The Hand of a Killer

by Foster Trecost

My first time, I still remember it. We were both scared, but maybe I was more scared. They asked me when I wanted it to happen, the executing. I had to kill someone, and someone else wanted to know when. I thought midnight might be a good time, so I said, “Twelve,” but I was nervous, and I stutter when I'm nervous, and so I stuttered. That's how it happened that my first execution took place at 12:12. And every one since has taken place at 12:12.

I'd like to think I wasn't always like this, but I'm sure I was, even before I knew it, and I don't reckon I've changed all that much. This latest one killed his whole family, wife, kids. I don't reckon he's changed all that much either. I'm not sure why he killed them, but after, he tried to kill himself. This much I can understand.

I darted my eyes between him and the two-way. Just when I was about to give thumbs up, this guy asked me to hold his hand. No one ever asked anything like that before, and I wasn't sure what to do.

When I was a boy, the ice broke, and I fell right through. My whole body stiffed up, and my hand shot toward the hole, and I just wanted someone to hold it, to pull me out of the crazy mess I'd fallen into. And someone did. Someone held my hand, so I held his. He squeezed, and I squeezed, and in his eyes, I could tell what he was thinking, the same thing I was thinking, that we weren't all that different. I held the hand of a killer, and so did he.

When my thumb went up, my assistant knew I was clear, and then he'd flip the switch. I locked eyes again with the man whose life I was about to take. I thought about icy water, and realized maybe I'd changed after all. Without freeing my hand, I gave thumbs up with the other.