By John Pilling
They called him into the Governors office to tell him that his last appeal had failed.
The lawyer’s dry unemotional voice detailed the various stages through which it had passed until the final Presidential rejection. His voice stopped and after a short pause that of the Governor took over.
All avenues of appeal having now been explored and rejected, the sentence of the Court…death by lethal injection…would be carried out.
Not as skilled at hiding his feelings, the contempt in his voice was clear, the prisoner had until the following morning to make his peace.
Back in the cell, away from their eyes, he stumbled into the toilet cubicle and vomited until only black bile came up. He hadn’t heard the cell door open but when he came out a man was sitting in the visitors chair across his little table. A small rather chubby man with a round cheerful face.
Still shaky from vomiting he sank into the chair and stared wearily at the man opposite.
“Who are you? What are you doing here? Are you a priest?” he said.
“No I’m not a priest “the little man said, “my name is Peter, I came because I thought you might need me“.
“What are you then? Some sort of prison visitor? Get your turn on by visiting condemned men do you…well you can go to hell you damned ghoul.”
He swallowed bile as a picture of the execution room formed in his mind, the sweat stained trolley with the leather straps, the needles and tubes, the pump with the big red switch, the witness window with the curtains that would be drawn back to allow the relatives watch him die. Would they applaud and cheer as the poison dripped into him? Were hate filled faces the last thing he would see in this life? Would nobody mourn him? Shivering, he forced his mind away from the image to see the little man watching him.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that,” he muttered.
“Oh that’s all right “ the little man said quietly, “I don’t believe there’s any such place anyway, I can’t imagine God deliberately creating a place to burn us in eternally as if we were a sort of everlasting fuel brick if that’s all he wanted why give us minds and free will and that.”
“I don’t know, I don’t believe in God.”
“Ah, well you see that’s really why I’m here …I think God wants to remind you about himself.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“I think I’m here because no one else wanted to be. I think God wants you to know that you’re not alone that he cares about you.”
“I tell you I don’t believe in God.”
“A great many people say that but he is still there nevertheless.”
“Do you know what I did? What they say I am?”
“Oh yes. I know what is being said.”
“Then why should you, or your God, care about me?”
“Because no-one else will.”
“Did they tell you I killed children? Did they tell you that I blew up a school? That I killed and wounded dozens of innocent children? Did they tell you that?”
The little man’s voice suddenly seemed deeper and colder as he replied.
“Yes…we know all about that…but that wasn’t you was it? You didn’t plan to cause such terrible hurt?”
“I didn’t plan anything. I was just the school caretaker, no one believes me but I didn’t know what it was, they asked me to store it at the school for a few days. They said it was part of a firework display for the children…”
His voice trailed away as he caught the man’s gaze, not the contempt he expected but an expression of pity and compassion.
“I never knew my parents. I’ve always been alone, always the odd one out. When I was asked to join the group I was so happy they made me welcome said I could be one of them …I thought they were my friends but all they wanted was access to the school.”
Sinking his head into his hands, the prisoner covered his eyes as the scenes that never left him rose again in his mind. The paralysing slam of the explosion, the screams as the fireball grew over the school, the glimpse of little hands clawing at the windows. Tears poured down his face as he looked across the table at his visitor.
“You say you don’t believe in Hell, I tell you for me there is nothing but Hell and tomorrow, tomorrow they are going to kill me”
The exhaustion and terror of the day suddenly taking their toll he slumped down in his chair and closed his eyes. As he drifted towards unconsciousness he felt a gentle hand on his head and heard his visitor’s voice, grave and resonant.
“There is a truer and greater justice than that of man my son…others will answer for this crime …come with me now… life with those who love you awaits …sleep in peace …”
As he spoke the cell seemed to fill with a golden mist. He grew taller and there was for a moment the faint suggestion of great wings. Then it faded. Save for the huddled form of the prisoner the cell was empty.
They came for him at dawn, four strong men with handcuffs and fetters but he was far beyond their reach.