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Pardoned on Death Row

Inspiration came about while I was reading about Barak Obama’s political career on his website. Apparently, advances in forensics technology lead to the complete absolving of several death row inmates of their crimes (prompting Senator Obama to draft laws requiring that interrogations and confessions be recorded–good for him!). So I thought… what would that be like? To have been trapped in the system so long, run your race of raging and anger and then, at the end, when you’d abandoned all hope, to be set free again? A plot bunny was born.

The heavy clang of the bars sliding open caught his attention at last. He blinked a few times, coming slowly out of a long meditative trance. It had been awhile since he’d had an in-cell visitor.

“On your feet,” Warden Adler said in his customary bark, and Brady slowly creaked out of his cross-legged perch on his thin pallet. Unfolded, his limbs were long, though very thin, wispy, like everything else about him now. He stood up straight, his head nearly brushing the low ceiling.

The warden was a barrel-chested gorilla of a man, but happily tended toward the short side lengthwise and stepped easily into the cell. The man who followed was not so vertically favored, and had to duck his head to pass through the low doorway. When he straightened, Brady saw with some surprise that there was a district attorney’s badge pinned to his lapel.

The District Attorney himself? Brady thought. What could have elicited the honor? Ever since the press had died down around his high-coverage state appeal trial, he hadn’t seen hide nor hair of the many lawyers who had swarmed him before (or much anyone, really, being curiously short on sympathetic relatives). Now, to suddenly have the “big cheese” of lawyers, so to speak, pay him a personal visit, something big must have happened. Perhaps they were moving his execution date up, Brady thought vaguely. He looked at the D.A. with mild interest.

The lawyer gave him a quick glance over and then withdrew a sheaf of papers from a side pocket of the briefcase he carried. Clearing his throat, he read officiously from the document, “William Franklin Brady, due to new evidence that has come to light in regards to the charges of murder in the first degree brought against you by the State of Connecticut on January 3rd, 1998, the Superior Court of Connecticut finds you innocent of all charges and absolved of all responsibility and further imprisonment. You are free to go.”

And with that, without so much as sparing another glance at him, the D.A. spun on his gleaming heel and marched back out the way he had come, leaving Brady, the warden and two of the accompanying guards staring blankly at one another inside the cell.

The warden gave him about another 30 seconds to absorb the news before saying in a gruff but marginally kindly manner, “Come on, Brady, you’re a free man. Let’s go.” He put a big, hammy hand on Brady’s elbow, nearly clasping it all the way around, and steered him firmly toward the cell door.

“Hey, is there anything you wanna bring along?” one of the two guards behind asked.

“No…” Brady said vaguely, still dazed. He didn’t have many possessions to begin with, and none he had much attachment to… except… “That book,” he said over his shoulder. “Can you bring that book beside my pillow?”

“Sure,” the guard said, and Brady was forced to turn his attention to the front again as the warden lead him down the flight of metal stairs to the cell hall’s ground floor.

They walked out and out, passed familiar places like the mess hall and the showers and the door to the exercise yard. They walked through the more friendly-looking “outer” areas, the rooms outsiders got to see like the rec lounge and the visitors’ room. And then, they were walking through rooms Brady was not familiar with, places he hadn’t seen since his first walk through — going the opposite direction — some 10 years ago. His shoes squelched uncomfortably over the unfamiliar linoleum.

They came at last to “Reception,” the deceptively-named gray-walled gateway to long-term prison life, or what Brady and many others had often called, “living purgatory” or “living hell,” depending on whether the gangsters had you marked for a bitch or not. It had most certainly been the latter for Brady in the first three or four years. But he had come to terms with his lot fairly quickly once he had been moved to death row and had had the silence and solitude of the next six years to consider his pending execution. He glanced back suddenly, wondering if the guard had brought his book.

He had, and when the warden’s brisk march halted abruptly at the Reception Counter (a grotesque parody of a hotel check-in counter), the guard placed it in front of him: Final Freedom: the Art of Buddhist Meditation. Brady clutched it securely to his torso as the Reception guards pulled out the tub full of his personal affects, smelling strongly of mothballs, which sent him for a bit of a loop because they were so familiar and unchanged and so out of context in his present existence.

They made him sign a few papers certifying that he’d duly received his property and half-listened as the warden gave him a sort of formal discharge speech. Something about government-sponsored housing and a hotel in the meantime—a nice one—and a lawyer or a social worker and a year’s stipend to live off of, courtesy of the government and justice system, so sorry for the mistake.

It was all very sudden, and even though the warden and the reception guards were all very reassuring that everything was all right now, Brady still felt a strange sense of surrealness as he was packed into a taxi with the fare paid for and the cabbie cheerfully telling him not to worry, he knew the place, he could get him there in no time. He stared blankly out the window at the wind-tossed nodding of the bushy trees lining the streets, their leaves on fire with color for the autumn turning. The very vivid blue sky of late afternoon dazzled his eyes as it had never done through the bars of his cell and the high, little window that looked out over the exercise yard.

It was all quite a lot to take in, so to keep from feeling overwhelmed, Brady had gone back to his meditation. Actually, he’d been meditating for awhile now, to some degree, since the warden had started talking about freedom and opportunity and all that back at the Reception Counter, had nodded and signed where expected of him, but hadn’t really heard anything. He’d kept his center and his calm and closed out all else. This he did now and did not stir until the taxi ground to a somewhat jerking halt and the cabbie’s voice said overly loudly, “We’re here!”

Brady slowly unpacked himself from the backseat and stepped up onto the curb in front of the Hartford Radisson Hotel. He stared up and up at the unending tower and suddenly felt light-headed. No matter how he told his mind to center and focus itself, it ran as willfully free as wild horses. Fortunately for him, the cabbie was placing the plastic bag with his affects on the sidewalk next to him and was near enough to catch him as he crumpled unceremoniously to the floor.

Word Count: 1169

Two prompts

I found some cool writing prompts at writersdigest.com and thought I’d try two of them that caught my attention:

1. 12/4/2007: Write a 26-word story where every word begins with a different letter of the alphabet.

“Xeon loved playing in Queensbury Zoo on cold January days. Kangaroos, nightcrawlers, rabbits–there wasn’t much variety, but he enjoyed going and shouting, ‘You ugly freaks!'”

LoL, kind of retarded, huh? Okay, next one–

2. 10/23/2007: You’re a pizza delivery driver and it’s your last stop of the night. The house is on an unlit, unfamiliar street. As you ring the doorbell, you’re greeted by an unusual character who invites you in while he gets cash–and abruptly knocks you out cold. When you wake up, you’re tied to a chair. What happens next?

I woke slowly, groggy. My head hurt like a bitch.

“So you’re finally coming around, huh?” said an unfamiliar voice. A man’s voice, a little wheezy– greasy-sounding, like one of those wife-beater-wearing redneck guys that can be really friendly or really not. When I managed to crack an eye open and get a gander at his face, I was decidedly not reassured.

“What the fuck, man?” I said, trying to straighten and realizing my arms were tied behind me with some kind of thick, scratchy rope. My ankles were bound together and tied to one of the chair legs, too. I began to panic. “What the fuck?!”

“That exactly,” he said and chuckled, a really deep, nasty chuckle in his throat.

“What?!” I demanded. I wasn’t too coherent still (being knocked out leaves you kind of sluggish, you know), and being tied to a chair does wonders for making you lose your cool.

“Fuck,” he said, bending over something on a workbench nearby. I was in his basement, it looked like– dingy walls, naked, dim bulb hanging from a chain. And though the central space was clear of stuff except for me and my chair, there were piles of boxes and other stuff pushed back against the walls– old pieces of furniture, broken junk, stuff like you’d expect in anyone’s basement. Oh, and a chainsaw.

Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. Yeah, that got me going. I started struggling– stupidly, panickedly. I know they say you’re supposed to stay calm when you’ve been kidnapped, but all the stories I’d ever heard about crazy psychos chopping people up in their basements came back to me. Damn prime time police dramas, damn Hannibal Lechter, damn psycho sadistic idiots who get too many ideas watching them! I went into an irrational mental castigation of every cop show and slasher movie I’d ever seen. My brain hadn’t even grasped what he’d said.

“Hey, whoa, whoa, don’t gotta get all squirmy now,” he said, turning at the noise. “I ain’t the one gonna be fucking you, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“Wh…what?” I said, completely dumbfounded– both at this unheard of new concept (what, you’re gonna fuck me? I’m a fucking guy! I fuck people, not the other way around!) and the instant saving grace of his news.

“I said don’t worry, kid,” he repeated, and my heart plummeted again; he was holding a bowie knife. Its cerated edge gleamed grimly in the dim light. “I ain’t a homo. But, too bad for you, my boss is.”

“What?”

“‘What?'” he parroted in a high, frightened voice and then laughed. “Damn, kid, just shut up and relax if you don’t know what’s goin’ on. You’ll fucking know soon enough.”

“No, wait,” I said, finally gathering some kind of wits to me. “Please, there’s gotta be some kind of a mistake. I… I’m just the pizza guy and I–”

“And what? You’re a pizza guy so you don’t got a round, little ass that’s fuckable? I can see the one you’re sittin’ on and it’s Grade A ass according to my boss.”

“Boss?” I said weakly, trying to fight a sudden and very ridiculous urge to hurl or cry or maybe both. “What boss? Who?”

“You’ll find out soon enough, okay?” he said, losing his patience now. He turned and began walking toward me with that fucking huge knife in his hands. Not a normal-sized kitchen knife, nuh-uh. This thing was meant for stabbing live things, not sawing your porterhouse chuck. I think I might’ve started sniveling at this point, because he started laughing and made these stupid “Boo!” noises at me. I wanted to die– though definitely not by that knife. And definitely not by being fucked by his phantom homo boss.

“Oh, shut up, you pussy,” he muttered, squatting down in front of me and gripping my leg with a pudgy but strong-as-iron grip to keep me still as he cut through the ropes tying my ankles. I realized what he was doing and thought about kicking him and running off as soon as my legs were free, but I was shaking so badly I couldn’t even hoist myself up with my arms still tied behind me. He had to grip my arm and haul me up to my feet.

“Okay, he’s ready for you. We’re goin’ upstairs,” he said and steered me roughly toward a set of wooden stairs I hadn’t been able to see before, having been tied with my back to it. It was the one thing that didn’t look like it belonged in a rundown, old suburban house– made of wood, of course, but brand new and polished-looking, shining, like you’d expect to find on the grand staircase in a modern hotel that had decided to go with good, old-fashioned wood flooring.

As we walked toward them, I saw my dorky Pizza Hut visor hanging from the edge of the railing and felt a weird sense of disconnect. Pizza Hut with its bright lights, scrumptious-smelling kitchens and plastic primary-colored counter tops seemed such a distant and impossible reality here, in the face of this dark basement and that knife and chainsaw, and this redneck guy who said he wasn’t gay but I swear he was squeezing me with the hand he put on my hip to steady me, and his phantom homo boss who was gay and God help me when I got to him.

Well, at least the chainsaw isn’t for me, I thought, trying to console myself as I was marched up to meet my very own pulp fiction nightmare.

It was when we were about two-thirds up the stairs that the door at the top suddenly opened. Bright light came flooding out of it for a moment, then I saw a figure framed in it, looking down at us.

“What a long time it’s been, Kenny,” he said, and I think I must’ve jumped back or stumbled or something, ’cause the redneck smacked into my back and pushed me roughly forward again.

Numb, I walked up the rest of the stairs with redneck muttering threats behind me all the way. But I didn’t hear them. ‘Cause suddenly, I knew who it was and why I was here.

“Hello, Kenny,” he said when I was standing with him at the top of the stairs. He smiled and I knew I was fucked. In more ways than one.

Word count: 1060

I had the strangest, saddest dream last night. In it, I was wandering around an empty festival grounds, with all the multi-colored lights and lanterns still strung and lit, and the stalls with their bright trappings and wares and plates piled high with pasties fresh from the stoves. They were all fresh, steaming, as though someone had just served them up, though there wasn’t a soul or a stir or a sound anywhere beyond the creak of a wooden beam or the swish of a colorful streamer wafting on a breeze.

It was the very picture of a festival in full swing, but without the people and the bustle and shouting… Somehow, seeing that bright, cheerful place looking so still and empty was discomforting to me… almost sinister. I felt exposed standing alone in that lighted space when just beyond, behind the row of colorful tents on either side, there lay the inky blackness of the night, where any number of eyes might be watching me, hidden.

I wanted to go out there, rush into it, even if there was an ambush waiting there–better to be amongst them, I thought, facing them and able to see them than to stand here vulnerable and blind, for all the light. I tried to find a gap between the tightly-packed tents that I could slip through into the cloaking darkness, but there weren’t any. I walked and walked, glancing to the left and right, and there was no way out, nothing but the unending rows of wooden booths and tents. I began to run, the feeling growing in me all the while that there was surely something behind, unseen, watching, just waiting for the chance to ambush me.

I began calling out, ‘Is anybody there? Anybody?’ but there was never a reply. Even the somewhat comforting sizzle of the hot iron grills was dimmed now; there was no wind, no stirring, no sounds–nothing but the pounding of my heart and my feet upon the cobblestones.

I glanced back, again and again, fearful that my pursuer was upon me, hoping perhaps to catch him first, but there was no one. Still, I could feel the eyes upon me, could feel the unfriendly intent there. I ran hard, as fast as I could, hoping to reach the end of this diabolical midway, but the booths seemed never to end.

‘Is anyone here?!’ I cried then, ‘please, anyone?!’

And suddenly, even though I saw nothing and no one, I knew I was caught, and my heart seized up in terror as though it would explode and I squeezed my eyes shut, shrinking to the floor as the thing engulfed me. Please, save me, save me, someone! my mind wailed like a drowning child.

And then, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and for some reason, I wasn’t frightened. I knew the thing had me, but the hand was different; it did not feel invasive or malicious to me. I opened my eyes immediately and turned, already knowing, as you sometimes do in dreams, that I was saved.

It was Renn who stood above me, framed against the starry sky. I realized we were no longer in that manic festival row; we were out in the quiet forest night, where the wind stirred the soft grass and there was sound and the gentle light of the moon again.

“Are you all right?” he asked, his brow lowered as usual, but mildly, only in concern for me, not anger or sternness. In fact, when I stood, relief flooding my face, and told him I was fine, his brow lifted entirely, and he smiled his calm, steady smile at me.

How long has it been since I’ve seen such an expression on his face? I thought as he turned to look at the sky. His face upturned in profile in the moonlight was such a nostalgic sight to see; so often when we were young, we had gone into the quiet woods by the seashore, stargazing and listening to the forest sounds of the night. Grown now, the ridge of his nose and jawline are straighter, stronger, and his serious brow is heavier with the burdens he bears, but it is still him, the same Renn who laughed and played and explored the seashore with me back then. And as before, he still comes to save me when I need him most, even now, after all that’s happened between us.

Just as the thought crossed my mind, I realized we were suddenly standing apart. It was still the same moonlit glen we’d been standing in a moment before, but now I found it was quiet in an unnatural way, silent. There was an atmosphere to the place, a heaviness, the way it feels when a powerful spell is being charged up to be cast. I looked at Renn and found him turned away. He was the one chanting the spell, murmuring the words softly under his breath as he bowed his head toward something he held. I walked forward a few steps and caught sight of something glistening in his hand: a dagger.

Renn is one of the strongest people I have ever known; he and I and every soul who knows him would know that he would never kill himself, not even to avoid capture or torture. But somehow, in my dream, I knew that he meant to plunge that knife into his heart, and it was not for despair or delusion or even for my sake that he would do it. He would do it out of duty, because that was what was expected of him, and he drew it from its sheath without hesitation.

‘No!’ I cried, diving to stop him, but he stood too far away and as he stabbed it down, a brilliant light filled the space, making me fall back, blinded.

‘Don’t worry, Senri, I would never do such a thing,’ I heard his voice say, and it was his kind voice, his warm voice, the reassuring one. I believed him and felt relieved, and patiently waited with my eyes closed until the light dissipated. When I opened them again, he was standing there unharmed, as he promised, and turned a smile at me.

But as he turned, I saw that a mask now obscured half his face, a glass mask that glistened coldly in the starlight, refracted a hundred times in all its little bevels and panels. For some reason, the sight broke my heart.

‘Renn…’ I said, tears coming to my eyes.

‘It’s okay, Senri,’ he said kindly, but he stood back from me, keeping himself away. He looked calm but I could see that he was very sad inside. I was, too, though I couldn’t understand why.

‘I want to come to you, Renn,’ I said and he shook his head.

‘No, Senri, you mustn’t,’ he replied. ‘You need to stay away.’

‘But why?’ I cried.

‘There are things I must do, you know that,’ he said, turning to walk away.

I shook my head and begged, ‘Then let me help you!’ The feeling filled my heart suddenly that if I let him leave, I would never see him again. I moved to stand in his path. It made him stop, for he still would not allow me within a few feet of him.

‘Please, Renn,’ I said again, ‘whatever you need to do, let me help you. Let me come with you!’

‘No, Senri,’ he said, ‘I can’t do that.’

And though I had known all along it was a dream, I was powerless to stop it as it began to fade around the edges and he grew indistinct and the weight of my head on my pillow became known to me.

‘Renn!’ I cried again, but he was gone, replaced with the empty darkness of my bedroom’s ceiling. I was back, back in Celene, in my parents’ house, and he was far, far away going who knows where and doing who knows what. Without a single friend, without a single soul to tell him to stop working and go to sleep or remind him to eat or give him a smile to encourage him when he’s down.

“Renn, how are you now?” I whispered, raising my eyes to the stars twinkling in the yet-inky sky outside the window. “Do you even look at the stars anymore?”

But I already knew the answer in my heart and it was all I could do to keep the tears from falling.

Word count: 1366

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Introductory Post

I’ve been wanting a writing blog for a while now. I’ve had various personal ones on big, social-network type sites like livejournal.com and xanga.com before, but a friend pointed me toward WordPress.com as a good free blog without too many frills. That sounds just about right for this. Just a nice, quiet place–if you will–to write. Maybe this lovely header picture will help me focus too.

So, a daily goal to write 500-1000 words sounds like a good way to start. I’d like as much as possible of it to be about my fantasy novel in the works, but perhaps it wouldn’t be best to publish it on the web like this. Not that I expect many visitors… but still. In any case, I’ll use prompts or inspiration from daily life to do these, I suppose. Well, here we go then… let’s write!

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