Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Soul (07/13/06)
TITLE: A Soul's Last Breath
By william price
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I first met him fifteen years ago. His name and famous “soulless” picture had been in the media for a year. The day before I first saw him in person the headlines read: Killer Sentenced to Death: Still Silent. The State Attorney who prosecuted the case said, “The man has no soul. The death sentence for him will be like a welcome home party.”
Winston’s eyes were the emptiest I’d ever seen. They resembled windows on a deserted shack that hadn’t seen electricity in years. He reportedly never spoke a public word since the day of his arrest. The only, confirmed, communication came in a note to his Public Defender.
I’m guilty. Let me die.
The stocky, balding drifter was convicted of shooting a deacon outside a small church. The victim, a widower of one year, was walking to his car with his children one Sunday following services. He was approached by a man in tattered clothes brandishing a handgun. The startled father offered all the money he had to spare their lives. The killer reportedly pulled the hammer back on the pistol and aimed at the eldest son.
At the trial, the teen testified in a whispered hush that his father confessed to the gunman he didn’t even know if his children were saved. Between heavy sobs, the sixteen-year-old painfully recounted how the Defendant pointed the gun at each of them before taking his father’s life. The grieving son couldn’t speak another word. Deputies had to help him out of the courtroom.
During Winston’s time on the Launching Pad, our nickname for Death Row, dozens of pastors came to try and save his soul. Each visit was greeted with an empty stare. Most would pray for him and leave shaking their heads.
The 45-year-old’s final day started with oatmeal and a copy of the morning paper. The front page featured photos and a story of the three children left behind following the murder. The writer noted, the eldest son, now 31, had not spoken much at all since the trial. Winston read the article until it was time to prepare for his final walk.
I was stationed next to Winston in front of the “chair” when he was offered a chance to make a final statement. The victim’s sons were sitting in the front row on the other side of the bullet proof glass.
“I would like to say a few words.” Winston’s voice was raspy.
The youngest of the three sons jumped up.
“You don’t have the right. You had your chance.”
The eldest brother put his hand on his siblings shoulder and sat him down.
Winston fixed his gaze on the front row.
“I can’t tell you why I did it. I’m not speaking to put some meaning to something I still can’t figure. I did what I did, and my punishment stands behind me. I wasn’t going to kill your father.”
The condemned man pointed at the eldest.
“I was going to shoot you.”
Tears ran down the young man’s face as he nodded.
“I haven’t had much religion. I froze when your dad said he didn’t know if you were saved. I knew salvation was a good thing to have when your dying.”
He paused to wipe his own eyes.
“I read today that you haven’t been to church since. I’ve had enough preaching at me these last years to know that isn’t good. I can’t undo what I did.”
His voice began to tremble.
“But, I can ask you if you would let me pray for your salvation.”
“I got it memorized, I heard it enough. Don’t worry, I ain’t praying for me.“
The eldest son stood up and walked towards the glass. A guard was going to stop him, but the Warden nodded to let him continue. The young man placed his palm up on the glass.
“I will if you will.”
All three of us prayed, though mine was silent. The young man stared at Winston through tear drenched eyes, then up at the clock, and slowly sat back down. As I was putting the hood over Winston’s head I saw his eyes. The inner light came on just as his world here went dark.
Winston Walter Raymond didn’t earn my eternal respect for what he did fifteen years ago, but what he did with the last breaths of his soul.
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