“Got the governor on the phone now, Jack,” the head of the news outlet confirmed. “How are you doing today, Governor Prescott?”
“I trust the connection is secured?” the politician asked before continuing.
“Same as last time, sir.”
“Good. What do we have, gentlemen? Our last arrangement paid off big time. Hope this one will be just as lucrative.”
“As you know, a murder took place in Arcadia Bay, Oregon.” Weston cleared his throat then continued. “The victim was a quasi-celebrity too.”
“Ah, yes, Arcadia Bay. My brother, Sean, practically controls that entire state. So, what do you need from me?”
“The evidence is overwhelming. Right, Jack?”
“Mhmm. She’s guilty, no question.”
“Our Jane Doe pulled the trigger; ballistics doesn’t lie. The problem is the murder took place in Oregon. We need the trial moved to California so we can take advantage of our laws. Jack’s prison can handle the lockup, and if we push for the death penalty, we’ll be looking at a similar payout as last time, if not more.”
“Do you think she’ll fight it, gentlemen? Does she have family who might cause a rift? I’m confident my brother can get the signatures required to turn it over to us. But if she pushes back, it might not be so easy.”
“Well, she’s taken a vow of silence,” the warden responded. “There was a weird DNA issue. We’re not really sure what happened there, but we have no idea who she actually is. Her identity seems to match another girl who had actually been murdered too. It’s a very bizarre case.”
“That’s the only catch, Governor,” Weston hesitantly interjected. “Her identity matches the girl your nephew shot and killed in the Blackwell restroom. At least that’s what it appears, which we all know is impossible. The forensic labs can’t explain it, except to say that it’s known there are a rare handful of cases where the tests simply don’t work correctly.”
“Oh.” Silence fell over the conversation for a moment before the politician responded. “Yeah, I know a good bit about the Blackwell murder for obvious reasons. Now you’re saying it might somehow be connected to this new murder? It’s a shame really. My brother’s arrangement with the photographer was very profitable for our family. He cleaned that mess up the best he could, but if these murders are somehow connected, it feels a little too close for comfort. I’m not sure I want to be involved now.”
“There’s nothing to worry about, sir. Our only opponent is public perception. Let me take care of the media narrative. It is my job, you know, and I’m damn good at it. When I’m finished with this, all they’ll see is a filthy murderer getting what she deserves. We’ll keep her pictures to a minimum and slide it under the radar. We don’t have to make any forensic details public. By the time the execution rolls around, it won’t matter who the hell she is.”
“Poll numbers do show my voting constituents either favor capital punishment or are indifferent. If I can keep my base happy and make some money, I guess this arrangement will still work.”
“Yes, sir. The prison’s grants and contracts are so loosely written, this money will be like taking candy from a baby. Plus, we now have that other line of funding I told you about. The non-profit anti-capital punishment group essentially works for us now. Their leader is a rule breaker, a rebel. She’ll funnel funds our way short-term if we can ensure the girl is put to death. Apparently, she believes one life is a necessary and worthy sacrifice to grow her movement. She thinks she’s playing a game of chess here when she’s only got checkers pieces.”
Both Weston and Governor Prescott sniggered.
“As for me,” the warden spoke up. “I can barely afford chemo for my aunt even with our last payout. I’ve done some shit I’m not proud of over the years, but this might take the cake. I know that girl killed a man, but we don’t even know her side or her actual identity.”
“Is this going to be an issue, cousin? I’d hate to have to cut you out. I know you’re getting close to retirement.”
“It’s fine. We all have our reasons, and we’re in this together. No issues here, Wes.”
“It’s been a pleasure as always. If we stay the course and continue to be diligent, it looks like we’re gonna make some good money. I’ve got a fundraiser I need to run to now. I’ll check back in one week from today. Get to work, gentlemen.”
“Sounds good, Governor. Take care.”
6:00pm – Witness Arrival
When the meal was finished, the warden stood and walked around the table, helping Chloe to her feet. Laying one hand flat on her interior shoulder, the man shook his head. “We’ve had a number of prisoners come and go. I’ve seen some of the most interesting people I have ever met during my career here. But Jane, I meant it when I said I’ll miss you the most. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but there’s just something… special about you. Anyhow…”
He removed his hand from the girl’s shoulder and retrieved the radio that was still clipped to his belt. The man turned away and gave instructions over the communication device to someone on the other end about letting people inside.
“Witnesses will begin arriving soon.” A slightly tiresome, if disappointed tone lined the man’s words. He clipped the radio back to his belt and turned to share a glance with the girl. “We’ll get them settled then walk you to the execution chamber. You’ll have 120 seconds to give your final thoughts. I hope you do, too. One last time hearing you voice would be really nice. Then we’ll get on with it.”
After the warden spoke, she thought to herself that it would be really nice to hear the love of her life speak again. In her heart, the girl’s voice was the most amazing thing she’d ever heard. Despite how late it was in the day, she knew Max was going to save her, she just hoped for a little reassurance. If she were going to die today, that would be her final wish, to share one final moment where the two could simply exist… together.
Ouch. My head.
Max placed her palm on her forehead and blinked several times, clearing the fogginess from her view. Lowering her hand a few inches, she instinctually checked her nose and above her lips. With the opposite hand, she adjusted the rearview mirror to see herself in the reflection. To her surprise, the dried, flaking blood was much less than expected. She retrieved a napkin from the glove compartment and wiped her face clean.
Through the windshield, she scanned the outside area. It looked similar to how it was that morning, except the sun was in the opposite sky. It wasn’t daybreak anymore, evening was rolling in. The photographer glanced down at the digital clock among the other dashboard displays, realizing the tiny letters beside 6:55 read “pm”.
Oh no. Fuck!
Max noticed the gate had been unlocked and opened, and there were fresh tire tracks beside the vacant guard station. She couldn’t see the prison from her position, but it was clear others had arrived to witness the execution.
No, no, no, no… fuck, no.
Despite her trembling hands, she twisted the keys in the ignition, cranking her car. Panic was forcing bile to burn the lower portion of her throat, but she knew there was no time to worry about herself. She considered rewinding a little to buy some more time, but the girl very clearly understood that her power had limitations and consequential side effects. If she had any shot of saving Chloe, she would need every bit of energy she could produce.
Having backed into the parking space earlier, Max pulled straight out and turned onto the small road leading up to the prison. There wasn’t a second to spare. She pushed the gas pedal to the floor, squealing her tires in the process. Quickly fishing her Fresno Herald media badge from her bag, she came to a stop beside the second checkpoint and handed the pass to the guard. The man pulled out a two-page document with names listed in alphabetical order. He scanned the top page, found her name, and required the impatient driver to mark her attendance with initials. She rapidly took the pen and paper and added “MC” beside her name. The guard retrieved the document and pushed a button at his workstation, releasing the mechanism that held the gate shut. When the arms raised, Max floored the gas pedal again, frantically making her way forward.
As she crested the small pebble-ridden hill that led toward her destination, she saw a group of vehicles parked in front of a smaller building that connected to the main area. It was no doubt the space where the execution was scheduled to take place. A shudder besieged the driver’s body at the thought, though it didn’t impact her will to continue pushing forward.
She barely slowed, slamming down on the car’s brakes at the last moment and announcing her presence as the screeching tires left a black, smoking trail in her wake. The car was left horizontally in the front, with a full disregard for the paint on the asphalt designating spots where vehicles were supposed to park.
Max grabbed her bag and jumped out of the car, sprinting up the stairs, taking two at a time to the front of the building. A strange tickling sensation on the back of her neck stopped her for a brief second prior to opening the door. It was as if time ceased to move for an almost undetectable moment. She shrugged it off and gripped both handles, pulling outward and stepping inside.
7:00pm – Final Walk
The warden stayed in the room with Chloe for the last several minutes. He didn’t speak directly to her much. His focus was instead on answering multiple radio and phone calls, discussing details about her impending death that she wished she hadn’t overheard. She listened in as the man received word that it was time to proceed. “Let’s go, Jane.”
Chloe suddenly felt the temperature in the room increasing through a blazing wave of fear. Her faith in Max was wavering, and she hated herself for it. If Max hadn’t saved her yet, it must be part of her plan. Otherwise, something bad had happened to the girl, and that was a thought she didn’t want to consider. A mixture of mortal terror, an urgency to survive, and a dying wish to see Max again coagulated in her mind, clawing at her heart like prey in a beast’s clutches readying itself for the kill.
As they approached the side door leading to the injection chamber, several guards and a couple of medical professionals entered the room. Additional restraints were secured to the inmate’s current shackles for the short walk including heavy ankle cuffs she hadn’t previously had to wear. The institution required all prisoners to have periodic health checkups, but Chloe didn’t recognize the man nor woman in doctor’s garb.
Doctor Black, as her name badge read, stepped forward, leaned in, and then whispered in the prisoner’s ear. “It doesn’t hurt. It’ll be over before you even know it – quicker and gentler than falling asleep.” Her hair looked similar to Max’s but longer and wavier. She was a couple of inches taller too, but still shorter than Chloe.
Inching back from the doctor’s face, Chloe looked deep into her almost familiar grey eyes, a deep sadness projecting outward. “Sometimes I hate my job,” the woman began after lowering her voice. “I’m more of a specialist now; most doctors don’t usually attend the actual execution since it’s against their code of conduct. Jack brought me in because of my flawless track record. It’s important to me that the dosage is correct and there’s no negative effects. If humans are so fucking barbaric to agree on ending someone’s life, I can at least make sure there’s no pain. We all have to die at some point. It’ll totally suck for most of us, but I have the power to take the pain away.” Chloe nodded and the doctor rejoined her colleague just beyond the open door.
From her location, the prisoner couldn’t quite see into the execution chamber. She hoped Max was sitting in the front row, eagerly ready to do whatever she had planned to do. To her dismay, as they started walking, she noticed the curtain between the viewing area and the chamber was down, blocking even a peek of the others beyond the glass. She heard muffled conversations through the wall, but none of the voices could be distinguished. It sent an eerie chill through her extremities knowing a room full of people were anticipating watching life slip from her grip and her body pass away. It was such a morbid idea that people chose to be in that exact location to watch her die.
Time seemed to slow as a tiny tickle trailed down her neck, but she didn’t think it was Max’s doing. Her eyes moved from the curtain-blocked window to the gurney where she was being lead. Restraints were removed so the team could then strap the inmate in. The guards readied themselves in case the girl tried anything at the last moment.
“Do you understand what’s happening here today?” the Warden asked as he held a sheet of paper up, reading the script in front of him.
The girl nervously bobbed her head in confirmation. The metal chains and cuffs were gathered from their pile and relocated from the chamber. The prison staff surrounding Chloe continued prepping the gurney straps.
“When the curtains are drawn, you will have two minutes for any final statements. Use this time to make peace in this life and hope for a better one in the next. After your soul leaves and time of death is declared, we will dispose of your remains per the Last Testament documents. Since you refused to complete the forms, the state will choose the most cost-effective arrangements, which is cremation of the body.” The man pointed to the guard nearest the curtains and pointed. “Go ahead, Jess.”
As the witness room was revealed, Chloe feverishly scanned the individuals in attendance. Eyes darting from one person to the other: a couple of police officers, several reporters with notepads and tape recorders, a blonde teen in the back with a streak of red in her bangs, several men in suits, and others she couldn’t place.
Her heart fractured into a thousand pieces, sinking to the pits of her soul, when she couldn’t locate Max. A sobering numbness flooded through her, eyes beginning to glaze as she was coming to terms with her fate. Another thought crossed her mind that she hadn’t considered previously. When she found herself on the cliff after Max photo jumped back to the bathroom to prevent the storm, she realized some form of her had been murdered and left to die on the floor. Chloe was safely in her original timeline, but Max allowed another version of herself to die; at least that’s what she thought. What if Max already used a photo to jump back in time, similarly saving a different version of Chloe, but this time, she was the version that was left behind?
“Oh, fuck,” the prisoner whispered to herself, too quiet for anyone else to hear. “Goddammit, why didn’t I think of that? Shit. She left me… again.” Tears began to slide down her cheeks, realizing she was on her own now. Nothing would save her from what was coming, and death was there to collect. Her soul was laden with despair and sorrow. She didn’t mourn for her own death, that was now an inevitability. She mourned for her future with Max that was now dead and would never be realized. “No fucking way. She wouldn’t do that. Not her. She’s MY Max.”
Suddenly, the door burst open and her favorite person was standing in the door frame out of breath. The setting sun behind her spilled into the room, creating an eclipse-like effect around the girl. She looked like a superhero arriving to fight the bad guy just in the nick of time. Chloe’s heart nearly shot from her chest, as her body trembled at such a beautiful sight. Max ran to the front and pressed both hands and her face against the viewing window’s smooth, cold surface. “Chloe! My Chloe!”
Taking the cue, the prisoner shoved the nearest guard into the others, causing half of the people in the injection chamber to topple over like dominoes. “Max!” Breaking free, she ran to the glass and pressed her palms to the opposite side of where her best friend’s hands were held. For a brief time, the girls were together again. Where Max began and where Chloe ended momentarily became one in the same. Their spirits were in complete alignment, and they were each overjoyed to be in the presence of the other. Both girls unknowingly shut their eyes to simply exist together before the gravity of the situation took hold.
Chloe reopened hers and saw the weariness in Max’s. She’d seen that look on the photographer’s face before and knew what it meant. “How many times have you rewound, Max?” she hollered through the window. “How many times!?”
“Too many, Chloe. I’m not sure I can do it again.” As soon as the words flowed from her lips, she was snatched by the shoulders and thrown the floor. When her body struck the ground, another torturous high-pitched tone pierced through Max’s mind as it had earlier that morning. Everything became distant and dull. The execution chamber and witness room started spinning, and a flash of light replaced tangibility while a fog of nothingness encapsulated the girl. The universe bled from her sight, her mind drifting away from her body. She fought against it and resisted the nearly overwhelming urge to pass out once more.
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.
Someone was crouching over her, but she couldn’t tell who it was from her spot on the floor. “Believe in yourself, Max. You still have the power to save her. Don’t give up, you got this. It’s all that matters.” A teenage girl’s voice called out from the distance, filling the brunette’s heart with vigor. With a newfound strength to move forward, Max felt a seed of confidence shoot up through the soil of her self-doubt and begin to bloom. She pivoted her body just in time to see the teen run her hand through short-cropped, blonde hair, turn to look back once again, then push the door open and disappear outside.
Extending her arm and holding out her hand she fought to rewind again. Like a waking dream from an out-of-body experience, the pain was diluted and forced to the far stretches of her mind. Reality froze in place, and she remembered a previous instance when her power seemed to fail her. She once trudged to the roof of the Blackwell dorms under similar circumstances where she stopped Kate Marsh from jumping. Max now knew it wasn’t her power failing her, as she originally believed, it was her own understanding of it that needed updating.
I-I’ve got this. I’m coming for you, Chloe!
The time traveler pushed herself off the ground and turned to avoid the guard who remained in a suspended state. One baby step at a time, Max made her way around the other witnesses, to the side door, and into the injection chamber where Chloe also remained frozen in place. She quickly removed the restraining straps and wrapped one arm around the girl’s waist. Max strained harder than she ever had before, sending a pulsating wave from her rewind that radiated outward. The spiraled column appeared and, rather than fight against it, causing her to lose three months of her life again, she waited for the vacuum-like sensation to start. Instead of resisting, she allowed the current to pull her and Chloe inside, both vanishing from the chamber and leaving the prison in their wake.