Painting by Hollis Hart
THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US
by Joe Kilgore
An hour from now, I am going to be hanged. You probably think I deserve it. Most people do. They’ve let me see the newspapers. The stories, particularly the headlines, painted an awful picture of me. MONSTER ARRESTED. STRANGLER FOUND GUILTY. PREDATOR FACES NOOSE. I wouldn’t blame you for assuming I’m getting what I deserve. But the truth is, I didn’t do it. I’m innocent.
An hour from now, I am going to hang a man. You probably never think about the executioner. Most people don’t. There are no stories in the newspapers. No headlines proclaiming SWORD OF JUSTICE WEILDED, or AVENGER STRIKES AGAIN. I wouldn’t blame you for feeling a bit ambivalent about me, for wondering why anyone would go into my profession. You probably wonder if I’ve ever executed an innocent man. Is anyone ever totally innocent?
Issue #16 soundtrack: worriedaboutsatan "Heart Monitor"
I do not deny I’ve taken lives. At least, I think I have. I was in the war. Sometimes, the man I was shooting at would fall. But it was all from a distance. We never went in to make sure they were dead. We were moving too fast. Hurrying to take ground. Trying to stay alive. Maybe though, that’s what this punishment is for. Maybe that’s why I’m really going to hang. Perhaps you pay for everything you do, eventually. I don’t know. I just know I didn’t kill her.
I freely admit that I have taken lives. No one has forced me. I chose this profession knowing full well what it entailed. I have methodically planned and carried out the killing of human beings. But I’ve done so because I’ve always believed in certain things. Things I’d like you to know about. In the hope you won’t think me some sort of sadist. There are particular jobs most people regard as distasteful. But where would society be if no one carried them out? It wouldn’t be a pretty picture. Not pretty at all.
I saw her in this bar near my apartment. I’m not a lush or anything. It was close, so I’d go there after work for a drink or two. Just to pass the time, you know. Anyway, I saw her sitting at the end of the bar. She was pretty. Not in a hard way, like some women are. Women who pile on the makeup. She wasn’t like that. She was somehow fresher, healthier. You don’t see a lot of women like her alone in a bar. That’s what got my attention. The fact that she didn’t seem to be with anyone. She was just sitting there with a highball in front of her. She kept ringing her finger around the top of the glass. I remember her finger looked thin and sort of elegant. It had red polish on the nail. She kept circling it over and over. It was like she was inviting me, kind of motioning to me in a way. Just walk over here and sit down, her finger kept saying. At least that’s what it seemed like to me.
I believe in balance. Life demands it. The balance of day and night. The balance of hot and cold. For every action there is a reaction. That sort of thing. Weather eventually balances itself via the seasons. Nature stays in balance through survival of the fittest. Good and evil must be balanced, too. If evil is not made to pay a price, eventually there would be chaos. And what is chaos really? Life out of balance. No one wants that. No sane person, anyway. That’s why wrongs are righted. That’s why punishment follows crime. Balance must be maintained. I help provide that balance. It’s essential that it be done. There’s nothing personal in what I do or why I do it. The fact is I seldom have any detailed knowledge of the wrong I’m making right. I say seldom because this time, strangely enough, I’m rather well informed about the crime, the criminal, even the victim.
Most of the time I find it hard to talk to women. But she was easy to talk to. She said she didn’t mind at all if I took the stool beside her. Even asked my name, right off. And she told me hers. I didn’t even have to ask. Gwenn. That was her name. I had never met a Gwenn before. It sounded sophisticated. At least to me it did. I asked her if she was waiting for someone. She said she was. So I said I wouldn’t bother her. But she said it was no bother. She liked company. Liked having someone to talk to.
It’s been my experience that evil attracts evil. Often, the individuals I send to their just reward killed someone who was as bad as they were. At least that’s what the papers say. As I said, I generally don’t know the individuals involved. But I read the papers like everybody else. And more often than not, it’s one gangster rubbing out another gangster. Generally over turf or something like that. Of course, that’s not the case this time. This time it’s different.
She told me she had been seeing someone for a while. The guy she was waiting for. But she said she was going to break it off. There was something about him she simply couldn’t get over. I asked if it was his looks, or the way he treated her. It wasn’t either one, she said. He wasn’t a bad looking guy. And he treated her okay. But she said that one day he told her what he did for a living, and since that day she couldn’t get it out of her head. Every time she looked at him she thought about it. Even when she wasn’t with him she thought about it. And particularly when he touched her, when he put his hands on her, that’s when she thought about it the most. Obviously, I was dying to ask her what he did. But somehow, I didn’t think I should. I thought I should just wait and let her tell me, if she wanted to.
There’s this girl I’d been seeing. Very attractive. I sensed that we were simpatico soon after meeting her. We seemed to get along quite well. I avoided telling her my profession for some time. Finally, after constant questioning by her, after hearing her say again and again that what I did for a living made absolutely no difference to her whatsoever, and would not affect our relationship in the slightest, finally, after all that, I told her what I did. She seemed incredulous at first. Assumed I was joking. Once she understood I was telling her the truth, she released an odd little laugh that really isn’t a laugh at all. One of those sounds people make when they don’t really know what to say or how to respond. It’s an involuntary reaction used to pretend they’re not shocked. But they really are. And she was too. From that moment, things went downhill.
She never told me what he did. In fact, she changed the subject. Said she didn’t want to talk about it anymore, and that we should talk about something else. Anything else. All I could think to talk about was how pretty she was. So I did. Not very well, though. I’m no Romeo. I just told her that I thought she was lovely. Her hair, her eyes, her fingernails with the shiny red polish. She said I was sweet. She told me that she wished we had met before she started seeing this guy she was going to break it off with. I said, well, if you’re going to break up with him anyway, we should just get to know each other better. Maybe have a date in the next day or so. We could do that, couldn’t we? Then I saw a tear in the corner of her eye. She tried to smile, a little bit, I think, before the tear began to slide down her cheek.
I saw them sitting together in a bar where I was supposed to meet her. He was talking, and she was crying. That can only mean one thing. I had never seen him before, but it was obvious he was upsetting the balance. Women only cry with men they care about. She had never cried with me. Now here he was, destroying everything. He had no right to do that. Granted, I knew she was bothered by what I did, but she would have gotten over it, eventually, if he had not inserted himself where he didn’t belong. Why do people do that? Barge in where they’re not needed or wanted. People like that upset the order of things. The natural balance that always evens itself out. I couldn’t let him get away with that. Or her either, for that matter. They both were guilty.
She explained that she was a little afraid of this guy. Afraid that breaking up with him might set him off or something. But she said she was determined to do it. And that maybe I shouldn’t be around when he arrived. On account of what a weird guy he was. He might be violent, she said. I said I’d leave her alone. If that was what she wanted. But I added, I’ll stay at the bar, just down at the end. In case he does get out of line. That way I’ll be able to help. Then she leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. Her face touched mine. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how she felt.
I saw her kiss him. I saw the look she gave him as he moved to the end of the bar. It was the kind of look she used to give me. The kind of look I hadn’t seen in a long time. I waited a minute before going in. I didn’t want her to think I had seen them together. I was about to say that I was going to give her enough rope to hang herself, but that might seem particularly snide. Let's just say I was going to give her the opportunity to be honest with me. She didn’t take it. She gave me some convoluted tripe about having made a mistake. We just weren’t compatible, she said. We should go our separate ways, she told me. I asked if there was someone else. Some other man she’d fallen for. She said no. There was no one else. Obviously, it was a bald-faced lie.
I saw the guy come in. I saw them talking. She seemed to shake her head a lot, as if saying, No. I didn’t see any tears in her eyes, like I had seen when we were talking. He didn’t make a fuss. No yelling or anything like that. He just talked a little bit, listened, then got up and walked out the door. She didn’t try to kiss him goodbye, like she had done with me. Just watched as he left, then turned toward the bartender and ordered another drink. When it was clear he wasn’t coming back, I went over and sat down beside her. She reached out and touched my hand.
I was barely out the door before they got together again. They couldn’t see me standing behind the car, but I could see them. Talking. Touching. It made me sick. Who did they think they were to treat me that way? What made them think they could lie and scheme and destroy the order of things? When they started to smile and laugh, I knew they were making fun of me. You can’t let that sort of thing go. So I waited for them to leave.
I had never met anyone I felt so good about. I could tell she felt the same way. So we talked a lot longer. Then eventually decided to go back to my place. She complimented my apartment. Said it looked clean and uncomplicated, like me. I thanked her and asked if she wanted a drink. She said she did, but then I remembered I had finished my last bottle and didn’t have anything to offer her. I’ll run down to the corner, get something and come right back, I said. She said fine, she’d wait there. I left, feeling that maybe the best part of my life was just beginning.
I followed them from the bar, being careful not to be seen. I wasn’t surprised when they took the lift in an apartment house. It had those lights over the door that illuminate the number of the floor where the elevator stops. When it did, I took the stairs. I got to the top and the hallway was empty. But I heard a door opening, so I took a step down where I couldn’t be seen. He came out of the apartment, closed the door behind him, and got back in the elevator. I walked over to the door and knocked. The look on her face was priceless.
When I got back, I opened the door and walked right in. I never got the chance to close it behind me. When I saw her lying on the floor, I was stunned. I ran up to her and knelt beside her. There were red and blue marks on her neck, and her eyes were still wide open. I lifted her head and kept saying Gwenn, Gwenn, over and over again. Maybe I was yelling, I don’t know. I just wanted her to breathe. I just wanted her to be alive. Then I heard the scream behind me. It was the old lady from across the hall. She was shouting, “Murderer, Murderer!”
As I said earlier, I read the papers. Like most of you, I keep up with current events. Particularly events that might one day require my services. The details of the arrest, the trial, and the conviction, were pretty cut and dry. A crime of passion they said. But nevertheless, a young life had been snuffed out. Justice demands retribution. At least that’s what the jury thought. And the judge agreed.
No one believed me. People in the bar remembered seeing me, but no one recalled seeing her with him. I was there a lot longer, I guess. My neighbor, the old lady, she said she didn’t hear anything until she heard me shouting Gwenn’s name. She’s virtually deaf. Probably wouldn’t have heard anything if my door hadn’t been open. I remember the prosecutor saying circumstantial evidence is still evidence. I guess the jury remembered it, too. Didn’t take them long to reach a verdict.
Life is unpredictable. I didn’t pull any strings to get this particular assignment. It’s just the way things worked out. Some people believe in coincidence, others chalk everything up to fate. Doesn’t really matter I guess. As long as wrongs are righted, and all is kept in balance.
I can’t figure life out. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve had a lot of time to think about it lately. Alone in this jail cell, I’ve gone over all the things that might have worked out differently. If only someone had remembered seeing him there, maybe it would have created what they call reasonable doubt. If only I hadn’t left her alone, maybe I would have been able to protect her. If only I hadn’t walked over and sat beside her in the first place, maybe she’d still be alive and I wouldn’t be about to die.
Each condemned man reacts differently. Some wail and moan. Some whimper and cry. Others admit their wrongdoings and ask for forgiveness. Occasionally one will assert his innocence until his last breath. There was even one fellow who said he forgave me, and held no malice for what I was about to do to him. I don’t think that will be the case this time.
It’s almost time. I have to get ready. Get a grip on myself, you know. I just have to accept it. Yes, I’m being hanged for a murder I didn’t commit. But I didn’t live a perfect life. Nobody does. In the end, we all die. Does it really matter how, or why, or whether it seems fair or not?
There’s very little time left now, so you’ll forgive me, I hope, if I bring things to a close. Everything has been prepared, secured, checked and double-checked on the gallows. I always like to arrive in advance of both the officials and the witnesses. I think it makes them all feel better when they see that I’m standing at the ready to perform my duty with the utmost attention to detail and respect for the gravity of the situation.
I better stop now. I need to get ready for the walk down the hall. I hope my knees don’t buckle as I’m climbing the stairs to the platform. I wouldn’t want to make a spectacle of myself and lose whatever dignity I have left.
I wonder if he’ll even notice me. Most just look at the noose, and the people watching from below. Perhaps, as I slip the hood over his head, I will turn him slightly to see if he recognizes my face.
At the very end, right before they slip the hood over my head and tighten the noose, I hope I can be strong. I hope I can look the hangman in the eye, show no fear and forgive him. He won’t know he’s executing an innocent man. How could he?
At the very end, I hope he does recognize me. It will instantly shock him and questions will leap into his mind, making him unaware of the lever being pulled and the trap door falling away. That will be more humane. Don’t you agree? What? You assume I don’t concern myself with such things. What do you think I am, a monster?
Joe Kilgore's short stories have appeared in The Creative Writer, Writers' Journal, Bartleby Snopes, Ramble Underground, The Wilderness House Literary Review, Moonlight Mesa, Nth Word Magazine, and The Writing Disorder. He has a novel in bookstores entitled The Blunder. Visit him online at joekilgore.com.
Hollis Hart is a student and voice over actress living in the greater Los Angeles area. Her favorite mediums are acrylic and colored pencils. Visit Hollis's online portfolio at artbyhollishart.com.
worriedaboutsatan began in 2006 in Leeds, UK, as a way for members Gavin Miller and Tom Ragsdale to meld electronica with their more guitar-based influences. "Heart Monitor" appears on benefit album Go Set Go: Playing For Pakistan, and is also the lead track on worriedaboutsatan's new EP, a follow-up to their 2009 album Arrivals. Visit the band online at worriedaboutsatan.co.uk.