Otis by Carlton Herzog

By the time I hit prison for the third time, I thought I had seen every, wild wacky weird bizarre thing a person could imagine and a few that you could not.  But I was wrong in that belief, finding the world is far stranger than we can imagine.

 It began with my new cell-mate.  My old one, Roy, had gotten his parole.  Two days later, they stuck me with a new celly. 

  He called himself Otis Reed.  He was a big man with catcher’s mitt hands and tree-trunks for legs.  Didn’t talk much.  But he did say, he wouldn’t be there long, and that if I were smart I wouldn’t interfere in what he had to do.  He never said what that was.  I assumed somebody had been green-lit and he was there to send them to heaven—right away. 

     The day after he arrived, we headed to chow together.  In that place, you needed to be part of a set if you wanted to eat in peace.  I had thrown in with some Bloods and received their official prison stamp of approval on my right hand with a homemade branding iron.  Being new, Otis had not.

     As we started eating, a few of the homies came over to introduce themselves.  That’s a polite way of saying they were there to intimidate Otis into joining our set and getting the stamp of approval.

     It began as idle chit-chat.  Then they started grabbing his food and eating it.  Otis grabbed Freddie, a large man himself, by the hand and as he began to squeeze, he told Freddie to let him eat in peace.  Johnny, Freddy’s right-hand man, went to punch Otis in the jaw, but Otis caught his hand, and began to squeeze.

     Squeeze is probably too mild a word.  Freddy and Johnny were screaming in agony as Otis slowly and deliberately crushed their hands. They might as well have been caught in a metal vise: I could hear their hand-bones breaking and see the blood squirting out from between Otis’ fingers.  As all this took place, Otis’ face went from non-descript middle-aged human with solid three-dimensional lines to a lava-lamp liquid fright mask that shifted and bubbled and leered in all the colors of the rainbow. At that moment, I realized that normal was in the rear-view mirror, and weird was the view from the front.

    The guards rushed over to see what the commotion was about. When they did, Otis let Johnny and Freddy go.  They clutched their hands and told the guards everything was fine.

     I assumed that Freddy and Johnny were too embarrassed to report Otis, though I knew a revenge plot was in the works.  Unfortunately, Otis had crushed their hands to the point where the bones had been liquified, such that the hands could not be repaired.

     At some point, Medical got the real story out of them.  Later that day, the extraction team stood outside our cell in riot gear.  The leader ordered Otis to back up to the cell door so he could be cuffed.  

     Otis did indeed walk to the cell-door, but instead of turning around to be cuffed, he kicked the cell-door so hard it snapped the hinges, shot into the guards, who were thrown back against the railing with such force, they flipped over it followed by the door, and all three fell unceremoniously to the ground floor below.

     Otis followed close behind, vaulting over the railing.  I ran over to the railing to see what would happen next.

     I could see Otis, or rather whatever that miasmic liquid thing where his head used to be, sniffing the air. The rest of its nefarious essence, the body, consisted of flabbily quivering bubbles, that were semi-fluid, overlapping and passing through one another, like gas passing through a permeable membrane. Then it bent down and began sniffing the ground like a hound.  It stopped some fifty feet from where the cell door lay.  Then it began to dig into the concrete floor.  

     By now, its hands were claws as big as the scoop on a John Deere loader.  It threw concrete slabs everywhere.  As it did, I could see some inmates watching with awe from their cells, and others pulling their mattresses over their heads so as not to be hit by a stray fragment.

    In the meantime, two squads of guards had assembled on either side of the Otis thing.  The squad on the right began firing rubber-bullets.  Otis didn’t flinch but kept at the work.  

    The squad on the left stepped forward, and told the one on the right to take cover, since it would be using live rounds.  They fired until they ran out of bullets. And still Otis continued to excavate the prison floor.

     After that the guards tried flash bangs and tear gas, water hoses and night sticks.  All they got for that trouble was more maimed guards, unbreathable air, and slick floors.

      The digging continued into the night.  About two in the morning, it stopped.  I could see the thing that was Otis, rise from the crater like a tidal wave.  It clutched a shiny cylinder, some eight feet long and a foot in diameter.  It crawled out of the crater it had made, and then slowly walked to the exit, the door of which it kicked out into the yard.  

      No inmates saw it after that.  The morning after scuttlebutt was that the guards in the tower watched it approach the walls. They managed to get off a shot or two, before it leaped into the night sky, and over the walls never to seen from or heard of again.   

       Restoration began the next day.  My cell-door and the one leading out of the prison were welded back into place.  The ripped up concrete floor was cleaned up, and new concrete was poured the following day.  Three days later, you couldn’t tell that anything out of the ordinary had taken place.

      I expected the media or the government to investigate the matter.  But as near as I can tell, the prison never reported anything.  

    They called me into the warden’s office and grilled me as to what I had seen and heard leading up to the incident.  I told them about the chow hall hand-grabbing incident but kept silent about Otis’s lava-lamp head and transformation into a purple giant.  I told them that I had hidden under my bunk when they tried to extract Otis and hadn’t seen anything unusual.

     They seemed satisfied with that.  Two days later, I had another cell-mate.  I said nothing about what had happened.  Somewhere in the back of my mind was the idea that this guy might be a plant to see if I would spill the beans.  

     I was smart enough to stay off the radar and do my time.  If somebody else wanted to blab about prison monsters and mysterious cylinders, then that’s fine by me.  Nobody’s going to believe them. Not even me.

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