The Only Way Out is Through

Prompt Day #266: A convict escapes from a prison…only to end up someplace even worse.

So you may or may not remember a story of this same name early on in this writing challenge. It was about a killer confessing. I had long planned it to end in this way but never got around to writing the middle or end. So when I saw this prompt, I knew it was my chance to end it the way I wanted to. So, I changed the killer’s name from Dick to Dirk and I skipped ahead from his confession to now when he is already planning his escape from Jericho Max.


The Only Way Out is Through


“That’s how I’m gonna get outta this place” Dirk said leaning conspiratorially into the table.

“Man, that’s insane. D’you hear what T-dog said?” Brandt shook his head, took a quick scan around the perimeter, and shifted his weight. “Men don’t always come out of the hole, not living anyhow.”

“And the ones that do, don’t always come out the same as when they went in.” Jimmy Z mumbled, shuffling the poker cards.

“Did any of you shit-fer-brains consider that maybe they don’t come back cuz they escaped?” Dick said smiling. The chewed up toothpick hung lazily from the corner of his mouth.

“Man, that’s bullshit. You think if they all escaping that easy, these cock-suckers gonna keep throwing us in there?” Brandt gestured at Jimmy Z “Deal, Jimmy, get Dirk’s mind on somethin’ productive for once.” Dirk stood up and took in the other three one by one. He chewed away at the toothpick, his tongue flipping it over and over. His smile was eerie and the other three shifted uncomfortably under the weight of it.

“Ya’ll know this prison sits on top of a swamp, right? Buncha shitty land the state couldn’t do nuthin’ with. You know what happens when you dig a hole deep down in a swamp? Even if you build concrete walls around it? The swamp water works itself into all them nooks and crannies and softens the brick.” He was walking slowly around the table, like a prep school teacher scolding his young charges. “I was born and raised in the bayou, boys. Been shootin’ swamp rats since I was knee high to a grasshopper. I’ma dig my way outta that pussy of a punishment and hide out in ‘at swamp til I can get away. Dirk Leroux was born for it.” He winked at Jimmy Z across the table and put his hands down hard on T-Dog’s shoulders. “And ain’t no one here gonna run their mouth about it.”

“Look, No one at this table’s a snitch, Dirk, you know that. But Jorge was my bunk mate, I was there when he left, and I was there when they brought him back, broken and sniveling.” T-Dog was an oxymoron. The whitest, most clean cut prisoner in Jericho Max. Intelligent and well spoken, he’d snapped after losing his life savings in the stock market and shot his wife and kids, called 911 and sat down with a scotch waiting to be arrested. His Jeckyll and Hyde personality had earned him the respect of everyone in the place and a bad ass nickname. He nodded his head towards the seat, Dirk sat. “When Jorge came back, filthy and bloodied, all he said for a week straight was don’t go into the light, don’t go into the light. I’d ask him ‘What light? What did you see down there, Jorge?’ But he wouldn’t answer. After the melt down in the cafeteria and his little stint in psych, he came back heavily medicated. He still isn’t the same. He talks about the blue light, the dancing light that teases you. He talks about the hole clawed in the wall below the light and that when the light is at its brightest, you can read the graffiti on the walls.”

“The only way out is through” Jimmy Z said. T-Dog nodded assent.

“Yep, ‘the only way out is through’. But he said that dug out hole is below the light and the only thing Jorge said that I take to heart is don’t go into the light.

“Guess, I’ll have ta see fer myself.” Dirk said and spit the toothpick across the room onto the floor.

The conversation was obviously over. Dirk had every intention of getting sent to the hole for a week or two. The hole was Jericho Max’s version of solitary confinement and was by all accounts a large well dug deep into the ground just west of the main building with a heavy wooden cover and a ladder attached to the wall like a man hole into the sewer. A man sent down into the hole was given a candle, some flint and a gallon water jug. Word was it was damp and the wet chill worked its way into your bones until you spent your time curled into a ball shivering to keep warm.

A week later, the four were back at the table dealing up a round of cards when Dirk stood up, threw his cards dramatically and pulled out a make shift knife with which he stabbed Jimmy Z and Brandt before T-Dog could stop him. The guards were on Dirk and had him pinned back, but the bloodied shiv had already been dropped on the table.

“Why them?” T-Dog asked as they drug Dirk away.

“Cuz you’re the only one I can trust, Brother.” Dirk said. His grin hung in the air like the Cheshire Cat’s long after he was gone.


When he hit the lowest rung of the ladder, Dirk tossed the burlap bag onto the squelchy dirt floor. He stuck his finger into his mouth and swept the concave head of a spoon off the roof of his mouth. He’s affixed it there with a paste he’d made from toilet paper and toothpaste after working it until he’d snapped off the handle. Based on the stories he’d been told and the rumors spread round the cafeteria, there was a light that came on in synch with the dusk lights on the surface. Below this light, was a hole that had been dug through the cement wall and into the mucky dirt of the swamp. All he had to do was wait for the light. He couldn’t afford to use the candle. It was short and wouldn’t last long. He would need it for light once he tunneled beyond the hole.

Dirk stretched out his legs (they just fit) his toes touched the wall on the other side, crossed his arms against the chill and napped. He snapped awake some time later when the intense blue glow penetrated his eyelids. There it was; the dancing blue light. It really was dancing. It jigged and jagged bouncing around above an irregular hole in the side of the wall just as Dirk had heard. He turned to the bag where he’d put the spoon head. The light seemed to brighten making his search easy. The light flickered like a candle behind him. He turned back to begin his work on the hole but the light had sunk to the center of it, illuminating the circumference of the cavern just on the other side of the body-sized aperture cut into the cement.

Dirk’s mad smile spread over his face. There in the blue glow above the portal was the now famous slogan of the Hole: “The Only Way Out is Through”. It was a sign obviously left behind by others who had escaped. He reached out to grab the light but it danced into the hole where it hovered, enticing him to come in a little further. Don’t go to the light. He heard T-Dog’s voice echo in the back of his head.

“Fuck you, T-Dog. I’ll send you a post card from the other side of the fence.” He said and reached through the hole with both hands as if about to dive. His palms landed on the velvety soft, moist surface that could only be swamp. He shimmied into the large cavern beyond the hole where the light now waited, shivering in excitement. He couldn’t quite figure out its electronics, where it was anchored. Maybe it was a fairy. He laughed. Maybe he was going mad like the ones who didn’t make it out.

He birthed himself in entirely. The light danced just above him now. It lit the space so he could see the tunnel further on which funneled back to a small space he would have to belly crawl through. He started towards it—no time to spare after all—when he remembered the bag with the candle was still sitting by the ladder. He reached back through the cavity to grab it when the light flew out ahead of him and the floor shot up pushing him into the ceiling of the cave, closing off the hole back into the well and taking three of his fingers with it.

Dirk squealed with pain as the monstrous Swamp Angler digested its most recent catch.