Sunday, July 28, 2013

Collapse by Richard Stephenson (Excerpt)


While Howard continued to sip his coffee in the comfort of his mansion, Richard Dupree awoke in his bunk at the Highland Valley State Prison in western California.  Las Vegas was fifty miles due east of the maximum-security facility.  At the bottom of a valley, the prison sat with mountains on three sides, the fourth side being the exit to the valley fifteen miles to the south.  The facility was built in the middle of nowhere, no towns or roads, nothing but heat and dirt.  The state of California spared no expense when erecting the prison.  Not only did they have to build the facility, they had to build the roads and utilities leading to it.  Once the infrastructure was in place, opportunistic land developers were happy to swoop in and build a small town in which the staff and their families could reside.  They even built a few hotels and restaurants for the employees of the prison and the people who visited their loved ones incarcerated there.  The overcrowded prisons in the state were happy to send their inmates; however, the primary function of the facility was to house prisoners who had a history of escape.

Famous escapees from around the country were ushered to the isolated prison. California was proud to boast that they had the most secure prison in the country and welcomed the publicity.  Such publicity could only be rivaled by Alcatraz.  Should an inmate escape, they would literally have nowhere to go.  The mountains and the cruel heat saw to that.  An escaped inmate would not dare venture into the small town of Highland Valley; their captors and their families lived there and were well armed.  The inmates that did manage to escape died from the elements.  The heat and the sand were unforgiving.  Some of the escapees even came back to the front entrance of the prison and surrendered, desperately seeking shelter.  The Warden welcomed them back with open arms and escorted them in so they could discourage their fellow inmates from attempting to leave his fine establishment.  The attempts started to dwindle and then disappeared for good.  No one had attempted to flee into the blistering, hell-like terrain for over eleven years.

Richard’s cellmate was grunting out his morning dump on the toilet on the opposite side of the cell.  “Jesus, Billy, you can’t wait thirty minutes for the door to unlock so I can get out of here?”

“Sorry, man.  No choice.”

Richard rolled over and crammed his face in the pillow to escape the stench.  His cellmate had many flaws that continued to grind on his last nerve and this was one of them.   Tank, as his cellmate was called, had very little consideration for anyone, not even his own cellmate.   Incapacitating anyone that called him on his lack of consideration was one of Tank’s favorite activities.  When you stood 6 foot 9 inches tall and weighed in at three hundred twenty-five pounds of muscle, you could shit pretty much anywhere you damned well pleased.

Richard was no slouch himself.  He was in his early thirties, a few inches shorter than Tank, and in the best shape of his life.  Not much else to do on a twenty-five year sentence but work out and read books.  He tolerated Tank because Tank practically worshipped him.  When The Incredible Hulk was your number one fan, it was hard to pass up the advantage.  Richard was smart enough to realize that.  Richard chuckled to himself that Hulk would be a much more appropriate nickname than Tank.

Tank flushed the toilet.  “You hitting the track with us?”

“For sure,” Richard replied.  Richard ran six days a week.  Tank asked this question six days a week, and Richard’s answer was always the same.  “Us” was the gang that Tank was a member of, the Aryan Brotherhood.  Tank was about as proud as a white boy could be and was also the biggest racist in the Aryan Brotherhood.  For a member of a White Supremacy group, that was saying a lot.  Without even opening his mouth, his racism was literally tattooed across his body.  The three main attractions of his ink included a swastika across his forehead, a very angry looking Adolf Hitler across his chest, and the words “White Power” emblazoned across his massive back.  He had many others tattoos on his body.  Richard was disgusted by the racism.  The tattoo that shocked Richard the most was the one on Tank’s right bicep.  On it was a black man hanging dead from a tree; three hooded figures from the KKK looked up at him with torches.  One thing was certain, Tank belonged in prison, and the mere sight of him would ensure he would never attain gainful employment.  The thought of Tank sitting down for a job interview was a source of great amusement for Richard.

When Richard first met Tank six years ago, that tattoo constantly bugged him.  He thought for sure that any man brave (or stupid) enough to sport such a tattoo would surely be murdered, regardless of gang affiliation.  At first, Richard deduced that the Aryan Brotherhood was the most powerful and influential gang in the Highland Valley State Prison.  The Aryan Brotherhood made up around one percent of the prison population around the country and was responsible for around twenty percent of the murders.   It didn’t take Richard long to realize that the Aryan Brotherhood, while it had power and influence, was not even close to the top of the food chain.  They simply didn’t have the numbers.  The smallest Hispanic gang had almost twice the membership of the Aryan Brotherhood.  So, the fact that Tank bore such a horribly offensive tattoo bugged Richard even more.

Determined to speak to no one, Richard had decided not get involved with any of the gangs; he simply wished to do his time in peace.   The Aryan Brotherhood had other plans.  Any solid looking white guy who looked like he could handle himself always got their attention.  Richard certainly matched that description perfectly.

Recruitment was the number one priority of the Aryans.  They needed muscle, they needed numbers, and they needed soldiers to beef up the ranks.  They had their eye on Richard.  He was smart enough not to piss them off, but he was also smart enough to know how to ride the fence and not get involved.

That’s where Tank came into the picture.

Tank pretty much ignored Richard at first.  Tank couldn’t care less about recruitment; he left that to his fellow skinheads so he could focus on other things like extortion and turning the guards to do his bidding.  He even bragged that he was still able to get laid.  Richard cringed to think that most of Tank’s sexual encounters were probably far from consensual.

One day Tank went from not even knowing Richard was alive to suddenly thinking Richard was the greatest person to set foot in the prison.  He walked up to Richard on the yard; Richard was certain Tank was going to punch him in the face.  Instead of a punch, Tank clapped him on the back.

“What’s up, Killer?”

“Uhh, nothing, just getting ready to hit the track.”

“My name’s Tank, Killer,” Tank said with an enthusiastic grin.

“I’m Richard.”

“Good to meet you, Killer.  Heard a lot about you.  Love running, do you? I couldn’t stand the thought of not being able to run.”

The first thought to cross Richard’s mind was that this guy had called him “Killer” three times in under a minute.  In their prison, “Killer” meant a chronic masturbator who enjoyed jerking off in front of the prison staff.  Richard jerked off of course, but never in front of another person, especially not in front of any of the guards.  Judging by the way Tank was treating him, the nickname was clearly not meant to insult him. The second and more troubling thought was that this guy had “heard a lot about him.”  How is that even possible?  Wanting to be left alone, Richard went out of his way not to talk to anyone.

“Want to hit the track with us?”  Tank asked.  Well, he technically “asked” but the implication was quite clear that Richard had little choice but to comply.  They hit the track that morning and over the course of a few weeks it become as routine as breathing.  This Andre the Giant clown treated Richard like a celebrity, and Richard was determined to find out the reason.

Trying not to come across as disrespectful, Richard figured the only way was the direct one, so he asked him point blank how he knew so much about him.

“One of the guards asked me when you were going to join the Aryans.  He said you belonged with us.  Well, I hate it when those fucks know something I don’t, and that asshole guard was grinning at me like I should have known about you the second you hit the yard.”

Suddenly, it dawned on Richard what was going on.  Tank knew about the crimes that landed him in jail for twenty-five years.  It was also clear where his new nickname came from.

Not long after Tank took Richard under his wing, he demanded that the other Aryans treat Richard with the same respect.  A few of them felt slighted that Richard did not express an interest in joining their operation.  They couldn’t really figure the guy out.  He hardly said a word and didn’t react to much of anything.  He always appeared to be deep in thought.  Tank kept assuring them that Richard would come around.  He was one of them, he had proven himself worthy.

“Oh yeah, what makes you so sure about that Billy?” asked an older skinhead one day when they were playing cards in the common area of their cellblock.  Tank had brought Richard along hoping that they would accept him.

“I’ll tell you why, Jeff.  My man Richard here beat two niggers to death.  One of them he beat to death in front of other niggers.  They couldn’t do nothing but watch!  Tell me, Jeff, how many inferiors have you killed?  How much trash have you taken out to make this world a better place?  Huh?”

Jeff did not respond.

“Well, I’ll tell you one thing, Jeff, I killed my share and your share of monkeys, so think about who the hell you’re talking to!”

Jeff pretended to study his cards and kept his mouth shut.

“You boys hear about what got me a life sentence?”

I really don’t want to know this, thought Richard.  I already hate this animal enough.

“My hometown was really going down the shitter.  Niggers everywhere.  They just kept moving into white neighborhoods turning everything to shit.  Pretty soon the schools were full of little monkeys and not long after that, most of the teachers were niggers.  Then they started with all the Black History bullshit and African Studies.  Can you believe that shit?  What does a pure, white kid need to know about African Studies?

Richard didn’t know if the question was rhetorical; Tank was looking at him so he nodded his head.  Richard wasn’t sure how much more of this he could take.  He wanted to get up and leave. No one was listening to Tank; they were all studying Richard to gauge his reaction.

“I had enough; no one was doing a damned thing to stop it, so I knew it was up to me.  I loaded up my cargo pockets with shotgun shells, and me and my Mossberg 464 took a trip down to the high school to put a stop to that school turning our kids into nigger lovers.”

Richard doubted, more like hoped, that Tank hadn’t brought a junior Nazi into the world.  The world could do without Tank, let alone his offspring.

“I walked in, shot the nigger principal first.  Then I went from class to class and shot as many nigger teachers as I could find.  A little nigger kid must’ve thought his football playin’ would help him tackle me down.  Nope.  Blew his kneecap clean off.”  Tank laughed hysterically when he remembered the look on the kid’s face.

Everyone at the table was studying Richard very carefully.  Richard felt like throwing up.  He knew he had only a few seconds before they all caught on to his disgust.

Richard faked a smile, clapped Tank on his massive shoulder and replied, “Damned good thing you did that.  White folks everywhere should be grateful.”

“Fuckin-A right!  The rest of you wannabes better recognize what I done and have some respect for my man Richard here!”

Richard was smart enough to realize just how valuable Tank was in terms of a tactical advantage.  With the help of Tank, he managed to move into his cellblock, and later became his cellmate.  Richard ignored the rumors and gossip that he was Tank’s bitch.  The other inmates were sure that Richard would eventually emerge one morning from Tank’s cell wearing lipstick and nursing a sore asshole.  Tank had far too much respect for Richard to even think about attacking him.  In fact, he had never laid a hand on him.

With the stench of Tank’s morning bowel movement still lingering in their cell, Richard somehow managed to get dressed and put his running shoes on without passing out.  A few minutes later, the guard came around and unlocked the cell doors so they could make the trip to the chow hall for breakfast.  Richard and Tank always ran before breakfast so they hit the track instead.

After breakfast they returned to their block, showered and decided to play some basketball.  Some other skinheads already had managed to secure their own court.  Tank and Richard sat in the bleachers and joined in a conversation between two other guys named Spider and Head.

Spider was a skinny little kid in his late twenties.  He was always cracking jokes about the guards; he even did passable imitations of a few of them.  Richard liked Spider; he was always good for a laugh.  He was a complete moron, but his idiotic ideas were fun to listen to and riling him up was one of Richard’s favorite forms of entertainment.  Richard had no idea how he got the name Spider and quite frankly didn’t care.  The kid was skinny, ugly as sin, and nothing about him evoked the thought of an arachnid.

Spider had been the typical juvenile delinquent.  The high school dropout had a bad habit of car-jacking unsuspecting motorists.  When he started viciously beating elderly black people for their cars, his luck changed.  He spent the first six years of his incarceration working his way up the ranks of the Aryans.  To the casual observer, Spider might come across as a hyper man-child trying to impress everyone, but underneath, his hatred and anger were eating him alive.

Head’s nickname, however, was not difficult to figure out.  It had nothing to do with intelligence, but rather his enormous skull.  Richard had never seen a bigger head on a man in his entire life.  It was enormous.  You would think that shaving the hair off that boulder would make his head look smaller, but it didn’t.  Head was maybe a few years younger than Richard and the same height.  The large-headed man maybe had fifty pounds on Richard but was not in the best of shape.

Head was proud of his nickname.  He thought it was because of his signature fighting move, the head-butt.  Head’s favorite move was known to knock a man smooth on his ass and end a fight.  Richard often wondered if Head would ever figure out that his nickname was not in honor of fighting prowess, but rather served to mock his freak show of a noggin.

“I’m telling you man, no fuckin way man, not possible!”  Head protested.

“What are you idiots talking about?” asked Tank.

“Spider is on one of his idiotic conspiracy theories again,” Head replied.

“Fuck you, Head.  You know it’s true,” Spider said with a sheepish grin.

Head was right; Spider was constantly rambling on and on about every conspiracy theory you could think of.  If you were stupid enough to get him going on one of his rants, he wouldn’t stop until you agreed with him (or at least told him what he wanted to hear) about the moon landing being a hoax, aliens at Roswell, and 9/11 being an inside job.  Spider proudly proclaimed that he was there and saw the Twin Towers fall, even though he was either an infant or a toddler at the time.

“So, what is it this time?”  Richard asked.

Head cut Spider off.  “Our young friend here is convinced that Hurricane Luther was a conspiracy.”

“What?” Richard laughed.  “How can a natural disaster be a conspiracy?”

Head continued to speak for Spider.  “What was it, Spider?  Aliens are out to take ov…”

“Fuck you, Head!”  Spider laughed.  “You know that ain’t what I said!”

“Right, right, right.  Spider here thinks that the U.S. government engineered a hurricane to wipe out Florida.”

“What the fuck the government have against Florida?”  Tank asked.

Spider interpreted the question as interest and saw his chance.  “OK, think about it, just hear me out.  Luther was just a test hurricane.  You just wait, there will be more.”

“Jackass, you didn’t answer my question.  What do the Feds have against Florida?” Tank shot back.

“It’s all about fear and control, man!  Don’t you see it?  Just look at what’s going on today.  It’s been over a month and they haven’t done shit for those people!”

Against his better judgment, Richard violated the cardinal rule when dealing with Spider – he engaged him in debate.  “What makes you say that?  I haven’t seen shit on the news about Luther.”

“Exactly my point, Killer!”  Spider screamed.  “What better way to end the Second Great Depression than by wiping out a bunch of people.  It cuts down on unemployment by killing off people and giving other people their jobs.  Fewer people that the government has to take care of; it makes perfect sense.”

Richard had underestimated the stupidity of this kid.  All he could do was stare at him.  The statement uttered by this fool was probably the stupidest thing he had ever heard him say.  Richard decided to remain silent like he should have in the first place.

Spider began to reply to Richard when Tank interrupted.

“You’re a fucking retard,” said Tank.  “No way could the government control a hurricane.  Not possible.”

“Okay.  Well then, answer me this, both of you.  Why haven’t we seen any news reports from Florida?  Not one god damn report.  I know they ain’t got no power, but the news people drive around in trucks and beam that shit to a satellite.  Why haven’t we seen anything?” Spider directed his question to both Tank and Richard.

“Big fucking deal.” said Tank.  “You know what I think?  I think they got…”

Sirens blaring across the yard cut Tank off mid-sentence.


Sirens meant a disturbance.  Somewhere on the yard a fight was in progress.  Without missing a beat, the four skinheads immediately forgot about the conspiracy talk and sprang into action.  Tank ran to the fence and starting looking around.  Richard did the same on the opposite end of the fence.  Spider and Head dug into the heels of their shoes and came up with homemade weapons in a few seconds flat.  The two men stepped up next to Tank and Richard, tapped them on the shoulder and resumed their posts as lookouts.  Tank and Richard went through the same routine and produced knives as if out of thin air.   Richard had rehearsed this move with the three skinheads and they had performed it perfectly.

“What do we got?” Richard asked the group.

“No idea,” Head replied.

Richard’s eyes scanned across the yard, making assessments of every group, every person, and saw nothing hostile going on.  All he saw was a yard full of very confused inmates.  Richard was pissed that the Aryans were split up into three groups scattered across the yard and behind different fences. Richard cursed the skinheads for not having more tactical awareness.  They would have little chance in a major disturbance if broken up into small groups.

The siren cut off, only to be replaced by the loud speaker.


“What the fuck is going on?”  Tank asked.

“Nothing good, Billy,” said Richard.  “It’s only nine o’clock in the morning; they must know that we aren’t going back into our cells without a fight.”

“Doesn’t make any fucking sense.  They want us locked up all they gotta do is wait for the next count and not let us back out,” Tank replied through gritted teeth.

“What the fuck do we do, Killer?”  Spider asked.  Richard would know what to do; he always had a plan.

“We wait,” said Richard.  “Wait this out and see what happens.  They’re probably suiting up the riot squad right now.  Keep scanning the yard and call out exactly what you see and in what direction, remember that the chow hall is due north.”

Over nine hundred inmates stood on the yard figuring out what to do.  In the history of Highland Valley State Prison, any time they tried to lock the facility down in the middle of the day, it meant they were getting locked in their cells and not coming back out for a very long time.  The old-timers who had walked the yard for years could attest to the seriousness of a major lockdown.  Tank was right, made much more sense to wait for them to return to their cells for count.  No fighting, no violence.  Just a bunch of pissed off inmates who felt like they had been tricked.


Richard grumbled under his breath.  He had never been on a major lockdown with Tank.  The longest lockdown Richard had known up to that point was three days.  Weeks or months trapped in a cell with Tank would drive him insane.

“What the fuck is that?” Spider screamed.

“What is it, Spider?  What direction?  I taught you better than that, start talking!”  Richard tensed up and scanned the yard to see if he could see what Spider was screaming about.  He didn’t see anything.  He turned to look at Spider who was gazing skyward.

Slowly, like a ripple through a pond, every inmate on the yard stopped and looked up at the sky.

“How the fuck is it snowing in August?”  Tank asked.

Richard stared intently at the sky.  Flakes started to slowly drift and flutter out of the sky and land on the rooftops of the cell blocks.  Then they started landing on the inmates and then on the ground.   Dark, ominous clouds could be seen beyond the mountains to the west of the prison.

“FUCK!”  Spider began to spit over and over.  “This snow tastes like shit!  Son of a bitch!”


“Not happening, mother fuckers!!”  Tank screamed at the top of his lungs, his proclamation echoing across the yard.  The inmates within twenty feet of Tank almost wet their pants he scared them so badly.


A flashbang had been deployed.  It startled the inmates back to reality.  The flashbang could only mean one thing.

The riot squad was here.

“That was quick,” said Richard.

“They’re locking us down because it’s snowing?”

Richard took one more look to the sky and said, “It’s not snow.  It’s ash.”

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Genre – Dystopian

Rating – R

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