WEDNESDAY: Confinement


Copyright is held by the author.

MIKE STEPPED into the chow hall, looking at a sea of empty seats. He counted twenty-three inmates compared to the hundreds that would fill the place not even six months ago.

Where the hell’s Eddie?

“What up?”

Mike turned to see Eddie standing there as if reading his mind. Eddie was a little taller than Mike but had stood with a slight hunch the last few weeks. He had always been a skinny guy, but now he was gaunt, his jumpsuit dangling off him like a kid dressing up in grown-up clothes.

“Goddamn,” Eddie said. “This place is a ghost town.”

“Yeah, just the lifers left.”

The state had opened a new facility and was slowly transferring prisoners. Lifers were the last on the list for transfer. Hell, they moved death row before Mike and his ilk.

“How’s life in solitary?” Eddie asked, laughing.

They technically weren’t in solitary, but that’s what it felt like. The warden said everyone was getting individual cells since they had the room.

“Going crazy. At least when we were cellmates, I could play poker or rummy. I’m getting sick of solitaire.”

They grabbed trays before heading into the chow line.

“Hey, Booby,” Mike said to the one guy working the chow line. “They make you work lunch alone now? Where’s your help?”

Booby shrugged and used tongs to slap a reheated chicken patty on Mike’s tray. “Everyone’s gone, man. The hacks told me I’m doing all these damn dishes myself.”

Booby usually worked a single station dedicated to slapping the daily protein down. Today, he followed Mike down the line to spoon instant mashed potatoes and warm coagulated gravy onto the tray.

“How moldy is the bread today,” Eddie snorted.

“Pretty bad,” Booby said in a solemn tone.

Eddie’s face twisted into a disgusted grimace. “Pass.”

“I’ll take his slice,” Mike said.

While walking to an empty table, Mike heard someone yell behind him, “Why’s everything got mold on it.”

Mike turned to see the hulking beast that was Dusthead Terry. His crossed eyes looked tiny on his fat, bald head.

“Your bread ain’t moldy. Give it to me, shitbag.” Terry stood, fists on the table, hovering over a weaker inmate who sat in his chair, covering his tray like a kid would a test to keep someone from copying.

Mike looked around. “Hey, where are the hacks?”

Eddie chuckled. “Yeah. Dusthead is about to lose it.”

“Hey, Terry,” Mike shouted. “All the damn bread’s moldy. Let him be.”

“Shut your mouth, bitch.” Terry dashed over to Mike, shoulders squared as if he might throw a punch.

Mike stood, more out of obligation than wishing to fight. “Back the hell up. You going to solitary over some moldy bread?”

Terry’s glazed-over eyes looked as if he was slowly processing the risk and reward of his next move. “Who cares? Every day is like solitary anymore. We only get to the quad on Monday, and they haven’t let me order from the commissary all week. Hate this moldy-ass shit.”

Eddie’s eyes widened, and he leaned in close and whispered. “Hey, Dusthead. You say you got extra commissary funds?”

Terry shrugged. “I don’t know. Why? You got something worth buying?”

Eddie looked around. “Yeah. Hey, where the hell are the hacks?”

“That’s what I asked earlier,” Mike said, a chill crawling up his spine. He wasn’t fond of the guards, but their presence was a part of the routine. Not seeing them meant something, even if he wasn’t sure what it was.

Terry shrugged and sat down. “Who gives a damn where they are. They aren’t here. What do you have?”

Mike reluctantly sat next to Terry, still feeling on edge.

“You are not going to believe this shit.” He flashed a baggy of white powder, then tucked it quickly back into his shirt pocket.

“What the hell is that?” A broad smile split Terry’s face.

“It’s some kind of synthetic shit. Just twenty a gram.”

“Hey,” Mike said. “I got twenty. You got enough for me?”

Eddie nodded. “You sure?”

Eddie had been there through several rounds of Mike trying to clean up. Mike made Eddie promise to stop him if he tried to get back into it. That usually boiled down to Eddie asking, “Are you sure?” and giving in when Mike said yes.

“Yeah. I can’t take it in my cell alone. Trying to hold out until we move is killing me.”

“Who’s your connection?” Terry asked. “That chick you see out in the trailers.”

Eddie laughed.  “Yep. Her old man doesn’t know, so don’t say anything.”

“Isn’t he a friend of yours?” Mike scoffed.

Eddie put his hands up. “Not my fault. She’s the one who comes up and visits me without him. Am I supposed to turn her away?”

Terry shrugged. “No one can blame a guy in the pen for taking some trim when offered.”

“Yeah, besides, what’s he going do about it? Stop visiting?”

They shared a laugh.

“Oh, you know what he said about her, though?”

The two leaned in, always interested to hear what Eddie had to say.

“Said she ate ass.”

Terry laughed, and Mike shook his head.

“Swear to God. Said she loved that shit.” Eddie flicked his tongue up and down. “Eats it up. I almost told him she hadn’t for me, but I stopped myself. Next time I see her, though, I’m dropping trou and bending over and telling her to get at it.”

Terry was rolling. Mike couldn’t help himself and laughed along.

Terry glanced around. “Where are the hacks?”

Mike looked at the two mounted cameras. “Yeah, you think I’d be happier about it. But what if there’s a fire or something.”

“Well, screw that.” Eddie never seemed nervous about anything. “Let’s try some.”

“Here?” Mike asked.

Terry nodded. “Yeah, man.” He pointed to a place that was a known blind spot for the camera.

Eddie jumped up. “Yeah, let’s be quick about it. Booby ain’t going to say anything.”

The three dashed over to the corner, ignoring the glances. If it had just been Mike and Eddie, someone might have gotten nosy, but with Terry there, everyone kept their head down.

The counters in the chow hall were stainless steel. Perfect for pouring lines and sniffing them up.

Terry went first, his pupils going wide when he hit it. “Shit. What’d you say that is?”

Eddie snorted his line next. “Synthetic scag’s what she told me. Said she had this new connection.”

Terry pinched his nose, his eyes watering.

“What’s wrong?” Mike asked, hesitating to take his turn.

“God damn, the drip burns like a mother.”

“How bad?”

“It isn’t that bad,” Eddie scoffed. “Go on, hit…” he trailed off, his face twisting in pain.

“What the hell, you both OK?”

Terry let out a blood-curdling scream, his arms flailing. Mike had known cokeheads who lost their nose or front lip, but he’d never seen it happen. The melting of Terry’s flesh seemed to be happening in real time. He opened his mouth wide, pieces of his top lip dripping from his face. There was movement inside the big man’s mouth as if his collapsing septum was transforming into a living being.

Mike couldn’t help himself from moving in for a closer look. His heart raced, but his feet seemed to act independently, propelling him forward. The movement wasn’t Terry’s skin or muscle but little worms crawling from inside the void that had been his mouth and nose.

Eddie coughed a bloody mess onto the floor. Mike screamed when he saw the worms crawling around, feeding on the bloody clumps of tissue splattered on the ground.

Mike leaned in closer, not wanting to believe what he saw, but the worms were growing. Their bodies elongated and thickened, leaving trails of bloody slime as they crawled across the concrete.

“Mike,” Eddie mumbled. “What’s happ —”

Another coughing fit, spitting bloody phlegm that hit Terry’s cheek. The worms Eddie spit out slid down the side of Terry’s face, some of them dropping to the ground, others clinging onto his skin. He watched one burrow into Terry’s skin and vanish.

Terry collapsed first, but Eddie was quick to follow. Eddie had a seizure before he died, but Terry just stopped moving. The worms continued to burrow from their corpses.

Mike screamed and ran as the worms grew into eel-like creatures. One opened its mouth, and Mike saw rows and rows of teeth, new rows growing before his eyes. When they got bigger, they made squealing noises, opening and closing their mouths, searching blindly for anything to eat.

The rest of the inmates had stood and moved to the back of the door. Some were banging on the large steel double doors, screaming for help.

Mike waved his arms at one of the cameras. “Help us.” He looked down and saw a bloated blue-green slime-covered worm the size of a small dog. They grew fast. It snapped at his leg, but he pulled it away in time. He bolted past another inmate who turned in time to see the worm reach toward him. The worm elongated several feet to bridge the gap, opening its cavernous mouth and biting down on the man’s shoulder. He screamed as the worm tore his shoulder off, leaving his arm dangling from a few bloody tendrils.

Booby, trapped in a corner by two of them, used a tray to smack one in the head as it lunged, but that only left the opportunity for the second to bite at his side, tearing off a big chunk of fat. Booby screamed and dropped the tray as the two worms crawled over him.

Mike was among the last four survivors, pushed into a corner similar to how they attacked Booby. They didn’t even have a tray.

A worm bit Mike’s hand off, and he screamed out. The pain was excruciating but short-lived as he passed out quickly from the blood loss.


Jeff looked at the worm-like creature crawling around on the floor, leaving a slime trail on an otherwise pristine floor. It had a blue-green colour, its mucus giving off a sweet smell. The creature measured six feet long with a nine-foot circumference at its widest spot, the largest one to date. The size was due to a modified SNAI2 gene, which gave this one a longer lifespan.

His cell phone rang, breaking his reverie.

“What do you want?” Jeff shouted into his phone.

“A little respect out of you, for one.”

Jeff rolled his eyes. “Sorry,” Jeff said, thinking about it before adding, “sir.”

Sgt. Karina Walsh was his assigned military liaison. Jeff thought of her as a babysitter with a gun. Should I call her ma’am?

“We’re ready to move out for the experiment. My team will meet you at the lab in 15 minutes.”

“Why am I going?” Jeff picked up a pen and started to twist the top off.

Sgt. Walsh sighed. “Because your last trial went batshit. My team wants an on-site expert.”

“They aren’t my trials.” He continued dismantling the pen as he talked, removing the spring and ink chamber from the barrel. “And things went wrong because your team couldn’t follow my instructions. They should not have opened the doors for 30 minutes after the infection started.”

“Your document said 10. It said these things had a lifespan of 10 minutes.”

“Plus one minute for every five degrees above 72 and two minutes for every five–”

“Stop,” she interrupted. “That’s why you’re coming. Give the play-by-play directly to my team, and you can monitor temperature, atmospheric pressure, and whatever.”

“This is bullshit —”

“Look.” She kept her tone calm. “I don’t want to wear my public-service hat, but the war is ramping up. We’ve given you a lot of resources for these experiments because you promised us a bio-weapon we could deploy to the front lines quickly.”

“Fine.” Jeff jumped when he heard a snap and felt a pinch on his hand. He looked down to see he had broken the empty barrel of his pen in half, little shards of plastic littering his desk. “I’ll be ready,” he said before hanging up.

Jeff looked at the creature, its beak-like mouth open, showing rows of teeth. Fifteen minutes. Jeff unbuttoned his white collared shirt, placed it neatly on his desk, and stripped off his undershirt.

The creature wasn’t quite a worm and wasn’t quite a slug. Extending from its throat was an appendage you might call a tongue, but more resembled the slug’s odontophore lined with radular teeth. It reached and grazed Jeff’s side with its tongue, the teeth like barbs on his flesh.

When its mucus entered Jeff’s bloodstream, he felt an immediate rush of adrenaline. Voices inside his head spoke of an end to the war, an end to the bloodshed. These creatures weren’t biological weapons. They were the ushers to the next leap in humanity’s evolution.


“Everyone in position?” Karina asked her team over comms. She had eyes on the prison through 28 cameras.

The military worked with the company that ran the prison. The war effort prompted expansions to eminent domain laws, which piggybacked off the exception clause in the 13th Amendment and allowed the laws to apply to prisoners as state property. It allowed leverage to draft from penal institutions and experiment on criminal populations using psychological torture and physical and biological weapons. That was all above Karina’s pay grade, but what wasn’t were all the new toys.

Every one of the inmates had implanted devices, and Karina had access to the readouts in front of her. She could peruse their rap sheet or check their blood pressure from the comfort of the van. Karina watched the alerts when the infection started, then as they flatlined one by one. When the reports showed all the prisoners dead, she started the timer. According to John, they had thirty minutes until the creatures died, and they could begin the survey. She waited in silence.

“Five minutes left. Snipers,” she said, “stand ready.”


Karina nodded. She didn’t like the doctor they stationed with her. Is his name John?

“Are snipers necessary? The bio-weapon should keep anyone from escaping.”

“You sound confident,” Karina answered, acquiescing to his persistence in a conversation.

“Our last test was successful despite the complications.”

“Succesful? Two of my men saw those monsters animate a corpse.” Karina watched the doors of the prison open.

“Please,” John said, rolling his eyes. “I’d hardly call those anomalies animating a corpse. They latched onto the spinal cord and moved muscle for a few seconds. Plus, putting the eggs in the drug will help move things along quicker.”

“Yeah, you eggheads think of everything.”

“Well, it was a bit of luck. Not only could we cut the drug with food for the hatching larvae, but we found the human septum and pallet were great starter courses for the creatures. I think the cartilage is richer in nutrients than we —”

“Shut up, John.”

“My name is —”

“I said shut up, John. We’ve got movement.”

“You can’t have movement, the bio-weapon . . .” he trailed off as they watched a figure walk out of the open front gate.

“What the hell do you call that?”

“Movement,” he said, slack jawed.

“Snipers, take the shot when you’re ready. We should be able to scan his implant from here.”

Karina read the bio from his microchip between side glances to the monitor, where she watched the snipers take him out. Double homicide, according to his file. Karina was thankful they chose to run the experiment on only those serving life without parole. It made the whole thing more palatable.

“We got him,” a sniper said over comms.

“I saw. Good shot, guys.”

John, or whatever his name was, leaned in for a closer look at the monitor. “One of the organisms is attached to the body.”

“I thought you said they wouldn’t live longer than 20 minutes.” Karina looked at the bloated worm, leached onto the back of his neck. Worm’s not right. It had a flat bottom with skirting like a slug, big enough to wrap around the inmate’s arms.

John rubbed the stubble on his cheek. “It shouldn’t . . . I mean, maybe the cerebrospinal fluid is keeping it alive.”

“We can see the front gate from the van.” Karina opened the back door, having to squint against the sunlight. She pointed. “There.”

“I think we need to kill the organism.”

“Snipers, you hear that?”

“Yeah, we’re lining up our . . . Holy shit, Karina. You seeing this?”

Karina looked towards the front gate as the inmate got to his feet. She could see Michael’s profile from the right side. The slug hung from the man’s back, its body pulsating like a beating heart. Karina barely made out the tiny entry wound the bullet made on the right side of his face. When he turned to face her, she could see where the bullet blew off the other half of his face after it exited.

“Kill it, now,” John screamed.

Karina heard the shot and thought she saw a flash as a bullet hit the slug, but there was no exit. When Michael took his hit, she saw his head burst, blood and tissue raining as he fell. The creature seemed to absorb this bullet, growing as it did. Michael, now the slug’s vehicle, started to sprint toward the van.

“Shit,” Karina said, shutting the door. “That’s not good.”


Image of Jon Minton

Jon Minton is an American speculative fiction writer based in Oklahoma City. He is a software developer but has always been passionate about a great story. He reads and writes everything from horror to historical, but his primary genres are science-fiction and fantasy. A few of his favourite authors include Stephen King, Anne Rice, James S.A. Corey, N.K. Jemisin, and George R.R. Martin. He is the vice president of the Central Region Oklahoma Writers and a member of the Oklahoma Writers Federation, inc.