5:30am – Wake Up Call
“It’s time, Jane.” The warden’s voice woke the inmate from a dreamless sleep. She didn’t even hear the large door at the end of the chamber open as she usually did. “We’ve got an official process to follow on death day. We need to get a move on.”
Chloe slowly opened her eyes to the familiar scene of a grungy, dank ceiling in her direct view. Turning her head to the side to see the man who was currently opening her jail cell, the inmate quietly yawned and began pushing up to a sitting position. She fully expected to see him surrounded by guards for precautionary measures, just in case they expected things to go sideways. To her surprise, it was only him. The man who she’d spent more time with than anybody else during the past five years, was alone to greet her as she awoke. He carried a clipboard in one hand and his portable radio and keys in the other.
“I almost feel guilty taking a paycheck today. I’ll easily remember you as my favorite murderer.” The warden chuckled. “I’m looking forward to this first part. You get a couple of hours to write your final thoughts and make any last phone calls. Maybe you’ll actually let me hear your voice today. What do you say?”
The girl just shook her head and turned toward the wall behind her. A tiny twinge of worry sent a shiver down her spine as the darkness of the day’s events began to feel more real. Her faith was in Max, but she suddenly wondered if fate might intervene and end their story before her partner in time could find a way. Pushing her doubts aside, Chloe turned back towards the man.
“Listen, nobody’s here but me and you.” He leaned in, putting his mouth near the girl’s ear. “You’re gonna die today. That’s a fact. Why not give this old man the satisfaction of finally hearing you speak? I promise I won’t tell anyone. It’ll be our little secret.”
The girl shook her head again and moved away towards the desk in the center of the cell. She glanced over and made the writing motion with her fingers curled as if she was holding a pencil while moving her wrist back and forth. The man nodded and handed her the clipboard with a single sheet of paper clasped to the front. It was thicker than notebook paper but not quite as thick as construction paper. A single pen, with the governor’s crest adorned on the side, was attached at the top portion and clipped to the metal piece of the clipboard.
Chloe removed the ballpoint, clicked the bottom button to extend the tip, then began writing. The warden took a step backwards and allowed the prisoner to finish. He whistled and fidgeted with his radio as he waited. It only took a few minutes for her to complete her final thoughts. She clicked the pen again and secured it to its original location at the top of the clipboard. Handing the paper to the warden, Chloe stood from her chair and headed back to her bunk.
When the man looked at the paper, Chloe noticed him squint and crane his neck forward, facial features littered with confusion. “What the hell am I looking at?” he asked. “THIS is your final thought?” He turned the page over and held the drawing up, showing it to its artist. The prisoner smirked, looking at the drawing she created of Max with a superhero cape blowing in the wind. At the bottom, in block letters she had written the words “SUPER MAX”.
“I’m still not sure what your connection is with that girl, but I hope she got something outta you. I’m curious.” The warden chuckled again. “It’s funny, Jane. I’ve been around you for half a damn decade. I know where you are and what you’re doing at all times.” He stopped for a moment before continuing. “But I don’t really know you, do I?”
Chloe shrugged and stared back, not speaking a word.
“That’s that, I guess. This next part is when you get to spend time calling your loved ones, but I’m guessing that ain’t your style.” Again, the inmate shook her head. “Okay. Well, we have no petitions for a stay of execution. No other legal issues either. We would allow visitors now, but nobody’s here to see you.”
The warden exited the jail cell, locking the barred door once more. “They’ll bring you a light breakfast soon, then the next stage will be your final lunch around 10:30. With the phone calls and visitors, we usually keep death row prisoners pretty busy throughout their final day. Looks like you’ll have several hours to be alone. Hope you can keep your mind occupied. I can’t imagine the crazy shit you’re probably thinking about now. You know, we can still call a chaplain in if you’ve changed your mind.”
Chloe continued to keep silent.
“Alright. Well, I guess… I’ll see you soon.” With that, the man walked down the corridor chamber and excited through the large door at the end. This time, Chloe could easily hear the booming sound as the door shut behind the warden. It’s echoing vibration fell in rhythm with her heart, reminding the girl of her mortality.
An unexpected tear slipped down her cheek as her thoughts centered around the love of her life, both in the past and their potential future together. Laying down on her bed, the prisoner stared up at the ceiling reminiscing about playing pirates in her backyard as kids, and it made her smile.
The sun was beginning to ascend, peeking above the distant horizon. Its rays extended like squiggled tentacles, tickling the clouds’ underbellies in a brilliant display of violets, magentas, and something between burnt peach and ginger. If her current circumstances weren’t so dire and uncertain, Max would probably spend time taking pictures and enjoying nature. To her, the vivid colors were grey-washed and unimpressive. Her heart was so focused on Chloe, she couldn’t concern herself with anything other than the girl’s safety.
The nightmare she suffered through, an hour prior, felt less and less real with more time between the horrifying experience and the present. It didn’t take multiple therapy sessions for Max to understand it was her mind’s way of sorting out the countless memories that had returned. When mixing recollections with an ominous fear of possibly losing the one person that made life worth living, the nightmare actually made a lot of sense.
Pulling up to entrance road, Max realized she had never been to the prison that early in the morning before. She didn’t expect the entry easement to be gated off beside the first guard station, as it was typically an unblocked passage to the second checkpoint. A half-faded, aluminum sign with rust peppering the sides and center, hung in the middle of the locked gate, containing visiting information. She hadn’t noticed it before since she was allowed direct and immediate access.
The sign read:
Saturday & Sunday
Max was afforded the opportunity to essentially pull right up to the prison entrance during non-visiting hours due to her media contact. Now that she knew Weston and the warden were connected, it was easy to see how she gained such close and direct access. She figured maybe she should wait until the first visitor block to try and get in, but with an execution scheduled to take place that day, she somehow didn’t think visiting hours would apply.
Maybe the warden will let me in now anyway. I have to try.
She located her cell phone and found Jack Thompson’s number from the Rolodex in her photos. She dialed the number and there was an instant answer on the first ring.
“Hello. Who is this?”
“It’s Max. Max Caulfield. I’m outside of the gate, and I know it’s early, but I was wondering if you could let me in now. I’d like to see if I can…”
She wasn’t allowed to finish before being interrupted. “Oh, hey Max. No, not today. Things are a little different when we have an execution. We don’t allow regular visitation- media or otherwise. Come back at 5:45. You’re on the witness list so we’ll let you in then.”
“Wait. I read death row inmates can have visitors or at least phone calls at some point. I want to see her again, or at least let me call in.”
“This one’s a little different, Max. She won’t even speak, and this time you two would be supervised. We decided not to allow visitors, not that she’d get any besides you. Did you know, she’s never had anyone visit or even call her? Makes me a little sad to be honest. Anyhow, I doubt she’ll want to speak on the phone. Look, I gotta run. We have a process here, and I need to get going. Come back just before 6 and we’ll bring you to the viewing room. Bye, now.”
Shit. I’ll be damned if I’m waiting until the 6.
Max held up her hand and rewound about a minute. She was aware that a faint outline of the twisting column began to show but released her power before it could fully materialize.
The phone was ringing and the man picked up.
“Hello. Who is this?”
I need to change what I say so he’ll let me in.
“It’s Max. Listen, I need you to let me back in there. I know today is different or whatever, but it won’t hurt anything if I see her one more time. Please.”
“No can do, Max. Strict protocol and all. Come back at 5:45 and…”
“Jack, stop. You’re really gonna want to let me in. I have evidence that you’re embezzling money. If you don’t open up, I swear I’ll go public.” The other side of the conversation went silent. She could hear the man breathing so she knew he didn’t hang up. “Hello?”
“Shit. Where are you right now, Max?” His voice was firm and direct.
“I’m at the guard gate. Just let me in and…”
The abruptly deafening static sound of a portable radio forced Max to pull the phone away. She couldn’t clearly understand what the man was saying, but she thought she heard the phrase ‘take her out’.
Suddenly, a memory of the darkroom crossed the girl’s mind. She remembered how deadly every decision felt and how quickly it all escalated. An instinctual fight or flight urge surged through Max, causing her to regret such a direct approach with the warden.
She pushed the end button and set her phone down on the middle console. She held her hand out and rewound again. Once reality settled, she began the call. Wanting to conserve her energy for when she needed it to save Chloe, this time, she went through a similar progression as she had previously. Again, the warden wouldn’t allow her access until 6pm. Max acknowledged his words then hung up. She put the car in reverse and spun the steering wheel around, backing into a parking space. There were two vacant spots at the first guard station where the guard on duty parked his vehicle until the next came to relieve him.
If I can’t drive in, I’ll walk.
Once in park, Max removed her keys with the intention of getting out and walking the remaining half mile on foot. Before she could open the door, a sharp, digging pain ensured she stayed seated before exiting the vehicle. She reached up with one hand, touching her nose and upper lip with her palm. When she brought her hand back in sight, she noticed it was covered in a warm crimson liquid.
Dammit! No, no. Not now. I gotta be strong today.
Reality jarringly swelled then settled as a torturous high-pitched tone pierced through Max’s mind. Everything felt distant and dull.
Reality swirled in through a heavily vibrating vortex of spinning spirals that seemed to quickly vanish, disappearing and trailing in towards her chest. Max shakily pulled herself forward on the cold floor, barely holding her head upright, after being slung and thrown down by an armed guard. Through the foggy glass that separated the viewing area from the injection chamber, she watched as Chloe mouthed the words “even when we’re not” in slow motion, a look of panic on her face.
Though tightly restrained at the arms, legs, and torso, the inmate struggled from the chair where the medical staff and several other guards, including the warden, surrounded her. Tears and sweat streamed down both the prisoner’s and photographer’s faces as they realized their fight was coming to an end, eyes locked on each other one final time.
Max’s depleted energy wouldn’t allow her enough strength to do much more than hold her body upright. She searched deep within herself for one last rewind, but she couldn’t even release a trickle of her power. Having attempted to change her partner in time’s fate over a dozen times already, there simply wasn’t anything left…
I… I’ve been here before…
The world faded in and Max was back in her car outside of the prison. The universe shimmered as if the sun was quivering in the morning sky, casting a bright white on everything in view. She felt a buoyant weightlessness swallow her in, then she closed her eyes.
10:30am – Final Lunch
Unlike previously, lunch was brought in by three guards without the warden’s accompaniment. It was a standard prison meal that consisted of a fish patty, a pea-based salad mix, a slice of toast, and a weakly flavored orange beverage. If she were allowed in the mess hall, she might have had other choices, but, being separated from the general population, Chloe was at the mercy of whatever food they decided to bring her. The main difference between this one and other lunchtime meals was the onlooking men in the room.
She sat at the desk in front of her plate and cup pushing the peas around with the rubber spork they provided. Bringing the utensil to her mouth, Chloe ate a bite then moved the plate away. In one gulp, she downed her beverage and then let out a huge burp that echoed throughout the chamber. She saw the guards shoot surprised glances at one another and then back at her. Over the past five years, that was the most they had ever heard from the girl.
She motioned that she was finished and returned to her bed, looking up at the ceiling and reminiscing. The guards opened the door, retrieved the dishes and uneaten meal, then departed from the area.
3:30pm – Dressing for Execution
She must’ve dozed off while her mind played through memories of her past, as she was awoken by the deep, bass-filled clamor of the large door at the end of the corridor unfastening and sliding open.
“We’re almost to the end, Jane. Four more hours and it’ll all be over.” The warden was flanked by the same guards who oversaw her meal earlier. They stepped to the cell and the man opened the door. “Right now, it’s 3:30, which means you need to get showered. Then you’ll dress in a fresh uniform for the execution presentation.”
She sat up on the side of the bed, wondering why she hadn’t heard from Max yet. Chloe figured the girl would have let her know by then that she was working on some sort of plan. Being in prison without a clock to look at most of the time, a person adjusts to a new circadian rhythm. Despite not having windows in her cell, Chloe knew it was midafternoon, and it worried her that she’d seen no signs from Max.
“After you’re showered and dressed, you’ll eat your final meal at 4:30. My guys said you didn’t touch your lunch. I hope you get a chance to enjoy this one. I personally made sure we got what you asked for. No need to thank me. It’s part of the job.” The warden smiled the stretched out his hand, offering to assist Chloe to her feet. Usually, if he wanted a prisoner to do something, he would grab them by the elbow and force them in the appropriate direction. She just waved him off and stood on her own. “Alright, fine then, Jane.”
The men in uniforms with guns strapped in several places on their bodies, changed Chloe’s shackles then escorted her towards the corridor entry.
“After dinner,” the warden began as they headed towards the showers, “witnesses will arrive at 6. We’ll walk you out to the execution chamber and you’ll be offered to speak any last words you want. Not gonna lie, Jane, I don’t want to see you die, but I hope you have something to say then. As you know, I’m going damn near crazy just to hear you speak.”
In the shower chamber, Chloe disrobed in front of the guards and began cleaning. As a prisoner, it doesn’t take very long to get past any shyness of onlookers while being nude. There was only one instance over the past half-decade, that a guard tried to have his way with her. The Warden intervened and ensured she was never attacked again. As much of an asshole as the man could be, she was thankful that her experience in prison wasn’t much worse.
Chloe took her time in the shower, enjoying the lukewarm water as it splashed onto her body. When she finished, she turned the scummy knob to shut off the water. Per usual, a towel and a new uniform were neatly folded on the bench around the corner from the shower heads. As four pairs of eyeballs watched her intently, she casually strolled past them to towel off and get dressed.
Once the prisoner was fully clothed, and after dismissing the guards, the warden escorted Chloe back to her cell. “In half an hour, someone will be back to take you to a room where you’ll get to chow down on your final meal. This is the last time you’ll ever see this jailcell. I know it was your home for a while, so maybe say your goodbyes and all that. I’ve seen folks on death row cry the hardest when they left their cells. Sure, visitations were always emotional, but there’s some kind of mental thing about leaving your home for the last time. I’m no psychologist.”
The man exited the chamber and left her alone. A chilling thought crossed Chloe’s mind and, as much as she didn’t want to think about it, she was worried something bad might have happened to Max. With the girl’s recently rediscovered rewind ability, Chloe had to assume she could get out of any trouble that came her way. She knew her best friend was the key to getting her out of there, but, in her mind, her safety wasn’t as important as her first mate’s.
4:30pm – Final Meal
The large door opened one final time, and Chloe’s heart sank. She must’ve been lost in thought since the last half hour flew by, if non-existent. She wondered how other death row inmates felt a few hours prior to being put to death. Humans aren’t supposed to know their exact death time; it was a terrorizing thought in and of itself. The uncertainty of the experience has driven many people mad just by the idea.
“Here we go, Jane. Did you say goodbye to your cell?” The warden had returned; this time, he was alone. Like it or not, the man was Chloe’s guide on her march to die. Max proved she saved her from death numerous times in the past, but knowing it was coming and hoping her partner in time would be around again at the right moment, it felt dark and ominous.
Chloe stood and looked around, realizing it was just the two of them this time. She wondered why, at this point in the execution day process, additional guards wouldn’t be surrounding her with guns drawn until the very last moment.
“It’s just me and you for the next hour and a half. Help me God… I’m gonna miss you.” He seemed authentically moved by her. She’d never seen the man show much emotion before then. One time, a couple of years ago, his aunt passed away and he seemed distant for about a week. Besides that, the man’s facial features resembled more of a robot than a person. “Let’s get to the meal room.”
With the warden holding her arm between the elbow and bicep, the two made their way towards a room Chloe had never been to. It was located behind the chow hall through a hallway that connected the kitchen area to several offices, restrooms, and a break room. The common area was lively with guards and prisoners walking about or eating, but when the death row inmate was paraded through, the place grew silent, everyone gawking in their direction. It was the first time Chloe had been around anyone other than the prison employees since the first few weeks.
When they finally arrived at the room, the man secured the door behind them and helped his prisoner to a seat in front of the meal she’d selected. Two benches were on the lengthier sides of three tables at the near end. It was a smaller space that Chloe figured must be designated for special events for important people. Adjacent to the bouillabaisse and steak, a plain white coffee mug sat with steam lines beginning at the liquid and floating upward.
“It’s not the most extravagant final meal I’ve seen,” the man started, “but it might be the strangest.” For some reason, the tone in the warden’s voice forced the corner of Chloe’s mouth to slightly angle upward. He walked around the table and sat on the opposite bench, leaning in towards the center. “I know you can speak; I just don’t know why you haven’t. At one point, I thought you were part of that misguided capital punishment abolishment group trying to make some kind of point.” He sighed then looked around. “But that’s not it at all, is it? All you did with the laptop we gave you was look up sciencey mumbo jumbo and checked in on that photographer. It’s all we had to go on so Wes brought her here for this job. We figured if you were so interested in one particular person, maybe she would be of use to us. Now, Jane… who the hell is she to you? For the life of me, I can’t figure it out.”
Chloe took a sip of coffee and brought the mug down from her mouth. “She’s my Max.”
“Holy, shit!” The warden exclaimed, coughing several times in surprise before catching his breath. “You-You talked? Fuck. Well damn, so… what does she mean to you?”
The prisoner confidently picked up her fork and knife and began sawing into the warm meat in front of her. Once she had cut a desired portion, she looked up with a heartfelt grin on her face and responded, “Everything.”
“Jesus, girl, you got my heart racing. I didn’t know if you’d do it. Feels like I’m meeting you for the first damn time. So, what else can we talk about? Tell me who you really are and where the hell you’re from.”
Chloe ignored the man for the rest of the meal as if he wasn’t there. He seemed to get angry once or twice, even borderline begged to hear her voice again, but she continued to stay silent. The prisoner enjoyed her food and drank her coffee, thoughts of Max dancing around in her head, knowing she would see the girl again real soon.