I could taste the residue of alcohol on my tongue the moment I opened my eyes. My head was spinning and my mouth was burning as if I had swallowed fire and somehow managed to keep it down. The moment I opened my eyes, an intense pain started at the base my skull, working its way over my whole head, making me groan in protest.
The ground dug into my back, the rocky floor bruising my ribs and making it difficult to breathe. Every intake of air was painful, and my whole body groaned in protest. The side of my face that I slept on was throbbing numbly as I swallowed.
I couldn’t tell if it was from the overwhelming smell of body odor and feces or the nausea that ran through my body, but, as I took a deep breath, my stomach lurched, the acid stinging my tongue. Wiping the back of my hand across my mouth, I swallowed back the bile rising in my throat and looked around.
At first, all I could see was a blinding light but when my eyes focused, I realized it was just the sun shining through the bars that served as a window. Straightening, my back cracked and my muscles groaned as I attempted to stand.
The world continued to spin yet I remained still, swaying side to side as if I was standing in the middle of a swimming pool with people walking around me, creating a current that tugged at my clothes and body. It threatened to pull me under, to swallow me completely, and it took me several seconds to find my balance.
Only then did I look down at my vomit-stained clothes and aching body. My head was pounding and my vision was spinning, but as I looked at my hands, I realized something was off.
This wasn’t my body.
The ring on my right hand that I had worn was missing and the hands I now saw were larger and knobbier, the veins making them look more masculine. I pulled up the hem of my shirt and dropped it, looking at the opposite mildew-covered wall, my mouth hanging open in unbelief.
“I’m a guy?” The words left my mouth, echoing the thoughts that were racing through my head.
This wasn’t the first time I had woken up inside someone else’s body. In fact, it had happened 239 times before—this would make it 240.
Sighing, I leaned my head back and stared at the roof, mind racing.
At the beginning of every month, I would wake up in someone else’s body with no memory of the past two days. I would remain in that body for a month and then be moved to another one.
It didn’t faze me that I was a parasite in other people’s bodies. What got to me was the fact that after I left them, they died. No matter where I was, I always got wind of their death only a few days after I had moved on.
Had I killed them or had they already been gone?
Sometimes, I could still feel the soul wandering through every nook and cranny of the body, clinging onto minuscule things in an attempt to stay just a little bit longer. They always leave before the first week was over.
They were scared of me.
I couldn’t blame them. To them, I was a monster, one that was stronger and fiercer than them, ready to fight to the brink of death—of survival. Little did they know that I did my best to help them before I was forced to move on.
Everyone has a goal—one they never get to reach before death pulls them off the edge of reality and sucks their souls away. To you, it may not seem like that big of a deal but to me, it means that I can repay them for their kindness of letting me borrow their body for an extra month.
Whatever that dream was, I would do my best to make it happen before the month was over so they could move on in peace. Sometimes I wouldn’t be able to make it work and that was okay—some goals are too far for someone like me to reach. Other times, I succeed and am able to move on to the next person without regrets.
Taking a deep breath to calm my aching body, I grabbed the cell door and shook it. My fingers were sore, the joints and muscles groaning and complaining as I tightened my hold. Even the smallest movement made me want to shout in protest.
I yelled, doing my best to suppress the screams that rose in the back of my throat, threatening to spill out and release the frustration and pain I had locked away a long time ago.
Another body, another goal.
It was useless to fight for mercy. No one would ever realize that there was a person locked away behind these tear-filled eyes. People would ignore any pleas for help as if they never heard them.
How long would this torture go on for? Was it a punishment for something I had done in the past, one that would extend into all of eternity, or would it eventually come to a stop? Would I ever have a body to truly claim as mine?
Tears trickled down my face, leaving me empty and weak as they dripped from my chin and onto the dirty floor. I could barely make out the guard that stood before me, his mouth moving as he yelled at me. His words were drowned out by the drum-like pounding that rang through my mind, making my bones shake with its echoes.
I wish my soul was made of tears. Then, I would have escaped a long time ago.
An icy expanse of concrete against your cheek. The grating drone of a staticky radio. Distant whispers in spanish, clipped.
You force your eyes open. There are bees in your head- no, not bees. Wasps and yellow jackets, zooming around and injecting their barbed stingers into your skull. You know that you drank too much, but you're not sure when.
You raise your head, sit up. Your body feels like it's moving through liquid.
There are three walls here. The fourth border is not solid, so it isn't one.
But you can't exactly walk out.
The fourth wall comes in intermittent stripes. Metal poles.
You're in a jail cell.
You don't know why, can't know. It must be hidden in the black space, the lack of memories. On the edges of the black space, you see yourself leaving the hotel room. The lovely, safe, hotel room.
If your memory is telling the truth, that was two days ago.
The guard is sitting on a stool, with sleepy eyes and a droopy mustache. You get to your feet, rattle the bars. The reamain upright, challenging you, mocking you.
A frog climbs out of your throat. "Why am I here?" You shake the bars more, fervently, but now in a struggle for attention.
His eyes meet yours, confused. Then a dull light bulb lights up behind his eyes, shatters.
He then returns to his daydreams, to his offhanded oblivion.
You have no idea what he said. Along with your memory, your spanish phrasebook is somewhere, tumbling into the unknown. You should have learned spanish before your trip. But instead you limped down here, knowing only english, on a crutch made of twigs.
You think of reasons you could be here, rely on your own twisted creativity. But nothing emerges. Those who commit crimes do it to fill holes in their lives. You have none. You don't need money. You have friends. Your hole had been filled a long time ago, with an extra shovelful of dirt on top.
You try again.
"I don't understand. What am I in here for?"
More annoyed, this time. "Asesinato."
Even repetition doesn't bring any meaning, doesn't bring it out of the dark. After a stilted pause, you speak a stock phrase, the only one you remember: "No hablo espanol."
He understands. He gets off the stool, and hurries down a hallway.
Your throat is filled with sand. The headache is still buzzing, and the buzzing has intensified. With anticipation.
He returns, with another man in tow. He is younger, with a sort of constant anxiety radiating off of him. Yet when he sees you, the anxiety melts off, replaced with disgust.
"What do you want to know?" he spits, lip curled.
"Why I'm here. I can't remember anything for the past two days. And all the guard kept telling me was 'asesinato'." Somehow, not even knowing the meaning, the word seems toxic on your tongue.
The man's eyes are on fire, stoked with anger. He acts as if he knows you. Despises you.
"Well, let me translate. 'Asesinato', my friend, means 'murder'."
Tequila, a potion to cure the most classic of ailments: sobriety. White sand beaches to feel more whole in your whiteness; with a little lime and salt, you can have it all.
Mexico. Like something my sister said after my breakup: you need a resort vacation. You need a drink.
She couldn’t have meant seven shots of Patron.
48 hours after failing a sobriety test I am feeling like your basic drunk white girl in time out. I can’t remember the last two days. The abuelo in the jail cell next to me is muttering an insincere repentance to an uninterested policia.
Here, all I wanted was a reprieve.
My boyfriend, a Spanish heartbreaker, had said: you are la chica mas aburrida he had ever met. All because I wanted a family and a future together.
But aren’t we all basic in wanting such things?
I was beginning to notice that Spanish flips their language, noun before adjective. In this case, presenting me as a woman and then punishing me with a slap.
I can feel the effects of the hangover already; there needs to be more to life than just boys and booze and being beaten down. I want to say I’ve learned a life lesson, but I’m still as blanca as the tequila. I’m just adding salt to wound; white, washed up, wasted. Basic.
I’m a morning person. When I wake up, my eyes pop open, I look over at my husband and smile good morning. When my son was in high school, I used to sing a good morning song as I opened his curtains letting in the sunshine. (To his credit, he never barred me from his room or yelled through an adolescent fog.) When I was in college, in the communal bathroom one morning, someone once asked me if I always woke up so cheerful. My reply apparently annoyed her even more than my joie de vivre at 6:00 am.
My mother never had to fight with me to get up for school. I was up before her seven days a week.
You get the idea. I’m a morning person and always start my day early and cheerful, regardless of how horrible the day before may have been or the how late into the night I stayed up reading. (I generally am in bed early, but some nights you just can’t put that book down.) New day! New possibilities!
Anyway, given how I normally start my day, the fact that, on the morning in question, opening my eyes was painful was my first inkling that something was up.
There was also the fact that my mattress and pillow felt more like stone than cottony clouds.
And the air smelled like a rather unpleasant mixture of mold, pee, poop and vomit.
And although morning aches have become the norm rather than the exception as I have aged, what I was presently feeling was beyond anything I had ever experienced. In. My. Life. Never a party-er or stay-up-all nighter or heavy drinker…I had nothing to compare with the present moment.
I cracked one eye and then both flew open as I took in the surroundings. I closed my eyes assuming, I was clearly in the middle of a nightmare. I have vivid dreams. This was definitely the most real, but there was no doubt in my mind, it was a dream.
I lay there a little while, waiting to fall back to sleep or really wake up.
And then a voice said, “Eh, chica, levántate! El juez te espera!” There was a screech of metal and then a rough hand grabbed my arm, practically wrenching my shoulder out of the socket as it pulled me up.
I went easily. Aside from the baton and gun hanging off her person, I was terrified and hoping “el juez,” the judge, would be able to tell me what was going on.
Aside from the obvious why am I in jail, my first question was, why is the officer speaking to me in Spanish? I mean, yes, I know there is a huge Spanish-speaking population in the US and I am fluent, but is it the first language in jails now? And, second, why was the jail so disgusting. I thought prisoner rights had been a thing once. A quick glance around the cell before she pushed me out made it clear not much was spent on upkeep or housekeeping. It was beyond disgusting. What I saw in my two quick looks was sweaty, dirt-encrusted cinderblock walls, no windows, and a filthy cement floor with a butt-sized hole in the corner from whence, I suspect, emerged the gag-inducing stench that filled the small space.
I was surprised I had not been handcuffed, but I was clearly not a threat, I suppose. Stumbling middle-aged woman covered in vomit (ew), in a bathing suit, was clearly not going far.
I was in a bathing suit. Huh. Why was I in a bathing suit? Huh.
The officer pushed me into an area that seemed to be an office (there were some desks, a few other officers) and then down another hallway to a room that, once we entered, was clearly a small courtroom. She pushed me to stand in front of the man seated at the judge’s table.
“Como se llama usted?”
“Gabrielle Turner, but why are you speaking to me in Spanish?”
“No me preguntes nada, mujer! Soy yo la ley aquí!”
“I’m sorry, sir. I understand that you represent the law,” I couldn’t help myself from correcting his cocky and really, untrue, statement I am the law, “but I just don’t understand, well a lot really, but first, why are we speaking Spanish in the US?”
“Primero, mujer, no dije mal cuando le dije que soy la ley. Este es mi pueblo, y yo soy la ley. Segundo, no estás en los Estados Unidos. Estás en México.”
“What???!!!” I screamed. “What do you mean I’m in Mexico? What is going on? And clearly you understand me so can we switch to English, please? Sir.”
In heavily accented English, he responded, “So that there is no confusion on your part, I will speak to you in your language. You don’t merit such consideration, but I want no doubt in your mind as to why you are here and why you will be our…guest,” he smiled rather unpleasantly, “for quite some time.”
“Sir, I don’t know how I came to be in Mexico or why I am in jail. The last thing I remember is…” I had to think because my brain was a fuzzy morass of nothing helpful.
“Yes? What is the last thing you remember, Ms. Turner?”
“Mrs. I’m not sure, I think maybe dancing?”
“Yes? Where were you dancing?”
“I don’t know? I’m wearing a bathing suit, so by a pool, maybe?”
“Beach. And where was this beach, Mrs. Turner?”
“Mexico, apparently.” I was sweating in my bathing suit. I couldn’t remember anything except...skipping breakfast...because we were running late…for the plane! “Yes! Mexico! Vacation! Isla Holbox! Oh, thank God.” We were on vacation! My son had recommended this island as off the beaten track and worth visiting. At the moment, I begged to differ.
“Very good, Mrs. Turner. Now, do you know why you are in my courtroom?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea. Where is my husband?”
“Qué te dije mujer? Yo te hago las preguntas!”
“I’m sorry, sir. I just don’t understand what I could possibly have done wrong. And I don’t know why I’m here alone without my husband. The last thing I remember is getting off a plane and taking a ferry…” I paused, “and getting in a golf cart…” I thought some more. “Oh, we had a lovely room with a view overlooking the beach. The water was so beautiful…”
“Yes, yes. And then?”
“We ate by the water...walked on the beach, watched the sunset...oooh! We went to see the bioluminescence at the lagoon, Punta Cocos…So beautiful…Um… My husband made friends with some locals? He makes friends wherever we go.” I closed my eyes, trying to remember through the haze that was my brain. “They were having a party and they invited us to have some drinks and dance with them. We stayed a while but then I got really tired and started walking back to our hotel…” Things got foggy here, but I distinctly remembered walking alone. Why would I leave without my husband? I only remembered having one drink. Granted, it was an eight ounce glass of what could have been almost entirely tequila…
“Aha! And what where you wearing, Mrs. Turner?”
I looked down. “This?”
“Yes! That!” he spat. “We are a very small, traditional community, Mrs. Turner. We have managed to keep away most of the riffraff,” he looked me up and down disdainfully, “that visits places like Cancún and Puerto Vallarta. We have laws that even international visitors, like you, must follow.”
“Of course, sir. I can’t imagine what I could have done.”
“Ignorance is no excuse!” he yelled.
“I’m sorry, sir. Yes, sir.” I looked up. “Please, sir, what did I do?”
He rolled his eyes and said, “You dared to walk the streets of our town after dark in that!” He pointed at me.
“My bathing suit? So?”
“Isla Holbox Legal Code Number 126, states: No person shall walk the streets of town in swimwear after 8:00 pm. Swimwear can only be worn on the beach, and then, only until 10pm. After that time, all swimwear must be completely covered. End quote. We eschew lewd behavior on our island.”
“Lewd…but I was just going to my hotel.”
“Alone. In a bikini.”
“I was with my husband.”
“Not when you were taken into custody by the local police.”
Suddenly there was a commotion outside the door of the courtroom.
“Where is my wife? I need help here. Someone, please help me find my wife.”
“That’s my husband’s voice!” I screamed.
“Silencio!” he said to me. To the police officer, he said, “Llévame este gringo.” She left to get my husband.
Within seconds, my husband came bursting through the door with the officer.
“Evan!” I screamed.
“Gabrielle! What the hell is going on? What happened? One second you were dancing with Julio, the next you were gone. I didn’t realize it at first and when we started searching, we couldn’t find you anywhere. Julio drove me back to the hotel and when we didn’t find you along the way or there, I didn’t know what to think. The island isn’t all that big. Given the level of alcohol in those drinks, I thought maybe you walked into the water drunk…” He hugged me. “A little while ago, Julio found out from a friend that they had seen the police arresting a gringa. He brought me here right away. Why did you leave without me?”
“I don’t know, I got tired and started walking.”
“Mr. Turner?” the judge said.
“Yes, sir. I’m sorry, sir. Why was my wife arrested?”
“Your wife, broke the law.”
He looked at me and then at the judge. “My wife?”
I laughed at his incredulity. It warmed me that he knew me well enough to know the likelihood was very small that I did anything to deserve being thrown in jail.
“We have a code of ethics written into our local laws, Mr. Turner.”
“Your wife blatantly disregarded them.”
“My wife?” he asked in disbelief, yet again.
“Your wife,” the judge said snidely.
“What in God’s name did she do?”
“There will be no blaspheming in my courtroom! First the bathing suit and now this!”
“The bathing suit?”
“Your wife wore a bathing suit in the streets of town after 8pm.”
“So!!! It is against the law. She will spend the next five days as a guest in our jail.”
“What??? Can’t we just pay a fine or something?”
“Oh, you will pay a fine. And she will spend five days in our jail.”
“But we were only planning to be here for three more nights before moving on to Playa del Carmen.”
“You can leave. Your wife will be here for four more nights, however. Bring her some clean, respectable clothes.”
“Officer take the prisoner to her cell. Case closed.”
And that is how I ended up spending the first five days of my only Mexican vacation in a Mexican jail...with the runs.
I am pretty sure I did not wake up smiling once.
My name is Jerry Allen
Before I open my eyes, I sense a dimmed grey sky. The air around me is damp and smells of sweat and toilet disinfectant. A blistering headache outweighs any urge to find out why. I am on a hard surface. I must have fallen asleep in the garage. The last thing I remember seeing is the back of my car.
I can hear a whistling wind. There is a rhythmic thudding near me. My neighbors are at it again. I remember I’ve got work to do, software to design. I’ll need coffee first.
I feel terrible. I am exhausted but that's nothing new. I’ve never been a big sleeper. Once woken, I will not go back to sleep. No matter how hard I try. This is my predicament.
When I force my eyelids back into my skull, I discover I am not on the floor. Had I rolled over I would have fallen from the top of a three-story bunk bed. A face with black eyes peers back at me. I try to sit up. It's as though someone has taken a hammer to my head. I retch air for a minute before closing my eyes and composing myself.
I never get drunk, rarely leave the house. I’m confused as to what could have happened.
Cradling my head, I look back at Black eyes.
“Where are we?”
Black eyes shrugs and points to a sign on the door.
Centro Federal de Readaptación Social Número 1 “Altiplano”
“Es una prisión de máxima seguridad,” says Black eyes slowly. Then he smirks. Smugly? I don’t have time for this.
“No hablo español,” I mumble, shame-faced.
“Obvio,” Black eyes notes.
I try to recall what mistake might have led me, me, to end up in a maximum-security prison. I'm so boring I'm usually invisible. Top class nerd everyone underestimates. No one even really knows me in my neighbourhood, or that I'm a computer genius. I contemplate what everyone else in this room, what Black eyes, might have done to end up in a maximum-security prison.
The last thing I remember was leaving my dad’s. He’s been in palliative care for years, I try to go about twice a week for a chat over a decaf coffee. He’s never looked better.
We both of us lead solitary isolated lives. The lockdown didn't change much.
I drove away, I remember getting out because the car boot kept opening. I got a call as I was going to open it. That’s all I remember.
The memory of my dad, of the car, feel more real than this cell, its cracked walls and air of legend.
I don’t know what I did.
It’s six am, but no one’s moving. When a guard finally goes past, I ask to make a call but he rolls his eyes. Eventually, we’re unlocked for breakfast. I ask, again, to make a call. I need to call my sister, find out what happened.
At eight o’clock, which feels like days later, I’m led to a phone booth. I choose the collect call.
“Hey Louise?” I say as soon as she picks up, thanking God that she picked up.
Louise is half asleep, probably answered the call by accident.
“Jerry? Is that you?” she says.
“Yes, yes, it’s me,” I try to think of words.
“Where are you? You’ve been gone for days,”
“That’s the thing, I’m in prison. In Mexico,”
“I don’t know, I was hoping you’d find out,”
I hear her sit up, the whirr of her sleeping mind. I’ve forgotten my hangover by this point, the curdles in my stomach aren’t even that preoccupying. Louise says she’ll call back for me, and try to find out what happened. Tells me to hold on tight. It’s not like I can do anything else. I’m hoping someone will call me into an office and explain that there’s been some mistake, but everyone has surly faces and the inmates eye me warily. I want to tell them there’s nothing to be suspicious of, but I don’t even speak Spanish. Surely there has to be a court case, surely they can’t just dump me in here and leave me to die? Someone has to be able to tell me how long my sentence is. I’m probably just here waiting for a judge’s verdict, right?
Louise doesn’t call back, but I am called into an office. The warden’s office. It’s vast and smooth wooded, his desk glints in the late morning sunlight. I swallow, hard, but he has a kind, clean-shaven face.
“There’s been some mistake,” I say.
“Yes, you’ve said that before,” he nods thoughtfully.
“What? What am I being accused of? I can’t remember anything,” I plead.
His face grows weary.
“Not this again. Mr. Albert Brown, after being condemned for murder, fraud, tax evasion and impersonation, you have escaped from every prison under the sun before being brought here,”
“Murder? Impersonation? My name’s not Albert,”
“Yes. Most recently you have impersonated one Jerry Allen, in Santa Barbara,”
“No,” I say, “that’s me, I’m Jerry Allen, that’s my name, just call my sister she’ll confirm it,”
“Really,” he nods again.
“No, no, I promise you there’s been some mistake,”
“Jerry Allen himself declared your fraud to the police,”
“Of course. Well, if your sister can recognize you, you had better ask to re-open the court case. But I don’t wish you luck.”
“I didn’t– I haven’t done anything! I’ve done nothing wrong,” I splutter.
He nods again, wearily, and I am ushered out by guards. I’m in shock. I remember that I have to call my sister, my dad. They’re the only people who would recognize me in the state of California. My boss back in Nebraska might, too. If this guy could find out about me, he can find out about them.
I ask for another collect call, but don’t know my boss’s number and my sister won’t pick up. I try my dad’s. Nothing. I try three more times, but there’s a queue forming and I’m looking more and more pathetic.
This can’t be my life, my real life, I think. And yet. Here I am. My name is Jerry Allen, and soon not a soul on Earth will know it.
I’m what you might call a Method Writer - write what you know and all that. So in order to comply with the prompt [You wake up hungover in a Mexican jail. No idea how you got there, and no memory of the last 48 hours.] I went down to Laredo, got some GHB from a guy I know - another Deadhead (thus well informed of the local narcotics scene) - and walked across the border into Nuevo Laredo.
Due to certain innate advantages I had never been in jail despite a few arrests in college for public drunkenness and disorderly contact and once for petty theft. But in none of those instances did I spend any time in a cell. I guessed my college antics would only land me a beating or, worse yet, an escort back to the border and possible time in a US Customs & Border Protection cell. My best bet to achieve this goal, I figured, was to bribe the police in Nuevo Laredo.
The only things I brought across the border were a small, spiral-bound notebook, a pen from the La Quinta I stayed at the night prior, five $100 bills - my bribing and drinking money - and, of course, the GHB, which came in a little brown glass bottle with a dropper cap.
My first stop was a bodega just over the bridge that spans the Rio Grande. The store essentially serves as a cheap liquor and tobacco depot for Americans. I bought a fifth of tequila and two packs of Marlboros (they still sell unfiltereds in Mexico).
Then, I wandered the streets until I found a police officer. [The following conversation has been translated from Spanish.]
“Can I give you this hundred dollar bill?” I asked.
“What for?” he asked.
“I want you to put me in jail.”
“You want to pay me to put you in jail?”
“Yes,” I stated, then clarified, “Not right now, but two days from now.”
“You are American…?”
“I am.” I still held the bill out in front of him and he finally took it.
“OK, cowboy,” he said pocketing the bill. “How will I find you in two days?”
“Well, if you can recommend a good bar or a brothel, you will find me there.”
“You fucking Americans. You wanna come across the border and get drunk and get laid and you even want me to be your babysitter. Fuck your mother.” The police officer began to walk away but I flashed the other bills and he halted.
“Listen, sir. I am a writer and I take my craft very seriously. I need to know what happens when I wake up hungover in a Mexican jail with no memory of the previous forty-eight hours. And I need your help to do this.”
The officer’s eyes never left the bills in my hand. “I can put you in jail, mister, but I can’t do anything about your memory.” I returned the bills to my pocket and withdrew the brown bottle.
“That’s what this is for,” I said. His gaze raised from the bottle to my eyes. He kept looking at me for a moment then he smiled and shook his head.
“You are crazy, mister.” He eyed the pocket where I’d placed the bills. “You know, it’s police policy to make sure there’s nothing in the pockets of someone going to jail.”
“I have nothing I will miss, except this,” I held up the spiral-bound notebook. “I will be greatly appreciative if you keep this safe for me.”
The officer nodded and took the notebook. “Yes, yes. I will be sure to keep this safe.” He slid the notebook into the breast pocket of his uniform. “I know just the place for you to go. And what luck, my cousin runs the place.” He pulled a cell phone from his belt.
“What luck...” I muttered.
The phone went to his ear. Seconds later he began talking. “Hey, Miguel. I’m sending a gringo your way and I want you to take good care of him...” He listened for a beat and his eyes met mine. “Yes, he’s thirsty and lonely.” He gave me a wink. “Yes, yes, that’s right. And I’ll be by in a couple of days to pick him up... Perfect. Later.” He put his phone away and then said, “You’re all set. Just follow this road here to Calle de Cabeza de Vaca and make a left, Miguel’s place will be on the right. He’ll take care of you.”
“Thank you, sir.” I took the dropper out of the bottle and used it to squeeze several drops on my tongue then washed down the foul-tasting substance with some slightly less foul-tasting tequila. I offered each bottle to the officer. He took the tequila.
“Please, mister, I’m working.” He took a healthy pull from the bottle and passed it back to me. “See you in two days.” He laughed and walked away. I had another sip from the bottle before recapping it. Already the floating feeling tingled in my head. I turned in the direction the officer indicted and starting walking…
I woke up with the worst hangover of my life on a metal cot with nothing but a dirty sarape for a mattress. My head was some kind of spinning magnet, heavy and throwing my equilibrium off. The sun blazing through a small, elevated, barred window stung my eyes. When I sat up my stomach objected and I gagged and dry heaved before I could crawl over to the stainless steel toilet a few feet from the cot. There was nothing to throw up but some bile. When the retching stopped I became aware of a feeling that I should write something. Then I noticed a small spiral-bound notebook on the floor at the door of the jail cell. I crawled over to it and discovered it was one of my notebooks, the one that I’d brought to Laredo. I opened it and on the first page was a message in Spanish. It read:
Mister, here is your notebook and your pen. I kept up my end of the bargain
and put you in jail two days after we met. But we made no arrangements to
get you out and you have no money and no identification. I trust this was what
you intended. I am taking a week of vacation. Good luck to you. - Your friend
I leafed through the rest of the pages but they were blank, which was just as well as reading hurt. So did thinking. So did moving, breathing… I crawled back to the cot and rolled onto the sarape. I closed my eyes, hoping to return to sleep. But sleep didn’t come, just the nagging thought that I might take my art too seriously.
The sunlight beams through the small window, forcing me to waken. I feel like I was drugged; or maybe I'm still drunk or just hungover. Squinting, I can't seem to shake the glassy haze blurring my vision. The cold concrete under my bare feet jolts me into focus before my eyes are ready for it. Why am I so sore, and stiff? It must be the lack of a mattress on the steel frame I'm now sitting on. Glancing around the room, I realize that there are vertical metal bars, and concrete walls. What happened last night? I wish more than anything, except for maybe a bottled water, that I could remember last night, or two nights ago? I've only been here for one night, right?? I wish something would jog my memory; I can't seem to remember anything! I hear faint voices coming from another room. I'm not fluent in spanish, but I hear them talking about last night's futbol match. Spanish? That's right! The futbol match that buddies and I came south to watch, but I don't think we made it there; or did we? Where are the other guys? I can't wait to tell them that I survived a night in a Mexican jail! I don't remember changing clothes, so that's horrifying. I'm now wearing orange prison attire that is at least two sizes too big. Not sexy, but my stories with undoubtedly "Impress the ladies", at the next gathering. I assume that it's the guards I hear laughing incessantly; then they come around the corner, into my view. They are making gestures with their fingers as if they are holding something tiny, and pointing at me while they continue their chuckling. They point to the small, outdated television on the distant table. I struggle to focus, yet at the same time, unfortunately, my memory begins to come into focus. It's the post-game show for last night's futbol match. I watch in horror, as I see myself strip naked, and sprint across the futbol field, just before being tackled onto my back. The small blur on the screen can't be excused by my previously blurred vision. I wish last night was still a blur.
Crawled over the floor of the prison cell,
sweat pearls ricochet off the floor.
No date, no time, I lost my mind,
after forty-eight hours with tequila and wine.
Dear prison guard, what happened last night?
Did I go to far on the poker table in the end?
The drugs my friend, I pushed deep down my throat,
as the party kept on going until the sunrise I felt.
Guns and girls in the middle of the room,
my memories turn alive,
as if it still was last night,
where I was still confident and fine.
I look down my hand, a dry-blooded wound,
two fingers lost, and scar above.
I panic, I scream, the guard turns to me,
but I was already gone, oh lord have mercy on me.
Carrying The Cure
The headache wakes me up, and I struggle to claw my mind out of the thick, dark place it’s in. The floor is hard, gritty, my side pulsing with bruises. My temples pound. I scrabble around on the floor with raw fingertips, blinking swollen eyes, but it’s too dark to see. I sit up, bracing myself quickly with a hand against the wall, hard, gritty, as my head swims.
I push myself up, leaning over to widen my reach, frantically searching. There. I scoop up the thin, cold vial.
I blink and blink, trying to clear the fuzz from my eyes. There’s light coming from somewhere, harsh and artificial, dribbled through a few thin lines of grating at the top of the door. I blink until those lines aren’t so fuzzy, and hold up the vial to the light. Empty, except for the brownish drop remaining in the bottom.
That’s good, I tell myself. If it was still full, you’d have bigger problems.
I allow myself a while to sit, head lolling against the cold cement wall, until I feel somewhat capable of actual thought and movement. My head still pounds furiously; that’ll last all day, most likely. A full vial? The plan must have gone way off the rails. I can taste it in my mouth still, flat and bitter.
I’m dressed in clothes I don’t recognize, a t-shirt and black cargo pants. My boots are gone, my bare feet grey with dirt. My hair, braided down my back. I marvel at the neat braid. Someone else must have done this; I can never make them look so even.
The cell is small, too small for me to lie down straight in. I scan the graffiti on the walls, or as much as I can make out in the three lines of light, but nothing jumps out. No symbols I recognize. The door, of course, is locked.
If they know what the liquid in the vial was, I’ll be in big trouble soon.
I sit on the floor, propping myself up against the wall, making sure I won’t fall when I go limp. I press my palms together, holding the pressing sensation in my mind until everything else falls away. The headache is the last to go.
Then I feel nothing, and I am floating in empty, lightless space. I open and close my eyes, making sure. Nothing changes. I forget whether they’re open or closed. There, now they’re closed.
I swim through the nothing. My body is the only thing that exists now, but I can move it, so there must be something here for it to move through. Slowly, I allow the image I want to form. When I open my eyes, I’m face to face with a man, heavy eyebrows, a curling vine of tattoo peeking out from behind his left ear. He’s taller than me, a good foot taller, but I hover at eye level. I can feel the air on the bottoms of my feet now. I make one slow turn, taking in the room.
The man is alone. The wallpaper matches the curtains, and the couch is just a shade off. The mirror across from him reflects his face, and he studies it, expressionless. I’m invisible here.
"Aspicio," I whisper. I can’t remember names in this place, so we came up with other words for ourselves. Latin lends itself to the memory, a dead language that doesn’t want to be forgotten.
He blinks, breaking eye contact with himself. His head turns, just slightly.
"Affluo," he says. "Finally."
"Where am I?" I ask, still in a whisper. Only a whisper can carry across to him. Shout, and he would hear nothing.
He shakes his head. "I’ve been looking for you. Listening, but I haven’t Heard anything useful yet. How much did you drink?"
"All of it."
His face changes, calculating. "You have six to eight hours, then." He looks up quickly, toward the door, startled by a sound. His hand dips into his pocket. "They have the package. Find it." He holds up a glass key, flat on his palm. I place my hand over his, concentrating until I can feel his skin, the cold glass lines of the key, and I scoop it from his hand. He shivers.
"Find the package and bring it to me." He turns away, heading for the door. I close my eyes, focusing only on the key in my hand, until everything else falls away.
Then I feel nothing. I float in nothing. No, I can feel the key, still cold and smooth in my fist. I call up the image of my reality, allowing it to reform around me. The shock of the cement’s sudden presence makes my eyes pop open. I still have the key.
This side of the door has no keyhole, but the glass melts right through the metal, seeking out the lock. There. I feel the key click into place as it shapes itself to the lock. I turn it. With a push, the door lets me out.
The tiled hallway is empty, but I have no idea where I am, or who else is here. I lock the door behind me. Pocketing the key, where it clinks against the empty vial, I steal down the hallway.
There’s an office at one end, a dark-haired, uniformed woman bent over a sheaf of paperwork, and I slip past easily unnoticed. The glass key lets me through the door at the end of the hall. Cement stairs lead up, lit with a grimy fluorescent strip high above. I run up the steps and use the key once again to let myself out at the top. Night air meets me. An unground jail, then. I know they have a few, scattered across the world. I could still be anywhere.
I cross the gravel yard, sticking to the edges, and scale the fence. My bare feet complain as the chain link digs in. There’s no barbed wire, luckily. They aren’t expecting escapes. They don’t know about the key.
There’s a road on the other side of the fence, dusty and long. The jail appears to be in the middle of nowhere. I try to orient myself with the landscape, but there’s nothing much here, and I don’t know landscapes. And I can’t follow the stars, like Saltavi can.
I pick a direction at random and head down the road at a run, keeping my breathing even. Eventually, I’ll get somewhere.
I have no idea where the package is, except that it isn’t in the underground jail. They like to stay unpredictable, but we make a point to know them as well as we can. No way would they make it that easy for me to take it back.
Lights appear ahead, and then a village. I slow to a walk as I approach, breathing heavily, taking in the buildings. Central or South America, I think.
There’s one tiny storefront, closed, so I let myself in with the glass key and take a bottle of water. I would leave some money if I could, but I have none. The labels are all in Spanish.
I slip out of the shop and walk a little ways from the village, climbing up a tree to sleep. Propping myself between the branches, I wonder where my boots got to. Was is Saltavi who braided my hair? I seem to remember being thrown into the cell, the impact of my hip against the wall, the headache setting in. Nothing before that.
When I wake, the lightening sky glows softly, and I still don’t have my memories. I try to pull them up, but there’s nothing. The last thing I remember is driving toward the border with Saltavi, on our way to pick up the package. We hadn’t yet learned what it was, what we were going to do with it. Did I really have to drink the whole vial? I must have, or I wouldn’t have done it.
Fully awake now, I climb down from the tree and lie on the ground, hoping I’ve regained enough energy to reach both Aspicio and the package, but I know it’s a false hope. I’ll have to sleep again in between.
I press my palms together, focus on the sensation, let everything else drop away. Nothing. I think of his face, allow the image to form. My eyes open, and I’m face to face again with Aspicio. He’s in a different room, but it has the same wallpaper.
Turning slowly to take in the room, I feel a bubble of relieved, terrified surprise. Saltavi is lying on a bed, face white as death, hair white as clouds, a shock after her usually dark complexion. I turn back to the man with the tattoo, and whisper his name. No, not quite his name. Codename, maybe, but that sounds too much like a child’s game.
His expression, eyelids falling shut, grows alert. "Affluo," he says.
"Saltavi," I whisper.
"She needs the package."
"Where is it?"
"She needs it too soon, Affluo." He’s staring down at Saltavi’s white face. "You have to come here and find it and bring it to her. Right now."
I won’t be able to do it. I move close to his ear so I can whisper more quietly, conserving the few drops of energy I can. "I’ll be too drained to go looking for it."
His expression is set, determined. "Come anyway. It’s her only chance, you have to try."
I can already feel tears coursing down my cheeks. Latching onto the sensation, I place my tears in the wallpapered room. I place my body there. I look around, filling my sight with the place, filling my senses. I imagine the feeling of the carpet, the touch of the still air, until I can feel it on my skin. Pulling with the last of my energy, I struggle to exist here.
My eyes explode open and I fall, feet hitting the carpet. I collapse, struggling against my eyelids, but I can’t help it. I black out.
- - - - -
My memories come flooding back when I start to wake up, but before I have time to sort through them I’m being hauled to my feet. Someone is saying my name, over and over. I hold onto the voice.
"Come on, Affluo. Come on. We need you." Aspicio. I struggle awake. The package. I remember retrieving it, learning its destination, changing our clothes, Saltavi’s quick fingers in my hair, getting past the border. Almost. I remember them catching us, and separating us, and taking the package, and the flat, bitter taste in my mouth as I made myself forget. No one can torture information out of someone who doesn’t remember it.
"I can’t do it," I say. "I can’t get it." Already, I’m struggling not to fall back into sleep.
Aspicio’s voice is fierce. "You must."
She’ll die without it, I know she will, but I don’t know if I’ll even be able to go to it, let alone bring it back with me. I remember what was in the package now: a cure. The only cure.
I lie back and press my palms together, as hard as I can, forcing all my strength into my hands, from each palm into the other. I let everything else fall away.
It takes me a long time to become aware of my body, floating in the nothingness. What if it’s already too late? The flash of panic wakes me up. Pulling up the package in my mind, feeling its weight, I allow the image to form.
There. The package, the cure. I’m too exhausted to fully form the room, and the package floats on an impression of wood. A desk? A tabletop? It doesn’t matter. I wrap my hands around the package, imagining the feeling of it until it’s really there, against my skin. It takes so long. My focus keeps blanking out.
Finally I can feel the package in my hands. I tighten my grip, and let everything else fall away.
It takes even longer the second time. Is this the nothingness, or am I asleep? I can’t form thoughts. The package. I can feel it in my hands, and a breath of relief pours through me. Now, reality. I allow the image to form…
Sudden wakefulness, the carpet beneath me, Aspicio snatching the package from my hands, and then blackness. The nothingness of sleep.
- - - - -
I sleep for days, drifting in and out of consciousness now and then. Sometimes Aspicio is there, sometimes Facio, sometimes no one. I think of Saltavi’s face, unnaturally bleached, and fall back into darkness.
- - - - -
When I finally wake up, Saltavi is awake too. Her bed is in the same room as mine. I rush to her side.
She smiles up at me. "You saved me, Affluo."
I laugh and cry and hug her through the sheets. "Why were we transporting the package?" I ask. Even with my memories back, I can’t remember this vital piece of information. The memory elixir isn’t perfect.
She wipes away my tears. "Aspicio used his Hearing, and he learned that we would need the cure here. What he missed is that it would be taken from us before we got here, and he didn’t know the reason we would need it." She laughs weakly. "He didn’t know the cause of my sickness was our mission to bring me the cure."
The smell of rancid piss entered my nose. Not the usual scent of lavender that I was used to waking up to. That usually meant only one thing, my dog had gone somewhere in the apartment in the middle of the night. I thought we were passed that point; she was almost a year old now. Its never smelt this bad before, I thought as I scrunched my nose when another whiff entered my senses.
A long moan escaped my throat when a large wave of nausea overtook me as I shifted my head. I didn’t dare open my eyes. Not yet. Tequila. The taste was still on my lips. Why do I always get sucked into doing tequila? A bright white light suddenly shined on my unopen eyelids. No, the sun can go fuck itself right now.
My hand absentmindedly reached for my fuzzy blanket. A couple pats on the uneven mattress revealed that I wasn’t in my own bed. That had me shooting straight up from my drunken slumber. Bam! “What the…” My eyes opened to see what I had banged my head on; another bed was above me. I placed my hand on the frame above my head as the world began to spin.
I rubbed the now sore spot on my forehead and swung my legs over the side of the bed. Finally, I took a look at my surroundings. The room was small and dirty. A set of bars were to my right and a tiny window where the devilish sun was doing its best job to make my head pound was on my left. I was alone in the prison cell. Completely alone.
“Where the fuck am I?”
The world shook under my feet as I staggered upright. My eyes fluttered shut as I could feel the wave of vomit coming up from my stomach. Yup, no stopping this, I thought. Doubling over, I threw up a mixture of green, blue, and yellow bile into the silver bowl that served as a toilet, just about missing it altogether. The heaves came a couple more times, but there was nothing more to come up besides stomach acid.
A jingle of keys brought my attention away from the heavenly cold steel I had my forehead pressed against. A guard dressed in a light brown uniform stood at the entrance to my cell. He fumbled with a large ring of keys before finding the one that fit the door. Stepping through, he waved his hand and yelled at me in some foreign language.
Dumbfounded, I sat on the floor gawking up at him. He repeated his words, his face flaring red and stepping towards me. The world spun once more as he grabbed my arm and yanked me to my feet. His words slurred together, and I had to take another moment to gather myself.
“Wait,” I tried to interrupt his long breath of jargon. “I don’t speak your language. Spanish?” Oh god, I can’t think with this hangover. “No hablo Spanish?” Is that the right way to say that?
The guard kept speaking in his fast-paced language, practically dragging me out of my cell and down the hall. This hallway seemed to go on forever as we passed cell by cell. The people locked inside them hollered and shook on their bars as we went by. Their excitement sent a shiver of fear down my spine. What the hell is happening?
“Sir, please, I don’t know what’s going on. Do you know English?” I asked the guard, but he still did not understand.
We reached the end of the hall to a large steel door that he yanked open. He then shoved me inside and I stumbled to my knees. Another wave of nausea overtook me, yet this time there was no place for it to go besides on the floor.
“Well, that’s pleasant.” A voice echoed from a dark corner of the room.
Finally, someone who speaks English, I sighed in relief. “I’m sorry, sir, I have a horrid hangover.”
“Sit.” He demanded.
I did as was told, grabbing my head in my hands, and placing my elbows on the table that occupied the room. “Where am I? Is this a prison?”
The man came out of the shadows wearing a black suit. He had short trimmed brown hair and held a notepad and pen. Screeching of the chair being pulled out opposite of me grated against my ears. My head pounded as the sound echoed throughout my entire body. I slumped back in my chair, taking a deep breath as I waited for him to answer.
“Don’t take me for a fool, Charlotte.” He huffed. “I do not have the patience for your games.”
“Games?” I asked, my brows furrowing together. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t even know how I got here.”
“Really,” he smirked, leaning back, and gesturing one hand at me. “Fine, I’ll play along. What’s the last thing you remember?”
My mind was so fuzzy I took a moment to answer. “My husband and I had just arrived. We’re on our honeymoon.” My husband! “Oh god! Nathan, where is he? He must be worried sick about me. I have to call him, please.”
The man shook his head. “Isn’t that convenient.”
“What? I need to call my husband.”
He brought out a beige folder from his suitcase and flipped through some pages. “You and your husband arrived in Mexico two days ago. So, you’re saying you can’t remember anything between then and now?”
“Two days?” That’s when it hit me. After we arrived, we got in the cab and went…where? The last forty-eight hours were completely gone. “Where is my husband. Please tell me you know where he is.”
“I do.” He said simply.
I put my hands up in frustration. “Where?” That’s when I noticed the strange red tint to my skin. I examined them more closely, seeing the red blots under my nails. My heart dropped.
“No,” I shook my head. “That can’t be.” Tears formed in my eyes as I thought the love of my life was gone.
“It is. Probably for the better,” he stated, looking through the files he had.
Anger soared through me. “How can you say that? What happened to him!” I demanded.
“You tell me,” his eyes glanced down to my clothes.
I followed the prompt and saw just how much blood was actually on my body. My hands trembled as I desperately tried to remember what happened. “Please,” I begged. “I don’t know, I swear.”
He calmly began to place pictures in front of me; horrid, gory filled pictures. Blood tainted each one of them, bodies strewn about in haphazard manners. Each one had a single dollar bill placed carefully on their chests. All were faces I recognized. The last one was Nathan, only there was no dollar bill around him.
My heart squeezed and a lump formed in my throat. It couldn’t be. He couldn’t be dead. I grabbed his picture, the tears now streaming down my cheeks. “Oh, Nathan.” I couldn’t get any other words out.
“Yes, very tragic. But what about these ones,” he pointed to the others. “Look familiar?”
I didn’t say anything. The tears stopped.
“I know who you are,” he smirked, folding his hands on the table.
The corner of my lips turned up slightly, and I met his eyes with a piercing glare. “Is that so?”
The man flipped over a newspaper. The title The Dollar Killers Strike Again. “Damn right it is.”
I had been so careful. We had been so careful. This was our honeymoon, it wasn't supposed to end this way. Whatever had happened in the last two days must have been some wild shit. It makes sense now, why I got so black out drunk, and I why turned to tequila. I would never want to remember what happened to my love. And I hope I never remember. It doesn’t matter what happens now. I’ll still get the last laugh.
An eerie calm settled over me. “Well, shit.”
“It’s over, Charlotte,” he laughed. “I got you.”
I smirked. “Sure, I’ll let you believe that.”