Character: Charles Westmoreland (Gen)
Summary: What could have been, and what changed it all.
Author’s Notes: I just couldn't do it. The first verion met the 500-word limit, but it didn't say enough of what I wanted to for Westmoreland and for the philosophy_20 challenge. So this second version will be the "real" one, for prompt #4, “Inertia.” It is longer, at 730+ words.
Hard to believe he used to be ambitious.
He had it all planned out once. The perfect crime. Riches beyond dreaming and a lifetime to enjoy them.
The irony still just about kills him. He did it. He actually pulled the damned thing off. And then, in the middle of his waiting-it-out-and-lying-low-period… he slipped up. On some entirely unrelated piece of foolishness.
Years of cooling his heels in the pen, and that fortune was still hiding— locked up where even rats couldn’t use it. He’d gotten older, and prison life was dicey. He might even take that whole mystery to his grave.
He’d quieted down some during his time inside. He never was flashy or loud, but he’d quickly settled into living in the background. Keeping safe, waiting out that sentence… he’d settled into the slow drift of nothingness. His days were books, dull food, and the occasional warmth of sunshine. His briefest joy was a sweet little cat he guarded like treasure; she was an appreciative, restful listener, and she kept him present and connected to the world.
The days ran together, became years of numbing sameness. It was a pattern endlessly repeated with sparks of riots, anger, surprise. People had tried to rile him up along the way, but he’d resisted. He didn’t owe them a thing, neither annoyance nor a modicum of intrigue.
Then this kid had come along, and started digging into the past. Words of insinuation and persuasion were offered— like he’d just spill all his secrets and hop onboard some pie-in-the-sky notion of a breakout. He’d seen that tried before, heard one rock-headed idea after another. Why should this kid be the genius that succeeded?
He passed it on by without only the slightest bit of interest. Life wasn’t good, but it wasn’t bad either, and he was still here waiting and surviving. Losing Marilyn hadn’t changed things either. Oh, he knew it could happen at some point, though he’d always hoped it wouldn’t. But he could keep on going without her, even as he died a little more inside when she was gone.
It was his daughter that made the difference. Nothing had jolted him like this since the crime that got him caught. The insane cruelty of keeping a man from his only, dying child until it was entirely too late to matter... that injustice finally broke the inertia that had stolen his life. This was worth escaping for. Suddenly this future, this slow fade into death inside prison, was no longer good enough.
His risk-taking streak edged on back. First, he set the trigger for the Break-Room arson. Then he gambled with the only memento of his daughter he had. And he had won that knock-down drag-out with Bellick to save the team’s chance to escape— pretty good for a tired old man.
He’d hung on so damned hard, through every aching, shuffling step down to the last. But now, here in the Infirmary, he knows. His journey ends right here. He’d taken that last chance at freedom, but an accident had finished it too soon. He won’t make it out to see her. He’ll never have that last goodbye.
He knows Michael better now, that he’s more than just some kid. Michael never belonged here, and he’s got too many secrets of his own. But knowing why won’t change what is. There’s something special inside Michael that perceives more than money inside of him. Westmoreland sees it shining through now, in murmured encouragements to keep trying… and then sadness when the hopelessness is clear.
He offers the only thing he has— to the only person who’ll survive and deserve it. And he extracts a promise for his daughter, a messenger to deliver his love. It’s all right now. Everything is flattening out. His anxiety calms into silence, for he knows he will see her after all. It won’t be here, on this earth, but it will be soon.
The room glows behind Michael’s head, those eyes swimming before his own in the wavering blue darkness. Sounds of motion he can’t process echo in bursts through his confusion. He slips into the carelessness of Nothing as the light fades from the room. Inertia calls to him again, and it cradles him in welcoming arms.
By the time the sirens sound and the floodlights roam the grounds, his journey is complete.
Peace remains. But Westmoreland has flown.
-------- fin --------