Beware of the man in the black frock coat for he walks among shadows, a friend to the night. He inhales fog and exhales fear. He passes beneath the yellow electric suns hanging from the black porcelain sky, and when he pauses to raise his gold-handled cane the mists about him gather like ghosts, and stories form for all to see.
He can peer into your heart and your mind, and he will tell your most intimate story to others. Beware his insidious presence at the edge of your property, outside your window, at your door—for he knows you better than you will ever know yourself.
What Color is Your Face?
hey've come to see me die tomorrow.
It's a huge event for them, to gather from far locations and be here in person. They want to be close. Yes, close, with only a glass pane between us. I've been informed the entire family--both nuclear and extended--has already arrived, and they are now in their rooms and they’re waiting. They’re waiting, and they’re feeling . . . and I know what they’re feeling is both hatred . . . and fear.
Before everyone beds down for the night I hear the steel doors slamming, and even after my cellblock goes silent still I hear the echoing of those doors in my final dreams. The grinding of pulleys, the clinking of latches, the clanking of frames against metal jambs. At times it sounds like the blade of a guillotine axing into its own base, again and again, practicing for the head it will claim at midday. At other times it sounds like the “Ready! Aim! Fire!” -bang-bang-bang! of firing squad rifles and the bullets exploding across the imperceptibly small space between muzzle and heart for sudden delivery to the other side, shattered against the cold stone wall, with no memory left of their passing.
I wake from the dreams and during these last quiet hours no one stirs. The guards sit quietly with game PADS or smart phones or decks of cards. Cell residents on the block whisper out of silent respect—but they do not know that, to me, this human silence is the whisper of a rope snake slithering around my neck for the suffocating constriction.
As 3 o’clock passes and the darkest hours silence by, I lay waiting for my fate less dramatic than guillotine blades, more subtle than firing squad bullets or electric chairs, less historic than the taught jerk of a hangman’s hemp—but every bit as lethal. For tomorrow morning, at 0930, my execution will be performed. I hear it’s going to be a cloudless day.
It is an educated brain I have; a mind that wanted to make intelligent choices and build a life of modest comfort, respectability, and happiness. But something inside me did not want me to live that civil life.
After all the genome work, all the code selection to filter out "undesirable" genetic traits, and a million years of natural human evolution before that, the most basal depths of the human psyche, I realize now, are still there. Even with the most modern treatments of drugs, therapy, or Reconstructive Genetic Infusion—that one trait—the capacity to murder another human being, is still buried within each of us. Yes, even to this day in this technologically brilliant age, some killers are just . . . born.
They let me have a TV monitor tonight—one of my last requests—so I can watch an old favorite movie. They suddenly treat you with an odd and irreverent respect on your final day, as if your life suddenly now has meaning and everything else that came before, that you did or did not do to put you here, no longer matters.
Perhaps it is something much more selfish that makes everyone around me quiet and fearful . . . it could be any one of them headed toward execution. And with death lurking, even for a convicted murderer, God is suddenly quite close and all souls are suspect.
A cigarette—even though I don’t smoke—seems appropriate. After all, how many times have we seen it on the monitors like the one across from me now? A last cigarette before I die.
“Ironic,” the guy says from the cell next to mine. It’s all he has to say to me, so I stop talking to him about movies and cigarettes.
Like the rest of the men in this echoing chamber—in this fortress prison no man could ever escape from—my neighbor does not speak now. Even my TV monitor does not speak—I shut it off just before 0200—and it’s blank now, silent, green-faced, and as glassy-looking as I imagine I must look. I cannot know for certain how I look or what the true color of my face is in my final hour. They would not give me a mirror. It is not for anyone’s safety. I could easily break the glass on the monitor and cut a guard’s throat in some vain attempt at a last minute escape—to nowhere.
Perhaps, from experience, they know a condemned man should not look clearly into his own face, his own eyes. Perhaps they fear the face of someone else might be there and frighten a man to death before they can kill him themselves. Perhaps the mirror will reveal a face from a past life; or the face my soul will lurk behind in my next life.
My next life?
Yes, I will be back. I will be back, and they know it. They will be there in the audience to watch me die. To see my chest rise and fall under the sheet as my body tightens before the injection hits my veins, freezes my muscles, coagulates my blood. They will sit there for twenty minutes after to make sure I’m really dead, that my chest has stopped moving, that my breath is really gone. They will need to see as much as they can to close their feelings of hatred.
On their way home by car, by plane, by train, and during the days and weeks after, they will hope my soul will advance a little more in the process of moving from this life to the next. They hope that I will not be a monster to their children’s children who I will meet, of course, in time.
It is, after all, those with young souls who are destined to live over and over again. To crawl and step and walk and run as mortals until learning happens and growth occurs and, like those before me, I too become an old soul, filled with compassion, wisdom, and temperament, and I finally get a reprieve from the fallacy of human flesh and ascend into spiritual purity.
But I have a long way to go before I reach that place. And they know it.
They cannot guess what face I will wear tomorrow. Nor will their children recognize what horrors my new smile will conceal. And their grandchildren will not understand what dangerous thoughts behind my eyes will look back into theirs.
And they will realize they cannot stop men like me. That men like me come back and come back and come back no matter how many times they genetically alter us, chemically treat us, or in their final desperation . . . execute us.
They know and feel all these things. And that is why they fear my death tonight even more than I.
To Catch a Nightingale
The Halloween Man
Calling Her Name
The Way Home
The Great Electric Storm
What Color is Your Face?
Boy on the Tracks
A Matter of Perspective
Never Forget Your Face
Calling Him Out
The Nursery School
The Dam, the River, and the Town
When the Rain Stops
The Man in the Black Frock Coat
Publication date: October 2014
$12 trade paper US (Higher in CANADA)
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Copyright © 2014 by Jason J. Marchi. All Rights Reserved. No portion of the text of these pages may be reprinted or stored in any form whatsoever without the express written permission of the copyright holder, except when quoted briefly for purposes of review.