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SUNSET OF FURMANKIND

— by Ted R. Blasingame

Chapter 4
All God's Creatures

 

To Brian Barrett, the days leading up to his execution came and went without distinction. He had no calendar in his cell and he no longer asked the date from his guards. He did not sit idle, however. Determined not to make himself the victim of a deranged animal, Barrett began picking fights with the most dangerous men that he could find within the prison population.

Within the first week of Harper's visit, Barrett had assaulted seven men, but his plans did not go as well as he had hoped. He had sustained injuries for his efforts, but none was life-threatening. His wounds were easily treatable with modern medical techniques, so he determined to put more effort into each brawl he began.

A month closer to his execution date, Barrett was in solitary confinement on suicide watch. He had not yet been confined to wearing a straight-jacket, but his high ceiling room was well padded and well lit. When he was not sleeping, he simply stared up at the monitoring camera well out of reach and waited for his meals. The hours and days flowed into one another, his once-sharp mind becoming numb from boredom and fatigue.

Then, a week away from the end of his existence, he was called out of his solitary cell in the basement of the prison complex, bound by chains with manacles upon his arms and legs and escorted through the halls of Death Row between a team of eight armed guards. An inmate with a low forehead and cauliflower ears jeered through the bars of his cell, making violent threats toward him. His words were mumbled through the bandages wrapped around the lower half of his face, the result of Barrett's previous attempt to entice the man into a fight.

Barrett pretended to stumble on his ankle chains and purposely maneuvered himself near the man's cell with his head down. In a flash, a thick arm flashed out between the iron bars and wrapped itself around Barrett's throat. The guards sprang into action to beat off the man with shouts and the butts of their rifles, but the arm held fast in an effort to crush the windpipe within its clutches. Before any permanent damage could be done, however, the guard struck the inmate's injured jaw; the man howled in agony and released the struggling Barrett, who collapsed to the floor, his lungs heaving to replenish their air supply.

Two of the guards hoisted Barrett up to his feet, and Crane leaned in close to the gasping man while the inmate with the cauliflower ears stumbled back to his bunk.

“Nice try, Barrett,” the man sneered, “but you'll not get off that easy! If you want to die so badly, just wait for your turn. You only have another six days until your execution.” Barrett swallowed with difficulty and then gathered enough spit to put into the guard's face as his reply. The man cursed, wiping off the spittle, but he only brushed it off onto Barrett's orange coveralls.

“C'mon,” Crane growled. “You don't deserve this visit, but I have my orders.”

“Who is it?” Barrett asked in a raspy voice. “Harper?”

“No, you're going to see the preacher, courtesy of the Warden.”

“Back to m'cell,” Barrett gasped after a hard swallow. “Don't want a preacher.”

The guards continued to drag him along the corridor. “You don't have a say in the matter,” another guard told him. “You'll go back to your padded room after he's done saving your soul.”

Barrett growled as well as his constricted throat would allow, but said nothing more. His entire entourage passed through a set of sliding doors into the next room and then turned a corner into the brighter corridor lined with black and white checkered floor tiles.

“Prisoner 374937 is here to meet his visitor,” said one of the lead guards.

The clerk looked up through thick glasses at a clipboard and then nodded. “Cubicle seven,” he stated in monotone, turning to thumb his print against the pad beside the door. He punched a code into an adjacent screen and then the door slid aside for them.

Barrett was taken along the familiar long row of thick transparent cubicles. Due to his recent violent tendencies toward other inmates, the room was currently unoccupied save for one plastic chair. As the prisoner was taken to his seat, a well-dressed man in a dark brown suit and an amber set of ties in the latest fashion stood up to greet him from the opposite side of the glassteel partition.

Several guards stood by with their firearms aimed at Barrett's head while another knelt down to lock his leg chains to an iron ring embedded in the floor beneath the small tabletop. Barrett waited until the guard had retreated before he sat down hard in the plastic chair beneath him. Satisfied that the prisoner remained peaceful, the armed entourage left him alone with his visitor.

Barrett put his arms up on the counter ledge and put his head down upon them.  The visitor tapped on the glass and Barrett looked up at him through bleary eyes. “Whatdya want?” he mumbled. Although they could not hear one another, the other man read his lips well enough to point toward the communication handset.

Barrett hesitated, but then sighed as he lifted his handset from its cradle. “Yeah?” he grumbled into the mouthpiece.

The visitor sat down and gave him a courteous smile through the glass. “Hello, Mister Barrett,” he said in a rich baritone voice, “My name is Lloyd Gibson.” Barrett raised an eyebrow at the man, amazed that such a voice belonged to the individual before him. Gibson was fully as tall as himself, having thick arms beneath shoulders so wide that a linebacker would be proud to possess. His dark hair was trimmed short, but long sideburns traced down his cheeks and connected across his upper lip in a thick mustache. His face and hands were weathered and tanned, and he was as solid as any fighter that Barrett had ever seen. The man looked out of place in a suit and ties.

“You don't look like a priest,” Barrett mumbled.

“No sir, I am not a priest,” Gibson replied. “Up until recently, I was a deep sea fisherman by trade, but saved from sin by the grace of God.  I was told you had a lot of free time on your hands and thought this might be a good opportunity to visit with you.”

Barrett rubbed his throat, the wrist manacle clanking against the counter top. He swallowed to get some feeling back in his vocal cords and then he sat up in his chair. “Can't talk much,” he said in a raspy voice. “Someone jus' tried to throttle me.”

Gibson frowned, but nodded. “In that case, I'll try to do enough talking for us both.”

“Go ahead, I have nowhere to go.”

“Mr. Barrett, I know about your crime and conviction, as well as your refusal to an offer by the court for an alternative to execution.” Barrett merely stared back at him impassively, neither confirming nor denying his words. “I know that many people share your attitudes toward Furs, but whether or not they have fur or bare skin, they are men. We have come a long way in the past century to put our prejudices behind us, so I fail to understand this attitude.”

Barrett swallowed and rubbed his throat again. “Did you know that all dogs are descendant from wolves?” he asked. 

Gibson blinked at the non-sequitur, but nodded. “I have heard this theory, yes.”

“Although they began as wolves, there are now many kinds of dogs, all shaped over the ages to the whim of their breeders, but they are all still variations of wolves, just as all various races of men are still men. Dogs can only mate and make more puppies, just as men and women can only mate and make babies.” He paused to clear his throat; he was talking more than he had anticipated. “A dog humping a woman is not going to produce a baby… or a puppy, so tell me, what is a Fur?  It is neither natural nor native to the Earth, yet you are trying to make them a part of us, even trying to give them the same rights. Not even our dogs and cats have our rights, Mr. Gibson.”

“Furs may seem unnatural and an abomination to you, but they are still God's creations.”

“Mr. Gibson, I may not be a Christian, but I do believe in God. I cannot see man's tampering with His creation to merge humans and animals as being something blessed. Man was always meant to rule over animals, but merging the animals with man does not raise their status. It only lowers the men who allowed themselves to be ruined.”

Gibson gave the prisoner a momentary frown. “Even if you place the Furs down on a level with common critters,” he said, “God has long used animals for His purposes, some of them even talking with men.”

“I don't remember any talking animals mentioned in the Bible,” Barrett huffed.

“The serpent in the Garden of Eden spoke with Eve, and although the snake was later cursed, its speaking did not surprise her; it is conceivable that the other animals spoke with those first humans as well. It was only after the Fall of Man that talking animals were only seen when used of God, such as the time Balaam's donkey turned and spoke to him, warning of an angel of the Lord who was waiting to kill the man if he did not change his ways.”

“You made that up.”

“Numbers 22, verses 21 through 34,” Gibson replied automatically. “I can make sure you are supplied with a Bible if you wish to look it up.”

Barrett sighed and rubbed his throat again, wishing he had something to drink. “I had one of those free Gideon Bibles before I got myself thrown into solitary,” he replied.  “I read through it some, but they're only just stories.”

Gibson smiled at him. “I don't agree with you, but let me tell you a story,” he said, resting his arms upon the counter on his side of the partition. “Five years ago, I was just a king crab fisherman on the SS Juzo Okita near the Dutch Harbor of Alaska. It was a hard and rugged life, but I have always enjoyed the sea and hard work. When we put into port to unload our catch, the captain informed us that we would be taking on a new mate for training and experience in preparation for colonization on a newly discovered world that was ninety-percent seawater. We had a high turnover rate on the crew, so we thought nothing about it until the new person reported for duty.

“Our new crewmate was an Ursis furman, a grizzly bear. Rudolph Hutton had just finished the training that follows the transformation process and he needed the experience that we could give him. There was a fair amount of prejudice on the ship, and I am sure the captain received numerous complaints about the fuzzy greenhorn's presence, but over time, Rudy proved himself a capable member of the crew.  He had expected the treatment he got from the crew, and although we did not make it easy for him at times, he took it all with grace.

“During his second month with us, a worn crane cable on the working deck snapped and a seven hundred pound trap pot swung free in the ocean swells and slammed into me. Fortunately, it was only a glancing blow, but it broke my left leg in two places. Rudy got me below deck and tended to me as well as any other man on board. We were on our second day out and the captain refused to take me back to port, so I was confined to my bunk for the duration of that voyage. During his time off shift, Rudy kept me company and we became friends.”

Barrett snorted. “Do I really need to hear how you trained a bear to catch king crabs in Alaska and then made him your pet?” Gibson frowned at the interruption, but then continued as if Barrett had not spoken.

“I was out of commission for that trip out, and although we had medical insurance benefits, I did not earn my part of the haul since I was doing no actual work. I was in a surly mood, and even though I had berated Rudy with the rest of the crew at first, it took some time before I realized that he was no different from the rest of us. Although he now wore a permanent fur coat and had different hands than mine, he still possessed the mind and soul of the man he had always been.”  Barrett opened his mouth for a sarcastic remark, but Gibson continued, not giving him the chance to interject.

“Rudy and I became friends, and after a while he started telling me about his beliefs.  Rudy had been a Christian for several years and wanted to share his experiences with me.  I was reluctant to hear what he had to say, but I was a captive audience and eventually began to listen to what he had to say.”

“Are you trying to convert me?” Barrett growled.

“Believe it or not, that was not my purpose for telling this story,” Gibson replied patiently.

“Okay, so what is your purpose of this? I'm not really interested.”

“My intention was to show you that whether they are called human or furman, they are still the men and women that God created. Yes, the furmankind process changed their outward appearances, but that can be considered nothing more than the reconstructive and replacement surgeries we have been doing over the past century. Keeping it in that perspective, Mr. Barrett, you should reconsider your refusal to undergo the transformation.”

Barrett sat back in his plastic chair and crossed his manacled arms across his chest as much as they would reach. “You just don't get it, do you?” he asked darkly.  “My fiancé… the woman whom I thought loved me — who had been happily planning our wedding — was secretly humping that… abomination!  And you think that by becoming one of those things will make it all better?”

Gibson drew himself up and for once looked as imposing as he appeared. “Mr. Barrett — whether or not Henry Parker was human or furman is not the issue.  You confessed to murder, and that is the crime for which you have been convicted with a sentence to die. The death penalty in this state is carried out by lethal injection in a process that hasn't changed much in decades, but in cases where Furs are involved, then the penalty for death of a Fur is death by a Fur. The option to join the AHCP as an alternative to this fate was enacted only a few years ago, and it is the only redemptive option open to you aside of death.”  Barrett's brow furrowed, but he said nothing.

Gibson's stance softened and he added, “Mr. Barrett, you claim to believe in God, but with your refusal of redemption in any form, you will be meeting Him very soon.  Sir, even if you and I never meet again, I implore you to reconsider. One of the benefits of the furmankind transformation is that although the DNA of a terrestrial animal is combined with that of a human, the human lifespan is one of the strengths carried over into the new form. According to your records, you would turn thirty-six years old at your next birthday. As a Fur, you would have the likelihood of living another thirty-six years or more, but as you are now, you have just six days left.”

Lloyd Gibson moved the handset to his other ear, resting his free hand upon the small counter top, and watched the Death Row inmate quietly. Several emotions played across Brian Barrett's face, but the one that ended up in the eyes of the prisoner was one of resignation.

He looked through the glassteel partition and gave the man a nod. Gibson began to smile, but when Barrett spoke again, his assumption was shattered.

“Thank you for your time, Mr. Gibson,” Barrett said in a calm voice. “I will put in a good word for your efforts when I go meet God.” He then hung up the communication handset without looking at the other man's shocked expression.

NEXT CHAPTER

Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.