Authors: Lance Carbuncle
Vicious Galoot Books, Co.
The fat and fiery center of the solar system paused and squatted itself directly above the souped-up El Camino as Grundish pulled off of the paved road and onto the overgrown gravel path winding into the woods. Askew, Grundish’s copilot, navigator, sidekick, best friend, and punching bag, glanced behind them down the empty paved road, and then up at the growing, whirring form in the distant sky. Neither of the men saw the bullet-riddled
sign that the owner of the property posted. That’s because the sign wasn’t there anymore. It was stolen the night before by a minivan full of drunken teenagers whose final haul included a stop sign, two blinking orange lights from barricades, a Stoner Road street sign, and a mailbox shaped like a manatee. The driver of the van, a troubled boy with one ear, thought the sign would look cool on his bedroom wall. Not that the sign would have stopped Grundish and Askew. Their intrusion on the private property was just one more transgression committed in the name of self-preservation. Ripping down the road at full throttle, the El Camino left a plume of dust and unfinished business in their wake.
Grundish thought about his promise to his friend. He thought about how he loved that man, although he would never say it in such terms for fear of sounding like a fag or something. It wasn’t like that, though. It was just that Askew was always there for him, and likewise Grundish for Askew. Life always seemed less interesting when the two were separated. Grundish thought about times they had shared, and laughs, and fights, and drunken nights. Grundish thought about how Askew would have done anything for him. Grundish thought about how he was going to shoot his best friend in the back of the head.
Eastern State Penitentiary was the first true prison to be built in the world. On October 2, 1829, the day that it opened, Cotton Askew was the first person to go through the intake procedure. He was the first person to be placed in a cell; a solitary confinement room made of cement and lighted by a single overhead skylight, the
Eye of God
. Cotton never bought into the idea of being watched by The Almighty through that small glass pane above him. If he did, he would have feared eternal damnation for the acts he committed to get himself thrown in the dank isolation chamber. Upon completing the institutional intake procedures, Cotton was given the designation of Inmate #1. It was the only time in his life that he was first at anything. Before his incarceration, Cotton did manage to marry a desperate and slightly daft woman who was happy to take his name and bear him a son, Bartholomew. And with the birth of his son, Cotton kicked over the first domino in a chain reaction of bad luck and bad decisions on the part of his descendants.
Bart Askew was raised fatherless and by a perpetually drunk sot of a mother. The few lessons that he did learn came from the village men who visited his mother late at night. And they weren’t the sort of lessons that would help him develop into a well-adjusted young man. Like his father, Bart picked up the bulk of his life experience when he was introduced to life in Eastern State. Like his father, Bart did manage to wed and father a child before being incarcerated for a thirty-year stretch.
And so it went from father to son – an unbroken chain of Askew men each begetting a son and then going off to prison as if it were some proud tradition. It was not at all uncommon for three generations of Askews to be incarcerated in the prison at the same time. The devastating cycle continued and probably would have gone on indefinitely had the penitentiary not closed down in 1971.
Darrell Askew was the last of the Askew men to know Eastern State. One year before the joint was closed for good, Darrell was granted parole and given another chance at life. When the front gate clanked shut behind him, Darrell made two promises to himself: one, he would never allow himself to be penned up like an animal ever again; two, his son was going to break the Askew curse.
• • •
“My old man sat me down when I was seven years old and told me about prison
,” sixteen-year-old Leroy Jenkem Askew told Grundish. “And there ain’t no fuckin’ way I’m ever getting
. He put the fear of the hoosegow in me.”
“And what’d he say that’s turned you into such a bitch?” asked Grundish who sat in Askew’s stained bean bag, paying more attention to scraping grayish mung from beneath a toe nail.
“He told me some shit that made my asshole pucker. I mean, do you know what it’s like to be locked up?”
“Now that’s a stupid question,” snapped Grundish. “You know that I do.”
“Yeah, but you was just sent away to juvee a couple a times and to that rehab instead of jail. I’m talking the big house, man. What do you know of that?”
“Nothing but what I seen on the movies,” Grundish waved the nail file in front of him, dismissing Askew’s concerns as if waving away the scent of a mildly tangy fart. “It can’t be any worse than that shit. And I dealt with all that in juvee. Shit, once I had to fight off a group of four kids who wanted to pop my cherry. I beat ’em all down. Weren’t nobody was gonna try to ass-fuck me after that. I’d do the same in the clink. You just gotta know how to handle yourself.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You’re a big mother fucker. You can kick ass. It wouldn’t be that easy for me. Look at me,” Askew said, rubbing his pot belly and putting his hands over his chest, wiggling the fat. “I’m sixteen and I already got man-titties. They’d love that in prison. My dad told me that young guys in there get turned out right away if they can’t stick up for themselves. He knew a guy that got reamed so much that his swollen bunghole looked like a donut, and that was just the guy’s first week in there. I’d be some big black guy’s bitch getting pimped out for cigarettes and hooch. I can’t have that shit. I ain’t like you, I couldn’t defend myself. And even if you’re not a punk, you still have to watch out for some asshole trying to shiv you or shake you down. And then there’s the guards. My dad said they’re as bad as, if not worse than, the inmates. I cannot do that kind of time. I’d rather die.”
“Yeah. You may be right,” agreed Grundish as he wiped the nail file on the bean bag. “Prison...ah hell, even jail, would probably be more than you could take. So then why you always doing things that could get you in trouble?”
“Because even though I’m
, I don’t get caught,” said Askew, smirking. And it was true. Of all of the many stunts he had pulled, nothing could ever be definitively pinned on him. “Seriously, though. I can never go to prison. And you’re my best friend, right?”
“Then you gotta make me a promise,” said Askew.
“Anything, Bro. What?”
“Never let me get sent up.”
“Now how in the hell am I supposed to be in control of that?” Grundish shrugged and dug in his ear with the nail file. “I can do my best to keep you out of trouble. Help you not get caught. Shit, I’d even help you dispose of a body if it came down to it. But how am I supposed to keep you from going to prison?”
“You could kill me if it looks like, and I mean for sure looks like, I’m going to get caught for something I done that’s bad enough to get myself sent away.”
“Well, God damn, Askew. Why don’t you just make sure you don’t do shit that will get you sent away?”
“I’ll try. Sure as shit I’ll do my best. But I done tol’ you about my family history. My daddy, my grandpappy, his daddy before him,
. It’s a curse. It don’t matter if I want to do something. I’m practically bound to screw up eventually.”
“Well don’t. Just plain and fucking simple, don’t,” answered Grundish. “And then you don’t have to worry about it.”
“I’ll do my best. But, you gotta promise me,” Askew begged. “I’m serious.”
“I promise, all right,” said Grundish, laughing a little. “If you really fuck up, and it looks like you’re gonna get caught, I’ll pop a cap in the back of your big ugly dome.”
“I’m serious, too.”
“You’re not shitting me?”
“No. I wouldn’t shit you, Askew. You’re too big of a turd and you’d probably give me bloody hemorrhoids.”
“So you swear that you would do it if I am going to get sent away?”
“Yeah, I swear,” answered Grundish, rolling his eyes and waving the nail file in front of him in the sign of the cross.
“And,” said Askew, with a somber tone equal to that of family members discussing a loved one’s terminal disease, “don’t let me back out on it.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean don’t let me change my mind. I’m telling you now that if I realize that you are going to kill me, I’ll probably beg you not to do it. I’ll tell you I would rather go to prison. I’ll cry like a bitch. Don’t listen to me.
then, because I will turn cowardly. Do what I’m asking you now. End it for me before they take my freedom.”
“All right. All right,” replied Grundish. “Would you stop talking about it as if it really is going to happen?”
“I fucking swear! Now would you stop talking about it?”
The bluish ink on his arms tells the tale of Grundish’s numerous terms of incarceration. The first tattoo, an upside-down cross on his left forearm, was inked by a twelve-year old stick-and-poke artist named Squid in a level three juvenile detention center. Not that Grundish was particularly religious; he just thought the cross looked tough. Looking tough was a good thing for a fourteen-year-old who was confined in close quarters with a mixed bag of deviants, psychopaths-in-training, and lost causes. And while the other punks were indelibly marking misspelled words on themselves with paper clips and a mixture of cigarette ashes and toothpaste, Squid was piercing the flesh on Grundish’s left forearm with a sewing needle wrapped in string and dipped in Indian ink. The distinction, though slight, was apparent in the superior quality of Squid’s work.
“I once fucked a horse,” Squid bragged matter-of-factly as he dipped the needle in a bottle of ink and resumed his work on the cross.
“A horse? Bullshit. I’d think you’d have to be pretty tall to bone a horse,” Grundish challenged, “and you’re not exactly Lurch from the Addams Family.” The logistics of boning Mr. Ed seemed quite involved to Grundish. He supposed that it was more likely that Squid was just trying to sound crazy so that rumors would start and people would be tweaked out, see him as some sort of twisted freak, and leave him alone.
“You don’t have to be tall, you dumb cock-stain. You just need a full feed bag, a stool to climb up on, some good balance, and a gentle horse.”
“Fuck yeah, for real. And don’t act like you wouldn’t do the same given the chance,” said Squid as if it were a completely reasonable option to couple with a barnyard animal.
“Was it at least a girl horse?”
“Of course it was a girl.” Squid squinched up his face in disgust. “What? You think I’m a homo or something?”
He doesn’t think about Squid when he looks at the faded cross on his forearm. He doesn’t think about juvenile detention, the devil, fighting, or fending off forced sodomy. Nor does Grundish give a thought to the fact that he was innocent of what he was locked up for while the true perpetrator, Askew, was free. That kind of shit didn’t matter to Grundish, and he would have done it all again for his best friend. Instead of all of that mess, when he looks at the cross on his forearm, Grundish thinks about horses unfettered by saddles, bridles, bits or tack, frolicking in verdant fields.
• • •
Grundish was fifteen when he violated probation by failing a piss test. Instead of juvenile detention again, Mrs. Grundish was able to convince the juvenile court judge to put her son into a long-term drug rehabilitation center for teens. At six-foot-three and 220 pounds, Grundish was intimidating to the staff members. The kids in the rehab who were from out of town all lived in what the program called foster homes. The homes were actually the houses of other kids in the program. As a newcomer, Grundish was not allowed privacy and was under tight security at all times. Due to his size, he was assigned to the care of group member Scott Flannigan. Scott was nineteen years old and the largest of the kids in the group.