Friday, August 26, 2011

Short story "Adrienne and the Angel" -- enjoy


Strangulation is a hell of a way to die. I ought to know, I've seen it up close many times, just recently, in fact. Sheriff's Deputy Sandra Dietz was on a manhunt for an escaped felon, and as lucky as she was--her cohorts called her "Rabbit"--she was unlucky enough to be the one who located him trying to hide in a barn, all by herself.

Prisoner number 1270011 was an escapee from a moderately strong penal facility in Iowa. He had a massive temper, and relished in using it against others--which is why he was in prison. His favorite method of dispatch was with his bare hands. Now, he wasn't a particularly large fellow; no, he was rather lanky, but in his hands and arms he possessed a wiry, uncanny grip that once locked on was near impossible to break. His method was keen and simple: go for the throat. In court, he more-or-less testified against himself, saying "It doesn't matter how big you are, or if you know karate, or even have a gun. If I can get my hands on your neck, you'll see." He garnered a bit of a reputation after that, and the press called him "Lockjaw," which was, I assume, supposed to be funny. I don't find it funny, and neither did any of the victim's family members.

Iowa doesn't have the death penalty, something that makes me pretty happy--there's too much of that already, I'm only just me, and I can barely do it all myself most days. I don't need an artificially created backlog, thanks.

As he was beginning to choke the life out of her--as he knelt over her like a lion on prey--I was standing there, behind him. I watched, patiently, silently, unseen, as he made the light begin to fade from her eyes with that insane-strength of his. Her face was turning red and purple. Froth was forming at the mouth. Tears of fear pooled at the corners of her eyes. She reached--well, tried to reach--for her pistol, but when Lockjaw noticed he applied more pressure; she stopped that attempt and tried to break his impossible grip again, which was a mistake she'd never live to realize.

I can't intervene, that's not my job. My job is to clean up the mess afterwards. It's not something I really enjoy--how can you? It's just what I have to do. I'm good at it, too. I've been doing it for a while now.

I could see, even at my standing-distance, the memories flashing in her mind--future "memories," too. The hope to see her children grow up, marry, and start families of their own. Wanting to see her husband again under the night sky on their camper's roof. The taste of strawberry flavored ice-cream on a hot summer day.

It's strange the things I see; stranger still the things people think of when they begin to fade. Of course, that's the remorse and loss kicking in one last time. It'll pass, it always does.

I think it was at that moment she first saw me. Then she got it. That first look I get is not my favorite. It's a mix of shock, disbelief, horror, and understanding. Mixed emotions? Yes, very much so. It's how people are when faced with the facts of this magnitude. People amaze me.

She passed as the tears streamed down her face; and the tears present in dying were there after death as she appeared to stand beside me. We both looked down at the scene as it fatally played out before us. She, in a pall of silence saw the last gasp escape as Lockjaw released his hold. He could still save her; he has a minute or two before it's too late. He could try CPR, he could call for help--the other deputies are less than a football field's length away. He could be the one that took life then gave it back. He could still save himself.

He didn't. And as the last possible moments ticked away. She turned and looked at me. Tears semi-frozen on her cheek. She wasn't wearing the uniform anymore, but a white dress. This happens; it's from the best possible memory as well as a mix of residual self-image. It is the "perfected you," if that makes sense.

When she faced me finally, she was no longer afraid as she had been when she was lying on the dirty, straw strewn floor of that barn. This is the serenity that soon follows. That happens, too.

Normally, I would leave this place, and I was preparing to do so, but just then something changed. I could feel it on the wind. I had to wait, and that meant she would wait too. After all, she can't just go without me. That's not how it works.

Two other deputies came into the barn with weapons drawn. Lockjaw was unlucky today, as well. I could joke about a rabbit's foot here--considering Sandra's nickname--but I'm not in a mirthful mood; and jibes at superstition can rub some the wrong way.

The only way out for Lockjaw was past the two officers, and they weren't going to let him by without a few shots being fired. Oh, he tried, all right. But four bullets from two different guns will drop a man in, as they say, "a New York second."

He collapsed right next to Sandra's body. Final victim and final end nearly conjoined. Poetic, really.

I watched him, as the last twitches of pain raced through his body. He turned his head, and I think he saw me too.

Same fear, same amazement, as always. His was a bit more of a surprise, as I think he didn't think I was real. Regardless, same result.

Soon thereafter he appeared next to Sandra and me. He looked like a kid, much younger than he was as he crumpled in the dirt. He was, I'd guess, sixteen or seventeen at most--a stark comparison to the middle-aged man that was shot in front of us.

The wind's change had passed; and to Sandra I said, "Come." We started toward the door, beyond which a super luminous sun filled the sky.

"Hey!" He cried, "what about me?" Lockjaw asked, as he tried to grab my arm. He was standing there, befuddled, with a "Where do we go now?" look on his face.

"You? You wait here," I replied as I turned from him, shaking him off and taking Sandra's arm in mine. She was light as a feather, and it was a pleasure to hold. The light would do well with her.

As she and I exited the barn, behind us we could hear his unmanly screams. They came for him, and not a moment too soon, in my opinion--but it's not my place to pass judgment. The weight of his actions--this last one, and all those previous--held him down, sank him beneath many weights, as it were. Like a stone he would fall into an ancient abyss.

I never know if they hit bottom. Frankly, I don't care. Caring isn't my job: escorting the worthy dead is. There are parts of my job I like, this is one of them.

As soon as I take her to the light, she turns to me, slightly afraid. "It's all right," I try to reassure her, "this place is much better." She smiles; I take my arm away from hers, and she and the light become one.

The next thing I know, in a flash, I am standing at the foot of the bed of some poor elderly man in a hospital. Machines are beeping, tubes are connected to every orifice and needles are poking into every available vein and artery. Miserable situation, this; and he's lucky to be unconscious through it all.

I hate hospitals: they're the worst kind of place to be. The sick often go here to die. It's not like in "the olden days," when people died at home, surrounded by family and friends. That environment was welcoming to me, warm and cozy; here it's just cold, stark and lonely. I hate hospitals.

He's close to going now, I can feel it. I just know. After this many years of doing this, I can tell. It's not a feeling I relish, either, "calling forth death" is what some have named it--I don't call for anything, I just let it happen, as it is supposed to unfold.

So, there I stand, waiting, silent, unseen, for this poor wretch to breathe his last, so I can do what it is I came here to do. But then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a movement. Rotating my head to examine it, I see there is a nurse standing in the doorway. She's wearing a brightly patterned smock. It's white with yellow, orange, and red bell peppers. It's quite a cheery look for this place of gloom. She's holding a tray made of steel. On the tray is a syringe, and next to the syringe is a glass phial labeled morphine.

I look at her, and I see that she has a dreadful expression on her face. She's not looking at the man in the bed: she's looking at me.

That is simply not possible; I cannot be discerned by men! I am the Angel of Death, after all. I try to convince myself that I'm just seeing things. That's rich, I think, an angel that hallucinates. That'll be the end of me in this job.

She is standing frozen, still looking at me. I'm convinced I cannot be seen, so I simply do what it is that I do: stand silently.

Then she speaks. "What the hell are you doing here?"

Oh, shit. I freeze stiffer than I've ever dreamed of freezing. I check my surroundings, my settings if you will, and I know I cannot be seen with the eyes, nor heard with ears, or smelled, or --

"Angel, you're not fooling me," she says, "I can see you."

Oh shit! What to do, what to do? Not possible! Not possible! I close my eyes and swallow hard. Take me away, take me away, someone else is dying someplace else--I can go there and not worry about this one for a while.

"Give it a rest; I have always been able to see you. I remember you from my mother's wake."

Who? Who could this person be? I scanned her face and my memory returned.  This was Adrienne Marcus, and her mother died twenty years ago. Adrienne was ten years old, at most. I remember her!

"Oh, God…" I paused. "Hello again, Adrienne."

"So, you here to take Mr. Phillips, like you took mama?"

"Yes."

"Good then, I won't waste this pain medication." And she put the tray down on a side table, next to some flowers.

"Will it be soon?"

"Yes." I don't know why I was answering, I was shaken. She should not be able to see me. She shouldn't be able to hear me either! I would dearly love to know what's going on.

"God works in mysterious ways," she replied, almost in answer to my innermost thoughts.

Don't I know it!  This is all too weird, too new, and I want to know what's going on; and as soon as I perform this escort, I'm going to go and find out. But before I can, I have to wait. This is going to get awkward.

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