Listen to this story, narrated by C. S. E. Cooney:
With ideas from N.C., L.L., B.F., J.Z., T.W., F.S., C.J., D.W., and O.T., which are pseudonyms chosen by teenage writers incarcerated at a Washington State juvenile detention center.
In the parking lot outside the prison, dry cracked concrete edges out in a flat pan with no clear end. At some point it turns into gravel, then sand. Tiny red ants scramble in the hot sun, carrying blacktop-fried worms and the severed limbs of larger beetles down into the dark. There is a dogwood tree, fresh green leaves and tender pink flowers rebelling against the heat, and beneath it tough, scratchy grass wanders up to the county road. Across the road, a broad, ugly field and, far beyond that, out of sight and sound, a city grumbles and hums. Around the prison, only the red ants move — not a leaf, not a breeze, not a single correctional officer on a smoke break kicking idly at the dirty metal bench beside the curb.
From behind the prison walls, a shout turns into a scream turns into a screeching inhuman wail, rising and rising unbearably until it tears open the afternoon and Tyrone Johnson barrels through the prison walls. He’s red hot as a coal and moving faster than the speed of sound, like a bullet out of the Ruger .22 his buddy used to stick up the convenience store, Tyrone sixteen and terrified out in the driver’s seat of his buddy’s beat up old red Honda Accord.
The cinderblock walls shatter into dust before him. Steel-mesh-reinforced glass bursts and bows out of his way. He blurs across the parking lot, each step leaving craters in the concrete, and is gone, out of sight. Into his second-chance life. Free.
Behind him, the ants scurry away from ricocheting pebbles. The prison walls waft out of the air and land as dry dust on the dogwood petals. As the air clears and the supersonic rumble of Tyrone’s passing fades, the correctional officers start to shout. They club the curious boys away from the gaping hole left in their defenses, hurry them to their cells, flip the switches to secure the remaining doors.
In his cell alone, Daniel Marquez sits and looks at his hands. In the ever-present florescent lights, it’s hard to tell, but he knows they’re starting to glow.