Author's note: This story is an entry for Helel's "Bible Black" Metal Contest.The story was inspired by the song, "Hallowed Be Thy Name," by Iron Maiden. The idea for the story is also inspired by Johnny Frank Garrett who was executed in Huntsville, Texas in 1992.
James Anderson III stared down at a stainless-steel table smudged with greasy fingerprints from God knows how many doomed inmates before him. Sitting unceremoniously on top of the table was a grayish-white plastic plate filled to its edges with a diner-style breakfast platter. It included three fried eggs over easy (overdone), grits with butter (ice-cold), three strips of bacon (undercooked), hash browns (overcooked), and two pieces of toast cut into triangles. A single pack of butter and a single jelly labeled “fruit medley” sat on top of the cold toast.
James stared at it a while longer. The thought of putting any of it into his mouth and swallowing made his stomach turn thrice over. The Last Meal; the last practical joke of his life. You would have to be completely insane to have an appetite at a time like this, he thought. The only reason he chose the plate of grease as his farewell dinner was because it reminded him of happier times with his family.
The only happy memories he could recall were the ones of him and his little sister. When they were kids and his mom had a little extra money, she would take them to the diner at the edge of town. They would sit at the counter and his sister, Sarah, would get waffles with powdered sugar and syrup. Sometimes the cook would sprinkle chocolate chips on them, and she would grin ear to ear, arranging the little chocolate morsels into eyes, a mouth, and a nose to make a friendly waffle-faced creature on her plate.
James always got the “Working Man’s Special” to seem more like an adult. It came with fried eggs that bled a rich, creamy yolk when poked, crispy bacon, hash browns, and a thick stack of toast with butter and jam. In truth, he often looked longingly at his sister’s waffle plate, but he had concluded that only babies ordered that kind of stuff and at twelve, he had thought of himself as nearly a man. Those times were worlds and worlds away. The reality was that being a man had turned out to be one big, sick joke.
A curse, he thought now, looking at his last meal. The platter in front of him, all these years, and worlds, later was a poor imitation of the breakfasts he remembered from the diner. James stared some more, eyes widening at the thought of his younger self and the long, torturous path he had walked to get to where he was today.
“Not even gonna take a bite?” the guard asked from his post at the doorway. James shook his head slowly back and forth.
“And after all that trouble we put into making you your special dinner. Huh, talk about gratitude,” the guard said.
James knew he was trying to get a reaction out of him. The guard hated him. They all hated him. Everyone looked at him like a piece of shit on the sidewalk, like something disgusting and unwanted, a smudge upon their good clean world.
The guard knocked on the glass of the closed door, signaling someone to come take him back to his cell. James was glad for it. The smell of the congealing food was making him sicker by the minute. Minutes, he thought. How many do I have left?
Another guard entered, unlocked the chain from the steel chair that was attached to James’ handcuffs and walked him out the door and into the hallway. He walked down the hallway and could see the other inmates in their cells, staring out at him with faces like floating masks. One was a grotesquely exaggerated mask of sorrow, another was a fool’s mask, cross-eyed and deranged. The fool laughed at him as he walked by. Another looked like a devil, reaching through the bars at him.
The guard slammed his nightstick on the bars of the cell and the inmate jumped back, his face returning to normal. James stared at him as he walked by. They locked eyes and the inmate, a middle-aged white man with thinning gray hair and a wiry build, ran his thumb horizontally across his neck and then waved goodbye.
James was taken back to his cell to wait for the audience to arrive. He was sentenced to death by lethal injection and it was to be carried out on that day, June 10th, 1992. The guard locked the cell door and looked through the bars at him.
“Today is a beautiful day for killing scumbags,” he said before walking away with a little spring in his step.
James wondered if they really believed he was guilty. He was an innocent man. He had only been a teenager when he was first jailed, accused of horrible things. Sometimes at night, he tried to imagine doing those things that they said he did. He couldn’t. Sometimes the world twists in ways that make you question your reality, he thought.
Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I did do it. He put his head in his hands and was surprised to find that he had more tears to cry. He let them out, almost savoring the sensation. Everything was his last. What would be the last thing he saw? What would be his last thought? He wanted it to be about his mother and sister. He had planned to close his eyes in that final moment and imagine an alternate reality, one in which his father hadn’t died when he was four and his mother had never gotten remarried to a man who had repeatedly abused him and his sister.
In this alternate world, James had gone to college and met a girl and they had both worked hard to build a life together. They would have one daughter maybe, who he would name Sarah after his sister. They would buy a little house somewhere, maybe even in another state. He would move his sister and his mother to Maine maybe! He had never been there, but his father had, and he had shown him pictures when he was a little boy. It seemed like a beautiful place. They would live there in a little cottage and smell the pine trees and the salty sea and be happy. He would picture that life from beginning to end as they injected him with the poison that would kill him. Maybe death would take him there if he was lucky.
James was pulled out of his fantasy by footsteps approaching his cell. They were heavy and slow. He didn’t recognize them. He knew the sound of all the guards’ footsteps and these did not match. They got louder until a pair of old, worn out penny loafers stopped in front of his cell. James looked at the shoes and then scanned up to the faded corduroy pants, the pot belly stretching the buttons of a beige button-down shirt, a brown and yellow-striped tie, and tweed jacket, and finally up to the round head of the man. His thin lips were mostly hidden by a graying mustache. His nose was round and red with long dark hairs poking out. His eyes, a greenish-brown, shone out at James from behind a pair of wire-rimmed glasses.
“Hello, James,” the man said and smiled guiltily at having intruded on his solitude. “My name is Mr. Archon. I just have a wee bit of paperwork here for you to sign before the big event,” he said while rooting through a pile of papers in a folder. He looked at the grim look on James’ face and corrected himself. “Well, that is to say-the uh….well, your execution, to be frank. Hey, what do you know that’s my first name. Call me Frank if you like,” he said with a self-conscious chuckle.
“Are you a lawyer?” James said, mostly just to say anything. He was not expecting to see anyone else before they took him to the execution room. As if in response to his question, the cell door slid open with a metallic clang. Mr. Archon stepped into the room and the door slid closed behind him. James was surprised the guards would use the automatic unlock system for this, he assumed, unarmed civilian to visit his cell, but here he was, stepping into the cell of a supposed murderer without the slightest hesitation.
The rest of the cell block was eerily silent. James had gotten used to the continuous sound of shouting, jeering, begging, and quite often, praying. He wondered who they thought they were praying to. The guilty had no business asking for mercy and the innocent had obviously been left to rot by either a pitiless God or the absence of any God at all. James believed the latter was more likely. What kind of God would deal out a fate like this? Sick joke indeed.
“James Anderson III, yes indeed,” Mr. Archon said as he found the paper he was looking for. He pushed his glasses up onto his stubby nose again and again as they slid down relentlessly towards the paper. “Well Mr. Anderson, I am not a lawyer, but a clerk of the state sent to tie up the loose ends of your case.”
“With all due respect Mr.—Frank, my case has so many loose ends I would be surprised if you could tie them up in the few minutes I have left.”
Mr. Archon looked at James with an almost comically exaggerated expression of pity. He pouted his bottom lip out and shook his head.
“What a world we live in that deals out such a fate to a young man such as yourself. Tut-tut. It really is a shame to meet you under such bleak circumstances, but alas here we are and there are still a few things we can accomplish before your time comes to an end.” Mr. Archon shuffled over to the metal bed and sat down, laying his battered briefcase on its side. He popped the latches and shuffled through another mound of disorganized paperwork, whistling a little tune as he searched.
James stood there, staring at the man, feeling that familiar wave of unreality wash over him. This could all be a bad dream, he thought. Mr. Archon’s whistling took on a strange tone as the notes lilted up and down in a sad melody he recognized from somewhere. He closed his eyes and remembered his 13th birthday party.
He had just turned thirteen years old. He was sitting in his bedroom, waiting for his mom to get home from work. That summer she had taken up a job cleaning houses and he spent a lot of time alone. At the time, she was also married to her second husband, Tom. Tom was a traveling salesman that was often on the road which was A-OK with James.
Tom was a bad man. It was the only way his young brain had been able to put into words what kind of monster Tom was. He told his mom one time that Tom was a bad man and she hadn’t believed him. She said he had to stop reading those pulp comics.
"They're turning your brain to mush!" she had shouted defensively. But it wasn’t the comics that had ruined his brain. It was the bad things that a bad man named Tom had been doing.
On that day of his thirteenth birthday, Tom had come home to surprise James with a gift. He came whistling up the walkway, whistling into the house, and whistling up the stairs to James’ bedroom door. It was a slow, cascading tune that turned James’ blood to ice.
“James the birthday boy!” Tom said outside the door with a flourish of little knocks. Tom opened the door and stood there in his shabby tweed jacket and faded corduroys, holding a wrapped gift. James sat frozen on the bed, hoping he would turn to stone and be unbreakable. He had hoped for it many times before and sadly; he had remained flesh and bone. Tom had sat on the bed next to him, smiling like a lunatic. “Go on, open it," he said.
“Mom will be home soon. I’ll open it when she gets home,” James had whispered, never taking his eyes off his shoes. His mind was already separating from his body, taking him to the alternate reality that he had dreamed of every day since his father had died.
“Be a good boy and open it now,” Tom said with a sudden biting intensity. He pushed the hair back from James’ forehead and stroked his cheek. James’ consciousness had blessedly floated up to the ceiling to watch the horror from afar, as it had done during the previous visits Tom had made to his room when his mother wasn’t around.
“Here we are, Mr. Anderson!” Mr. Archon said gleefully with the paper clutched in his chubby fist. James opened his eyes to find himself back in the cell.
“Be a good boy and sign right here for me please.” He held out the crumpled paper in one hand and a pen in the other. James stared at the man in his cell. With dawning horror, he realized that he was looking at an aged version of his stepfather, Tom. He jumped back against the cell door, clutching himself tightly as he had as a child, trying to turn to stone.
“Now, now, James. There’s no reason to be frightened. It’s just a simple form stating that you’re a very bad man who has done very bad things.”
“You’re dead. I saw it in the paper. You died fifteen years ago. You’re dead,” James whispered, clutching himself tighter. His whole body shook.
Mr. Archon’s smile widened. His eyes, which had seemed greenish-brown before, looked yellow now. His glasses slid down his sweaty nose again and those dead, yellow eyes stared nakedly at James’ terrified face. They were the eyes of a corpse.
“I’m not dead, James; you’re dead. Dead as a doornail!” he cackled and threw back his head with glee at his own cleverness. The thing that called itself Frank Archon stood up and James watched in sick horror as one of his shirt buttons popped off as his bloated, purple belly expanded. The smell of decay filled the cell. James turned and gripped the bars, pressing his face against them to look for a guard.
“Help! Help me!” James screamed into a silent hallway. A hand gripped his shoulder and he screamed. He turned around and looked into the face of his mother.
“James,” she sobbed. She stepped back towards the bed and picked up one of the crumpled pieces of paper from Mr. Archon's pile. James looked wildly around the cell. There was no sign of the Mr. Archon/Tom creature. He looked back at his mother who was wearing one of her old house dresses. Her graying hair was coming loose from her usually neat bun. She looked very old and tired. She was looking at the piece of paper with her hand over her mouth, aghast.
“James, how could you,” she said.
“Mom…what. What are you doing in here? What’s happening!” he screamed, shaking and crying.
“Breaking and entering, rape, murder. Why did you do that to that old woman? How could you?” she said backing away from him, shaking her head.
“You know I didn’t do any of that! You know that! They framed me!” he shouted back at her. “Your sister is so disappointed in you,” she said.
“No, no, no,” James said, sliding down the bars to the floor. I’m a statue, made of stone and nothing can break me, he thought desperately. He cupped his elbows and made himself small, shuddering and gasping for air. “Someone stop this. Someone help me,” he said quietly to no one. “Why won’t anyone help me!” he screamed. There was no reply.
The silence engulfed him. He felt paralyzed in fear and sorrow and for a moment he believed he really had turned to stone; a marble monument to his suffering. Here stood a boy who was fed nothing but pain and in payment he was handed a death sentence for heinous crimes he did not commit. Justice is dead. Life is a sick joke. The end.
An eternity passed and the silence coaxed James out of his paralysis. He opened his eyes. A woman sat on his bed. A stranger. Her presence calmed him. She was young and beautiful. Her green eyes glowed out of a face with sharp, comely features. Her dark hair cascaded past her shoulders, shiny and smooth. She wore an expensive-looking black suit, tailored to perfection. She had one leg crossed over the other and a foot with a pointy, black high-heeled shoe bounced up and down. She looked completely at home and elegant in a jail cell on death row.
“What is this? Am I going crazy?” he asked the woman.
“No, James. You just took a trip through your own brain,” she said with a calm smile.
“My mother…she thinks I really did those things?” he cried with the heart-breaking strength of a child.
“No dear. She is waiting for you in the audience. She and your sister are heartbroken that you are paying for the sins of someone else. They believe you. I believe you.”
“I don’t understand,” he said. His tears dried up at last and he sat in stunned silence. Waiting for something, anything to make this all stop. “Mr. Archon was Tom. He’s dead. He was here,” he said.
“No. I am Mr. Archon,” she said with the patience of a mother talking to her beloved toddler.
“Yes, James. I am Mr. Archon. I showed you those things. I don’t want you to die without realizing the full extent of your misfortune. I want you to feel the injustice that has been done to you. Your life was worth so much more and these people took it from you: Tom, the lawyers, the guards, all the people sitting out there waiting excitedly for you to die in front of them.”
“I never did those things. They don’t know me,” he said.
“I know that my love,” she said as she stood up. She reached down with perfectly manicured nails and took his hands in hers. He suddenly felt a warm, spreading joy that he had never known before rush through him. She pulled him to his feet and looked down at him. She was at least a foot taller than he was.
“James..." she said as she tilted her head and arched one of her exquisitely dramatic eyebrows. "Did you know that when your mother and sister were seated on the family side of the execution room just now, the mob on the other side threw things at them?”
“No,” he said.
“Did you know that one man spat in your sister’s face and called her a slut?”
“Did you know that they are sitting in there right now cursing your dear mother and sister for simply being related to a monster such as yourself?”
James shook his head no and looked down at the floor. He felt his cheeks go hot with the beginning of deep rage.
“They are going to cheer when you take your last breath. When you think your last thought, they will be laughing and smiling and your family will walk out of there humiliated and harassed, probably for the rest of their lives.”
“It’s not their fault,” James said, clenching his teeth.
“Of course not. It’s these people,” she said with a voice that echoed in his head through all the years of his life. All the injustices he had been dealt for simply being born. Wrong place at the wrong time and here comes the punch line, he thought through a thickening red curtain of anger.
James squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his fists tight enough to make his fingernails draw blood in the soft pads of his hands. He gulped in the rancid air of his cell and screamed with every ounce of energy he had left. When the last of the howl had escaped him, he fell to his knees, panting.
“What can I do? What can I do?” he said.
“Do you believe in immortality?” she said.
“I don’t know what you mean,” he said, looking up into her beautiful face.
“I am the Bringer of Justice for Lost Souls. You deserve revenge. What will your last thought be, James?”
“I don’t know. I want…my family to be happy.”
“No,” she said, her eyes flickering like flames.
Suddenly James’ mind went black. It was a relief. He could see himself standing in the blackness. Beside him was a figure in a black robe. A rotted hand reached out from beneath the cloak and pointed down. He looked down off a precipice into a never-ending pit of flames. They ebbed and flowed like the sea. Bodies were writhing down there, screaming and screaming. He saw Tom, and the judge that convicted him and the lawyers that failed him and all those people who were so excited to see him die. He smiled at their suffering.
Mr. Archon’s voice rang out beside him and he was back in the cell.
“Your death is inevitable, but a curse will last forever,” she/he/it said. James could hear the guard’s footsteps approaching. It was time. He smiled up at Mr. Archon and she smiled back. The guard opened the gate and grinned at James. He did not seem to notice the tall Mr. Archon standing behind him. He put James in handcuffs.
“Showtime,” the guard said and walked him out of the cell. James looked over his shoulder and smiled at his tall friend who nodded back at him.
Two guards opened the double doors to the holding area of the execution room. James could hear the crowd murmuring on the other side of the wall. His mind was clear. He knew what his last thought was going to be. The head guard nodded to the others and they took him out to face the audience.
A roar of noise erupted as soon as he emerged from behind the curtained area. One side of the room was filled with people screaming at him, their faces red with fury, some with tears and some with smug smiles. On the other side, separated by metal bars, sat his mother and his sister. They were the only ones there to mourn him. They were both crying and sat up straight when they saw him. He made eye contact with his sister and gave her a smile. The crowd grew louder at the sight of that. He looked at his mother and mouthed the words: I love you.
“Devil bitch!” someone shouted at his mother. James turned to the man and saw a flash of him burning in a pit of flames until he was nothing but blackened bones. The bones continued to beg for mercy. The man shrank back at James’ stare and shouted no more.
The guards walked him over to a gurney. He laid down willingly and stared at the ceiling, feeling as strong as stone as they tied his arms and legs down. Once he was strapped down, the man in charge of the operation, Master of Death, James thought somewhat amused, asked him if he had any last words. He did.
James turned and looked at his audience.
“My life has been filled with pain and horror. The injustices done to me and my family can never be fully repaid, but I can try. Today I will be put to death for crimes I did not commit. Not only do you condemn me, but you condemn my family, who deserve none of this. I’ve had a day of lasts; my last meal, my last piss, my last cry, my last conference with demons. I do not mourn my last day on this earth because I believe in immortality. My body may perish today in front of you, but you will not be rid of me. I curse you. I curse all of you who came to see me die. I curse the ones who worked to take my life away and those of you who did nothing to stop it. I curse the bad men who have hurt me over the years, and I curse this world for being what it is. I curse your blood. I curse every person who is born of your bloodlines. In this curse, I will live on. When you think you’ve put this all behind you, I will be the chill that grazes your neck on a dark street. I will be the fear that creeps up on you and consumes you the last years of your life. I will be the sickness that takes your wife, your child, your own sinful heart. In your nightmares, I will live. In the deepest pits of your own hell will I wait for you to join me. I am immortal in your suffering. Mom and Sarah, I love you and I always will. The rest of you can go to Hell.”
The crowd surged and had to be held back by guards. The needles were inserted into the veins of each arm and the poison injected. James looked at his family one last time and willed them to remember him as a good man. His sister sat up and screamed his name.
“James!” she sobbed. His mother stood and pulled her close, kissing her head. She looked up at her son. "I love you, my sweet boy," she mouthed to him.
James smiled at them both. The sound of the crowd was nothing but background noise to him. He turned his head slowly and looked up at the ceiling, feeling the poison rushing through him. There on the ceiling above him was Mr. Archon. She was up there in the shadows, just a pair of yellow eyes staring at him with joy. James closed his eyes and died, happy that justice had finally prevailed.
Written by Dgrady237