What does a man do the day before he’s due to be executed- which also happens to be his birthday?
The answer, as given by Callum Lynch:
Well, if the guy’s about to be executed, his sorry ass is probably in prison and that means he’ll do the same shit he does every single day, which is stare at the wall and scribble disturbing, shitty drawings on pieces of paper, because literally everything else is kept out of his cell because he’s on suicide watch. Get it? The death-row inmate is on suicide-watch?
Very fucking funny.
He woke up at 7:00AM.
Callum had less than twelve hours until he was due to be executed.
He had given up, at this point, on being bitter about the fact that he was being sentenced to death for killing a piece of slime who pimped out underage girls to have sex with old men, girls who would be lucky if they saw five percent of what they’d earned from their work. Callum was of the personal opinion that if the bastard had not slammed a teenage girl’s head down on the bar five feet away from him, said bastard might have lived another day.
But he had, and Callum had stabbed him three times for it.
As it was, he’d made the mistake of killing a rare breed of pimp: The kind that was smart enough to keep his business quiet and subtle, wealthy enough to pay off the right cops and had therefore never been pinched by them, didn’t even have any priors before he’d gotten into the business of terrorizing prostitutes; unlike Callum, whose rap-sheet was long enough to hang from the judge’s desk.
The pimp was wealthy; Callum was not.
The pimp’s record was, legally, clean; Callum’s was not.
The pimp had cronies that boo-hooed about what a great guy he was in court, and claimed that the attack had been unprovoked; Callum had no friends to come forward, and the girl who’d had her head slammed on the bar had disappeared into the night. Callum didn’t know if she’d fled for her own safety, or if the pimp’s cronies had shut her up permanently.
He really, really hoped for the former. Beyond the fact that she was a kid, there was something about her that spoke to a sort of innocent, naïve, boy-oh-boy-I-have-gotten-in-way-over-my-head sort of girl. Callum wasn’t even close to being an optimist, but he preferred to believe that she’d taken off and run home to two anxious, terrified parents who’d been looking for her for weeks.
Or maybe she’s dead in a ditch, because you had to be the hero.
At 8:00AM, it was time for breakfast.
Callum left his cell only for very short periods of time, and then only shackled up and with no less than two guards with him. Some prisoners only got one, but they were usually the scrawny kind that one guard could take easily if said prisoner suddenly decided that they’d rather take their chance on an escape (this was death-row, after all; what did they have to lose?)
Frankly, Callum couldn’t really say that he was hungry at that point. Maybe it was because prison food was worse than hospital food, or maybe it was because he was going to be strapped-down and poisoned at 6:00PM sharp, but he just wasn’t feeling it.
A shiver ran down his back at the image in his head, of him in the execution chamber with a needle in his arm.
Don’t think about it.
If he didn’t think about it, it wasn’t real.
And if it wasn’t real, it couldn’t hurt him.
At 9:00AM, the guards came.
“You get a stretch in the yard, Lynch.”
Callum will say this: The guards were decent. They weren’t your stereotypical prison-movie guards that abused the inmates physically and mocked them about their date with Old Sparky. He’d never seen them be anything but calm and composed with the death-row inmates, even though one sorry sonuvabitch had a meltdown two days before his date with death a few weeks back and broke one’s nose.
And for Callum, who had not received a great deal of respect in his life, it was nice; he made a point to be respectful to the guards, because not once since he’d entered prison did they give him shit.
Of course, as far as the Prisoner Hierarchy goes, a guy who murders a pimp for beating his prostitutes is higher up on the chain than, say, a guy who murders his sweet old grandmother for the inheritance money, or a guy who abused his kids physically; the ones who abused their kids sexually, of course, were at the literal rock-bottom.
So Callum shrugged and let them chain him up, and he followed them without a word out to the yard.
There were other inmates out there; Callum didn’t know if they were death-row or not, because he’d made a point of avoiding just about everyone else since coming to this place. It was a nice day, though, sunny with blue skies.
Great day for a birthday.
And getting a needle shoved in your arm.
Again, that shiver tickled his spine, and Callum made a point of pushing the thought from his mind.
He found a table, took a seat, and watched the sky. He watched for birds, for planes, for passing clouds, and tuned the sound of the yard out. It was October, not that that mattered much in fucking Texas. It was probably something like seventy degrees out, and they were nearly in November.
At some point, it occurred to Callum that he might get sunburned, and to maybe sit in the shade for a bit.
Then he remembered, again, what was happening at 6:00, and felt like a fucking idiot.
Callum spent the next three hours staring at the sky, and did not move once, the Texas sun be damned.
At noon, it was time for lunch.
And still, Callum felt pretty much nothing in terms of hunger. Nothing killed a guy’s appetite quite like the realization that he would literally be killed in six hours.
Really, he thought, with a morbid sense of gratitude, it could be worse.
Like just about anybody who’d ever cracked a history book, Callum knew that the old days were ten times worse in just about every single way, but especially with execution. Notions of human rights hadn’t exactly been deeply formulated by then, and really, the executioners tended not to give much of a shit if the random dude they were executing felt the blade as it went through his neck.
Punishment was punitive, Callum could recall the teacher saying. Our ancestors weren’t interested in rehabilitation, for the most part. They were interested in punishing people, ensuring that neither they nor anyone else would commit a crime again for fear of what would happen to them.
Then, probably a result of the stress, Callum started giggling.
Because had anything really changed?
Shit, the government could drone on and on about ‘rehabilitating’ criminals, but at the end of the day, small-time criminals became bigger ones after spending some time in the clink, surrounded by people who were willing to encourage and validate what they’d done to land themselves in there.
And funny enough, nobody seemed interested in rehabilitating Callum.
You caught me, he thought, without humor. I’m unteachable. All my grade-school teachers said so.
That was probably why they’d decided to kill him: One look at his rap-sheet, the priors, the robberies, the fist-fights, the poor grades, and the State of Texas had said,
Why the fuck should we even waste our time? Just kill him already.
Around 1:00PM, he decided he may as well draw.
It seemed that the guards had never had a person kill themselves with a piece of paper before (Callum had spent several hours trying to conceive of way after realizing that, but all he could come up with was trying to cram a lot of it down your throat and hope you choke on it before the paper dissolved), and the charcoal pencils they got for him were too soft to shank himself with (they were a pain in the ass to use for the same reason, but he wasn’t going to complain).
So Callum drew.
Art had always been his preferred subject in school. It didn’t require deep thought or cautious hesitation to make sure he’d gotten things just right; it just happened. Or at least, it had just happened for him: Several art teachers had said that he’d had a natural talent for it. “You could become a serious artist, Cal,” Mrs. Norberry had told him when he was thirteen.
Except that in the real world- or at least, in Callum’s experience- kids without parents who were passed around the foster system didn’t become professional artists, because kids who were passed around the foster system understood that art doesn’t put food on the table. Rich kids who got cars for their sixteenth birthdays could afford to go to college and get a fancy degree that would give them a leg-up in the art world; kids like Callum scribbled in sketchbooks that disappeared in transition to new foster houses. Kids like Callum tagged walls as an outlet for something they knew they’d never be able to make money off of.
Kids like Callum- the unlucky ones who were never adopted or found support from friends or family, the ones who had done terribly in school and couldn’t get a scholarship if they tried, the ones who were booted out the system at eighteen with a handshake and a ‘Godspeed, don’t fuck up’- worked minimum-wage jobs at best, struggling to stay afloat and find something or someone that would support them for the long-term, and went belly-up at worst, robbing stores for grocery money or OD’ing on meth in a drug-den because, well, if your life sucks, you may as well check-out, right?
Callum, obviously, had gone for the ‘worst’. Go big or go home.
And really, you couldn’t get much bigger than death-row.
At 4:00PM, it was time for dinner.
It was earlier than usual. Normally dinner was closer to six, but, well, Callum was going to be a bit preoccupied around 6:00 that evening, so they’d bumped the time up for his convenience.
Some prisoners asked for really elaborate or expensive final meals. Callum suspected that some of it was a fuck-it-all sense of ‘Oh well, if I have to die I may as well go all-out’; but he also suspected that some of it was a gigantic middle-finger to the great state of Texas, more like a ‘alright fuckers, you can kill me, but I’m going put this one last tack in your shoe before I go.’
Callum was neither bitter enough nor inventive enough to do that. He just asked for a burger and fries. “Just something decent,” He’d said, tiredly. “I don’t know. Whatever place you think does it best.”
And to the guards’ credit- Callum was pretty sure it was Hansen who’d made the choice- they’d picked something pretty damn decent-looking. He still wasn’t really hungry, but he forced the meal down anyway. He may as well, right? Last thing he would ever eat, and all that.
Two hours from now, he would die.
Callum forced the thought away and kept eating.
And yeah, the burger was good.
But for some weird reason, he was having trouble enjoying it.
At 5:30PM, the priest came.
Callum had never been religious- that would require faith, which was something he’d been running bone-dry on since the age of seven- but he was vaguely curious about whether or not there was somewhere a person went after they died. You didn’t necessarily need God to have an afterlife, right?
For the first time that day, he thought of his mother, and wondered if maybe he was about to see her again.
“Mr. Lynch,” The man greeted, and then paused to look at Callum’s collection of drawings on the wall. Callum almost laughed when he saw the brief pulse of alarm on his face; he probably thought he was dealing with a really hardcore psychopath, judging from the drawings. Callum’s drawings definitely dipped towards the I-could-really-use-a-therapist genre: Screaming faces, skeletons, daggers, demons, etc.
Callum did consider himself decently disturbed, but honestly? It was the charcoal that had inspired him. Dark colors inspire dark thoughts for him, apparently.
“Are you here to save my soul?” Callum asked, and hoped that the touch of Hannibal Lecter he’d put in there was effective.
But apparently this guy’s been around, because he gave a half-smirk and said, “Something like that.” The smirk faded. “I, uh… Understand it’s your birthday.”
Callum snorted, tried for a smile that would assure the priest that the Hannibal Lecter thing had been a joke. “Yeah. The party’s just getting started.”
There was a silence after that, because yeah, how exactly does one respond to that?
“Sit down,” Callum said, finally, after a moment or two of awkwardness had passed. “You’re making me nervous.”
And the priest did sit, and after another moment of uncertainty- clearly he was accustomed to dealing with a different breed of prisoner than Callum- he started reading a passage from the Bible.
Now, given that this was- quite literally- the last minutes of his life, Callum would have been justified in begging the man to spare him the religious outreach. Again, trying to find faith in Callum Lynch would be like trying to find a black-cat in a blackout. But he was nice enough, and so Callum just kind of sighed and listened for a few minutes while he read.
Eventually, though, the priest stopped and looked up. “You’re not much for the Bible, are you?”
Callum shook his head. “Not much.”
“Is there anything I can say that might bring you comfort?”
The poem came to mind so quickly, despite its painful connotations, and later Callum would chalk it up on nerves and the fact that the priest was kind enough to offer instead of plowing ahead with the Bible and hoping that Jesus would hold his hand as he fucking died.
“There’s a poem my mother used to read to me: ‘After Apple-Picking’.”
“I know it,” The priest said, sounding strangely pleased. “Robert Frost.”
He started reciting it.
Callum hadn’t heard the poem spoken aloud in thirty years. Not since his mother. He knew most of it, a few lines blurry from years without regular visitation. It wasn’t the poem, or its topic, that was appealing to Callum; it was that it had been his mother’s favorite, and she had recited it to him countless times in his childhood.
Three lines stuck out:
“For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.”
Callum was tired.
(Footsteps in the hall.)
He was tired of his shitty life.
Tired of prison.
Tired of everything.
Two guards stood outside his cell.
Callum didn’t have a clock, but it was obvious what time it was.
The priest looked a bit surprised, stumbling over the next line or two before coming to a hesitant stop.
Callum looked at him and shrugged. “I know the rest.”
The priest nodded. They both stood, and Callum stepped to the door so that the guards could chain him for the last time.
He would not see his cell again.
These men were the last faces he would see.
(There were worse.)
And now he was off to die.
Again, that shudder ran down his spine, and Callum forced his mind to blankness. He couldn’t crumble now, or…
…Well, he didn’t know what would happen, but it wouldn’t be pretty.
So tired, but still not ready to die.
But if there were any choice involved in this, Callum wouldn’t be there at all, now would he?
The guards nudged him gently, one of them held him by the shoulder, and he tried to fold the stimulation into the sea of blankness he was making his mind into. Don’t think, don’t feel, don’t speak.
Callum walked, and he did not look back.