Bruce Rowe was born in the Deep South of Louisiana where folklore and myths are as plentiful as fireflies in the Bluebonnet Swamp on a midsummer’s night. He has integrated supernatural elements from those myths into his stories. He has short stories published at Spillwords.com, Dastaanworld.com. and Cafelit.com. His story, ‘The Rider’, was nominated as Publication of the Month in October 2018. He received a nomination as Author of the Month at Spillwords. ‘The Lonely Traveler’ received a special mention at Cafelit.com. He presently resides in Southern California.
By Bruce Rowe
They called him, ‘The Meanest Man in Texas’. If a southern gentleman were the type who murdered the elderly over a peanut butter and jelly sandwich spread on gluten free bread, raped women and children without a stitch of conscience, and set a dog on fire because the painful yelps were a soothing sonnet to his ears, they would have called him something else a bit more flattering. To include the word ‘Man’ in the title he earned was a stretch as it was. Even the Texas saying, ‘He’s got horns holding up his halo’, did not suffice. His character and crimes resembled nothing human. I have not given his name, for to give something a name gives it value.
In retrospect of a changing law, it would have been a pleasure to light him up in a defective electric chair—a nice slow toasting while he sang his final hymn. However, sympathies and compassion for the inhuman species brought on a more peaceful and humane exodus through lethal injection. I was honestly surprised they allowed the word ‘lethal’ to be used in this new age title.
This is where I came in, Doctor Sullivan Ketch. Those who delighted in my company simply called me, Sully; a chemist/surgeon turned exemplary Executioner. Some believed I am a direct descendant of one, Jack Ketch. He executed with barbarous inefficiency. Which is why, he took his leisurely time executing James Scott, Duke of Monmouth. Not one, not two, but eight strokes of the axe he made before completely severing Scotty’s head. I have often wondered what ballad Scotty sang while Lumber Jack Hack swung away. A nasty but delightful business. However, I have digressed from my delicious story.
Those who are most influential at the Huntsville State Penitentiary in Texas searched me out after learning of my diverse and extraordinary techniques. To be specific, the Regional Director of said penitentiary. I received the call while reading a disturbing story in our local paper and having my afternoon tea. He spoke in a southern drawl—a born Texan I presumed—providing me with the details of the unpleasant offenses perpetrated by you-know-who. While discussing the contract of payment, traveling expenses and the preparations needed before my arrival, I asked which procedures they were familiar with would be preferred. He answered by saying, “Surprise us”. With that, I was more than happy to, how do you say it, “Oblige ‘em”. Setting down the paper, I asked if he could give me one week. Then I would happily gather up my instruments, one carry-on, and an Igloo cooler, hop a plane in England, and head to the great state of Texas. He granted me that courtesy by saying, “He ain’t goin’ nowhere anytime soon,” and chuckled at his own joke.
I was met at the George Bush, (no ‘Dubya’), Intercontinental Airport by the prison director and his wife. She was a lovely southern-belle and host, I might add, in contrast to his coarse demeanor and broad economy of profanity. They were gracious enough to let me stay at their ranch just outside Huntsville. Real southern hospitably, ‘I mean to tell ya!’
The drive from the main road to the house took about as long as the drive from the airport to their country driveway. The gate to the entrance of their property operated electronically by punching in a simple four-letter code. I didn’t ask. Their spread came with all the ‘fixin’s, a beautiful red brick two-story main house with a façade of four tall white columns. A Tuscan beige tumble-stone walkway trailed from the front porch and veered around the right of the main house to a small cottage about hundred feet back setting all by its lonesome. That would be my home for the one night spent in southern living. Fenced-in pastures of horses and cattle encircled the house. Off to the left there was a genuine elevated gambrel-roofed barn with real double doors latched open at the top and yellow stalks of hay hanging from the loft like a drunken mans drool. Horse stalls lined the lower story with the upper doors opened.
After unpacking my carry-on and shelving the contents of my cooler into the refrigerator—a wonderful amenity, provided at my request—I took a long hot shower to erase the film of stale, toxic air that oozes from the vents on airplanes. Satisfied I was thoroughly clean, I dried off and dressed in my pajamas to retire for the night, but only after a delicious meal. Returning to the refrigerator, I pulled out a covered bowl of mouth-watering Chicken Tikka Masala, another request, and warmed it in the microwave while pouring myself a glass of sweet Riesling.
Having eaten, I placed the dishes in the sink and slipped off to bed setting my alarm for the appropriate time to wake.
Walking down the hall of the penitentiary carrying my cooler and bag of instruments, two officers escorted me to a makeshift operating room where my patient laid strapped, secured, and waiting. As I entered the room, my patient raised his bald head and starred at me with soulless black eyes.
“What the hell are you going to do to me, fucker?” it said in a heavy drawl as drool snaked down from the right corner of his mouth past his jaw and dripped onto the bed.
“And what a delight it is to meet you,” I said, placing my bag on a stainless steel tray and cooler on the floor. “First off, we’re going to curtail your manners by putting you to sleep. When you wake, I believe you will have a completely new outlook on life. How does that sound?”
“You’re not going to execute me?” The beast looked surprised.
“Do I look like the murdering type to you?” I asked taking its chunky, calloused claws in mine.
The beast jerked its claws away. “You look like a nerdy faggot,” it said with the intelligence of a grub worm.
“Then I guess you won’t mind waking up pork-belly down with your trouser pulled down around your ankles and me dancing the ‘Tube Snake Boogie’ on your ass?” I said with a pleasant smile and the best southern drawl I could muster.
“Fuck you, Motherfucker!” he growled through yellow teeth. They were jagged and black along the bottom and edges right up to the gums. My guess would be that it was the result of years of shoveling methamphetamine up its nose. Its breath smelled of road kill.
“You’ve misplaced me. I never knew your mother. But I can tell by the look in those black eyes you’re contracting your buttocks, aren’t you? Don’t answer. Here we go,” I said placing the anesthesia mask over its nose and mouth to eliminate the order that now hung in the air like a London fog. “Deep breaths now.”
After I was sure the beast was asleep, I placed a surgical mask over my nose and mouth, donned latex gloves, opened my bag and quickly went to work.
During the hour it took to perform the procedure, the Regional Director cracked in over the room speaker four times asking of my progress. I finally had to tell him that if he did not cease with the interruptions I would either have the speaker turned off or stop the operation all together. I heard no more from the director.
After making the final wrap of gauze around the eyes of the beast, I turned and signaled to the director that I was finished. I took off the gloves, threw them in a container marked for toxic materials, and threw the mask in a nearby trashcan. As I wiped off my instruments with an alcohol swab, the director walked into the room with the two officers in tow.
“You’re done?” he asked, looking the beast over.
“Yes.” I neatly placed my last instrument in my bag and fastened it closed.
He noticed the pads on each of its eyes overlaid with gauze wrapped around its head. “You operated on his eyes?” he asked puzzled.
“Exactly. You said to surprise you.”
“This was supposed to be an execution and not a very pleasant one at that!” he yelled. “Do you know how much trouble I could get in for breaking protocol?”
I exhaled a sigh of irritation. “Release the straps now so when it wakes it can take the bandages off itself. It will take about an hour for the anesthesia to wear off. You hired me, Mr. Regional Director, so trust me.”
The director motioned to the officers to unbuckle the straps. After loosening the last of the straps, we left the room, I, carrying my bag of instruments and cooler and one of the officers carrying the toxic container for disposal. The other officer reached in his pants pocket producing keys on a ring and locked the door. We waited outside by the window.
It took all of forty-five minutes for the beast to wake. It was confused at first, moving its head around blindly. Realizing the straps no longer restrained him to the table, it began clawing at the bandages until the last piece of gauze floated to the floor. It sat up squinting at the suddenness of the bright lights. I knew the new eyes needed adjusting, but that would soon pass. The director moved closer to the glass, peering at its face.
“His eyes were practically solid black. Now they are white with hazel pupils and rather small and beady. You gave him new eyes, but why?” he asked looking over at me.
“Watch,” I said, directing his attention back to the beast.
It first began to moan sounds of confusion. The moans quickly turned to panting growls as it rose from the bed and bent over staggering. It threw its hands over the new eyes covering them. It began to scream while hitting itself on the top of the head then down to the sides of the face. It then ran directionless around the room banging into the stainless steel tray overturning it along with the trashcan. It slammed into walls and the door. It finally stopped as it banged into the window and starred out blinking. The director and officers jumped back. That is when my work reaped its reward.
Staring directly into the face of the director it began clawing at the eyes ripping and tearing at them until they lay hanging on its cheeks staring downward. It screamed in horrific pain. It grabbed the orbs and pulled until the central nerve and vein of the retina tore clean from the holes where they once rested. It began dashing around again screaming and howling, slamming into walls leaving crimson blotches until it could run no more and clasped lifeless in a red pool that cascaded from every orifice in its head.
The director, obviously shaken—another of my desired rewards—asked, “My God, what did you give him to make him act like that?”
“A week before I boarded the plane, I read in the newspaper of a murder in my town. It told of a little four-year-old girl raped and killed by a child molester. From what small consolation I could provide the parents, I told them of this situation. I told them what I could do to that beast, if they were willing to provide me with what I needed, and in doing so, exact a kind of revenge for their little girl. They agreed to let me have her eyes. You see, director, when a beast like that loses its soul, all there is is hate. I took out its eyes and restored its soul with the eyes of her innocence. All the beauty, unconditional love, and forgiveness that only a child can see drove it mad.”
Some people think I am a direct descendant of Jack Ketch and that my methods are barbarously inefficient. ‘I beg to differ, sir’.