SUNSET OF FURMANKIND
— by Ted R. Blasingame
Although there had been no description of the event given to him, Brian Barrett had assumed that his execution would take place in a gladiator-type arena, likely broadcast due to his high-profile case. However, when his guards escorted him to the chamber where the sentencing was to take place, he was surprised to see nothing but an empty fifteen-by-fifteen room with grey cinder block walls and a solitary iron door. Light was supplied by a single glowing panel recessed into the ceiling. Brown splatters on the floor, ceiling and all four walls could be nothing more than dried blood from previous executions. There were no cameras in view, so it appeared as if they would shut him in the room with his slayer and simply let the monster slaughter him.
Barrett had long feared this moment and he began to perspire heavily, knowing full well that whatever abomination they put in there with him would be incensed by his fear-smell. His throat tightened and his tongue felt as if it were three times normal size. He tried to swallow, but the knot was too big to get down.
One of the guards removed his leg manacles completely, but when he unlocked one of his wrists, he quickly pulled both hands behind the prisoner and relocked them together instead of taking the manacles off. Barrett looked back at him in horror. He was not going to be allowed even to use his hands to ward off the attack! Was he to be nothing more than a sack of fresh meat for whatever demon they fed him to?
The prisoner felt hot, nauseated and was just a hair trigger away from heaving up his Last Meal.
When the guard finished with the manacles, he simply pushed Barrett into the room and shut the door behind him with a loud bang.
No last words? Barrett thought to himself, amazed that his brain was still functioning through the terror. No final ceremony, reading of the sentencing, or even a last minute reprieve by the Governor. He was simply shoved into the death chamber and now it was probably just a matter of moments before something came through that door to finish him off.
Barrett struggled with his manacles, trying to find a way to either get them off or slip them around his legs to get his hands in front of him, but the chains were too short and drawn up too close to his body to effect such a contortionist act. His movements were getting frantic, his breath was coming in quick, short gasps and his shirt was now completely soaked with sweat.
Then, he froze. A horrendous shriek howled through the thick iron door that set his teeth on edge, and then something huge thumped hard against the panel. He could hear muffled shouts and screams and he suddenly bolted to a far corner of the tiny room, his face pressed up against the cinder block wall.
There were several gunshots and then that something gave out another shriek that penetrated the walls just before the door jumped inward, snapping one hinge into mangled pieces. The light in the small room went out, leaving the chamber in darkness but for dim illumination from the outside hallway. A tremendous silhouette filled the doorway and all Barrett could see were enraged, bloodshot eyes peering in at him over red-stained teeth with gums drawn up into a snarl.
The smell of fresh blood from the corridor told the prisoner that one or more of the guards had met the same fate that he was about to experience. Even from across the room, Barrett could smell the hot, fetid breath of the monstrosity as it growled, and the small part of his brain that could still think could only whimper in hope that his death was swift.
Then the creature pounced in one great leap across the room, its foot-long, serrated claws shredding flesh from his limbs in intense agony while its fangs ripped into his neck, spraying hot blood out across the room. He had expected to lose consciousness immediately, but he retained full awareness as the monster began to devour him alive.
Barrett shrieked and tried to flail his manacled arms, bouncing off a wall as he struggled with the creature, but then it released him, where he plopped broken to the floor. Was it going to leave him half eaten on the floor, or was it simply swallowing bits of him before tearing off another bite? He forced his eyes open through the excruciating pain and the sudden disorientation tipped the tumultuous balance. He simultaneously emptied his stomach and bowels, falling over onto his side in a pool of his own filth, and he heaved time and again even when there was nothing left to expel.
The terror of the attack did not fade instantly and Brian Barrett blubbered into the soft padded floor of the solitary confinement cell, strong sobs wracking his body. It took several moments before reasoning kicked in with the realization that the experience was nothing more than an intense lucid nightmare.
“Oh God!” he croaked hoarsely, burying his face into hands that were surprisingly still attached to his arms. “Oh God, oh God, oh God…”
A moment later, the door opened and a guard drawn by his screams stuck his head inside, only to recoil from the foul stench that assaulted his senses.
Three hours later, Brian Barrett was freshly showered, dressed in clean orange coveralls, and humbled by his mental breakdown. He walked with downcast eyes, seeing nothing more than his own feet while his entourage led him to the visiting room. Although his guards were on the alert, he ignored the other inmates' jeers and rude comments as he passed their cells, and he made no attempt to instigate a fight with any of them.
It was not until his chains were shackled to the iron ring in the floor that he looked up from the plastic chair where he was placed. He lifted his eyes and peered through the glassteel partition at his attorney, William Harper, who merely watched him passively. Barrett reached for the communication handset, an action matched by the lawyer. Harper was dressed to sartorial perfection in a dark grey suit with a pair of muted scarlet ties. His thin leather attaché case lay upon the small counter, its latches as yet untouched.
“Hello, Mr. Barrett. I understand it was urgent that I see you,” the lawyer said into the handset. “I was preparing for a flight to the west coast to research the background on my next client.”
Barrett looked at him incredulously. “My execution is in less than two days — and you were leaving town?”
Harper gave him a simple nod. “With your refusal to consider an alternative, my work with you was done, Mr. Barrett. Have you changed your mind?”
The condemned prisoner leaned forward and put his forehead down upon the counter, keeping the handset beside his face. He hesitated for several heartbeats before he mumbled his reply in a dejected tone.
Lawyer Harper studied the back of the man's head for a moment, licking his lips before speaking. “All right, Mr. Barrett,” he said calmly, “but you almost waited too long. I will not ask what occurred to make you reconsider, but time is short and there is much to be done. I will need to make several calls and start the necessary paperwork immediately.”
“What do I need to do?” Barrett mumbled, his face still down upon the counter.
“Speak of this to no one,” Harper cautioned. “Due to the publicity of your case and the potential backlash that would occur if it became known that you had escaped your death sentence, we will have to arrange for the execution to take place as planned.”
Barrett's head came up quickly. “What?” he exclaimed into the headset.
Harper waved his free hand from side to side. “Don't worry, Mr. Barrett. You will not be on the premises when the time comes. For the sake of Mr. Parker's grieving family, as well as the general public, an announcement will be made shortly after the scheduled time of execution that the sentence has been carried out. Due to the, uh… grisly nature to the method of your execution, there was to be no witnesses to the act itself, neither in person nor video broadcast.”
Barrett paled at the memory of his nightmare and he swallowed automatically. “H-how was it to be done?” he asked.
Harper opened his mouth to reply, but then thought better of what he had intended to say. “That is no longer important,” he answered instead. “I will arrange to have you transported off the grounds before the media arrives, and while you are on your way, I will have a statement prepared to convince all concerned that your sentence was indeed carried out.”
Barrett sat back in his chair, the plastic creaking beneath his weight. “Mr. Harper,” he said quietly into the handset, “I want you to know that my decision was not made lightly. To avoid being torn apart by an abomination, I must now become an abomination. That scares me almost as much as a violent death and I'm not sure how I am to survive such torture.”
The lawyer rubbed his eyes and licked his lips before offering a response. Rather than trying to debate the issue one way or another, he simply decided to continue his instructions as if there had been no interruption.
“Similar to the Witness Relocation Program, you will be given a new identity to separate you from your past history,” he said. “For those who choose the furmankind process willingly, a new identity is an option they may take, but for condemned prisoners such as yourself who accept the transformation as a sentencing, the new identity is mandatory. Unfortunately, it will take several days to set up a new name and background for you, and it is unlikely to be ready by the time you are moved. When you get to the Furmankind Institute, you are to give only your first name to anyone you may encounter. The director of the Institute will know your history, of course, but it would be unwise to admit your identity to anyone else there.”
Barrett nodded. “It's just as well,” he replied tonelessly. “I won't be Brian Barrett anymore, so I may as well have a new name. Where is this institution where the torture will take place?”
“It's located in a secluded area amidst the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York,” the lawyer answered. “The process can take anywhere from one to two years, depending upon the training involved. The first nine months will be the actual transformation, with counseling sessions throughout for psychological adjustment.”
“Nine months, eh? Kinda like a pregnancy,” Barrett observed in an uncharacteristic moment of levity. “Am I going to have to crawl out of some critter's womb?”
Harper fixed him with an icy stare and then continued after clearing his throat. “The remaining months after the transformation will entail formal education of new skills that will prepare you for the Anthro Human Colonization Project prior to your assignment and subsequent space flight.”
Barrett doubted he would have enough intelligence for a formal education after being transformed into a beast, but the idea had merit. He held several degrees already, and although it was unlikely he would get to keep them under a new identity, he had always enjoyed academic study.
“Since you waited until practically the last minute to agree to this alternative,” Harper said, “I must leave now to begin the necessary measures. I may or may not be in touch with you as needed, but before I go, do you have any further questions?”
“Just one. Do I have a choice of which abomination I will become?”
“No,” Harper replied with tight lips. “Due to the nature of your crime, your sentencing specifies that you will become one of the very species that you murdered.”
“You're going to turn me into a mountain lion!”
“Mr. Barrett, depending upon the nature of the crime, condemned prisoners undergoing the change in exchange for their lives such as yourself are often given a delicate surgery to sever certain nerves in the brain; this effectively wipes out all knowledge of their criminal past and renders them malleable for retraining in order to join anthro society. However, in your case, the judge ordered that if you were to take this alternative, you were to be forced to remember your crime while living as the very creature you destroyed. Congratulations are in order, I think. You have just escaped death and now have a new chance at life. Good day, Mr. Barrett.”
— NEXT CHAPTER —
Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.