It is one of those slate grey nights when it happens, a night where the only light in the sky is just scattered bits of lightning, fractures in the clouds. Rain is pouring down very heavily outside, battering rooftops and weather vanes without mercy, and the wind is wailing a high-pitched and almost sorrowful moan. Though nature throws its temper tantrum on the outside, daring to rattle windowpanes best it can and drown the world in its own bad moods, the scene inside is eerily quiet and unchanged by all the commotion.
There is an armchair, almost towering, resembling a regal throne in the center of the room inside. Portraits line the walls, important and pretentious, and stony-faced men of old stare down at the room and the people who inhabit it, almost expressing their disapproval. There's a deer's head or two, for decoration, and a few rifles for more than that, giving the room an almost intimidating feel. It's not quite barbaric, and actually done quite tastefully, but one almost feels they could get swallowed up by the place, nonetheless. A fire crackles in the fireplace, and the shadows of a small boy and an older man can be seen distorting themselves as they're splayed up on the walls.
The young boy is not doing very much at all, but he is staring at the embers, watching as they flicker and play and make his eyes water. He is almost too quiet as he sits with a purple blanket draped 'round him, though he doesn't appear to be shivering at all by this point. It is unclear whether he is deep in thought or his mind is overtaken by absolutely no thoughts at all, but either way he is not wearing a smile or a frown or anything in-between, just staring straight ahead with glassy eyes. He is somewhere between completely apathetic and totally absorbed in watching the flames, and he sits cross-legged.
It seems to unsettle the older man sitting in the armchair, who is not accustomed to these strange bouts of unsettling quietude at all. He watches the boy with worried eyes, waiting for a smile or a burst of enthusiasm and childlike joy, for a morbid thought to enter the boy's head and move him to that familiar and slightly worrisome mania. When his eyelids occasionally begin to droop, he forces them open, and when his gaze begins to wander to the portraits on the walls, he snaps to attention. His eyes may be bloodshot, but he is careful to keep his eyes trained on the child, careful not to let his attention stray for even one moment.
The stern and unforgiving stare of his former boss from one of the portraits on the wall almost keeps him in check, and even when the man isn't looking at it, he looks almost humiliated. He fidgets uncomfortably in the armchair that has never been his to sit in, watching the boy who has not ever been his to watch.
The young child barely pays any mind to the wrinkle-faced man in the armchair, and one has to wonder if he even knows the older man is there as he tunes all of the world out and concentrates on the fire. He continues to blink every time he strains his eyes looking for something intriguing in the fire, or maybe something comfortable. Maybe something safe, like patterns that he can spot even in something so dangerous. His left hand twitches, and then his right, and suddenly he is seized with the urge to possess that fire, to hug it as close as he can and harness it in his own way. It's so warm, and it seems like it would be such a nice friend. Tiny and pale hands extend themselves outwards, toward the flames, ready to grasp at them-
"Stop right there," says a cracked and tired voice, and the child withdraws both hands quickly, folding them in his lap and trying to sit nicely for his father's assistant, despite his inability to fully accept the idea of someone other than himself being in this room. "What are you up to now?"
No reply comes from the boy, who has been silent for quite sometime now. At least reaching for flames is better than gathering up the pieces of his little jail and rebuilding it all again. These past few days have been strange, riddled with loops of thought and obsessions and this odd tranquility and mania combined, and he hasn't known what to make of it.
Yes, at first there had been nothing but sobbing and Jarrell's unusually calm demeanor, and there had been moments of forgetting that the Prison Mogul wasn't around and casually asking adults where Father was. Somehow that question made them even sadder than anything he'd ever said about the mechanics of his little jail or suggestions for his father's, and it always left him feeling unusual. There had been talks of little black suits and "proper burials" and lots and lots of employees saying things like "good riddance" and "poor child." But now, sitting and staring at the embers, there is...
There is a man keeping a blanket draped around him even though he isn't cold. There is the pouring of the rain outside. There is the flash of lightning and the crack of thunder, which would make any other little boy flinch. And there are these embers to tend to, these orange wonders that feel so warm he could just seize them. These crackling wonders that are absolutely off-limits, from the way Jarrell is acting. There are a lot of things he doesn't understand, and one thing he does, and that is the fire and the way it warms even his bones up.
"Where is Father?" the boy asks again to fill the silence, blinking dazedly. His voice is innocent, but unusually even.
The adult in the armchair sighs, rubbing at his temples as he attempts to conjure up another way to tell the young one the same thing he's been telling him for a few days now. He'd already tried to explain "Heaven," and the young Warden hadn't understood a bit of it. He would have liked to explain "Hell" much more, probably, but that isn't appropriate for a person so young to hear, and the boy wouldn't have understood that one either. He'd tried to explain that some people just "go away," sometimes, and that explanation had been met with nothing but a blank stare. Getting the boy to understand anything outside of wild fantasies and incarceration is already a stretch, and now this man had been charged with the very difficult task of somehow getting him to understand death. "Why, he's gone, m'boy. Dead as a doornail."
Jarrell doesn't sound very sorry for this at all, but the boy is too young to question why this is.
"Gone? Gone where?" He counters the man's blunt statement with the same questions he always does. Still, his voice is flat for someone so young, especially someone as vibrant and exuberant as he is, and he continues to stare straight ahead, not even turning to address the person he's questioning.
"He's runnin' the prison in the sky, now, I'm afraid," the man in the armchair replies somewhat sardonically, not able to stop himself from injecting a little bit of venomous sarcasm into his tone.
The little boy isn't old enough to know what sarcasm is, of course, and reacts to this news accordingly, by turning around to face Jarrell very slowly and hugging his knees and looking at him with eyes wide as saucers. He's never really disliked Jarrell, except for when he has bothered his father and kept him from interacting with young Warden himself, but right now Jarrell has proven himself to be more than an assistant and more than an annoyance. He is a gateway to the afterlife, to the prison that you run there. It is a significant moment for the young boy, and his mouth almost hangs open, displaying the gap between his teeth. "There's a prison in the sky? Really?"
He looks so hopeful and eager to hear more that the Prison Mogul's former employee feels almost guilty. It is right then, however, that he notices just how much the young lad seems to be taking in, just how much he seems to be comprehending and understanding, and senses an opportunity. "Why, sure! Don't tell me you've never heard of the prison in the sky. Everyone knows about the prison in the sky." He leans forward a little, looking young Warden right in the eye.
"Not me, I haven't, I don't," whispers the boy, slightly bewildered by all this.
"Well, I'll be," says the man, before he pats to a spot on his knee, "then you'll just have to come on up here so I can tell you all about it."
It is a very tempting offer, but the boy is reluctant to leave his special spot by the fire nonetheless. His fingers still itch to wrap the embers in a hug, after all, or at least to explore them all, and it is very comforting by the fireplace. He could spend an eternity here, wrapped up in the blanket he doesn't really need, listening to all that crackling. He averts his eyes and looks to the fire's glow, as if he's not certain that it will still be there by the time he's made his trek to the armchair.
"...Please?" asks Jarrell, desperate to get him away from that fire and the risk of burning himself.
Several moments pass as Warden considers this, looking from the fireplace to Jarrell and back to the fireplace again. Here he is, trying to decide whether or not he'd really like to hear all about the prison in the sky that his father has gone to! It seems ridiculous, when he thinks about it that way, and so he gets up rather quickly and proceeds to make his way over to the armchair, careful to drag the purple blanket along with him, and climbs up on the adult's lap. "All right, 'm ready," he declares, trying to sound as ready as one young boy can possibly sound, though his voice is still quieter than usual.
"Very good," Jarrell replies, sounding more than a little relieved and deflating a tad. "Now, where to start..."
The young boy waits somewhat patiently, gripping onto the purple blanket and snuggling into it a little. It's understandable that his father's assistant wouldn't know where to start-a prison in the sky probably contains so many wonders. He decides to help Jarrell out a bit by starting things off by asking a good question. "Oh, oh, I know, I know...! Are there 'criminals' there?" A good question to start with, the boy reasons. After all, what is a correctional facility without its "criminals?"
"Don't be ridiculous-of course there are. Can't have a decent prison without inmates, can you?" The young boy, ever-eager to get involved in this evidently mystical story, shakes his head "no." "Surely your father must have taught you that."
There is silence as the boy considers this, remembering his father and his father's apparent absence and staring off into space again, searching for something invisible to the eye and looking more than a little out of it. He hasn't slept in awhile, either, and it's almost too easy for him to lose himself in all sorts of thoughts or nothingness of thoughts. It had been odd, watching Father trip over his brilliant little jail like that, watching him tumble downwards and sideways and forwards and backwards. He hadn't expected Father to go to sleep like that at the end, either, especially considering his plans to make a trip to a jail in the sky.
The child blinks somewhat dazedly again, but Jarrell is quick to jump in with another fact about the prison in the sky, trying to keep the young boy somewhat grounded. "And," he begins, "and your father's probably keeping everybody in the sky safe right about now. I bet he's even telling them about you."
Warden snaps out of it with Jarrell's help, shaking his head a little and then looking up at him with childlike excitement and awe in his gaze. "Me? You really think so, Jarrell?" And, to his pleasure, his father's assistant nods. He'd always known that his father was proud of him, it's just that sometimes his father needed prodding. Maybe in the sky people were more honest, maybe they weren't as grouchy as his father had been sometimes...
There is more awkward silence, and then there is silence that is considerably more comfortable, spent smiling. The more time passes the more warm and comforted the little boy is beginning to feel, and he finds himself snuggling up against Jarrell with the blanket, listening to his breathing and clutching at his shirt with small fingers. It's very relaxing for the little boy, and he even forgets about the crackle of the fire and the pitter-patter of raindrops as he listens. His eyelids feel heavy, and he yawns as he makes another innocent inquiry.
"What does it look like, Jarrell? Does it look like my little jail? Do you know?"
The little boy guesses that this inquiry has made Jarrell uncomfortable, since the subject of his little jail makes most people uncomfortable in this place. Especially now that the last few days have been spent frantically trying to rebuild it and getting frustrated and sad and angry. But Jarrell answers, after a long sigh. "No, my boy, I don't suppose it does."
"Why not...? My jail is the best for justice."
"Well, maybe your father is waiting for you to make those changes," Jarrell suggests, sounding more than a little "sad" and trying not to show it.
Something goes off like fireworks in the boy's brain, after that. Explosion after explosion of nothing but colourful, vibrant and sometimes violent thoughts, one after the other, and endless smiles and excitement. It's in this moment that the boy truly becomes aware of his destiny, whether Jarrell means for it to happen or not, and he just smiles somewhat sleepily and very widely in response.
"You know," Jarrell pipes up after a moment, speaking more to himself than anyone else, and it's unclear whether or not he can tell that the young boy isn't actually asleep yet, "we should probably take those glasses off of you for the funeral tomorrow..."
A sleepy murmur comes tumbling out of the child's mouth after that. "...no."
It's then that sleep arrives, ready to whisk the child away to prisons in the sky, where the young boy becomes even more determined to make his father as proud as he can. What should be the stuff of nightmares, blood and guts and gore and criminals, are all the stuff of dreamy delirium instead, and he sleeps peacefully for the first time since his father's death.
And, in the distance, unbeknownst to Jarrell, a rainbow streaks across the sky.