In three minutes I would begin what is known as "the long walk down".
Two minutes and 59 seconds of freedom.
Followed by a sentence of fifteen years.
Or death in my case.
They call it 'life' and laugh and say, well him - 'he'll be out in ten'.
But for me 'life' is in fact 'death'.
Make a lot of people happy that.
But I know. I will die in prison.
My arms are gripped either side as my sentence is announced.
'Easy tigers' I want to say.
Take it easy. I'm not nervous. Not distraught. Not suicidal.
I am in fact, prepared.
I am led into the holding cell.
Already, smells are becoming important.
I will remember this smell for a while, then it will be replaced by other smells, most representing cleanliness. Funny that - how we always prepare for dirty deeds by scrubbing everything thoroughly.
Kill someone sir?
Must scrub this cell before we put you in it.
'Oh, sorry, it was two, a mother and a daughter, then we'll take you to the execution cell sir'.
Do you know they always use brand new needles when they execute by injection?
Now where is the logic in that?
I mean, what are you going to catch?
My mind slides for a moment.
Then I recall how it is going to be. Habit. The key word.
Get used to looking forward to food. Varying menus. Exciting puddings.
And get used to violence. Fuck, that has to be exciting.
It's always exciting in the films.
Everyone has their own idea of horror.
Most of us fear death because of uncertainty - it keeps us on our toes. Stops us throwing ourselves in front of the tube on a Monday morning. So that kind of leads to the idea that there are good reasons why we don't know what happens when we die. That someone is deliberately keeping it from us.
Believe me, it sounds complicated but it isn't, it is a simple fact.
We aren't allowed to know.
A tray is passed through the A4 gap in my cell.
Ah good, baked potato and beans. Tea looks a bit stewed though.
Hot but not hot enough to scald.
If we knew, we'd all be throwing ourselves off the nearest bridge.
Everything has a starting point. A reason. Birth, death, road accident, murder.
Yet sometimes it doesn't.
How many times is an incident reported where there is no explanation?
A disappearance. A killing. An assault.
And it is filed, under that heading.
"By persons unknown"
"Could give no reason . . ."
And we tut and turn over to the TV page.
Everything has a reason.
When I asked 'why?' they said because something was going to happen to me.
They didn't say what but I guess it was linked to my death.
And this made me 'chosen'. In a way.
I could have pushed it I suppose but it kind of melted into the background due to other events.
As I sipped my tea in this white box I wished I had pursued it further. It would have given my being here more principle. But I wasn't complaining. Anything but there.
I wonder if anyone would mind if I smoked?
Thinking back, there were a lot of stages at which I should have asked 'why?'.
But the mind overloads.
Why is replaced by other questions and those by others.
In the end it all congealed into a moan.
And whereas before, time had been something to fear - to respect, where there had been appointments, getting to work on time and old age to worry about - here, time would take on an extra dimension. Contemplation, meditation, guilt - usually about how things went wrong.
This was where I would begin.
Lights out soon.
Plenty of time for thinking. Years of thinking.
Lights out. Silence.
I should revel in this.
When they move me to my next home 'lights out' will take on a different resonance.
My lock-up. My cell.
With all the other outcasts, hungry and waiting for me.
For me real fear is not the unknown it is the understanding of what will happen. And I know that.
I am the reason.
There was a crossing point. When time paused.
I was crossing that road, the sun had glinted slightly, not in my eye but against the bicycle leant against the lamp post. I recall a child's laughter and then, as if innocence had pointed the way, I found myself walking up the drive. Avoiding the stones strewn along the path and then Rebecca, waiting at the door. Smiling and all-knowing.
"Come in," she had said.
And I knew I didn't want to but also that this was not my choice. So I took her hand and tried to ignore its coldness.
What did I expect?
Someone to take my details at reception?
To offer me a cup of tea?
What I didn't understand yet was that all these preconceptions no longer existed. So there was nothing to expect.
Rachel smiled again.
There were many rooms. Too many to count.
"Why?" I asked for the last time.
"When you see, you still won't understand. But you won't ask 'why' again."
I said nothing and followed Rachel towards the blue door and beyond. I was overcome with an absolute apprehension. A terror that I could not control and it lay within this room.
Yet, as I felt Rachel leave my side, alone with the fear - something was here to explain and it nudged and spoke to me.
"These are the lost children."
"No you don't, not yet. The fear is speaking for you, yet listen and be patient."
He/she was right, I couldn't see a thing. Whatever was communicating with me was here but I couldn't see it, yet its presence was overwhelming.
Then I felt someone grip my hand. It was cold. And small and it did not grip in a loving or trusting way, it was more, urgent.
"We have to look after them here. They arrive from all over."
The hand that gripped mine pulled me to one side and whispered,
"I didn't want to come but they made me."
The voice sounded miserable and on the verge of tears. I heard myself ask,
"How long have you been here?"
I felt the grip lessen as I became aware of other small figures moving around my legs. I could only make out shadows, although for a second I glimpsed a face - white, with eyes gripped shut.
"I'm scared," one said, a girl this time.
It reminded me of school playground, only at night. Where children cluster around the teacher - for safety. The air was very, very cold.
There was a feint smell of perfume, slightly stale, as if someone had passed by days ago. Rachel appeared to my right, just out of eye shot, yet I knew she was there and turned my head towards the greenish light surrounding the entrance to this room.
"You said the Lost Children?"
"These are the ones who disappear. Late at night, early in the morning, after school - they arrive here."
"They are brought here?"
"When they have passed through the system - which is actually death - they are brought here. They are here because their removal from life is never fully acknowledged. Their protectors never know where they have gone."
"A kind of limbo?" I interjected.
"Limbo implies a state of inaction that leads onto another state. Good or bad. They never leave this room."
A figure scuttled between my legs. It wasn't playful, it was a dash from something that had scared it.
"How many are there?"
"The figure increases every minute, every second. It isn't pleasant."
"And we are brought up to believe in heaven and hell..."
Rachel placed a cold arm around my shoulder,
"That getting murdered, raped or tortured is as bad as it gets - that in the 'after world' the bad get their comeuppance and the good will sip sangria on a beach in paradise. Not that the innocent will suffer for eternity."
"It wasn't how it was supposed to be, but most systems turn bad in the end."
She wiped a warm tear from my cheek.
"The grieving process never ends. Do we ever consider the reason for this? After all there is no good reason why someone so young and innocent is taken away. There is no 'getting over it'. There is no end to the anguish."
I shifted over towards the wall. I needed something solid to lean against.
"And that's the rationale for them being here."
One side of Rachel's face lit up as she turned towards the door.
"Well at least you've stopped asking 'why?'"
"And you are showing me this because I am part of another 'system'," I spat.
"It's just a system. We try to categorize everything in life. Some things just don't belong anywhere, that's all. Think of it as a complicated computer program that cannot be actioned without this piece of code that makes up this room."
"So there is a greater reason then?"
"And that was almost another 'why?' question."
Gasps and loud hushing rang around the room.
"Don't leave us." A small voice appeared by my side.
Rachel pulled me towards the door.
"It's the hope that upsets them."
A rush of air shot around my waist as if whoever was in front of me knew that they had to get away from the entrance quick. I could make out a moaning sound.
It sounded fearful and I couldn't work out if it was coming from within me, or if it was around us, bouncing off the walls.
I followed after Rachel's departing shadow into the hallway. Glancing back at the doorway I looked into what was now glass. Solid and unpenetrating.
Rachel grew impatient.
"Time is no longer a luxury David. Let's move."
For a second I saw a different emotion in her face as the mask dropped.
Was it hatred, or was it the knowledge of what this place was about?
She paused before we entered the adjoining room. The frame of this entrance was decorated with seemingly pointless detail. Wild animals, beasts of some sort, entangled with human forms, climbing up and around the top of the doorway. I reached out to touch the smooth metallic surface, drawn by its intricacies.
Rachel grabbed my hand. The coldness penetrated me.
Again the room was dimmed.
"No light." I cursed at verbalising the obvious.
"Senses don't need visual nourishment."
This time Rachel stayed by my side. Perhaps before, she wanted me to experience sensory contact. Or she wanted them to experience me.
I closed my eyes, evolving to the circumstance.
Immediately the noises began, as if they waited my cue.
"I can't stand it any more."
"How can you say that you bitch!"
This was surround sound nature-style. The words swirled around my head, in and out of my stomach, between the gaps in my teeth. Each word holding an intensity, an emotion - each carrying its own message, its holdall of reason.
Full of hatred, lost love, momentary madness. I understood it all at once and yet knew that none of it made sense. I felt my fingers flicker as whispers shot through my arms,
"I don't fucking well know OK?!"
Then a quieter sound,
"I can't take any more."
It was my voice. But not from now, from here. It was from a night from years before - I was angry, no, in love, and angry. She had done or said something - I had felt such fury towards her or the action. Then it had gone. We had made up as we usually did, a bottle of wine or two, a spliff and we were both late for work the following morning. I could smell her now.
Rachel touched my hand.
"This is how it works."
I looked into her eyes and beyond and knew that she had shared my experience.
"It felt so real."
"Emotions make up our very being. They create and destroy, they burn rightly for a second, for a month, sometimes for years. The point being, that they die eventually, when we let them go, like balloons in a strong wind."
"Waiting for someone else to grab hold of the passing string."
"Correct. Arguments waiting to be plucked from thin air."
"And in here?"
Rachel stepped forward and I opened my eyes. I could just about make out her hands making a sweeping motion around her.
"All of these, are the ones that disappear, fly too high for anyone to touch - they have too much energy. It used to make me laugh, how people talked about how voices and feelings fly away into the stratosphere - entirely metaphorical of course. But they didn't know how close they were to the truth."
Something hit me from behind. This felt foreign. Not mine. This was a feeling of despair. I held my head in my hands and felt sobs heaving up from my chest. I was surrounded by death - of loved ones, of a future life. I couldn't see forwards any more, only into the past. This was crazy, it felt like I had a grip of something, a ledge, but that slowly and deliberately my grip was lessening. And in all its madness this felt like the right thing to do - that to live on was somehow wrong and more than pointless.
Shit, that hurt.
A slap to the face is the greatest wake-up call of all.
It sobers and snaps you back to reality, as if your mind rewinds and you can start again - now what was I really doing.
"Sorry. It takes that sometimes."
"I was going somewhere."
"Away from here that's for sure. We had better leave, you are stronger than me after all and I can't manipulate every situation."
This time I was ahead of Rachel in leaving the room, rubbing my cheek, checking behind me even though I knew there was just Rachel.
Once in the hallway we both looked back, although Rachel didn't appear to be checking anything, she had the air of a tour guide. Me, I was scared shitless.
It was the brightness that caught my eye. Utter sunshine, brighter than I had ever seen before. It was the sun from the sharpest summers afternoon, fresh and inviting. The sort that draws you into the garden then leaves you to ponder in awe at nature's greatness.
At the end of the hallway stood a pine door that was half open. I could see vague refection's of the green plants against the wood that moved slightly in the fresh breeze. And what freshness it was, pure and cool and it swept towards where we both waited. And the sun beckoned.
"I cannot stop you, " Rachel said,
"it is written after all."
She smiled and shook my hand. It seemed somehow warmer this time.
"Is that it?"
"Close the door behind you."
I felt myself ushered towards the sunlight, then suddenly the door banged shut and I was standing in a street, a street of which I had no recollection.
In the warmth of the sun I moved towards a throng of shoppers and glancing around for street signs, I gradually recognised snippets of scenery. I was in a street parallel to where I had began. And I was very, very cold. And I didn't feel like I had been given a second chance or anything, or that what I had experienced had not really happened. It felt like a continuance.
Arriving at my front door, I must admit it felt good to be home. Although in effect, I had not been away, it felt like I had been somewhere else, with someone else - I felt guilt - but this disappeared on sight of Angie and the kids in the garden.
This was normality. My life. It wasn't so bad. That's the perfection of normality, it's always there when you want it.
I'll put it down to an out of body experience, or payback for those bottles of wine at the weekend.
"You're home early . . ."
It always rains on Mondays. Iron-grey clouds and wind swirls of wetness, the windscreen wipers not quite fast enough to wash away the blurred image of the road ahead. Where had the sun gone?
Angie slowed down as we approached the traffic lights, Warren Road on the left, Stanley Drive about a hundred yards after - then there would be a bicycle leaning against a telegraph pole in the middle of the grass verge.
"Stanley Drive is coming up."
Angie glanced across at me.
"Then drop me after the next road."
"Soon you'll stop asking 'why?'"
"Are you OK? Look these kids need to get to school before nine."
"Just drop me here. I'll be fine."
"What about work?"
"I'll phone in sick."
"Great. Why don't you tell them you've been drinking again."
And she slammed the door. And left me there.
This is as it appears in my statement.
Fate is in control. Isn't that what Rachel meant?
So I couldn't change what was going to happen. Who was in control of fate though - and shouldn't their sanity be challenged?
People shouldn't be discriminated against because of the way they dress but this is way beyond political correctness. He didn't look right, he stuck out like a sex offender outside a school playground - which is exactly where he was. Light blue anorak, holes in the elbows, fraying where the hood joins the collar. His trousers were dark grey and ill-fitting - you could see his socks and the heels of his shabby shoes were shorn away on one side. He didn't stand still either, he was making out he was with someone, a child, making out he was dropping someone off, smiling, then looking away quickly, then back towards the children gathered in a group before him, their parents leaving one by one as they recognise safety in numbers - all the school friends huddled in ones and twos, singing, pushing, laughing.
He looks more vulnerable now as the mothers and fathers disperse. He has time slot to hit and it has to be precise. Not too soon to attract a shout of surprise, a startled scream that would bring a grown-up running. Yet not too late when teachers appear and children are called to their lessons and another day is wasted. You only get one chance. He moves in and I follow. He has spotted his prey and I watch his persona evolve from that of a stranger to one of a friendly uncle, a new supply teacher perhaps, lost on his first day. The facial transition is frighteningly real, he does actually appear extremely friendly, trustworthy.
There is a young boy in a green coat, zipped up to his chin, his hair parted neatly to the left. He kicks a ball absentmindedly against a wall, just slightly apart from the others. It's enough though and anorak makes his move, tapping the boy slightly on he shoulder (no real physical contact yet) then kicking the ball against the wall in an exaggerated way, catching the return, flicking it into the air and trapping it under his foot. Then he kicks the ball quite hard, intending for the boy to head it back to him but it strikes him on the ear, painfully and he turns to the man in surprise at what this stranger is capable of. The boys face is white and his eyes are gripped tightly shut.
Then I make my move. The knife freshly lifted from our kitchen drawer this morning, still warm from the heat of the dishwasher. It made perfect sense now, the house, the lost children, why I had been shown. I took him from behind, not wanting any fuss - get the job done quickly. A slice from left to right, deep and certain, I placed the boy's discarded scarf around anorak's neck, not to stem the flow, more to stifle any attention, any screaming. He didn't struggle much, perhaps he was so poisoned inside he welcomed the release. I used that in my statement as well, not because I thought it would help my case, but because it sounded poetic. And now he lay on the floor, convulsing in his throes of death and the boy ran - very unaware of his other fate.
They saw me as insane. Not mad. Not bonkers enough to be sent to a hospital. Just off my head at the time. A killer stalking an innocent outside a school. An unknown innocent. Happened to be passing. No known family. A sign of the times. Thank god no children were involved.
So here I lay, protected and clean. Well fed, some exercise, access to books and in time, educational facilities. I have considered the options that lay before me, when I acted; who I have sacrificed - my wife and children, friends. I would still do the same. Am I mad? Explain to me how reality works and I'll tell you. What is real to me and them may not concern your existence and maybe, sometimes, the paths cross. For a reason. I think back to that house and wonder about the small boy sometimes. Is he still there? Is the anorak there in his place?
A light glimmers through my A4 slot and the door is pulled open, heavy and silent, no loud bangs or clanking of keys. An electronic buzzer sounds and I am asked to get to my feet. Handcuffs are attached and we leave my home and enter the transitionary world of low expectations, where conversations are non-existent and thought is all there is. The van is parked close to the wrought gates and I experience a brief shiver of the weather outside as we pass into the white cage. It is cold and grim, and yet I realise that my life in here is preferable by far to anything the outside world may offer, where soon, there will be a house like Rachel's on every street corner.