This is an excerpt of Canadian writer Rob Dominelli’s Where the Spirits Take Them. Follow the links for Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and the Epilogue
When summoned for cleaning on Christmas Eve, Allan saw that instead of Boss Cobbs taking him to get his supplies it was C.O. Hubert, a tall young man with a neatly trimmed widow’s peak and thin moustache and goatee.
“Where’s Boss Cobbs?” Allan asked.
“Holidays chief,” the guard replied. “They make guys like me work Christmas. Low man on the totem pole.”
If that was a joke the officer was trying to make, Allan didn’t think it was funny.
It seemed like Officer Hubert wasn’t used to being the cleaner boss, because he was like a hawk hovering over Allan whereas Boss Cobbs would hang back and let him do his thing.
When they got to seg corridor, C.O. Hubert peered through the window on the door of each cell as he followed his cleaner.
Hubert stopped in front of Dagenais unit and looked through the window for what seemed like a long time.
“Inmate, take the newspaper off that mirror,” Hubert yelled down toward the meal slot. “Nothing is to be affixed to the walls of a prisoner’s cell.”
Allan knew the guard was right, but it was a jail policy that was seldom enforced. Many inmates used institution toothpaste to glue pictures of their sweetheart or children to the walls of their cell and most times the staff would let it slide. Some officers however were the “by the book” types and Hubert certainly appeared to be one of those.
“No,” Dagenais said. “I can’t. The kids are in those mirrors boss. They want to get me and take me somewhere cold and dark like where they are.”
Officer Hubert shook his head.
“Crazy as a fuckin’ loon. Inmate Dagenais you will remove the newspaper from that mirror. That’s a direct order.”
“No other guard has said anything,” Allan heard the man say. “I won’t do it. No fucking way.”
“Fuck,” Hubert said as he put his key in the lock. He radioed for back up and looked at Allan.
“When the other officer gets here, we’re going to secure the inmate and you’re going to go in there and clean that mirror and mop the floor.”
Allan knew better than to refuse. He didn’t want to comply, but he was in jail and this was how jail worked. Alan learned long ago that it was pointless to argue and fight with prison staff. All that would do was make your time harder. They would win and you would lose, every time. Officer Hubert was only temporary cleaner boss, Alan thought. He could easily slip Dagenais another paper in a day or two when Boss Cobbs was back.
Allan saw that the other guard on the floor that night was McGonagle, the one that had brought him to his range the day he was admitted. When Hubert told the other officer what he had planned, he nodded and put on a pair of black gloves. Hubert did the same. Many guards wore gloves when handling inmates. Allan found it a bit degrading, but as always, kept his opinion to himself.
It took both guards to forcibly remove Dagenais from his hole cell. They cuffed him and sat him down against the hallway wall. Allan had to use his hot water bucket and a cloth to scrub the newspaper from the mirror, the man had used an entire tube of institution toothpaste to glue it in place, and thoroughly removing it took a few minutes. Allan could hear Walt Dagenais sobbing and protesting behind him in the corridor. When he was done, Allan took a long look at the mirror. It was dented and warped like every other one he had ever seen in the jail but there was certainly nothing special or sinister about it.
“You look fine, Trudeau,” McGonagle said from the hall. “Just mop up and we can put Dagenais back in his home.”
Allan did as he was bid.
When the guards told him to return to his cell, Allan saw that Dagenais had calmed down and stopped crying. He seemed like a man resigned to his fate. He stood up, shook his head and walked back into his unit with his shoulders slumped. When Officer Hubert closed the door and locked it, Dagenais’ face appeared in the door window.
“I’m dead,” he said. “You just fuckin’ killed me.”
The two officers glanced at each other and smirked.
“Off you go Trudeau,” Officer Hubert said. “Finish your job up so I can bring you back home before Santa gets here.”
Officer Hubert had left Allan to clean the segregation shower area himself, deciding to walk McGonagle back to his assigned area. That’s when the screaming started.
Allan ran to where the commotion was coming from and wasn’t surprised when he found himself standing in front of Dagenais’ cell. The man screamed, the door rumbled on its hinges and a cold draft blew from underneath, chilling Allan’s feet through his prison-issue blue canvas shoes and woolen socks. Allan tried to look through the window but it was jet black. It sounded like Dagenais was fighting with someone inside, and was that laughter Allan heard? He thought that it was. It sounded like kids laughing.
Allan Trudeau, a man normally so quiet and who chose his words so carefully, began hollering for help at the top of his lungs.
“KEY UP!” He yelled. “KEY UP SEG CORRIDOR!”
Officer Hubert came running down the hall “The fuck’s going on?” He asked. “What’s that noise?”
“Something’s wrong with Dagenais, Boss,” Allan answered.
“Outta the way,” Officer Hubert said, pushing Allan and looking through the window himself.
“Why is it so cold here? Why can’t I see through that window? Trudeau did you give him more paper?”
All Allan could do was shrug his shoulders. His eyes were transfixed on the rumbling door. The thing was solid, heavy. What on earth could cause it to shake like that?
“Fuck sakes,” the guard said. He put his key in the lock but it wouldn’t budge. The screaming grew louder from inside.
“Try….turn it again,” Allan said. “Please try it again, Boss.”
Officer Hubert glared at his prisoner. “Shut the fuck up,” he yelled. He was jerking the big key in the lock. “Even the key is getting cold. Why is it so fucking cold in here?”
And then it was done. Dagenais quit screaming as the lock turned. Officer Hubert swung the door open and both men looked inside. Their breath plumed as the full brunt of the unnatural cold seized them. Dagenais lay lifeless beside the toilet, his green eyes open and staring at nothing in particular. His skin was milky white and his lips were purple. There was a shadow in the corner, like a cloud but not a cloud at all. It floated from one side of the small cell to the other, and then raced toward the two witnesses, laughing.
Allan stepped back but Officer Hubert seemed glued to his spot in shock. The shadow appeared to go through the jail guard, pausing for a second inside him before bursting out his back and careening down the corridor. Each of the lights in the hallway flickered briefly as the shadow passed beneath them. Allan watched it twirl around near the guard station, like it was lost and didn’t know which way was out. Allan was afraid the shadow would come charging back and thought about running, but to where? And then, just like that, the cloud dissipated. The cold air seemed to fade away with it.
Allan ran into the cell and put his hand in front of Dagenais’ mouth to feel for breath. There was none.
“Boss, he’s not breathing,” Allan said. “Boss, hit the button. Please hit the button.”
The tall guard stood there, motionless. He dropped his key ring.
“There….there was a shadow,” Officer Hubert stammered.
Allan darted past him and hit the blue panic button on the wall in the corridor. The code blue alarm sounded.
When the medical staff got there CPR was performed, but in the end nobody could save Walter Dagenais. In the following weeks Allan was interviewed extensively by the prison administration, police officers and even a couple of nice older ladies from an inquest committee came asking questions. He told them all the same thing, how he heard a commotion and called for a guard. How when the guard opened the door Dagenais was lying on the floor not breathing. He left out the part about the shadow and the cold air. Allan figured nobody would believe a homeless drunk talking about a laughing cloud anyway.
Officer Hubert however did tell the others about the shadow and winter chill inside the hole cell that night. As far as Allan knew the higher-ups had given the guard some time off to deal with the obvious grief-related stress he must have been dealing with, because Allan never saw Boss Hubert on duty again for the rest of his short sentence.
Follow the links for PART ONE, PART TWO , PART THREE, or EPILOGUE
A life-long resident of Northern Ontario, Rob Dominelli is one who was always keen on the written word, but, believing it wouldn’t amount to anything, he gave it up. Having spent much of the late nineties in a cycle of dependency and incarceration, he returned to writing again, creating silly stories to amuse other inmates. Fortunately for us, Rob continued writing after his release, and can be found at http://bobbydeeworld.blogspot.ca/