It's a small, bare, cold room. There's a metal chair, a tray next to it with instruments. An intravenous drip has been wheeled in and placed next to the chair, and the room smells of chemicals. The only sound at this moment is the soft hum of the air conditioning, and I let out a soft laugh to myself when I realize that the thing I want most right now is simply to turn off the air conditioner.
A single fixture throws a harsh white light across the scene, which contains four people. I'm the one sitting in the chair. A tall man of about thirty stands over me, frowning. An older man stands by the closed blinds, occasionally checking his watch. A younger woman in uniform stands by the door.
"You may open the blinds," the younger woman announces with a calm dignity. The older man does so before speaking.
"We have contacted the governor," he begins, "and the chief justice, and the attorney general's office. No appeals are pending, and no motions have been filed to set aside the warrant of death sentence and execution in the matter of the State vs. Leopold Evanson. You may therefore proceed to carry out the order of the court."
The young woman in uniform turns to me. "Leopold Evanson, you have been convicted of the crime of first degree murder. You have been sentenced to death by lethal injection for this crime. This is the time and place for the execution of that sentence. Do you have any last words? Now is that time."
This is a moment I've been anticipating for a year. This is my final opportunity to be heard, to make a difference. I search for words capable of filling the enormity of the occasion, but there are none.
"The only person I could be argued to have murdered is myself," I pronounce in a solemn voice with just a hint of wry humor. "I plead involuntary manslaughter on that count." It isn't satisfying, it won't be remembered by history, but it'll have to suffice.
"Hold his arm."
There's a pinch. Just a little pinch, like a vaccination. I flinch more at the meaning than at the sensation.
"We will return in a half hour to confirm the completion of the sentence."
My three brief companions in this last act take great pains to avoid looking at me as they shuffle out the door and close it behind them.
You've never been alone. You've been in empty rooms, empty homes, you've been ignored and rejected, but you've never been alone like this. You've never been alone after all your appeals have fallen on deaf ears, alone after the whole of society has condemned you... and, as embodied by officers of the state, they've calmly injected a cocktail of poisons into your arm and walked out to wait for you to die. You've never been alone as you look through the opened blinds and realize you have no loved ones to watch you, and not even any enemies who care enough to see you off. Alone like a stray dog being euthanized after going unclaimed at the shelter.
Why did they leave? Don't they have the courage to watch what they're doing to me? Is this just one final snub, their way of saying I don't matter enough to even watch die? My final convulsions will be as solitary and futile as the rest of my life. By denying me any human connection, they deny my life any last slight chance at a flicker of meaning.
Are they the ones who've done this, or am I? I can't remember.
I should be feeling something by now. My limbs should be growing heavy. I should be getting sleepy.
Somehow, I feel better now than I've ever felt before. Maybe it's the lifting of a great burden, the relief of suddenly having no future to worry about. I don't have to worry about bills, I don't have to worry about work or retirement or climate change or losing weight or whether my team wins tomorrow or what I'm going to have for dinner or absolutely anything beyond the next few minutes. I don't even have to worry about dealing with people and all the awkwardness and stress that comes with that, for there are no more people in the remainder of my life.
I should be feeling something by now. Something's gone wrong. Perhaps I should say something's gone wrong for them, and something's gone right for me. I feel stronger than I ever have, as if the cocktail of poisons were adrenaline.
I pull the IV out of my arm, rise and push my way through the carelessly loose straps that had bound me to the chair. Operating on pure instinct, I run for the door and fling it open and barrel down the empty hallway like a startled deer.
I am in the forest. It's dark. The little sounds of the cicadas and the other insects and animals surround me and calm me. The cold which bothered me in the sterile room is welcome now.
It's impossible. It's absurd. I'm alive. I'm free.
No, not free. Never free. Always on the run, always hiding myself. Always, even at times when I don't know what I'm running from or why. That's the story my life: always running, never finding the courage to be vulnerable and set down roots. It's a prison of sorts, a mental prison that masquerades as freedom at a cursory glance.
A lone wolf howls in the distance. I hear you, brother. We're pack animals without a pack. But if we ever meet, we'll turn away from each other and run.
Slowly I become aware of a new sound. Drip drip. Drip drip. It takes me back to another place, another time.
I remember entering that dark room and hearing a drip. It was coming from the table, and as my eyes adjusted I vaguely made out a human figure on the table.
"Hey!" I called out in alarm. "You can't sleep in the storage room!"
There was no response. I fumbled for the light.
As the light came on, the true state of affairs was instantly apparent. The body of a woman was sprawled across the table, blood dripping from her slit wrists. I didn't know her, I'd never seen her before.
Upon realizing she was dead, I grew calmer. There was no longer any threat of confrontation. I wouldn't have to kick someone out, I wouldn't have to make small talk like if it'd turned out to be a fellow employee.
I walked over. I stood over the body. I looked into her wide open eyes, and I marveled at how easy it was. Never before had I looked into someone's eyes without feeling my stomach lurch. Never before had I maintained eye contact for this long.
There was no doubt in my mind that this woman was dead, but I realized there are formalities which must be observed, so I extended two fingers to her throat to check for a pulse. I found none, but I found a curious sensation in myself when I made contact with her skin. Following a compulsion within, I reached out to gently touch one of her hands. There was no recoil, no look of disgust, no scream. I held her dead hand, and for the first time in my life I felt unconditionally accepted.
It was a profound experience. In those short minutes, seeing the end to which we all come, life began to make sense for me. I felt the life blood of what had been a fellow human being drip onto my hand as it held hers, and it bonded us as nothing in life could. Death was a great equalizer, the one thing that brought her to a level I could relate to. Whoever she was in life, however intimidating she would've been, now she was an equal.
The prosecution produced a witness who saw this scene. I tried to explain to the court. My public defender cut me off in the middle, sighed and shook his head. He confided to me that it'd been a mistake to let me testify.
So I was condemned, so I was taken to my place of execution. Yet somehow I find myself in this forest.
No, not blood. I realize it's just water. It's beginning to rain.
There was another rainy day, long ago. It was the first school day of the new year, and I'd made a resolution over the break. I'd resolved to make a break from my history of avoidance, resolved to reach out to other kids this new year and let them in.
It was all so simple in my head. I would take it slowly, step by step. Speaking one word would suffice the first day, then ten, then maybe thirty words a day, and before long I'd have friends to justify the efforts.
It lasted until recess. I was walking a loop around the school grounds, in the open despite a light rain. I was trying to look like I was going somewhere, as always. A boy I'd never seen before approached me.
"What time is it?" the boy queried innocently.
I glanced at my watch. "Ten twenty-five," I croaked.
A grin grew across his face, he ran to his nearby friends and he exclaimed "I made him talk! I made that kid who doesn't talk say something! Told you I could!" And every gaze on the playground turned to me and bored through me as if with x-ray vision. I could feel myself turning beet red and shrinking to a point. I can still feel it.
Then I made a new resolution, a resolution to grow a thicker shell and never be exposed again. I would grow a shell so thick that even I could never break through it.
Dogs. I hear dogs in the distance. At least the rain will mask my scent.
In a strange way, it feels good. The dogs are an acknowledgement. They've noticed my absence, and it makes a difference to them. Now I have something to do again, a purpose: to run from the dogs.
I like dogs, when they're not chasing me with intent to bring me to my death. They love without reason, they bond with the unworthy. I've always admired that.
When I was four, I saw a litter of free puppies advertised on the corner. I begged my parents to let me take one home. My mother told me they'd make a mess. My father told me I could not be responsible for a life, that we each must master ourselves before we can take on another. I never mastered myself, so I never took on another.
I've become quite tired, my legs have grown heavy. Death row doesn't get you in shape to run for your life.
Stumbling, I trip over a log and plant my face into a muddy puddle. It doesn't hurt. It feels rather good. I lie there and feel the mud envelop me like a womb.
Like a womb -- the one place in this universe where there's a sense of complete security and peace, where the view every day is the same and all material needs are met without effort. Right now I feel like I can remember being there, being content that I had surveyed and understood the entirety of the very small universe. I could hear the muffled beating of a heart. I could feel connected to something beyond myself, to everything beyond myself.
And then I'm forcibly expelled, pushed from that comfort into a bizarre, overwhelming world of lights and sounds and the clamor of so many people. Never to return. And for the first of many times, I scream.
In the small cold room, the tall young man leans over to feel Leopold Evanson's wrist. "The time of pronouncement is 12:37," he calls out. "Thank you."
"You can now close the blinds," the woman by the door instructs the other man.