SUNSET OF FURMANKIND
— by Ted R. Blasingame
Brian Barrett paced back and forth in the special holding cell for Death Row inmates awaiting that final walk to execution. He had just finished his Last Meal consisting of chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes with country cream gravy, sweet corn on the cob, buttered rolls, iced tea, and a large piece of Key Lime pie. His taste buds and his stomach were satisfied, but his mind was racing in fear. He was not a man normally besieged by a fear of life, but it was not life that was facing him. It was a violent death.
He looked up at the large numerals displaying the time within the wall outside his cell and then swallowed in apprehension. Barrett had received no further word from lawyer Harper since that meeting two days earlier where he had swallowed his pride and agreed to accept transformation into a mindless beast in exchange for avoiding a violent slaughter. He had expected to be transported away from the prison long before now, but the date of his execution had arrived and now he was only two hours away from facing the abomination that would end his life.
At his jailer's instruction, he had showered, shaved and donned a fresh set of orange coveralls, and then was led to the holding cell for his last meal. His appetite now sated, he had nothing but time on his hands as the clock silently took him ever closer to eternity. He had neither the news nor magazine display to occupy his mind, so he paced his cell muttering obscenities beneath his breath that were directed at the lousy lawyer who had abandoned him.
Through the walls of the compound, he had heard the deep thrup thrup thrup heralding the arrival of a helicopter moments earlier, no doubt a media team to cover the end to his story.
The night after the meeting with Harper, he had slept peacefully, the first time in weeks, but when no word had come all through the next day, he began to get worried. The same dream of facing the abomination haunted him again, to the same result at waking up. Now so close to the real execution, Barrett was amazed that he'd even had an appetite to eat his meal and keep it down.
Guards and administrators had been traversing the corridor outside his holding cell all morning, so he barely even noticed when two security guards appeared at his door. The electronic lock disengaged with a loud clunk, and the condemned prisoner looked up in alarm. Was it time already?
“Brian Delano Barrett,” said one of the men, “come with me.” In the months that he had been held in this prison, Barrett thought he knew every guard by sight. He recognized the one who had just opened his cell, but he had never seen the other who had spoken his name. The common uniform of the prison complex was slate grey, but this man's outfit was solid black without a spot of color or insignia to offset his garments. His hair, and even his eyes, appeared to be jet black as well. Perhaps this was the look of the final executioner.
Barrett stepped out of the cell as directed and followed the man in black. The other guard did not accompany them, but instead stayed behind to attend some other task.
For a guard, Barrett thought the newcomer was rather small to handle a prisoner like himself, especially if he decided to rebel at the last minute, but there was confidence in his eyes that quietly assured that he could take care of himself. Barrett followed him mutely along the corridor, wondering if they had moved up the hour of his execution or if the time displayed outside his cell was wrong. Whatever the reason, it was time to die.
Barrett looked around curiously. The man in black was his only guardian. Others in the corridor had strangely vanished from sight, as if purposely abandoning him on his way to the death chamber. The prisoner frowned and pressed his lips together tightly.
After several moments, the black guardian opened up a door marked as a custodial closet. “Inside,” he said calmly. Barrett looked at him as if he were mad, but did as he was told. The dark room, however, was larger than he expected. The man followed him inside and closed the door behind him. He flipped a switch and Barrett saw a long, dimly lit corridor with large water pipes and smaller electrical conduits lining both walls and the ceiling, accompanied by the smell of dust and years of mildew.
“This way, Mr. Barrett,” his companion said, heading up the passageway.
A few moments went by before Barrett's curiosity got the best of him. “Is this where you keep the beast that's going to kill me?” he asked quietly. “I figured it would be up in an auditorium where the sadistic cretins of the media could watch.”
The man in the black uniform stopped and looked up at him. “Excuse me, but were you under the impression you are on the way to your execution?”
That took Barrett by surprise. “Uh, yeah,” he replied. “Today's the day I'm supposed to die, isn't it?”
The guard looked at him oddly. “Yes, today is the day of your scheduled execution, but I thought you were aware of the plan to remove you from the premises beforehand.”
“You… you mean that lawyer Harper is behind this?”
“I am not familiar with your attorney, Mr. Barrett, but I have orders to transport you to upstate New York. Your transfer was granted by the judge and cosigned by the warden.”
It took a moment for the man's words to sink in, and when it did, Barrett suddenly felt light-headed. He backed up against a set of chilled water pipes and then lowered his head.
“Are you all right, Mr. Barrett?” his companion asked in concern, placing his hand on the prisoner's shoulder.
Barrett nodded and then looked up at the man in black with new eyes. “Yes, I'm fine,” he replied after clearing his throat. “It just took me by surprise, that's all.”
“Didn't you agree to this?” the guard asked.
Barrett straightened up and thrust his hands into his pockets. “Well, yes,” he said, “but that was two days ago. I've not heard anything from my lawyer since, so I assumed it was denied by someone higher up. I was convinced today was my last day on earth.”
“I'm sorry you anguished needlessly,” said the other man. “You should have been informed beforehand. If we can continue, we'll get you out of this place before the media arrives.”
“I think they're already here. I heard them land earlier,” Barrett said when they resumed walking along the dim passage.
“That was me,” his companion explained. “We have a long way to go and it was decided to avoid the roadways, so you're to be airlifted off the premises.”
“Wow,” Barrett said with a genuine smile.
“I am told that the media will be given a story how you were executed at the hands of a deranged Fur, with your remains later cremated. As far as the public is concerned, Mr. Barrett, justice was served when you were executed as planned.”
“What about the deranged monster?”
“I'm sure they'll arrange to feed it something large and bloody as a consolation to your absence. Don't worry about it — it's no longer your concern.”
They approached a common metal door at the end of the corridor, but before the guard opened it, Barrett asked him, “Listen, I appreciate this. What is your name?”
The shorter man looked up and replied, “Tom Williams, aviation First Officer for the AHCP.”
“Thank you, Tom, please call me Brian. I am very pleased to see you today.”
Williams opened the door and gestured Barrett inside. They entered what looked like a maintenance garage and the guard pulled the door closed behind them. A long work bench with tools hanging from pegs on the wall above it occupied one side of the room. Lockers with garden tools, metal cables, locks, manacles, and other oddments were on the other, and Tom led him around several riding mowers parked in the middle.
Beside a door with a small square window that let in the outside sunlight was a soft-sided suitcase. Tom stopped beside it and nudged it with a toe. “There's a full change of clothing for you in here, all in your sizes,” he said. “There's no need to take your coveralls with you.”
Barrett chuckled. “Thanks,” he said. “Orange isn't my color, anyway. I've been told it clashes with my hair.”
Tom walked to the door and said, “I will be back for you in just a moment.” He stepped out through the door, giving Barrett a few moments of privacy to change.
Barrett found a white undershirt, a long-sleeved, dark green cotton collar shirt and a pair of denim jeans. There was even a change of underwear, belt, socks, and a pair of western style boots. Anxious to leave before someone changed his mind, he changed clothes, shoving the old prison garments into the now-empty clothing bag.
He decided not to wait for Tom to come back for him, so he opened the door and stepped out into the sunshine, rolling the sleeves of his new shirt up to the elbows. The cool autumn breeze was lightly tainted by the smell of a nearby garbage dumpster, but the outside air had never tasted so sweet as to the man who had been convinced that he had been about to die. He could see white-topped mountains in the distance to the west over the prison walls and guard towers, and as he looked up, there were only high cirrus clouds overhead.
“Are you ready to go?” Tom's voice asked from his right.
“Am I ever!” the prisoner replied.
Tom handed him a black knit cap. “Here, cover up your head in case someone sees you.” Barrett took the cap without a word and put it on, tucking his short red hair beneath it. He followed the man in black around a panel truck, and it was then that Barrett saw the vehicle of his escape. The flying machine had the appearance of an airplane, but its engine fan blades were above the wings facing the sky, resembling thick helicopter rotors. “Is that an Osprey?” he asked in awe. He had seen photos of the antique, tilt-rotor aircraft, but never one with his own eyes.
The craft was an archaic design from an age before anti-gravity repulsors, but that kind of technology required a lot of power and was expensive to operate, the principle reason why air-cars and other floating vehicles of the proverbial future had never really caught on. Despite the advances in levitation technology, it was simply too cost prohibitive for anyone but the super-rich. Although exponentially more efficient than their early predecessors, mechanical vehicles such as cars, trucks, buses and airplanes were still in use.
“Yes, Brian. That's our ride,” Tom replied. “It's old, but it's been refurbished with more modern systems and is still reliable for our uses.”
Tom led him up to the aircraft and showed him the way up inside to the troop compartment. Barrett blinked when he saw the comfortable interior of the modified craft. In place of the standard fold-down seats that were common in military aircraft of this nature, the compartment resembled the First Class section of a commercial airliner, containing six rows of comfortable looking seats in sets of four. The ceiling left little room for Barrett's height, but he was able to move around without having to bend over.
“Do you need to use the restroom before we leave?” Tom asked, pointing to the door of the facilities at the rear of the compartment.
“No, I'm good.”
“Okay, then. Have a seat and fasten your safety harness,” Tom instructed. “We will be lifting off in a moment.”
“Are you flying this bird?”
Tom smiled. “I'm the copilot, but once we're in the air and cruising, I will be back to check in on you.”
“How long will we be in the air?”
“Altogether, almost seven hours, with dinner and a refueling stop in Chicago. There's a pocket on the side of the first seat that has today's paper if you wish to see it. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to get up front.”
“Okay, Tom, see you in the air.”
The copilot disappeared through the front pressure door, leaving Barrett to himself. He sat down in the first seat, buckling himself in, and then pulled off the cap. He dropped it on the seat beside him and then smoothed down his hair with a hand. Almost immediately, he could feel the compartment pressurizing, so he closed his eyes and awaited the craft to begin moving while wishing he had some chewing gum.
A moment later, the engines started up and there was a vibration throughout the compartment. He heard the rotors spin up faster and faster, and then without warning, he felt the craft leave the ground. Since the prison was not equipped with an air strip, the Osprey took off vertically, but once it had gained sufficient altitude, the engines rotated and horizontal flight engaged. Fortunately for Barrett, the passenger compartment was well insulated against the sound of the engines, but a constant rumble was ever present in the background. There were no windows for him to look out, but he had no desire to look back upon the prison grounds anyway.
With nothing else to do but wait, he unfolded the local newspaper that had been provided for him. The primary headlines concerned a major earthquake that had rocked central Japan, but he frowned at a secondary headline topping a set of columns on the right hand side of the page. “Convicted Furman Killer to Die Today.” Accompanying the article was a photo of him in profile, taken during his trial.
Twenty minutes later, Tom opened the pressure door and came in. Over the black uniform, he now wore standard military flight coveralls. He held a canvas satchel in one hand and handed it to Barrett before taking a nearby seat.
“How are you doing?” he asked while he buckled his belt.
“I'm feeling… relieved,” Barrett answered truthfully. “When you came for me wearing all black, I saw you as nothing more than the Death Angel!”
Tom chuckled. “Sorry about that, but it's my official uniform with the AHCP.”
Barrett tried to hand the satchel back over to him, but Tom waved it away. “That's for you, Brian.”
“What is it?”
“Information about the Institute you will need,” he replied. “There's orientation material, a map of the estate grounds and some personal information concerning your situation. I was to give it to you when we were on our way and answer any questions you may have.”
Up until that moment from when the man in black had arrived, Barrett had not given further thought to the rest of his sentencing. He may have just missed an execution, but now he had to face transformation into one of the beasts he loathed – a creature neither human nor animal, but something stuck somewhere in between. If he had a mind left after the process was completed, he was sure that every time he looked into the mirror, he would only see the face of his ex-fiancé's lover staring back at him; he wondered how long it would take him to go insane from such daily psychological torture.
— NEXT CHAPTER —
Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.