In the Hour of My Death, by A.W. Gifford
I’ve heard that somewhere in the world, there is another person that looks just like you; a doppelganger I guess you could say. However, no two unrelated people are ever exactly alike. There are always some subtle differences: a mole here, a slight difference to the nose there, a dimple in the chin. So, when I stumbled across an article about Walter Dodge in USA Today along with his photo, I had no doubt that he was my identical twin.
Being that I was adopted, I never knew I had a twin, but I knew I had less than four hours to convince those that mattered that I did. Despite the lack of time, I didn’t jump up and bang on my cell door. Instead, I slid back on my cot, picked at my last meal and began to read the article.
The headline read “Walter Dodge, Forty-two, Accused of the Kidnapping, Rape and Murder of Six Teenage Girls”. First, I concentrated on his age. He and I were the same. Then I noted the accusations made against him were the same as the ones that put me here within twenty feet of an execution chamber. Well, not the exact accusation, I was accused of the kidnap, rape and murder of just one girl: thirteen-year-old Kimberly Mason, granddaughter of U.S. Senator Tom Mason. She was a girl I’d never seen in my life until the trial, where her parents sat alongside a larger-than-life poster of their daughter, smiling.
A witness put me at home at the time of Kimberly’s death, but DNA evidence will put a needle in my arm. How my DNA ended up anywhere near that girl, I couldn’t explain. Now, after seeing Walter Dodge in the paper, I had that explanation and hopefully a reason for a stay in my execution.
I rose from my cot and went to the door of my cell. As it was, I couldn’t see more than the far wall through the little window in the door.
“Guard,” I said, but not very loud, as my voice caught in my throat. “Guard,” I called again, a bit louder.
My needs are not very high on the guard’s priority list so when I called it took several minutes for Officer Lilly to wander over. A real pussy name for a Death Row guard and a real dick of a man if you ask me, but this was going to be the man I had to convince of my innocence.
“Did you call?” He made no effort to hide his annoyance.
I held the picture of Walter Dodge against the window. “Does this man look familiar?”
“He looks like an asshole.”
“Do you see a resemblance?” I held the paper next to my face.
He looked at me, then to the paper, then back at me. “You kinda look like him.”
“He’s my twin.”
“So.” I just shook my head and dropped the paper to my side. Why did I think this man would want to help? “He’s been charged with kidnap and murder.”
“Can I see the picture again?” Lilly asked.
I held the paper up so he could get a good look. At that moment, I thought that he was going to help me.
“If he’s your twin, I guess your family is just full of bad seeds.”
“I’m not a bad seed, asshole. He’s the one who’s the killer. Two of his victims are from the same city as Kimberly.”
“Senator Mason’s granddaughter. The reason I’m here; the one I was accused of killing.”
“You mean convicted,” Lilly said smiling. What a prick.
I poked the picture of Walter Dodge almost putting my finger through the paper. “He killed her.”
Lilly laughed. “I’ve heard some whoppers from dead men in my time, but that’s a new one.
“Can you just tell the warden that I’d like to see him?”
“Sure, I’ll do just that.” He walked away still laughing.
My gut told me that the warden wouldn’t be coming to my cell anytime soon. The muffled laughter coming from the guardroom confirmed my suspicions.
After spending about an hour yelling at Lilly to get his pudgy ass back to my cell, I resigned myself that neither he, nor the warden would be coming to my cell until one of them brought the prison chaplain. I didn’t know when that would be, but I knew that he would be my best chance at a stay. I sat on my cot, picked up the paper and began flipping though.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. Any man, guilty or not, sitting in my position would be terrified. The fear doesn’t come from the possibility of pain, but from Death itself. Death is the ultimate unknown. It doesn’t matter if you believe in God and the soul living on after the body decays, or if you believe that we snuff out like a burned out candle. It’s the prospect of finding out that’s terrifying. What if your beliefs are wrong?
I guess that’s the whole point of faith, isn’t it? You can’t really live if you don’t have faith in what happens to you after you die. But when you are so close to death you could shake its hand, you begin to ask questions.
The prison chaplain arrived about an hour and a half before my arm was to meet a needle. He knocked and asked if he could come in as if he was coming to my home for a visit.
I motioned for him to enter and a guard I hadn’t seen before carried in a folding chair and placed it across from my cot.
“Mind if I sit?”
I motioned to the chair.
The two of us sat in silence for a moment.
“I’m here for your peace of mind, my child,” the chaplain said.
I picked up the paper and held it out. “You see this man?”
The chaplain looked from the paper to me. “There is a remarkable resemblance.”
“I believe this man is my twin.”
“He must be very sad you’re here.”
“He’s the reason I’m here,” I said, “I believe it was his DNA on Kimberly, not mine.” I wanted to scream. I wanted the whole world to hear me, but I kept my voice contained.
“And this Kimberly is the reason you’re here?” He leaned forward and took my hands into his.
“Yes,” I said and paused. “Walter Dodge is my identical twin, I’m sure of it. And only identical twins have identical DNA. That explains how I could be at home with friends when Kimberly was killed.”
“Have you told the warden any of this?” I could see genuine concern on the chaplain’s face; either that or this man was a hell of an actor.
“I’ve asked to see the warden over an hour ago.”
He seemed to contemplate this for a moment, then said, “Let us pray.”
I didn’t feel much like praying, but I let the chaplain say a few words.
After he finished, he flipped open his bible and tore out the few blank pages in the back of the book. Wasn’t it blasphemous to desecrate a bible in such a way? He handed the pages to me along with a pen. How he got the pen in here, I have no idea and I didn’t ask.
“Take these and write down your story. I’m going to see what I can do, but I can’t make promises.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Here I was, less than an hour from my date with death and someone actually believed me. I could almost feel the grass beneath my feet and a breeze in my face. I got those things a few times in the yard, but it’s different when you’re a free man. Oh, how I hope.
It’s been about an hour since the chaplain left my cell. Hope is a cruel mistress.
I wrote my story down as fast as I could. I wasn’t sure if I should let any of the guards see what I was doing, so I haven’t. I just hope that whoever finds this can read my writing.
I hear them coming for me, so I have to go. I hope to return to these pages and tell the story of how I got a stay at the last minute. If not, whoever finds this, tell my parents I love them and please tell my story and let the world know that I was Walter Dodges final victim.
Max Heller, prisoner 55478
October 20, 2014
A.W. Gifford is an internationally unknown author who gets many of his story ideas from the nightmares of his wife, Jennifer. She too is an author of dark fiction, but she refuses to write her own nightmares as she fears doing so will make them come true. Story ideas also come to him from his dogs, the dust bunnies under the bed and one very helpful garden gnome. He is an editor at Bête Noire Magazine and Dark Opus Press and his work has appeared in numerous magazines, anthologies and was once spotted stalking the woods of the Pacific Northwest. He, on the other hand, can be found stalking the woods in the northern suburbs of Detroit, while his wife and daughter huddle in the warmth of the house with their two dogs and the aforementioned dust bunnies.
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Tags: A.W. Gifford, mistakes, murder