Friday 19 April 2013

'The Prisoner' by Susan Howe

A shaft of sunlight fell across the worn herringbone floor, drawing his gaze upwards to the flawless blue sky beyond the row of windows, twelve feet above. It was a perfect summer’s day. The kind of day on which, many years ago, he might have taken the dog and run through the fields into the woods, climbed each of his favourite trees, and returned filthy and exhausted in time for tea. No thoughts of responsibility or duty. An unfettered spirit, in touch with himself and every other living thing. No clues to the future, to what he would, or would not, become. 
He glanced left and right. They were watching him, expecting him to crumble, waiting for him to make a mistake. He daren’t look behind to see how many more there were, mute and expressionless. A shudder ran through him. 
His mouth was dry but he knew a drink was out of the question. Later they’d smile apologetically, as though it were not their fault. As though it were inevitable; everything he’d done so far, leading to this. 
He swallowed, licked his lips. Would he crack? Would he tell them what they wanted to know? 
All the training, all the years of preparation, seemed worthless. He felt abandoned and defenceless in the face of what lay ahead and he clenched his teeth to prevent the last of his courage escaping. 
He thought about his family. He was going to disappoint them, betray their trust. He regretted all the time wasted on things he couldn’t even recall. If he concentrated, if he could turn back time for a week, a month, a year, he could do it differently. Do it right. Tears pricked his eyes and he screwed them tightly shut, wishing it was a dream and he’d wake up, safe in his own bed, a carefree day stretching out before him.
How much longer? The waiting was torture in itself, calculated to undermine his confidence and shake the foundations of his knowledge. Sweat trickled down between his shoulder blades, prompting an involuntary twitch, and tension stretched his nerves until he expected an elastic snap as they gave way. It would come as a relief. Anything was better than this. 
He studied the backs of his hands and inhaled deeply, forcing his shoulders down. He didn’t want them to see he was already losing the battle. Flexing his fingers, he clasped his hands together, holding them between his knees in an effort to stop the trembling. He was as ready as he’d ever be.
The door behind him swished open and clicked shut. Precise footsteps clipped a path towards him, their echo mocking his weakness. He bowed his head and held his breath as they passed within inches before stopping. This was it. His vision blurred and panic clawed his guts.
A shrilling bell pierced the silence, followed by a brief, collective sigh. 
‘You may begin.’
He turned over his paper, picked up his pen and began to write.


  1. A great ending! Didn't see that one coming. Well done!

  2. Can't help but look for the twist in your stories - another good one!

  3. I think the story conveys the atmosphere of pain. The sense of no leisure. Time running away. And the fear children have after sitting in an examination hall. And this was the example of anticlimax. I liked the suspense and mystery opened at the end.


  5. Excellent in every way - particularly the end.

  6. Why has the story title prisoner ??

  7. A very good piece of writing. the adjectives used are remarkable

  8. I have no idea how the hell this short story went from here to the Cambridge English Checkpoint (coursebook) 9. If u have it, it's labeled as text 5D in unit 5

  9. I really felt the tension, was holding my breath reading this.

  10. As soon as I read about seeing the blue sky through windows twelve feet up, I was in my own school examination hall. I always saw the fresh green of silver birches as well. So, while the twist didn't surprise me, it moved me to know someone else has carried the same memory.


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