He counted the steps to the door - one, two, three, four. Click. The key turned, and the big door swung open. Inside the big room, the rope hung. Under the rope, a trap door. Inside the trap door a dark hole. A hole almost, if not more, as dark as the soul of the many condemned prisoners that have gone down it over the years. A massive mirror divided one side of the wall opposite the rope. It gave the victim one last look of themselves: a reflection of the consequences of their actions and the subsequent blowback. The mirror was a false mirror. He knew that. People stood on the other side waiting, watching, till it's all done.
He had sat on the other side of that mirror once too many times. He had watched grown men squirm, beg, curse, and cry. He once saw a man dance. He had seen weird things - it was unnerving to see a man that danced to his death. He had hoped the man would come out of the experience alive just so that he could learn just what kind of man he was. But the man could not make it out alive even though he was as evil as the devil. It turned out that his killing spree that saw over thirty people killed had ended.
The chain clattered as he shuffled through the last few steps to the centre of the room marked by a rectangle. He was blindfolded, but he knew he now stood in that rectangle. He knew what was coming next as he felt the coarse threads of the rope against his neck. The shuffled footstep approached. It was Father Mark, the chaplain.
"I hope you are at peace with your Maker," he began in the monotonous tone he had grown to tolerate. He rambled on about life here and the afterlife. The place that is better than here, a place that had a lot of things most especially peace and harmony. The chaplain wished that he could find some solace on the other side - a place the man standing there no longer believed existed. As the preacher spoke, the man's thoughts wandered off.
It was a Wednesday, two days to Christmas. The mood in the city of Lobiva was one of happiness, joy and excessive shopping. The spirits of the residents were high. The shops were decorated with bright flowers, shiny decorations, green plastic trees and everything that was colourful and shiny. There was a mad rush of late shoppers and signs of massive discounts on many shop windows. The cable TV advertised a 40% discount for the cable subscription fees in the period. The local butcher had a special Christmas discount for every customer running until the new year.
It was Christmas, and every business capitalised on it to make quick sales. The tired housewives had to contend with children who wanted new dresses, stuffed animals, etc. Although discounted, it still apparently pricy. Some gave in and almost went bankrupt to appease their children. They only had one Christmas a year, so they may as well indulge them now, they reasoned.
Monkton closed early from his job at the Federal Maximum Prison Lobiva where most of those incarcerated were on death row. He shook his head when he realised that some of them would not live to witness next Christmas. But they did the crime; they would have to pay the ultimate price, he thought. It sounded very reasonable to him. When you worked in such place, you learned to appreciate life more. He had always wondered what the men thought during their last seconds, or what made rational men commit horrendous crimes.
It was almost 11.30 PM. The end of year meeting lasted longer than he had expected. Alice would be worried. As he pondered on that, he dipped into his pocket and brought out his phone. He pressed the power button and saw 14 missed calls. The caller was Alice. He wondered how he had missed all the calls. He remembered that he had put it on silent during a meeting with the senior prison officials.
He dialled the number, the phone rang once and was unanswered. He sent a quick text message.
"Hey baby, sorry about the missed calls. I'd be home soon, don't bother to wait up. I had dinner in the prison canteen. I'm with the spare key. Much love. Monk." The shortened version of his name sounded beautiful the way she had pronounced it the first day they met. That was twelve years ago. It still felt like yesterday.
He pressed the send button and walked briskly to the brightly lit street to see if he could get an empty cab at that ungodly hour. The traffic was predictably heavier than usual. The forty-five-minute ride took three hours. Finally, he arrived home and tipped the driver.
"Thank you, Sir. Do have a Merry Christmas," the driver reversed and disappeared into the night.
He walked the remaining fifty feet odd distance to his house. As he searched for the house key in his briefcase, he noticed something out of the regular. One of the pane in the front glass door was missing. On a closer look, he saw that it was broken. The light from his phone illuminated the door area, and a fist-sized rock laid some few feet from the door. The adrenaline kicked in, and he instinctively reached for his pistol. But that was safely locked in the cupboard in the upstairs bedroom. He decided to follow the back of the house; whosoever smashed that glass door with that rock may still be somewhere inside. He tiptoed to the end of the house and gently pushed in the kitchen window and picked up the baseball bat he kept there. He removed his shoes and walked with the stealth of a cat and the strength of a tiger towards the sitting room on the ground floor.
He heard a muffled whizzing noise upstairs; he feared for his wife's safety as he abandoned the search of the ground floor and as he took the stairs, two at a time to the bedroom upstairs. He quietly opened the bedroom door and lost his grip on the baseball bat. The sound of the wood as it hit the wooden floor of the bedroom reverberated through the house. The sight in front of him haunted him for weeks. His wife sprawled on the floor of the room in an ungainly manner, in a pool of what seemed like her blood. She was gagged and tied up.
"I'm so sorry Rosey," he muttered as the wife looked on with blank eyes with terror written all over her face.
Her face was all puffed up; you could see the telltale red welts and blotches which can only come from repeated beatings. He frantically tried to untie her, but the knots were too tight and professionally done. One set of ropes were used to tie back her hands behind her around her biceps and the other secured her wrists. She was in a lot of pains, and her arms were pale due to the shortage of blood supply. He dialled the police as he stumbled downstairs to look for a knife to cut off the ropes. He nearly tripped as tears obscured his vision. At that moment his thoughts were no longer of any danger to himself. He had forgotten to be cautious in movement in case the perpetrator was still around. All he wanted was to relieve the wife from the suffering.
He was still working on the ropes when the police arrived. The ropes were too big and tied too tight that attempt to cut it with a knife was unsuccessful.
"That's alright Monkton, we shall take it from here," the first responders told him as they lifted the wife, rope and all, onto the stretcher and carried her to the waiting van. He followed. The wife was delirious with pain, muttered unintelligible words and flailed weakly.
After three weeks in the hospital, Rose was discharged to go home. But she was not the same. The miscarriage of her six-month-old baby killed her spirit. The news nearly drove Monkton mad. This is the twelfth year of marriage, and that was his wife's first conception.
The two intruders were arrested, and a trial date was set in one week.
The CCTV installed in front of the house helped identify them. They were two brothers, Robert and David, each with a criminal record as long as the Golden Gate Bridge.
The trial dragged on for months. Each passing day saw Rose living through the trauma time after time. She was called as a witness, and she could hardly control herself as she stared into the tiny eyes of the two men as they sat motionless and with an expressionless face. Every once in a while, they consulted their lawyer, Edward Turner, a man reputed to defend the devil if he paid for his services. He is a small man, with a perm as sleek as his manners.
Finally, the day of sentencing arrived. The judge pronounced the men were not guilty as the only evidence they had on them was the grainy CCTV video which the prosecutor was unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt were the suspects. The fingerprint of the hoodlum on the house was not enough evidence. The two brothers used to live there and even helped the new owners pack in. The fingerprint could have been left on the location at that time.
The whole court was furious as the final no guilty charge judgment was delivered. Monkton was in shock. The wife, the victim, quietly cried as they left the court dejected.
Three months later Rose committed suicide. Monkton nearly followed her but gave up at the last instant. He had nightmares every night after.
One year went by. Monkton moved away from the house he had shared with his wife. He tried to pick up the pieces of his life. But he was never the same.
His friends all tried to cheer him up. They suggested an evening out for the boys. He had turned down too many requests of such in the past months but decided to go. The hangout was packed full of drinking and smoking adults. It was not his scene, but anything was better than wallowing in self-pity at home.
He was on the fifth bottle of the evening when he overheard a familiar voice laughing loudly and telling his mates some story. He tried to concentrate on what his friends were discussing, but he could not shake the voice speaking loudly in the front of him.
He tuned out his friends attempt at conversations and listened to the drunken voice. It was then that he heard something that made him mad. He recognised the voice. He understood the details the storyteller was telling his drunk crew. He looked again at the table, where they were seated with the same smug look, telling his tale of robbery and molestation that happened the year before. It was about his wife. It was about his house.
He did not hesitate. He walked close to them and pulled out his pistol and shot the two brothers dead. He returned quietly to the table as if nothing had happened and enjoyed the melee that followed.
Monkton was still smiling as the detectives held him and handcuffed him. At his trial, he did not attempt to exonerate himself. He pleaded guilty. The colleagues at the correctional facility tried in their character witness to show he was a reasonable man that snapped. His drinking buddies explained how everything happened. Monkton only smiled and said he had no regrets, that he would happily do it again given a chance.
Walking into the room today was a relief. It was a relief as the former hangman walked happily to the rope. He had nothing to live for. Life was very hard. Perhaps, he thought, death would be easier.
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