Warden John McAvoy sat in his office in a pensive mood, staring outside the window at the torrential rain. The cup of coffee on his table was getting cold, but he took no notice of it. He glanced at his watch. It was six-thirty in the evening. Eleven more hours to go, he thought, as a wave of uneasiness crept over his body.
Working at Fox River State Penitentiary hadn’t exactly been a walk in the park for him. Being the warden, he had to oversee each and every execution that took place there. He had witnessed five of them so far, and now they didn’t bother him at all.
It was a mechanical job for him now, a job that had to be done.
As he continued to stare outside the window, his mind went back to the first execution he had to oversee, reliving the moment…
He looked on as two officers strapped the inmate to the chair, double-checking the locks and they covered his face with a black cloth. The priest was standing beside the chair, reading verses from The Bible. One of the officers took a piece of sponge and dipped it in a bucket of water. He then proceeded to put the sponge on top of the inmate’s head. The Officer-in-Charge, who was standing beside the warden, told him that the wet sponge was put to speed up the current flow, resulting in quick death, without much agony. John McAvoy’s mouth went dry and his hands were shaking. His brain urged him to turn away and run, but somehow he maintained his composure. He looked on as the officer put the metal cap on top of the sponge on the inmate’s head and signaled to the executioner that they were ready.
The executioner turned to look at McAvoy, waiting for his signal. McAvoy nodded his head slowly, trying to keep his gaze steady. The executioner didn’t even think twice before pulling the switch. McAvoy watched, frozen with terror, as the inmate’s body shook violently, the current reaching every cell in his body. It was only a matter of ten seconds, but to McAvoy, those ten seconds felt like a lifetime…
He forced his mind back to the present. He was immune to it all now. Yet, somehow, eleven hours before the execution of David Adelstein, he felt uneasy. He picked up the phone and instructed the secretary to bring in the guard in charge of Adelstein. Within five minutes, Bruce Miller, the guard, knocked on his door.
“Good Evening Sir,” said Miller.
“How’s Adelstein putting up?”
“He is calm sir, strangely. He seems to have accepted his fate.”
“Hmmm. I see. See to it that he gets his dinner of choice tonight, and make sure he is prepared and ready when I arrive tomorrow morning.”
“No problem Sir. Everything will be set for the five-thirty execution tomorrow.”
“Good. See you tomorrow then. Good Night.”
“Good Night Sir.”
After the guard went away, McAvoy locked his office and went home, still unable to shake off the uneasy feeling at the pit of his stomach.
John McAvoy was already wide awake when his alarm went off at four a.m. He quietly got ready and drove his way to the penitentiary. He hated early morning executions, they robbed him of his sleep. He parked his car in the employee’s parking lot and checked the time. It was five already. He made his way to his office. But before he could reach it, the officer-in-charge, Mark Redford, came running to him. He seemed out of breath.
“What’s the matter, Redford?”, McAvoy asked, slightly taken aback.
“Sir, you won’t believe this, Adelstein has escaped!!”
“WHAT? How is this possible?”
“We are trying to find out sir. He seems to have disappeared from his cell.”
“Are you out of your mind, Redford?”
“Sir, take a look for yourself.”
McAvoy rushed over to David Adelstein’s cell, trying to regain his composure. Upon reaching it, he found Bruce Miller, sitting on his chair, as if in a daze.
McAvoy shook him back to his senses and shouted:
“What the hell!! You irresponsible fool!! How could you let any such thing happen?”
Miller was shaking uncontrollably now and his face had drained off blood.
“I…I…don’t know sir.”
“What do you mean you don’t know? Weren’t you watching over him, you bastard! ”
“I swear sir, I was sitting right here. But I…I had dozed off sir. And when I woke up, he was gone.”
“Are you trying to say he just disappeared into thin air?”
“I don’t know sir. I swear to God, when I woke up around four, his cell was locked from outside, just the way I had locked it, but he had vanished.”
McAvoy’s face flushed with rage.
“Redford!! Have you searched the cell?”
“Yes sir, we have searched it thoroughly. We found nothing except a diary which he has been keeping since he came here.”
“Send the diary to my office, and send a search party out right now. I want every corner of this damned city to be searched. Do you understand? I want Adelstein sitting on the electric chair by noon. Am I clear?”
“Absolutely Sir. A search party under Officer Williams is already on its way.”
McAvoy now turned on Miller.
“Do I pay you to sleep off your shift, you irresponsible piece of shit?”
“I am sorry Sir. I cannot imagine how he could have escaped when…”
“Shut up! And get out of here. I don’t ever want to see your face again. You are fired!!”
Bruce Miller started pleading with the warden.
“Please sir. I have a family to support sir. I promise you I will remain alert from now on.”
“Get out, before I kick you out! One week into this job and you have already shown how bad you are at it! OUT!!”
Bruce Miller stood there, dumbfounded. Slowly, he made his way away from the cell.
McAvoy searched the cell himself, trying to find any hint or clue as to how Adelstein made his escape. But, he could find nothing of consequence. How the hell had he managed to escape? His initial anger had now turned into fear. What if Adelstein managed to elude the search party and flee the city? What would the board of directors have to say about him, an irresponsible warden? He felt his career slipping away. All the work and sacrifice he had made to reach the position of a warden were now melting away right before his eyes.
Suddenly, he remembered something. The diary! Why on earth had David Adelstein left his diary behind? What was in it? Did he want to tell us something?
His head swam with all these thoughts as he made his way to his office. He opened the door and went in.
He reached for the phone and asked his secretary for a cup of coffee, hoping that a cup of coffee would help calm his nerves, and make him think things over rationally. He saw the diary lying on his table. He stared at it for a moment. There was a knock on the door and his secretary came in with a cup of steaming coffee.
McAvoy waited till the secretary left, and then, with a deep breath, picked up the diary. It was bound by a black cover and seemed brand new. He opened it at the first page and found written on it, in big block letters, THE BARE TRUTH.
Frowning, McAvoy turned to the next page. And after taking a sip of his coffee, began reading…
11th August 2008
I cannot help but smile at the irony. All these years I have sinned many a times, and haven’t paid for them a single time. But now, I am in prison, serving a death sentence for the only crime I did not commit. I agree that I am a scum, a blot of ink on the clean paper of humanity, but, I ask, has justice truly been served? Do I really deserve to be here, cut off from the whole world, and knowing that I will die in 7 days? I won’t lie. I am scared, terrified, knowing that my days are numbered.
As I sit down to write today, my first day in prison, I feel numb, and even though I have till the 18th to live, it seems as though I have started dying from today.
Given a choice as to where I would like to spend the last days of my life, alone and locked up in a dingy room would be my last option. Oh, I miss Christine. I know that I shall never see her again, and the mere thought of it is unbearable. I wish I could die right here, right now, for I am as good as dead without her. I never even got a chance to apologize to my brother, who has stood by me, has endured all my joys and sorrows, and been a pillar of support throughout. I keep telling myself that maybe I deserve all this, and that God is punishing me for all the sins that I committed and escaped from. But it doesn’t help me digest the fact that I am giving up my life for a crime I did not, and could not ever commit.
John McAvoy found beads of perspiration forming on his forehead. He took a sip of his coffee, which had failed miserably to calm him. Taking a deep breath, he turned to the next page…
13th August 2008
I feel a lot better today. I no longer feel lonely and I have stopped questioning fate. But my mind keeps going back to Christine, longs for her and wants her. I want someone to listen, just listen to what I have to say. I want to relieve the burden on my chest. Since there is no one here for that purpose, this diary is my only option to ease the pain. I met Christine six months ago at a bar, and was completely smitten by her. She had just broken up with her boyfriend then. I, on the other hand, had nowhere to go. My parents had divorced when I was only five, and my brother was eight. My brother was always the sensible one. He completed his education and took up work as a police inspector.
I on the other hand had dropped out of school, become an alcoholic, and regularly got into fights. I wasted all my money on gambling and took to stealing to earn a living. I knew I had my brother to protect me and get me off whenever I got into trouble. Eventually, I mended my ways and got a job as a waiter in a bar. And that’s where I saw her, Christine. My life suddenly seemed a lot better. I was happy for the first time, and it was all because of her. She stabilized my life and made me a better person. After four months of dating, we moved in together in a small, one-room apartment. I finally felt that my life was getting back on track. But, I guess God thought I didn’t deserve all this happiness. Christine’s ex-boyfriend wanted her to go back to him, and had threatened to ruin our lives if she didn’t do so. I advised her to ignore him.
That’s when the letters started arriving. Letters, warning us of dire consequences if Christine refused to go back to him. She was scared, I could see that. Then, one day, when I came back from work, I found the door ajar. I went in, and saw my sweet Christine lying on the floor, dead. I was shocked, stunned, angry, numb, all at the same time. She had been shot, right through her heart. I have no idea when the police came to arrest me. I pleaded my innocence, telling them about the threat notes. But the police found no such notes after searching my place. The fact that I had sinned and escaped all the time was known to them. And one of my neighbours saying that she saw a man, wearing the same clothes as I, enter the house earlier; sealed my fate. When I finally came to my senses, I found the judge sentencing me to death. Here I ask again. Has justice been served?
McAvoy was interrupted by the ringing of his phone. He found his hands trembling as he answered it. It was Redford, calling to say that Adelstein was nowhere to be found and that the search will continue till he is apprehended. McAvoy managed an “okay” and put the receiver down. He stared at the diary for a moment, and turned to the next page…
17th August 2008
Today is my final day here. At long last I will be freed from this hellhole. I know that I should feel terrified about what is to transpire tomorrow, but a strange calmness has taken over me. This diary has been my company for the seven hardest days of my life. I would have gone mad without it. I was offered a dinner of my choice tonight. I asked for macaroni and cheese, Christine’s favourite. God I will miss her! Her smile, her blue eyes, her soft hair… Well, on this note, I sign off. Ironically, I would like to thank these four walls that have caged me for a week, for making me understand the saying – ‘as you sow, so shall you reap’. I apologize to my brother, and Christine, for letting them down again and again. Goodbye!
John McAvoy let out a big sigh when he finished reading. This is the first time he had seen a prisoner plead his innocence through a diary, which was meant to be read after his execution.
He turned the page and let out a gasp. He blinked his eyes several times, but the letters did not change. There was another diary entry there. It was written in Adelstein’s hand, and the date written was 18th August 2008, 5:30 am!
McAvoy checked his watch. It was five-forty in the morning, and today was the 18th. McAvoy suddenly felt out of breath. In a daze, he continued to read…
18th August 2008, 5:30 am
Hello Warden John McAvoy. I assume that you are reading my diary at the above mentioned time. I hope to be long gone by the time you finish reading it. You know me pretty well, don’t you? And you knew Christine pretty well too. She wanted nothing more to do with you. She was happy with me. But, you just couldn’t let her go, could you? You just couldn’t accept the fact that she was no longer a part of your life. You sent her threatening letters, you wanted to ruin our perfect life.
Congratulations, you have succeeded in doing that. Tell me warden, how did it feel to shoot her right through her heart? Did it make you happy? Did it complete your revenge? You took away the one thing I lived for, and I vow to ruin your life. A small step in doing so has been taken today. I knew about your short temper, McAvoy, and I was counting on it today. I am pretty sure that, by now, in your rage, you must have fired my brother Bruce. Yes, my brother! He saved me once again, he believed in me. He kept me sane in these seven days. Yes warden, it was he who unlocked my cell and set me free, free to start a new life, a new beginning. Goodbye Warden John McAvoy, and hope you rot in hell! I will make sure you do so.
David Adelstein Miller
*This piece has been selected as the Winning Entry of the Day for the ‘Viewspaper Express Yourself Writing Competition’*