Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Playing God (c) 2006

The following story, while failing in many tense aspects, was published in a small, club produced Anthology, celebrating 25 years of my local Writing Circle. It follows a theme which has always troubled me, state executions and the allowed margin of error which sends innocent people to their deaths. 

"Playing God"

You know, I never really suspected they'd go through with it. I'd never taken them seriously. Or more, I'd never taken my life that seriously. I didn't believe that they would kill an innocent person; I'd had faith in the justice system, then later in the appeals and in my innocence. I had an unshakeable belief that I'd be cleared, allowed to go free; to go home. I didn't really think that after all this time; they'd still believe the charges held against me. But they did. And here I was, counting down the hours, the minutes, watching my life slip away, waiting and thinking. There isn't much more you can do, I discovered. Thinking is about it, but not too much thinking, reflection is probably more apt. I can't think on the future, on the few last details of my life to come, its mental torture. Yet still, within me, there is that unshakeable belief holding court, screaming that innocent people aren't put to death that it doesn't happen. But as the minutes tick by, I am slowly forced to admit that that is what is happening, and what will happen.

I look around the room. It isn't a bad room, quite pleasant in fact. I have a comfortable bed, which my mind sullenly reminds me that I've used for the last time, a desk and chair if I wish to write, but more, I have space. In prison that is the one thing which is at a premium. Sharing cells, trapped in a tiny room that would be inhumane to keep an animal in, yet is fine for humans. The irony in the logic amused me, well at least at first. But yes, space is something that I'd grown to yearn for. Being able to look around and not feel cramped, or sense the clutter, to just be able to relax. Not that I was relaxing now, this room, despite the fresh paint and comforts, it wasn't a nice room in other senses. It had an atmosphere to it, of unspoken words, of memories, of last breaths, and last dreams, it was tainted almost by the people who had sat here, their final hours held in contemplation, of acts better left unsaid.

My contemplation was of another sort, of course. Of the bitter twists of life, the cosmic joker, circumstance and coincidence, of being at the wrong place, at the wrong time, for having the wrong face, the wrong lawyer and no alibi. It had shocked me and still does, how corrupt the justice system could be. But they had the evidence, and it all pointed at me. I even began to believe them. The prosecution had given a compelling argument, as a story, it slotted together like a jigsaw puzzle, each piece adding yet more damning information to the big picture. It was highly believable, but then, that is what makes a lot of stories good. And for every piece of defense evidence, they had counter attacks planned in the wings. It was an open and shut case. The jury took less than an hour for their unanimous decision, guilty on all charges, punishment - death sentence. It really was over that quickly. It took twelve people less than an hour to play God with my life.

I suppose that is what I can't get over, before I ended up in the situation myself, I had little or no opinion on capital punishment. I just viewed it as Justice being served, and that only bad people were killed. I didn't ever stop to consider wrongful arrest and judgment, and it was only when it happened to me that it really hit home. I say that, but I suppose it didn't really hit home, I had blind faith, stupid faith - whatever you may call it. I firmly believed that they wouldn't kill innocent people, and certainly that they wouldn't kill me. What right did they have to take my life away from me? Who were they to decide my fate? To play God with my life? Why should twelve - thirteen if you include the Judge - people be allowed to mull over a set of events then decide that someone should die? Surely that in itself should be a crime.

But, it's hard to become an advocate against the death penalty while sat on death row, it becomes quite a selfish act, and of course everyone is singing the same song, "I'm innocent, you can't kill me, I'm innocent". Like a broken record, most denied their crimes, sought appeals after appeals, anything to buy more time, more sand for the ever emptying hourglass. I was the same, it’s the human instinct. Survival. You have to do it, driven to do it. Most are, that is. Not all. Some are resigned to their fate, and some accept it openly. There are those who in fact welcome death, and wait patiently for their day. I grew to understand those people, I wished I could be more like them, despite my innocence and the fact I should - in an honest and just system, never be sitting where I was I wished I could accept death. To me, until this last day, it always seemed like it would never happen.

Strangely, my last day was the first day I'd felt human in a long time. I was treated with respect, like a human being. Affording luxuries that other prisoners never get. I was allowed to choose my last meal, to spend time talking, writing, and thinking. But I can't help but be plagued by the simple things. Mundane things. Like knowing I won't ever kiss, or be kissed again, that I won't ever be drunk, I won't ever attend a party, a wedding, a funeral (except my own). That I'll never get to watch a movie again, read a book, a magazine, watch television, talk to someone on the phone, drive a car, play with an animal. Simple things. Stupid things. But all the same, upsetting things. I wanted to fight against the system, scream for my right to live, anything to prevent them killing me, and preventing me from doing these things again. But I didn't, I know there is no point.

It's all came down to a waiting game. Wait and think. Make peace, they said. Find closure on life, but I can't find closure on a life being lost needlessly and barely lived. I'm already mourning my own death, but trying not to think about it. About my choice of death. Did you know that you are made to choose how you want to die? Gas, injection, chair. It's hardly a fun decision, not like choosing a meal at an expensive restaurant. I chose to take the injection, as a drug user of the past, it seemed the most peaceful way to go. Unfortunately they don't provide Heroin as an option to take before you go to meet whatever lies beyond. Just their own choice of poison.

I can hear them coming to get me now. To take me away to that final chamber, to make my last walk, my last journey and to breathe my last few breaths. I wish I was more mentally prepared. I wish I could face this bravely, with the calm and peace that others before me have shown, to go gracefully and quietly, to demand respect of my murderers, for that is what they are. But I'm afraid. I'm afraid of everything, of that last walk, of having the ability to put foot after foot and make that journey, of watching them kill me, and of seeing those who will have come to watch me die. I don't want to do it, I want to slam my foot down in temper, scream and shout, and make them see reason. But they won't. For them, this is just another day in the job, another lamb to the slaughter. Another evil person banished from Earth, sent to Hell, if they are religious, but in reality, it is murder and my crime is letting them do it, not that I have a choice, for not saving myself. Maybe I deserve to die; maybe this was a test, to prove myself. I'm not religious, but I feel as I walk the last corridor of my life and lie down for the last time, I'll be having many religious thoughts, hoping against hope that wherever I end up be at least fairer than where I came from.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Remnant (c) 2001 - Short Story

I wrote this story when I was 19. It hardly feels like 10 years have passed. 


The slow, rhythmic beating of her dying heart was the lullaby that drifted her to a troubled sleep. In her dreams, nightmares haunted by her sinister past, she was the martyr, the victim and the helpless whore left for dead in the dark of the night. Her dreams were echoes of the past, flashbacks to days of seduction, deception and homicidal virtues, a time she would never be allowed or able to forget. As she twisted and turned, restless in the still, humid night air her heart beat on regardless. A tick at a time, counting down on her internal clock with the time of her death already stamped upon it. 
She knew she was going to die. How she was going to die. Where she was going to die and when she was going to die. It was all a matter of waiting now. Waiting and withering away, wilting like a flower in a dry vase. She didn't want to die, but she had grown to accept the inevitable. Her life seemed short, and ill lived. But it had been her life, her shot at this hapless world. She hadn't realised it then, when she'd been living. But now that she was dying, dead already for all the world could care. She knew she could have lived better, but she knew that at least she had lived. 

She awoke as dawn struck, chasing shadows across the car park, skirting them around her ragged form. Thoughts drifted through her head, another day in the world of the dead, a day to beg for a bite to eat, drink from the polluted stream, but most of all a day to watch, watch as others wasted their lives. Would they be aware when death approached? As aware as she was, as every beat of her heart bound her closer to death's sensual embrace. 

Her days passed in a surreal daydream now, the past, the present, and the future all mixing to form a strange palette that seemed to colour everything she witnessed. In her head she could hear the voices from her past, beckoning her, warning her, talking to her as if they were still here. But she knew they were not, she'd watched as they buried their bodies in the shallow, watery graves. Haunted by their words - and cursed by their shadows as each dry beat increased the fury of her hallucinations. Forced to re-live every horrific event, playing each part anew.

The shadows of the night passed overhead as she settled back in the car park, lying outstretched on the covered trolley bay, her mind drifted to her childhood, languid days of lemonade and sugar then to her adult life, frenzied moments of alcohol, cocaine, sex and murder. She lived on blood, sex and death, in ways, it made her higher than any drug ever could. But as she cuddled into her blanket, she regretted everything. 

Inside it's cage, beneath a sagging, scarred breast, her heart beat pitifully. Each thump an effort for it's failing system and as her hand massaged deep into it, she knew the time had come. Palpitation this was not, leaning back she breathed deeply one last time of the fragrant summer air and floated to her final rest, where dreams of sugar and pink ribbons awaited with the ghosts of her comrades whose souls had long since drifted from their unmarked tombs.