by Peter Jordan
Before the sun is up they lead him through the basement corridor. He wears only a robe, and beneath it, cotton trunks. The two guards close either side of him make him look very small. Behind him are the warden and a round-faced Baptist minister.
In his mind he imagines he is walking to the ring. He had always wanted to be a boxer. On his cell wall is his only piece of contraband: a poster of a boxing colossus: the great Joe Louis. He told the minister he had once seen his idol in the flesh. It was the only thing he really talked about.
In those final weeks the minister had tried to teach him to recite the Lord’s Prayer. He could say, “Our father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name” and the minister would finish the prayer, standing there beside him in the small cell.
When they reach the death chamber the guards remove his robe. He throws a flamboyant uppercut and mumbles. The guards place a hand on each shoulder, forcing him to sit. They strap his wrists and feet to the chair. He shivers as a tall thin man in a black suit tapes a stethoscope to his bare chest. This same man then places a dish of small white cyanide pellets underneath the chair.
He looks through the hard glass window.
A couple of dozen newspapermen and witnesses watch and listen. One of the newspapermen — who has forgotten to remove his hat — says to his colleague, “Only his god can stop it now.”
After the men withdraw from the chamber, the tall man in the black suit waits exactly sixty seconds then pulls a string.
Cold sulfuric acid pours onto the small white pellets. As the whitish-gray smoke rises slowly from the bowl he holds his breath. A large rectangular microphone has been placed in front of him; the type he has seen in dance halls. He clenches his right fist, pulls against the leather strap and says something. When he talks the white vapor coils from his nostrils as if he is smoking a cigar. But he keeps talking, repeating the same thing over and over.
The man in the dark suit looks at his stopwatch: almost three minutes and he’s still talking, still saying something. It should have worked by now; a day earlier it had worked just fine with a couple of dogs. But that was in the heat of the afternoon; in the cold early morning the reaction is cruelly slow.
He continues mumbling the same thing over and over. The Baptist minister knows it’s the Lord’s Prayer, but the newspapermen can’t hear, and they need to hear.
They shout to the warden.
The Baptist minister looks at them and whispers something into the warden’s ear.
Someone adjusts a dial.
Every single soul gathered hears clearly what he’s saying. “Save me, Joe Louis! Save me, Joe Louis! Save me …”
Peter Jordan is this year’s winner of the Bare Fiction prize. He has received various awards, including a literary bursary from the Lisa Richards Agency, while taking an MA in Creative Writing. Three Arts Council grants followed. His work has appeared in numerous literary magazines and journals, including Flash: The International Short Story Magazine, The Pygmy Giant, Flash500, Thresholds, The Incubator, The Honest Ulsterman and The Avatar Review. In addition, seven of his stories are in anthologies. He has taken time out from a PhD in Belfast’s Seamus Heaney Centre. His short story collection, Untouchable, will be published this summer by Kingston University Press. You will find him on Twitter @pm_jordan.