41e9KuNzOJL“It isn’t right! It’s just not fair! I didn’t mean to do it, I swear! This is all just one big mistake! This is all wrong!” Scared and panicked, Lester Gribbs flailed his body and limbs in an attempt to break free of the guards’ hold on him. His hands were cuffed and his feet were in shackles. Two guards, Miles Flemmings and Jarves Holmes, had dragged Lester out of his cell, kicking and screaming, and were now leading him down the drab, dim-lit, long and narrow corridor of cell block A to the door at the end of the line. A third guard, Buck Grehgam, followed behind them with a loaded shotgun ready at the hip. This part of the prison was a last stop on a one way street. Ole’ Sparky rest on the other side of the door to cell block A’s long and narrow corridor, and that’s where the two guards were hauling Lester Gribbs off to. Condemned men can become desperate, dangerous men in the blink of an eye, so it’s necessary for a guard on death row to take every precaution.

“Too late to cry about it now, ya winy-ass bitch!” a deep, gruff voice hollered out through the bars of his cell. The cells were only eight feet long by six feet wide and a little over seven feet tall. They contained a bed, a sink, a potty to piss in and not much else. For these condemned inmates, a major component of their servitude lies in the state of solitude and utter inability that’s inflicted upon them during their incarceration.

“Yeah, ya fuckin’ crybaby!” a much more annoying, almost simple sounding voice chimed in. Over half the inmates on cell block A were riled up due to the execution, standing just behind the bars of their cells and staring out to catch a glimpse of the guards escorting the condemned man, Lester Gribbs, past them. There isn’t a whole lot for the inmates on death row to do (read and write, workout in the confined space of the cell, or listen to music if one can afford a walkman), so executions generally stir up some excitement and provide a lot of the inmates with the reprieve of some long awaited and greatly desired entertainment.

“Please!” Lester shouted at the top of his lungs. “Please! I don’t deserve this! Not me!”

“Me neither, sugar, but there ain‘t nothin’ ya can do about it!” a high-pitched, almost girly voice spoke out. “In here, we all get fucked one way or another. We’re all damned, and we’re all doomed!”

“You’re all a bunch of sinners! Sinners!” yet another voice spoke up. This one sounded old and weathered, and perhaps a bit unhealthy, a voice of many rough and difficult years. This voice trailed off into a type of preacher’s banter, Holier than thou on death row. “Ye are none the righteous and will get what cometh!”

Buck Grehgam suddenly slammed the barrel of the shotgun he was carryin’ against the bars and caught the Preacher Man’s fingers just before he could completely pull them out of harm’s way. The Preacher Man let out a sharp, high-pitched yelp of pain, shook his hand in the air, then went back into his usual, holier-than-thou, rhetorical banter.

“Don’t put your hands on the bars,” Grehgam coolly stated and said no more, not because he didn’t have anything else to say but because prison rules prevented him from speaking out of line while handling the inmates. There are so many rules which apply to the handling of inmates, and many of those rules are overlooked at times, some by mistake and some on purpose. But right now the guards were performing an execution, and a lot of outsiders and big-wigs attend these things. Warden Cidney Chalmers required that the guards all be on their best behavior while guests were present at the prison, and for good reason, too.

Many of the guests are curious about how the prison is run and how the prisoners are made to behave. Some of the guests are bleeding-heart liberals who come off as being overly-concerned about ethics and the treatment of the inmates. Buck Grehgam couldn’t have cared less about the prisoners, as far as he was concerned they were all a bunch of sick weirdos who deserved everything that was comin’ to ‘em, but he was concerned about his job and agreed that he and his fellow prison guards should look professional and set a good example for their guests.

Conner sat on his bunk, listening to the uproar that Lester Gribbs’ execution was stirring up. Those last couple of comments that his neighbors had just been shouting had really hit home for him. There was nothing that any of them could do about it. For Conner, to do something about it could bring about a fate which he saw through his eyes as being worse than death. He was surprised that he had come so far. It was even beginning to feel like clear sailing from here on. He had made his peace and come to terms with everything. He felt right with God. His only regret was that he wasn’t going to be there to watch his son develop into a real man.

We’re all in here for a reason, Conner reflected on the Preacher Man’s comment. The Preacher Man was one of the inmates who Conner didn’t necessarily despise. The guy was just crazy, sick with mental illness.

Conner had observed some vile and despicable life forms during his stay on cell block A. Some of them didn’t even appear to act human anymore. They were monsters in every sense of the word. Conner was unfortunate enough to currently have three of the worst ones occupying adjoining cells directly across from him. Only one of the three wasn’t so bad, as far as Conner could tell, and even that one was obviously sick, twisted, and crazy with a disorder resembling Stockholm syndrome. It wasn’t the guards, nor the warden, who had so severely messed with and manipulated this particular inmate’s mind, it was another inmate. This other inmate had quite successfully transformed this aforementioned particular inmate into his bitch.

Though he sometimes somewhat suspected some of his fellow inmates to just perhaps be hell incarnated, Conner basically got along fine with anyone who got along fine with him. For this reason, he actually felt a bit sorry for Lester Gribbs. Lester wasn’t out to make trouble for anybody… although, somehow he wound up in here.

Conner didn’t necessarily believe that everybody in the prison deserved to die, but he sure knew that something had to have gone drastically wrong in each and every one of their lives to have ended up in here on cell block A in the Lebensraum Penitentiary – located just outside of Atlantis City, the nation of New World’s capital. It was hard for Conner to watch Lester Gribbs pass by his cell on his way to Ole’ Sparky’s chamber. It was hard for him to hear the condemned man’s panicked pleas and screams for mercy. Conner just kept on telling himself, Everybody’s in here for a reason and there’s nothing I can do to change what will be.

“Please don’t! No! No! No! You fuckers are going to kill me! No!” Lester continued to plea and cry out.

“Ya sure got that right!” a southern sounding voice called out as Lester passed by his cell.

“We’re all gonna die!” the Preacher Man blurted out. “Take ‘hold of the Lord! Praise the man Jesus!”

Yes, we are… We’re all going to die, aren’t we? Conner thought to himself, grimly. No one gets out of this alive.

“The man Jesus died for your sins!” the Preacher man continued on in his rant. “What do you have to show for it, ye of such little faith?! Your sins can be forgiven, but you have no faith! You must have faith! Jesus wept for wretches like you!”

“Give it a rest, already, will ya, Preacher Man?” a worn out, strung out voice called out from two cells down. Conner’s cell was right in-between the two.

“Yeah, shut the fuck up!” the deep, gruff voice added from across the corridor. The inmates grew sick of the Preacher Man’s continuous banter about the man Jesus and the holy bible, them being a bunch of sinners who were all doomed to go to hell, and those sorts of things. Conner had grown tired of the Preacher Man’s endless banter, himself, but he knew that there was no stopping the Preacher Man once he got on a roll. You would think that by now they’d have learned that they’re only provoking him and adding fuel to the fire by yelling at him and telling him to shut up. Then again, nobody’s in here for being the smartest kid in class.

“Ungrateful ingrates, you’re not worthy of God’s kingdom!” The Preacher Man retorted.

“And I suppose you are, sugar?” the Fairy in the cell across from the Preacher Man said with a shrewd smile.

“Maybe I’ll make you my bitch tonight, Preacher Man!” the gruff voice in the cell next to the Fairy’s remarked. “Maybe I’ll have the both of ya’s!”

The Fairy’s shrewd smile brightened. Obviously he liked the sound of that.

“Disgusting vermin! The man Jesus will soon vanquish you back to the depths of hell from which you spawned!” The Preacher Man shouted back at the Fairy and Big, Black Bubba, clearly unsettled, upset, offended and disturbed due to their comments. “There’s no salvation for the likes of you!”

“Fuck your salvation, I’m gonna get me that ass tonight! I’ve never had me no preacher before!” Big, Black Bubba replied, provoking the Preacher Man even more.

That got the Preacher Man so riled up, he turned red in the face and was barely able to string together a coherent response. Conner didn’t think it was possible, but the Preacher Man actually got even louder, and the words must’ve been flying out of his mouth at a mile per minute. The Preacher Man didn’t like these homosexuals much at all. The Preacher Man fit the bill for your stereotypical homophobe, and he was stuck in a cell right across the way from the Fairy and within view of Big, Black Bubba and Googly Eyes – a sight for sore eyes at all times, Conner sure could tell ya. Conner kind of wondered if this hadn’t been done to the Preacher Man on purpose, perhaps because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut, or maybe it was just fate playing its cruel hand. Regardless, Conner saw the irony in the cell arrangements.

“Please, no! I didn’t do anything wrong! I tell ya, I had no choice! Please, no!” Lester Gribbs continued his panicked pleas and unrelenting screams of terror. He was nearing the door at the end of cell block A with the realization that Ole’ Sparky awaited him on the other side of it, and now he was really struggling against the guards’ tight, firm grip on him.

“That’s right, boy, you’ve got no choice!” the southern sounding voice of the Southern Skinhead made another callous but witty remark to another one of Lester’s pleas.

“I’m innocent, I tell ya! It was self-defense! Please! I don’t want to die!” Lester was nearing the end of the line.

“Hey, look, it’s a walkin’ dead dude!” the simple but annoying voice of the biggest shit talker in the prison, a guy who had properly been dubbed Shithead, chimed in with one of his more witty remarks as he watched Lester struggle with the guards while passing by his cell.

“Please, no! Don’t do this! Please!” Almost there.

“Another one’s toast for the worms,” a heavily accented voice spoke up.

“Buzz, buzz! Zap, zap!” Shithead taunted.

“I don’t want to die!” Lester cried and pleaded with all his desperation and might. He was now at the end of the corridor to cell block A. One of the guards reached for the door and turned the handle to the door to Ole’ Sparky’s chamber.

“It was nice knowing you, Lester,” an earnest and friendly voice spoke up from behind Lester to his left.

“So long, Lester. Remember, none of us gets out of this alive. Be seein’ ya soon, buddy,” a more depressing but still friendly voice spoke up directly from Lester’s left.

These last two friendly voices belonged to a couple of inmates who Lester had gotten along with quite well. The first was the voice of Doc K and the second was the voice of the Wino.

The Wino had landed himself in here much the same way Lester had done so, by being a drunk and belligerent asshole. The circumstances pertaining to their crimes were completely different, however. Lester’s crime was socially motivated to where as the Wino’s crime was domestic.

The Wino was a wife-beater who had taken things quite a bit too far one night. His Whore, as he had come to call her, had been threatening to leave him for a while by the time it all went down. On this day of days, she had finally packed her bags and was saying that she was done putting up with his drinking and violent behavior. Would she have really left him? There’s just no way to know for certain ‘cause she’s dead now.

He’s late getting home again. He’s always late getting home. He’s out drinking with the other losers at the bar, as always. Things are better when he’s gone, anyhow. Things have got to change. This is never gonna change. Things are coming to a head. This has got to come to an end.

The Wino had arrived home from his day of work at Atlantic City’s water treatment plant to find His Whore in a fury of an outrage. She’d been stampeding through the house for hours now, opening closet doors and dresser drawers and then slamming them shut again, taking the items that she needed out of them and throwing the rest on the floor while packing her suitcases. And when the Wino walked through the front door of their once-happy home, she was still at it. He about thought a tornado had blown through the house once he entered and got to looking around.

“That drunken, scumbag son-of-a-bitch!” turned into “You drunken, scumbag son-of-a-bitch!” as she became aware of his presence in the house. Lester was not happy about the mess, nor was he happy with her or her tone of voice. They immediately started arguing and bickering with each other.

“What in God’s name do you think you’re doing, woman?!”

“What does it look like, limp-dick?!”

“When do you plan on cleaning up this mess?!”

“Right now! I’m leaving you, you drunken bastard!”

“Excuse me?! No, you’re not!” the Wino attempted to put his foot down. That had always worked before, but this time something was different. She was somehow different, and the power she possessed at that moment sort of intimidated the Wino.

Unfortunately the wino didn’t take too kindly to intimidation, especially not from His Whore. The argument between the two of them erupted like a smoking volcano. She wanted to get the last word in after putting up with his shit for so many years. She wanted him to realize why she was leaving him. She wanted to hurt him emotionally like he had hurt her both emotionally and physically. He didn’t want her to leave. He viewed her as a walking, talking possession, an old prize which he could do as he pleased with.

The argument turned into a fight, and the fight turned violent and got out of control. Yelling, screaming, and cursing at each other turned into pushing and shoving, then slapping and scratching, then came the biting and grabbing and hair-pulling as the unhappy couple lunged at one another and threw each other around the bedroom. The Wino thought to himself, Where did all of this spunk and spirit spontaneously emerge from? And as an afterthought, which he immediately tried to push out of his mind, he couldn’t help but consider, Maybe she is serious this time?

They’d been down this road before. They’d been down this road one too many times. Nothing seems to change, it all remains the same… ‘til someone breaks the cycle, it just goes ‘round in circles… a lot like chasing a string set to go around in an infinite loop. And it’s just no fun unless the love’s there, anyhow.

The Wino had thrown His Whore onto the bed, already knowing that this wasn’t going to lead to a happy ending. She swung a fist at his head and missed, but this gave her the opportunity to use her momentum to wriggle away from him. She had seen an empty bottle of wine in the small wicker trashcan that they kept by the dresser across from the bed. Perhaps in some way she was meaning to throw his drinking problem in his face. I guess she chose the literal approach.

He was still on the bed, screaming at her to, “Get back here, ya godforsaken bitch!” She grabbed the empty bottle of red wine and chucked it at him, aiming for his head, but he ducked down and to the right out of sheer instinct just before it hit him. No matter, the wine bottle hit the wall and exploded into hundreds of little, razor-edged pieces of glass which fell down and covered the Wino. This didn’t injure him, but it served to scare the hell out of him.

Whoa! Holy shit! What’s she trying to do, take my head off?! How could she?! How dare her?! Who does she think she is?! I’ll teach her a thing or two!

The scare angered the Wino. Anything that didn’t turn out precisely the way he expected it to seemed to anger her husband. This was precisely the kind of reaction that she should’ve expected from him, and probably did. She was venting, and vehemently. Perhaps she had been trying to get the last word in? Perhaps she felt empowered because she was finally taking matters into her own hands and getting a grip on her life? Perhaps she was trying to hurt him for hurting her in the past, like a form of payback and revenge? Her vengeance would be a fatal mistake, and for her and not him.

The Wino saw the brim of the wine bottle laying there on the bed. A sharp, jagged edge jutted out from the intact neck of the broken bottle like the blade of a knife. The Wino reached over, picked it up, got up and rushed His Whore. She could see the rage in his eyes, a total lack of self-control, as he quickly moved towards her holding up the menacing object. She let out a scream of complete and utter terror, but she still somehow couldn’t quite concede, in her heart, to what her husband was about to do.

He didn’t mean to do it. It was a crime of passion, fueled by the stress of her leaving (fueled by alcohol), and she had thrown the wine bottle at him first. He was acting off of an impulse of hers. She provoked this whole ordeal. He would point out that, had she not thrown the wine bottle at him, perhaps none of this would ever have occurred. He was practically acting out of self-defense.

Yeah, right. He had done what he’d done. There’s no excuse for such hideous behavior and no excuse for committing such a heinous crime. It’s not like the Wino didn’t know the difference between right and wrong. But he wasn’t a psychopath like the Southern Skinhead, Big, Black Bubba, and some of the other prisoners who took a moralistically inept stance on life and were dead set on hurting and hating other people, was he? Nor was he crazy and deranged like the Preacher Man, Rip van Winkle (who was in the last cell by Ole’ Sparky’s door right across from him), or perhaps Doc K – who was in the cell right next to him. Regardless, one thing’s for certain, you can’t take something like what the Wino did back…

The Wino grabbed His Whore by the hair and held the razor-sharp edge of the broken wine bottle to her throat. He had only meant to hold it there, had only meant to threaten her, but he was so angry, blinded by his rage. He wound up slitting her jugular.

An arterial spray of blood spurted out of the wide gash in her neck as she screamed and pleaded for dear life. He immediately realized what he had done. There was so much blood. It seemed to spurt out of her neck with her every weakening, labored breath and beat of her heart, less of it coming out as her screams and pleas grew weaker and subsided. After a while it would all subside.

He didn’t try to save her. He didn’t call for help. He was panicked and afraid. He knew what the consequences would be. When the police arrested him, he was busy attempting to clean up and cover up the whole mess. It hadn’t taken the police long to get there, but enough time had gone by for him to wrap His Whore’s body in a shower curtain for future disposal.

The police report reveals that a neighbor had heard the wife’s screams and had called the cops thinking that it was just another squabble between the two of them. The neighbor had knowledge about the domestic violence taking place in the home and had often heard them fighting, but never like this. Still, she was surprised to find out that he had actually killed her. It seems one thing leads to another. Violence begets more violence, and bad behavior patterns escalate and get worse when not dealt with and left unchecked.

The Wino felt remorse for what he’d done, but he knew he couldn’t take it back. He was damned and doomed, just like Lester Gribbs… just like all the rest of ‘em.

The Wino sometimes tried to convince himself that he would never do such a thing again now that he was sober, but was the reason he was sober not due to the fact that he was here in prison? People don’t like to admit to their dark sides, and in here it’s better not to bring such things up.

Most of the inmates don’t discuss their crimes with one another. If the other inmates knew what the Wino had done they’d likely want to hurt him, maybe even kill him. He was wrought with regrets, but he wouldn’t have to live with them for long. Nowadays he just wined and complained a lot, but he tried his best to get along. He still to this day needed a drink.

Now, Doc K, he was a real doctor in his old life, but he had a certain outside medical practice that he was also performing on the side and on the sly. Now, this is some controversial shit, here. This is the type o’ shit that you know a person shouldn’t be doing ‘cause it’s illegal, period end. This is the type o’ shit to where you hope the person who’s committing the crime knows they will get caught and go to prison just to make sure they’re the least bit sane. This is also the type o’ shit that raises a question about humanity, and suffering… And what about the torture?

This is the type o’ shit that puts basic morals and ideals to the test. This is the type o’ shit that brings about questions of ethics and standards. This is the type o’ shit that makes us reevaluate our entire ethical standpoint to even pass judgment on such a case. Not only must we ask ourselves, “Why would somebody put their life on the line in such a way?” we must also ask ourselves, “How does this makes me feel?”

Doc K claimed in court that he was doing what he was doing in order to “…to ease my patients’ suffering at the end of their lives, to end the suffering of patients who are in excruciating, prolonged states of pain, to give patients the option to make that choice, to standup and fight for what I believe in, which is for that choice to be there for any patient in those kinds of states of pain to make, for it should be their right to do so.” But unfortunately for Doc K, “it should” is a very loose phrase in a very uptight, very literal system of government. “Is” would have worked, but “it should” added up to “it’s not.”

That’s right, Doc K had been assisting his patients in committing suicide and, regardless of their pain and how Doc K felt on the subject, that was a big no-no. He admitted to everything, too, which stacked up the charges. That’s how he wound up locked up inside of a cell on cell block A inside of the Lebensraum Penitentiary awaiting his execution date.

Lester Gribbs was through the door, like falling down the rabbit hole. Who knows what else he had to look forward to? Right now it was a ride in Ole’ Sparky’s seat. It was about time for Lester to get strapped in.

The little bit of hooch he’d made out of fermenting bread and apple juice wasn’t even helping, he was just so scared. He felt the alcohol in it, but he was just too aware of what was going on, the moment so crucial, and it all seemed so cruel, “This is my life we’re talking about here!”

Lester was one of the few people who had no problem with telling his story, claiming that he was innocent and had no problem fully disclosing how he ended up in here. Lester would tell ya that he was put in here ‘cause he got into a bar fight that he didn’t even start, and he ended up killing a man by hitting him in the temple with a beer bottle after the fight got dangerous and out of control. That’s the gist of it. Do ya believe him?

Warden Cidney Chalmers tried his best to be present for every execution. He liked to oversee everything to make sure it all went down without a hitch. He also liked for people to see him there, to make his presence known and show everybody who was running this show. He felt it was good for him both ethically and politically for everyone to see him present there, attending to these big events. It showed the family of the victim that he cared and it showed the people he worked for and answered to that he was actively involved. He generally took it upon himself to be the one to flip the switch to Ole’ Sparky. After an execution, the warden usually politely mingled with the crowd of onlookers and led them away while his loyal main crew disposed of the body and wrapped things up in the back.

Warden Cid’s main crew consisted of Buck Grehgam, Jarves Holmes, and Miles Flemmings. These men were specifically selected by Warden Cid himself, and they oversaw almost all of the executions on cell block A. Warden Cid was already present in the room with two other guards who had been called in for added security purposes and precautions. Warden Cid was busy being friendly with a few of his guests when his main crew opened the door to cell block A and appeared with Lester Gribbs.

The guards led Lester Gribbs into Ole’ Sparky’s chamber. He caught a glimpse of Ole’ Sparky and looked away in terror, trembling even harder, his legs almost giving out from under him and nearly pissing his pants. The faces of the victim’s loved ones watched from behind a plate-glass window like they were solemnly awaiting some sort of grand finale to a sad play, the death of their made-monster. They looked like they were attending a funeral, and in a way they were; Lester’s funeral.

On Lester’s side of the glass the mood was business as usual except for Lester’s panicking and screaming, although Lester knew the guards were secretly enjoying themselves. They always tried to look professional whenever “guests” and “company” visited the prison. Looking out at all of the faces, all of the people who had come to witness his death, he thought two things. First he thought, I hope this brings all of them closure, and then, I have no one, but I’m glad nobody came.

The two guards escorting Lester forced him to sit down in the electric chair and began to strap him in. The third guard, Buck Grehgam, was still close by with the shotgun held at his hip. Warden Cid excused himself from his guests to get into position at the switch. Lester was still struggling to break free, but now he was struggling even to move. He heard a splash of water and felt the wet sponge which would conduct the deadly current through his body placed on top of his head. As they strapped the headgear on him and blindfolded him, Lester realized, and attempted to relent to the fact that, the guards had just about finished the job.

This is it, Lester Gribbs told himself, shaking convulsively but conceding to his fate, I’m toast!

Lester had been through all of this before, but an inmate never does the rehearsals for their own execution. Rehearsals are run prior to every execution so that the guards running the operation will know, step by step, exactly what to do. Having the death row inmates partake in other inmates’ rehearsals prior to their own execution generally serves to nullify a certain fear of the unknown, which in turn serves to reduce panic come the day of most inmates’ executions, which makes it easier on everybody. However, the prison doesn’t permit inmates to perform the rehearsals for their own execution in order to lessen fear and violent outbursts by desperate individuals with nothing to lose.

Many inmates think the rehearsals are just another tactic that the prison uses to make the whole “death row” ordeal more real, like the way they put Ole’ Sparky’s chamber on the other side of a door which just so happens to be the only door to cell block A so that the inmates have to look at the contraption of their eventual demise every time they come and go. But despite the fact that some inmates think it’s all just a big conspiracy against them, there’s often some thought put into it. Whether the conclusion be good or bad, right or wrong, well… that’s a different issue, and who can judge?

Lester had memorized the whole rehearsal routine after just one walk through. He used to dwell upon it and fret about it, worrying about when that day would come… and now that day is here for Lester and it’s all happening for real. Lester Gribbs is getting ready to ride the lightning.

“Do you have any last words?”

“He’s the one who started it! You gotta let me out of here!” Lester continued to plea for his life.

“Alright, that’s enough of that. Roll on two!”

Back on cell block A, the riled up inmates were still kicking up a fuss, awaiting the moment of Lester Gribbs’ execution. Big, Black Bubba seemed to be leading the barrage of banter, saying, “Any minute now, boys! Here it comes! Ole’ Sparky’s gonna give us a show!”

“This is my favorite part.” a soft, sort of slithering voice came from the cell to Big, Black Bubba’s left. Both inmates were right up against the bars to their cells, but they both could only see each other obscurely out of one eye.

Big, Black Bubba liked his neighbors, except for that one across from him, Conner. That one was no fun. That one didn’t even enjoy executions. That one was bigger than him, was thicker, and could be just as threatening if provoked. That one spelled trouble for Big, Black Bubba.

Though he sometimes forced flings, he had chosen his favorite. It certainly wasn’t the neighbor to his left, who he had just been speaking with, the one known in here as Googly Eyes. That one even wierded-out Big, Black Bubba a bit. No, he liked the one on the other side of him, the neighbor to his right, the one known in here as the Fairy. Big, Black Bubba had put a lot of work into the Fairy, manipulating the Fairy into being his perfect bitch.

Sick Man was very displeased with having the misfortune of being stuck in a cell across the way from Googly Eyes. That fucker just stares at me all day long.

He hated all three of the sick, perverted queers, the Fairy, Googly Eyes, and Big, Black Bubba. Sometimes all three of them would stare at him, sometimes for hours on end.

It was like they would make a game out of staring at him (Who can go the longest? with Googly Eyes usually being the contest winner, holding his wiener up and wiggling it around with his hand as if it were the grand prize), especially every time Sick Man got sick for a few days. He hated their laughter and their remarks. He hated their ways. And he could get away from Big, Black Bubba’s prying eyes, but he couldn’t escape Googly Eyes, who would stare and stare and stare. No, Googly Eyes was right across from him, staring away, trying to peer and pry into his very soul in order to demean it and soil it and probably send it to hell. Sick Man came to a conclusion, The queers in here enjoy watching a man suffer.

Conner was right there with Sick Man on the staring thing. It got to where it could be more than a bit uncomfortable at times. Instead of having Googly Eyes to contest with, Conner had Big, Black Bubba across from him. The Fairy was also exceptionally unbearable, always acting out and having something to say, but the Fairy was just Big, Black Bubba’s bitch. Big, Black Bubba had practically trained the Fairy to act in such a way.

“Oh, honey, it’s gonna be like watching fireworks on the Fourth of July,” the Fairy cheerfully called over to Big, Black Bubba from the cell to Bubba’s right.

“Hell yeah, bitch,” Big, Black Bubba hollered back.

Googly Eyes was a sick weirdo who was in here because he had a thing for little boys. As for the other two queers on the block, Big, Black Bubba and the Fairy weren’t even truly gay. For Big, Black Bubba, who knew he was never going to have a woman again, homosexuality was a means of empowerment, comfort and security.

Big, Black Bubba had been a pimp, a gangster, and a drug dealer in his past life. He was in it big, and therefore he made good money. He had always taken care of his family in the past, and now they were taking care of him while he served out the remainder of his sentence within the confines of the Lebensraum Penitentiary awaiting the day of his execution.

Family members can put money on an account for an inmate here in the prison which can then be used for anything from buying commissary to bribing the guards. Sometimes Big, Black Bubba would bribe the guards for special favors, like late night visits from other inmates. Sometimes his participants were willing, but usually they weren’t. He had made the Fairy into his bitch, but it had taken some time and some work. Nowadays he had the Fairy talking sassy like a little girl. It had taken some time, but the Fairy had been converted over to Big, Black Bubba’s way of thinking. The Fairy had even come to care for Big, Black Bubba and cherish their time together. The Fairy had become Big, Black Bubba’s prison wife… his bitch.

Big, Black Bubba had willingly come to terms with having to seek out the company and favor of other men, but it had taken some effort and some force for him to convert the Fairy. After some time together, and some crying, pissing, and moaning, the Fairy had eventually come around to Bubba’s way of thinking. The Fairy had come to accept the situation for what it was, and had even found some comfort while being held in Big, Black Bubba’s firm embrace.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” Well, that saying seems to apply in prison for many inmates, as well. Quite a few of Rome’s greatest leaders and politicians were known to take on a wife, but some of them also had male lovers on the side. Several of Rome’s greatest leaders married only for political strength and to carry on their bloodlines. Amongst these renowned homosexual, or bisexual, leaders and politicians, just to name a few, there’s been Marc Antony, Trajan, Hadrien, and Nero.

Marc Antony was Julius Caesar’s former, ranking governor. Marc Antony had only a chance to become the heir to Caesar’s throne, but he was defeated by Caesar’s nephew, Octavian, also known as Caesar Augustus which translates into semi-divine ruler. Like Julius Caesar, and despite being married to Octavian’s sister, Marc Antony had developed an intimate relationship with Cleopatra of Egypt. Even so, it is said that he had a thing for wild parties, large consumptions of wine, and orgies with both women and men. Marc Antony and Cleopatra both committed suicide while they fled in exile after being defeated by Octavian and his forces, and as a result Marc Antony failed in his quest to rule the Roman Empire.

Emperor Trajan was Emperor Nerva’s successor and one of the most well-liked emperors ever to rule the Roman Empire. This earned him the title “Optimus Princeps,” which translates into “Perfect Prince.” Emperor Trajan’s wife, Pompeia, was also highly regarded by the citizens of ancient Rome. Despite the fact that he was married, Emperor Trajan still had a thing for young men.

In 177 A.D., Emperor Trajan died of a stroke and his younger cousin, Hadrien, took the throne. Emperor Hadrien was the first Roman leader to truly be seen and recognized by his people. He accomplished this by setting out on great tours of his empire and by having coins printed with his image on them. Though he was married to his wife, Savena (who it is rumored never truly loved him), he would leave on his tours of the Roman Empire with his male lover, Antinous. It was on one of these tours that Antinous fell off of the boat they were aboard and drowned. Emperor Hadrien was said to have wept like a child due to Antinous’ death. Despite how his wife may have felt about him, Emperor Hadrien is said to have been a good and likable leader.

Emperor Nero, on the other hand, was perhaps the most nefarious leader ever to have ruled the Roman Empire. He inherited the throne after taking part in the assassination of his stepfather, Emperor Claudius, with the assistance of his mother, Agrafena. Emperor Nero later had his mother executed, as well as two wives and a step brother, and he also had one of his male lovers castrated. On top of all of that, he was responsible for persecuting and executing many Christians and Jews, and before he committed suicide by stabbing himself in the neck it was even thought that Emperor Nero may have had something to do with the great fire that overtook Rome during his reign.

Unlike modern-day Earth, there was no such term, no word for “homosexuality” back in ancient Roman times. Sex was viewed as a means of power and control. As long as a leader or politician was on top, or in the domineering position, during relations then no criticisms would be dished out. However, if a leader or politician allowed himself to play the role of the taker rather than the giver, the catcher rather than the pitcher, the receiver instead of the quarterback, the bread as opposed to the jam, the donut in comparison to the cream filling, only then might this be used as a scandal against him, like a symbol of weakness, if it were discovered and brought to light.

Things had been so much easier for Big, Black Bubba back when he first arrived in the Lebensraum Penitentiary. Maximum security is much more lenient in comparison to the way things work on death row. They actually let the inmates out of their cells while they’re in maximum security confinement. The inmates get to go to the cafeteria, and work a job, and they sometimes even get to go outside. There’s so much more to do in maximum security confinement, but there’re also many more dangers that come into play with all of the extra leniencies and luxuries.

In max, there are many advantages to running with a pack. We’ve all heard the saying, “There’s safety in numbers.” If an inmate doesn’t join a gang while in prison then they often risk becoming an easy target to single out and take advantage of. Most gangs are usually up for recruiting new members, but Big, Black Bubba and his friends were usually only interested in scouting for “new talent,” as they liked to call it. Their friends had a way of finding and hooking up with them. For Bubba, the best part about maximum security confinement was the fact that there were certain locations in the prison where he and his friends could go where they would find themselves alone with other, more-secluded inmates. The showers were one of Big, Black Bubba and his friends’ favorite places to go. Have ya ever heard the saying, Don’t drop the soap?

Sometimes, in some areas, Big, Black Bubba and his friends would pay the guards to turn a blinded eye and let them have their way with certain, other inmates. In other locations they were practically free to do whatever they wanted with their prey. When choosing their next victim, they would always scout for easy and favorable prey beforehand. Anytime the other inmates saw Big, Black Bubba and his friends step foot in the showers they hurriedly finished up and got out of there, not wanting to be around for what they already know is coming next. As the others in the shower clear out, Big, Black Bubba and his friends go about the task of surrounding their latest victim, cutting off any chance of his escape. Lord only knows where it all goes from there, but everybody in the prison can draw the same conclusion…

The showers were one of the places where Big, Black Bubba and his friends could get away with just about anything they wanted to, and showers were mandatory for all inmates. Can’t have the prisoners stinking too bad. Big, Black Bubba actually missed those days, but now that he had made the Fairy into his bitch he was coping in here on death row much better.

“God, I can’t wait ‘til they fry your asses,” Sick Man called across to the three queers.

“Yeah, especially that big, disgusting nigger one!” the Southern Skinhead hollered out from the cell to Sick Man’s right. Things had been heating up between Big, Black Bubba and the Southern Skinhead the past few days. They were in a sort of dire competition, and it was beginning to look like things might just come to a head between the two of them. Would there be an altercation?

“You’re lucky I don’t have your cracker ass one of these nights!” Big, Black Bubba hollered back.

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you, ya nigger faggot?!” The Southern Skinhead retorted.

“We’ll see, cracker! Just you wait and see,” Big, Black Bubba taunted, but nothing would come of it. Big, Black Bubba wasn’t looking to get into a fight. He was looking for a piece of ass from someone easy to manipulate, not someone who might overpower him. That’s what Big, Black Bubba had found in the Fairy, and why he was so fond of him. That’s why the Fairy was Big, Black Bubba’s favorite. That’s why Big, Black Bubba was able to turn the Fairy into his bitch in the first place.

“I’ll kill you, ya nigger faggot! I’ll feed you your own fuckin’ cock!” That last comment Big, Black Bubba had made really set the Southern Skinhead off. He was furious. He wanted to kill Big, Black Bubba right then and there, and he felt that the only thing stopping him was the bars to their cells. He was done with these faggots and their appalling ways. He was being forced to live on this cell block, too, and he didn’t feel he deserved to have to live next to such disturbing nastiness and grotesqueness, no matter what he’d done. He’d been disgusted by these creeps for long enough.

But it’ll happen again tonight. It always does after an execution. And Googly Eyes will be at the bars of his cell, dick in hand, trying to peer over at them despite the fact that he’ll never quite manage to do so.

The Southern Skinhead looked across the corridor to his left to see Googly Eyes staring down Sick Man. Googly Eyes briefly looked over at the Southern Skinhead, and the Southern Skinhead glimpsed a string of drool hanging down the right side of Googly Eyes’ chin before the sick weirdo went back to staring at Sick Man.

What a disgusting bunch, the Southern Skinhead thought to himself.

“Don’t let them get to you,” the man with the accent called across to the Southern Skinhead. “They’re only the scum of the World.”

That got a laugh out of the Southern Skinhead, but it still wouldn’t change what was going to happen tonight…

“So when does everybody think we’ll get to see a light show?” the simple but annoying voice of the biggest shit-talker to ever step foot through the gates of the Lebensraum Penitentiary spoke up. The way he said it, it sounded as though their arguing had distracted him from his subject of real interest and was spoiling his fun.

“Shut up, Shithead!” quite a few of the inmates blurted out, practically in unison.

“It’s like you can feel their souls leave their bodies,” the slithery and creepy voice of Googly Eyes spoke up. “And the power it produces…”

“Does that turn you on, Googly Eyes?” Big, Black Bubba asked.

“Yes,” Googly Eyes replied, after a moment’s reflection on the question.

“A bit of a sadist, aren’t you, my friend?” Big, Black Bubba commented.

“Aren’t you both?” Sick Man quickly chimed in with a witty remark.

“And does that turn you on, Sick Man?” Big, Black Bubba casually asked, and he received no reply.

“How ‘bout you, ya bald, racist, dick-slap piece of shit?” in which Big, Black Bubba received a, “Fuck you!” reply from the Southern Skinhead.

“Or how ‘bout you, Conner? How do the lights make you feel? Do they make you want to roll over, shrivel up and die? Do they make you want to weep like a little girl? Do they bring about a strange, twisted, deranged sense of intrigue and wonder? Do you actually feel that man’s soul leave his body like Googly Eyes over here does? Do ya think about your own mortality?”

“Do you not?” Conner shot back, and he asked it as a very serious question. He truly wondered, Is someone like Big, Black Bubba even capable of thinking outside of the box?

“Yeah, well, we’ll see who’s holding his bitch tonight, now, won’t we?” Big, Black Bubba shot back, after some minor hesitation on his part.

“You still didn’t answer my question,” Conner stated, not letting Big, Black Bubba off of the hook so easily. He rephrased his question, “Do you ever question your own mortality, what it all means and where you’re headed towards?”

“You’re beginning to sound like the Preacher Man,” Big, Black Bubba replied, after some further hesitation on his part.

Conner didn’t see how someone could be so despicable. Conner knew that the reason Big, Black Bubba was in here had something to do with gang violence and murder, but he didn’t see how that accounted for the guy letting himself sink so low? It’s like he isn’t even human anymore. He has transformed into a real life monster… an appalling, offensive, dangerous monster. Humanity is truly lost in such a loathsome, ill-deserved individual.

One of the definitions of humanity is kindness and compassion for others. Those traits are lost by virtually all within a prison, except for maybe a seldom few. There’s no place for compassion amongst a bunch of hardened killers. In here, kindness and compassion can get someone killed.

“May ye all burn in hell!” the Preacher Man blurted out. “Jesus cometh! Save the light!”

A moment later the lights in cell block A started to rapidly flicker on and off. The hairs on the back of Conner’s neck stood up and his arms broke out in gooseflesh. There was a sinking feeling in his gut and his heartbeat sped up. This is it. Goodbye, Lester.

The lights always flicker on and off like that every time they flip the switch to fry an inmate. It’s all part of the procedure. First they leave ya in here to rot, and stew, and suffer, and just about drive yourself nuts, then in the end they strap your ass into that chair and cut ya loose to Ole’ Sparky. The reason the lights flash like that is because of how much juice it takes to power that ole’ bitch of a chair, but some inmates make more out of it ‘cause they’re crazy, deranged and demented. Googly Eyes and the Preacher Man are two fine examples, as far as inmates with unsound beliefs and outlandish behavior patterns go.

The Preacher Man would tell you that the flickering lights were a sign of the angels, or demons, claiming another lost soul. Googly Eyes would go as far out as to say that he feels the soul leaving the body through the flickering lights. And what would Conner say? Conner would tell you that the loonies come in all forms in here, and there’s definitely an abundance of them.

You know the ones who are meant to be in here by listening to who is and who isn’t cheering on the executions that take place over in the next room, Conner couldn’t help but silently acknowledge. He knew that most all of the inmates in here were guilty of their crimes, but this acknowledgment didn’t help him distinguish the lowdown, despicable monsters from the people who he could actually communicate with.

It gets lonely in here, so Conner had thought it best to try to meet the other inmates and make acquaintances with those he could actually stand whenever possible. For example, Sick Man over in the cell to his right wasn’t so bad. Sick Man at least felt guilty over what he’d done.

Sick Man was a junky who had been hard up for cash one night. He decided to rob a home, and the homeowner turned out to be a gun fanatic…

“The guy had guns everywhere,” Sick Man had told Conner one night, “which was great considering how much I can make off of them on the streets. It was really late at night, past midnight, and I was doing my best to be as quiet as possible. I never expected the guy to wake up. Next thing I know, this guy is standing in a doorway while I’m ransacking one of his collections… and he’s armed. It was dark in the house, but I could see the gun. I think he didn’t turn on the light ‘cause he wanted to sneak up on me without giving himself away… the whole element of surprise thing. Well, he surprised me, alright.

“‘Turn around and get your hands up in the air!’ this guy shouts at me, and I about jumped through his ceiling, I was so startled. I start to turn around and put my hands up, and I’m holding this gun of his, I have no idea if the thing is loaded or not, and I hear the distinct click of the hammer of a revolver being locked into position to be fired. I’ve never fired anything other than a Beebe gun before in my life, but I’ve bought and sold guns on the streets before, so I’ve been around firearms enough to know how they work.

“I doubt the guy could see me all too good in the dark… and looking back on it, to be honest with you, I don’t know if he intended to pull the trigger or not. I just know that I was scared and I heard that click. I had that gun in my hand, barely even realized it was there, at first, and then I thought he was going to shoot me ‘cause I was armed… I mean, I was robbing the guy’s house, after all. I dove to the ground, pointed the barrel of the gun I was holding in the guy’s direction, and quickly squeezed the trigger three times. He got a couple of shots off, too, but the bullets passed right over me. Two out of three of my bullets struck the guy. Not bad for my first time shooting a gun, huh?”

Conner hadn’t known what to say to that. Sick Man quickly wound up catching on to Conner’s apprehension and decided to continue with his story.

“Anyways, if he would’ve lived I’d have still been in some deep shit, but since I killed him I wound up in here. Whatever would have came of it otherwise? I can only say that I wish I never fired that gun. Why does a person have to keep every gun in their house loaded? It was like he was just inviting a disaster like that to happen, but I guess it was ultimately my fault. I’m the one who reacted. I pulled the trigger.”

Conner didn’t agree with what Sick Man had done, and he felt that perhaps Sick Man did deserve to be in here, but at least the man felt remorse for his crimes, unlike some people. Conner looked across at the three queers relishing in their light show, Lester Gribbs’ departure from the World. They were a-hootin’ and a-hollerin’ and just having themselves a good, ole’ time. Most of the men on cell block A were doing the same thing the queers were doing. It was a real three-ring circus’ freak-show in here on cell block A at the moment. The monsters on death row were chanting and cheering on the flickering lights like wolves howling at the moon.

Finally the power came back on in full and the light show was over. Now the inmates would slowly but surely start to settle back down. It wouldn’t happen immediately, the monsters would want to talk about the show afterwards. They’ll do anything to occupy the time and try to fill that void.

Conner understood how lonely, bored, deprived, and depraved one could get in here, but he didn’t understand how someone could end up like any one of the Lebensraum Penitentiary’s monsters. There was no excuse for such an atrocious transition to take place, no excuse for someone to sink so low, in Conner’s mind. Lester is gone. Let the dead rest in peace. Why must they persist to go on and on about it? Why can’t they just drop it and leave it alone?

Executions took a lot out of Conner. Executions got him thinking about his own mortality, which scared him and gave him plenty enough to worry about on its own. Executions exhausted and exasperated him, making him feel tired and worn out. Conner decided that he would take a nap.

He figured that the queers weren’t going to permit him to get much sleep during the night (they apparently enjoyed spectators and outside involvement during their late night performances), so Conner decided that he had better try to sleep now. The initial show was over. Lester Gribbs is dead now. The raucous would soon die down. Before fading into unconsciousness, Conner thought to himself, It’d be okay with me if tonight never came.

The sun sank beneath the western horizon and darkness overtook the land. The night had come. Conner awoke in his cell to the sound of one of the guards entering the cell block. With a sick and distressing feeling of contempt filling his gut, he thought to himself, Great, this is it.

Conner wished more than anything that he could just continue sleeping, but he was up and awake now, and he knew it was about to get very noisy in here again. They dim the lights at night, which makes it a little hard to see, making activities like reading next to impossible to do. It wasn’t just the sight of it, though, the sound is what he couldn’t escape. The sound and the knowing. It was hard just knowing what was about to take place right across from him. Conner sat up and looked across the way to see Big, Black Bubba staring at him, nodding his head up and down and smiling.

“You’re gonna join ‘em tonight, aren’t ya, now, Jarves?” Shithead blurted out to the guard as he neared his cell, which was located a couple cells away from Ole’ Sparky’s chamber.

“Shut the fuck up before I go in there and beat you!” The prison guard, Jarves Holmes, threatened and pointed at Shithead as he walked by. “Hey, Bubba, do you want to take Shithead, too? It’ll be my treat.”

“Nah, fuck that, I don’t know where that motha’ fucka’s mouth has been. That’s one foul-ass bitch,” Big, Black Bubba replied.

“Can’t say I blame ya,” Holmes concluded, reaching for his baton. It’s like the guards always have to get the last word in – unless, of course, they’re doing one of their look-cool-while-walking-away departures.

Jarves Holmes made sure to whack the bars of the Southern Skinhead’s cell as he walked by. The Southern Skinhead was laying down on his bunk with his eyes closed. He opened them and casually hollered out, “Fuck you, nigger!” before closing them again and saying no more.

“Just making sure you’re awake, asshole!” Holmes hollered back, sounding just as cool and as casual.

“Man, why do you have to do this? That’s one sick, twisted brotha’,” Conner muttered under his breath, somberly shaking his head as Holmes neared his cell.

“It ain’t for the brothas’, brotha’. It’s for the money,” Holmes swiftly replied, catching wind of Conner’s comment.

“You know, you could join us tonight,” Big, Black Bubba commented as Holmes walked by.

“Man, shut the fuck up! You’re lucky I don’t stick you in a cell with that racist bastard over there and let ya’ll sort out your differences the old-fashioned way,” Holmes retorted, sounding fed up.

“I’m just saying… Sheesh! Learn how to take a compliment,” Big, Black Bubba grumbled under his breath.

Jarves Holmes passed the cells of Conner and Big, Black Bubba, stopping just past them at the Fairy’s cell. Holmes then took the keys from his waistband and used them to unlock the door to the Fairy’s cell, sliding the steal bars open on their tracks. The Fairy was ready and waiting for him. Holmes escorted the Fairy over to Big, Black Bubba’s cell and let him in.

“Alright, he, or she, or whatever it’s become is all yours,” Holmes said, as he slid the bars to Big, Black Bubba’s cell closed and walked off.

“Thank you!” Big, Black Bubba hollered out to the guard.

“Go play with your toy!” the guard hollered back.

Then, while looking over at Conner, Big, Black Bubba announced, “Now it’s time to get down to business.” Big, Black Bubba liked having an audience.

“You are disgusting, nigger,” Conner said this as if it were some sort of an epiphany, a great moment of revelation and realization. It really was all just so disturbingly unbelievable.

“I am what I am,” Big, Black Bubba replied.

“Does your family know what you’re doing with all of your money, Bubba?” Sick Man interjected.

“That’s none of your business, is it, ya fuckin’ junky?!” Big, Black Bubba quickly shot back. “But for your information, they don’t ask and I don’t tell them. They don’t need to know what goes on up in here. I’m the reason they are where they are today so they keep me afloat, alright? Besides, family members look out for one another no matter what. Us brothas’ gotta stick together! Isn’t that right, Conner?”

Conner just looked down and avidly shook his head from side to side, thinking to himself, This brotha’s hopeless.

“Now, I want you to do something for me,” Big, Black Bubba said, as he looked from Conner to the Fairy.

“Yeah, what’s that, sugar?” The Fairy asked.

“I want you to strip naked for me and show that boring, ugly-ass brotha’ over there how pecker-lickin’ good your fine, little cracker ass is at sucking cock,” Big, Black Bubba explained.

“Sinners! Sinners!” the Preacher Man started to shout. “The man Jesus sees all!”

“Well let him see this, then, sugar,” the Fairy retorted, and Big, Black Bubba let out a hefty, hardy laugh.

“You invite the demons! The dark hearts of eternity arise from the abyss!” the Preacher Man shouted aloud as the Fairy finished stripping off his clothes and got down on his knees in order to put his lips around Bubba’s big, black boner.

“The demons are here! I can feel them!” The Preacher Man’s previous comment had gotten Googly Eyes’ attention. He was up against the bars with his nose in the air, apparently trying to detect a presence by sniffing it out.

An even worse show than Lester Gribbs’ execution was about to get underway on cell block A. All night long, it would go on and on and on. Utterly appalled and disgusted, Conner would put his pillow over his head and try to forget the sights and drown out the sounds while internally asking the age-old eternal question of despair, Why, God? Why?

It didn’t matter, there was no escaping it. For God’s sake, he was stuck right across the way from ‘em doin’ it. He was also stuck right next to the Preacher Man, whose noisy-ass didn’t know how to shut up and look away. To top things off, Googly Eyes would be right up against the bars to his cell the entire time, attempting to peer around a corner his eyes didn’t stand a chance of looking beyond.

Other than the three queers, all of the inmates on cell block A were wallowing in pools of their own misery and misfortune, completely and uncomfortably agitated and despondent under the current circumstances. The Southern Skinhead wanted to “kill that nigger queer,” and Sick Man needed a fix really bad all of a sudden. If it really did come down to it between Big, Black Bubba and the Southern Skinhead, Conner was actually kind of hoping that the Nazi prick would kill this faggot brotha’.

The Lebensraum Penitentiary is a big prison that houses all sorts of inmates. There are minimum and maximum security buildings with many different sections and cell blocks for both male and female offenders on the grounds, including a juvenile offenders division, a visitation center, and a good-sized hospital wing. There are cafeterias in every building, libraries, locations designated for recreation, cleaning facilities, class rooms for learning, work programs, and so much more, all located on the prison’s vast estate. There are on-grounds and off-grounds work programs, and in the off-grounds work program the inmates actually get bused off the premises of the prison and even get to go outside. There are many luxuries in the Lebensraum Penitentiary, especially if you take into consideration that the inmates do most all of the work in this prison. But that isn’t so for the death row inmates.

The death row inmates don’t work. The institution doesn’t like to have murderers leaving their cells more often than need be. The death row inmates are kept locked up as much and as often as can be permitted and is allowed. They’re fed in their cells, not in a cafeteria like the other inmates. They’re only allowed out of their cells three times a week for exercise. Other than that, they’re only allowed out for visitations.

The prison had a deal set up with a certain minister of the faith, a reverend who came in to speak and pray with inmates on Sundays, offering them guidance, words of encouragement, and scholarly ethical and philosophical advice. It didn’t get anybody too far away from their cell, but it was something for the inmates to do.

The visitations with the reverend were always conducted in a small, drab room just past the guards’ monitoring station and offices. The room looks a lot like an interrogation chamber. The inmate is seated in a chair in this drab, little room and is securely cuffed into place. The cuffed-into-a-chair theme was probably selected on purpose, for the institution tends to like to prepare the inmates for what’s to come “in here” through a very direct approach. After that, the sermon and prayer session begins. The inmate is free to talk, free to make his every confession in the presence and good grace of the Lord’s intermediary.

The Preacher Man went to see the reverend one Sunday and, well, the session didn’t end well. Conner was next in line to see the reverend and could verify that the reverend looked about as white as the holy ghost when the Preacher Man was done with him. Conner could see that the reverend was physically shaking, he was so unnerved, and he was so flabbergasted by the Preacher Man that he was tongue-tied, barely able to go on with his sermon. He was stammering and stuttering, jumping around and trailing off… It was like he didn’t quite know what to say.

They never tell the inmates on death row anything in advance. Nobody even knows the date of their own execution ‘til just about the month it’s due to take place. The people who run this prison have come to realize that men sentenced to death and young, new lifers are more likely to try something, like attempting a prison break or getting violent and causing trouble. The less of a schedule such inmates have, the less opportunity they have to start problems. Having less events to prepare for gives the guards quite a few advantages, as well, such as the opportunity for better preparation in more standard and familiar circumstances. The mentality of the guards on death row is that they are dealing with the worst and most hardened criminals, ones who don’t deserve rehabilitation because such efforts are wasted and lost on them, and it’s dangerous to think otherwise.

There’s no other entrance to cell block A other than the door to Ole’ Sparky’s chamber. The inmates get to see that chair every time they enter or exit the cell block, which isn’t often. It’s not to be cruel, it’s to desensitize the death row inmates and prepare them for the inevitable. It’s only a matter of time.

There are four cameras on cell block A, all posted in corners in front and to either side of the first and last cells along the long and narrow corridor, all boxed in by solid, see-through Plexiglas so that the inmates can’t get at them. The monitoring system is set up to both record and provide feed to the guards’ monitoring station, which is located on the other side of Ole’ Sparky’s chamber. Beyond the four cameras monitoring cell block A, there are three cameras in Ole’ Sparky’s chamber – two pointed towards the doors to the room and one pointed at Ole’ Sparky herself. The guards’ offices are located a little ways past the monitoring station, and down another long, narrow corridor there are the solitary confinement chambers for the cell block and the morgue at the very end. This entire section is well protected, reinforced and constantly locked down. The guards can’t see inside the cells on the monitors, for the cameras aren’t positioned to invade the inmates’ privacy (that would go against New World regulations), but the guards would be able to see if an inmate somehow managed to escape from their cell. The guards also do a walkthrough about once every hour or two to see to it that the inmates are in their cells. All and all, cell block A had always been a very secure area.

As long as they remained vigilant and kept alert, being strict as well as careful, it wasn’t too bad being a prison guard on death row. There were even a lot of perks for Warden Cid’s main crew. All of the guards on death row made good earnings for a prison guard’s salary (because the job involves executions and handling the lowest of the low, it can be a hard job to cope with and many who think they can cut it don’t last very long), and there wasn’t even a whole lot of work to be done ‘cause the inmates barely left their cells. A lot of times the job just consisted of watching the monitors while trying to find ways to pass the time and keep from getting bored.

Death row has to be one of the loneliest places in the Lebensraum Penitentiary, perhaps one of the loneliest places in the World. Inmates with life sentences get way more breathing room and get to partake in many more activities than the inmates confined to death row. Lifers get to work and attend their classes and go to the exercise yard and leave their cells while the inmates on death row sit and stew in their cells except for when they’re locked to a ball and chain and taken to a caged-in, indoor gymnasium for their three weekly activity days. The only other place on the grounds of the Lebensraum Penitentiary that is even half as bad as death row is the prison’s psych ward, which we’ll steer clear of.

Visitations always reminded Conner of the loneliness in the prison, as well as the loneliness in his life and in his heart. The only person who ever came and visited him was his son, Brandon. He didn’t know it yet, but his son was about to pay him a visit this afternoon, halfway through the day after Lester Gribbs’ execution and one of Big, Black Bubba’s late night sexual excursions.

Conner had been having a bad day. The entire cell block seemed overtaken by a sort of brooding silence, and everybody was acting on edge and hostile today. The Southern Skinhead had been threatening to beat the shit out of Big, Black Bubba all day long, but whose to say if anything would come of it? There’s always a lot of talk in a prison. Tempers flare, and everybody’s trying to size everybody else up and see where it leads. That’s just how it goes.

Conner always felt touched every time his son showed up. It was kind of funny how the visitations both hurt and soothed his soul. Conner had said to himself in the past, “I would die for that kid.” After his divorce from Brandon’s estranged mother, Amelia, Conner had told himself, I’d probably kill myself if it wasn’t for the fact that I have to be there for my son. Amelia had run out on them when Brandon was twelve. That had been hard on Conner and his son, but Brandon was twenty-two years old and all grown up now. He was going to have to take care of himself from now on. Dad wouldn’t be there to help him along anymore. Dad wasn’t going to be there to bail him out ever again. Dad was on his way out via Ole’ Sparky. Conner hoped more than anything that Brandon would be alright, and that he would do just fine at getting by in life.

The stay on death row is by no means an in and out process. It can take up to ten years for an execution to be carried out in full. Because executions have become such a touchy, politically unstable and controversial topic, plenty of time is given as leeway for every precaution to be taken in order to ensure that any evidence proving an inmate’s innocence shows up prior to an execution being carried out. Not many death penalty cases get overturned. More often, but still seldom, a case will be reevaluated and an inmate will be lucky enough to get their sentence reduced to life without parole, but in time, most all executions are carried to term.

Conner had been on cell block A for well over a year now, and he was pretty sure he wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. He tried to remind Brandon of that during their visitations, reassuringly telling his son, “Anytime you want to come and see me, I’ll be here.”

The visits were always so very emotional for the both of them. His son seemed exceptionally worked up on this occasion. Conner tried to explain to his son that this is just the way it has to be. Conner tried to explain to his son that things happen for a reason and work out the way they work out. Conner brought up his ex-wife, Amelia, and her running out on them, trying to find out if Brandon felt alone or abandoned, but Brandon assured his father that that wasn’t what this was about. Conner tried to explain to Brandon what he wanted for his son, things that would make any father happy. Conner tried to get to the bottom of things and cut to the heart of the matter, asking Brandon directly, “So what’s going on with you?” but Brandon still continued to talk funny, beating around the bush and talking in circles no matter what his father said to him.

“It’s not that simple, dad,” was one of Brandon’s responses.

“I have to live with this,” was another.

“I have to be okay with this, or act like I’m okay with this, for the rest of my life. And lately, it’s like I just don’t know if I can do that. God, dad, it’s just so frustrating sometimes,” was yet another, and this one worried his father a little.

Conner went as far as to say, “Son, the last place that you want to wind up is in here. Please, Brandon, live life to its fullest and try to enjoy every moment you’re alive and free. I’ve always done it all for you, my boy. I just want you to be happy. I know, I’m in here, but I just want for you to be happy,” Conner was about in tears by now, and he wiped his eyes before continuing. “Try to understand. Don’t worry about your old man in here when you have a life to discover and live out there. Chase your dreams, son, and don’t fall into the bad things. Don’t let people drag you down with them. Find a good woman, and I mean a good one, son. I knew your mother was a little unstable when I married her, but hey, I made the mistake of falling in love with her. It’s been tough, but I think we did alright. Please just be careful in life, Brandon, and make your father happy and proud of you.”

“No matter what, dad, I’ll do my best,” was one of Brandon’s responses.

“I know that’s what you want, dad, and I try to be considerate of how you feel,” was another one of Brandon’s responses.

“Things just get nuts sometimes, and I’ll tell ya, it’s not the same not having you there with me,” was yet another one of Brandon’s responses.

“I just don’t know what to do sometimes,” was yet another.

The visitation had been scheduled for 1:30 p.m. and lasts for forty-five minutes. The long hand of the clock back in the visitor’s room behind the thick plate glass was almost on top of the number twelve, making the time just prior to two o’clock in the afternoon. Father and son, two thirds of the way through the visitation now. Visits from his son always left Conner feeling worked up and emotional, but this time he was truly beginning to feel a bit uneasy and worried about the boy.

What’s going on in my son’s life? Why is he talking so funny? It’s like he’s talking in circles and never arriving at a destination or a point. He doesn’t look like he’s on drugs. What’s he been going through? What’s the boy planning on doing? If only he weren’t behind bars, maybe then I could get to the bottom of this and help him out? But Conner also couldn’t help but think to himself, Perhaps none of these troubles would be occurring in my son’s life if I wasn’t behind these bars right now?

Visitations are handled on death row just as they would be anywhere else in the prison. The inmate is escorted out of the building, loaded into a patty-wagon, and driven over to the visitation center. There’s generally much fewer prisoners to a guard’s care, or the guards’ care, coming from death row.

Prison guards are never scheduled to work alone and are instructed to never do anything involving the handling of the inmates without another guard present, but that last rule doesn’t always seem to work out efficiently and is sometimes bypassed. Guards are usually divided into teams of three, each three-man team assigned to oversee a different area of the prison, but every once in a while someone gets sick and there’s nobody else to fill the shift and a team ends up working on a two. People have to take breaks and everybody gets a lunch and there’s still work to be done, so you can see how a guard can get left alone in certain instances.

One of the main things Conner had learned about prison guards: Prison guards are only on their best behavior when “guests,” as the prison staff calls them (or “outsiders,” as the inmates call them), are around. Other than that, anything goes as long as there isn’t a murder, a riot, or a jailbreak and the guards pretty much can’t care less.

Any prison guard with a little tenure could tell you that convicts always seem to pull some shit whenever ya least expect it. Convicts have nothing better to do than be inventive, and they only have so little to invent with. The trick for the guards is to realize this and try to stay quite a few steps ahead of the inmates in the game. Many guards will tell you about a sort of E.S.P., or sixth-sense, that they feel on the job sometimes whenever something’s about to happen, but many other guards just seem to be left in the dark to such curious and wondrous sensations.

“Keep your head up, son,” Conner told his boy, after trying and failing at getting to the heart of Brandon’s troubles yet again. It was the same old runaround, over and over. Conner wasn’t getting anywhere with Brandon and their allotted time for this visitation was running short. Conner looked up at the clock again and saw that they only had ten minutes left. Conner didn’t like for these visitations from his son to end on a low note. He didn’t like for either one of them to walk away upset, or angry, or depressed, or feeling down. Negative feelings and impressions have this way of lingering and hanging around for a while, especially when a person’s stuck all alone in confinement with no where else to turn other than his own thoughts. Because Conner didn’t like things to end on a bad note, he had learned to close out these visits with his son on a positive upswing, usually by telling a joke or two.

“I’ve heard a few good, new ones,” Conner said to Brandon.

“Oh yeah?” Brandon replied. “Do tell.”

“Have you heard the one about the escaped convict?” Conner began.

“No,” Brandon replied.

“That’s probably ‘cause he got caught.” Conner moved right along to the next one, “Have you heard the one about the drunk driver?”

“No,” Brandon replied, but he could almost guess what his father was going to say.

“He died in a car crash.” Conner moved right along to the next one, “Have you heard the one about the whore’s marriage?”

“No,” Brandon replied, already laughing in response to the setup.

“It didn’t last,” Conner said, and paused.

Brandon said with a smile on his face, “I suppose not.”

“Yeah, but she walked away with a lot of cash,” Conner added.

“Where do you come up with this shit?” Brandon couldn’t help but ask.

“In here, a man listens a lot,” Conner said, then added, “and people get creative when they don’t have a whole lot of outside entertainment to keep them occupied and do the thinking for them. Alright, I got some better ones. They’re all prison jokes, though. Actually, I think some of these might still be a little too mature for you.”

“Dad, come on, I’m twenty-two years old,” Brandon replied. “Besides, you already brought it up. It’s only fair to tell, now.”

“Okay, you got me there,” Conner said with a smile, having only been teasing Brandon before. Perhaps Conner had been dwelling on Big, Black Bubba and the Fairy’s little escapade the night before, ‘cause he chose to tell this one, “So, this guy goes to jail, gets to his cell and meets his cellmate, and his cell mate asks him ‘Do you want to be the husband or the wife?’ So this guy’s thinking, Well, if I have to choose… and he says, ‘The husband, I guess.” His cellmate then says to him, ‘Okay. Now that that’s settled, get over here and suck your wife’s dick.’”

“Oh, no, that’s so wrong!” Brandon replied.

“Yeah, well, that’s prison for ya,” Conner said, shaking his head.

“That kind of thing doesn’t really happen in there, does it?” Brandon asked, after seeing his father’s reaction at the end there.

“There’s some sick, twisted people in here, and there are others who just need help, and there are even those who don’t even seem to belong in here,” Conner told his son. “Just don’t slip off of the straight and narrow and you’ll never have to find out. And don’t worry about me, there isn’t anybody in here who your old man can’t handle. No one gives me any problems.

“Son, I know I used to tell you not to take any shit from anyone, but now I’m telling you that problems can more often be solved through diplomacy than violence. Hell, we’re too poor to handle our affairs any other way. Please, stay on the right path and don’t stray from it. Life’s too hard, otherwise, and life’s already hard enough as it is.”

“I’ll do my best,” Brandon earnestly replied, “I promise.”

“Good, son. Your old man needed to hear that,” Conner said, admiring his son with a big, wide grin. “I got a couple more to tell you, but we’re almost out of time.”

“Okay, I won’t interrupt you,” Brandon said, anxiously anticipating his father’s next joke.

“Your old man came up with these two on his own. They’re both from a running theme I’ve been working on in my spare time,” Conner informed his son, smiling as he said that last part.

“In your spare time,” Brandon reiterated. “That’s a good one, dad.”

Conner giggled, but Brandon did not. Then, ready to tell his last couple of jokes, Conner said, “I call this first one Finding Jesus. Okay, here we go…

I ran into an old friend the other day, asked him, ‘How’ve ya been?’

He says to me, ‘I’m doing great. I just got out of jail today.’

I ask him, ‘Why were you in jail?’

He tells me, ‘Because I was running from the cops.’

I ask him, ‘Why were you running from the cops?’

He tells me, ‘Because I wanted to go to jail.’

Did I mention, my friend’s a little crazy. I ask him, ‘Why in the World did you want to go to jail?’

He tells me, ‘Well, I felt that I needed Jesus in my life and I wanted to go out and find him.’

So, I ask him, ‘What made you think that you were going to find Jesus in jail?’

He tells me, ‘I don’t know, that’s just where I keep on hearing about everybody finding him these days.’

I just had to ask, ‘So, did you find him?’

‘No, I didn’t,’ he admits to me, then goes on to say, ‘but a bunch of guys that were in before me did. I guess I must’ve just missed him. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find him on the next go around?’”

Conner concluded the first of his final two jokes and Brandon laughed. “That was good, dad. Go on with the next one, please. I know we’re almost out of time and I really want to hear it.”

“Okay, I call this next one A Better Criminal. Here we go…

I ran into an old friend the other day, asked him, ‘What all have ya been up to lately?’

He tells me, ‘I’ve been doing some time. I just got released from the pen the other day.’

I say to him, ‘Well, that sucks that you were in jail, sorry to hear about your misfortune, but it’s good to see that you’re out.’

He says to me, ‘Don’t feel sorry for me, I made a mistake and served my time for it. Besides, jail wasn’t so bad.’

I just had to ask, ‘Well, whatever do you mean?’

He tells me, ‘Well, for one thing, I learned a lot.’

So, I ask him, ‘Oh yeah, like what?’

He tells me, ‘Well, amongst other things, how to get away with doing what it was that I was doing when I got caught without getting busted the next time around.’                               My response, ‘Huh, is that so?’

Then he says to me, ‘Hey, the best way to learn how to become successful at anything is to learn from other people with more experience than you, right?’

My response, ‘If you say so.’

He then says to me, ‘Other than jails and prisons, there are very few places that I can think of where criminals congregate in such large numbers. A guy really can go in a small time crook and come out rollin’ the dice with the big-league boys. Hey, you learn the game as you go along and over time it gets to where you just know how to play it.’

Again, my response, ‘If you say so.’

That was the last time I ever saw my old friend. I heard that he went up the road, must’ve neglected a rule of the game or something, perhaps one of the finer points. Maybe he didn’t notice all of the repeat offenders while he was locked up the first time? Too bad, ‘cause now he’s one of ‘em.”

Conner concluded his final joke and Brandon applauded him, letting out a healthy, little laugh and showing off a big, bright smile. After taking one last glance up at the clock and seeing that only a minute remained, the father looked into the face of his son, cherishing the moment with a sensation of awe and inspiration. Meeting eyes with his boy, Conner readied himself, searching for the words to make his final point before the visitation came to its abrupt end.

“That one has a message in it for you, son,” Conner insisted, no longer kidding around. “I’d be rolling over in my grave if you wound up in a place like this. You have to keep working on your life, always, and you can’t fall into the bad things. There’s no straying from the path. You’ll do just fine, but you have to constantly work at it. Do you understand, son?”

“Yes, I do, dad,” Brandon replied, the look on both men’s faces much more serious than a moment ago. “I don’t want you to worry about me, either, dad. I’m doing alright, I really am, and I promise I’m going to do everything to make you proud. Things have just been eating at me lately, and I knew I had to come see you.”

“Well, I’m glad you did, and I hope our talk has helped. I must admit, you do sound a little down and bummed out today. Much more so than usual,” Conner pointed out.

“Yeah, well, it’s all in my head. I just needed to come see you,” Brandon told his father.

A prison guard walked over and interrupted their conversation by saying, “Times up!”

“I love you, dad,” Brandon told his father while trying to look strong for him.

“I love you, too, son,” Conner told his son in return, his emotion coming out in his voice. He hated this part, having to say goodbye to his boy, but wasn’t it inevitable just like everything else. “You be good, stay out of trouble, and always remember that I’d do anything for you. Make your father proud, son. Make me proud!”

That struck a chord and got to Brandon emotionally, but he stayed still and kept his cool. What am I to do?

“I’ll do my best, dad, I promise,” was all that Brandon could think to say, emotion now bleeding through in Brandon’s voice, too. Brandon would hold it together until he got outside and to his car, but once inside his car he broke down and wept. He never wanted his father to be anything but proud of him. He had some thinking to do. It was his life to get through. What am I to do?

Conner talked about his son with one of the prison guards from Warden Cid’s main crew, Miles Flemmings, on the way back to his cell. Miles was the kindest of the three guards on Warden Cid’s main crew.

There were actually three full-time crews, but Warden Cid’s main crew consisted of the three men Warden Cid trusted the most to take care of… how to word this, all the extracurricular business on cell block A. These three took care of such business as smuggling contraband into the cell block for the prisoners, or setting up Big, Black Bubba’s late night visits, or providing protection for anyone who could afford it, or even providing muscle for a beat down on a prisoner who rubbed somebody the wrong way. Anything for the right price!

Warden Cid and his three cronies pretty much made a second salary off of doing favors for the death row inmates, and why not? Who on death row was going to live long enough to say anything? Besides, who would want to spoil the fun and ruin a good thing? That wouldn’t be taken to very kindly by anyone on any cell block in any prison. Things would get tough for anyone who even mentioned snitchin’.

Miles Flemmings was dirty, just like all the rest of ‘em, but he was more jovial, easygoing, and much nicer than his other two crewmen. For Miles, being dirty just came with the territory. Call it a perk of the job.

Conner was beginning to believe that these guards would do just about anything for an extra dollar other than suck dick, and he thought a few of ‘em might even do that if the warden insisted upon it. Conner didn’t much like any of the prison guards, but solitude is the burden in here so one must take advantage of good conversation. Conner really just wanted to rant and rave about his son.

“Did you see my boy?! That’s my boy! He’s such a good boy! I’m so proud of him! Isn’t he handsome?! You know, his dad used to be handsome like that! His mom used to say that he got his good looks from me, but who was she fooling?! I’m so proud of him! He’s so handsome! I sure hope he pulls his shit together and makes something of himself! That’s my only boy! God, I do love him!”

Miles Flemmings led Conner along by the arm, listening to him while nodding his head and agreeing with him every once in a while. Miles could tell that Conner loved his son. Miles wondered to himself, What’s a guy like this doing in here? Didn’t he consider what it would be like for his son before committing such a heinous crime as murder?

It was nearly a month later when a surprise guest showed up on cell block A. It was then when Conner had come to realize, well… had come to realize a few things; amongst them were his greatest fears. It was also then that all hell broke loose, within cell block A and in Conner’s life, but again I state that Conner had been helped into realizing a few things; amongst them being ways to cope and deal. He didn’t think that he could’ve done it otherwise. He’d needed every bit of what had apparently been laid out before him to perceive and accomplish; put there by the Visitor or by God, he could not be entirely sure and figured, Eh, probably by both, in a way.

Nothing very eventful happened before the Visitor’s arrival. Conner’s son hadn’t come back to visit him again. Big, Black Bubba hadn’t had any more late night flings. There were no executions, no new inmates, and things had even cooled down a bit between Big, Black Bubba and the Southern Skinhead. The inmates went through their same old routines, living through and getting by each passing day. They told the same stupid jokes, carried out the same mundanely boring conversations, and simply got by while they waited for their sentences to be carried out.

Prison life consists of solitude and routine. If one does not develop a good routine, the solitude end of prison life will eat that person alive. Routine is what gets a person through the everyday monotony of prison life, and monotonously routine is how Conner would’ve described the last three and a half weeks in the pen. There was nothing new, nothing out of the ordinary, until…

It happened late one night… well, actually, early one morning. It started in Rip van Winkle’s cell. The Wino and Doc K witnessed it all from two very good angles. Conner didn’t doubt what they claimed they had seen. Everybody on cell block A had known that something was up, something way off kilter and out of the ordinary.

Rip van Winkle, who had a condition to where he slept most of his life away, happened to be awake at the time. Everybody else on the cell block was asleep when the event began. While lying down on his bunk with his eyes closed, Rip had heard something coming from the back wall of his cell, a noise which soon became more prevalent and distinguished, this odd creaking, cracking sound. It sounded to Rip like the back wall was expanding, like something was trying to come through it.

Rip van Winkle opened his eyes, sat up, turned his head towards where the noises were coming from and stared at the wall. Whatever was about to happen, he felt that it was going to be something astonishing and beyond compare. Suddenly, he started to visualize this faint, green glow which appeared to be coming through the wall. The mysterious glowing aura intensified and started to take on a form.

Is that a face? It looks like a man, Rip van Winkle thought to himself, as he quietly and inquiringly watched the mysterious green, glowing aura begin to take form. A soft, steady rustling and whirring began to form beneath the creaking, crackling sounds. It was like something out of a dream.

Is it here to take me with… to take me away from this place and show me something more… something greater… something better than this? Rip van Winkle was ready. He always knew there was something more to life than this. This was a trap, a middle grounds, the place where he was stuck in-between states of slumber and dreaming. For all he knew, this was the dream… Is it here to offer me a way out!

He knew that there had to be a purpose to all of this and that it was necessary to follow the voices back to salvation, but at what cost? It didn’t matter, he had already decided. He had to do what was commanded of him, for only then would his dreams become pure, uninterrupted, and perfectly tranquil.

I’m like a rat stuck in a maze trying to sniff out a piece of cheese, and the World is my cage… not just this prison cell, but the whole goddamned World. I’ve done everything that’s been commanded of me! Is this twisted, morbid journey finally due to end?! Will I be set free?! Have I finally found my salvation?! With a growing rage which resisted becoming afraid, Rip van Winkle continued to watch and listen, now listening internally… listening for the voice, and not the voice of reason.

No, he was listening for that same little voice that landed him in here in the first place. That voice had instructed him to kill before, but not now. Now it was not present. Now there was nothing but silence within the cell block, other than the sound of Rip’s breathing and the beating of his own heart.

The mysterious green, glowing aura was getting much brighter now, illuminating Rip van Winkle’s face and his cell. The glow was getting even brighter than the dim lights outside of the cells illuminating cell block A’s corridor. The face was present and becoming much more distinguishable. Two vicious yet inquisitive looking eyes stared into the cell. Those two eyes met Rip’s own.

Rip’s heart thumped in his chest and his breathing was heavy. He was afraid, but he did not back away. He stood and approached the back wall, kneeling down in front of it and admiring the face in the wall. The face looked fairly ordinary, but the head was huge. Rip thought to himself, It would take an enormous brain to fill that head. There was a body, too, but the body was also distorted, stretching the length of the cell’s back wall. There were no hands and no feet, no limbs at all. The lines that formed the body seemed to flash and shimmer like electricity or pure energy.

“What are you?” Rip asked the Visitor, not expecting a response. Then, not wanting to sound offensive, he rephrased his question. “Who are you?”

Just a curious visitor, a stern voice spoke up from within Rip’s own mind as the entity coming through the wall smiled at him, the lips otherwise unmoving. Even so, the voice was coming through loud and clear for Rip, and it was one of which Rip had never heard before. It wasn’t a kind and friendly voice that he was hearing, either, nor was it a polite and curious smile that he was seeing. Rip van Winkle sensed malice in that voice and that smile, just as he did in those eyes.

Yes, he was terrified and, yes, he sensed something was amiss, but he did not back down. And he was still hopefully optimistic, longing for something… more…

“What do you want from me? Why are you here?” Rip asked, and within his own mind he heard, Don’t you know? I want a good story, and I want the truth!

“Why me?” Rip asked, and again within his own mind he heard, Why not you?

“Okay. What do you want to know?” Rip asked, and heard, Your story. Your testimony.

“Okay. Where do I begin?” Rip asked, and the response, At the beginning.

Rip van Winkle thought about his childhood. It bothered him to think back to that time in his life, but he was sort of being forced to. He felt that this was a test, and this presence was like nothing he had ever encountered before so he didn’t dare defy what was commanded of him.

“I was always sick as a child. I suffered from fevers, headaches, and so much more. It was like my immune system couldn’t fight off the illnesses. A hot or cold day was all that it took to set it off… for me to come down with something and become sick. My parents took me to doctors, even specialists, but none of them could figure out what was wrong with me. I suppose they all tried, but it soon felt like everybody just gave up on me. I was, like, a lost cause. They all gave up on me!”

It isn’t right, is it?

“No, I suppose not, but I showed them,” Rip stated, an intense glare in his eyes.

What exactly did you do?

“My parents died in a house fire,” Rip stated, and a cruel, wry smile briefly flashed on his face.

I think I understand, Rip heard the voice say as he watched the face in the wall nod its huge, green head. The face showed no expression now. Rip could see that he had the Visitor’s full attention.

“Do you?” Rip asked the Visitor. “It wasn’t you who told me to.”

Wait, what do you mean?

“It wasn’t you. You’re new. I’ve never heard your voice before in my life,” Rip van Winkle pointed out to the Visitor.

Ah, that explains so much. No wonder you’re not more afraid than you are. The Visitor found this recent bit of information quite interesting, even perplexing, so he asked, When did you start hearing voices?

“I don’t know. When I was young, I guess. Ever since I can remember,” Rip informed the Visitor.

Ah, but that’s not completely true, is it? Your illness brought about the voices, didn’t it? Did you pray for your ailments to go away and the sickness to end? Did you pray for the power to cope with the sickness? Did you pray to anyone or anything who would listen to you to help you? Would you have cast yourself down into the bowels of hell in order to lessen that pain of yours? Would you have sold your soul to make the pain go away, or for it to even lessen in the slightest? You let your demons get the better of you, didn’t you?!

“Perhaps!” That was all that Rip van Winkle could think to say.

And did it help?

“Yes! No! Intermittently!” Rip was now thoroughly confused and it showed as he struggled to answer the Visitor. The Visitor was on a roll and wasn’t about to let up.

Ye of such little faith. You prayed to the wrong God out of desperation and look where it got you. Would you repent?

“Yes! No! Honestly, I don’t know what I’d do if I had it all to do over again. I was a child in pain with no one there who knew how to help me,” Rip replied, an honest response.

Fair enough. What else have these voices told you to do? I’d like to know more about these voices before we continue.

“They’re the reason I’m in here, it’s true. They’re the reason I set fire to that horrible institution, but I’m not sure I regret it,” Rip replied.

What exactly happened? Explain it to me in detail.

“Well, because of my condition and my illness…”

Wait, your condition and your illness? Continue to elaborate on all of that, first.

“On top of getting sick a lot, I have a disorder that keeps me asleep most of the time. It began after I started hearing the voices. I think of it as a gift bestowed upon me by the voices. I’ve always been thankful and appreciative for this condition. As the Buddhists say, ‘Life is suffering,’ but I’m fortunate enough to sleep most of my life away. There’s so much pain, otherwise. What the voices have given me, the ability to be asleep the majority of the time, I wanna know, how can that be wrong?” Rip asked, practically challenging the Visitor.

For a moment, the Visitor actually felt empathy for Rip van Winkle, even a tinge of envy, a bit jealous of this man who was able to sleep his whole life away. But the Visitor realized that this was wrong, and that this was not a righteous man. This man suffered from a mental illness, and he sounded like he was possessed. Rip van Winkle was an interesting character, but he had become what he had become by heading down a road that led to his own, personal hell regardless of the benefits which had been bestowed upon him. His compromise had helped him deal with pain and suffering, sure, but at what cost?

Look where it got you.

“I realize that,” Rip replied, “but they lessened the pain for me. And now you’re here. Who are you, anyway? Why are you here? Are you an angel? Are you some kind of savior?”

I already told you, I’m just a curious visitor, but if you answer my questions truthfully, as you have been, I might be able to help you out.

“Is that what you’re here to do, ‘help me out?’ How can you possibly help me?” Rip asked, a stumped look on his face.

Don’t you want out? Don’t you want to be free of your mortal coil? Don’t you want the pain to forever cease? Don’t you want to break through and cross over?

“Yes, more than anything, but how do you…”

I know, the Visitor interjected, anticipating Rip’s question and interrupting him before giving him the chance to finish the asking. Rip had slowly stuttered on his last few words, giving the Visitor the chance to cut him off and cut in. The Visitor could tell that he was making quite an impression upon his new acquaintance. These voices, are they always present?

“No,” Rip replied, “but they speak to me when I need them, when I call upon them to help me, and when they want me to do something for them.”

Like what went down between you and your parents?

“Yes,” Rip flatly replied, the edges of his mouth briefly dimpling.

And like what happened at the institution you were in?

“Yes,” Rip again answered in agreement.

I want to hear what happened while you were there now. Do tell.

“Well, there isn’t much to tell,” Rip evasively yet contemplatively stated.

Somehow I doubt that. The Visitor could tell this was a subject that Rip van Winkle didn’t much care to discuss. Who could blame him? It had obviously been a bad experience for him. Whatever happened in that institution landed him in here, confined within a six by eight foot cell on death row within the Lebensraum Penitentiary. The Visitor thought about it, and he found it sad to see how someone could allow their life to slip so far out of control and down such an erroneous and undesirable path.

“I don’t like to talk about it,” Rip told the Visitor, beating around the bush and avoiding a straight response again.

Look, it’s now or never, buddy, I’m not going to ask you again. It’s up to you whether you want to discuss it or not, but remember that I gave you this chance. The Visitor’s thought had been a sharp and to the point one, and Rip van Winkle sensed a hidden meaning, perhaps even one of malice, in those shared, unspoken words.

“Alright, I’ll talk,” Rip said, deciding to go with his instinct and better judgment. The last thing he wanted to do was piss this guy off. “Where to begin?”

Because of your illness…

“Yes, that’s right, because of my illness, I was forced into having others look after me. I mean, shoot, it’s hard to function and get by in life when ya dream your life away. I can’t hold a job and earn a living ‘cause I’m constantly falling asleep. I don’t have much of an education ‘cause I couldn’t make it through school. Sleeping the way I do makes it all but impossible to get things done, balance a schedule, be punctual and keep on top of things.

“I think that some people think I’m just lazy, but I can’t help it. I tell ‘em, ‘Hey, try to keep a narcoleptic from falling asleep,’ but a lot of people don’t seem to get it and just don’t seem to care. I get singled out and picked on, and people often treat me poorly because of my illness. I used to get taken advantage of a lot… I’d fall asleep and something would go missing or whatnot.

“Sometimes I sleep for so long and don’t even know what day it is when I wake up. Sometimes, when I wake up at sunrise or sunset, I have to wait and see whether the sun is rising or setting in order to be able to tell whether it’s dawn or dusk. When I’m in a deep sleep, you could slap me in the face and I wouldn’t even stir, I’d just keep on sleeping. Sometimes there’s just no waking me up.

“My condition creates so many problems for me. I could go on and on, but I won’t.”

I get the gist of it.

“Despite the downsides of my condition, I don’t feel any pain while I’m asleep and I don’t have to deal with the World. It’s the ultimate escape, and life hasn’t been good enough to me to make me want to be awake throughout most of it. I suppose it is a copout, but it’s the deal I’ve made. As long as I obey the voices, everything will be okay.”

Got it. So, what exactly happened at the institution to land you in here?

“The employees there were cruel,” Rip stated. “They weren’t there to help anybody.”

Just there to collect a paycheck, huh? Rip heard the voice chuckle from within his own mind.

“That’s what I gathered,” Rip replied, not finding anything about any of this to be in the least bit funny. “They were all despicable, and a lot of the patients in that place were despicable, too.”

You don’t like too many people, do you?

“No, not really,” Rip flatly admitted.

So, what do you think about me?

“You’re a supreme being,” Rip declared with a degree of anxiety and hesitation, afraid that he might offend, or might have offended, this high and mighty Visitor.

Are you so sure of that? What if I told you that I’m just a man, no different than you?

“That’s impossible,” Rip contended, baffled by the Visitor’s suggestion. “No man can do what you’ve proven yourself capable of. Why do you toy with me?”

Fair enough. Besides, my origin isn’t important at the moment. Continue with your story, please.

“Yes, of course,” Rip replied, contemplating briefly what to say next. “I didn’t like it there at the institution… not that I like it here, either. I attempted to light the place afire.”

You mean you did set the place on fire, the Visitor’s voice interrupted Rip’s own contemplation on the matter.

“Yes, but I was caught from the very start,” Rip clarified for the Visitor. The image of the man in the wall, the vessel still forming and coming through, had a perplexed look on his face as he cocked his giant, green, glowing head to the side in a distorted sideways motion.

“One of the employees walked in on me and caught me,” Rip continued to clarify, a look of vindicated satisfaction filling his eyes, “but I took care of him. I guess he smelled the smoke and had come to investigate, ‘cause the fire alarms hadn’t even sounded yet. He asked me what I was doing, and I walked right on up to him and swept him to the floor. He hit his head pretty hard. Solid linoleum floor. I persisted to jump on top of him and started to strangle him. Finally, I broke his neck. After that I was able to do what I intended to do, letting the fire spread.

“Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to burn the entire place down like I had originally planned. Too much concrete and not enough flammable materials, I guess. I think the smoke did more damage than the fire. The fire barely spread out of the room I was in before the fire department arrived on scene and intervened. They did, however, have a hell of a time evacuating that building. It must’ve been a tough job, evacuating all of those loonies.

“Anyways, I tried to escape, but I was caught. They pinned the fire on me, they pinned the death of that employee on me… Yeah, I’m crazy, but this time I had taken things a bit too far, and I was charged with arson and murder. The judge wasn’t a bit lenient, so I ended up in here on death row. But, hey, it looks like I’ve found my way out… sentenced to die… to fry in the chair… Ole’ Sparky, they call her.”

Wow, cool, I have to try that thing out. I’d be willing to trade places with you. What do ya say?

“I say that I just want out,” Rip told the Visitor, “and I’ll take it anyway I can get it. I’ve done everything that’s been commanded of me. It’s led me here. Whatever is in store for me from here on out, well, I guess I’m game.”

Real quick; the voices, they told you to set fire to that institution, right?

“Yes,” Rip van Winkle flatly replied.

What are those voices telling you now?

Rip listened for a moment, then said, “Nothing.”

Okay, I had to ask. I’ve got a proposition for you. If I told you that I could offer you even more than your voices have to offer you, and that I could not only make it to where you could sleep forever but could also get you out of here, what would you say to that?

“That would be great! That’s ultimately what I want!” Rip explained, getting a bit too loud and excited. The Wino in the cell across from Rip van Winkle began to stir, hearing Rip’s loud mouth spouting off. The Wino began to wake up as the commotion from Rip’s cell continued, “I don’t much care for this World, I don’t much care for the people in it and, whether it’s this institution or one of the others that I’ve been in, I just don’t care too much for any of them, either.”

The Wino rolled over in his bunk and pulled his lumpy pillow over his head. He wondered who the hell Rip was talking to and figured the crazy loon was just talking to himself. He wished that Rip would shut up. He wanted to fall back asleep.

Though the Visitor noticed the motion in the cell across from where he was making his entry, he paid it little mind. The face in the wall was intently focused on Rip van Winkle and the voice continued to speak from within Rip’s mind, If I told you that this deal comes with the compromise of relinquishing those voices of yours, would you be okay with that?

“Yeah, I suppose so,” Rip tentatively stated, wanting to be truthful. He sounded pleased as he continued, beginning his next statement by restating the second to last two words out of his mouth, “I suppose I knew it would have to come to an end sometime.”

The Wino realized that Rip wasn’t going to shut his mouth anytime soon. The Wino also realized that he wasn’t going to fall back to sleep anytime soon, he was up and awake now. He pulled off the pillow that was covering his head, sat up, looked across the corridor at Rip’s cell, and his eyes widened and he froze in place. He saw the strange, out of place, green glow and wondered what it could be. He felt baffled. He saw Rip in front of the back wall, talking to it in intervals, but he could not yet make out the face or the emerging vessel. To the Wino, it seemed like Rip was talking and listening to something, but to what? What was that strange, eerie, green glowing light? Where was it coming from?

Life always has its ups and downs, but pessimism brings about nothing good. Now that you’ll be free of your voices, try to remember that. The best analogy I can think of; It’s a matter of finding the proper voices, or voice, to listen to, and the right questions to ask. Perhaps you’ll remember that and won’t go making deals with your demons the next time around?

The Wino rubbed his weary eyes, trying to wake up and get the sleep out of them. He could see that something in the wall was glowing and shimmering in vibrant green lines, some sort of an image. He stood and walked up to the bars of his cell to try and get a better view of what Rip van Winkle was staring at. Then he saw it; the face.

“I suppose…”

No need to answer that, just let me ask you this; Are you ready to join me?

At first, the Wino couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He stood there for a moment, awestruck and in disbelief. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know what he was witnessing. He stood at the bars to his cell and watched the event transpire, mortified with fear, too scared to even move.

“I… I… What’s going to happen to me?” Rip van Winkle asked the Visitor, now feeling perplexed, bewildered, and still quite a bit on edge and afraid.

You’re going to come where I am.

“Where’s that?” Rip asked, his voice soft, a tone expressing awe, wonder, and amazement.

You’re going to step into the wall, the Visitor replied, and you’re going to go to sleep.

“But, how?”

Just wait and watch. You’ll see. Just do as I say and follow my lead.

Rip was in the way, partially blocking his view, but the Wino could see that something was happening with the image in the wall. It was beginning to change somehow.

Is this for real? the Wino asked himself, beginning to snap out of his trance of immobility and disbelief.

The Wino then asked himself, What should I do? and an answer came to him.

“Doc,” the Wino called over to the cell next to his in a loud whisper, attempting to wake up Doc K. Again, even louder this time, he called, “Doc, wake up, you’ve got to see this.”

He didn’t know what else to do. The Wino felt like he needed someone else to verify what he was witnessing, someone to confirm that this wasn’t all just a dream. He felt scared and alone. Rip van Winkle wasn’t exactly a social butterfly, so Rip seeing the image gave the Wino no relief or reassurance whatsoever. For all the Wino knew, and how little he knew about Rip van Winkle, Rip could’ve been the one who summoned the appearance of this strange and ghastly apparition in the first place.

The inmate known as Rip van Winkle had always been an odd dude with a sleuth of issues, his unusual and long-lasting sleeping habits only the beginning of what makes him so strange. On the other hand, Doc K, who occupied the cell right next to the Wino’s, was much more with it, someone the Wino could talk to and identify with. Like Rip, the Wino had a cell right next to the wall leading to Ole’ Sparky’s chamber, so Doc K was the only person next to him and was also the person who was in the best location to see what the Wino was witnessing. Actually, other than the Wino and Doc K, none of the other inmates would have been able to see the back wall of Rip’s cell from within their own. The only thing the other inmates would’ve seen is that eerie, out of place, green, glowing light.

“Doc, wake up. Come on, man, you’ve got to see this,” the Wino called out. Doc K stirred in his bunk, and the Wino heard the movement. The Wino felt anticipation building within him and it showed in his voice as he continued to call to Doc K in that loud whisper of his, “Doc, wake up, you’ve got to see this. Look over at Rip van Winkle’s cell.”

“Huh? What the… What could be so important to make you feel you have to go and disturb my slumber?” Doc K wearily asked the Wino, after sitting up, yawning, and trying get his bearings straight.

“Just look in Rip’s cell and you’ll see,” the Wino replied. Then, as if to clarify, he pointed out, “Look at the back wall.”

Doc K stood up and started to approach the bars to his own cell when he caught sight of the strange, green glow coming from within Rip van Winkle’s. He paused where he stood and was taken aback, his eyes widening and an astonished look forming on his face.

“What is it? What’s going on?” Doc K asked the Wino.

“Do you see it?” the Wino asked. “Do you see the face?”

Doc K came up to the bars of his cell and gazed out, looking closer and more intently at the image.

“Yeah, I see it. What the hell…” Doc K replied, now witnessing the same thing as the Wino and Rip van Winkle. His angle wasn’t quite as good, but he could still see the face and the left half of its large head.

“Something’s happening to it. It’s changing,” the Wino alerted the Doc, his voice sounding urgent and worried. “What do we do?”

“Honestly, I really don’t know,” Doc K contemplatively concluded, his voice much calmer and more speculative. “Watch and see what becomes of the situation, I guess.”

Sure enough, something was happening to the image in the wall. The green, glowing light flickered vibrantly, almost violently, becoming much brighter as the image started to shift and transform. To Doc K, it looked like the 2-D image was transforming into a 3-D image right before his very eyes. It was a lot like watching a magic-eye picture come into focus. There was a brand new depth to the image as the huge head started to shrink and a perfectly proportionate human form came into focus.