map A Way Out

by Christian Barragan

Published in Issue No. 272 ~ January, 2020

Of these stories, the second telling could be true. Or perhaps the third. Or even the fifth, which has no title yet. Consider yourself lucky. Everything changes too quickly to keep up with.

Here is how the first story goes. I was singing alone in my jail cell. I managed to exit my jail cell. On my way out, I passed by a group of people. Among them were two men and several women. They noticed me escaping. I left the building and thought of what lay ahead for the remainder of my life.

In reality, the second story goes like this. I was singing alone in my jail cell. I looked up at the sky and admire its beauty. The white clouds streaked across the azure background, speckling my rejuvenated senses. Vines coursed around the edges of the building and reached upwards as if beaconing to their creator. They wrapped the bars of the jail cell, spreading inwards to where I lay and carried me off to the unlocked door. In reality, there was a roof over my head, and the bars remained closed. I got up and punched at the king’s decree on the wall, a reminder of the reason for which I was apprehended.
Red fluid gushed from my opened knuckles, bubbling down my arm. I licked the blood thankfully, grateful to be alive. I looked thoughtfully at the decree on the wall and tore it off in one movement. I stuffed the paper into the lock and cranked the dripping mass, finally opening the door. I hopped out of the enclosure and stretched, giving thanks for my life. I ran down the hallway barefoot, my toes sinking lovingly into the floor with each step, titillating my entire body. For hours I ran down the endless aisles, winding helplessly with every turn. Hoping for deliverance. Finally, I passed by a small crowd of people near the door. Two women were being addressed by a man standing next to them. I burst out through the doors and pounced onto the vibrant, healthy grass, experiencing it with every inch of my body.

No, here is how the third story really goes. I walked a long, winding dirt road, guided by two men in uniforms. I looked back at the events that led me to this moment. I was singing alone in my jail cell, denouncing capitalism. I spat at the poster on the wall as the two guards in brown uniforms just beyond the bars eyed me with the utmost suspicion. They fixed their bayonets and gestured harshly towards the portrait of their master on the wall beside me. I shook my head in defiance. I looked down at my hands, they muddle and boil before my eyes. The room descended into a haze of black and the ground caves in beneath my feet.
My organs churned within me, unable to discern my position in space. I asked myself if I truly know what I am or if anything before this moment has been true. I woke up outside the cell and ran towards the exit. A small group of people was gathered near the door, I first noticed them as the guards barked behind me. Three women turn their heads towards a man, who addressed them. I barely managed to see them, but they must have been looking at me with sheer disgust. I burst out the door as the guards closed in on me. I saw two men in uniforms on the other side of a hill, waiting for the extraction. I sprinted across the hill in an attempt to meet them. The grass isn’t as comfortable as I remembered it. I know each of us will be given an escape.

This is how the fourth story really goes. Not all of us will be given an escape. To start, I was singing alone in my jail cell. I wasn’t really alone, a guard is keeping watch over me. I extend my body across the cold floor, ripping out the dead vines poking out from between the cracks in the stone. I yank one out and stare at it with disgust before rubbing it to dust between my fingers. I haul myself to my feet and gaze at the poster on the wall. I step closer and trace my finger against the red scratches on the aging paper. A stout, intense face stares down at me. The man’s powerful features remind me of who is really in control. His dark suit is highlighted among the red background, as people who look the same as I do run helplessly in either direction. I fly to the lock-in desperation. The guard stands and whips me across the face with his baton and knocks me to the ground. He violently hurls me at the door and fires from his gun but hits the lock instead. I run outside, arms flailing wildly. I immediately head for the door and slow as I pass by a small group of people. The insignificant bunch appears more lost than I do. I doubt they have any idea how to escape from here. Nothing will come for them. As my feet pound against the floor, I see three women look up at the two men in the crowd, who address them. I reach for the door and tug. It doesn’t open. I am within these walls forever and ever. Until I am locked up again. The gardens spring up from the sides of the halls. A grassy hill emerges from the fortified floors. The guards flip their hats off their heads and walk away. All of us can make our escape.

Actually, the fifth story really goes like this. To start, I will be singing alone in my jail cell. The cell rocks back and forth as an overbearing light bursts through the thick concrete walls and engulfs the entire prison.

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Christian Barragan is currently a sophomore at California State University Northridge. Originally from Riverside, CA, he aims to become either a novelist or a screenwriter in the future. Previous publications include 'Of Your Choosing', a short story, and 'Missing Personalities', a play excerpt in The Northridge Review.