The Song Of Moses

The air is leaden and oppressive, despite the stout stone walls which keep out the heat of a stormy, steamy August night. The ritualistic last supper sits untouched and untasted upon a tray of grey plastic: T-bone steak, rare and smothered with onions; home fries; and two thick slices of Texas toast balanced on the lip of the plate. Impending execution makes unpalatable even the heartiest of meals.

There is no clock with which to measure the inescapable passage of this, the final chapter of existence. Perhaps someone, in their infinite wisdom, once deemed it best that the condemned wallow in ignorance of how many hours...or minutes...remain. It doesn't matter. I am well aware that time grows short.

A bible, well-thumbed and dog-eared, lays at the foot of the bed.

The 23rd Psalm: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death...thou art with me." The comforting verse leaps with promise from the open page.

"Repent, my son," urges the elderly, careworn chaplain. His blue eyes are pale and, try as he might, he cannot mask the sadness. He is a good and caring man. I wonder how often before he has repeated such a recommendation. How many, some of whom may perhaps have been innocent, stared starkly into the kindly, wrinkled face, searching and hungering for a guarantee of salvation?

"God is merciful," counsels the old padre, a trembling forefinger wedging the gold-rimmed spectacles more firmly upon the bridge of his noble nose. "God is all-forgiving to those who confess and show remorse."

Is He? While there is life, there is hope, I suppose.

A suffocating breeze, maybe from the narrow corridor beyond the bars or maybe from parts as yet unvisited and unknown, riffles the gilt-edged pages of the sacred scripture. They flutter backward, through Job, Samuel and Judges, dispensing delicately pressed rose petals, whose bright colors have long since faded, onto the formerly barren floor, until finally coming to rest at Deuteronomy...the Song of Moses.

"They shall be burnt...devoured with burning heat, and with bitter destruction."

The chaplain nervously clears his throat. It is his duty to promote serenity and an aura of calm to even the most nefarious of prodigals. But the threat of Moses' Song is an empty this world, at least, if not the next.

There will be no dimming of lights or thrusts of high voltage electricity this summer night. No odor of charred flesh or stench of scorched hair. The favored method of today's conscience-stricken civilization is far more humane. Away with what is now considered to be cruel and unjust punishment. Old Betsy sits abandoned, if not forgotten, in a distant basement, waiting for her glorious moment of infamy to be restored.

Soon, the guards dressed in the dark uniforms of deathwatch beetles, will come bearing a large diaper and, if rumor is to be believed, a swift-acting sedative.

"Dead man walking," will echo from the drab walls.

Do they really say that? I'll know soon enough.

I understand that it is quite painless. A creeping numbness that dulls the senses and paralyzes the vital organs. Yet, none have ever survived to attest to that fact. There are no sworn affidavits or documented testimonials.

The pristine vials, complete with their lethal contents, are hidden behind a screen. The element of human error is always a possibility. Physicians have been known to make mistakes and scientists are not always flawless in their hypotheses. The dosages could be incorrect. There are many avenues open to inaccuracy.

Painless? I imagine, all things being equal, that it probably is relatively painless. Of one thing I am sure, his death will almost certainly be less agonizing and tormented than the one he afforded me. He will be able to say his farewells to those who continue to love him, in spite of everything. He will be able to take consolation in their presence, albeit through a glass barrier.

Would that I had been given such an opportunity.

Will he express regret to my mother or my father? I don't believe I will wait to find out.

In the cell, the holy book still stands open at the Song of Moses.

I will return there and ponder on mortal frailties. Reflect on the many unexplained disractions that can cause men of medicine and science to fumble as they go about their state-appointed tasks.

In the heat of a stormy, steamy August night, it could well be that vengeance, in this instance, belongeth to me.

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