kristina McMorris

The Edge of Lost


Alcatraz Island
October 1937

Fog encircled the island, a strangling grip, as search efforts mounted. In the moonless sky, dark clouds forged a dome over the icy currents of San Francisco Bay.

"You two check the docks," shouted Warden Johnston, his voice muffled by rain and howling wind. "We'll take the lighthouse. The rest of you spread out."

More people traded directives, divvying up territory. They were off-duty guards and teenage sons who called Alcatraz their home, an odd place where a maze of fencing and concrete kept families of the prison staff safe from the country's most notorious criminals.

At least in theory.

From inside the warden's greenhouse, inmate 257 strained to listen—that was his number. Even his coveralls bore a stamp of his designation, branded like cattle. The beam of a searchlight brushed past the glass-lined walls.

Over and over in the dankness of his cell he had envisioned this very scene. Had seen it as clear as the picture shows he grew up watching in Brooklyn. The Mark of Zorro, he recalled. It was the first swashbuckler he'd ever viewed on the silver screen. The film was silent, long before talkies became all the rage, but the action and suspense had quickened his pulse, gripped his lungs. Same as now.

He drew a breath, let it out. Raindrops grew insistent. They tapped the ceiling like fifty anxious fingers. Seventy. A hundred.

"Eh! Capello!"

His heart jolted. Normally he stayed keenly aware of sounds behind him, a survival tool in the pen, but somehow he'd missed the creak of the door.

He tightened his hold on the garden trowel before turning around. It was Finley, a guard with the look and nose twitch of an oversize ferret.

"Yeah, boss?"

"You seen a little girl pass by? Ten years old, light brown hair. About so high?"

The answer needed to sound natural, eased out like fishing line. "No, sir. I'm afraid I haven't."

Atop the single entry step, Finley surveyed the room with an air of discomfort. He wasn't a proponent of the rare freedoms afforded to passmen, the few trusted inmates assigned to work at the warden's house.

"Aren't you about done here?" Finley asked.

"Sure am. Then I'll be heading to the lower greenhouse to finish up."

Finley hesitated, an endless moment—of gauging? Of suspicion? At last he gave a partial nod and turned to exit.

The door swung closed.

Adrenaline rushed with the force of the pounding rain. The risks and consequences gained new clarity. Doubt invaded his thoughts.

It wasn't too late to turn back. He could serve out his time by sticking to the grind, sleeping and eating and pissing when told, and one day walk out a free man...

But, no. No, it wasn't that simple. Not anymore. He recalled just how much lay at stake, and any chance of reneging crumbled.

Through the fog, lightning cracked the sky. The air brightened with an eerie blue glow, and from it came a boost of certainty.

He could do this.

The plan could work.

So long as they didn't find the girl.