<iframe src="https://anchor.fm/joseph-collins4/embed/episodes/Longview-Food-Truck-Episode-3---Terrible-Math-eg266t" width="400px" height="200px" frameborder="0" scrolling="no"><span data-mce-type="bookmark" style="display: inline-block; width: 0px; overflow: hidden; line-height: 0;" class="mce_SELRES_start"></span></iframe>
## Podcast Content
Gregg County Jail is not a particularly violent place. However, it is still prison with all of its attached cautions and culture. My crime had been one of stupidity. Self-inflicted tragedy, some alcohol, some careless words, a wild punch, and the face of an off duty police officer, this equation can land you in prison for several months.
I wish I could say that I was the victim of circumstance but in the end, we all make our choices, don’t we? Like the choice to abandon any good sense and cast my very existence to the wind. If you are lucky then when the wind settles, the pieces might at least be near each other.
When I was brought into the jail the guards were indifferent. Just men and women getting their job done. I got the typical shakedown. My belongings were taken and stored and I was issued a tan jumpsuit. The orientation was pretty straight forward, do your job, don’t make trouble, and you can be done when your sentence is up. In some ways it was like being at some kind of camp or school except your classmates were criminals.
That first lunch I sat down with my food by myself. This was a mistake. I should have just sat with a group. See if you set yourself apart there is always at least one or two people that will see that as a weakness and try and exploit you, for what ends it is often unclear, like my own actions, unjustified, useless, and in the end futile.
Buchanan or Buck as everyone referred to him was an average-sized man. Which would not have been very intimidating except Buck radiated danger. His simple face with no real defining characteristics looked like it had just been affixed to his body, a body of coiled sinew and muscle. He had the air of a wild animal addicted to violence but unable to get its fix.
Buck quietly sat his tray down next to me. His presence causing my hair to stand on end. Then just like in the movies “Whatcha in for?” He asked. I sighed realizing that my plan to stay under the radar had just taken leave and left no forwarding address. “I committed some crimes.” I said hoping that my aloofness would tell him to leave me alone. He just scoffed his eyes affixed by a cube of the world’s dryest cornbread. “Crimes huh! Well hell, I committed crimes! You on the other hand reek like a first timmer.”
Every single prison movie played in my head. I beat those down and chose gentle honesty. “Listen, man…” “Buck” he interrupted “You can call me Buck” I nodded and continued. “Buck, I am really trying to keep my head down. Frankly, I just made a very short but very provocative string of mistakes and I just want to serve my time and then disappear from Longview.”
I eyed him as my words settled on the dirt of his mind and were slowly absorbed. A beat passed, a bite of meatloaf was chewed, cautious eyes from the other tables looked at me and Buck with knowing pitty. “Then you need to listen..” He paused making a hand gesture. “Ted, Ted Rocha.” I offered. “Ted, I am not some big shot in this prison and I don’t care to be. What I want is, complicated. What you need to know is it has been told to me that we will be sharing a cell. So Ted what are you in for?”
The thought of sharing a cell with Buck was not a good one. Imagine going into to meet your new roommate and a stick of lit dynamite introduces itself as Flare McFirestone. “Buck I am in this prison because I punched a cop and then continued to fight that cop. Then when they pulled me off that cop I tried to run.” This was the truth and I prayed that it was enough for Buck. He smiled and made the first eye contact he had made since he sat down. “How hard was that?”
“Well, Buck seeing as how we are going to be spending time together what are you in for?” I asked. Buck shoveled in the last of some beans and through a wet pallet answered with one word. “Violence!” With that, he stood up took his tray to the kitchen, and then stood on the wall waiting for lunch to be over.
As soon as they let us out Buck was gone. Our group went out into the yard to recreate. I looked around expecting there to be gangs and cliques and sure there appeared to be some of that but things were far less hostile than I would have thought. There was some lazy basketball and plenty of swearing but in the end, it was just a bunch of grown broken men counting time. A bunch of grown broken men and Buck. The yard was easy going in the same way a person who has learned to live with a hungry bear is easy going. Near the end, a couple of the guys were talking trash as we passed the ball back and forth and then just off the cuff said “Hey, watch out for Buck.” Then went right back to the game like it had not been said at all.
All of this was troubling. What was more troubling is that evening as the night approached I found myself indeed sharing a cell with Buck. He laid there on the bottom bunk being someone that you did not want to be locked in a cage with. I was escorted in with the few things that were mine. As I had been escorted down the block I had seen several cells decorated with posters and a few small book stacks. Some were even playing cards in their cells. Yet here in Buck’s cell there was nothing except the bunks, the toilet, and a sink.
I placed my small box of items on my bunk it held, a paperback dictionary, the “Screw Tape Letters”, and a picture of the one that I had wronged. I nodded to Buck and climbed the ladder to the top bunk.
I reflected on the day this journey started, rather on the day that I started this decent. He had written the suicide note in a way that was perfectly the way he would have talked. Its words were burned into me. My mind rolled with the short phrase “...after years of torment…” I was an adult surely I should have left behind the childish game of torment years ago and yet here I was a man with a family, a wife, kids and when apart from them I was a terrible person, a bully.
I rolled in my self-loathing and then suddenly it was night and I was being awakened by a painful pressure across my mouth. I could not cry out. Buck had taken and strung together several socks and a pillowcase and had without waking me gagged me. The gag was in my mouth painfully pinning my head to the hard mattress, so that my body was free to flail about. He leaned in and like a mother might he shooshed me in cooing tones.
Then with a promise of injury laced into the very tone of his voice he delivered the rules. " One: You will not take up any more space in this cell than you already are. Two: You will never speak of any of my activities to anyone. Three: Whatever you see in here, whatever happens in this cell, you will not pursue it, you will not question it, you will do everything you can to not remember it. Am I understood!" I did my best to nod and then prepared myself to be raped. A raping that did not happen. Buck removed the gag and assured me with his body language that if I ever said anything about what just happened he would kill me.
I laid in bed and considered my lot. In just a few short months I had gone from a fairly decent car salesman, with a wife and kids, respected in my church, making a modest living, to jail with a cellmate that had all the charisma of a dumpster full of rusty razor blades. Sure the drunken brawl had something to do with my current housing situation but you don’t go from typical suburbanite to drunken brawl. She, she had finally seen me for who I was and made the decision that I was something, someone she could not live with. Her tearful confession and my subsequent rage confirmed her wisdom in this choice. She had seen it the man I keep tamped down. The one that more men than not keep tamped down. The dark thoughts of good men that they are so very ashamed of. She saw them in her own cracked choices she saw mine exposed and once that was done there was no reason to hide it anymore. There was no reason, she was already lost to me. So like a fool I gave full vent to my wrath and angst with the world and in a few short months I tore the world asunder. The only problem was, it was my world. The rest of it seems to be moving along just fine without me. Then sleep crept up on me and I was lost to the cold.
The next few days were less horrific than I had thought they would be. Prison had not been terrible if anything the structure had given me time to think to clear my head. Buck had paid me little attention basically ignoring me except to glare at me. He had almost become comical. The guards seemed to pitty me a bit as well. Always looking sad when they came in for bunk checks. I didn’t really understand why until that first Friday. I was sitting with a few of the other prisoners and we were discussing various topics when Buck approached with his tray. He asked if we could talk real quick. One of the older inmates told me I better go. I left my tray and went and sat alone with Buck.
“Keep in mind my food is getting cold.” I said as I sat down. Buck had a look of frustration and concern. “Listen, Ted, tonight it is important for you to get in your bunk early BEFORE lights out and stay there.” I sighed, " Buck look man you talk a big game and honestly I was terrified of you when I first got here, and not to say a week has somehow given me experience but you strike me' as someone that talks way more than they act." Buck snarled, I sighed again, “what’s going down that I should be so worried?” Buck licked his lips, the snarl was gone and a smile crept across his face the same way a snake creeps across the forest floor. “Violence.”
The rest of the day I noticed that everyone including the guards was giving Buck a very wide birth. Buck sat alone in the yard staring at the sun, a man waiting for something. I decided to face this head-on, I was going to be locked in a cell with him after all. I left the basketball game I was playing and began to walk over to Buck. One of the prisoners named Charles Dare immediately got up from the bleachers he was sitting on and put an imposing hand in the middle of my chest. “Listen you don’t know me and frankly I don’t want to know you but I can’t just watch a man walk towards his own death ignorant and alone, without saying something. Whatever Buck told you today at lunch, you better do it.” I asked, “What is Bucks deal? Everyone seems afraid of him. I mean he seems dangerous but…” Charles cut me off. “You ever been bitten by a snake?” “No,” I answered. “So you don’t know what a snake bite feels like or what it is like for that venom to burn your veins but you still don’t want to be bitten by a snake right?” He asked. "Well no. I answered. “Well then don’t go poking snakes.”
That evening before lights out me and Buck had been sitting in our bunks. I had been reading the _Screwtape Letters_ when suddenly Buck’s face appeared next to me. “Listen its lights out early tonight. Stay in your bunk.” Then just to make sure I knew he was serious he produced a shank. It was a crude menacing thing looking like a simple shard of metal with a thick duct tape handle. Then just as he said, thirty minutes before actual lights out our blocks lights were cut. I knew it was just us because I could see light spilling down from the exit of our block as the rest of Gregg Counties Prison was lit. “Stay in your bunk. Do not try to see what is happening down here.” Buck said from below me. It was strange that just our block had an early lights out but I chalked it up to Buck being more powerful than he was letting on. The guards did not even do their routine check. So I adjusted myself so that the little bit of light that reflected off the floor fell on my book page.
I read for several more minutes and was pulled into the story. Screwtape was giving his nephew Wormwood some more advice on how he might prevent the patient from falling into the hands of the enemy when I noticed that the quality of light was changing in the cell. The light was taking on an increasingly saturated red tone. The light was emanating from the bunk underneath me and now that I was not engrossed in the book. There was a sound filling the cell. It was a subtle sound but ominous. It was spread like a layer across the prison’s ambiance. Curiosity is a hell of a thing everyone talks about how fear is the killer but that saying curiosity killed the cat holds more truth in it than most statements about fear. I could not hold back that need to see what was going on.
I carefully positioned myself on my knees and hung my head down so I could peer into the lower bunk. Have you ever seen a fractal? With its repeating edges and patterns forever expanding forever deepening. Now imagine a man turned into and stretched across a fractal, The fractal’s edges cut and crush him all the while he grows and fills the fractal. Between the seams of Buck red light spilled out from somewhere else. He thrashed about in his bed, an ever-increasing depth of pain, strength, and danger. His own blood spilled and flooded into his own space and then an ever-increasing number of eyes caught sight of me. An ever-growing number of smiles spread across the dangerous visage of Buck and one word issued from the tickling crystalline throats of Buck. “Violence.”
He reached up a hand with infinite fingers and brushed it across the hand holding me steady at the edge of my bed. At once my own hand began to be stretched and pulled into the fractal. A piece of the fractal had taken root in my hand and was cutting and crushing and growing my hand over and over again. The feeling of having your hand mangled by a wood chipper over and over again flooded my senses and I seized and then passed out. All I dreamt of was fractals.
The next morning I was shaken. My hand was fine but I felt like I had not slept at all. We all filed out of our cells and headed towards the mess hall. Buck looked exhausted. After grabbing my tray of food I continued my string of bad decisions and sat down with him. He looked ragged but still just as dangerous. I swallowed my fear and washed it down with a bite of bad eggs. “What was that last night man?” Buck turned his eyes from his tray to me. “You didn’t listen did you?” “You don’t remember?” I asked. “No, I never remember. I just have a feeling of power and violence.” He said around a bite of biscuit. “Then I am exhausted. No one has ever died but plenty of people have never been the same.” He shook his head and looked frustrated. “I told you to stay in your bunk!” He snarled. “Look,” I interrupted. “I get it I screwed up but a little more warning would have gone a long way. Like hey if you see a demonic red light coming from my bunk maybe don’t look.”
Buck smiled a genuine smile for the first time. “This is why I told the warden to give me a cellmate. I needed to know what I was I needed to know how far it had gotten. I asked for you.” He leaned in real close. “Did I touch you?” A strange excitement in his eyes. It must have been written on my face. “I did! What did it feel like? What happened?” I did not know what to say I could see the shape of the fractal in my mind and it quivered. “It hurt, a lot and… And I think it scarred me, my mind.” Buck breathed in like he was taking in a spring breeze. “Good.”
I finished my breakfast while a seed of panic took root. What was I dealing with? The next few nights the same thing happened. The lights were turned out in our cell block early. The guards did not make their rounds. Then the red light would show from the bunk below me. Except I had learned my lesson already. I had also taken to hiding underneath my covers. I would close my eyes tightly and there in the dark and the blood flow in my eyelids the fractal would be staring back. Asking. Observing. Considering. While the edges gnashed.
I was losing sleep only managing to get a few hours every night. I would try and fall asleep immediately and hope that I would sleep through it all but as soon as the thrum of Buck’s change began to coat itself over my consciousness there the fractal would be and I would be forced awake.
It was the first time I had been allowed outside of the prison’s perimeter since my incarceration. It was a regular task for a group of inmates to be taken to the Gregg county courthouse to help clean up and maintain the grounds. It was a coveted job for two reasons. The first was because you got to be outside even if it was in the wet East Texas heat and the second because the guards that ran this particular detail were not that observant. There had been stories of guys breaking away to have a quick rendezvous with their girlfriends and other illicit activity. The consensus was that no one dare do anything too illegal as to not ruin it for everyone.
I was exhausted but the sunlight and exercise were breathing some life back into me. Being away from the prison I could feel the panic I had been living with loosening its grip on me. I was working next to an inmate named Kevin. We had been chatting a bit about the weather and what we were going to do when we got out. I was racking the grass clippings from the freshly mowed lawn into a pile and then taking that pile and putting it into one of the bins. Kevin and I were at the same bin when I noticed something glinting in it. I reached in and without completely removing it from the bin I pulled it out just enough to see what it was. The arrow had a typical wooden shaft but the arrowhead itself was composed of some kind of stone or glass I had never seen before. A dark green composed most of the arrowhead with veins of a much brighter green snaking through it. Kevin came upon me gawking at it. Me and him made eye contact. A moment passed and he said, “You need it more than I do.” I nodded and broke the shaft so that I was not carrying a full-length arrow but instead about a fourth of its length and the wicked arrowhead. I slid the new shank into my sleeve and shot a prayer up to God whom I had not prayed to in some time.
I could not believe my fortune I went through the pat-down and inspection after the work was done. I made it back to my cell with the new shank. I finally breathed. I did not know what I would do with the shank but I felt that having an option might give me an ounce of security. That evening as we settled into our cell for the night Buck said from the bottom bunk. “Don’t worry Charles this is almost over.” Every bit of security the shank had brought me bleed away and I was left raw and exposed to the cold wind of my strange circumstances. What was the end game here? What was even happening?
I followed my routine of trying to fall asleep quickly. I clutched the shank in my hand underneath my pillow. In my sleep, I saw the fractal. It looked far more menacing than it did before. It moved and pulsed with threatening energy. Yet I did not wake. The fractal hesitated. I slept all night. When the wakeup call was sounded I awoke refreshed. It felt like the fuzz had been removed from my mind and my thoughts had been stitched back together. I nearly cried at the relief a good night’s sleep had brought me. Buck stood leaning in the corner of our cell smiling. “It seems like you finally slept through it. Well hears hoping you don’t make a habit of it.” He said.
I wish I could express the nuance of prison life. Prison can be boring especially during a lockdown but honestly, you can stay relatively busy if you want. The real rub of prison is how degrading it is. I can’t say it should not be degrading most people there knew that it was a possibility when committing whatever crime it was they were committing. However, it does not change the fact that prison is still degrading. It infantilizes you. You don’t move through your day rather you are ushered through it. This was one of those days. I was rested and feeling vital but before I was ready for it I was back in my cell with Buck at lights out. I was thankful that the day’s exercise had left a good tired on me.
In the same fashion, I had the night before I clutched my security shank underneath my pillow, and quickly I was asleep. I was in downtown Longview in the amphitheater near Tyler Street. Faint music played, acoustic blues if I am remembering correctly. On one of the benches sat a large man, with a sad look on his face. He wore a medium-cut beard and a typical military-style crew cut. As I looked up into the dark sky, above spun a pulsar star. Its light shown directly on the square between the silver grizzly and the oil horse. People were frozen in place there and darkness surrounded them though they did not see the darkness. The only time you could make them out was when the light of the pulsar swept past them.
“That is for another time.” The large man said. He was motioning for me to come closer. Suddenly I was. He stared at me with piercing green eyes. He wore an orange jumpsuit just like me. “I am sorry that I was only able to give you one good night’s rest but I have been hunting so long and to have finally found it.” He stood and placed a massive hand on my shoulder. “There are things in this world that are hidden. It takes someone like you, someone so normal to slip accidentally into the path of one of these unseen giants to expose these beasts. They exist and are creations but in the same way that evil is a parasite so are these things. To kill them is the pleasure of the creator. In that way, things like me exist.” He lifted his sleeve and there underneath he pulled out the arrow broken into a shank. He sighed and looked sad again. “look above us” I did and there in the sky, the violent fractal hovered. An event horizon of malice and terror. “I am after that and the one that embraced and hid away such a thing. It never kills only violates and terrorizes.” He stepped back and sat down on the bench leaving the greenshank with me. “I bet you hope I will show you what to do when the time comes. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. It is just not that simple. I can tell you don’t lose the arrow. Keep it hidden until the time comes and trust me the time is coming now quicker than ever and picking up steam.”
Then I awoke. Red light poured out from underneath my bunk and the chattering and gnashing sounds were more pronounced. I laid there shivering with fear clutching the shank and praying yet again as the ceiling of my cell slowly darkened, then a women’s voice, faint and distant but there in the noise of the fractal.
The morning came and in a haze, the day moved. The work was slow but my mind was consumed with the fog and fractal. As I sat talking and eating lunch I was also alone with the fractal. When I was in the library reading I was also alone with the fractal. The day was blurred and filtered by the fractal. Then without warning, I was laying in bed crying and clutching the shank while a woman’s voice grew ever closer and the ceiling of my room darkened into an alien sky with the fractal slowly descending towards us. Every day shorter every night more distorted and terrifying.
Then not only was the voice of the distant woman growing closer but Buck had begun to stand in the center of the room with his arms outstretched towards the descending plane of horror. He looked wholly inhuman. Sure he had arms and legs but his body was fractured. Not gory but he was fully merged with the fractal it swirled and gnashed him uniformly and yet in the caleidoscope of his visage you could see his pain and rapture mixed. The shank whispered of blood and that this was different from the other times that Buck had merged with this force.
I was wild with exhaustion I felt as if I had not slept in many days. Which was probably true. I was hoping that the insanity that was taking place in my cell would eventually become normal but the fractal was always there stirring up the panic in me. That night will always be written in my mind as That Night. The same thing happens Buck merges with the fractal and the ceiling darkens and then opens to the alien sky except for this time the epicenter of the fractal is the ceiling of our cell. Its edges break and nash the stone walls only to rebuild them and then break them again. From the eye, a scream is heard and from it falls a woman.
She is young and beautiful short-cropped hair frames the confusion and panic on her face. For a moment my panic was replaced with curiosity and confusion. Then Buck more merged with the fractal than he had ever been turned to me. In a splintered voice “I will show you true violence.” She scrambled away from the horror before her but he was unnaturally fast placing a single finger in the center of her chest. I watched in new fresh horror as the fractal began to cut and break her. Her skin splitting, her bones breaking as if she were caught in an astral wood chipper in the same stroke she is remade rebuilt only to be shredded again.
She let out a metallic scream only to have it drowned gurgling in her own blood and then her throat freshly formed took up the scream again. Buck whose own visage swirled in fractured pleasure reveled in the violence. The shank took up its hum. A hum that bore into me. A hum that told me I could not sit in fear but to rise above that fear. I jumped down from my bunk plunging the broken arrow into the back of Buck’s head. To my surprise, the arrow fit perfectly into the fractal, like a missing piece, being caught up in the terrible math, like a perfectly shaped gear. Buck did not even notice until the arrow began to multiply. Its perfectly shaped edges caught on the edges of the fractal and then repeated over and over again until not only buck but the ominous fractal that hovered above was filled with the vibrant green of the arrowhead. Then without warning two arrowheads caught on each other and the churning of the fractal stopped. The woman slumped to the floor sliding effortlessly form the now-stalled fractal that had been ravaging her flesh. Buck turned to look at me and even he slipped from the fractal that had been his power his muse. He turned to me and screamed, “what have you do….” His ferocity was cut short by reality popping like a balloon. The three of us stood in darkness as tiny green lights fell towards us. A dome of green arrowheads fully formed and pointed towards us collapsing in on us. Buck raged, the woman screamed, and I patiently waited to die in the hail of otherworldly projectiles.
Then with the same suddenness, that reality popped the cell was back and the arrows were sent flying to parts unknown and my broken arrow was protruding from the back of Buck’s head. The woman catching her breath let out yet another scream summoning the guards.
I was placed in solitary confinement and the woman released after a long questioning about how she had gotten in there. Buck was pronounced dead at the crime scene and somehow I was never charged with murder. The warden who will remain unnamed kept the broken arrow. I was left to serve out the rest of my sentence.
Upon my release, the warden gave me the broken arrow and for several years it has sat on the shelf in my own apartment until recently. I was robbed. My apartment was ransacked but it seems the only thing they took was the broken arrow.