Free at Last | By: Johnathan R Birmingham | | Category: Short Story - Comic Bookmark and Share

Free at Last


He wasn’t really sure how he’d got there, but there he was, incarcerated, for a crime he hadn’t committed. Rejected by the righteous of the world, all he could do was sit there drinking a big glass of self-pity. The cold, rough concrete and the bland tone of gray emanating from it were just constant reminders of the “life” that was now his. The repetitively nauseating meals, and an obligated curfew; his very existence was now… bland. Not that this was any worse than his free life. He was homeless, already accustomed to a life of boring drollness.

After this quick recollection of free life, he began reciting his nightly woes. (One of his many hobbies just to keep alive.) “Do the floors have to be so cold?” he began. “And could they not have given us beds?” “Who could sleep on these darn things?” he complained. Then suddenly he was interrupted by a sound. “Eek, Eek!  Bill,” something squeaked. “What was that,” Bill whispered. Bill: that was the name the jail had assigned to him. He never really knew his name. Bill turned around and saw a little rat staring at him. “I don’t know why you’re so sad,” the rat said suddenly. “There’s all the scraps you can eat here; you just have to look!” the rat managed to mutter, obviously preoccupied with his search for delicious scraps. There was a long pause. The rat began, “Cat… got your tongue?” “No”, Bill gulped. “Um, I’ve never really heard a rat talk, but it’s not the food here that bothers me. You see we humans need space, freedom, fresh air.” “Well then why are you here? I in particular love this place,” the rat grinned obviously lying. Bill, being not the smartest of people couldn’t really tell. “It does beat the streets,” Bill said, “and this way I get free meals, but you don’t understand. I’m innocent and people who get discarded here are guilty criminals.” “Would that make me a criminal?” the rat questioned innocently. “You would have to tell me,” Bill sarcastically retorted. “I think I’m innocent; at least I hope so,” the rat continued, trying to persuade Bill that it was sincerely ignorant.      “I’ve been here all my life; I don’t think I’ve hurt anyone. I guess… I am innocent. So then, why are we here?” “Hmph,” is all Bill could muster, “maybe the mass media, the cruel judicial system, o-or maybe the rise of socialism.” “Huh?” the rat could genuinely now not understand.” “Oh, never mind.” Bill gained composure. “What I would do to taste fresh air again. I never really had a good life outside these walls, but I was free, you know?” “I wish I knew; but hey, call me crazy, I say we break out.” “What!” Bill answered.” “I’ve never seen the outside world, and you naturally deserve to be free.” “Go on.” “Soooooo, we’re just taking what’s ours. We deserve freedom; we’re innocent, remember?” somehow the rat was now sure of its innocence. “Bill, it’s our job to battle oppression, unlock the chains, set th—“Give me liberty or give me death!” Bill chimed. “Right on, moron,” the mouse whispered. “So why are you stuck here, you’re small. Can’t you just slip through the cell bars?” “Well, I can, and that’s exactly part of my plan. Just one problem, we’re in a maximum security prison. Last time I checked, and I have, rats couldn’t open doors.  That’s where you come in, Bill. I need you to open doors, smooth the pathways, and libera—“You need me to turn the door knobs, brilliant! You’ll slip through the bars, find the jail cell card and bring it back to me! Then with it, I’ll unlock the jail door, and escape through the emergency fire exit with you at my feet!” “You’re smarter than you look,” the rat mocked. “Will it work?” Bill asked, dreaming of the escapade just described in his last rant.” “Only if we do it at night, ok. Tomorrow night. Let’s get some sleep, alright.”

When the next night came, the rat was already waiting for Bill with the card. “You’re in a hurry.” Bill said. “Where were you all morning?” “I was watching the guards, making sure they weren’t getting suspicious,” the rat lied. He was really just leaving a friendly gift of droppings in the cells of the inmates, who had all turned down his brilliant plan. The rat made sure to leave some where they slept. “So are you ready to go, sleepyhead? The door is directly to the left once you leave your cell. It’s a long walk, so we’ll run. Now, we’re gonna pass a few jail cells, so be quiet so we don’t wake anyone up. I f anything, we MUST make it to the door. If we at least get out that door, we’re free. Oh, and they’ve changed the door’s opening mechanism. You just have to insert the jail card key and push; so just push and run!” “It’s dark, how will we see?” Bill asked. “Well emergency exits always have that red neon exit sign over them, so we can just follow its shining lig—“Wait, you can read?” Bill was surprised. “Well I can talk, can’t I? Okay Bill, are you ready?” “Yeah, sure.” Bill said, but being homeless again; I’m not sure I can do it. Food is scarce these days, and with the economy being so bad.” “Bill you’re being pessimistic; I can show you this shelter where the homeless can get free food. Bill… you’ll be free. Isn’t that more impor—“You’re right.” “Exactly,” the rat said, obviously angry from all of Bill’s interruptions. “Now let’s go.” The rat gave him the card. Bill stretched his arm through the bars and inserted it into the card slot. The cell bars opened smoothly; it was a new jail. “Do you see it Bill?” the rat asked with a bit of manic in its voice, while running to the door.  The neon lights were intoxicating. “Give me Liberty or give me death!” Bill screamed. The rat couldn’t care less; his eyes were fixed on the door. “Push Bill,” the rat said, “Push!” impatience ringing in its voice. The rush of cold, night air hit the rat’s face and it was ecstatic. “Free at last, free at last!” the rat yelled. And suddenly, under his own panting, Bill heard an alarm ringing. “Of course,” he thought. In a maximum security prison, using the emergency exit would always cause the alarm to go off. The rat wouldn’t even look back. It just kept running; it knew all about the alarm. It didn’t tell Bill because it knew he would have never agreed. Bill Quit. He stood in one spot, knowing the police would find him or catch him anyway. His hope for freedom… was futile.

                The rat, not really understanding the real world, ran straight into the streets. Freedom was ecstasy. He darted under cars, paused to stare at the night sky, and drank water straight from fountains. This was the life, it thought. Unaware of anything such as predators, the mouse chose to sleep outside, right in an open park. He was unusually proud of himself for tricking a human. He smiled, and let out a quick laugh, “Heh heh.”  His pride was soon to be abased; he heard a strange sound. “Hoot, hoot!” Just then an owl swooped down. “Hi, friend,” the mouse said. The owl couldn’t speak; it hadn’t spent its whole life around humans. “Hello,” the rat tried again. To his horror, the owl let out a caw and then swooped him off the ground. “Is this a free ride?” the mouse asked still confused. The silhouette of the owl in front of the moon could be seen by Bill, who was being led back into the prison by some cops. Unaware that the rat was in its clutches, Bill lost hope. “If only I could fly,” he wished. The owl let out one more caw and then ate its dinner.  The mouse was gone, along with Bill’s hope. The owl flew into the night and said to itself, “What a night, but I’m curious as to why rats always seem to choose that spot to sleep.” He shrugged, “I guess they’re from the jail nearby.” The owl was gone out of Bill’s sight. “The rat is free at last,” he thought.  Free… at last.

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