King glanced at Preach and then back at Joe. Joe was new - none of the others had known him before - and he hadn't spoken a word beyond his name since being tossed into the cell three days prior. There was something badly broken inside that boy, more than just the thought of being imprisoned by the enemy. He just kept holding his hands above his head like they would protect him somehow. He just kept clutching that picture of his girl like it was the only thing he had left in this world.
And maybe it was. Maybe this cell and the other men in it were all any of them had left.
CJ and Coughlin thought it was funny to prod Joe, but King mostly ignored their antics. They'd come in together; the day after himself and Preach, and at first he'd found their inane boisterousness amusing. But as the days dragged on, as shot after shot echoed down the halls, as he realized how little time they all had left... none of it seemed that funny anymore. Still, CJ and Coughlin found each other amusing, so who was he to tell them to knock it off? Let them get what little pleasure there was left in this life.
Not that there was a whole lot to laugh about in this cell anyhow, except the goofy duo. King and Preach had heard the stories before, but with his typical brashness, King never expected to end up in one. No safety, no escape, no hope except what one could feel from the release of death. Eventually, he knew, death would feel like escape from this cell. And that's when they would all be lost.
Preach caught his eye: there hadn't been any footsteps for at least 20 minutes. It was probably safe. He nodded back. Quietly, barely above a whisper, Preach began to sing, King coming in a beat behind him. Within seconds the others had joined in: Sarge with his strong, clear voice, Koko quietly, CJ and Coughlin as they did everything - excitedly.
Only Joe remained silent. Only Joe didn't move.
King had seen like it before. Men who saw horrible things - men who did horrible things - and they just shut down. Like the walking dead, 'cept not always walking. And that was why the song was important, in King's mind. Because in some senses, they were all of them the walking dead. There was only two ways out of this prison cell, and all of them except Joe knew it. They could wait, cowering in fear, until footsteps and an echoing shot finished them. Or they could sing: sing to escape. The bodies were lost, of course, but maybe the minds could escape. It was the only hope they had left. This cell and each other and the song.
That was why the song was important. For the mind. For the last piece of them that the enemy couldn't touch. Because the song united them, and freed them, and it really pissed off the enemy, which King saw as a bonus. Because when the footsteps came for you, why go quietly? Why go easily? Why freeze up like Joe? They were going to die either way, so why not get what last pleasure they could from life? They couldn’t fight back with fisticuffs, but they could fight back with their souls. By refusing to concede their souls to the enemy and just collapsing like Joe, they could fight. Fighting back did nothing for you, but everything for the ones in the cell you were leaving behind.
So King sang.
I went down