Henry Guiles—or inmate 09756—at Pennsylvania State Penitentiary was not a dangerously smart man. In fact, Henry Guiles was not dangerous at all. He came to cell block B by way of armed robbery. Guiles never intended to harm anyone. His pistol wasn’t loaded. He did intend to rob the Dubois family of heirlooms, mostly family jewels owned by Mrs. Dubois, and sell them later for quick cash on Baker Street behind the carpet sweeper repair store. Inmate 09756 had never heard of a burglar alarm and had no idea that the Dubois family had recently invested in one. He was certainly caught red-handed when the police arrived shortly after he’d broken in.
“09756,” a guard in a freshly pressed uniform commanded, “get up. You’re needed—in there.”
Henry Guiles jerked himself from his cot mattress, stuffed with sawdust, and stretched his legs. His black and white striped jumpsuit hung baggy over his scant frame. He shuffled to the barred cell door. “Another one this morning?” Guiles smiled through rotting teeth. Since he had been assigned the job, Henry lived for being called to duty.
“Don’t get too excited. Isn’t much to clean up since they made the adjustments.”
The thick, tall guard jingled his keyring and slid open the cell door. He didn’t bother placing the cold steel cuffs that hung from his belt loops around Henry’s wrists. He was in no danger. Henry scurried into the walkway, rubbing his greedy hands together, and sniffed at the air. He was searching for electricity. The air always reeked of it after. The leftover jolts that lingered in the atmosphere tickled Guiles’ nose hairs and made the ones on his forearms stand straight up, as if they were their own living creatures, separate from him.
“Who was it today?”
“06752,” the guard said as he marched down the echoing corridor.
“Moyer? I thought they commuted him to life.”
“Until he shanked another inmate two weeks ago.”
“Two weeks? A trial?” Henry Guiles looked at the guard with concern.
“Quickie. Too many witnesses. He was guilty as a pig in shit.”
They stopped outside a heavy, blue steel door dotted with black rivets. The guard unhooked his keyring and jammed a worn silver key into the lock. The door skidded open.
“Wasn’t self-defense? Original charge was self-defense,” Guiles muttered as he entered the big, hollow room.
“Doesn’t matter much, does it?” the guard answered. “Sonofabitch woulda died in here anyway. Now, you get to visit your best friend.” He laughed a throaty, vicious laugh that would have unnerved anyone but Henry Guiles.
“Sure do,” Guiles said as he eyed the chair. “Two hours, Tony?”
“Sure, 09756.” Tony left and locked the door.
She sat there, in the middle of the room, beckoning to Henry Guiles. Her wood frame had been lacquered, as if she were going to be placed at the head of the dinner table at the White House, and the wood glinted in what little light entered from the tiny, barred window. Her steel cuffs, used to hold down the wrists of dead men, made Guiles salivate. The cap that rested upon their brains, quieting their memories, their knowledge, their rage made his heart palpitate with excitement. She was so young—the mistress of murder—and yet she had consumed so many souls. Guiles was envious of her, he would never be brave enough to do what she had done.
He tip-toed toward the chair whispering, “Hello, darling. Long morning?”
The seat was covered in human excrement. Tiny drops of blood dotted the seat and reminded him of women’s blouses in church on Sunday morning. A tin bucket of cold, soapy water sat on the floor next to the large, wooden chair. A stiff-bristled scrub brush near-by.
“I’ll make you sparkle again. Don’t you worry, dear.”
The electric chair had only been invented and refined a few years earlier—more humane than hanging—they said. It was such a curious thing, so fill a person with something so new and foreign. Allow a body, a brain, a heart to be encompassed by something that no one totally understood. The zapping current, mini bolts of lightning, struck at the pull of a lever. They leeched into a human, thrilling all of the little pieces they touched. Sure, it was too much stimulation. Sure, the prisoner died, but to what effect? Guiles wondered what that kind of excitement felt like. Being close to her—touching her—stirred up his own synapses.
09756, Henry Guiles, lustfully scrubbed the back of the pine wood chair, humming merrily to himself, when a tin ping began to bounce from wall to wall in the small room. It was as if a metal ball were being flung in every direction. Guiles lifted his head and raised an eyebrow. He glanced around the room, but Tony had not come back. He was still alone. He smirked and continued to scrub at the drops of ruby that threated to stain her finish.
Only the sound of bore bristles scraping wood filled the room containing Henry and the chair, until the sound of rolling tin crescendoed on the air. Guiles leapt from behind her, murky water dripped from his soaked cuffs, and he watched as the bucket tipped, flooding the floor with urine and feces and blood.
“Christ!” he shouted. “Damn floor must be uneven.” Guiles mumbled as he rushed to right the bucket.
He lowered himself to his knees and stared at the noxious pond, contemplating how to manage its cleanup. Henry took a deep breath in, and felt a heavy hand thrust him to the floor—smash his gaunt cheek into the muck. The invisible force held him there, swill seeping into the side of Guiles mouth as he screamed for help, Guile’s skull feeling as though it might crack under the weight.
The heavy door flew open and Tony appeared in the frame, swinging his club. Henry still lay on the floor, his arms and legs flailing wildly, shrieking.
“What the hell are you doing, 09756?”
“Help me, please!”
Tony ran to Henry, but before he grabbed him by the shoulders and yanked him to his feet, Henry felt the hand release him. Guiles breathed manically, as if he had just been running for his life. He used the sleeves of his prison uniform to wipe the shit water from his face, tiny pieces of matter clung to his skin anyway.
“What do you call that?” Tony asked.
“Something was in here. Something had me just now.”
“There wasn’t anyone but you in here.”
“There was something. Something besides me. It was—it was Moyer. So violent, it had to have been.”
“You lost it Guiles. Back to your cell.”
“Can I go to infirmary?”
“You aren’t sick,” Tony prodded him with his night stick.
“Sick enough,” Henry Guiles protested.
“Wash the shit off you first.”
The prison infirmary was just as hopeless as the rest of the place, except there was no window, and the sick men and those with festering wounds made the place rank with death and decay. The one shining light was Miss Lark, the nurse.
“How did this happen, a fight?” Miss Lark asked Henry as she dabbed his scuffed cheek bone with an alcohol-soaked cloth.
“No, Miss Lark. Well, yes, maybe. It’s hard to explain.”
“You don’t want the other fellow to get into trouble?”
“I don’t know who the other fellow was.”
“Didn’t get a look at him? I think it’s so awful the cowardly way some men will attack another from behind.”
“Do you—do you believe in ghosts, Miss Lark?”
She paused for a moment and then went about seeking a bandage in a drawer filled with medical supplies. Miss Lark leaned her body to a severe angle to glance at the patients hidden by a billowy, white curtain. Then, she sighed. “Medically, scientifically, no. Personally, though, I don’t know.” She puckered her creamy red lips.
“I think Moyer got me in the chair room,” Henry blurted.
“Wasn’t he electrocuted this morning? Did he get you before?”
Miss Lark batted her curly lashes at Henry Guiles, “I always knew those chairs would be trouble.”
Henry didn’t respond, but he pondered that single sentiment for several days.
Inmate number 09756—Mr. Henry Guiles—was now acutely aware of every sinister noise that reverberated down the corridor of cell block B. As he sat alone on his stiff mattress and attempted to learn to read by candlelight, every foreign water droplet, every footfall on dense concrete, every paper rustling, every tin cup scraped on iron bars pricked at Henry’s eardrums and caused his spine to rattle.
Guiles placed his book upon his mattress as his bladder screamed for relief. While Henry hovered over his cell’s toilet, he felt an icy wind tickle the hairs protruding from his neck and then, he heard a loud thud behind him. When he turned around, the book lay face-down on the floor.
Henry furrowed his brow and stumbled in his sleepy state to retrieve the book. A force like a bull crashed into his protruding ribs and threw him against his cell wall. Guiles made contact with a sickening crack. Sharp, stabbing pain radiated through Henry’s chest. His breath whistled from his lungs as he took short, shallow gulps of air. Another blow from an unseen force connected with Henry’s chin. It knocked his teeth together, chipping one of his incisors. He yowled in pain as blood from a gash on his jaw leeched blood. Henry felt pressure, as if someone were wiping the wetness away, and then noticed it was being transferred to the pages of his book. Kill her, it read. Kill who? he wondered as he writhed in pain.
“Oh Henry, poor Henry, what are you doing back?” Miss Lark said as Henry limped into the infirmary. “Another fight?”
“Same as the last.”
“Henry, come now. I can’t be expected to believe some ghost story.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Henry hung his head. He knew enough not to push the subject, or he would end up in a nuthouse. Those were worse than prison. “Miss Lark, what did you know about Moyer? If you don’t mind my asking.”
She sighed. “Henry. He wasn’t a good man. He deserved what he got. He was a murderer. The state doesn’t condemn people to death for nothing.” Miss Lark’s hands shook as she tried to examine Henry Guile’s ribs. Her face had grown pale, her eyes glassy.
“Are you ok, Miss Lark?”
“You just seem—”
She sniffled, “Moyer came for me too. One winter night, two years ago, he faked an illness. He tried to strangle me, Henry.”
Henry’s mouth hung agape. He stared at her in wide-eyed wonder. Miss Lark had been an intended victim, but she escaped Moyer’s assassination plot. Unfinished business. That was what Moyer wanted with Henry. He wanted Henry to complete his Earthly work—finish Miss Lark. Maybe then, Henry could live in peace.
“Guiles,” Tony’s voice shattered the silence of the cell block. “Guiles wake up.”
Henry shifted in his bed. His ribs were still purple, and the bone was far from healed from its fracture. His lungs still whistled when he breathed. “What is it, Tony?”
“They’re letting you go. Good behavior. You’ve been a model prisoner, and the place is packed. So, you get to go home.”
Henry shot up, he instantly regretting the motion, a fiery pain pierced through his torso. “But I—”
“You wanna stay?” Tony smirked.
“What about her?”
“Someone else will do it. Let’s go.”
Henry Guiles stood smoking a cigarillo outside a parlor on 7th and Main. It was a dirty district. A place where refuse lined the gutter along with drunks and working girls who’d had too much opium. Women strode freely in and out of places without escorts and everyone knew they would be imbibing or partaking in reckless behavior. Henry giggled to himself. So peculiar that she’d be her—that the idea was like a feather floating across his temporal lobe. Miss Lark with her tight hair and demure demeanor liked a little hoopla in her spare time.
She’d been oblivious for months as he’d watched her. Henry had followed her to and from work. He’d followed her on weekends, on dates, watched through the window of her rented room. He knew her schedule—every move she’d make and when. Henry knew exactly what time her right stocking would be slipped over her big toe. He could have taken Miss Lark any time he’d pleased to finish Moyer’s work. It just happened, he wanted to do it tonight.
“Goodnight,” Miss Lark said to her friends as they hugged and parted ways. She laughed and waved, stupidly. Her boots shuffled across the sidewalk as if they were cinderblocks too heavy to carry.
Henry stepped out from between two buildings. He kept his distance and trailed slowly behind her, whistling. Miss Lark stopped, suddenly, turned, and nodded her head at Henry. She didn’t recognize him. She kept walking. Henry followed. Lark turned a corner—Henry’s footsteps gathered speed, echoing in the crisp night air. She turned again.
“Evening,” she said, taking a look at Henry. “Henry, Henry Guiles? Is that you?”
“Oh,” Henry had been caught off guard. This spot was too public. Occasional pedestrians still lingered. “Miss Lark. Yes. Hello.”
“How are you? Staying out of trouble?”
“Yes of course,” Henry laughed. “Going this way?”
“Yes.” Miss Lark walked with Henry. “I’m glad you’re well.”
The two came to a dark alley, and Henry looked around the area to see if anyone was nearby. Deserted. Henry used his little force to push Miss Lark into the black alley. She screamed. The sound crumbled against the brick and mortar of the buildings. Miss Lark shoved Henry away. He ran at her like a wild cat—pinned her to the wall. He pressed his knee into her stomach forcing her to squirm under the pressure. She was a mouse in a trap, she slapped and wiggled. She squealed, but Henry ended that with a pocket knife. He pulled the shiny silver blade and ran it across Miss Lark’s pretty, porcelain neck. The sinewy muscles jumped and jiggled as hot crimson flooded forth like Niagara Falls. It covered Henry’s face and clothes—soaked him to the bone, but he wouldn’t be tormented anymore. He’d go on living.
“Let’s go Guiles. It’s about that time.” Tony said as he swung open the door of inmate number 10238’s cell.
“I get to see her now?” Henry Guiles asked expectantly, his eye black and blue.
“You get to do a lot more than see her, Guiles.” Tony chuckled. “What I don’t get is why you did it. You were a free man. Coulda stayed that way. Why Miss Lark? Doesn’t make any sense.”
“Moyer wanted it,” Henry answered as he skipped down the hall with his ankles and wrists in shackles. “Wouldn’t leave me alone until I did it, I thought. Hasn’t left me alone anyway.”
“That’s your story, huh.” They walked into the room containing the electric chair. A priest and a few employees of the prison stood in attendance.
Henry Guiles sat down in his beloved chair. It was stiff—unforgiving. The steel bars wrapped around his wrist and they were cold, lifeless. “It’s the truth.”
One of the men placed a black leather bag over Henry’s head. He wasn’t scared, he just never did understand why Moyer didn’t leave him alone after he did what he did to Miss Lark. Henry had finished Moyer’s business and Moyer had kept on abusing him—kept on throwing him around until the police had found Miss Lark’s sliced and drained body. Until they’d found Henry. Until they’d tried him for murder. Until last night when Moyer had bashed Henry’s face on the corner of his cot.
Henry breathed one last musky breath and heard the switch on the wall click. The lighting came quicker than he’d thought, and then he was there. Moyer, a shadow tinged in blue dust specks, swimming in the nothing. He held his hand out to Henry imploring him.
“Why?” Henry asked. “I killed her for you.”
“I meant the chair.”
#HumpdayHorror #TheChair Copyright 2018 Kira McKinney
Welcome to my blog. Sit back and enjoy a short story, a poem, or some flash fiction--whatever I have recently cooked up. I will post a new piece as often as possible. Check back once a week to see what's new.