Contest entry. Franky is on death row, taking his final walk, but nothing is as it seems.
|Franky sat in the darkness, holding his knees to his chest and rocking back and forth, degradingly, in the enclosure of his cell on death row, looking like no more than a shadow of the brutish strength that he had once been. It was almost time now. It had to be. It seemed like ages since they brought his final meal, though he hadn’t touched any of it. Unshakeable fear was beginning to gnaw at him. It was unlike anything he had ever felt before; like falling perpetually at top speed. His death was imminent. He knew there was no way out, now. The wait was agonising, in many ways worse than the prospect of execution itself. To Franky, it felt as though they were not only disposing of him like a piece of rubbish, but stomping on him too. In reality the wait took no more than a few hours, but on death row with only the darkness and looming death for company, it was easy for time to be distorted.
For Warder Bill Baker, the whole ordeal was in many ways just as difficult. The case had never been entirely clear cut, and the trial had left several questions unanswered. Personally, Bill had never believed that Franky was capable of such atrocious acts, and he had always been strangely quiet about that friend of his, Mike. But none of it mattered now. The time had come. Flanked by two subordinates, Bill took the walk through First Division toward death row. The prisoners were eerily quiet. They knew what Bill was here for.
Hating the quiet even more now that he had reached the block of cells that formed Death Row, Bill fitted key in the lock of Franky’s cell and turned it slowly, deliberately. The door opened with a loud clang, bringing both relief and a new bout of dread to the man who had been condemned. Franky was glad that the waiting was over, but at once felt nauseous because he was now only minutes from death. At first, he couldn’t move from his position on the floor – numbness was beginning to set in. Bill, with a soft expression on his face, walked into the cell and stared down at Franky. In one swift movement, he grabbed the inmate by the arm and pulled him to his feet.
Like a taut elastic band snapping back, Franky’s numbness broke. A mass of flailing arms and legs, Franky tried to break away from the Warders. It wasn’t a rational action, by any means. He had the distinct sensation that his body was moving, but his mind had no control over it. He felt as though his body were simply an empty shell, a puppet perhaps – but he wasn’t pulling the strings.
Bill, however, had seen it all before and he had come to expect it. Within seconds, the three Warders had Franky restrained, his arms and legs in shackles. Bill laid a regretful, but sympathetic, hand on the condemned man’s shoulder.
“Come on, son.” He said. His voice was quiet, but somehow it seemed to painfully reverberate through the prison like a frightened bird that couldn’t escape. “It’s time.”
Franky didn’t say a word, and with his head bowed he dejectedly allowed himself to be led toward the waiting gallows and his untimely fate. Bill offered him a blind-fold before they reached their god-forsaken destination. Franky shook his head, not trusting himself to speak and preferring to look the authorities in the face as they murdered him. Yes, murdered. He had never told anyone the horrible truth before – that it had been Mike all along, his best friend, who had committed the unspeakable murder of Jack Haynes son. He had never admitted to anyone that it had been Mike who had raped, defiled, the poor boy’s body and left his lifeless and broken little frame for his father to find.
Franky supposed that they all thought about their crimes as they took the final walk. It was hard to think coherently, though. The dread that churned his stomach and boiled his blood was beginning to mash his thoughts together and distort his perception. Bill led Franky into the gallows room, but Franky stopped short in the doorway. The poor murdered Haynes boy himself stood beside the trap door that lay beneath the noose that had been hung from the ceiling and now taunted him as it dangled in the stale atmosphere. He couldn’t take his eyes off the boy, and regretfully realised that he didn’t even know the poor sod’s name.
“I’m sorry” he told the boy, speaking out loud. To Bill, this sounded remarkably like an admission of guilt and a single tear rolled down his cheek at the thought that he had misjudged someone so poorly.
The boy merely smiled at Franky, reducing the big burly man to a blubbering mess of wracking sobs and snot. The boy turned his head and pointed to the other side of the room. There, standing on the far side of the trap door, stood Mike, the ghost of his friend with a bullet wound to the chest. This time Franky really snapped. He had accepted the stigma of a revolting crime and a death sentence for a man who was already long dead! Pulling with a steely strength that he had forgotten since this whole ordeal had begun he ripped his arms free of the Warders’ grasp, nearly yanking their arms out of their sockets in the process. Once more he turned to run, meaning business this time, but no sooner had he turned around than a small wiry man had delivered a stinging punch to his gut, and he doubled over.
The Warders pulled Franky to his feet and dragged him toward the noose. The boy reached forward to take his hand, and though their fingers never touched, it was meant as a reassuring gesture. Mike, on the other hand, simply watched without even a modicum of emotion betraying his cool exterior, and Franky began to cry again as the noose was fitted about his neck. The small wiry man moved to stand in front of him.
“Frank Dobbs, you have been convicted of murder and aggravated rape and sentenced to death by hanging.” He said in a flat tone of voice that made him sound almost bored. “Do you have any last words?”
“You have the wrong man.” Franky growled. “I never touched that boy.”
The other man smirked. “What a pity the judge didn’t think so.” He said, snidely. “Your report is going to say that you were remorseless until the end. I hope you burn in hell, Dobbs.” With that, he grabbed hold of the lever that controlled the trap door and with the force of intolerable impatience he pulled it toward himself and the trap door dropped open.
At the same time a pure white owl, the harbinger of death, flew through First Division, screeching its death call, and the men locked away wept for their lost brother.