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The Bell's Toll

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I've met God across his long walnut desk with his diplomas hanging on the wall behind him, and God asks me, "Why?" Why did I cause so much pain? Didn't I realize that each of us is a sacred, unique snowflake of special unique specialness? Can't I see how we're all manifestations of love? I look at God behind his desk, taking notes on a pad, but God's got this all wrong. We are not special. We are not crap or trash, either. We just are. We just are, and what happens just happens. And God says, "No, that's not right." Yeah. Well. Whatever. You can't teach God anything.

Charles put the book down, blinking at the underside of the bunk above.

“Only after we lose everything,” he murmured, “are we free to become anything.”

The man on the bunk above him made no reply, but to turn around in his bed and snort in his sleep. Charles let the book rest on his chest, open, and closed his eyes.

He’d read this book many times, and while the empirical knowledge of it had been entertaining and the meaning of its words had come across well, delivered eloquently by Palahniuk’s simple and straightforward style, he thought now that he’d never genuinely understood it.

He did now—and oh, how well indeed.

He turned his head and stared at the open barred door of his cell. Beyond it he could see the railing of the first level balcony; behind that, across the D Wing common area, the railing on the other side, and the cells on the opposite wall. All the same: four-by-four, three cement walls and one constructed of heavy iron bars painted pasty white, turned vague cream by time. One window, small and high-up, barred on the inside, covered by mesh on the outside. One desk. One toilet seat. One sink.

“This is your life,” Charles told himself, absently. “And it’s ending, one minute at a time.”

He sighed and sat up, closing his copy—the prison’s copy actually—of The Fight Club and pushing his hair back from his forehead. He needed a haircut. The only reason he’d gone so long without was that his hair was often the only indication that time even went past in this place.

Time was an endless, relentless loop of boredom, folding in on itself like hot steel pounded over and over to become the long blade of a sword. Nothing changed. The date might always be the same, no day going past, no hour growing late, and Charles might never be the wiser.

If he rifled through the minds of others, he could tell how long he’d been here, and how in that time he had changed. The few that noticed him—the few that had not shown signs of outward hostility and so Charles had let be—saw him thinner, paler, eyes wider and drier. Quieter.

Charles thought about it for a moment. Quieter. It was true—he didn’t speak with anyone, not really.

Then again, what could there be to speak of? Half of the men in this wing were murderers, the other half thieves, three-fourths were psychopaths and one-fifth sociopaths, at least two were bipolar, and Charles was quite certain one was quite probably schizophrenic. Only one third had finished high-school, and only three of the one hundred and fifty residents had started college—only to drop out two semesters in.

Twenty-one were willing to rape him. Two had even tried, and although they would never be making that mistake again, the memory still gave Charles chills.

It was better he was quiet and lonely. Though the lack of a clique implied loss of the safety given by numbers, Charles preferred the solitude. His telepathy, even restrained as it was by the drugs they gave him, was enough to dissuade any attackers from their intentions. Charles might be short, he might be slight and thin, he might be more of an academic than an athlete—but he was far from helpless.

Without the constant brush of other people’s social requirements, however, life was a dreary thing. Charles was used to the company of sharp, educated minds, eloquent vocabulary spilling from witty mouths. The only witty man in the C Wing that Charles could hope to have an interesting conversation with, sadly, was the schizophrenic.

His mind was nothing short of psychedelic.

Fifteen years of this, dear God.

At least he’d gotten over the dismal distress of the lack of sharp long-range telepathy after the first two weeks. That time was lost, for which he was marginally grateful; he’d been nearly comatose, largely catatonic, and mostly unresponsive, until they’d adjusted the dose to the perfect level. He was still himself, only—less. What remained was the touch-telepathy and a vague, weak version of his long-range, limited to the pathetic distance of the confines of the Wing.

Nothing compared to what he used to be.

But then what was for it? What did he need his telepathy for, here in this miserable place? So he could peek into the thoughts of others, overhear their contemplations of violence and rage, relive with them the memories of their crimes, oversee like a watcher the unfolding of their vicious minds?

There was nothing there for him but madness, contagious and pervasive, as capable to eat through him as any acid.

Charles turned in his bed and sat with his back to the wall, rolling his head back.

On the charge of Second Degree Murder, we the Jury find the defendant, Charles Francis Xavier, guilty.

He closed his eyes.

Fifteen years.

He looked down at his hands, open and spread on his lap. Long-fingered, violinist hands, skin pale and smooth, nailbeds square and symmetrical. The hands of a genetics professor. If he’d been in a foolish mood, he’d told himself he was lucky his jumpsuit was this color—whereas the grey brought out his eyes, the orange worked awful with his English coloring.

How he missed England. His dual citizenship had done nothing to protect him from a conviction in New York, and he’d have to serve his time out where the crime had been committed.

Second degree murder.

With a sigh, Charles shut down that line of reasoning. It took him nowhere. Over and over he told himself the facts, and time and time again he came to the same conclusion—pointlessly, for no one would listen. He could plead and scream and rave and nothing would change. With his telepathy restrained, there was nothing he could do.

He crossed his legs and picked the book up again. He had read it many times, but short of staring at the wall and counting ticking seconds, there was really just nothing else to do.

It was a pity he had such a perfect memory for books. His telepathy afforded him the ability of controlling almost the entirety of his mind, providing him with a nearly eidetic memory and the uncanny capacity to compartmentalize and catalogue data, filing it away for later purposes. He could read a book, finish it and pick up a decade later and he still remembered not only the twists and turns of plot, but also the exact wording of entire paragraphs.

He paused for a moment and closed his eyes, searching the compartments of his mind, ruffling through files, until he found the box he was looking for: There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness.

“I don’t know, Mr. Dumas,” Charles murmured thoughtfully. “I should say I’ve never known great happiness, that I’ve had rather a regular life, yet this I believe is the most miserable that any man can ever fear to be.”

Except, he supposed, those in death-row. But then they had a solace; their doom, while terrible, was short lived. The end was within sight.

Fifteen years.

He stared down at the cover of the book in his lap, the bold letters, the curled fist like the imprint of a punch.

“I want to set fire to the Louvre,” he quoted. “Wouldn’t that be something.”

He heard the familiar racket of a police baton beating on the bars of the cell doors as a guard made his round, and listened idly to the sound, as if he could, merely by willing it, count the impacts of hard plastic upon metal. Beats counting the seconds, I suppose/i>, he told himself, half-amused.

Then the racket stopped, and the guard stood in front of their cell door. He tossed Charles a cloth bag, which he caught deftly, if puzzled.

“Xavier,” he said, leaning his shoulder on the edge of the open door. “Pack up your stuff, you’re moving out.”

Charles arched his brows, “Moving? Wherever to?”

The guard shrugged, “Does anybody tell me anything? No. Do I care? No. Just pick up your shit.”

“I didn’t request a transfer,” Charles frowned, even as he got off the bed. He looked around, grabbed the few belongings he had brought with him from Outside—mostly books and papers, and one treasure photograph of back when his father, Brian, had been alive.

“We don’t cater to your every need, man,” the guard said, grabbing his arm to lead him across the balcony, down the stairs and into the common room.

What followed was a long while, hard to keep track of. A stretch of time difficult to remember on account of hundreds of sheets of paperwork changing hands in front of him, people signing them repeatedly, questions being asked from guard to guard and doubts being uttered but never really addressed.

By the time Charles stood in the outside detention hall, he was quite certain no one really knew what was going on here, not even the people that were going to drive him. It was strange, and peculiar, and Charles knew he ought to be concerned and suspicious, but the drugs had slammed doors on four fifths of his rational mind, and he could not bring himself to express nothing more than child-like curiosity.

It irritated him, on the one hand, because he knew he had always been a sharp, brilliant man, an excellent judge of character and especially capable of unraveling tangled situations. But it felt like half his brain had decided to pack up and take a vacation, and the remaining half was content with just watching things unfold as they would.

“But where are we going?” he asked, because he felt he should, when they gave him a paper bag with his old clothes, his wrist-watch, wallet, and a few bits and odds he had had with him at the time of his arrest.

The man at the other side of the bullet-proof glass shrugged.

“Just do what you’re told, Xavier,” one of the guards said, pushing him in the direction of the two marshals that would be taking him to his new home.

“I am,” Charles protested. “But if I’m being driven to some place far out where you can shoot me in the back of the head and bury me like a dog, I’d like to be forewarned. I never did write a will.”

“I’m tempted,” the guard sneered at him. “Fucking mutie.”

“And I,” Charles said, smiling softly, “am tempted to reveal those fantasies you have about letting the Major fuck your mouth and then come all over your nose. But I never would—oh, blast it, how careless of me.”

The guard landed one punch on his face before the marshals broke it up. One of them, the shorter one, grabbed Charles harshly by the arm and led him to the sleek black car, rolling his eyes.

“That was patently stupid,” he commented as he shoved Charles in the backseat. A mesh of sturdy steel separated the backseat from the front. “I thought you were supposed to be smart, Xavier.”

“I was supposed to be a great many things, Marshal Wickers,” Charles murmured. “Yet I find I am not the least of them by half.”

“You’re very British,” the other man said, as his partner—Marshal Nixon—slid into the passenger seat. Wickers started the engine, backed off the parking lot and moved onto the route, picking up speed quickly.

“That at least, I am afraid, shan’t be changed by months in a prison cell.”

Only then did Charles realize it was getting dark—the sun was setting, relinquishing terrain in the sky to the fat full moon and its cohort of bright stars.

“Peculiar hour for a transfer,” Charles pointed out, and his telepathy felt restless like a cockroach trapped in a glass, scrabbling anxiously to get out of its barriers and fly free.

The marshals made no reply.

“Hm,” Charles rolled his head back, sliding down in the seat to rest it on the seat, and looked out the window to the landscape rushing past, blurred in the growing gloom of twilight.

Curiouser and curiouser, he mused, and wondered what he would be thinking, how his mind would be working, if he wasn’t drugged quite literally out of it.

Eventually he must have fallen asleep.

He must have fallen asleep, because he only woke to the screech of twisting metal and the hard tug of his seatbelt crushing his chest as he surged up against it. The sky became the ground and then the ground returned, vindictive, to claim the passenger side of the car---Charles’ head slammed against the window pane and the glass shattered in a million little fragments, glittering like diamonds in the moonlight. Once again shy the ground disappeared, only to return a second later against the ceiling.

The car swayed once, wheels spinning madly in the air like an upended turtle.

Charles’ mind stuttered and failed to comprehend the situation. He was hanging head-down from the seatbelt. When he flicked his eyes open but a second he could see blood pooling directly above—under—whatever—him. His head felt like it was on fire. It hurt to breathe.

His telepathy scrambled, came up against the glass dome of the drugs, and turned inwards to surmise the damage. Devastation. Everything had caught fire, his mind was ablaze, flames raged through his thoughts like sparks on dry grass. Pain pain it hurts so much make it stop make it stop you know how.
No I don’t
, he told himself, and closed his eyes. The power to turn off the pain receptors throughout his body, to disconnect the electrical signals from his limbs to his brain, laid locked away beyond the border of the glass dome. It was there, but it might as well have not; he could not reach it.

Possibly he passed out. He came to once again with the wrenching sound of pained metal as the door to his side was torn away and flung out in the distance. For a moment he saw the stars, and then someone leaned on, cursed loudly and shifted closer, grabbing the back of Charles’ prison outfit with a firm hand.

“I’m going to open the seatbelt, so brace yourself,” the man said.

Funny notion, Charles thought vaguely, and choked, “Can’t.”

“Scheisse,” the man hissed venomously, and switched tactics, sliding fully into the car so he was sitting directly under Charles’ hanging body. He wound an arm under Charles’ chest and braced his weight on his shoulder. “This’ll hurt.”

It did. Charles heard himself cry out sharply, a broken-off choke of agony, and once again lost consciousness.

The following were flashes, lightening-strikes of consciousness that allowed him glimpses of his surroundings and the feeling of his own broken body, handled none too gently. Gaps in his awareness made it impossible to get a full picture, but he got a series of still-frames.

The stars. A silhouette against the moon. Someone leaning over him. Raised voices. Pressure on his skull, fire in his mind, pain pain turn it off shake it away. A flash of something red, the smell of—sulfur? More pain. A white room, a hard bed under him, a bright light above him. People in white lab-coats—doctors? The jab of a needle on the crook of his arm.

Then he slept.