Five years after he is taken, what is Christmas like for Benjamin Barker and his loved ones?
He'd long ago given up fighting. Solitary confinement was its own hellhole. It taught him his lesson, and now he just wanted to be free. To be free of the blasted island they sent him to in the first place.
Benjamin laid awake, staring up into the thin strands of white light from the upper cell grating. He was buried underground in a dank space. It smelled of stale water, dead rats and human waste. It was also cold, so unbearably cold he could be chilled right to the bone. Gooseflesh was permanent on his arms and on his body. The cold, he feared, would forever become a part of him.
The echoing, jovial laughter of the sentries above was mocking. A flash of hot anger jolted him to get off the old metal bunk chained to the wall. He looked directly up through the grating and ignored the pain n his neck as he strained to see them. Johnson and Pierce, the two wicked brutes who consigned him in here.
He was lifting, his entire body screaming in agony as he lifted the rocks up to build the wall. His knees were buckling…his back ached, begging for sweat release. He was shaking. If you drop these now, he thought, there'll be hell to pay!
He was right. He strained to put the rocks on the wall, accomplished it, and collapsed. "Barker!" Pierce had shouted. The sound itself was a smack to his face and a punch to his skull. "You weren't s'pposed to fall, boy!" He tried apologizing, but Pierce, the stout fool he was, already began beating and kicking him. Likely to make an example to the other prisoners out there.
Benjamin's back was struck when he tried to stand. "Johnson! Help me get 'im up!"
Perhaps it was mercy.
But it wasn't. They'd beat him further and threw him, gasping for air with his chest burning, into solitary confinement. He'd begged and pleaded at first, but they'd ignored him. They laughed.
How long had it been since he was in here? How long had they enjoyed torturing him? Malicious bastards.
Years ago, he would have never dared think such things. But five long, hard years in prison was enough to change a man. He fought fellow inmates over meager rations, imagined all the horrid ways he could harm the guards, and felt his heart be hardened daily over the sufferings of those in here with him. Men just like him. Innocent.
"Let me out o' here!" Benjamin yelled. "I think I've had enough!" If they put him in here three years ago, he would have begged and cried like the naïve fool he was. Now, he never forgot their cruelty; it made him who he was.
He never forgot, never forgave.
"You wish, Barker! Maybe we'll let you out for New Year's! Enjoy your Christmas while it lasts!" Johnson gave a full belly laugh as his boots echoed on the gratings of other cells. The sound got fainter. Benjamin's rage, the hot anger now ever-beneath the surface, grew stronger.
"Let me out, damn you!" he cried.
No response. Benjamin growled and threw his fist at the smooth brick. Pain exploded up his arm like an oven burn, but he did not care. He just wanted to hurt those sick vultures who threw him in here.
Then the sentry's words sunk in. Christmas.
He'd been in this place six days.
He felt the familiar splitting burn in his throat. His chest suddenly ached. His head felt like fists were pounding on it. Cold tears fell, splattering like pitiful drops of rain onto the concrete. He choked on a sob, her name so close on his tongue he might scream.
He was yet again missing Christmas.
After minutes that he swore felt like hours, the burning in his nose and chest did not subside. He sank to his knees and allowed to cold wall and floor to relieve his burning body. Did he dare say it? Perhaps if he said her name, he might crack in two, break, and never get to see them again.
But he had to. His heart was aching, yearning for her—
It hurt, but there was some release. Lucy, I'm sorry. I'll try, I'll try to come home. I want to get home to you and Johanna…
Johanna. The little babe he loved so much. Now she was six years old, undoubtedly a little beauty just like her mother. Yellow hair that bounced in curls and bright blue eyes, all smiles and laughter. His happy, merry child.
Something cold sinks into his gut. His little lamb…who wouldn't even remember him.
He growled, punched the wall again, and laid his weary head against the smooth brick. He sighed, frustrated against the truth he could not change. Johanna would have no direct memories of him. Only Lucy's stories would tell her of her father. Lucy, his angel, his everything, has only spent two proper years together with him as his wife.
The little happiness all three of them had together only increased the pain and dullness in his chest.
Soon, they were there. Their apartment was bright and warm and happy, covered in tones of sunny yellow and earthy brown. Little Johanna with her bouncing yellow curls shimmering in what little light London had. She raced to her mother with a wide smile and open arms, and his wife all too eagerly scooped her up and covered her face with kisses.
Her lovely face was still there in his mind, with her kind brown eyes, china doll features and shining yellow hair. Oh, she was still so beautiful, even after five years apart. He imagined her in a soft white gown, her appearance still more similar to an angel. She danced around their little apartment after Johanna opened her presents. She told their daughter Christmas stories.
"And your papa is out there, too," he heard her whisper. Yes! She was standing by the window as night fell, and snow began to dust London streets. "He's celebrating Christmas right now in some faraway land…and he'll come home to his girls! He'll tell us of all his wild adventures." She reached up a hand and stroked Johanna's hair as their sleepy child lay her head on her mother's shoulder. Her golden wedding band shining in the candlelight, as though winking at him.
"Merry Christmas, Benj—"
Bang! Lucy, Johanna, their home, the London twilight—gone. A scream ripped through the cells, threatening to destroy his already fragile mind. Lucy, no! Johanna, my lamb, come back—!
They were gone. Vanished into the night.
He cursed the sky, the night, the prisoners, the sentries, the captains…all the lot of them. They were the ones who tore innocent men away from their families. They were the sadistic ones who deserved to be locked up for their crimes.
They were the ones with power. They were the ones with families.
They deserve whatever hell comes to them. All of them.
Yes, they deserve it.
He looked up after heaven-knows-how-long of sitting there. Lucy's smile, Johanna's laugh, and the guard's cruelty weigh on his chest heavier than the stone he worked ever could. The dull, agonizing pain was ever-constant. It began to churn his mind to dark thoughts, things he never would have imagined before coming to Botany Bay. As if a heart of flesh was being replaced with one of stone. His mind was cracking. Thoughts of anger, twisted rage and power were beginning whispers in the back of his head.
He traces his fingers over his right hand, once more feeling the absence of his own wedding band. Lucy had it. They'd taken it from him when they arrested him.
They'll get what they deserve some day. And soon, my Lucy, soon, I'll come home to you and our girl.
He looked up at the grating again, at the moonlight coming through to light his darkened, damp, and dingy cell.
It was silver.