Death Row

 

(This one is odd, even for me. You have been warned)

 

I am an inmate in an unusual prison. All of the inmates and guards are women, but the chief warden is a man. The warden is nameless, middle-aged and constantly tired – as are most of the guards. The prison is unusual because it is the home of an ongoing experiment to devise a method of execution that leaves the executioners without the burden of knowing they have taken a life. It would be ideal if the condemned women spontaneously committed suicide but, of course, the government won’t give fat grants to research that possibility – and the prison does have many grants that fund the well-equipped mental and medical wings. Everything, except the people, is in shades of blue and black, as all the red and yellow has been leached out of the landscape.

Death row, on the other hand, is extremely filthy and run-down. The walls of the hallways and cells are caked with black soot and mildew, and both the guards and the prisoners go out of their way to avoid touching the walls. The filth is damp, sticky and almost impossible to wash away, as new arrivals quickly learn. The cells are small, but private, but since the bars are rusting loose in many places, the guards just throw the doors open and allow the half-dozen inmates of death row mingle in the hallway during daylight hours. The guards are wary and well-armed. The inmates know better than to give them any trouble.

        I am on death row, for a crime I can’t remember, but I have a reputation amongst the guards for being cunning, treacherous and entirely troublesome. I am arrogant and confident that I am going to escape this place. I have already taken advantage of the strange experimental program and talked my way out of execution several times. I am always able to find the weak spot of each new theory and point out how the execution squad can be held culpable for killing another person. I don’t remember what these methods of execution were, but they were very strange – convoluted Rube Goldberg processes designed to remove an executioner from the task of killing.

        There has been another incident, and I have been taken to the warden’s office for an official scolding. I have no opinion of the warden; he means nothing to my daily routine. His voice is just another annoying drone in the background. However, I hate the chief guard for my block, who is with me during this meeting. She is the only one with any intelligence, and she knows how dangerous I am. She wants me dead, just to get me out of her hair, if nothing else. But she, too, is afflicted by the prevalent squeamishness, and she cannot bring herself to arrange for me to have an accident. I know this, and I have used it to my advantage in the past.

        The warden’s drone finally pierces my inward thoughts. “What are you going to do with you?” he sighs. I stare blankly back at him, wondering if I could somehow turn this bureaucratic drone’s blandness against him.

Inspiration is still lacking when the chief guard speak up. “Put her in the doctor’s new program. That’ll teach her.”

I’ve heard of this program, through the grapevine. It’s an experimental drug treatment – not for drugs that will turn prisoners into model citizens. Instead, the unnamed doctor is testing some new treatments for various diseases. It’s entirely possible that the test subjects could die during treatment, so he’s not overwhelmed with volunteers. The Dr. Mengele aspect of this man’s work has not gone unnoticed by the prison population.

The warden considers the suggestion while I think fast. “That might be an idea,” he muses.

I quickly sort through the bits of information I have overheard/bought/stolen about this doctor and his experiments, and what I’ve heard about the latest bizarre execution plan. I might be able to play one off against the other and come out ahead.

Smiling what I know to be an unsettling smile, I look at the chief guard – who is obviously hoping the doctor’s tests will kill me – and tell her “Yes, do that. After all, you can’t kill me, I’m already dead.” That is something I have said before, and it had always been dismissed as the usual death-row bullshit. This time, however, I catch the warden’s eyes and I see a flicker of discomfort, there. In a moment of gestalt, I realize that he’s scared of me – he’s scared that I really believe that I am already dead and can’t be killed again. That kind of belief can make a prisoner very dangerous, he knows. I see no harm in letting him think that, so I crank up the smile another notch and look at the warden like I’m figuring out where to plant the knife.

Time becomes a little disjointed, and the next thing I know, I’m back in my filthy, freezing cell in the middle of the night. I hear an unexpected noise and, looking through my crumbling cell door, I see another inmate walking down the hallway. She looks very young – barely old enough to be in prison – and she has very pale skin and long dark brown hair that gleams in the scant light. Her white smock tells me that she’s from the regular part of the prison - although her dreamy smile suggests that she might better belong in the mental ward. I beckon her over and ask her to let me out of my cell, so we can talk.

It seems that this unconventional jailers don’t believe in keys (or even regular patrols), either, as the young lady opens my door and I step into the hallway. The honest truth is that anyone can break out of their cell with a little effort, but the guards don’t appreciate it when the prisoners go for a midnight stroll, and the resulting injuries just aren’t worth the effort. I talk with the girl for a moment and she tells me she has a secret way to move around the prison.

“Tell me how you can get around at night.” I demand.

The girl sighs and plays with a strand of her hair. “Why should I tell you?” she asks in her dreamy little-girl voice.

I put my hands around her neck. “Because I’m already on death row and have nothing to lose.” I emphasize my point by squeezing a little.

To my surprise, the girl isn’t frightened. She just gives another little sigh and says, “Alright, I’ll tell you.”

The girl had learned something (unspecified) and she has blackmailed the guards with her knowledge. All she wants is the freedom to move around in the silent hallways of the prison at night. Hearing this, I’m convinced this girl belongs in the mental ward. She tells me the secret she has on the guards, so I can use it against them, too. I walk her back to her cell – which is pristine and comfortable, I notice bitterly – and start thinking about what to do with my newfound freedom.

I go to the doctor’s lab, and read about the multiple experiments he is performing on the prisoners. Mostly, he is testing new vaccines for various diseases, many of which have killed the test-subjects. Other tests include trials of new painkillers and sedatives, many of which have some very potent effects when taken in combination.

I also find the plans of the latest execution method. It involves a large pool full of strange chemicals and walking-the-plank type arrangement. The doctor is losing his touch, I think. I can talk my way out of this in a flat minute. All of this strange knowledge clicks within my mind and, as I thoroughly go over the strange chemicals the doctor intends to poison me with – for I am, yet again, the intended victim for this treatment – an idea forms. It will take a few days, but, according to the doctor’s paperwork, I have time.

The next evening, I slip out of my cell and go crawling through the conveniently large air-shafts that riddle the building. Out of curiosity, I crawl over to the warden’s office. The grille for the shaft is near the ceiling, and I can easily see the warden’s entire office from my hidden perch. It’s very late, nearly 1AM, but he is still there, a single light on his desk illuminating a massive stack of prisoner files. He’s idly flipping through the files, as if he’s looking for something. Whatever it is, he finds it within a few minutes, and he settles down to read, occasionally muttering a comment to himself. A moment later, he begins masturbating, while still reading the file.

Mentally, I cackle with glee at this sight. Regardless of whether he is feeding a fetish, or simply bored and lacking a sense of propriety, this event should be worth a lot on the prison rumor-mill. Oh, to have a camera! A moment later, I decide that I should blackmail him, instead, so I deliberately make a little noise from inside my hiding place. Alarmed, the warden looks around and realizes that has is being watched by someone in the airshaft – it’s the only possible hiding place.

“Who are you?” he asks, terrified and white faced. He’s not very surprised that there’s someone in the air-ducts, but he realizes that being caught jerking off while reading inmate files like girlie books is not a good thing.

“I’ll never tell.” I whisper, knowing he will recognize my voice. “And neither will you.” With that, I wriggle back the way I came.

I join the doctor’s ‘treatment’ program the next day, but I’m very careful about what I’ll take from him. The doctor has so many experiments and so few subjects, that he is willing to let me pick and choose what I’m willing to be subjected too. It’s odd, but this whole place is strange beyond words.

I make some careful choices – determined by the paperwork I read two nights ago – and within a few days, I am absolutely awash with a mixture of vaccines, painkillers, antihistamines and who knows what else. Well, I know, and that’s the important part. My final action is to inject myself with a virus. This virus is some horrid disease that I am now immune to – thanks to the doctor’s treatments – but I am a carrier and the virus can thrive within me for several days.

The anticipated execution order comes in. It is no surprise to me, and I have already told the warden – via another visit to the air-duct – that I’m going to go through with this one, even though I could talk my way out of it. My only condition is that I receive my last request, no matter what it is. The warden knows I’m up to something but he can’t cancel the execution without raising questions. The chief guard is now the one smiling unpleasantly, as she marches me out of my cell and into the latest execution chamber. It’s a large room, with an in-ground swimming pool full of what is supposedly a very lethal combination of chemicals. I’m to walk a plank, fall into this deadly blue-tinged soup and expire within seconds. And it would work, too, if I weren’t whacked up with a homegrown antidote, courtesy of my actions in the doctor’s lab.

On the far side of the pool is an enclosed viewing gallery, overlooking the larger room. It contains the warden, the doctor and a few other guards. The execution team lines the side of the pool, next to the apparatus that will be used to retrieve my body. The chief guard has chosen to be the one to walk me to the plank (actually a low diving board, so it seems the prison pool has been turned into a death chamber) and she is muttering to me how glad she’s going to be to see me dead.

I stand at the foot of the ‘plank’ and look up at the gallery. “I get a last request.” I declare, looking warden with a knowing expression. To my satisfaction, he blanches slightly. A moment later, he nods.

“I want a little kiss.” I declare and I plant one on the chief guard beside me. She is so startled, it takes her several seconds to react and push me away, but that was more than long enough for me to infect her with the virus I’m carrying. She wipes her mouth, swearing and repeating how happy she is about my incipient death. I smile my slow smile for her and say again, “What do I have to lose? I’m already dead,” while thinking And soon you will be, too. The virus I have infected her with is fast acting and fatal – if one hasn’t been vaccinated.

That final triumph achieved, I quickly walk the plank and – theatrical to the last – do a swan dive into the pool. The chemicals sting a bit, but it’s nothing I can’t stand. The tricky part is holding my breath and playing dead long enough – I didn’t think to go in face-up.

Fortunately, the execution team believes the doctor’s assertion that I would be dead as soon as I hit the chemical soup and, within thirty seconds, they fish me out with something that resembles the claw-arm of a toy grab. Once I’m at the poolside – and the guards realize I’m still breathing – all hell breaks loose. I toss the (unprotected) guards into the pool – whereby they prove the toxicity of the poisons it contains – and run like hell for freedom. The warden is frozen with shock, and I can read his lips shaping the words already dead. I wink at him as I hurl myself through the door and towards the unknown.

Past

Present

Future

Tell me your dreams

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