”

“He really does.” Douglas says it darkly.

Martin sits down on his freshly-made bed, mostly because he doesn’t have anywhere else to go. Arthur is still right there, looking at him. Smiling widely.

Douglas says, “In case you were wondering, Arthur here is our natural born killer.”

Arthur is a murderer? Martin feels a stab of cold fear. Arthur is right there. So close Martin could touch him if he reached out his arm. He’s never been this close to someone who kills other people.

“He wasn’t a very nice man, though,” Arthur says philosophically. “Really shout-y. Rude.”

Douglas smiles. “Hmm, how very Hannibal Lecter of you.”

“No, he was, Douglas, you should have met him!”

“...and now, thanks to you, I never will. You’ve ridded the world of a scourge, I’m sure.”

Martin wonders whether he’s done anything that could be considered rude so far. At all. By anyone. Should he have taken off his shoes? Asked permission to sit down? Martin glances at the mattress. Arthur made the bed, and Martin’s currently wrinkling the blanket by sitting on it.

And now Arthur is looking at him. Martin tries not to look scared, but he knows he’s failing.

Arthur says, “It was an accident! I didn’t mean to kill him.” He seems to want to make sure that Martin gets that.

Martin, not sure what else to do, nods. “Oh.”

And then he thinks about it. Accidents do happen. Even really bad ones, like Douglas just said - people hit people with their cars and such. It’s horrible, but... Arthur is still looking at him, so Martin tries for a little smile. If Arthur didn’t mean to kill someone, if it was all some terrible accident, then maybe that’s not too bad?

“So your hand just slipped, did it?” Douglas asks as if he already knows the answer.

“No, you have to remove the pin and then push to use a fire extinguisher, I learned that in school. From a fireman.”

“You...” Martin swallows. “You killed someone with a fire extinguisher?”

Douglas grins. “He did, famously and also hilariously.”

“By accident!” Arthur adds. “He was on fire. Or well, his cigarette was, so I was trying to...”

“...put him out?”

“Yes! Or well, no, I was trying to scare him, but I didn’t know it would asphyxiate him! And then he had a heart attack, too. He was old.” Arthur pauses. “I really shouldn’t have.”

Douglas snorts.

Martin leans back onto the cold wall and feels it press hard into his shoulder blades.

He knew that he’d be in here with criminals. He really did know that, but somehow he’d thought that they would have all these really dark and traumatic stories that no one ever talked about. That it would be some old man looking him in the eyes and saying, ‘You don’t want to know the things I did...’

Martin hadn’t expected them to openly discuss murder within ten minutes of his arrival.

There’s the sound of the door opening again, and the guard from before just lets it open wide. There are other people in the hallway, now.

“Dinner!” Arthur says happily and jumps up.

Martin gets up, too, feeling as if he’s in some sort of dream. His knees are trembling. Now they’re all standing up it’s really obvious that Martin is a lot smaller than both Arthur and Douglas. And there’s hardly any space between his mattress and their bunk bed. They could hurt him. Easily.

Arthur walks out, and Douglas is right behind him, so Martin follows them. The hallway is filled with people in orange jumpsuits, and they’re all talking and shouting. It’s a sea of terrible people. Killers. Martin stays close to Arthur’s back because he feels too afraid to look at anyone. It’s reminding him of school, this. Being new. Crossing the playground, afraid to be noticed and attacked. Only then, it was a bit of laughing and people making fun of him. Martin’s never been in a real fight. He’s never been anywhere like this.

Then Arthur says to him, “I have to go to work. See you in a bit, Martin!”

He disappears, and now Martin’s just with Douglas, and Martin realises that he really did like Arthur so far despite the murder thing, because Douglas is a lot more intimidating somehow.

They make it to the cafeteria without talking. He’s not sure if he’s imagining it, but Martin can feel the gazes of the people trailing all over him like pinpricks.

Douglas takes two trays, hands one to Martin, and then they queue. Douglas holds out his tray by the counter, gets a slop of something brown thrown onto it by an elderly man, and says with a formal smile, “Thank you Mr. B.”

The man hums, and then squints at Martin. “And who have we here?”

Douglas glances at him and says, “New arrival. Martin.”

“Hmm, gingery fellow, isn’t he?”

Martin says, “Hello… sir.” And he gets a splotch of food from ‘Mr. B’, so he thinks he did well.

Especially when Douglas says, “As ever, your serving is magnificent, sir.” Which gets them a grudging smile, so yes, Martin thinks he did okay.

And then Arthur is there, appearing behind the counter, wearing a hairnet and a white apron. “Hi!” He smiles.

Martin smiles back, relieved to see him again. “Hello.” So that’s Arthur’s job then? He works in the kitchen?

“Bun?” Arthur asks.

Martin doesn’t actually want one, he’s not even remotely hungry, but he thinks he should be nice to Arthur as much as he can. “Um… yes?”

Arthur places it on Martin’s tray carefully.

Douglas leaves to sit down at the table nearest to the counter. Martin follows him, and then when Douglas doesn’t say no, Martin sits down next to him. He’s not sure if he’s allowed to sit here, or if they’re going to have to fight, or something. But Douglas just glances at him and starts eating, so Martin assumes it’s okay.

Actually, it’s scary, but this is… better than Martin had expected his first hour in prison to be. Martin dares to say to Douglas, “That wasn’t too bad.”

Douglas doesn’t smile. “Oh, yes, you see, we’re a gentleman prison.”

“Really?” Martin looks around. They don’t look like gentlemen, none of these men do - okay, maybe Douglas does, but no one else - they all look really rough, like the kind of men who would mug him and carry knives and crush beer cans onto their foreheads. But then they all have been pretty nice so far, so maybe he shouldn’t judge. Maybe it really will all be okay?

No.” Douglas is looking at something. He says, urgently, “Give me your food.”

“What?” Martin has heard of this, that people will try to take his food, but he can’t let them because if he lets them once then they’ll do it again. He holds on to his tray. “No, it’s mine.”

“And Arthur will get you more. Give me your tray now.” Douglas pulls it out of his hands.

Martin doesn’t fight him. He just lets him, and he feels bad about that, he should have argued, why didn’t he argue? Now Douglas will think that he can steal his food all the time! And then Martin notices that there’s a whole group of men coming.

One of them calls out, “Well, what do we have here? Douglas, got yourself a pet?”

Martin can feel his breath hitch in his chest. Oh no.

Douglas leans back into his seat. He smiles, but it seems a wrong sort of smile, it’s all slithery. “Ah, more like a timeshare with Arthur, I suppose. He’s bunking with the two of us.” Douglas raises his eyebrows. “A little gift from Mummy, if you will.” That gets him some laughs from the men.

Douglas starts eating Martin’s food. Demonstratively.

“I quite like him.” One of the men up front, huge, with terrible teeth and a tattoo of a chain fence, says, ‘’Very... fresh.”

Martin can feel himself flush.

“And all ours, Jeremy.” Douglas says it almost lazily around a mouthful of food.

Martin has to try very hard not to panic. Is he Douglas’ now? Is that what happened?

Arthur suddenly yells from behind the counter, “Yes, Martin’s mine, too!” He looks around, seemingly trying to figure out what to say. Then he adds, looking doubtful, “My girl!

That gets some laughs. And, worse, considering looks. Martin can feel his cheeks heat up even more. He’s sure he’s bright red now, but he’s too afraid to argue. They’re all looking at him as if they’re thinking of really terrible things to do to him. As if they’ll hurt him, if they can.

And then, after a long, tense moment, one of the men takes a step back as if he’s made a decision of sorts, and says, “Well, enjoy, Richardson.”

Douglas’ smile is all teeth. “Oh, we will.”

They walk away. Douglas shifts a little and sits more naturally, but Martin barely notices. He feels as if he’s about to throw up.

“Breathe.” Douglas says it quietly.

It doesn’t help. Martin can barely look at him. If he belongs to Douglas and Arthur now, will be have to do things? Whatever they ask him to? Is he going to have to pretend to be a girl? He did know this, Martin tells himself - he did know that this would happen in prison. He just didn’t… know, until this moment, the cold fear of it.

Douglas is still eating Martin’s food, but Martin doesn’t care. The noise of the mess hall is intense. There are a hundred people all crammed together in a room, and it’s overwhelming. Martin wants to curl up into a little ball and not be here ever again. He wants everything to go back to the way it was before, when he wasn’t here.

Douglas says, lowly, “We’ll be out of here soon.”

But Martin isn’t listening. He sits there, for long minutes, his hands trembling, his vision greying out.

When Douglas finishes eating, he makes a show out of dabbing his mouth with a paper napkin, and then hides about half the food under it to make it look as if he ate it all. When Douglas gets up, Martin does, too.

He doesn’t know what else to do.

Douglas bursts both the trays and on the way winks at some people, laughs, and jokes a bit, but Martin can barely hear it over the rush in his ears.

He can’t do this.

He can’t be in prison. He’s not like these people, all he can see is their grins and teeth and the muscles and tattoos and Martin’s nothing like them, he can’t, he’s...

As they’re walking away, suddenly Arthur is there again, too. He whispers, “Do you want strudel or cheesecake?”

Martin looks up at him, but it’s as if he’s listening from somewhere very far away. Is it code for something? Should he know what that means? Is it drugs?

After a long moment, Douglas says, “Nobody likes strudel, get cheesecake.”

“Okay!” Arthur leaves.

Martin just follows Douglas. Step after step, back to their cell. Martin can feel himself breaking already. He’ll do it, if he needs to. Do... that. Maybe if he lies very still, it’ll be over quickly. Maybe it won’t hurt as much as they say.

They make it to the cell, and Douglas sits down on his bed. He doesn’t say anything, so Martin crawls onto his own mattress. He leans his back against the cold, hard wall, and wraps his arms around his knees.

“As entertaining as it is to watch, you can stop panicking now.”

Martin forces himself to look at Douglas. He has to swallow back some acid in his throat to do that, but he does it. “Okay.” His voice sounds small. Martin can imagine a whole heap of things that Douglas might want to do to him, but Douglas is right, panicking won’t help. There’s no escape. They’ll lock the door, later. There’s nothing else to do but give in.

Douglas sighs. “Stop looking like you’re about to be attacked – frankly, it’s mildly insulting. Neither Arthur nor myself are going to hurt you.”

Martin breathes out. Does Douglas mean to say that… will his hand, maybe, be enough? Or his mouth? Martin doesn’t want to do that either, but it won’t hurt, at least. Maybe they’ll be nice about it. Maybe that’s what Douglas wants, someone to be more like a girlfriend? Maybe that’s better than the other thing.

Martin asks, shakily, “What, what do you want me to do?”

Douglas rolls his eyes. “Nothing. Believe it or not, I don’t get my kicks out of raping people.”

Martin feels a pinch of relief. Really?

They, however...” - Douglas nods in the direction of the mess hall - “do, so a little drama is necessary.”

“Oh.”

“So relax. You’re fine.” Douglas takes his book again.

Martin’s not completely sure he believes Douglas, but he doesn’t seem like he would have any reason to be lying. Douglas is just reading now. Martin doesn’t mind, his head feels like it’s swarmed with images and words, like it’s thrumming with everything he has just seen and heard. He’s still trembling.

Martin flinches every time someone walks by the door. But there’s no one that comes in.

Until about an hour later, when Arthur comes back.

He’s holding a plate with cake on it, and a plastic cup, and he’s already talking, “...I wasn’t sure about how you liked your tea so I made it with milk and sugar because that’s what I like - four sugars. I’m sorry that Douglas had to eat your food, it’s just that we have to.” Arthur looks guilty. “And it’s not that I really think that you look like a girl, I mean, you don’t, you’re a man - or a boy, or a, well, not a girl anyway - it’s, you are really pretty, but...”

“Arthur.” Douglas stops him.

Arthur swallows. “Here.” He holds out the tea and cake.

Martin stares at it. And then, feeling again as if there is nothing else he can do, he accepts both. Arthur immediately seems happier. Martin slowly takes a sip of the tea.

It’s awful.

Arthur is looking at him eagerly though, so Martin takes another sip and says, “Thank you.”

And then - Martin has been thinking this, he should make conversation, try to make friends - he asks, “Is the prison guard... I mean, probably not, but I thought I heard, is she… your mum?”

“Yes, she is.” Arthur smiles. “It’s kind of obvious, really. Since I call her Mum and all.”

Martin says, “I just didn’t think that was even allowed, a relative in a position of power like that?” And then he wants to kick himself, because he shouldn’t be critical! He can’t say anything bad about anyone!

Arthur shrugs. “Oh, Mum bent the rules a bit.”

“More than a bit.” Douglas sounds pleased about that.

Martin raises the cheesecake to his mouth. He’s not even sure that he can eat right now, but he knows that he should be polite because Arthur is looking at him expectantly, so he says, “Hmm!” before he’s even tasted it.

It does taste all right, Martin thinks.

And then there’s some sort of loud klaxon or siren just ripping through the air. Martin startles and nearly upends his plate. His heart races again.

Douglas gets up. Martin doesn’t know what to do, until Douglas says, “Count, get up.”

Martin does, awkwardly because he’s still holding his plastic cup of tea and the plate. A guard opens the door and pokes his head in. “Night, boys.”

“Goodnight, Karl!” Arthur bounces on the balls of his feet.

Douglas grumbles, loud enough to be heard, “...do let the bed bugs bite...”

Karl closes the door and locks it.

“Martin, don’t be scared but the lights will go out in-” As Arthur is speaking, the light suddenly flicks off and it’s pitch black. Martin can see the shapes of the room still moving before his eyes like haloes.

“We’re supposed to go to sleep now,” Arthur adds, unnecessarily.

“But it’s...” Not late at all. Maybe around eight?

“We’re aware.” Douglas says it with a deeply grieved tone. He starts rummaging for something.

Martin sits back down onto his mattress.

He eats the cake, even though his stomach still feels all twisted up.

As Martin’s eyes get used to the dark, he can see the square of the door outlined. There is a light on in the corridor. It’s not that dark, actually, Martin can see the outline of the bunk bed, too. And then Douglas puts something on his head and turns it on, lighting the room again. It’s one of those little forehead lights for reading in bed.

Arthur steps to the sink, turns on the water, and starts brushing his teeth.

Martin puts the plate and cup aside when it’s empty.

He takes off his shoes, and then doubts where to put them. Martin keeps them close by the mattress. He doesn’t really have anywhere else, and he doesn’t want them to be in the way. He opens the covers and slides his legs in, careful not to mess up Arthur’s work too much. It’s cold, hard and uncomfortable. The mattress isn’t even a real mattress. It’s plastic. It squeaks when he moves.

Martin does actually feel a little better for having eaten. He looks at Douglas. He hasn’t been that bad, really. So Martin asks, quickly, before he loses his nerve, “So, um, if you want to say, but, um, why are you here...?”

“Douglas is a smuggler!” Arthur sounds muffled by his toothbrush in his mouth. He leans down and spits into the sink.

Martin glances back at Douglas. Does that mean drugs? Or more like human trafficking?

“Hm, yes...” Douglas sounds almost bored, but then as he speaks on it’s like he was waiting for a chance to tell him. “I was arrested flying an Air England flight with two hundred and fifteen genuine jade vases in the cabin, twelve silk kimonos, and a pound of coca tea. Mind you, there might have been a smidgen of uncut heroine hidden in every vase and in the lining of the kimonos, but really, how was I supposed to know?”

Martin immediately sits up. “You flew for Air England?!

Douglas looks at him oddly. “Not the most important part of that gripping tale, but yes, I am an airline captain. Or I was, I suppose.”

“Oh!” Martin’s sure that that sounds much too reverent but he can’t help it. Oh, that’s amazing! That’s wonderful! Martin wants to ask Douglas where he’s been, which types of aircraft he’s flown, everything! But he bites his tongue. He shouldn’t. Martin knows that he’s prone to babbling and who wants a babbling cell mate? He needs to be accommodating, and, and unobtrusive.

Douglas’ forehead light shines into Martin’s eyes as he looks at him. “Enthusiast, are you?”

“Yes, a little. I mean, more than, more than a little actually. I’ve always wanted to fly, and I’ve been trying...” for twelve years, “for a long time to become a pilot. That’s why...” Martin sucks in a breath. “I’m here. That’s why I’m… in prison.”

And he can feel it hit him all over again.

He’s in prison. He’s never going to be a pilot. He’ll be lucky if he gets a job at all, after this. His life is ruined. Dad was right, he should have stopped flying. He never should have kept on trying because he won’t ever fly now. Martin swallows against the sudden press of tears.

Douglas, after a long moment, turns back to his book.

Arthur turns off the water, dabs his face with a towel, then walks past him and hands him something. “Here.”

It’s a packet of tissues.

“It’s all right.” Arthur climbs onto the top bunk. “Everyone cries on their first night.”

“Hm.” Douglas agrees. “Something to do with it suddenly sinking in, and the doom and gloom of this place. Don’t worry, it grows on you. Or it kills you, I suppose.” He flips a page. “Either way, you’ll get over it.”

Martin’s breathing in gulps of air. Are they making fun of him? Is that it? Because men don’t cry, right, so if he was a real man he wouldn’t cry?

“Oh, and if you feel a rat walk over you, don’t kick it?” Arthur sounds hopeful.

“Arthur’s been trying to train them. He hasn’t succeeded, shockingly.”

“They’re friendly, really. I’ve only gotten bitten twice! Well, bitten badly twice, the rest were just... well, little bites.”

“Mere nibbles, would you say?”

Martin is pretty sure that he is hyperventilating. There are rats? He lies down and pulls the sheets up to his chin. The room has grey spots waving back and forth.

“Well, good night!” Arthur turns in his bed and sighs deeply, as if he’s getting comfortable.

Martin breathes around the spikes of fear in his chest.

After a couple of minutes, Arthur starts snoring.

Douglas reads for a while more, and the sound of his pages flipping over startle Martin every time. Eventually, even he turns his light off. The whole bunk bed creaks as Douglas turns to his side.

Then, there are only the sounds from outside in the corridor. Footsteps. Voices, far away. Someone thumping on the wall, for a while. A long, low scream.

Martin tries to listen for the rats, but he doesn’t know what rats sound like.

He feels cold. The sheet and blanket are thin, and his prison jumpsuit is stiff and scratchy. Martin’s throat feels as if it has a hand around it, squeezing. Anything could happen here. People could hurt him. They probably will. And all for... a dream.

Martin always wanted to be a pilot. It’s all he ever wanted. He tried and tried and worked and now he’s thirty years old and he’s done nothing but a series of manual jobs, always saving for more flight hours and more lessons. And all he wanted was to fly and... Martin closes his eyes really tight.

And now he’s here.

He tried for so long and he never got there so he thought that maybe if he just pretended that he had an airline transport pilot licence, but then he couldn’t show it so maybe he could steal one and it all got out of hand very fast. He never meant to do any of it, but he needed experience for a job, and a job to get experience, and...

Martin puts a hand over his mouth, wraps his other arm around his middle, and curls up into a ball.

He swallows down the tears.

And holds on tight.