The Settlement

The bars of the cell slammed shut behind man number one. He rubbed his forehead. The force with which he had hit the floor nearly knocked him out. He looked to his left and saw two other cells, lit with a dim red light, and two other men, just like him, sitting on the floor. Man number two, in the middle cell, was hunched in a little ball, shivering. Man number three, in the cell on the far right, was rubbing his left hand on the floor absentmindedly.

“Why am I here?” asked man number one.

Man number three looked up from the floor. “Rape case. That’s all the guard said. Don’t know much about it myself.”

“Where are we? I don’t… I don’t remember anything,” said man number one.

“Neither do I. From what my lawyers say, I’m supposed to be here,” said man number three, then he looked at man number two in the center cell. “He’s been curled up there with a terrified look on his face since he got here. Don’t know his story,” He shrugged and looked back at the floor.

“Hello? Do you know why we’re here?” asked man number one of man number two.

No response.

Man number one inspected his cell. The floors were moderately clean, concrete, a small sink and toilet combination stood in the corner. There were bars forming all four walls, and the three cells seemed to be in a much larger room, but the dim red light only shone to the edge of each cell, so he couldn’t tell for sure. There was no bed of any kind, only a blanket balled up on the floor. Still rubbing his head, he peered through his bars into the darkness.

“Hello?” he shouted. “HELLO! Please, you have to help me, I don’t know why I’m here. I don’t know what’s going on.”

“They won’t listen to you,” said man number three, not looking up from the floor. “They decide when to talk. Not you. We just have to wait.”

Suddenly, man number two was crawling to the edge of his cell shrieking, “It was an accident! They didn’t mean to! I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time! You’ve got to believe me! Please, I don’t deserve this! You don’t understand, I’m not supposed to be here! It’s all one terrible mistake!”

Almost as if by magic, five men in green suits with purple belts were in the center cell and were beating man number two senseless. He screamed as they hammered him with blows. He writhed in pain as one of them used a crowbar to pound on his skull. Another had a wrench and a third, brass knuckles. Man number two tried to crawl away and cling to the edge of the cell, but the five men in green wrenched him back to the center and continued to pound. Bright red blood spattered the clean concrete floor and soon the writhing and screaming stopped. As quickly as they had come, the five men in green disappeared, leaving behind only smears of blood in the cell and the scarring memory of the scene hanging in the air.

Man number two appeared to be dead. Man number one looked on helplessly from his cell. Man number three didn’t seem to care.

Man number one prayed continuously, watching for any signs of life from man number two. After five minutes, he began to twitch and make small movements, and he was clearly breathing. After a full hour, he was able to roll over onto his back. Man number one forced his blanket through the bars and tossed it toward man number two’s cell. He pulled it in and used it as a bandage as best he could.

The three men sat in silence for hours. The hours turned into days, and the days turned into weeks. Man number two began to heal, though he was now blind in one eye, had lost three fingers, and his head hung to the side slightly. He didn’t talk quite right after that.

Men in white suits would periodically give them gruel to eat, but would never respond to man number one’s desperate pleas for answers.

“Why are we here? What is this place?! Will we ever get out?” he would scream. The men in white would never respond.

After the sixth week, the men in white installed a panel with three colored lights on the center cell.

“Your lawyers have reached a settlement. You’ll be leaving soon.” That was all they said to man number two. Man number two screamed and pleaded with them throughout the installation, but they were immovable.

Man number three appeared to be quite comfortable with the arrangements. He would sit quietly in his cell with an odd crooked smile on his face. He never seemed to care what was happening in the other two cells.

The next day, when the men in white brought gruel for man number one and man number three, man number two went hungry.

“Today’s the day. No food,” was all they said.

Six hours after the meal, without warning or alarm, the first light on the panel lit up. Man number two looked on in horror at what followed, then began to scream. A huge clear box descended from the darkness above, surrounding the center cell. Clear hoses were attached to the outside walls of the box. As the box slammed to the floor, the screams of man number two muffled in the ears of man number one. The second light on the panel lit, and somewhere far above them a motor began to run. Man number one understood what was happening.

Man number two collapsed on the floor and writhed in pain, clutching at his own throat as the air was rapidly sucked from his cell. He looked around frantically from one side to another. His lungs collapsed on themselves. Man number one saw the third light, heard the motor kick up a gear, and the terror in man number two’s eyes intensified through the clear plastic box. He was pulled by an invisible force, the suction of the tubes, toward the nearest edge of his cell. His body was stopped only by the iron bars. He was fighting to breath, fighting to stay awake, fighting to live, but it was no use. His eyes rolled back in his head just as his body was dismembered by the vacuum.

Man number one looked away as man number two’s head left his shoulders and flew up a tube in the box’s side. His rib cage crunched against the bars as it was torn apart and pulled up into the nothing. Sprays of blood streaked along the inside of the box, and one of man number two’s legs was hung up on the cell bars.

Man number one vomited in his cell. The horror of what he had just witnessed was too much to handle, and he passed out on the floor.

When he awoke, he saw the men in white scouring the center cell, the clear box with hoses and the panel of lights were gone. The men used bleach to scrub out what they could of man number two’s blood stains, and put what pieces of his body they found left in the cell into black trash bags.

Man number one came to his senses and began to weep and yell at the same time.

“No trial? No jury? What was his crime that he deserved a death like that?” The men in white gave no answer. Man number one knew the answer already: His lawyers had reached a settlement. That was what they had settled on.

Man number three wasn’t phased by the events at all. He continued on as if nothing had happened. Man number one couldn’t forget. A few more weeks passed and nothing changed. The center cell was left empty; a constant reminder of the horrors that occurred there. Faint red marks remained on the floor where the men in white were unable to scrub them away.

At week sixteen of man number one’s incarceration, his own panel of lights was installed. He understood why man number two had reacted the way he did, and he didn’t blame him at all. He screamed until his voice was gone through the entire installation.

“Why? Why no trial? Why no hearing?”

“Your lawyers have reached a settlement. It took a little longer for you, but they have decided your fate,” said the men in white.

The next day, man number one wasn’t fed. He pleaded with man number three through the bars, “You have to stop them! You have to do something. Do something! STOP THIS!”

“What can I do?” asked man number three, not really looking for an answer. “It’s the law.”

A few hours later, without warning, the first light on man number one’s panel was lit.

“No! No, please no! Stop them! Stop this!” he screamed. Man number three paid no attention. The massive clear box lowered over man number one’s cell, but his box was slightly different. A double-paneled air-locked door resided in one wall of the box.

The second light lit and the air began to drain, but it was slower than he had witnessed weeks before. He could feel himself getting light headed, he felt like he needed to take a deep breath, but every time he tried he came up light. His breathing shallowed with the lowered oxygen levels, and he balled himself up in the corner clinging to the bars. He heard a new hissing sound and looked over to see men in white coming through the air-lock, oxygen tanks on their backs, masks on their faces. In their hands, they held huge vice clamps and ropes, and one had a saw.

“You’re too strong to go the way of your friend,” they said.

The men in white stretched out man number one and attached a clamp to each arm. They put one large clamp onto his head and their leader turned the crank to tighten it. One went about running the ropes through different bars and passing them out for the others to pull. When it was all done, man number one was suspended in the center of his cell by ropes coming off of each limb, and he was being stretched in every direction at once. The leader of the men in white continued to tighten the clamp on man number one’s head. The men all pulled hard on their ropes, and man number one’s limbs began to give way. First his left leg went, then his right arm. The leader continued to tighten until finally a loud BANG sounded, letting him know that the skull had collapsed. The man with the saw finished off the rest of man number one’s body, and the others began bagging up the parts and scouring the cell of blood, just as they had done with man number two.

Man number three never noticed.

Weeks went by with two empty cells. Man number three continued blithely unsympathetic to the horrors of his peers. Finally, after nine months in the cell, the men in white came and opened the door. A small white light could be seen in the distance.

“Your lawyers decided not to settle,” they said to man number three. He smiled and walked over to the men in white.

A distant voice could be heard coming from the direction of the light, “Can I see him now?”

“Of course,” said the men in white to the voice, gesturing man number three to walk toward the light.

Man number three held his hand up to shield his eyes as he drew closer, and the men in white followed him closely. As the light became unbearable for man number three to withstand, he heard the men in white say the most beautiful sentence to ever greet his ears.

“Here he is, a beautiful baby boy.”

Finally, he had been born. He felt a warm touch envelop him and heard the soothing voice of his lawyers, “Hey there little guy, we’re your mommy and daddy.”

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