At each state of his imprisonment, Abdulah knew exactly where he was. Possibly there were differences in air pressure but the room where he had been questioned was high up near the roof.
The cells where the cops had beaten him were below ground level. This present place was underground, too! As deep as they could go.
For a moment he was alone, then the door opened and a cop came in. The door opened again. This time the Police Chief came in carrying something made of wire—–a box basket of some kind.
The Police Chief set it down on a table, but because of his position, Abdulah could not see in it.
“The most feared thing in the world,” the Police Chief warned, “varies from individual to individual: buried alive, death by fire, drowning….even impalement. Some cases are quite trivial, not even fatal.” The police chief had moved to one side so Abdulah could now see the cage on the table. It was an oblong wire cage, with a handle on top for carrying.
Fixed to the front of it was what looked like a fencing mask, with the concave side turned outwards. The cage was divided lengthways into two compartments, and there were slithering creatures inside.
They were snakes!!
“In your case,” said the Police Chief, “your worst fear in the world, is snakes.”
Of course a fear passed through Abdulah when he’d first glimpsed the cage. But now the meaning of the attachment in front of it suddenly sank into his mind. His bowels turned to water. “You can’t do this!” he cried out in a cracked voice. “You can’t!! You just can’t! It’s not fair!”
“Do you remember,” asked the Police Chief calmly, “the panic in your dreams? There was a wall of terror in front of you, a hissing sound behind it. You knew what lay there but you couldn’t say it aloud. It was snakes, Abdulah!”
“Chief!” begged Abdulah. He made an effort to control his voice. “You know this is not necessary. What do you want from me?”
When the Chief spoke, he became academic. He looked into the distance, as though addressing an audience.
“By itself,” he declared, “pain will not convince most Black men. We’ve found they can stand pain to the point of death. But there’s always something else. Something they can’t endure. Courage and cowardice are not involved.
“It is these snakes! Therefore you will do what is required.”
“But what do you want? How can I tell you what I know nothing about?”
The cop picked up the cage and brought it across the room. He set it down on the nearest table.
Abdulah could hear the blood rush into his ears. He was terrified.
In the cage were enormous snakes: a Cobra and a Python. They were the age a snake’s mouth grows wide and dangerous, and their tongues flicked out with lightening speed.
“The snake,” said the cop, still addressing his imaginary audience, “is of the lizard family. You are aware of that?
“In some states, a woman dare not leave her baby alone in a house. The snakes are sure to eat it. They will strip the very bones from a baby.
“Snakes show astonishing intelligence.”
There was an outburst of hisses from the cage. The sound reached Abdulah from far away. The snakes were fighting each other, over him! They were striking at him through their partition.
Abdulah heard a groan of despair. It came from outside of himself.
The cop picked up the cage and, as he did so, pressed something in it. There was a sharp click.
Abdulah tried to tear himself loose from his chair but couldn’t. It was hopeless: every part of him, even his head was immovable because of tied straps.
The Police Chief moved to the cage. “I have pressed the first lever,” he said. “You understand the construction of this cage. The mask will fit over your head, leaving no exit. When I press this other lever, the door of the cage will slide up. These starving brutes will shoot out like bullets. Have you ever seen a snake leap through the air? They leap on your face and bore straight through your eyes.
“Sometimes they burrow through your cheeks to devour your tongue.”
The cage was getting nearer; it was closing in. Abdulah heard shrill hisses in the air above his head. But he fought off panic. To think, to think—–even for a split second. He must make a choice!
Suddenly the foul odor of the snakes had struck his nostrils. There was a violent confusion of nausea inside of him and he nearly lost consciousness. Everything had gone black. For an instant he became an insane, raging animal.
Yet he came out of this blackness clutching a single idea. There was one and only one way to save him. He must put someone else between himself and those snakes. That was his only chance!
The wire door was only a couple of hand-spans from his face. The snakes seemed to know what was coming; they had done this deed before. One of them coiled up to strike. The Cobra puffed up its head and flicked out its tongue. Abdulah could see protruding yellow fangs.
Again the black panic took hold of him. He was blind, helpless, mindless.
“It was common punishment in Japan,” said the police chief.
The mask was closing in on Abdulah’s face. The wire brushed his cheek.
And then….too late, perhaps. Too late! But he suddenly understood to whom he could transfer all of his pain—-the one person he could thrust between himself and these snakes.
And then Abdulah was shouting insanely, over and over: “MY WIFE, PAULA! MY WIFE PAULA IS A WHITE WOMAN! DO IT TO HER! I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU DO TO HER. TEAR HER WHITE FACE OFF. STRIP HER WHITE SKIN TO THE BONE. BUT PLEASE….PLEASE NOT ME! PAULA! DO IT TO PAULA!”
Abdulah fell backwards, into enormous depths—–away from those awful snakes. He was still strapped in the chair but had fallen through the floor, through the oceans, through the atmosphere—–into outer-space, into the gulfs between the stars—–always away, away, away from those snakes.
He was light-years distant, but the cop was still standing by his side, smiling with satisfaction. There was still that cold touch of wire against Abdulah’s cheek. But through the darkness that enveloped him, he heard another click and knew the cage door was closed.
The public confession of his crime had set him free.*
©Dewey Edward Chester
photo prisoner 19th cent. anonymous
Dewey Edward Chester, Ph.D. (eq.), is a Los Angeles Professor of Screenwriting, and the author of “Boomer: Sex, Race and Professional Football.” He is a former professional football player, and was nominated for the prestigious White House Fellowship for Journalism Award, sponsored by President Bill Clinton’s Administration. **Boomer by Dewey Edward Chester is also on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Enjoy the reading, you cannot be indifferent.