This story is by Sam Fowler and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Mandy’s shaky, off key voice was singing softly. The sound echoed off the cold, dirty walls of his cell as he clutched at his legs and rocked back and forth on the floor.
“Golden chimes… Whistlin’ through time…” He sang in a whisper, as if they were the only words keeping him sane, some chorus from a song he’d long forgotten. He reached towards the dirty wall and scratched at it until his fingernail started to bleed. It had gotten harder to keep track of days after he’d run out of nails to break, but he still scrubbed at the wall. Keeping time was the only thing giving him meaning, especially after fifty days here.
“Golden chimes,” He whispered, not daring to bring his voice any louder. “Whistling through time…” His voice was scratchy, his throat too dry. They only fed him once a day in solitary, and the measly cup of water was never enough to quench the thirst that grew every day. At this rate, he wasn’t sure how much longer he’d last. Men went crazy in solitary after long enough. His former cellmate had cracked after two weeks. Whether it was from the guilt of his crimes or the sheer lack of human interaction, Mandy wasn’t sure.
He was starting to miss people, but he didn’t have the guilty conscience the others in the prison did. How could he, when he was completely innocent? He’d been in prison for eleven years now, and still nobody would listen to his claims that he was innocent. He’d been tried and convicted for the murder of Lea Reynolds, his neighbor’s young daughter. Her body had been thrown over the fence and into Mandy’s backyard. He hadn’t killed her. Lea had been a sweet girl; she watered his plants when he went on vacation. She hadn’t deserved to die. But the police took one look at where the body was, took one look at Mandy himself, and they’d thrown him in jail. Not even a chance for parole. He hadn’t had the money for a better lawyer, and while there was no evidence that convicted him, there was none that disproved it either. No one had listened to his cries of innocence when Lea’s mother was sobbing. A mother’s grief was more interesting than a criminal’s plea.
But Mandy was no criminal. He’d shouted it to anyone who’d listen, which, of course, had been no one. No one believed a criminal. No one believed a supposed child murderer. So he was alone in his innocence and in his cell.
It wasn’t the lack of interaction that bothered him about solitary. It was the silence. The walls of his cell were thick, and the door was steel—no metal bars to clank a cup against. He didn’t even hear the guard’s footsteps when they delivered food once a day. The quiet was driving him mad, and he had tried everything to rid himself of it, but it was no use. Eventually his own voice just became part of the silence.
“Golden chimes,” He continued. “Whistlin’ through time…” Hearing the words he didn’t quite understand at least gave him something to do. That was the other problem with solitary. You were constantly bored. If guilty thoughts and loneliness didn’t get to you first, then the boredom surely would. He missed his days outside of the prison, when he had read in libraries for hours. But now it seemed like all those stories had forgotten him. He tried to make up new ones, but it was no use. His imagination was made to read, not to create. He stared at the dark gray walls some more, wishing for someone to talk to, fictional or real. Human or not. It didn’t matter anymore. Wilson from Castaway was looking like a great companion right now.
“Golden chimes-” He started again, his voice cracking on the second word. It wasn’t worth it. He couldn’t even remember the rest of the song. What was the point of drying out his throat more with singing?
“Oh, don’t stop now!” A feminine voice pleaded. “I was just starting to like it.” He glanced at the corner of the cell, his tired heart breaking a bit at the sight. A ghost-like woman stood in the corner, looking like she was perpetually stuck mid twirl, her long hair and dress flung around her. She smiled at him, swaying like a nervous school girl. “Come on, sing the rest for me, would you?” He stared and stared. Mandy was well aware that his mind was making her up, but he didn’t care. The sight of a person, illusion or not, was enough to make him weep. He was almost grateful that he was losing his mind here.
“Whi-whistling through chimes-” He whispered, and she laughed, laughed a beautiful thing with her head tilted back, hair shimmering. It was like she had been cut from a pair of silk curtains.
“Not quite,” She said, whirling around. Her beauty, he decided, was caught somewhere between Daisy Buchanan and Blanche DuBois. She was fascinating to watch, even at a time when anything could’ve fascinated him. She laughed again. “That’s sweet, ‘Andy.” She kept twirling around, like she’d explode if her dress didn’t keep spinning.
“What’s your name?” He asked, unable to take his eyes away. She raised an eyebrow.
“You tell me.” He cringed. Names had never been his strong suit. But she reminded him so much of some great literary character. There was just something about her poise that drew him in like great novels had used to.
“Baisy?” A combination of Blanche and Daisy seemed fitting in his mind, but he regretted the choice as it rolled off his tongue. She smiled, a bit more color adding to her holographic form.
“Baisy it is.” She twirled again. “Now sing for me, Mandy. I want to dance.” He continued to stare, unable to disobey.
“Golden chimes,” He started softly, still in awe that his mind had managed to invent someone so beautiful.
“Golden chimes,” He raised his voice, louder than it had been in weeks. His dry throat screamed in pain, but he didn’t care. Whatever kept her here. Whatever kept him from being alone in the silence, in the colorless void of the cell by himself. “Whistlin’ through time!” Round and round Baisy spun, like a ballerina attempting to twirl her feet off. She laughed, a picture of pure joy as he repeated the same two lines over and over again, wishing to whatever god was out there that he could remember the rest of the song so that he might have more words to please her with.
She stopped after his voice finally gave out and she gasped for air, somehow not dizzy in the slightest.
“Oh, how I wish you’d sing that forever,” She said breathlessly. “Would you?” He had no words, but he had plenty of thoughts about it. She smiled brighter, like she could read the mind that had spawned her. “Oh, I know. You’d sing anything I asked.” He would. He’d sing in his horribly tone deaf voice for eternity if she asked, just as long as she stayed to company him. She crouched before him, eyes bright.
“Do you want to sing forever?” She whispered, smiling. He nodded, unable to resist her. Anything was better than sitting in the darkened silence. “Do you trust me?” Another nod. She danced over to the corner she’d appeared in and reached down, picking up something he hadn’t noticed before. She twirled over and folded it into his hands. “Show me.” She whispered, still so blissfully happy. He stared at the object; a rusted pair of nail clippers.
“But-” He looked up at her, confused.
“Show me,” She repeated, humming a little. “Show me where you sing, and I’ll make you sing forever.”
“I can’t,” His voice was wrecked, and he didn’t know how he’d even managed to spit out the words.
“You can.” She stared at him right back. “Show me how you sing, ‘Andy.” He started nodding, slowly at first, but then faster, more sure. No more darkness. No more silence— a song forever, a place with colorful, twirling Baisies forever. Forever and forever, with more golden chimes then he could ever imagine.
He stood up in the cell, Baisy smiling at him the whole time. He forced open the sharpest part of the clippers, and looked to Baisy once more.
“Show me how you sing, little chime,” She dared.
And with a flick of a wrist, Mandy sliced the rusted clipped through his vocal chords. He felt no pain as his clothes grew warm with blood. Baisy smiled wider and took his hand, no longer ghost-like, but a solid, warm being.
“Sing it again,” She pleaded, twirling him around.
“Golden chimes,” Mandy sang loudly, dancing with her as the life faded from him and into her. “Whistlin’ through time… ”