On The Farm

Angola

Louisiana State Penitentiary

 17  June, 2005

Two lumbering spindly men in black suits sit on one side of a table in a frigid interrogation room. Both wear black Trilby hats. They have the whitest skin Vincent has ever seen. Dark blue veins are visible at their temples, on their hands, and around their eyes. The corrections officers are told to beat it. Vincent guesses they’re FBI or CIA, or that they came from Area-51. Maybe they just came from the Stennis Space Center. Vincent had told no one the actual story of how his wife and her lover died. He’s curious how these men know that anything out of the ordinary happened. 

“Mr. LaRoche, you need to explain your story to us. We don’t care how bizarre it is. Just tell us.”

“Can I get a cigarette?” Vincent asks.

“We’ll get whatever you want as long as you talk to us.”

“Alright then,” says Vincent. “I’ll tell you what happened. But you won’t believe me.”

“We’ll believe you.” The man doing all the talking waves his hand toward the second man, and the second man leaves the room. “Mr. Brown is going to get your cigarettes. Please, while we wait, start your story.”

“I’ll tell you. I been waiting on my appeal for eight years. Eight years of cold steel toilets, lumpy thin mattresses, and eating slop from metal trays probably made from recycled toilets. We’re, all of us, in solitary confinement on death row at The Farm. We ain’t even got air condition. I been sweating in a cell the size of a tiny bathroom with no window for eight years, waiting to know when I’m going to die. It’ll probably happen before they ever give me the chair- me dying, I mean. They don’t really give you the chair no more. Gruesome Gertie was retired in the Seventies. The death’s supposed to be more humane now, but they can hang me for all I care. I’m dying either way, so who gives a shit?

“They got a guy just came in last week, Clyde Burser. He’s probably twenty-five, about five-eight, curly blonde hair and bright green eyes. He cries so much, his eyes remind me of when Mallory got the conjunctivitis once. Her eyes were green like Clyde’s.

“Clyde’s cell is next to mine. He prays real loud all night asking God for forgiveness. It makes me laugh. ‘God’s forgiveness ain’t going to help you,’ I holler to him. Because God don’t forgive you ‘til you die anyway, right? He better pray his appeal goes in front a sympathetic jury, I tell him. One that believes he killed his own momma in self-defense. His own momma. 

“The guy on the other side of me is Frank Aucoin. He’s been waiting on his appeal for twenty years. He’s sixty-two, got prostate cancer. One night he woke us all up hollering and screaming his spooge was bloody. Doctors gave him six months. That was two years ago. He’s six-two, weighs about a buck ten, can’t barely hold himself up, and he shits himself on the regular. He’s got a sister who comes once a week after Sunday services. She says it’s a miracle he’s still alive. I say it’s karma.

“I was twenty-one when I came to The Farm. Since then I only known one man been sent to the Chamber, and that was Howard Saucier, The Crescent City Cutter. Murdered twenty-two male sex workers by slicing them down the middle. 

“Howard wasn’t scared to die, or he pretended not to be. But he sure never let on if he was scared because he was one jovial motherfucker; that’s the truth. I used to think if Howard wasn’t deranged, he’d be a cool guy to hang with. He was lofty as a loon, and that’s the truth, too. He had clear blue eyes, the kind you think belong to Lucifer. There wasn’t no repentance in them eyes. 

“Howard wasn’t no dumb ass, either. When he got his book allowance he always picked the real big ones. I used to think of Mallory telling me I should read more. ‘If you read more you’d broaden your vocabulary,’ she said. I didn’t need to broaden my vocabulary. I did just fine with the one I got, I said. Mallory was always making like I was a dipshit. Well, maybe I am a dipshit. But it didn’t do nothing to save her in the end, so fuck her and her vocabulary.

“Howard’s people had money, and they sent him to some rich kid private boys’ school until he was sixteen, he said, and then he was kicked out for assaulting the school nurse. ‘I just wanted a taste,’ Howard said.

“He went to juvenile, but they had to let him go when he turned twenty-one. While he was locked up in juvenile detention, he got his G.E.D., and he went to college when he got out. Then he went to medical school, because he liked to dissect things, he said. He told me a story once about the first time his class cut open a cadaver. ‘I came in my pants,’ he said.

“I’m not too sure about Howard’s religion, but he read the Bible a lot. He always liked the stories where God smote mankind because He got pissed off for one reason or another. Some of the stories I remembered from Bible study, sitting in the rectory with twelve other kids and my thighs sticking to the plastic chairs in the summer. It was hot as hell because they only had one of them window air condition units. Still not as hot as it gets in here during the summer, though.  Howard told me one time, ‘I can get behind a God who persecutes His own creations. Divine retribution.’ Howard was real big on making people pay for what they done.

“He liked to fuck with the guards, too. They ignored him most of the time. Sometimes he went too far, and they had to handle-up on him. It riled everybody up when that happened. Like this once when he was let out for gate time, Howard attacked the guard and bit him on the neck- just like Dracula. Five guards jumped him and they threw him back in his cell after roughing him up pretty good. I overheard them saying they didn’t want to have to send him to medical. We was all on lock-down after that.

“Howard was little calmer when he was let out of his cell again. That wasn’t too long before he moved down the line. We didn’t know because they don’t tell us when an inmate is moved for execution. Only the warden knows, but one day Howard was taken out for his shower time, and he never came back. They could’ve plugged him and threw him out in the cotton field for the crows and turkey vultures, for all I know. I figured he went to the Chamber. We all got a little quieter after that. I guess it sounds weird to say somebody would miss a guy like Howard, but I did, a little. He never done me nothing.”

“Mr. LaRoche, could you please just get to the details about what happened the day you killed your wife and her lover?”

“I’m getting to it!” Vincent snaps. “I need a minute to remember. And I AIN’T murdered nobody. Get that right. Now what was I saying? Oh yeah. . . “ Vincent lights his third cigarette.

“Every Sunday the chaplain comes to give Communion and for confession.  I don’t trust him. Looks like he’s probably a pedo. I don’t got nothing to confess, anyway. I already gave my confession to the cops. And when the judge asked me how I plead, I said guilty because I knew I was going down either way. I don’t got nothing to say to no stupid chaplain. I tell him to go see Clyde.

“After the chaplain leaves we’re let out in the yard for an hour. I don’t keep a calendar, but sometimes I can tell what time of year it is by the weather. Sometimes. But down here it can be eighty degrees in the winter, so I don’t never know. I don’t want to know. I just know three times a week I get to go outside, and sometimes it’s hot and sometimes it ain’t. If it’s raining we got to wait for the next day. And if the sky is clear and the sun is beating us down, we sit there holding our hands over our eyes until the guards say it’s time to go back in. Some guys exercise or jog around the yard, but I rather just sit by Frank and breathe the fresh air. What I got to be in shape for?

“My lawyer, Art, usually comes once every couple weeks. It depends on how much he’s got court. He said he can’t get me off but he can get me out of the death penalty. He thinks he can, anyway. . . But I been here eight years, and I don’t want to go to general population. I don’t want to work in the fields. Besides, I don’t share my cell with nobody. I get to shower by myself, except for the guards watching me.

“I ain’t going to lie. I was real scared at first when I got here. Especially because they was giving me death, and I didn’t want to die. But now I figure ain’t nothing to live for anyway. What I got to look forward to? Prostate cancer and bloody spooge, like Frank? I might as well die here. Got to die someplace.

“‘Vince, I’m working hard on your appeal,’ Art always says. ‘I’m not giving up on you. I think I can get your charges reduced to manslaughter. With time served you might only be looking at ten or twelve more years. Louisiana has the highest rate of commuting death sentences.’

“Ten or twelve more years, like it’s a consolation. Not that I wouldn’t want to be free to walk right out of here and go home. If I had a home. But I ain’t. And I don’t think Art’s going to get me out, but my momma keeps paying him with my daddy’s social security, and he keeps taking her money. I don’t have the heart to tell my momma I’m going to die here. So, I don’t say nothing.

“I went to court about six months ago. It was summer. The needle on the outdoor thermometer was wobbling between one-ten and one-twenty. My balls was wet and hot,” Vincent laughs. “And, they was sticking to my thighs.” 

“My momma bought me a new suit because my old one didn’t fit no more, seeing as all the weight I lost. It was a tan color, and the tag said it was seersucker. It probably cost more than my momma could afford. I got cleaned up and dressed and brushed my hair and shaved and waited for Art.

“The courtroom was real cold compared to outside. My fingers felt like frozen fish sticks. Art was talking to the jury, and my momma was sitting behind me. I could hear her sniffling the whole time. I wanted to turn around, but I wasn’t supposed to. Art gave me a yellow legal pad and a rubbery, bendy pen. They make them like that for safety reasons, to make sure you ain’t going to jab it in somebody’s neck or nothing. I ain’t had nothing to write, so I scribbled some drawings like you do when you’re bored in school and the teacher won’t shut up. Plus I wanted to look busy and not like I was just sitting there doing nothing like a psychopath. Because I AIN’T one!

“I thought of Mallory. I drew her face, the way it was when we met. I colored in her dark hair. She kept it long back when we started dating. I bet that asshole Nate was the one told her to cut it. ‘He stimulates my mind,’ she said one time. It wasn’t the only thing he was stimulating, I thought. 

‘Your honor, members of the jury,’ Art said, ‘I think we can all agree that what my client Mr. Vincent LeRoche-a man with no prior criminal record-experienced on the date of June seventeenth nineteen-ninety-seven was an unconscious rage, a type of temporary insanity if you will, brought on by blind fury and the heat of passion.’

“I scratched out Mallory’s face. I didn’t want to see it no more. That wasn’t her real face. Nobody would believe it. But I wasn’t crazy, and I wasn’t lying. I can’t really say what I walked in on the day I supposedly became a murderer.”

“Yes, finally! Tell us what occurred just that day, Mr. LaRoche,” says one of the men in dark suits, peevish and exacerbated.

“I had left work early because I was feeling bad. I was feeling bad for a while, and Mallory was giving me some weird ass medicine every night. It made me real dizzy, and then I fell asleep fast. The liquid was thick and red, and sometimes it looked like it had bugs wiggling in it. Mallory told me not to be stupid. There wasn’t no bugs in it. It was just pieces of herbs. I don’t know nothing about herbs or none of that shit. She gave me the medicine. She was my wife, so I took the damn medicine. Even though it didn’t do nothing to stop my stomach from hurting and bubbling all the time.

“Like I said, I went home early that day. There was a second car in the driveway when I pulled up. I figured it was Nate’s car. I got pissed off, more mad than I ever been in my life. I took my .9mm Beretta out of the glovebox in my pickup. 

“When I walked in the house, I heard nauseating sounds coming from mine and Mallory’s bedroom. Banging sounds, squashy sounds, and growling. It sounded like two komodo dragons fighting to the death in a tub of Jell-O. I got my pistol ready and kicked in the door. 

“Two giant reptile-looking alien creatures was in my bed. They was huge. Their skin was a shiny, pitch-black color. They was covered in slime, too. I don’t know if these alien things were fucking or what. 

“I screamed ‘What the fuck!’ at the top of my lungs. I should have kept my stupid mouth shut and ran out the room. 

“The two creatures turned around on me, and I ain’t going to lie, I pissed my pants. They were snarling. They had colossal sharp fangs and teeth. Their mouths looked like panthers’ mouths except with more teeth, and loads of thick, syrupy saliva dripping out all over. It was a dark, dark red color. I noticed one of them had a gold necklace stuck to its scaly skin. It was the gold necklace I bought Mallory on our honeymoon in Panama Beach. Mallory always loved seahorses, and I found this gold necklace with a seahorse on it in a tourist shop. One that sold real jewelry. It wasn’t no kind of gold-plated fake crap. 

‘Mallory?’ I choked. The thing flung its massive long tail at me. It barely missed me. I fell back onto the wet carpet. It was sticky with whatever alien reptile slime was coming from monster Mallory and monster Nate. I was afraid it was going to eat through my skin or something. The monster Nate creature leapt toward me. I rolled out of its way just enough where it couldn’t grab me with its great big, clawed. . . I guess. . . fingers? It stood up on two legs and hissed at me so loud it sounded like a pit full of pissed off anacondas. Funky slobber landed all over my face, and my arms, which I was using to shield my face. After a second of being scared shitless, I remembered I had the .9mm. I raised the gun, shaking, and pulled the trigger. I hit the Nate thing right in its chest. It shrieked and started to bleed, and then I knew no matter what them things were, bullets hurt them. I held my shooting position and let go more shots into the Nate reptile creature. I hit it in the face with a couple of shots, and that did the most damage. The monster toppled backwards and cracked its skull open against the wall. Blood and bright yellow mucus, or whatever that shit was, poured out of the holes in its face, head, and chest. The thing’s whole body turned fuzzy, static-like. I watched it begin to disintegrate. It looked like it was turning into a trillion gnats- or black sperms swirling in the air. Then the black, swirling sperms disappeared. Like something off one of them stupid late night horror movies that you just turn on to laugh at. Then human Nate’s body was on the floor, full of bullet holes.

“The Mallory creature caught me with its long tongue. Sticky maroon slime soaked my shirt where its tongue was holding me. The stuff looked like blood but real thick. My shooting arm was still free, and my Beretta was still in my hand. Good thing I grew up shooting. The Mallory thing’s tongue was squeezing the hell out of me, crushing my lungs and making it hard to breathe. I raised my pistol, somehow my hand was steady the second time, and I emptied my clip into the monster’s head. The thick, red, syrupy liquid with tiny things wiggling in it- and some kind of  brain matter that looked like bright yellow oatmeal- splattered against the wall. Crimson and yellow streaks ran down the wall and puddled on the carpet. I thought of how Mallory always complained that she hated them white walls. ‘These walls are so bland. You need to paint them,’ she always said.  The same thing that happened with monster Nate’s body happened to monster Mallory. After a few minutes, I was looking down at my own wife’s dead body full of my bullets.

“I heard sirens and guessed the neighbors called the cops. I sat on the porch, shaking. I lit a Camel, and I waited. I already knew what it would look like. I knew I didn’t have no defense. Who was going to believe my story?

“The cops had their guns on me while I finished my cigarette and threw it over the porch railing into the grass. Two of them snuck me, and tackled me out my chair. One of them crushed my face into the wood porch with his boot while another one cuffed me. Cops were crawling all over the house. There was about twenty cop cars in the street. I just sat there until they put me in the car. I didn’t say nothing. Wasn’t nothing to say.

“Mallory and Nate’s family members got to talk to the jury after Art was finished his talking. Nate’s momma showed them pictures from when he was a baby and pictures of him when he was in school. I thought about how much she loved him, and I thought of my momma sitting behind me in the courtroom crying, and of Clyde killing his own momma. But, whatever the fuck I killed in my bedroom that day, it wasn’t Nate. 

“Nate’s sister wrote a poem she read to the jury. His dad stood up and told me I deserved to be murdered, and he wished he could be the one to do it. My momma started crying real hard then, and Art went to calm her down.

“Mallory’s parents stood up together and asked me why I did it. I didn’t say nothing. I wasn’t going to say their daughter turned into some slimy alien monster lizard beast. Mallory’s best friend, who I always hated, told the jury I condemned Mallory and Nate to death for their adulterous misdeeds. She asked them if they didn’t feel I deserved to be condemned to death, too. She had pictures and articles with headlines from the papers blown up to poster-size. She showed them to the jury. ‘Vidalia Love Triangle Ends in Murder,’ read one of them. It had a picture of Mallory and me on our wedding day with a separate picture of Nate. ‘Concordia Sheriff Describes Scene as the Most Disturbing He’s Seen in Years,’ read another one. That one had a picture of our house taped off by the cops. ‘Small Town La. Man Charged with Murder,’ read the last one, and it had my mug shot under it. Art objected, but it was too late because they already seen it. Maybe if I had told anybody what I saw, I could have got an insanity plea.

“The jury came back after about an hour. Art kept handing Kleenex to my momma while the judge read the verdict. I was afraid Momma was going to choke to death because she wasn’t breathing right. Mallory’s and Nate’s families was clapping and hugging each other.

“I stood up and turned around and said sorry to my momma. She grabbed me by my suit jacket and pressed her face into my chest. A dark, imperfect circle expanded outward from where her tears wet my shirt. ‘I’m real sorry, Momma,’ I whispered.

“‘We’ll get you another appeal, Vince. They can’t do anything as long as we keep appealing,’ said Art.

“My momma looked up at me. Makeup ran down her cheeks. I placed a hand on either side of her face. I used my thumbs to wipe away the black streaks under her eyes. Art can appeal all he wants, but I know it won’t matter. Not just because there ain’t no way any jury will decide in my favor. Because I been feeling sick again, real bad. When I go to the toilet, there’s a whole lot of thick, sticky red liquid with some kind of herbs that look like bugs wriggling in it left behind.”

A Crow on the Thatch

As a writer, I let few things go unnoticed. Things that have little or no significance in real life may spark a certain interest in my mind. So when we were paid a visit by a certain individual of avian nature, I was quite taken with him.

It’s not the first time we’ve had this particular visitor. He came once before, cawing and pecking at the ledge, presumably trying to snatch up tiny insects scurrying there. He wasn’t coy about trying to get our attention. He was rather photogenic, too.

Now, as some of you may know, traditionally having a crow caw at the window of one’s sick room is not something you’d want. But I grew up on Poe and Hitchcock and King and all things delightfully frightful. I’m not superstitious, as a rule, and I had to capture this beautiful ebony bird. My  only regret is that I didn’t have a better camera.

I suppose he saw his reflection in the window as he scuttled back and forth on the ledge, peering into our window and the window of the room next door. I wasn’t perturbed by his presence, but he seemed to look at me-right at me-and so I said to him, “Your services are not needed here.” To which he cocked his little head and with a look of apparent understanding in his coal-black eye said, “Caw!” then flew away.