And He dwelt singly in the void, a brilliant star shining in absence; the whole of all Creation. Before time. Before existence. Before reality. Then came reason, a conscious desecration which begat Life flooding the empty darkness with a great conflagration granting substance to the ether. And as the Great Spirit did dissipate, His ash our flesh, His breath our spirit, He spoke to His fleeting progeny:
“Never shall our minds harmonize, nor our doctrines; neither our aspirations, nor yet our beliefs; neither our words nor yet our actions; neither our hearts nor yet our souls. For though we were one, we shall never be whole again.”
“The righteous perish, devout men are taken away, and no one understands why. And when that someone is a child it makes even less sense.
“This space is with me all the time it seems,” Gwen confessed to the restless court, clutching tightly the papers she read from waveringly. “Sometimes the empty space is so real I can almost touch it. I can almost see it. It gets so big that I can’t see anything else.
“There is no word for a parent who loses a child, that’s how awful the loss is. When a child dies, you lose your future. You lose your reason.
“You have not simply stolen my son away, Luke, you have stolen my faith. You could never understand what that feels like. I pray and no one answers. I am alone. In my heart there is nothing but emptiness. I dare not utter the words and thoughts that crowd in my soul and make me suffer untold agony. I am told God loves me and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my spirit.”
Gwen paused to turn and stare at Luke Deom. Her lip quivered at the sight of him slumped in his seat, head down, oblivious to her pain.
The judge leaned forward. “Ma’am? Will you please speak into the microphone-?”
“I don’t need a microphone,” she bitterly retorted, wiping at her eyes. “He isn’t listening.”
“Ma’am, either address the court or remove yourself from the podium.” Gwen glared at Luke, not hearing the judge. “Ma’am.”
“My name is Gwen Heinz, the mother of Arthur Heinz. And I’m mad.” She viciously pointed at Luke. “And you are out of control. What did my son do to deserve what you did to him?”
“I hope you never see freedom again. I don’t want to ever see another mother go through what I’ve been through. Never. Never Luke! You hear me? Do you know what you’ve done to me?” Gwen screamed across the courtroom, trembling with rage as she rounded the podium and started towards the defendant’s table.
A pair of court officers moved in to restrain Gwen within arm’s reach of Deom. Writhing in their arms, Gwen fanatically struggled to reach her bane. “You have stolen my son away from me. You have stolen God away from me. I hate you! I hate you, Luke! You killed my baby!” she shrieked, pulling free and lunging at her child’s killer.
The court devolved into chaos with sheriff’s deputies rushing in to restore order. The gallery, largely composed of the families of Luke’s victims, joined the fray. One man caught a deputy in the side of the face with a glancing punch only to be shoved to the ground and nearly trampled by the surging crowd. Screams of fear and outrage filled the charged room. Security futilely tried to push the tide back. The melee threatened to spill past the barricade forcing guards to escort Deom from the court through a side door. In outrage, someone threw a chair barely missing the prosecutor.
“Get them out of here!” the judge demanded.
When pepper spray failed, security freed their nightsticks and started busting skulls. The bailiff wrapped Gwen in a choke hold and dragged her kicking from the courtroom. The mob followed, beaten back savagely by security; their blood lingering in the air. The cries receded and the doors slammed behind them.
The judge surveyed the empty room with apprehension. “Are you ok, Diane?”
“I’m fine,” the prosecutor replied, retaking her seat.
The bailiff returned minutes later, nodding to the judge.
“Let’s get this over with. Get Deom back in here.”
Luke re-entered the court room, head bowed, ready to receive judgment. He took his place at the defendant’s table beside his lawyer, hands clutched before him.
The judge cleared his throat before beginning. “Luke Deom, you have been found guilty of forty-nine counts of murder in the first degree. It is now up to me to render sentencing.
“That a man of such upbringing and promise could have fallen so far, defiling his father’s name and threatening the order of our great nation is a tragedy we have all been cursed to suffer. How many have you led into darkness?
“You, Luke Deom, are no man. Only God knows what you truly are. You have murdered, tortured, and shown no remorse for the atrocities committed by your own hands. Neither man, woman, nor child is safe from your wickedness. What your presence does to humanity, what it has done here today, is proof enough that you are anathema to civilization.”
The judge removed his glasses and laid them next to his gavel. “Do you even care about the void you have created?”
Luke remained blissfully quiet.
“They say that all life is precious. They say that no one is born evil. I dare say you have proven the exception. You are a monster clothed in the flesh of man. You bring out the worst in us. You defend your anarchy with silence. Insult us with your still soul. How much you have taken and how little have you gained. If the option remained I would assign you the death penalty for surely you are beyond rehabilitation.” The judge closed his eyes in resignation, exhaling wearily before opening them again. “But in that my hands are tied.
“So I stand ready to pronounce judgment on you. Luke Deom, for the murder of forty-nine individuals, I sentence you to forty-nine life sentences to be served consecutively without the possibility of parole. How say you?”
For the first time, Luke raised his head revealing an expression of gratitude. “Thank you.”
“Indeed.” The judge brought his gavel down with a crack.
The prison bus had been on the road for hours. Luke sat alone watching the world fade away, deaf to the cackles of the condemned traveling with him. The countryside blurred by mile after mile as he journeyed into the unpopulated lands. The rich soil paled and steadily dried to crumbling dust. Green grass shriveled to scrub and the rocky bones of the parched earth emerged.
A lone child stood on the side of that cracked black road waving at Luke’s passing. Their speed was such to prevent a proper look, but he recognized that child from years ago. He had known him quite well.
In time their destination rose before them. Cyclopean in scale and scope, oppressively dominating the horizon, the prison was a veritable fortress built of massive granite slabs with dour faced deputies patrolling the ramparts and giant gates that smiled malignantly at the coming bus. Nothing else existed out here. The road ended with this place.
The gates opened to accept their transport, the sound of steel on concrete grinding like the gnashing of thousands of teeth. The condemned fell silent. The bus passed beneath the scored archway only to come to a stop in the courtyard several hundred feet later.
At the front of the bus, a guard stood and turned to face the convicts chained behind him. He smirked through the wire mesh at the fear borne on their faces, reveling in the fate which awaited them. “Gentlemen, welcome to Hell.”
“Don’t look at me, you wasted gobs of monkey spunk,” the guard growled at the cons as they marched past. “You better realize you are no longer men. You are numbers. Do you hear that?”
None answered, whether in submission or muted rejection was impossible to say. The condemned simply marched on trying to find their place in the new order.
Following the line of men, Luke entered the stygian corridor, the length of which stretched on eternally. That noisome breadth of darkness stirred all manner of emotion in these men forsaken by their brethren. Eldritch figures taunted from the dark and sorrow suffocated what hope remained. Sheol seemingly beckoned.
The ululating echoing ahead, akin to troglodytic chants, gave warning to the coming end as they soon emerged in dim purgatory. Fetid with the waste of humanity, the damned resided here in Cell Block D, screaming from their cages; leering and swearing all manner of foulness. Above, the floors stretched higher than Luke’s eyes could follow, a series of non-Euclidean rings that spiraled into a vague ceiling of inverted abyss.
Luke ascended into the depths carrying the barest essentials given by his warders. Sheets, blanket, clothes. Enough to survive. He struggled up the stairs to his assigned cell, clutched at and tormented, tongues lustfully wagging at him. The narrow path was littered with refuse.
Luke halted at the entrance to his cell. A speckled bulb faintly illuminated the sparse room’s pitted cinder block walls revealing a bunk bed, sink, and toilet in the confined space.
His cellmate reclined on the bottom bunk. Noticing the subtle shadow cast on the floor, the man got up to inspect his new roomie. The bastard was a regal specimen of the jungle, muscles bulging beneath swarthy flesh. A tower of torment. Stopping mere inches in front of Luke, he raked Deom’s thin form with jaundiced eyes for anything of value. His hands were fast, swatting Luke’s meager possessions to the floor. Luke dared to look up into that grill of golden teeth.
“Welcome,” Luke’s cellmate said in a deep bass. “I’m Iron Mike and your ass is mine.”
Beneath the gaze of the searing sun, iron clanged like hammer strikes. Ranks of men squatted and lifted in the exercise yard, heaving chosen burdens, committed to repetition; blind, mindless action to ward off thought. The only peace offered within those granite walls. Rise and fall, curl and drop. Making temples of flesh. Within that crush of frustration, Iron Mike benched thrice his body weight, defiantly pushing the steel skyward. He grunted in effort, arms pumping like twin pistons.
“You got it, baby,” Freddy urged his boss on. “Come on, two more for the brothers.” Mike pushed the bar up again, his grit teeth gleaming. “One more, baby. Come on, one more!” Arms shaking, Mike dropped the weights back onto the rack. “Only one? The brothers are worth only one! Man, you disgust me.”
Mike sat up, sheathed in sweat. Taking a deep breath, he eyed his skinny shit of a comrade. “You lift that and tell me to do another.”
Freddy cocked his head. “What? Ruin my delicate hands?” He brought his palms up and wiggled his fingers. “The ladies love my silky touch.”
Mike snorted. “I think it was the knife at their throats that got you the pussy, you dumb fuck.”
“Hey, women love me. I’m sexual chocolate,” Freddy proudly proclaimed, thumbing himself in the chest.
“Yeah, well you’re about to get a piece bit out of your ass if you don’t shut the fuck up.”
All around Mike and Freddy, black inmates made good use of the weights in the prison yard. The sound of metal clanging reverberated throughout the rows mixed with the groans and gasps of dark hulks. Beyond their corner of the yard were basketball courts to the east and an open field to the north where men milled aimlessly about the grounds.
Mike wiped his face, continuing to breathe heavily while scanning the yard. The bench beneath him creaked when he saw Luke standing in the distance, watching him. Mike locked his stare.
Freddy followed Mike’s gaze. “What’s the deal, man?”
“That’s my new roomie.”
“Ugly mutha fucka.”
“Yeah, well I’m popping his cherry tonight. Gonna ream his pink ass. That bitch is mine.”
Freddy gave Mike a sidelong look. “I thought you had standards.”
Mike turned his sallow eyes on Freddy. “I’m not gonna kiss him, you fucking rapist. I’m gonna bend him over and take what’s mine. Let him know who’s boss. Cracker thinks he’s somebody. Gonna learn otherwise.”
“Some of the guys are scared of him.”
“They won’t be after I make him my bitch.”
Freddy snorted. “Think the warden knew better than puttin’ a lily white boy with us.”
Mike carnivorously bared that golden grin. “Oh, I think he knows what he’s doin’.”
“And what’s dat?”
“Time’s up, boys.” Mike and Freddy ignored the warning as they kept talking, the sounds of weights continuing to clank behind them. “What’s the matter, you boys deaf?” Rup pressed, frowning at the pair. “I said time’s up, niggers!”
The yard went quiet.
Rup crossed his tattooed arms in front of his chest, the light glaring off his shaved head like a halo. A horde of men gathered at his back. “You goddamn chimps should stick to swinging from trees for your exercise needs.”
Mike stood up. “What you say, Ofay?”
Rup smirked. “You better watch your mouth porch monkey before I give you a sound spanking in front of your nappy bitches.”
“Want me to tell you what I put in your momma’s mouth last night?” Mike spat back.
Rup’s grin fell, his brows arching. “You better watch what you say, boy,” he threatened, jabbing a finger at Mike. “You’re talking to the Aryan Nation.”
Mike took a step towards Rup. “Aryan, huh. Is that what they call faggots nowadays?”
Rup’s jaw tightened, the swastika twitching on his neck. “You wanna die, nigger?” he rasped. His hands were clenched and ready.
Mike’s men assembled to support their Nubian brother. “You wanna roll with this?” he asked, gesturing over his shoulder.
As the two groups eyed one another warily, a gunshot shattered the tenuous moment. “Play time’s over,” one of the guards ordered over the PA. “Back to your cells.”
Humming a tune to himself, Marcus made his evening rounds through Cell Block D inspecting cells and marking his accountability checklist. It was eerie walking the halls at night, the unearthly quiet of the empty corridors broken by the occasional snore or sigh, his steps echoing in the stillness. There was something unnatural about so much open space.
Shivering, Marcus put the clipboard under his arm and rubbed his hands together. Desert nights were cold as hell, but it could be worse. He could have the day shift. Fuck that. Cold and quiet were always better than hot and loud. Besides, he preferred these bastards in their cages. If it were up to him, the cons would never leave them.
A subtle breeze carried the length of the hall, tickling Marcus’ neck with icy fingers. He spun around when he heard the distant screams. The cold bit deeper as he looked into the darkness, a quiver traveling through him. Fumbling with his belt, his keys jangling, he slid his flashlight free. Probing the shadows, Marcus cautiously inched forward with measured steps. His chest pounded. His skin tingled. A choked squeal came from somewhere up ahead. Pig like. Almost feral.
“What the fuck are you guys doing down there?” Marcus muttered to himself, hand moving down to his nightstick. “I better not catch them butt fucking again. Jesus, that’s all I need to see tonight.” A gibbering from behind made him strafe the ground to his rear with his flashlight before jerking forward again. Was that skittering? He swore he heard whispers up ahead. “Hello?”
After several more steps there was a dripping. Marcus aimed his light at the floor illuminating a crimson puddle.
“What the...?” Several droplets fell from above. He pointed his light up but couldn’t discern the source.
Taking the radio from his belt, Marcus brought it to his mouth, clicking the side switch as he stared skyward. “Gene, this is Marcus, over.” No response. He held the button down again. “Gene, this is Marcus, over.”
The squelch bit into the silence. “Gene here. What is it?”
“I need back up, over.” More blood came raining down.
A floor by floor search of Cell Block D commenced turning up little. It was only as guards crested the final level they heard it: a faint squishing, a wet slurping. Pulling their batons, they signaled to one another and advanced. The slurping increased the further they tread, some men wincing at the sound. Marcus shone his light in front of them. The blood trail was coming from a cell twenty feet ahead, a series of scarlet rivulets running over the edge of the walkway. Marcus looked at Gene with dread. The squishing was nauseating.
Gene halted just before the cell and raised his hand giving the sign to freeze. Girding himself, he dropped his hand and they quickly swung in front of the bars. The light revealed what their minds could never have anticipated. Gene turned and vomited over the railing as Marcus continued to morbidly stare at what the cold beam illuminated.
In the cell, gore was sprayed across the walls. On the floor, Luke held the chewed body of Iron Mike. He had ripped Mike apart with his bare hands. Blood was all over him, congealed beneath his nails, covering his mouth and cheeks from gnawing on his cellmate’s throat. The slurping ceased as he stopped feasting, slowly looking up at Marcus. Confronted by his warders, Luke loosed an inhuman howl, the blood and flesh streaming from his mouth.