Go back to previous chapter


By Sarah Hapgood

Days grew into weeks. No clocks marked the passing of time, no news bulletins (such things were forbidden at Henang, as it made the inmates restless), no visitors, nothing. Only the lightness of the sky and the arrival of the meals to guess what part of the day they were in. When it got dark it got cold and the wolves came out, many hundreds of feet below their cell, and the mournful wailing of these animals was the only sound to be heard.

The daylight hours were a different matter. The penal colony was a hive of muffled noises then. Doors clanged, taps ran, trays clattered, toilets flushed. It was a disorientating kind of bustle though, as they were sounds without vision. No prisoners mingled outside their cells. There was no exercise yard, no recreation room, no socialising in the corridors or on the landings. The prisoners at Henang never left their cells.

It was a terrible way to live, but Isolation was by far the biggest fear. There, it was said (although no one ever came out alive or sane so it was hard to be entirely accurate), that you could hear no noise at all. The walls were soundproofed, the staff muffled their shoes, and food was passed through a slit in the cell wall. No prisoner inside Isolation heard any sound that wasn't entirely of their own making. They were literally walled up alive. It was said to be one of the main reasons why no one ever tried escaping at Henang. The prospect of being caught and condemned to such a life made the dreaded Cage seem a holiday in comparison.

For the rest of the prisoners the biggest problem was boredom. With no work to do, nothing to read, and nothing to listen to but the sound of their own voices, there was precious little to occupy their time but daydream, eat and sleep. Cheap, foul cigarettes were given to the prisoners with their meals. They not only calmed the senses but gave a false impression of activity to the prisoner when smoking them.

The fear of Isolation was so strong that few exerted energy in breaking up their cells, as so many were tempted to do when the frustration became unbearable. There were no warnings at Henang. An offender against the rules was hauled off at that moment of wrongdoing, usually after being tranquillised first. When he came round it would be to find himself in Isolation, for the rest of his natural life. There were no second chances.

Sometimes fights were simply unavoidable within cells though. Twenty-four hours of the same company in a confined space could make petty grievances seem like global wars.

Adam bit his lip over the continued handholding in bed. He consoled himself that it wasn't a deliberate thing. He had lain awake and watched them many a night, and they only drew together after they were both sleeping. It was an unconscious nervous reaction, like the eyes on a decapitated head continuing to flutter seconds after beheading. Also, in some ways, it was an improvement on when they were awake! During daylight hours Kieran and Joby bickered endlessly (when they weren't sniggering at him), and he found having to act as referee a task alien to his nature, which was not naturally of a peace-making kind. Sometimes it was like sharing a cell with a pair of quarrelsome Siamese twins.

Joby in turn began to believe that the other two had been put on earth solely to plague him. He was a self-contained individual who rarely delved below life's surfaces. He noted the antagonism between his colleagues, was aware that it was due mainly to frustrated sexual longing on one side, and an unwillingness to understand this on the other. Joby was also reluctant to understand it though and removed himself mentally from it. It was their problem. He just happened to share the same space, he told himself.

Kieran missed Amy with a longing that was also at times a physical pain. It wasn't helped by dreams that plagued him in their vividness. In his sleeping hours the small woman with yellow hair came towards him, as though through a dense mist. Sometimes she merely said his name (in a voice so real that that alone could be agony), other times he saw her sitting on a floor gazing in confusion at a mirror, as though expecting to see him there instead of her own reflection, and on the worst occasions she wandered through a garden removing her clothes in slow motion. He began to believe the dreams would drive him mad, and yet perhaps keep him sane at the same time.

After a while he learned to use them to his advantage. The hottest days of the summer came, and with them stifling, sultry weather. Kieran took the blanket out onto the balcony and lay on the baking tiles with his eyes closed. Sometimes he paid for it with sunstroke, burns and nausea, but the compensations far outweighed such matters. In the golden glow of a dog day afternoon he released his imagination and let it fly. Suddenly he found that Amy could be real for him anytime he wanted her to be. He knew she'd forgive him for turning her into a performing doll, because his sanity was at stake. Occasionally he also fell asleep and had vivid dreams. But the dreams had become bizarre and fun. He once woke up laughing after dreaming about a group of schoolgirls playing strip poker, peeling off their uniforms until they got down to their vests, disclosing flat chests, bitten nails and unshaved legs in the process. So much for wet dreams! he thought.


Kieran awoke with a shiver. The light was fading. The long hot day was drawing to a close, and with the twilight came a distinct chill. It was nearly autumn, and they had been at the prison for about two months. Back home they would be preparing for the big September forum, which was held annually to discuss projects for the year ahead. Well, it would all be different this year and no mistake. Would they hold a minute's silence for their boss and two missing colleagues? Not if Amy could help it, he suspected. It would be tantamount to admitting they were missing for good. What would the effect of their disappearances have on the Centre? It couldn't afford another scandal after last year. Doubtless the media was already reviving the Call For A Ban campaign. Doubtless he and Joby were being lambasted for worrying them all a second time, and he a married man too! How irresponsible! He didn't envy them what they were all going through, and for a moment was almost glad he was out of it.

A glimmer of light caught his eye. It lasted a mere fraction of a second, and then after what seemed an interminable wait came round again. He didn't know it but he was watching the infamous Skirra Fludd lighthouse. The dense fog that normally plagued the Grey Sea had thinned enough to show the light at the edge of the world, the same light that was capable of reducing an unruly crowd to a mumbling group. The same light that made the staff at Henang feel as vulnerable as villagers living near a nuclear reactor. Kieran though merely saw a lighthouse, and was astonished to discover such a mundane construction in this bizarre neighbourhood.

"I expect it's needed out there", he said, as Joby appeared in the dusk "The lighthouse I mean".

"Dunno why", Joby said, contrarily as always "You never see anything sailing out that way".

"Well normally you can't see anything at all".

"Gives us something different to look at I suppose", Joby grunted.

He sat down next to Kieran and together they watched the revolving light for several minutes, as though in an hypnotic trance. It was only the howling of the wolves, several hundred feet below, which finally drove them back inside.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 England & Wales License.

Go forward to next chapter

Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site