My name is Jeremiah C. Austin. I was working night shift at The Farm back summer of 2000 when it happened. That’s what we call the Louisiana State Penitentiary, The Farm. Looking back now, there was something brown, like a brown hue, over the whole place, the whole time. Like watching the world from the bottom of a muddy pond. Like we were looking at something in a past time that we were living in right then.
Happened the week after Clayton Lisette finally got the chair. Was a grand story down there for the papers when he killed his kid back in ’94. Said he was a Possede, thought he got taken by the Devil himself, thought he was helping his boy by doing what he did. He was over on death row for ‘bout six years ‘fore he got sent to the South Annex where they sat him down. There was a storm too, came up the gulf the day b’fore. Wasn’t bad compared to some of the ‘canes we got. The wind slapped some trees ‘round pretty good and the rain made my winda’ shake something silly but I slept through most a’ the day easy. Woke up ‘fore Anne got back home from working. I fixed her a little supper, left it there in the kitchen, and left for The Farm.
I was leaving the house, driving my old pickup through the bayou that night, I dunno, couldn’t tell you what but it was different. The floor in the truck down by my left foot was rusted all through, I could see the wet road slipping by under there. Smelled the marsh water, all thick and warm coming up in my nose. Buncha little babettes flying and smacking against the windscreen. Seeing orange lights on a front porch as I drove on by. Looked alright, but I dunno. Something I could feel more than I could say. Like everything round me was putting on a show or something. Like they was hiding something from me. I dunno. Driving down The Farm felt like it took longer that night than it did most others.
Now The Farm is right in the middle of a swampland, sitting there, sinking into the mud all ‘round. No trees ‘cept way off the North side. Just some tall grass, cut your legs up if you running through. No inmate was wanting to try and escape The Farm. You see, if he didn’t get cut down by one of the guards when he was making his way off on the flats and if he didn’t get chewed up by one of them big dogs they had to keep all muzzled and chained up, he’d have a real bad time getting through the water with all them gators in there. They sit in the muddy water there and wait for you. Watching you. They pull their heads back when they go underwater, so’s to not make a ripple. They made The Farm good for keeping people in.
Finally got up to my post in the control room. My supervisor was looking at me all confused-like, asked me what I was doing there. I said “I work tonight” or something. Tossed my bag down on a chair and gave him a look. He nodded quick at the phone, said “They were saying you called in sick, few hours ago. Said you couldn’t make it here because-a the storm.” I didn’t understand nothing of what he was saying so I told him they must’a got the message wrong, that I didn’t call nobody that day. He looked at me funny and left the room and I got on the surveillance for the night. Watched the cameras, all grey and blurry-like as they stood watch for me. You see, the control room was at the center of the prison now and I was in charge ‘a the cameras, the doors, the lights, the phones, everything. Some call it watching things, some call it waiting for things.
I was up there the week just ‘fore that, looking on the screens as some of the boys down the South Annex walked Clayton Lisette over to the Foyer – the Sitting Room we called it. Saw him sit down and get all strapped and wired up, the grey. The boys down there asked him for his last words, like they do, calm and almost nice-like, buzzing through the tiny speaker I could set up to the different rooms. He didn’t even look up, kept looking down. Just said “He’s watching now, I know it” and had a little grin. He was talking ‘bout Jesus.
Now on this night I kept busy doing not much, sorting papers, checking in on the third floor in the East Wing ‘cause they had a leak going through the roof down there. I was doing my watching when I saw the note left by the phone. Note said that Jeremiah Austin called at 6:55pm, said he was gonna be missing work ‘cause he got sick out cleaning up after the storm. But the storm wasn’t nothing terrible and I didn’t have anything to be cleaning up after. I crushed that note up in my hand and dropped it in the trash. Was ‘bout that time when my supervisor came back into the control room.
We were real friendly outside of work, me and Cage. Called him Cage ‘cause he spoke some Cajun French real good, don’t think I knew his Christian name though. We got talking ‘bout the phone call from earlier in the night. ’Bout then I decided to call my wife at home to tell her ‘bout it while Cage was still sitting there with me, still acting all different, looking at me like I was something funny. I picked up the phone and dialled my number at home. Pushed in the buttons, one at a time you know and I remember two rings. Two rings ‘fore a man picked up on the line. Voice was low and a little hoarse and said “Hello.”
I didn’t know what to say. I looked at Cage, he looking at me and all a-sudden he knew that something wasn’t right. I looked back down at the phone to check again, making sure I dialled the number all right. I did. ‘Bout then the voice said “Hello” again. Now I said “Who is this?” “This is Jeremiah who is this?” the voice said all slow. My head started turning, up, down, all round. I said, almost screaming, “Where is Anne?” “Anne’s in bed. Who is this?” Still calm as a laketop. I dropped the phone on the ground and told Cage to let me out, I needed to get home. I grabbed my things and was leaving towards the door and I could hear him picking up the phone and saying “Hello?” ‘fore he yelled a loud “What the fuck.” I ran to my car ‘bout as fast as I could go.
Driving home faster than what was legal back on them bayou roads, yelling at myself, didn’t know who was with my wife, didn’t even have time to think ‘bout what was happening. Could see the yellow lines of the road through the rust in the floor, shooting past. Driving ’neath them mossy trees hanging down. A little shot of lightening lit up the sky and rumbled off the bayou water ‘round me. Got home and ran through the front door and found my wife sitting there watching television. She looked at me, looking all shocked, not knowing why I was back. Right then I asked her who was there in the house. She was scared, said nobody was there but her. We had a real long talk then but I knew she was telling the truth. I tried to call The Farm after again but the phone line was dead.
Drove back through the bayou to work and when I got to the control room Cage looked at me with his face all weird still and said “How you doing this Jeremiah?” Told me that when I was leaving he picked up the phone again and the man on the other end sounded like me. Said he didn’t know what to do so he hung up. Said as he was watching one of the surveillance cameras showing my truck pull out the gate, I called from home again, asking what was going on. He said I was something angry, more than he heard me ever before, said I threatened him and hung up the phone. I spent the rest of the night convincing him it wasn’t me.
Tucker Chet Markus
Tucker Chet Markus is an American writer who lives and procrastinates in Manhattan.