Death Row Reality

Death Row Reality

Prologue 

The blood was a deep, dark red, almost black.  It covered his trembling hands.  He twisted the tap and left a bloody fingerprint on the dulled chrome.  Too fast, the spouting water hit the basin and shot droplets of water and blood back at him.  He turned it half a notch the other way.  A gentler stream.  A clot of gelatinous blood and tissue caught in the holes of the drain.  He stared at it for a moment, seeing the violence of the night in his mind’s eye, then prodded it with a fingertip.  The dark globule attached itself to a sliver of broken fingernail hanging from his forefinger.  He tried to shake it off but it stubbornly remained, like a barnacle clinging to the underside of a whale.  It was determined to stay with him.  With the forefinger and thumb of his other tremulous hand he pinched at the undistinguishable mass of quivering tissue.  He couldn’t quite grasp it between his two pincher fingers.  The blob was slippery and it took him five attempts to get a grip.  Gently, slowly, slower than he would have liked, and with his eyes half closed as if seeing the scene through half lenses might dull the memories and the horror that shuddered through his body, he plucked the blob away from the sliver of broken fingernail and poked it through the hole in the drain.  He moved his trembling hands under the warming flow of water and watched the blood turn a lighter shade of crimson, then pink, then finally, mercifully, clear.

The blood circled down the drain to the accompaniment of a soft gurgling.  It was loud in the silent night.  To his fear-augmented ears, the draining water sounded more like the choking rasps of a dying man.

He picked up the bar of soap and scrubbed his hands, making sure to get under the fingernails, between his fingers and the meat of his palms.  He repeated the action two more times until he was sure all traces of blood had been removed from his skin.  Next, he took a dark wash cloth from the linen cupboard and soaked it under the tap.  He ran the bar of soap across it until there was a thick streak of white lather.  He scrubbed his face and neck until the blood splatters that he had been wearing for the last hour like an avant-garde’s splatter painted canvas had disappeared.

An angry wind attacked the small, opaque window of the bathroom.  He jumped, splashing water onto the floor and almost releasing a scream from his clamped jaw.  The wind punched and smacked at the window a couple more times, threatening the glass, a dangerous predicament if his concept of danger hadn’t been dramatically shifted in the last two hours.  The wind screeched once more before it blew silently away.

He rinsed out the washcloth under the tap until the water ran clear, then threw it in a plastic bag. He looked at himself in the small mirror held over the sink by two metal screws.  The reflection wasn’t one he recognised.  His face was pale under his bearded skin, his eyes sunken and haunted, revealing the exhaustion and horror of earlier events.  He wiped at his mouth, thinking there might be a speck of blood on his lips.  He scrubbed his face again and then turned the tap off.  Silence snaked through the small house once more.  He could hear his own ragged breathing, his unsteady heartbeat, the rushing of blood in his temples.

He sucked in a couple of breaths, bringing the air deep into his stomach, but as soon as he stopped concentrating on his breath his heart rate accelerated again.  He opened the medicine cabinet and found a bottle of iodine.  He poured it on the cut on the back of his head.  It stung, but at least it had stopped bleeding.  Although there was a rather large bump under his fingers.

He peeled himself out of his stiffening clothes.  The black jeans encrusted with blood and other matter he didn’t care to think too much about.  He buried it in the plastic trash bag. Next, he removed his black long-sleeved t-shirt.  It, too, was soaking wet.  He threw that in the bag.  He examined his semi-naked body.  Blood had soaked through his shirt onto his torso.  Hurriedly, he grabbed another washcloth and began dabbing at the affected areas.  When his body was clean he threw the second washcloth into the trash bag and tried to tie a knot at the top.  His hands were still trembling and it took him three attempts to successfully knot the bag.

He took the trash bag out to the dimmed living room and dropped it by the front door.  Next, he entered his bedroom and quietly opened the half of the cupboard that housed his clothes.  He braced himself for the squeak and held his breath when it came.  But the sleeper in the bed remained asleep, snoring softly, out cold at this dead hour of the night.  He dressed in a fresh pair of jeans, brown leather belt.  He pulled another t-shirt over his head and then a black fleece sweater.  He carried a pair of black sneakers out into the living room and sat down on the floral couch.  It had been a hand-me-down from his mom, before she’d passed away.  He fingered the material now, feeling the indenting of the stitching, a plasticky thread falling loose.  He wound it around his finger until it cut into his flesh and he felt a stab of pain.  He watched the tip of his finger turn bright red.  But then it reminded him of the blood and he quickly unravelled it.  He slipped his feet into his sneakers and laced his shoes.  His hands were shaking less now, he was focused, following the steps he knew he had no choice but to follow.  Now that he had made up his mind to flee, his heart rate was decelerating, his brain was defogging and he was beginning to think more clearly.

He laced his shoes and pushed himself to his feet.  He walked down the narrow hallway, past the bathroom which no longer housed any evidence of violence, and into a second, smaller bedroom.  She was sleeping on her tummy.  Her covers had been pushed down towards her feet and her blonde, ringletted hair fell over half of one chubby cheek.  In one pudgy fist was the arm of her favourite teddy bear.  He held his breath and listened for hers.  After a moment, he heard it, a soft inhale as her back rose.  She seemed to hold it for a moment before she exhaled loudly and turned her head the other way.  He held onto the bars at the side of her crib, watching her sleep for a moment, watching the moonlight travel across her unadorned window and fall on her golden hair.  Rain tapped at the window, obscuring the view beyond, insistently trying to bully its way inside.  The wind moaned and to him it sounded like a lament of the damned.

He daren’t touch her, as desperately as he craved the feel of her soft skin under his fingers.  They were different fingers now, capable of bad things and he didn’t want to touch her with those tainted hands.  And, although he was sure he had rid himself of any incriminating evidence, he didn’t want to risk transferring anything to her.  He satisfied himself with pulling her covers back up to her shoulders.  She didn’t stir.

He felt a well of emotion rise from his stomach, up his oesophagus and into the back of his throat.  He swallowed it back down.  He had made his decision, to keep her safe, to keep them both safe.  He simply couldn’t allow himself to feel anymore.  With a last, longing glance he backed out of her bedroom, turned when he reached the hall, and marched determinedly back into the living area, biting back the tears that threatened to shatter his resolve.  He grabbed the black trash bag and his duffel bag that he hadn’t had the opportunity to unpack, and threw one over each shoulder.  He opened the front door into a lashing rain and stepped outside into the dark.