His nightmare always started with dark, penetrating eyes staring past his face, into his marrow.
“The press called you an animal. I don’t agree. If you were an animal, we wouldn’t be shocked and appalled at your behavior. We are. We would’ve hunted you down and shot you in the street. Instead you’re here, receiving sentence after a trial. If you were an animal you’d be created and loved by God, but not created in His image. You were. Somewhere inside you is an image of God, and that makes you something different than an animal.” A tear coursed down the old, wrinkled cheek. The voice cracked. “I’d condemn you to Hell, if I worked on my own accord. But I’m also created in the image of God, and recreated in Christ. So I cannot follow my anger, as much as I may find satisfaction in that path. Instead I pray for you.” The woman paused to clear her throat, squeeze her eyes tightly closed and control her voice. “I pray that, sometime before you walk down that hall to face death, you’ll look inside your soul and find the part of you that’s also a part of God. I pray that you’ll find your Creator and follow Him. This way the death of my Anisha will have meaning. The loss of her mortal life will, perhaps, be a part of changing your immortal soul. And that will give her life, and her death, meaning.”
He usually jerked awake at this point, before the old woman turned, walking away from the podium where his other victims’ family members ranted, cursed and screamed. In his dreams he usually didn’t have to endure the backward glance of the frail grandmother as she touched the courtroom exit, but tonight the dream reached that moment, and traveled beyond. Tonight he dreamed himself on the last walk of his life—shackled, handcuffed, leaving death row to face death itself. As he entered the small room, he looked into the area housing spectators and saw her, dark eyes still penetrating, still looking beyond his face.
He pulled himself from sleep.
That final journey would occur in less than 48 hours. He feared the walk, feared the needle and the darkness that awaited him. But more than that, he feared seeing the grandmother of Anisha Williams. A chill ran through him as he imagined her in the spectators’ room, staring, looking for his soul.
His soul. He growled at the thought, the sound escaping his throat in a low rumble.
He pushed away the fear that the old woman might be right. He’d spent much of the last decade pushing that idea aside, holding onto his hatred, his hardness. The old woman had ruined most of his pleasure in evil, but he clung stubbornly to what was left. He still delighted in new crimes—the stabbing of an inmate, the blackmailing of a careless guard—but he could no longer enjoy his heyday, the killings that had landed him first in court, and then here.
He tried, on occasion, to picture the victims. But the pleasure was gone.
It started with Anisha. When he pictured her face, terror etched in every cell, horror haunting her eyes, it morphed, every time, into that of her little grandmother, staring at him with such conviction, such passion. He watched, angry and disappointed, as it changing from his lifeless treasure into the lined, heart-shaped face of her elder.
Losing Anisha was bad enough, but before too many months it happened with every girl he’d murdered. He’d pull their memory into his mind, replaying each death like the cherished moment it had always been. They, too, would become the ancient. Soon all the girls were gone, ripped from his memory by the Williams woman’s prayer.
‘…before your walk down that hall to face death…’ He shivered. What would it be—darkness, like he imagined, or a place of either eternal punishment or eternal reward?
The question lodged in his mind. Fear grew, gnawing at him like a rat. He watched the moments tick by, imagining the torment of every Hell he’d ever heard about. He stayed nauseated, his heart pounding the seconds until he found out first-hand what lay beyond.
Just before time, a chaplain entered his cell. “Can I do anything for you?”
He looked up. The loss of her mortal life … part of changing your immortal soul, he heard again.
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