I wrote for the New York Times from 1978 to 1985. Peter Manning was executed in 1984. Fifteen years before his execution, Manning took up a job as a school bus driver; his wife divorced him 1972, a year later she obtained custody over their two children. Manning owned a Glock 17 and so two weeks later, as he drove the kids home through a tunnel of yews, he stopped the bus and slipped the gun out of his pocket. What can a child do when faced with a situation so horrifying it's beyond his knowledge, what can a child, too young to comprehend true evil or danger, do but scream in a terrified confusion when they see their friends being shot. When well over half the kids had red fountains leaking from their skulls, Peter Manning said, "the rest of you may leave. Just close yer eyes and think of how much ye love yer mothers.” He reloaded, fired, more screams, and blood splattered the windows.
The man was found walking down a lonely country road by a police cruiser. Peter Manning was drenched in dried blood and a Glock 17 hung loosely in his palm; the grisly school bus was two hours up the road. Lily Stock, the history teacher, was walking down the tree tunnel on her way home. Once questioned by authorities, she said she thought Mr. Manning(who was always so nice to the children) had some technical issues and she was all too happy to help. She would have screamed when she looked inside but her lungs folded in on each other; she just fainted, her mouth stretched taut, like a gaping abyss.
I was a rising journalist at the time. I not only employed my silver tongue and nice curves on men who were reluctant to grant an interview, but on my boss, too, so I rose pretty quickly. Thus I was asked to fly out across state and report on the execution. A big deal, a huge scandal, a front-page story. My flight to Massachusetts was pre-paid and I got a room in a not-too-shabby hotel fifteen miles away from Arkham County Penitentiary, a gloomy manor looming on top of a barren hill, usually shrouded by mist common to the area. The trees growing on the hill are gnarled and grass there was rarer than a drunken father in Disneyland. The execution was carried out at an one a.m.; everyone was there at twelve and the first groups of people flocked in an hour before midnight.
My cab halted three feet away from cracked path curving up to the rusty iron gates and into the mouth of hell -- that's what they called the doors to the Arkham prison.
I ran a background check on the place and even started drafting a few paragraphs on it at the hotel. After some heavy booze, all expense paid, I ventured into the Miskatonic library, an ancient place smelling of pre-historic books and lined with towering shelves of leather-bound volumes. I persisted in my research, but couldn't find much.
The prison was built in 1798. It housed the electric chair since 1899 by order of the state, despite being a county penitentiary twenty-seven executions have been carried out. Locals maintained the place was haunted; they reported many inhumane screams and strobing lights emanating from there.The only other thing I found was the names and crimes of the twenty-seven murders. None of which are of much importance.
The walk up to the mossy cobble walls filled me with terror. Maybe it was the mist floating around, or the barren branches swaying above me like jagged fingers, ready to snatch unexpected victims. But I think it was the aura of death and horror radiating from the place.
I pushed through the heavy oak doors into a damp room, housing nothing but a reception desk. After asking direction I was guided through a few more doors and gloomy, narrow hallways with dim, dirty lights. I found the cafeteria where the families of the victims were already gathered with a few reporter's asking questions and a fat security guard chewing gum and watching over the group.
I never liked bothering bereaved families, they are the last people that want to be probed by journalists. And, besides, they prove hard to work with. So I decided to go for the guard instead.
"Hi," I said. "I'm Jennifer Augustine, a reporter." He knew that already, I had a tag pinned to my half-open shirt which was the first place he looked. Granted, he didn't see the tag.
"Hey," he said in a heavy voice.
"Do you mind answering a few questions?"
We sat down at the table and begun to talk. I'll tell you now what I gathered from the conversation: Peter Manning was mostly silent during during the trial, murmuring a few vague answers. When he was sentenced to death, he took a glass of water from the desk and drank it all in a breath. There was no trouble transporting him to his cell, rather, the trouble was with his cell. There are fifteen cells in C block, the block where all the dead men walk, fourteen were full. The only one left was Lawrence Carlson's cell. Men shuddered as they passed that cell; Carlson was mad. He was bat-shit crazy: the man practiced dark arts more dreaded than Satanism. Eldritch symbols which could not be washed off with any form of substance known to man were stenciled on the walls. Guards and convicts felt faint and scared looking at the abstract hieroglyphs.
Manning did not utter a word, nor betray a gesture of protest against his place of incarceration; he just strolled in and lay on the bunk bed. Two days in, he just sits there, eating his lunches and muttering angrily whenever someone tries to engage him in conversation. On the third day, the prisoner appeared irritated, like there was a nasty itch he couldn't reach. On the fourth day, he started whispering urgently in a hoarse voice, telling something to 'Shut up!'.
These whispers increased in urgency during the next three days until he finally shouted at to shut whoever was speaking up -- that he couldn't handle the thing any more, and that he wanted to break his bones in his fucking body he didn't know he had. Warden Perislov cocked an ear but all besides the raving man was silent. He told Manning so but the prisoner just called him a "torturous bastard."
Five days, later -- after Peter began screaming like mad and had to be sedated -- he calmed down and just buried his face in a book; he claimed the volume was a gift from a relative. The guard to whom he confined was a youngster who neither knew the man nor that no friend or family of his wanted to hear a word of the animal. After the regular attendant asked about the book and got the same answer, the warden checked the logs where every prisoner visit and gift are recorded. No one visited him, no gifts were sent in. The warden ordered for the book to be confiscated. After an examination of the book, it was found to be:
"Notes on the Necronomicon: Rituals and Curses for Yog-Sothoth and Azathoth."
Peter was chained to a wall and slashed with a thorn whip six dozen times as punishment and beaten until he would tell of where he found the book. He only gasped and screamed with the lashes and punches. Apart from his heaving chest, he gave no signs of life.
That was the whole story; now the man sat in a claustrophobic room where reporters came in, sat, and questioned him.
It was my turn to question him next. I went into the room and sat down. The man had a round face and scruffy beard. I sat down, smiled, and greeted him warmly:
"Hello, pleasure to meet you, I'm here to question you on a subject of sensitive nature so if at any time you feel uncomfortable answering any of these questions, please let me know." It was very hard not to add "You motherfucking deranged cocksucker."
He just stared at me; "If you want to me answer questions, you'll have to put up with this," he said as he rose, dropped his pants,and rubbed his cock. I recoiled, disgusted.
"What's wrong, missy?" he asked, "Afraid of a little cream? Come on, with over a decade of shaking that pretty ass 'round for answers, it's time the tables turned. Now, you see me jizz or you won't hear me squeal. In every sense of the word!" He laughed until he coughed.
I was too stunned to speak.
"If you don't want to talk, fine by me; I know the questions and the whole shibang, anyhow. I killed them kids cause my life was shit and because I was born fucked in the head. I'd do it again if I got the same kind of erection I got last time. Those are the vanilla, simpleton questions. Now, onto how I feel 'bout riding the lightin'. 'S fine, I don't mind it. See, there these voices, they tell me things. Like everything I know 'bout you, missy. They ask me to do things and they will reward me in return; when I rock the hot seat, I'll have enough juice to power the old scribbles on my cell walls -- or so the voices say. And when I do so, they'll reward me real well." The man choked and then squealed like a pig as strings of come shot out of his urethra.
Some of it landed on my shirt. I gasped, wiped it off and stormed out of there. The rest of the time I spend absent-mindedly interviewing families of the victims.
The time of execution came. We were ushered through door, through an U shaped corridor, flanking the cell block and coming out into a sloping room lined with plastic chairs facing a glass screen. It was like a cinema. On the other side of the mesh glass screen there was, on a platform, an eldritch machine of death; the chair's stout oak legs were cemented to the rough cobble, the chair was weathered, the paint peeled off and the leather seating was torn. Behind the chair, three shadowed figures stood. The doctor, I presumed, and two guards. Speaking of guards, lines of men with rifles were positioned along the walls, guns poised. A door on the eastern end of the room swung open with a creak and Peter Manning shambled in, flanked by two muscled men. The warden trudged behind him, his revolver four inches from the murderer's skull.
He was motioned to sit on the chair. When he did so four men sprung upon him and held his limbs down as they tightened leather restraints. Before the mask was donned over his face Manning was asked for last words. He just grinned and muttered something in gibberish tongue, the only words I recognized were 'Azathoth' and 'Yug-Sothoth.'
The mask was slipped over his face and the cap strapped on. The warden looked to the right corner where the switch jutted out from the ground, the man standing beside it flipped the thing. The lights dimmed even more. I heard a muted buzzing somewhere, muffled by the four-inch thick steel-reinforced concrete. A shudder of dread spread through the crowd like a disease. The man in the chair was still to the point when one might the horror was over. Really, it barely begun.
Suddenly, with a violent jerk and upheaval of the chest, the man seized the arms of the chair with such force I was surprised to see the wood had not splintered. Thunder boomed above the roof. I researched electrocution beforehand so that I may report on any unorthodox proceedings or surprising effects if the situation saw trouble; but I did not expect the horror that occurred. I was alarmed by a dull, blue sparking light underneath the killer's hands. All my sources told me that no physical manifestation of electricity is present save the prisoner's reaction to the shock. I also gathered that there is no spasmodic shaking and flailing like in movies, merely a jerk forward and some muscles contracting. Yet this man went into a sort of seizure, shuddering cataclysmically, stretching the strap under his jaw taut so he could release a ghastly scream -- a sound that would come out of the torture chamber in Hell. Thunder ruptured the sky once more and hit the roof. It's place of impact I know from the lightbulb that burst in a flurry of sparks and mist. Thunder roared four more times in rapid successions and I saw tiles break away from the roof. The smell of burned flesh spread across the room and the man continued to jerk, the wire conducting electricity shuddered violently along with the prisoner's restraints; he yelled so loud that the a few people had to cover the ears and the guards dropped the weapons and clutched their heads. In one abrupt moment, with a blast of thunder, a circle in the roof shattered, sending rubble flying over the death chair, and lighting struck the cap over the prisoner's head.
A booming sound exploded and a flash of blue light shattered the screen between us and the chair. In the centre of the room, amid the terrified guards, was a ball of blue flame spasming wildly and screeching horribly; the stench of burnt flesh forced vomit out of witnesses. Another bolt of lightning struck the chair, flattening the flaming ball into a wave of electricity that surged across the room, hitting everybody. I screamed and fell headlong into someone's vomit. When I regained my composure I pulled myself up and looked around the chaos and dilapidation; glass littered the ground, the walls were smoking and scorched, the electric chair was a flaming mess -- an empty flaming mess. The guards lay dead with contorted, ghoulish faces of horror and agony. Some was wafting out of Peter Manning’s head as he strolled out through a side door.
I don't know what devils possessed me but I felt my feet splashing in someone's vomit as I followed the man, there was a hazy film over the world, like I was in a dream. All the lights blew out and light smoke diffused from their explosion and hovered about, fading gradually. I stalked after him through the silent, dark prison. He came back to his cell. I walked up behind him and hid behind the walls, peering at him through the bars of his half-opened cell door. He dislodged a loose brick under his bunk and lifted out a weathered, leather volume of accursed spells and secrets. He opened it at a bookmarked page. He kneeled and recited a spell in a language whose syllables where so hoarse and so slithery that it made me shudder with dread of otherworldly horrors.
His left hand reached out towards the wall and touched it. Some blue twinkle ran along his arm and into the wall as syllables of the foul language increased in volume; the queer hieroglyphs on the wall beamed with light. The whole prison convulsed as if an earthquake awoke fathoms beneath.
Then, in a kaleidoscopic explosion of color, the bricks in the walls melted into pools of dark water. The man's hand snapped back; he got up, and he retreated, not breaking sight with the swimming sea of dark secrets. His cantillating became a booming cacophony of unintelligible screeches and shrieks. In that wall, or that ghastly portal to unspeakable dimensions, I saw ghoulish, eldritch forms, things so horrible it hurts to recollect them. In fact, my mind destroyed the exact shape of some of those memories so that I may have an ounce of sanity left, but I recall horrible writhing masses of bubbling, tentacled abominations -- some silent, dark things that come at night and kill you with fright.
Seeing those horrors awoke a primordial instinct in me which was enough to make me bend over and pick up a sharp fragment of stone. I fought my slef-preservation instincts with every ounce of strength left. that I mustered enough strength to stumble a few steps forward and swing at Manning's jugular. I missed and pierced some inconsequential part of his neck; he dropped his book and turned on me, seizing my wrist. He threw me into the cell and sprang at me like a bloodhound. The stone was still in my hand, I squeezed it so hard blood spilled from my clenched fingers. The wall behind us shuddered and I heard yells, squeeks, booms and chilling murmurs of beasts. The wall heaved and bricks started materializing in place of the dark waters. Manning forced my hand open and the stone clattered on the ground, he slapped me so hard blood spurted from my nose as he picked up the stone; the man pressed his thumb against my windpipe and forced me to the ground with his knee as he stabbed me with the stone. The pain was an explosive heat, a sharp paroxysm of agony, repeating over and over. As I started to black out a tentacle burst through the last bit of swimming blackness and seized my attacker, dragging him into a place I cannot imagine. The wall fizzled out and returned to normal.
When police came they asked me what happened and sent me to Miskatonic University hospital. Upon being healed and asked to recount the story once again, and doing so, I was sent to a psychologist, and was diagnosed with PTSD.
I know what I saw though. The terrors I underwent are very much real and I cannot help but wonder who is going to be the next resident of Peter Manning's cell.