Authors: Stina Leicht
“Get him ready,” the blond man said.
“Right,” the second guard said. “Clothes off. Now.”
Liam’s heart staggered. “What?”
“Strip search. Stop your gawking.”
Shaking, he stripped down to his kacks. The room was warmer than the barracks but not by much. Cold air prickled against his skin. He was visibly trembling now.
“Shed the rest.”
One of the guards slammed a night stick into Liam’s back, and he went down. Unlike Tom and Hugh, the guards knew their business. The pain was terrific, and Liam couldn’t breathe for what seemed a full fifteen minutes.
The blond man’s chair squeaked. “You seem to be operating under the misconception that you have a choice. Do as you were told.”
“On your feet, taig.”
Liam got up from the floor, shed his underpants and covered himself as best he could with his hands. Shame burned his cheeks, and he stared down at the ground.
“Will you look at that,” one of the guards said. “Catholics. No wonder there’s so many of them.”
The burning in his face worsened.
“Get him over to the cell,” the blond guard said, licking his lips. His tone was bored, but there was tension in it that spoke of extreme interest.
Pushed to the right, Liam was next positioned a short distance in front of a cell door and shoved. Liam caught himself before he fell into the steel bars face first. He was up on his toes now. His legs were kicked apart, and he kept himself from tumbling by hanging onto the cell door. The trembling got worse, and it was hard to keep himself from falling. He tried to get into a more stable position but was slapped on the ear.
“Did anyone say you could move?”
A drawer on the desk slammed and there was a metallic clink. A chair scraped the floor. “That’s enough. You can leave now, gentlemen.”
Liam felt the blond man press next to him as he heard the other guards leave. Keys rattled in the lock. The blond guard grabbed Liam’s wrist and snapped a cuff around it. The cuffed wrist was then yanked up above his head and shoved against a bar closer to his face. He lost his balance. Left cheek and shoulder slammed into iron. The second cuff was looped through the cell door. His cheekbone throbbed.
The blond man spoke in Liam’s ear. “Grasp the bar next to your left hand.”
Terrified and humiliated, Liam did as he was told. The second cuff went around his right wrist.
It’s only a search,
Nothing more. Perfectly normal. It’ll be over with soon.
He’d heard about body cavity searches from one of the other prisoners. By the description it sounded horrible, but it could be lived through. A lot could be lived through, he’d come to understand. He tried to slow his breathing. He was sweating in spite of the chill. The stench of cologne and stale beer filling Liam’s nose was enough to make him sick. The painted white iron bars pressed into his palms. The cuffs burned cold on his wrists, and his legs ached. His whole body prickled. The blond man pressed closer. Rough uniform fabric brushed against Liam’s skin. A hand slid down his back, cupped one butt cheek and squeezed.
Liam’s heart stopped.
“My name is Philip Sanders. You may call me Phil.” Sanders reached up to smooth hair from Liam’s face. “Tell me something,” Sanders said, lowering his voice to a whisper. “Have you fucked before?”
The hand slipped between Liam’s legs, and he stopped breathing.
Liam screamed. A hand clamped hard over his mouth.
“Not a sound,” Sanders said. “Do you want the others to know you for a fairy?”
After that, Liam shut his eyes and prayed, but there was no God in Hell.
It was dark when he was dumped back in the cage. He was glad of that. No one could see his shame. He should’ve died fighting, but he hadn’t. He’d let that man do what he would. Worse, he’d—
Don’t think about that.
He staggered back to the barracks, keeping his mind as blank as possible.
He wanted to be sick, but he didn’t want the others to notice. They’d see it in him if he wasn’t careful—see it in him as Sanders had. They’d see Sanders had—
That’s what Liam wanted. The other prisoners were off playing at football by the sound. They were always playing at football or betting on any random thing because there wasn’t much else to do in the cage. He went around the backs of the buildings until he reached the Quonset hut that contained the washroom.
The pain had been horrific. The memory of Sanders’s voice sent a shard of ice through his chest.
I’m to be your first. Isn’t that sweet?
Liam closed his eyes and shuddered.
Have to make it to the shower.
He checked to see if anyone was inside. There was no one. He didn’t bother to strip—just turned the water to the coldest setting possible and stood in the stream. When he was sure he could move again without getting sick he then took off his wet clothes, picked up the soap and started scrubbing at the blood and shite. It took ten washings to get the feeling of Sanders off him. Then he sat on the frigid concrete floor and curled himself into a tight ball. He waited for the icy water to numb his skin and then cried in silence, hiding his tears in the shower’s stream. He wept until he felt as blank as the cinderblock wall. Then he dressed in his wet things, avoided the mirror above the washbasin and went to bed early. He didn’t sleep. He merely lay in his cot and stared at the tin wall, huddling under his blanket in his damp clothes and wishing himself dead.
Sometime before lights out a jar of what the others jokingly called “Murphy’s Poteen” made the rounds. Usually Liam didn’t bother to sample the contents. The smell of it made his eyes water. However, this time he accepted the jar and drank as much of the foul brew as he could stand. Maybe it would kill him, or maybe he’d go blind. He deserved it. He hadn’t fought, not hard enough. He wasn’t natural. He’d—
Kevin frowned at him. “What did you do to your face?”
Memories surfaced of having his head slammed into the bars for struggling. Liam shoved the images down and away into the dark. He didn’t have the energy to speak. So, he didn’t. Unable to get an answer, Kevin let him be.
A storm rolled in during the night, and the wind fairly screeched with the force of it. He listened to the corrugated tin rattle and the water drip from the ceiling, thoughts alternating between emptiness and memories of stark terror. The weather let up after a few hours, but the wind continued to howl. Dreams flitted past his eyes like shredded phantoms as he halfdozed—images of a huge black wolfhound. The creature was searching for him. The knowledge was strangely reassuring. He couldn’t have said why. His next recollection was of being shaken. He choked back a scream and forced open his eyes. There were grey patches showing through the bars on the window. Everyone appeared to be gone. One of the older prisoners stooped over him. He’d never learned the man’s name.
“Come on, lad,” he said. “You’ll miss the morning line up.”
Liam didn’t move. He didn’t care if the guards came and shot him.
“You look a fright,” the older prisoner said. “Do you need to go to the infirmary?”
“No!” Liam shot up off the cot before the old man could call for the surgeon. He stuck his feet in his shoes and stumbled outside. A headache smacked into his brain with the brightness of the light. It was a slam-mer—the worst he’d ever had. He wanted to throw up but did his best not to show it. His body was a mass of bruises, and his arse was sore. He purposely didn’t think of why. Taking a place at the back of the group and as far away from Kevin, Tom and Hugh as he could manage, he waited while the guards called out the names.
Christmas came and went. He didn’t care. He didn’t join in the stories and the singing of the songs. He didn’t even attend the Mass. He couldn’t, not with such a great sin on his soul. There was no chance he’d go to confession. He didn’t shave either—because shaving meant looking in the mirror, and he didn’t want to see what Sanders saw. As luck would have it, Sanders seemed to be away on holiday. Liam kept a watchful eye nonetheless and was careful not to be alone with any of the guards if it could be helped. It was weeks before he stopped jumping at shadows, or ceased shuddering each time his name was called. A few days after Christmas he got a package from home containing a card from his mother, two letters from Mary Kate, biscuits, tea, a brown neck scarf and a pair of thick socks. The biscuits and tea never made it past the guards. The only reason he knew they’d been in the box was because they’d kindly left him the crumbs and crumpled wax paper. As for the scarf, Tom took it off him two days later, giving him a black eye in exchange. At least he had the socks, for which he was grateful, and the letters, which he hid where Hugh wouldn’t think to look. He desperately wanted to know what Mary Kate had written but couldn’t read them. So, Liam carried both letters with him close to his skin, the paper growing dog-eared with each passing day.
One day, he was making his usual route around the cage when he spotted a huge black wolfhound on the other side of the chain link fence topped with razor wire—the area between the fences that everyone called “No Man’s Land.” The cage was surrounded by other cages on three sides. This was the fourth, and it provided a view of yet another fence, a guard tower and brick wall. How or why the great beast had gotten inside No Man’s Land was beyond Liam. The creature had no collar and looked nothing like a guard dog—the BAs used Alsatians. The strange wolfhound pressed against the fence and whined. Thinking of the dreams, Liam moved closer and saw the beast’s fur was caked with mud.
Dug under the wall, then.
“Hello,” Liam said. “What’s your name, boy?”
The wolfhound pushed his muzzle through the chain link and whined again. Liam put his hand up so the dog could sniff him. The hound licked his fingers and something in Liam’s chest loosened.
“You’re a friendly one, aren’t you?” Liam asked. “Bit mad too. No one breaks
this place.” He checked the area before sitting down in the gravel, but he needn’t have worried. Everyone, except for Tom and Hugh, left him alone now. Although it was never mentioned, Liam knew why. It was because of what had been done to him. On some level the others knew without being told and were afraid that they’d be next.
“You can’t stay, you know,” Liam said. “You’ll have to scarper before the screws come.” That was the most Liam had spoken in weeks. His voice felt rusty, but it was nice to have someone to talk to—even if the poor thing didn’t understand a word he was saying.
The beast moved its muzzle to a diamond-shaped space close to Liam’s face and licked him on the cheek. Liam laughed. It felt wonderful to laugh. He hadn’t laughed since before—
—hadn’t laughed in forever.
“There’s no telling what the screws will do if they find you here. Probably shoot you,” Liam said, forcing his hand through the links to stroke the dog’s fur. He suddenly felt better than he had in a long time. “Thank you for the visit. If you see my Ma—”
The hound growled.
“Where did that monster come from?” It was Hugh.
Liam brought his hand back through the links. He wasn’t afraid the wolfhound would bite. Somehow, he knew the dog wasn’t snarling at him.
“Why were you talking to it?” Hugh asked, picked up a stone and threw it at the dog. It hit the fence and bounced off. He selected another, smaller. Sharper.
“What’s it matter to you?” Liam asked, getting up from the ground. Hugh could beat the shite out of him, but Liam didn’t care. He wouldn’t have the poor lost thing tortured. Liam shivered with electric energy and narrowed his gaze, willing Hugh to forget the dog, to go the fuck away. Liam focused with all his hate.
Hugh blinked. The fear was plain on his face as he took a step back. The dog barked.
“Put down the rock, Hugh.”
In a daze, Hugh dropped the stone.
Stunned, Liam stared in disbelief. The wolfhound barked again.
A thought occurred to Liam, and he decided to take the chance. “I’ll have my neck scarf back, you fuck.”
Hugh pulled the brown scarf from around his neck and held it out for Liam to take. Liam wrapped himself in its warmth and felt more comfortable at once. “Now, get the fuck away from us.”
“It’s fucking mad, you are.”
“Aye. Sure. The dangerous sort of mad,” Liam said, “and you’ve made me all the madder.” He smiled in satisfaction as Hugh panicked and ran.
“Thanks,” Liam said, but when he turned he found the wolfhound was gone.
Long Kesh Internment Camp
Lisburn, County Down, Northern Ireland
3 January 1972
The wolfhound didn’t reappear, but Sanders did, and Liam returned to his former dread. The nightmares came back and several times he woke up screaming in the middle of the night, which didn’t endear him to the rest of the barracks. So, he stopped sleeping as much as he could, starting in fear at furtive movements in the dark. The others began to avoid him outright—Hugh having told them of the wolfhound and of being bespelled. Liam was cast from his food clique which meant he couldn’t share food parcels and was once more left to eat whatever the guards served. Rumors were whispered just out of his hearing and sometimes within it. His eyes glowed red when angered, and he growled in his sleep, the others said—proof he was possessed by a demon. That was why he didn’t go to Mass when it was offered or look in mirrors. They said he’d grown the beard only to hide the devil’s sign. In addition, a ghost was said to haunt Cage Five at night, and its howls could be heard in the wind on the other side of the hut’s tin walls. Several men moved out and into whatever accommodations could be arranged in the other huts. Hugh and Tom remained. Soon, Hugh stopped eating, fell sick with a fever and then died in the infirmary. Shortly after that, Tom was mauled by an Alsatian during a barracks inspection. The wounds quickly became infected, and he lost an eye and three fingers. About the only positive effect was that word got around that bad things happened to people who crossed Liam. When two guards were reported missing, those outside blamed the ’Ra, but those inside Cage Five suspected otherwise. A rumor surfaced that a shredded uniform sleeve was all that had been found of either man. Both were said to have beaten Liam, and soon the suspicions spread to the guards. A few prisoners knew the rumors for rubbish, Kevin being one of them, but even those who didn’t believe began to keep their distance after the story of the uniform sleeve. It didn’t help that as the guards grew more and more nervous, they increased the frequency of their late night raids, and thus, the entire hut was short on sleep as well as temper.