Running the Gauntlet. Short Story.

Brad took a deep breath, They had all warned him how the pictures and videos weren’t enough to prepare yourself, that seeing it was so different from looking at them through a lens. “C’mon man, shake it off, you can do it.” He realised he spoke out loud then quickly looked around, he was still alone. He could do it, of course he could, hell he was the one who applied for the promotion and gotten it. They said there wasn’t even a question as to who it would go to once he applied. Johnny, his buddy, still wasn’t here. That was part of the many rules, you could never enter the prison alone, you always needed at least one other person with you. The guards did their rounds in pairs. Johnny had been doing this job for almost two years now, so Brad knew he was good at it. Half of the people quit within their first week, but if he could get past that then he was safe and only five years away from being able to retire with a very nice and very large payment to thank him for his service. Brad looked around again, wondering where Johnny was, they were going to have to go in soon and Brad couldn’t go in by himself. He took another breath, Johnny would be here. Brad knew very little about Johnny’s life, hell, he didn’t even know Johnny’s real name, but then no one knew Brads either. Also part of the rules, you had a new name once you were accepted into a position in the facility, you were never to speak your real name in the building, either first or last. No one had explained why to Brad, but he had never asked. There was another, separate building about two hundred feet from this one where all that stuff was taken care of.

Brad jumped as a hand clapped down onto his shoulder, “You ready for show time?”
“Yeah. Yeah I think so.”
“They all say that. If you’re gonna puke though, try aim for one of the trash cans ok?”
“I’m not going to puke.”
“OK, just aim for the trash can.”
Brad nodded once and felt his cheeks redden.

“Ok, did they warn you about the smell?”
“Smell?”
Johnny sighed, “Yeah. I keep telling them to warn people about it. It’s not very pleasant in there. Here” He held out a tub of Vaporub, “Smear a bit under your nose. It’ll help. It won’t make it go away, but it’ll help.”
Brad reached in and grabbed a blob with his finger and smeared it on his upper lip, instantly he was assaulted by the smell of menthol, the air he was breathing turned cold and after a second it passed. “Ok, I think we’re all set here. Let’s go on in.”
Johnny put the vaporub back in his pocket, grinned at Brad then took the key from his belt.
“You haven’t gotten a key yet, but you will. It’s all bullshit really, they won’t give you a key until your first week is out. They’ll act like they forgot and they’ll get right on it, but they won’t. Once you get past the week you get a key. Don’t take it personally.”
“I won’t.”
“See you say that, but we had a guy who thought all the office admins were out to get him, personally. If you start feeling like that you let me know ok, right away. Anything like that at all.”
Brad nodded, he couldn’t speak, his mouth was suddenly dry and his stomach was churning. He could do this. Johnny opened the door and together they stepped inside.

The smell hit him immediately, the vaporub did very little to curb it. A thick miasma of body odour, human waste and blood hit his nostrils and crawled their way deep into his lungs. Brad couldn’t move, he was stuck. His breathing started to quicken, what if he couldn’t do this? What if-Johnny clapped him on the shoulder again, “C’mon man, lets get this over with, the first times always the worst. And see what I mean about that smell? It smells like a dead hooker in here.” Johnny chuckled and stepped inside, Brad gave a weak grin and followed. Johnny was right, it didn’t seem so bad now that he was actually in here. The layout was simple, Two doors, an entrance and an exit, only the exit could be opened from the inside. There was the main corridor and eight others branched off from it. All of the cells had a clear glass wall facing the corridor. Brad couldn’t remember what they told him it was, just that it was strong enough to stop anyone getting out. Brad stepped through the door and behind him he heard Johnny locking it, followed by the mag locks engaging, which were operated in the security room. Now the only way out was through. Brad kept his eyes on the floor, he knew that if he looked at any of them, something bad will happen. He would just walk along beside Johnny and stare at the floor. Easy enough, right?
“Hey, are you ok?”
“Yeah. I’m fine. It’s just. No, I’m fine.”
“Ok, we’re just going to do a quick run through, no stops, just keep walking at a steady pace. I know you’re probably thinking it’s better to look anywhere but them, but trust me, it’s best to get it over with.” Brad nodded and raised his head. He looked to the left, a little girl was sitting on a chair, pale faced, eyes wide and clutching a teddy bear. A wave of blood hit the glass as she exploded, Brad let out a shriek before he could stop himself. Johnny chuckled, “She does that every time. It gets old quickly.”

Brad stood on the other side of the door, shivering. “Congrats, you survived your first run. You coming back tomorrow?”
He felt his head nodding, but he honestly didn’t know. The stuff he had seen in there, the people screaming for help, people with their insides ripped open. He had seen one woman eating her own intestines. The worst was a little girl in a tattered dress, screaming and pleading for help while a very naked and very aroused man advanced on her. Her screams followed them through the halls. Even Johnny looked away as they passed.
“Is it…is it always like that?”
Johnny smiled at him, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes, “No, most of the time it’s worse.” Johnny turned and left, Brad watched him leave. He felt like he needed a shower, the smell of the place clung to him, infected him and his clothes. He let out a low shaky breath, at least he didn’t throw up. No sooner than the thought occurred his stomach twisted and Brad went running for the trash can. He made it just in time, his stomach clenching and heaving until there was nothing left.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 24 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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