Boxed coughs and a steady cadence of heavy footsteps fill the early morning. Hundreds of workers treading the rusted train tracks on a chilly Saturday.
“Another cold one, huh? The fog’s quite thick too! Can barely see ahead of me.” A familiar stranger comments to my right.
He eagerly quickens his pace to catch up to mine. He offers a kind smile, expecting some form of conversation in an otherwise silent crowd.
“Yeah,” I said coldly.
He opened his mouth, about to say something else, yet the words never came. The stranger defeatedly took to himself and slowly faded into the crowd of hundreds. I gave him a glance, getting me a shy smile in response.
The man at the front of the crowd turned around to face the rest of us. His heavy boots rustled against the gravel as he turned. The bearded face of an experienced worker with the eyes of a man who’s seen more than he would have needed.
“Quicken your pace, men! The train tracks open in half an hour. You have about 4 kilometers until the next station. Pick it up!” The man shouted while walking backward.
In near unison, the worker crowd shouted “Aye!”. The man turned forward once more, leading the lifeless horde that I belong to.
Almost half an hour passed and the signboard for “Lockwest Penitentiary” is slowly coming into view.
“Home at last!”
“I could use a warm meal right about now.”
Dozens of murmurs and sighs of relief come from my fellow men. The near-barren soil slowly transitions into familiar grassy patches and fertile land. A small smile creeps on the side of my face. We’re home.
The gateless penitentiary welcomed its citizens home. Everyone fell into a single-file line to ascend the short steps going up the station platform. The station goes directly into the penitentiary grounds, but the lack of gates allows us to just go past it anyway. Well, you can’t fight habits, I guess.
The air feels lighter here. Some broke from the crowd and ran frolicking into the grounds. One literally fell into the grass and embraced it like he would his own mother. It’s not much, but compared to icy steel and snowy gravel, it’s paradise.
The majority still followed the man at the head of the pack. It was the right thing to do. He headed straight into the old building we call the “Main Hall” to house the weary workers. As with everything in Lockwest, it isn’t much but it has heart.
The windows that aren’t broken could be counted in a single hand. The roofing is all but rusted from the elements. The floor is covered by tatami mats, or at least it used to be. All things to complain about, yet there are only smiles painted on the faces of these men.
We all crashed into the floor like engines that finally blew their last puff. Candles that burnt off, or whatever other saying comes close.
“Good work today, men. I’d tell you my name, but you’d all forget it anyway after you wake up from your sleep. Rest well, men. I’ll see you at nightfall.” The leader sent us off to sleep. As if it were a spell, his words knocked everyone unconscious, and falling face-first into the broken mats below.
Slumber into the unknown. Nameless, Number 0925.