|Author||Alexander Gordon Smith|
|Published on||August 2010|
|Published by|| Faber and Faber (U.K. 2009)
Farrar Straus Giroux (U.S. 2010)
Lockdown is the first instalment in the Escape from Furnace series by Alexander Gordon Smith.
Furnace Penitentiary: the world’s most secure prison for young offenders, buried a mile beneath the earth’s surface. Convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, sentenced to life without parole, “new fish” Alex Sawyer knows he has two choices: find a way out, or resign himself to a death behind bars, in the darkness at the bottom of the world. Except in Furnace, death is the least of his worries. Soon Alex discovers that the prison is a place of pure evil, where inhuman creatures in gas masks stalk the corridors at night, where giants in black suits drag screaming inmates into the shadows, where deformed beasts can be heard howling from the blood-drenched tunnels below. And behind everything is the mysterious, all-powerful warden, a man as cruel and dangerous as the devil himself, whose unthinkable acts have consequences that stretch far beyond the walls of the prison.
Together with a bunch of inmates—some innocent kids who have been framed, others cold-blooded killers—Alex plans an escape. But as he starts to uncover the truth about Furnace’s deeper, darker purpose, Alex’s actions grow ever more dangerous, and he must risk everything to expose this nightmare that’s hidden from the eyes of the world.
Alex begins his story with the moment his life went to hell when he and his friends jumped a boy for his money when they were twelve. From there Alex stopped listening to his instincts of being a better person and succumbed to his path as a criminal. He and and his friend Toby began to break in and rob houses not long afterwards, continuing to do so for another couple of years. This lifestyle stopped brutally on their last job together.
In the midst of breaking into a house, Alex heard screaming from the inside and before being able to investigate further, Alex was blocked by an enormous man in a black suit with silver eyes. The man knows whose Alex is, which at first caused Alex to believe he and Toby were set up by the cops. But the man in black encourages Alex to run who does so almost escaping from the house. However, Alex gets trapped into a room where several other giant men in suits and a twitching creature in a wheezing gas mask. The group of men have Toby caught on the floor, and the first man Alex encountered tells the two to say goodbye to each other before shooting Toby in the head.
The men in black encouraged Alex to run as fast he can, assuring that they'd end up catching him either way. Alex makes a break for it at first trying to reach his friends house, and then changes trying to head back home when he stumbles upon the actual police in his path. Alex is arrested before he could make his way back home.
Alex spends the three few weeks getting interrogated in police custody over Toby's murder. Alex kept denying that he didn't do it and explaining the events of the night to no avail. In his trial, the men in black show up to his courtroom and when Alex tries to prove that they'd been the ones who framed him, it's revealed that the men are guards of Furnace Penitentiary. The jury comes to verdict in forty minutes that Alex is guilty, and that he is to be sentenced to life in Furnace. As Alex is dragged out of the courtroom, he encounters another boy who'd also been in trial for murder as well. The boy in question fought against his bailiffs and is tazed, but meets eyes with Alex before they both are split to different directions.
Soon afterwards, Alex, the boy who'd been tazed, and two other teenagers were on the bus to Furnace. Once close enough to approach, the exterior of the prison becomes clearer with its carvings and sculptures of prisoners getting executed. Once the boys arrive in prison, the boy from the courtroom breaks rank and tries to run away and accuses the suited guards of framing him. The boy gets struck and almost rolls into an electric fence, nearly dying. He is then dragged back inside. All four of the boys shower and change into their new prison uniforms before beginning their descent into the prison.
On the elevator ride down once Alex confessed that he'd been framed, the boy from the courtroom joins in and explains how the blacksuits had gotten him and introduces himself as Zee. The other two boys in the car admit they'd been framed as well, one introducing himself as Jimmy while the other only says that he'd been framed for his sister's murder. Zee's incredulous that all four of them had all been framed by the same men. Zee, Alex and Jimmy swear to get out of Furnace together if they ever find a way out.
Once the elevator made it's descent, the boys stepped out into the true prison underground. Zee and Alex stick close together as they're greeted by the Skulls, one of the gangs responsible for the Summer of Slaughter. Before the gangsters can get too comfortable, a siren sounds and the four newcomers are greeted by the warden and his hell hounds. The warden introduces himself as Warden Cross, and explains the rules of existence in the prison before assigning each boy to a cell and cellmate. Zee is assigned to the fourth floor with his cellmate Carlton Jones. The other boy in the elevator is introduced as Montgomery Earl, assigned to the fifth floor with his cellmate Kevin Arnold, the current leader of the Skulls. Alex is assigned to the sixth floor with his cellmate Carl Donovan. Alex is too distracted to hear where Jimmy would be and follows Carl who guides Alex up to the six floor to where their cell would be.
As Alex began to take in what would be of his future, he immediately imagined jumping out of the sixth floor to commit suicide. To Alex's surprise, his cellmate seems to know what he was thinking by saying that the sixth floor isn't high enough. With that, Donovan introduced himself with a smile, saying he prefers the name Donovan over Carl. Alex asks how long Donovan has been in Furnace, to which he answered that he'd been inside for five years. In answer to Alex's follow up question asking if he was framed, Donovan said he was not. The blacksuits had framed a lot of people, but he was in because he killed his mother's abusive boyfriend when he was eleven.
Gratefully after Alex changed the subject, Donovan explains that there isn't a concrete sense of time and that the day is divided up by sirens. The two start to go back downstairs in time to catch dinner, when Alex notices five faint marks clawed into the wall. Donovan cryptically tells Alex he'll know soon enough who comes at night, and that his former cellmate Adam had clawed that wall fighting for his life.
The two make their way down to the trough room, Donovan once again back to an air of hard indifference citing that in Furnace you have to act tough to avoid the gangs. In the trough room, Donovan and Alex pick at a table before Donovan offers to grab food for the both of them. When he returns, Alex introduced Donovan to Zee whose joined them. Zee and Alex then shoot questions about any kind of escape at Donovan, who cautions them to watch what they say and who they talk to. Donovan answers that the prison's layout only goes further down into the infirmary, the storage tunnels, warden's offices and for the hole (solitary confinement). Donovan himself had been down in solitary for three days for a fight he had with a former gang called the Leopards, how there was no food or light and that the only water was the condensation from the walls. He reiterates that there's no point in trying to escape the prison, and to be careful about making friends as you'll lose them just as quickly.
The conversation is cut short however as a fight breaks out in the trough causing a lockdown, forcing Alex, Donovan and Zee to sprint back to their respective cells. Alex is knocked down by the rush of the crowd trying to get back into their cells, but is saved by Donovan who pulled him up and dragged him back up to their cell. Once settled down, Alex thanks Donovan for saving him, but Donovan brushes it off telling Alex that he only helped him because Alex was new, and that he was not Alex's guardian angel. The two share a laugh before getting settled in for the rest of the evening in their cell. Donovan abruptly warns Alex to never get up at night if the siren sounds and the blood red lights are on, before wishing him goodnight.
At lights out Alex is overwhelmed by the sudden darkness of the prison, describing the sound of Furnace at night: inmates crying, jeering, and praying out loud. In his sleep Alex suffered various night terrors, the worst one about having to watch his parents executed by the blacksuits, but unable to do anything in a glass prison. The next morning Alex retches into the toilet as result of his night terrors. He wakens Donovan by doing so, Donovan in turm sympathetic enough to reassure Alex that the nightmares go away.
After the two finished getting ready for the morning, Donovan and Alex head back down to the yard to find out they were chippers for the morning. After breakfast, the two headed down to the chipping halls where inmates spend the morning carving out the hall with pickaxes. The morning went through with relative ease, though Donovan musings about cave ins doesn't settle Alex's anxiety. Once hard labour has ended, Alex and Donovan proceed to the shower room where Donovan explained how the inmates had actually carved the room out in three years. His theory about the chipping hall is that it's less about making space and more about tiring the kids out so they'd be easier to control.
Later, Alex and Donovan met up with Zee in the trough room for lunch. Zee had made it through his morning unharmed, but mortified about his shift of scrubbing toilets. Alex noticed the Skulls beating on someone out of sight and asked Zee and Donovan if they knew who it was. Zee doesn't know, but Donovan tried to lie and assure it wasn't anyone Alex knew. Due to Donovan's hesitance, Alex figured that the victim was Monty and Donovan reluctantly confirmed. Alex is angered by the fact asking why nobody would come to Monty's aid. He ends up picking an argument with Donovan who countered that there always has to be a scapegoat, and that Alex doesn't have any business trying to fix the system just on his first full day. Donovan threatened to ditch Alex if he tries anything stupid, but Alex goes on and picks a fight with the Skulls anyway.
Donovan left the trough room without stepping in, but Zee rushed in and whacked a couple of Skulls with a lunch tray, saving Alex. A lockdown siren sounds and Alex and Zee find themselves in pursuit by the warden's hell hounds. During their run the dogs were distracted by one of the Skulls who begged to be let into his cell, and ate the Skull. Alex and Zee ran up the level platforms, by the time they reached the sixth floor all the cells are locked tight - except Alex's thanks to Donovan who propped the door open with a toilet seat. They didn't have enough time to run down the platform to get in, as the dogs gainined quickly on them. Instead, Alex and Zee ran up to the seventh floor, jumped down a level to grab onto the sixth floor platform and are helped by Donovan to get back into his cell safely. All three make it after the close call, but Zee is removed and taken back to his own cell as per lockdown rules.
The day after the chase, the warden closed down the trough room for the day and put out a warning for a week in the hole if there are any more skirmishes. Zee met up with Alex and Donovan for chipping duty that morning. Alex confronted Monty who'd also been posted in the halls as well but to Alex's surprise, Monty is angry with Alex for stepping in to save him. When Alex leaves Monty alone and told Zee and Donovan what just happened, both agree that they should've left Monty behind. The remainder of hard labour that morning the prisoners quickly fall behind in work from hunger and exhaustion, though Alex, Zee and Donovan find themselves refreshed by a mysterious rush of fresh air from Room Two.
Later, the three made their way up to Alex and Donovan's cell only to be stopped by Kevin and two other Skulls. Donovan straightened himself out to intimidate them, but the Skulls claimed they were only there for Alex's business. They leave with a threat to Alex, who in turn realizesd that the Skulls came by to piss on his bed. Disgusted, the three leave the cell behind to sit down somewhere else. Zee asked if the warden will lift his warning. Donovan says that it will be lifted in time, otherwise there'd be a riot, but there will be no formal announcement as the next time a skirmish breaks out it will just be a lockdown. The conversation changed into a discussion about who the warden is, and what his deal was running the prison.
Four days after Alex's fight, Alex, Donovan and Zee are in the kitchen for hard labour. They reminisced about their lives before prison, Donovan remarking that the one thing he wished he could've learned was how to cook a proper meal. Monty, who had been posted with them overheard the conversation, admitting that cooking was the only thing he could do well. As an action of kindness, Monty prepared a homemade meal for the three boys. Alex, Zee and Donovan are so overwhelmed by the quality of Monty's meal that thanked and praised Monty endlessly (Donovan actually cried from the meal as he'd spent the last five years of his life eating prison slop).
Unfortunately, it is that night when the blood watch strikes. When the night siren first sounds, Donovan prayed not to be taken that night. Alex, curious and anxious about the blood watch, sat up to get a better view. When Donovan heard Alex move on the bunk bellow, he hissed at Alex to stay put and to not bring attention to the cell. Alex kept trying to press Donovan for answers, only to be shot down by Donovan whispering for Alex to shut up. As the blood watch proceeded, Alex climbed out of bed. As Alex looked out the bar, he saw Kevin shove Monty into the view of a wheezer. Alex couldn't get a better read when a wheezer approached his own cell for a minute. After the wheezer left, Donovan asked Alex if there were any marks on the cell. Relieved when Alex confirms that they weren't marked, Donovan repeats one last time for Alex to get back to bed. Alex does not and instead ended up watching Monty getting pulled out from his cell and stabbed by the wheezer with some sort of needle. Monty and a few other boys who'd been selected are dragged off into the vault in the courtyard, the blood watch now officially ended.
In the morning, Donovan refused to speak to Alex, furious from last night's events. During hard labour, despite being posted together Donovan posted himself to be as far away from Alex as possible, and returned to his cell by himself after work. Alex met up with Zee in the yard and discussed the events of the previous nights. Zee theorized that the prison is using its inmates for human experimentation, much like the Nazi Party and Japanese army did in the second world war. Alex is doubtful, but agreed that nobody on the outside seemed to know what was actually happening in the prison. Alex changed the subject to Zee idea of escape, sure that there is a way out. Alex pressed Zee for information on Room Two in the chipping halls, Zee said that he heard there was a cave-in in that room months ago, and that thirty inmates had died in the room. It's Zee's turn to be doubtful, but Alex is adamant about checking it out the next time he can.
Their conversation is cut short with the arrival of three new inmates: an older boy named Gary Owens, and two younger boys named Toby Merchant and Ashley Garett. Afterwards, Alex returned to the cell with Zee and apologized to Donovan for what he had done in the night, then not really realizing how serious the blood watch was. Donovan accepted the apology, but is still wary. Zee brought up the conversation he had with Alex beforehand about escape to Donovan, personally disbelieving in it. Alex asked Donovan about Room Two and tried to get him into considering a way out, but is met with rejection. Before he could interject more, the conversation is interrupted by a commotion in the yard from the new kid, Gary taking on Kevin and the Skulls. Almost every inmate is enthused that somebody finally took down Kevin.The enthusiasm is turned upside down once Gary declared himself as Skull leader.
Late,r Alex went at it again trying to persuade Donovan into the idea of escaping. Donovan continued to reject him over and over, until he snapped and asked why Alex is so desperate to die. He then goes on to tell a story about Scott White, an inmate who was the only person to ever make an escape attempt two years before. According to Donovan, Scott snuck into the air vents during a lockdown and navigated his way to the elevator hitched a ride up. Scott was then caught by the blacksuits after having gone delirious from a lack of food and water, and was taken down to the yard once more and fed to three of the warden's dogs. Despite this, Alex asks if the air vents are still available. In frustration Donovan gave up, simply saying they were replaced by pipes and that everyone else suffered thanks to "the last idiot to think of freedom."
The next day, Alex and Donovan were posted for the chipping halls again. Donovan kept glancing at Alex, concerned, and told him not to do anything stupid. It's clear that Alex will, so Donovan disengaged and left Alex to it without helping him. Alex stuck close to the entrance of Room Three and pretended to work long enough until the guard left to do his rotations. Alex darted into the equpment room outside of the boarded up Room Two and hacked at one of the bolts securing the room. Alex narrowly slipped in undetected and began to explore the abandoned chipping hall in the darkness. It's in his exploration that Alex heard a faint growling that only grew louder. Scared it was one of warden's dogs, Alex recklessly ran back to the hall's entrance and smacked into a wall which nearly broke his nose. Alex managed to escape the chipping room in one piece but is caught by one of the guards. The guard had assumed Alex had gotten into a fight during work and though he smacks Alex around, Alex is ultimately let off with a warning.
Alex returned from Room Two covered in blood, Donovan helped carry Alex over and asked what had happened. Alex ended up puking on Donovan first. Alex apologized and is about to explain what went down, before being stopped by Donovan who pointed out the guard watching them by the hall entrance. Later in the trough room, Alex talked about what happened in Room Two to Donovan and Zee. Zee is beginning to be more convinced of escaping by Alex's story, but Donovan remained uninterested. The discussion got cut off by Gary coming over to their table, threatening Alex and then leaving once more. However, Alex is struck with the idea that what he heard in Room Two is an underground river. Alex, Donovan and Zee all argued over the theory for the rest of lunch. Donovan made a point that nobody would've built an underground prison and not notice a river. Alex is adamant that it's the most logical explanation for the noise, and that a river must appear up top somewhere. Zee and Donovan disagreed with him and changed the conversation.
During downtime, Alex and Zee hung out in Alex's cell while Donovan went down to the gym. He ended up back up into the cell, fuming about how he wasn't allowed in again because Gary made the gym out of bounds for anyone who isn't fighting. To pass the time instead, Alex and Zee began to recite their favourite movies and TV shows, eventually waking Donovan out of his bad mood.
That night however, the blood watch came again. Alex called out to Donovan again, scared that the wheezers would be coming back again. Donovan replied that the particular siren meant someone was coming back. At that, Alex sat up trying to get a view of the yard, earning a slap around the head from Donovan who warned that it didn't mean they were in the clear. As the blood watch resumed, the thing that was being brought back is revealed to be a grotesque, mutated version of Monty who was returned to kill Kevin.
The morning afterwards, Donovan woke up Alex and calmed him down from a panic attack. When asked about why Monty was brought back, Donovan confessed that this wasn't the first time somebody was brought back and that he didn't know what happened. The first couple of times somebody had been returned, Donovan wasn't able to tell what the creatures were until one night in which he recognized one of the creatures as inmate due to the tattoos on its skin. Alex pressed for more answers that Donovan cannot give before Donovan freaked out, horrified about what he saw done to Kevin. Alex took the chance to convince Donovan once more about escape. Donovan conceded and admited it would be better to die in the escape than become one of the warden's creatures.
Now accepted the possibility of escape, Donovan began to help out with Alex's plan. He distracted the guard in Room Three, by breaking one the ceiling props and faking a cave-in while Alex and Zee sneak into Room Two. Inside Room Two Zee figured out the source of the growling Alex had previously heard. They do discover that the cave-in cracked a huge rift in the hall, but that the rift was not wide enough to jump into. Alex and Zee soon returned, bearing the bad news that the river is too small to get into. Donovan is adamant that there has to be a way out. Alex snapped at Donovan and accused him of not finding his own escape in the five years he'd been inside.
From that point during Alex's spiralled into a depression now convinced himself that his one way out was no longer an option. Alex and Donovan rarely spoke to each other. Donovan and Zee continued to speculate the different ways to get into the river by themselves. A couple weeks later, Donovan tried to initiate conversation with Alex again, hurt and angered by the fact Alex had completely given up. He then slapped Alex with a meat filled rubber glove, which unintentionally triggered a plan in Alex's head of using gas filled rubber gloves to blow up the rift.
After the two apologized and made up, Alex and Donovan each smuggled a few gas filled gloves from the kitchen and hidden them underneath Alex's mattress, then ran off to tell Zee about their new plan. The three made a pact between the three of them to escape, sworn to secrecy. Only minutes later however is when Alex tried to persuade Toby and Ashley not to kill themselves jumping off the eighth floor. When Alex mentioned their escape plans, Donovan tried to stop him in fear of giving too much away. Ashley is determined to die, but Toby agreed to get in on the plan. Ashley jumped but attempted to take Toby down with him as Alex desperately held onto Toby. Donovan and Zee reluctantly help pulled Toby over the railing but not before Alex punched Ashley off of him, killing the boy.
The group headed back to the cell with this new development. Donovan didn't trust Toby at first, insisted that they keep him out of the plan until the day of escape comes. Toby equally insisted to be a part of the plan, and came up with the idea of hiding the gloves just behind the tunnel boards of Room Two. All four boys enacted their plan with anxiety of it failed, but everything only went smoothly from there. Toby eventually won Donovan over by smuggling eight whole gloves into Room Two without being caught. As the plan ook motion, Alex, Zee, Donovan and Toby became more and more confident and warned each other not to look to suspicious in their giddiness. Ten days into their plan, Donovan and Alex snuck into Room Two to move over the gloves to the rift of the river. They stripped out of their jumpsuits and used them to carry over the gloves over before stacking them into the crack. Once finished, the two headed back to Room Three in high spirits only for Gary to show himself and mark Alex for a fight in the gym.
In their shift of hard labour, Donovan explained self-defense to Alex the best he could. He and Alex informed Zee and Toby about this new development afterwards and Alex made the three promise that their plan continued on regardless whether or not Alex mades the fight. When the Skulls came pick Alex up, Donovan accompanied Alex to the gym. In the gym, Gary called over the Skulls Alex initially fought in the trough room weeks ago. Alex fought hard but is still knocked hard to the ground. During the fight, Donovan attempted to enter the ring to help out but is threatened with a shank if he dared to break the rules. Instead as a last resort, Donovan pleaded with Gary and lets him in on the escape plan in exchange for saving Alex's life. Gary complied and broke up the fight.
Alex is dragged away from the gym and up back into his cell by Donovan, Zee and Toby. When Alex revealed that Donovan had dragged Gary into the plan, tension among the group arose as Donovan defended what he had to do to keep Alex alive. Frustrated, Donovan left the argument, and spent the rest of the evening somewhere away from the rest of the group but returned and assured that Gary wouldn't tell anybody about their deal.
Despite the worry of having Gary on board may be, the plan continued on just as it had been before. After another week of collecting gas filled gloves again, Donovan and Alex returned into Room Two and prepped the explosives in the rift. Additionally, Donovan came up with the plan to rig the extra gloves in the entrance tunnel, that way if they blow up the entrance first they would have more time to blow up the river. With the river and entrance readied, the plan is finally complete. Between the two of them, Donovan put out the suggestion of leaving then and there. Alex is surprised to hear the thought, but truly believed that Donovan wouldn't just abandon Zee and Toby. At this, Donovan sheepishly agreed.
Alex and Donovan returned to the cell with the good news for Zee and Toby that the plan would be in action the next day. Giddy with the idea of escape, the group talked about what they'd do once they were free. Donovan in particular is very excited about just being able to eat a good burger once he gets out of Furnace, while the rest of the gang talkd about exposing the prison for its true horrors.The lightheartedness is cut off when their talk is overheard by Jimmy, who had been passing by. Despite their denial, Jimmy is suspicious and mentioned that the other inmates are spreading a rumour about the four of them knowing a way out. Donovan shoved Jimmy away telling him to leave. Jimmy does leave, but brought the fear of what the rumour exactly detailed. After this, Alex went down to tell Gary that the plan would happen the next day
All four boys go to sleep nervous but still confident in their plan. In the middle of the night however, the bloodwatch returned. Even in their best efforts to be invisible, a wheezer marked their cell. Donovan is paralysed with fear, but somehow Alex managed to snap him out of it as he tried to get a grip on the situation. Neither are sure who'd be taken, but agreed that whoever it was, the other would return and rescue them. Donovan pulled Alex into a hug, and said his final goodbyes before being taken by the bloodwatch.
Alex spent the night screaming and crying for Donovan to come back. Zee found Alex in the trough room, and had also spent the night crying. They agreed the plan was still on, but they swore to come back for Donovan. The ran into Toby who revealed that his cellmate pushed him for answers on their escape plan and that the inmates knew that they were up to something. Alex, Zee, Toby, and Gary entered the chipping hall together, positioned by the entrance of Room three. They all waited for the blacksuit on guard to leave his post before they entered the equipment room. Jimmy spotted them and tried to stop them by threatening to call for escape if they left without him. Gary smashed Jimmy's face with the wooden end of a pick axe to incapacitate him. However, Jimmy was still conscious and started screaming for help, and brought the blacksuit back into the room.
The four boys scrambled into Room Two in time, but as the blacksuits charged in, Gary started to light the fuse for the explosives in the tunnel. One of the blacksuits caught Alex and Toby, but before he can kill them the explosives finally went off. The explosions managed to hit the blacksuits but severely injured Toby as well. Toby insisted to jump into the river anyways and asked Alex to not leave him behind. Behind them one of the blacksuits staggered to feet and while Zee took Toby and ran, Alex stayed behind and tried incapacitating the blacksuits with one of the huge pieces of rock. The blacksuit pinned Alex down and would've finished him off weren't it for a second injured blacksuit to come up from behind and take down the guard.
The second blacksuit called out to Alex, and simply said "Don't forget your name." Alex was confused before he studied the blacksuit closely with its one green eye and birthmark on its arm. Before Alex could do anything to help him, the blacksuit formerly known as Monty died from his injuries. A second explosion went off into the room, where Gary had opened up the river. Gary had already jumped in, but Zee and Toby waited for Alex to join them. With the pursuit of the warden's dogs on their trail, the three boys jumped in.