And May God Have Mercy On Your Soul
Of course the room had to be clean, the state only kills people in clean rooms. But a cool draught kept the smell of bleach from overwhelming them. Instead of tick the wall clock made a shut-sh shut-sh noise reminding the room to quiet.
For years Frank was known on the outside by his full name: Franklin Percy Rogers. Never just Frank, as he’d always been called by friends. That’s what happens when you’re infamous, you get the three name treatment. Lee Harvey Oswald. John Wayne Gacey. Sirhan Sirhan lucked out on the triplet moniker.
Frank stood in shackles at the side of the room behind a thick pane of one-way glass. Lights were dim on the other side though he thought he could make out a few shapes when people in the gallery moved.
Gallery, he thought. This was exactly like an art exhibit, isn’t it? A living, soon-to-be gasping, later to be pronounced dead exhibit. Limited tickets. No repeat performance.
Frank shifted his leg irons making a ripple of the chain up to his hands. The shackles seemed superfluous. He was behind bulletproof glass in a locked room meant for killing with armed guards stationed outside.
When he started there was only a fleeting thought he might end up here. Hundreds of thousands of convictions never lead to death row. Those few slots are saved for the special ones. As much as he didn’t feel it at the moment, Frank was special.
The Warden entered after saying a few words to a guard in passing. They exchanged a slight smile or a wink, Frank couldn’t be sure. A thin folder tucked under his arm contained three pieces of paper. The first was the prepared statement from himself. Frank knew this would be written largely in ghostwritten legalese. It would be a flimsy admonishment and a prayer wrapped in crocodile tears.
The second was a checklist filled out by the attending physicians and the Warden. Did he die? Yes. What time? 12:06am
The less officious was Frank’s own statement. Even with all the security protecting families Frank was allowed an edited statement. He was happy to have a pen and paper again. Two final mercies before the end: a meal and maybe poetry reading? The steak was good a couple of hours ago but the statement would be desert.
Shuffling the papers the Warden read his first.
“…the heinous nature of your crime…”
“…the people of the great state of…”
“…may God have mercy on your soul…”
Frank wasn’t sure that last part was ever said in real life. Check the box for one more mystery solved.
Now it was Frank’s turn as the Warden handed him the third sheet. No matter how long it took him to read the clock on the wall couldn’t be swayed past midnight. Not even Frank could change that. He hadn’t practiced his statement. The magic was in reading aloud. A first incantation.
He scanned it before starting, you never know when inspiration might strike.
“Apologies rarely matter.” Frank started, “As a kid you swipe the dust off your clothes after a tussle. The teacher makes you shake hands and you move on. This is not that.”
Frank paused a second, his eyes looking up trying to see beyond the reflection of the room.
“Twenty years ago I sat where you are. I fidgeted in my seat while some tried to make small talk as a man was brought in exactly where I’m standing now. The life had already been sucked out of him and the injections were merely procedural. He stood here as we burned with rage on the other side. I remember thinking of this room as an oven and we were going to watch him broil on the other side. You may be thinking the same thing.”
Frank stole a glance at the clock. Shut-sh, Shut-sh
“That man was my father. He pulled a trigger and ended the lives of my mother, sister and baby brother. Before he could get to me the Sheriff intervened. The man who saved me stands here with me now as the Warden. Fate is strange that way. Brothers of opposite lives.”
The Warden didn’t make eye contact.
“The road had already split but I didn’t know it. I tried to become what was not in my heart, tried to move toward the better path. Like a suit that never fits I tried until I couldn’t anymore. Both the past and the future were daunting so I did the only thing I truly knew in my heart to do. I wrote to quell the demons.”
Frank lowered the paper to his side. He began speaking directly to the glass.
“The way I see it I’m neither Boy Scout or monster. I accept my fate but this is not an act of contrition. A few of you now are sitting there looking at me, scanning my face for remorse. I. Just. Can’t. And you know exactly why.”
He could see shapes outside the room moving. Was that unease? Frank hoped so. He was always good at that part.
“I orchestrated your lives, manipulated the weather, murdered whole neighborhoods and pushed you beyond the breaking point. My words have reigned down fire from the sky or caused madness and forced a school to eat itself whole. Those stories, once imagined, couldn’t be withdrawn.”
Frank’s face was flush. The breeze had ceased, sucking the air out of the room.
“My crime, until today, I thought might be unassailable. And though they’ve taken away my pen the stories I have written will live on. I’ve slowly rotted inside that cell, still imagining you. When I’m gone my words on a page won’t make the wind blow anymore but I will forever be a cold chill up your neck. I will continue to be the reason you take a second glance behind when you’re walking at twilight.”
Frank paused to look around the room, bending forward and reaching his shackled hands up to scratch his throat. The guards outside were motionless.
“So it becomes my turn to have the light snuffed out. Words, they say, will never hurt you. They’re just ink but you and I know that isn’t true.”
The Warden looked up just as Frank pulled a folded piece of paper from his collar and stepped to put the gurney between the two of them.
Hastily Frank’s hands unfolded the paper.
“Don’t do it!” the Warden said.
With a smirk Frank started to read and the room began to shake.