Sarah Durandt flinched as faded blue-checked gingham curtains rattled open to reveal the prisoner strapped to a gurney.
One of the women behind her gasped. Sarah leaned forward, one hand flattened against the glass that separated them from a monster. She breathed through her mouth. It was the only way to choke down the heavy air trapped inside the tiny cement-walled room.
She and the other witnesses were gathered behind glass so thick halos circled the objects in the white-tiled execution chamber on the other side. Bulletproof glass. Who did they think would be doing the shooting? The condemned man already woozy from sedatives or those who came to watch him die?
Sarah curled her hands one into the other and held them still on her lap, shivering as the air-conditioning blew a frosty stream down on her. Eleven others were crowded into the room with her, families representing the other victims. She barely noticed them. They were here for closure. She needed answers.
Her gaze narrowed to a laser-sharp focus aimed at the prisoner beyond the glass. His arms were extended, needles inserted into veins on both sides of his body. Seven leather straps crossed his body and limbs, holding him in a position eerily reminiscent of a crucifixion. But this man was no Messiah.
This man was the devil incarnate.
Damian Wright was medium sized, someone who would not stand out in a crowd with his bland face, blander features.
Sarah knew better. She knew his cunning. Hidden behind his façade of normalcy smoldered a sick desire to torture and maim. Even here, on his deathbed, he persisted in tormenting her. Denying her the slightest measure of comfort or peace.
She wasn’t sure why, of all the victims, Damian had focused his sick power plays on her. She wasn’t anyone special, just a schoolteacher from upstate New York who lived in a village of less than five hundred souls. Her brown hair was usually pulled back into a ponytail and forgotten about, leaving it free to fall around her shoulders on special occasions like today—the execution of a serial killer.
Damian’s sweat-beaded skin glistened as he lay beneath a large, round surgical light. His eyes were squeezed shut against its unflinching illumination. The warden nodded to a black-suited man with a small silver cross on his lapel. The man stretched out his hand, his wedding ring shimmering as it passed through the beam of light, and pulled a black microphone down. Sarah rubbed her own ring finger, tracing the plain band Sam placed there six years ago.
Uncoiling like a cobra, the microphone bobbed hypnotically above Damian’s lips. A click, like a muffled gunshot, echoed through the witness room as the warden switched on the intercom. The scratchy sound of Damian’s breathing filled the room.
Sarah found herself inhaling in time with Damian, could almost smell the antiseptic and surgical tape and the stench of sweat and nerves emanating from beyond the window. Alan Easton, who sat beside her, gave her hand a comforting squeeze.
“You okay?” he asked, his tone that of a friend rather than her lawyer. She was the only family here to bear witness for Sam and Josh. The only family Sam had left. And Josh, how could she not be here for her son?
She nodded, her attention focused on the events in front of her. The execution chamber held only three men: the warden in his navy suit, bleached white shirt, and narrow tie; the black-suited minister; and Damian Wright, the man who had destroyed her life.
If Sarah were to describe the Death House to her sixth-grade students back home, she would have said the theme of the room, of the entire building set far apart from normal prison housing, was containment.
Nothing was meant to ever escape this tiny building with its cement walls painted an institutional green. The utilitarian execution chamber beyond the viewing window made no efforts to soften or hide its purpose. A flat surgical table, arms splayed wide, bolted to the floor was its only piece of furniture.
“Any last words?” the warden asked the condemned man.
Sarah came to attention. A fly trespassed into the profane proceedings and beat its wings against the cage shielding two flickering fluorescent lightbulbs, its buzzing deafening. Damian Wright, convicted murderer and child rapist, opened his rheumy eyes and stared directly at her. She pulled her hand free from Alan’s, fisted it tight.
Tell me. Say something. Give me a clue.
Her prayers went unheard. Damian remained silent, muscles slack, not fighting his restraints. Only his chest moved, rising and falling as he counted down to his last breath. Sarah’s lungs squeezed tight, ready to burst from pressure. Damian stared at her, a smile creasing his eyes.
She blinked first, not ashamed to surrender; she’d do anything if it helped her to find Sam and Josh.
Damian’s smile widened. But he remained silent.
Fury knotted her gut. Did he torment her, refuse her the closure she so desperately yearned for, because she’d been away at that damn mandatory in-service on the day he took Josh? Or was it because of all the boys he’d killed, only Josh had a father willing to fight, to die for him?
Alan said it was probably because Sam interrupted his ritual with Josh. Forced him to deviate from his sick, twisted fantasy to kill Sam before he could return to Josh.
The minister intoned from his Bible, his eyes never rising from the written word to gaze upon the lost soul he prayed over.
The words of the Psalm, words that twenty-two months ago would have brought Sarah comfort and solace, were now reduced to meaningless noise with less significance than the buzzing of the fly. She pressed her palm flat against the cold glass, more intent on gleaning the answers she needed from Damian than listening to the word of God.
She’d spent her entire life listening. Where was God when she’d needed him most? Where was he when her husband and son needed him?
“I’m sorry we couldn’t stay the execution,” Alan whispered. “I know how much you hoped—”
She shrugged his words away, her entire universe consisting of the gaze of a killer. The man who had confessed to killing Sam and Josh—but who refused to tell her where they were buried.
For a year and a half she had fought. Fought Damian Wright’s silence, his refusal to see her. Fought the new Texas law that allowed executions to be “fast-tracked” with an unprecedented efficiency. Fought her own desire to see Damian die. A desire superseded only by her need to find her husband and son.
The warden strode forward, reading from a document in a monotone that floated just beyond the periphery of Sarah’s awareness.
Where are they, you sonofabitch? Sarah tried to broadcast all her loathing and hatred into her glare, hoping to loosen Damian’s tongue in these, his last seconds on this Earth. Her fist pounded against the thick glass, creating only the smallest of muffled thuds.
The killer didn’t flinch or look away from her. Nor did he speak. Instead his expression turned to one approaching pity. As if she were the one condemned, not him.
The warden finished and removed his glasses, aiming a small nod in the direction of the executioner’s booth. Sarah had researched the procedure. Behind the one-way mirrored glass, an unseen man flipped a switch. Medication flowed into Damian’s veins. First more sedatives, then a paralytic, finally the potassium chloride to stop his heart.
Time stopped. Sarah didn’t blink. Damian didn’t blink.
Three minutes later, the minister stood aside as a man clad in a white coat stepped forward and listened with a stethoscope. He straightened, reached a hand out to Damian’s face, and closed the killer’s eyes.
The blinds snapped shut.
A collective sigh swirled through the room as the other witnesses shifted in their seats. Through the haze filling Sarah’s vision she heard several women and a man sobbing, felt the rustle of their movements as the room emptied. She remained frozen, not blinking, eyes burning.
Alan touched her elbow, pulled her fist away from the glass, and drew her up onto unsteady feet. “We have to go now,” he murmured.
She kept her face craned toward the darkened window until the last possible moment. Finally, Alan led her out into bright sunshine, Texas heat and humidity bearing down on her with the intensity of a ten-ton truck.
For a moment she was the one suffocating under the weight of paralyzed lungs. Her chest tightened. For an instant it was her heart that stopped.
She blinked and pain returned. An ice-pick stabbing behind her eyes, her constant companion for twenty-two months, unmitigated by any sedatives or hope of release. Unlike Damian Wright’s pain.
And she knew she was alive. At least her body was. Her mind was. Her soul—that was buried in some unmarked grave back home, up on Snakehead Mountain.
Alongside Sam and Josh.
* * *
It’s over, it’s over, it’s over … The words threaded themselves through Sarah’s mind, spinning a cocoon that blocked out all feeling, providing a soft, safe place to hide. A place where there was no need to think, to do, to react. To be. It’s over, it’s over, it’s over …
Sarah hugged herself tighter and leaned against the car window, her back to Alan as he drove them away from the prison. She’d promised herself no matter what, she wouldn’t break down, at least not in front of anyone.
But Alan wasn’t anyone. Alan understood—he’d been through it himself. His wife had been killed by a drug addict who stormed their house looking for cash. That was why he’d left his corporate law practice to focus on victims’ rights, to help people like Sarah.
How could she have survived the past two years without Alan?
The tires spinning against the highway carried her away from Damian Wright, away from her last chance to find Sam and Josh. It’s over, it’s over, it’s over …
Her body sagged against the door frame, her right hand automatically reaching for the single ring on her left. She had no engagement ring. Instead, Sam had given her his most valuable possession, a guitar pick used by the legendary Stevie Ray Vaughan, and promised that when he sold his first song he’d replace it with a diamond. Seven years later, the pick still sat in its black velvet jewelry case on her dresser.
Her hand felt cold, but her wedding band radiated warmth, as if she touched Sam. She spun the ring in time with the words weaving their way into her soul, inviting her to surrender. It’s over, it’s over, it’s over …
No! It can’t be. Not like this.
Tears pressed against her closed eyelids, burned as they fought to escape. Sarah’s grip on the plain gold band tightened. Her last link to Sam and, through him, Josh. She was tired, so very tired. She should give up. What more could she do?
After all, she had a life to live. Sam would want her to be happy. Someday. A ragged breath tore through her and she felt Alan stir beside her. Alan—could she imagine a future with a man like him? A man who’d devoted almost two years of his life to guiding her through this morass of pain and grief, who’d brought her back into the light, had given her this one last chance.
Last chance, last hope, last rites.
It’s over, it’s over, it’s over.
Sarah straightened, opened her eyes, and blinked against the harsh Texas sun. She uncurled her legs, smoothed out the soft cotton of her navy blue dress. She refused to wear black, not until Josh and Sam were laid to rest. The dark highway stretched hypnotically into the future.
“You all right?” Alan’s gaze left the road to stare at her for a long moment.
A sad smile curled Sarah’s lips. “Yes. I’m fine.”
It’s over, it’s over, it’s over … the words sang through her mind, pounding insistently like a toddler throwing a tantrum, banging his head against the floor when he didn’t get what he wanted. Josh had thrown a few of those in his day. Until he learned that when he did, he never got what he wanted.
It’s over, it’s over, it’s over!
Sarah gave a small shake of her head—the only warning Josh needed now. She’d shake her head, smile, and he’d leave his whining behind, take her hand, and snuggle against her. Sorry, Mommy. I forgot.
But I haven’t.
It’s over, it’s over, it’s over … No. It’s not.
It’s just begun.
Copyright © 2012 by CJ Lyons