The Messiah of Morris Avenue

A Novel

Tony Hendra

Henry Holt and Co.

Prologue

Fort Oswald, Texas. An early summer storm roils the sky. Lightning crackles between fat thunderheads. They lurch over the flat plain, roly-poly gun-metal-gray giants, thousands of feet tall, occasionally spitting thin streams of dazzling light at the ground.

Abutting the vast air base’s southern boundary is a brand-new maximum security prison, one of thousands that dot the Lone Star landscape, as familiar a sight as forests of oil rigs once were, back in the bad old days before God returned to America.

The prison is a sprawling complex covering dozens of acres. It consists of identical rectangular compounds, each formed by three rows of titanium-reinforced twenty-foot chain-link fence, topped with dense rolls of razor wire. The gap between each row is packed with more razor wire. The wire bristles with countless thousands of tiny blades. When lightning flashes overhead, they flash too.

The prison’s full name is the Risen Lamb Correctional Facility. Its directors call it a Christian prison, one that respects the retributive power of Church and State: the right of the judiciary to exact punishment, the right of the Lord to vengeance. The men and women incarcerated here aren’t “inmates” or “prisoners” but “sinners.” Those convicted of capital crimes are called “cardinal sinners.” But the God of vengeance is also the God of forgiveness. This prison differs from all others in the fervent efforts that are made to help cardinal sinners repent before they’re terminated; to be born again before they die.

At the center of the complex is its spiritual heart: a circular two-story rotunda containing ten lethal-injection chambers. No other facility in the world has such multiple capability. If necessary, ten cardinal sinners can be terminated simultaneously.

From the center of the rotunda rises a colossal 150-foot rotating crucifix: one full rotation every sixty seconds. Front and back, the arms of the cross bear a scrolling LED readout. On one side the legend reads christ died for your sins! When the opposite side comes around, it reads now it’s your turn!

It’s been an auspicious morning for the new facility. At noon it executed its very first cardinal sinner, a young non-Caucasian male, and for an unusual crime: treason. Every effort was made to bring him to the Lord before he went to the execution chamber. Alas, he was unrepentant.

Owing to the inexperience of the staff, he underwent considerable trauma: The lethal drugs took some time to effectuate termination.

But all is well. At 12:45 p.m. he was declared dead and his remains were cremated. The ashes will be placed in a simple container and, before nightfall, delivered to his mother.

The years haven’t softened the image of him, lying dead on the gurney. The memory is as raw as the long bloody gashes the IVs had opened in his arms. Each time I see him there, the pain still roils me, as the storm did the sky.

I put him on that gurney. I was his Judas.


Copyright © 2006 by Tony Hendra. All rights reserved.