“We were stupid and selfish and arrogant and we ruined everything. And the reason I’m glad I’m dying is so I don’t have to admit to anybody that I know what I did was wrong.”
Day ? Week ? Year ?
GM: Death row is like the womb. It’s all noise and waiting.
Every inmate knows exactly what for.
Em’s day begins like any of the two out of seven days when he is allowed to shower. He is made to undress in his cell (the guards do not help him to remove his jumpsuit) and submit to a cavity search for contraband. They hoist the legless man onto a wheelchair and silently push him out. They do not speak to or look at him.
This time it’s different.
This time the guards handcuff his hands behind the wheelchair’s back. They wheel him to a small office where Em is surrounded by prison officials and silent men (most of them black) in identical jumpsuits. A craggy-faced and hard-eyed man reads aloud each of their names, crimes, and the jury’s verdict.
Em listens to the man say his name. His crimes. His sentence.
One of the guards hands Em his death warrant, a longer-than-usual sheet of paper affixed with the golden seal of the State of Louisiana, and signed by the governor and secretary of state. It reads:
STATE OF LOUISIANA
NOW, THEREFOR, I, William Jay Roberts, as Governor of the State of Louisiana and pursuant to the authority and responsibility invested in me by the Constitution and Laws of Louisiana, do hereby issue this warrant, directing the Warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary to cause the sentence of death to be executed upon EMMETT DELACROIX, in accord with the provisions of the laws of the State of Louisiana.
Smaller font below reads:
IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of the State of Louisiana to be affixed at Baton Rouge, the capitol, this 3rd day of January 2016.
William Jay Roberts
Secretary of State
Death approaches one step closer. Tick, tick.
Dates mean nothing on death row. One day is exactly the same as any other day. Em is moved to a new windowless cage made on all sides of prison bars. This is a death watch rather than death row cell, he is told. He is not sure what the difference is between death watch and death row. He is not sure that it particularly matters. The cell contains a mattress, toilet, sink, and Bible. Three prison guards take turns observing him. He is allowed to watch black and white non-cable TV. He is told that he may talk to his lawyer if he wants to.
Letters pour in. Em did not know there was such a thing as ‘mail call’ in prisons. Every morning now, Em receives more mail than he has ever received in his entire life. All of the senders are concerned for the well-being of his soul.
Do you know God?
Have you accepted Jesus Christ as lord and savior of your life?
Repent before it’s too late.
If you don’t repent before you die you will go to hell.
The message is the same, but it arrives in his cell in a hundred different packages. Typed letters. Handwritten letters. Cards. Books. Children’s drawings. Em gets more Bibles than he knows what to do with.
It’s what he always wanted: he’s famous. Everyone is paying attention to him.
Emmett: Well, that’s not true. Not knowing what to do with the Bibles, at any rate. He hasn’t built a fort since he was a kid. Full circle, and all that. He doesn’t like them watching him. Any of them. He asked them to stop looking at him but they didn’t and he closed his eyes but that made it worse somehow.
So he builds the fort. It’s low, but one day it’ll be tall enough, and they won’t see anything but leather.
GM: The literally biblical fort steadily grows. It gets several layers high before guards come and carry away the Bibles with the same automaton-esque enthusiasm with which they dispose of his finished meals and all his other letters. Mental health personnel are sent into his cell and ask him, “Have you been thinking about harming yourself?”
The state wouldn’t want Em to beat them to the punch.
Emmett: “That would be a waste of taxpayer money.”
GM: An officer shows up at his cell door later and asks, “Prisoner X989132, how are you?” He does not wait for an answer before inquiring, “What is your shirt and pant size? What size shoe do you wear? How tall are you? How much do you weigh?”
Emmett: “I don’t know,” he says, answering every question at once.
GM: “What is your shirt and pant size?” the officer repeats as if Em hasn’t said anything.
Emmett: “I don’t know. Do you count the legs if you don’t have them?”
GM: The officer and several guards enter Em’s cell and fit tape measures around him in several places. They also bring in a scale to weigh him. None of them comment on his missing legs: they simply measure the size of his pant legs and impersonally check off a shoe size. Em feels like a lamb being sized up before the slaughter. Part of him may wonder: have they forgotten he is human, or do they just not care?
Emmett: Then he stops thinking about it. It’s better for everyone that way. Well, better for him. And when has he ever done what wasn’t best for him?
Except that time. And the time before that. And the time before that…
GM: Em hears that the condemned are allowed to speak with religious ministers before their executions. Maybe someone asks him if he wants to. Maybe he said no. Maybe no one bothered. He awakens at 5 AM on his scheduled day. He is handcuffed to a wheelchair and shaved by someone in a beige uniform: he is not allowed to handle a razor on his own. He is allowed to change into a clean jumpsuit, make his bed, and watch TV inside his cell.
Tick tock, goes the clock.
At 6 AM, breakfast is served. It’s the same powdered eggs and undercooked grits that it’s been every other day. He squashes the cockroach crawling along his plastic spork. People sit at a desk directly across from the 12-foot by 14-foot cage where Em has been spending his last days, 17 steps from the death chamber. They dictate notes into recording devices. It’s like they’re trying to make them as boring as possible.
“Prisoner X989132 has woken up.”
“Prisoner X989132 has been secured to his wheelchair.”
“Prisoner X989132 is being shaved.”
“Prisoner X989132 has been shaved.”
“Prisoner X989132 is changing his clothes.”
“Prisoner X989132 is lying in bed.”
Maybe they say at some point, “Prisoner X989132 has fallen asleep.” He wouldn’t know. Their droning voices haunt his dreams. He awakens to a dry, “9:21 AM. Prisoner X989132 has woken up.” Except for the change in surroundings, the available TV, and his every action down to scratching his chin being robotically documented, the day passes identically to every other day on death row.
He is served his last meal at some unknown time after the sun has gone down. He gets to choose whatever he wants. Some inmates pig out on pizzas, burgers, milkshakes, and chocolate cake. Some go for healthier meals such as green beans and strawberries, which seems funny. Why should they be worried about their health? Getting executed is the worst thing for your health. Worse than all the cigarettes, non-exercise, and artery-clogging cheeseburgers in the world. Then again, maybe they just preferred the taste. There’s no accounting for taste. A few inmates ask for seemingly random items such as coffee or potato chips. People on death row are not known for their soundness of mind.
Emmett: Emmett requests a crepe. Nutella, please, with powdered sugar. Nothing else. Just like the one that began this whole thing.
He eats slowly. When he’s done he’s forgotten what it tasted like. He hopes it was good.
GM: The single nutella and powdered sugar crepe is gone as swiftly as a half-remembered daydream.
Em is handcuffed to his wheelchair and taken out of his cell for a shower and chance to use the restroom. When he returns to his cell, he finds a uniformed man sitting on a chair next to his bed. The monotonous recording voices call him the “execution team leader.” The man clinically explains the process of Em’s execution.
Emmett: Em listens carefully to the procedure. He doesn’t want to make anything more difficult than it has to be, after all.
GM: The execution team leader, who does not give his name, is patient and willing to answer all of Em’s questions. They have him use the bathroom before he goes to reduce the clean-up. The body’s muscles relax during death, the team leader patiently explains. Corpses literally shit themselves.
Executions are held late at night, the man goes on, to save paper and free up death warrants that are good for one day. If one day passes, then everyone has to go through all the usual bureaucratic hoops and re-submit another death warrant request to the court. That just wastes more time and taxpayer money. This is all moot in Em’s case, though. The governor gave him up to 60 days to be executed.
Sometimes executions get botched, the team leader goes on, and the condemned takes too long to die. Death by lethal injection typically takes seven minutes, although there have been some cases that lasted as long as two hours due to complications in finding suitable veins (many death row inmates are druggies). This usually means more distress for the condemned. Sometimes there’s a problem with the cocktail of drugs, too. There’s three drugs used: sodium thiopental to induce unconsciousness, pancuronium bromide to cause muscle paralysis and respiratory arrest, and potassium chloride to deliver the fatal coup de grace that stops the heart. Seven minutes, again, is the average time that execution teams shoot for. Executions that lasts upwards of twelve minutes mean more physical pain for the condemned.
None of this matters when executions are held late at night, though. The condemned can take as long as 12 hours to die, “if they really want to,” before the court’s warrant expires.
“Not that anyone wants to stand in the chamber for a whole 12 hours, of course,” the team leader chuckles.
Emmett: You have to appreciate the economy of it. The sensibility. Emmett has never seen a bureaucracy work so well in action.
GM: The execution team leader smiles at Emmett’s remark and agrees with him that it’s an efficient process, although there is still room for improvement. A lot of room, in fact. Other ‘law and order’ states like Texas and Oklahoma execute their death row inmates relatively promptly, but in typical Louisiana fashion, the Pelican State drags its feet. Inmates often linger on death row for years before finally facing the needle, if they do at all. Some die of old age before they can.
In fact, Emmett will be the first man executed by the state in several years. There was a long-running dispute with the suppliers of the necessary drugs, and a 1993 law makes it illegal for the state to execute inmates by any means other than lethal injection. So for a few years, Louisiana physically lacked the means to execute its death row inmates, even ones who waived their appeals. The state didn’t have the necessary drugs.
The senate minority leader, Noelle Cherry, actually managed to build a bipartisan initiative to abolish capital punishment in the redder than red state. Keeping all of those inmates on death row (which is more expensive than housing them among a prison’s general population) was only wasting taxpayer money when they couldn’t be executed anyway. That’s what won around most of Cherry’s Republican supporters.
No legislation came of it, obviously. Then-majority leader Nathan Malveaux and the judiciary committee spent over a year slogging through non-conclusive negotiations with assorted pharma companies before finally opening more promising-looking talks with Magadon Incorporated. After Malveaux was elected to federal office, his successor as majority leader, Maxen Flores, pledged to continue his work. Flores then opened negotiations with Weide GmbH, a rival of Magadon’s, which led to another year of delays. The senator maintains that playing the two companies against each other let the state get a better deal when they finally awarded the contract to Magadon.
The execution team leader is in favor of anything that saves the state money, but he’s mostly just glad that prisons now have a pharmaceutical supplier again. He doesn’t think the death penalty is an effective deterrent if criminals perceive the state as getting cold feet. Louisiana is just so damn lazy and half-assed about everything.
Well, apart from Em’s execution. The state is acting with near-record quickness to execute him after only six months, the team leader proclaims proudly. Sends a good message. He’s glad Em didn’t try to appeal his conviction like all of the other current death row inmates have. That would have really dragged things out.
Does Em follow politics much, the team leader asks? He admits he only used to vote in federal elections, since he figured the GOP would always control Louisiana’s legislature, but this dispute has really opened his eyes. His representatives had different positions on Cherry’s initiative and the pharma company negotiations.
Emmett: No, Em never followed politics. He wishes he did though, to have something to say.
“Thanks for talking to me,” he says.
GM: The team leaders tells Em his execution is scheduled for 9:00 PM tomorrow night and shakes Em’s hand before he leaves. Em’s recorders note, “Execution team leader exits cell and secures door.”
Emmett: He doesn’t realize he’s crying until the man has left.
GM: “9:07 PM; prisoner X989132 is crying,” records the voice outside his cage.
Emmett: The last thing he writes with Cécilia’s pens and notebooks he finishes on the last night of his life.
It is the longest thing he has ever written.
It is almost a Tarantino film, or maybe a Scorsese. It’s one of those movies, a shoot ‘em up pulpfest with beautiful women and handsome, sinister men. The protagonist has a mouth and gets into just as many problems as he talks himself out of. There’s a great scene with a car chase.
At the end of the movie, most of the characters are dead. But our hero with the mouth, he is alive and driving away from his problems, singing faintly along to a song on the radio while his best friend bleeds out in the passenger seat.
The movie ends when he realizes he has forgotten something, and turns the car around.
It’s written to be a moneymaker. All proceeds from the film are to go to a nonprofit dedicated to fighting the overstep of destructive corporate entities like Endron and Malveaux Oil.
Philémon Delacroix sits on the board.
He writes a letter to his father, too.
He describes what he did all those years ago. What he learned, and saw, and did not because he knew no better, but because he thought he was not good enough to do.
If I tell you how sorry I am, it’ll be too late. I am not sorry enough. I only hope that by the time the credits start rolling, you know I am sorrier than you.
GM: His letter gets mailed off. Death row (death watch?) inmates are permitted that much. He thinks about how his father’s face will look upon reading it. His mother’s, too, since they’ll probably share. He wonders if it’s good or bad that it won’t arrive in time for them to attend his execution, or whether they would want to.
At 8:50 PM, exactly 10 minutes before the execution scheduled for 9:00 PM, Em is escorted to the death chamber by several guards. He is handcuffed to his wheelchair. He has a brand new jumpsuit tailored to his measurements, with long pant legs for the lower limbs he no longer possesses. There is even a pair of shoes. The guards regard these with mild annoyance, as if realizing for the first time that Em cannot wear them. They leave both shoes behind in his cage.
Emmett: He thought he would whistle when they brought him here, but he doesn’t.
Just sits. No need to make it harder than it has to be.
Just ten minutes.
He can wait ten minutes.
GM: The execution chamber’s function is unmistakable. Em has had the procedure explained to him at length, but now that he’s in the room, he isn’t sure what the… thing in the center is called. He knows what it is though. No one had to tell him that.
He supposes it’s like death itself that way. Everyone knows what it is. Just not what to call theirs.
Em’s death resembles a dentist’s chair, but there’s no apparent setting to raise it back up. That’s fine. No one who sits down on that ‘chair’ gets back up. Well, no one in a jumpsuit like his. The execution team leader said earlier that his steam straps down one of their own members, just to practice how to do it.
Two different colored telephones hang in each corner of the room. The team leader explained that they connect directly with the governor’s office and the Supreme Court so any possible last minute reprieve can be announced immediately.
For some reason, Em vaguely feels like he made a plea to the governor, or at least thought he was going to.
Clearly nothing came of it.
Maybe it was in another life.
Guards un-cuff Em from his wheelchair and lift him onto whatever the thing in the middle of the room is called. There are some other people too. They look like medics. There’s also the prison’s warden, a craggy-faced and severe-looking man (though Em supposes anyone would look severe under these circumstances) who literally handed the cripple his death a few days ago, in the form of the fancy signed warrant.
Guards strap Em down to the execution seat (that sounds like a good name for it) with hairy-knuckled fists. They pull the leather straps taut against his body and carefully loop them through each steel buckle.
The final two straps at the seat’s bottom, for the prisoner’s ankles, remain empty.
Em stares ahead as the paramedics hook him up to a heart monitor. The curtains on the window to the witness room are closed. Em wonders who is in there.
Maybe his parents made the trip out even if his letter doesn’t arrive in time. That’d suck for them if they hated him when they watched him die and then changed their minds after reading the letter. It’s probably better if they’re not here.
Lena seems more likely to have done that sort of thing. She always was.
Noah and Maya probably aren’t here. Making kids watch this would be cruel.
Maybe Sami’s there. Would she bother to make the trip, or is she having too much fun flamenco dancing and taking trips to Costa Rica?
Maybe Cécilia’s there. Or maybe she feels like they had a good enough heart-to-heart during that last visit.
Maybe Yvette’s there. She’d definitely enjoy watching, if Cécilia hasn’t convinced her not to come. Maybe she just has other things going on.
Who know who’s out there? It could be everyone in Em’s life has turned up to watch him die. Or maybe absolutely no one has at all. There are witnesses for the state, though, the execution team leader explained to Em. Even inmates who nobody cares about have someone to watch them die.
He feels a sting from his left forearms, then his right. The paramedics have hooked two intravenous lines into his veins.
There are reporters too, the execution team leader had added. There are always reporters at these executions. There will probably be even more for this one, as it’s the first execution Louisiana has had in a while. Em will have an audience for his final moments.
The paramedics signal their approval to the execution team leader. Em’s body is stretched out on a board, with his splayed arms resting on cotton-padded planks. They are ready to go ahead.
The prison warden stares down at Em.
“Do you wish to make a final statement?”
His audience is watching.
Emmett: Em’s returning stare is as dead as he’s about to be.
“I deserve to die. But I’m no judge of anything, so don’t take my word for it.”
He’s said everything he cares to say in his scripts.
GM: The execution team leader nods, perhaps in agreement or perhaps simply to signal that the procedure should begin. Perhaps both. Transparent liquid rushes up the tubes to Em’s veins.
It’s all been explained to him. Sodium thiopental, the first of the deadly poison’s three components. Three grams, ten times the amount used by doctors to induce anesthesia in surgery. (The person behind the curtain isn’t a doctor or a nurse. Ethical laws forbid them from administering executions.) Em won’t feel a thing after such a massive dose, the execution team leader told him. It’ll be like going straight to sleep.
The team leader lied.
The transparent poison running into Em’s veins looks no different, but he recognizes the pancuronium bromide from the massive cramps wrenching apart his muscles. He tries to scream past his suddenly constricting throat, but no sound escapes his lungs. His veins burn with fire.
He feels out of breath. Beyond out of breath. Everything is turning black. Fire burns through his lungs. He feels faint, like he’s run a hundred-mile marathon in all of one second, but they won’t let him stop, he’s still running, they’re pushing him, killing him, and there’s something pulling at his heart, tugging, wrenching, slicing, and it feels as if it’s about to explode, and…
He’s running, running, back to his apartment by Cafe Soulé, after Christina Roberts hung up on him. The first card pulled out that sent the entire house tumbling down. “Hey, misser, whassa hurry!” cackles an old black man with a gold tooth.
Too late. That’s why he’s running. It can’t be too late. Not if he’s fast enough…
He runs. Consequences chase after him. He trips and falls, and lands in his sister’s lap. “I understand, Em,” she murmurs as she hugs him close. “I’ll take care of you.”
“It’s going to cost you, though. You do have enough to afford my fees?” she inquires in a low rasp, grinning down with Bert Villars’ face when he pulls back.
“Mmm. Don’t take this the wrong way, Em, but you’re, well, an idiot. You don’t have enough leftover brainpower to spend it pondering how the Dixies do business,” the grimebag lawyer leers, then passes Em a ringing phone that’s covered in dog vomit.
“Go on. It’s for you.”
Emmett: “Wait—this isn’t—” Before he thinks though, he answers the phone.
GM: “Thas’ gooood,” drawls Bud’s bovine voice in his ear. He can all but see the big man’s hearty grin. “Ya’ve taken care o’ it all, Delcroy. Like ya always do. Maybe ya think we’re just gonna ’rest you. Trust us, funny man-”
“-we’re going to do a whole lot worse,” Cash Money snarls, smashing the Jamesons bottle over Em’s head. He pitches forward, vomit sliding off both their faces. He falls, and he bleeds, and he grasps for the spiraling phone. He holds it to his ear. “Sue wants ta say hi,” sounds Bud’s voice.
“Hi!” exclaims Maya.
“Is it too late?” asks Noah.
Emmett: “Yeah,” he croaks. His cheeks are wet. “But just for me, kid.”
GM: “Just for we,” replies a voice from the phone.
It’s a young man’s voice. His words are soft and urgent, verbal perfume; all Em has to do is lean in and listen.
“What should we have done different, anyway? Lied to ourself, and not everybody else?”
Emmett: And Em says it, finally.
“Yeah. Yeah, we should have. We were stupid and selfish and arrogant and we ruined everything. And the reason I’m glad I’m dying is so I don’t have to admit to anybody that I know what I did was wrong. Because I’m still scared of growing up. I’m really, really scared, me.”
GM: There’s a pause from the phone.
A long pause.
Then: “We don’t have to be scared.”
“We should think of that judge, what’s her name. I hear some guys who get the needle die with a boner.”
Emmett: “What does she have to do with it?”
GM: Em’s head doesn’t feel like it’s bleeding anymore.
“We should talk face to face. Wanna come over?”
Emmett: That… isn’t something he expected his inner demons to say.
GM: The next words are still soft, but even more urgent.
“I can’t keep this line open for long.”
Emmett: “Um. What?”
GM: “We had a nice apartment on Royal Street. Still do. We’ve got a supermodel in our bed. I think she’s into twins.”
Emmett: “That’s… a really old fantasy I don’t want to think about right now. What are you doing? Come on, I don’t want to die as confused as I lived.”
Em pushes himself, trying to seize hold of the strange landscape. Tries to focus on the apartment. The fortress of solitude. The tasteless microwaveable food and the tasteful way he arranged the furniture (according to the interior decorator chick he bought home one night, though on reflection she might have been biased at the time). The way the floors were always cold in the mornings and how he always walked barefoot on the wood anyways.
He imagines he has feet. Imagines red heels to click.
“Let’s go home, Toto.”
GM: He clicks his stumps, and he’s back home. A pretty little condo in hell. A figure pulls him arm-first through the mirror.
The young man stretches his legs. His whole legs. He’s a king of two courts, with a crown made of teeth and a smile made of gold. He does not stand. He floats. He’s wearing a suit, a hoodie, a polo and khakis, a poncho—it doesn’t matter. He’s wearing Em down.
He’s his own best friend.
And he’s in control.
“Nothing can keep us down,” says Emmett Delacroix. He could cut himself on that smile, and fall into his laugh.
Emmett: “We always hated Inception. What are we doing?”
GM: “How about her?” Em asks, gesturing towards the bed.
“Yes, Em! Fuck me! Fuck me with your giant cocks!” Caroline moans.
Em smirks. “Would be nice to screw her back, wouldn’t it?”
Emmett: Em looks between himself, himself, and Caroline. “Maybe. But that’s kind of, you know, out of the question now. And she didn’t really do anything to me, did she?”
He frowns. The Malveaux girl. Something sinister about her… what…?
“If anything, I owe her.”
GM: “Wrong. She owes us. She fucked us over pretty hard, didn’t she? Remember how we shat ourselves like a ten-month-old? Didn’t we get enough of that from Nurse Asswiper in the hospital, or is today ‘pretend we’re Mercurial Fernandez’ day?”
Emmett: “That’s shitty even for us,” he grimaces. “But she didn’t have anything to do with that…”
Why does he sound so damn uncertain?
GM: “Oh, then maybe we should just sit on a dildo and be the ones to shout, ‘fuck me with your giant cock!’ if we want to get fucked so badly.”
Emmett: “What did she do? Why do we hate her?”
GM: Em rolls his eyes and glides through the air on his two whole, hale legs. “I swear, this is like talking to Mouse. You at least remember who he is, right?”
Emmett: “Fuck off. I… my head hurts. My head hurts and I’m inside my head.”
GM: “Our ass is what’s going to hurt if you’re so determined to bend over for every person with a hard-on who wants to screw us.”
Emmett: He pinches his nose. “Just… show me. Show me what happened when she came.”
He doesn’t understand what he means by that, except some part of him does, and shivers.
GM: Em smirks. “We know the score.”
He touches Em’s head. The lies fall apart like a narcissistic grifter’s half-baked scheme under a common sense explanation.
Caroline is on the ground, all slobbering over the stumps where his legs used to be. Her tits bounce against the floor. “Fuck me, Em! I’m such a filthy slut!”
Emmett: It comes. It all comes.
“Oh,” he says.
“Oh. My God. She’s as bad as we are. Maybe even worse. Also, what the actual fuck is she?!”
GM: “We know exactly what, Em,” Em replies, stretching out a hand to take Em’s hand. He floats through the air. Weightless. Caroline moans needfully from underneath his stumps. “She’s what we always wanted to be.”
“Well, not that her,” he says with a glance towards the naked Caroline on the floor.
Emmett: “So… what can we do about it?”
GM: “I mean, maybe Mouse would. Probably an upgrade from how he spends his afternoons.”
“And do about what? The drooling slut who’s ruining our carpets?” Em shrugs. “Guess we could house-train her like a dog if she’s gonna slobber like one. Could be funny to see her poop on sidewalks.”
Emmett: “No, the crazy mind-controlling cunt who drove us insane. Insaner. God, I’ve felt so sick these last few months, and I had no idea why. It was her.”
A rage boils up in him. No, he isn’t a good person. No, he isn’t proud, anymore. Yes, he is ready to die.
But she took his head from him. It doesn’t make any sense. It isn’t a fair anger, maybe.
But it’s still there, and Em has never cared about fair before.
“I’m about to die. I’m about to die and she’s going to get away. She’s… she’s a real monster, isn’t she?”
GM: Em nods.
“She fucked us. Hard. You want to fuck her back…”
“…no, not the way you want,” he says, rolling his eyes as he kicks Caroline in the teeth. She curls into a ball and cries for their cock.
Em smiles back at Em, adjusts his jacket, and flashes Em a self-cutting smile.
“You want to fuck her back, we’ll make what happened to Sami look like a kid’s tea party.”
Emmett: “No. I want to do one thing right before it all goes to shit. But I don’t know how.”
GM: “One thing right? Like what?”
Emmett: “Like stop the weird sociopath girl with mind control powers from hurting other people? That seems like proper civic behavior, and hey, we’ve never tried that before.”
GM: Em rolls his eyes. “Pretty sure we just did the last couple months, actually. How’s that been working out?”
Emmett: “Great, until I realized I apparently have something to live for. Hey, by the way, I’m kind of getting sick of what you’re doing.”
GM: “Not doing. We’re not that desperate.” Em snaps his fingers, and the still-moaning Caroline vanishes.
“But hey. You wanna stop her in the real world? Outside our head? We can do that. We can hurt her so bad she won’t be able to hurt anyone else ever again. Remember that plan we had to get her pregnant, slip her an after-pill, then blackmail her for years, because Catholic?”
“I’ve got another plan, and it’s even better this time.”
Emmett: Em continues, refusing to be diverted. “You aren’t a part of me. I’m a lot of things, but I’m mostly a fucking idiot, and it took me a long time to admit that, but once I did, it got reeeeaaall easy to tell myself from the person I pretended to be.”
He moves closer to not-Em.
“I smell a liar.”
“So before you snake-oil me into whatever your plan—which is probably better than whatever I could come up with—I’d like you to drop the me-mask.”
GM: ‘Em’ looks at Em for a moment. Then he smiles. It spreads, slowly, like the stain Caroline’s sliva has left over their carpets.
“Oh, Em. This is too good.”
He laughs a bit, with all the assuredness of someone doing it before an audience who all laugh after him.
“Well, you’re right there’s a few things I’m not telling you. But tell me—tell us—this, Em. What’s the one thing that’s crueler than any lie?”
Emmett: “Coerced dialogue?”
GM: ‘Em’ smirks. “You wanna play cute, Em, we can do that all day. Beats facing what’s behind the mask, doesn’t it?”
Emmett: “Fine. Truth. Go on.”
GM: Em produces a ringing cell phone. It’s streaked with a dog’s vomit. It smells, but even worse than before. It smells like children screaming. It sounds like charred flesh blackening. Em grins widely, and when Em looks into his other self’s eyes, he sees nothing looking back. No reflection. Nothing at all.
“You’ve got a call,” says Em.
Emmett: He raises an eyebrow and takes it.
GM: “Prisoner X89132, time of death; 10:02 PM,” sounds the execution team leader’s impersonal monotone.
There’s a long, shrieking BEEEP!
The phone dissolves in Em’s palm into a handful of ash that rapidly blows away. Thunder rumbles outside Hell’s pretty little condo. Rain falls from a darkening sky.
Emmett: “Are you… so I’m dead? Game over?”
GM: The ground starts to shake underneath his feet. The building moans.
“Game over, Em,” Em smiles.
Lightning flashes outside. Rain pours through holes in the ceiling. The scent of charred flesh fills Em’s nostrils. He’s floating in water instead of air now. The whole apartment is flooded. The current starts to sweep him outside and away.
Em’s smile spreads even wider as he tips a crown made of tarnished, half-blackened gold. It melts in his hands.
“It’s too late.”
The rising floodwaters roar in Em’s ears as they crash against his face. They taste salty. Like childrens’ tears.
Emmett: “What’s your offer?” Em calls as the waters rise, holding out his arms—at least he still has those—to stay afloat. “Since you want her hurt so badly.”
GM: Em laughs and glides over the rising waters to seize Em by the scruff of his prison jumpsuit. Rain pounds into the flooded apartment like a barrage of gunfire.
“I don’t give a fuck about her, Em.”
He laughs. Shrieks, really. The laugh of the defeated. The laugh of the damned.
“I don’t give a fuck about anything.”
He rips off his own legs and tosses the rotting hunks of blackened meat into the still-rising waters.
“You know who I am. You’ve always known who I am. You’ve always listened to me. But even right now, when you get the literal call of death, you’re still in fucking denial.”
“Here’s my offer, Em.”
Em pulls Em close and whispers into his other-self’s ear. The words brim with the poison he’s always felt.
“IT’S TOO LAAAAAAAATTEEE!!!!!!!”
As Em shrieks that final curse, he drops Em into the tear-flavored water with a splash, then rips off his arm, laughing insanely—or perhaps horribly sanely. Em screams, and he’s missing his arm too. There’s blood in the water. He swims, literally on to his last limb. But the roof is collapsing overhead, falling apart like so many ill-considered conmens’ schemes. A phone floats through the red-stained waters, repeating endlessly:
“Prisoner X89132, time of death… 10:02 PM…”
“Prisoner X89132, time of death… 10:02 PM…”
Static garbles through the receiver.
“Prish…ner… ecsh… eyniyn…thweetoo… tiym uv dea…th… 10… 2 PM…”
“Prish… n… ecsh… niyn…thw… too… tiym… dth… ten… two…”
“Prsh… shniyn…th… too… t… dth… ten… too…”
“T… dth… t… too…”
Another phone bobs through the blood-stained, teary waters.
“Say we done got a deal,” comes Bud’s dangerously low drawl.
“Dea…” starts Em’s voice over the phone.
Emmett: It’s so hard. Goddamn, but he’s tired. He’s like a Ken doll some spoiled brat tried to use in a home recreation of Saw.
He just wanted to die.
But this asshole doesn’t get to win without a fight. He wants to take credit for Em’s bad ideas? Great. That means he isn’t a tumor that Lena never spotted. It means he’s worth something, some tiny speck of non-condemned humanity.
This is for you, fuckface. Em. The opposite of ME. Ha. Ha.
He pulls through the water with one arm, literally on his last limb. He screams and gargles water and swallows without drowning.
The phone bobs, Bud’s voice like a street dog purring—strangely, horribly wrong and threatening.
And this? This is for me.
His hand closes around the phone.
“No,” he grates, over his younger, weaker self. “We don’t. Villars lied.”