By: Achiraya Kurth
My alarm clock stirs me out of bed. I give him a good pat on the head to stop the shaking and constant yelling to “Get the hell up.” I miss the alarm clocks of my past life; the ones that couldn’t speak. They could only muster out the iconic beep, beep, beep.
The alarm then tells me to keep my hands off of him, or he’ll have no choice but to taze. I get a new alarm every week. As soon as Sunday night rolls around they probably grab their paycheck and move out to Washington Island just so that they never have to hear my voice or look me in the eyes ever again. Well, that’s my theory on it anyway. Why else would I never hear of or see them ever again? Why else would each alarm clock come more and more armed each week?
I wait for the alarm clock to step outside my door, giving me my usual millisecond to shove my hands up my pillowcase to check for my belongings. My stash is still there. I breathe a sigh of relief, as every single tablet counts. One going missing could totally throw off my plan.
I go out for my usual morning walk. I’m not allowed mirrors anymore (safety reasons) so this is one of my only chances to get a glimpse through the building’s glass windows to see how the old pear is rotting.
I’m ordered to walk with my head down, eyes forward. Did they really think that would keep them safe? It’s like my mama used to say, “You’ve got eyeballs piercing outta the back of your head son! Not a single person will ever be able to keep a secret from you or speak ill on your name. You’d see the whole darn thing.”
She was right. I could see everything. I could see whenever Johnny would pour salt into Mama’s coffee mug and then put the blame on me. I could also see him creeping into my room at night, completely demolishing all my Lego towers that I worked so hard on, all day long.
Out of Johnny’s many late-night adventures into my room, there’s one that I’m able to recall vividly. Every detail of that night has remained intact in my memory. He tiptoed in like he usually did and went straight for my Hulk action figure I had just recently been gifted for my sixth birthday. I couldn’t believe it. I’d thought he’d use my birthday as an excuse to take off from his night shift, but nope he just started pulling the poor guy apart. I was terrified of him. A 16-year-old VS. a 5-year-old. What’re the odds?
Johnny’s next move was to take Hulk’s scattered remains and (attempted) to flush him down the toilet. The $29.99 Hulk action figure that Mama saved up for just didn’t want to go down. He ran into Mama’s room screaming that I clogged up the toilet. Little me had never seen Mama so heartbroken. She went on a ramble about how much money she had saved to get me the present, how she was going to lose even more money to hire a plumber, and how we weren’t going to be able to afford dinner for a week. Thinking back on it, I tuned out most of what she was saying and paid more attention to the belt in her hands, swinging side to side by her waist.
That was only one of the many hard beatings I received as a child. Every single one of them was because of Johnny. That’s probably why I chose to make him first.
I’m lost in my thoughts, reminiscing the past I long to return to. Anywhere is better than this hellhole. With my living room that reeked of cigarettes, and my blood-stained bed sheets that marked a tussle with my brother, you’d think I’d be grateful to be cooped up in this place. A place that kept me away from my mother. At least back at home I’d get my own privacy. There wouldn’t be strangers pressing whatever they could get their hands on against my back, drilling a hole deep enough to bear all of my trauma.
“Move it,” the alarm ordered as he shoved his baton deep enough into my back to make a crater.
“Why is no one else around?”
“No talking. Silence is not a right for you anymore, it’s a requirement.”
But I already knew why. I was just testing to see how much he truly knew about me. To see whether or not he read up on my case before applying for the job. I heard the guards outside my door before, talking about how it isn’t safe to have other patients around me. That I might lash out at them. That I need to have a guard with me at all times. I came in knowing I would be stripped of my freedom; not my privacy. The showers, the toilet, I can’t even get a good night’s sleep without being stared down. But what do I know about a good night’s sleep? Never had the luxury of experiencing one.
I finish and head back in for a shower. Outside of these walls, the shower was my comfort place. My few minutes of peace, calm, and security. No one would dare pull the shower curtain back. Not even Johnny. Now, I’m not even allowed a shower curtain.
He hands me one of those clear, small travel-size bottles. Only God knows what the white, creamy substance is made of.
“What’s up with all the soap around here being non-scented? Would you rather have patients who smell like coconut roaming around, or smelly patients?”
“Would you rather shut up and scrub faster, or have me throw you out of here naked?”
“I’m sure the other patients would enjoy the view, but if I’m being honest here, I’d rather continue with the scrubbing”
I wonder if he enjoys this. His only form of entertainment comes from watching me splash ice-cold water on my face. Most of the water being my own tears. When you’ve murdered 5 people, somehow manage to get away with it for a couple of years, only to then be thrown in jail for over 2 decades, and then issued into a mental institution for 6 months (and counting), you’d be crying every morning in the shower too.
After throwing on my grey jumpsuit that has probably been worn by many other mass murderers before, it’s breakfast time. And by breakfast, I mean processed oatmeal that tastes like it’s been spit in and orange juice that tastes, smells, and looks like urine.
Of course, just like every day for the past 6 months, I’m eating alone. Well, I guess I’m not technically alone. I got “Mr. Alarm Clock” by my side. The first couple of weeks I asked (the “alarms”) for their names. One never stayed long enough for there to even be a use of knowing their names so I stopped.
I wasn’t always alone though. There were just too many people in the prison who decided to test me. Like Larry.
It was a normal morning. Not really sure bout’ the exact date. By then I stopped keeping track.
Larry Reynolds just so happened to decide to cut in line that morning. There was only one more person left until I was served my delicious bowl of off-brand cereal. But no, poor old Larry just couldn’t wait.
I didn’t give him a chance to speak or get a glance at me. I grabbed him by the collar of his shirt from behind and thrust him forward. His head made a crunch. A crunch that sounded just like the cereal I was willing to kill for. His death wasn’t immediate. My blow resulted in severe head damage. He should’ve been thanking me. The last six months of his life were spent in a nice, comfy hospital bed with crisp white sheets to wrap himself with at night, three meals a day served in bed, and pretty nurses to scrub him down. All because of me.
Larry wasn’t the first. I don’t remember how many guys I’ve rustled with. I quit counting after the sixth. It’s all a game to me, just like it was to Johnny.
My mama and her lawyer did everything they could to keep me off death row. Even though I attempted to get her out of my life. Even though she was the one to turn me in. Why did she have to survive?
I (we) walk back down to my cubicle. I can hear the grunts and moans of the other patients being woken up through the thin walls. I’m not allowed back out until my daily visit with my dear friend, Dr. Keith at 5:00 PM. Then it’s dinner at 6:15. At 6:45 they let me choose an activity to bring to my room. Only one. I could get a book from the library, grab a sheet of paper and some map pencils, or go out for a few more laps in the dark. I usually choose the laps because they tire me out. Helps me go to sleep faster since there’s nothing else to do. At 10 o’clock it’s lights out. They give each patient one of those microscopic sleeping tablets to keep us from rustling and causing trouble in the night. They watch us swallow and shove a flashlight down our throats to avoid stashing.
That’s it. That’s my whole day. The other patients get to roam around freely, socialize, play UNO and talk about the good times. Back in prison, I actually had freedom.
“He needs help, not a cell.” My mama’s words to the judge. It’s funny. I didn’t know that help meant abusing your child his entire life, and then sugarcoating yourself in the papers to make it look like you’re a survivor. A victim.
“The true definition of mother’s love! Mother wants to save son from death row even after his attempt to drown her in their very own home.”
An actual headline on the cover of People magazine.
I used to regret choosing Johnny as my first victim. My original plan was for it to be Mama, just so I could’ve gotten the reward of Johnny’s priceless face when he found out that the only person who ever loved him was dead. But everything happens for a reason, and that night ended exactly the way it was meant to.
Johnny invited his gang of ghouls over. They had just finished their final baseball game of the season. Of course, my mama being the “cool mom” she presented herself as, just had to invite the whole gang over for a final party. With a couple of beers to spice things up of course. They were seventeen. I was only six. My mother handed me a six-pack of beer and told me to head down to the basement and serve it to them as if I was some sort of bartender. I sure didn’t get a tip, I can tell you that. I got better.
“C’mon Cullen, take a sip!”
“Yeah, it won’t hurt ya! Have some fun buddy.”
“Do it, or I’ll tell everyone here about what a wuss you are,” Johnny whispered into my ear.
I couldn’t, and I wouldn’t. I resisted until I left Trevor Williams and Dalton Jones no choice but to grab me by the collar of my shirt and hold me down as Johnny poured the fluid into my mouth. Seem familiar? I had used this exact method on Larry. I guess they taught me well.
You know, when these “outbursts” happen, (as Dr. Keith likes to call them) I never plan, (or even think about them) ahead of time. They just happen. I was even too scared to even think of Johnny. Like he could crawl into my mind and hurt me in my daydreams. Until that night. Some sort of spark ignited in that little six-year-old.
So let me break down my alibi for you: They were all mad drunk. To be more specific, drunk baseball players. This meant they not only packed a good swing, but they also had what they used to swing. Not their fists, their bats. The weapon doused in blood at the scene of the crime. And I was just an innocent child who unfortunately had to watch the brutal fight that happened between those teenage boys.
I was originally only going to aim for Trevor and Dolton. My goal was to have Johnny sent behind bars, and the story I would use was that Johnny was the one who initiated the fight. Instead, that wannabe hero put up a fight to protect his friends.
You’re probably wondering how my mom didn’t hear all the ruckus. I honestly don’t know. Maybe she did. Maybe she even enjoyed it. I have to get it from somewhere right?
“Dolton Jones beats teammates to death with baseball bat then commits suicide by consuming bleach” was in headlines everywhere. I was a star; in my head at least.
I cleaned up all signs of my fingerprints at the crime scene and poured bleach down Johnny’s throat, just as they poured beer down mine. He foamed at the mouth, like a dog with rabies. Though I didn’t bash his head in like I did the others. I just gave him a good swing on the head to knock him out. He hit the ground with a thud, a soft knock on momma’s wood floors. If I bang my knuckles against the prison floors, I can almost replay the exact sound of my brother’s skull hitting the floor.
The police ruled it out as being an act of self-defense from the others. Idiots.
You’re probably wondering what I’m doing in between writing these entries. Just napping. That’s it. I’m savoring the feeling of waking up before it’s not a thing I’m capable of anymore.
I finally saved up enough money to move out of my mom’s place by working at a Pizzeria at twenty-one-years-old. There was still one more thing I needed to do though.
I decided not to tell my mother I was moving out. I didn’t even pack up until a few nights after one of my famous “outbursts.”
After Johnny’s death, Mama was extremely suicidal. She attempted several times, never thinking of me while she was at it I bet.
She never succeeded. Though how I wish she did. I didn’t think my body could handle any more beatings. She was even crueler to me when Johnny left, managing to find a way to blame me for the death of her favorite child. She made all kinds of comments, one of them being that I never should’ve let them have beers. How hilarious! I quite clearly remember her making me their bartender.
Her first attempt was drowning herself in the bathtub. Her rich boyfriend (who is currently funding my lawyer) found her, fully dressed, peacefully sinking to the bottom of her tub. The doctors said he got her just in time. A few more minutes and she would’ve been a goner. A few minutes too early Charles, a few minutes too early.
If I’m being completely honest here, maybe my mama really was trying to attempt that night.
It was after another one of my beatings. I didn’t wash the dishes from the other night. She went on a rant about me being a lazy slob and that I should’ve been grateful that she wasn’t charging me rent to stay with her. She got the iconic belt and whipped me across the face. It was the first time she aimed for the face. As a kid she always made me wear baggy clothes that covered all traces of my skin. Even during the 90 degree summers. She didn’t want anyone finding out what a not-so-perfect mom she was.
She left a big, red, bloody streak on my face. It scarred. You can still see it to this day.
After, she left the room as if nothing happened and went upstairs to warm up her bath. She hadn’t taken a bath since her last attempt. I honestly didn’t care.
So I thought to myself, why not make sure she goes through with it this time? I got up behind her, pushed her in, held her down, and drowned her. Or I thought I did. I thought I had watched her die. Her eyes rolled back, and even the heavy blush on the apples of her cheeks couldn’t disguise her porcelain skin turning ten shades lighter.
When I saw her come out of the bathroom a few hours later I almost had a seizure. She didn’t say a word and neither did I.
So why did she choose to report me seven years later? Did it really take her that long to figure it all out?
“How’re you doing today Cullen?”
“Just great Doc! I’ve been taking everything in lately. Treating each day as if it’s my last.”
“Just wonderful Cullen, splendid even! But why the sudden change of mindset? It’s out of character, even for you.”
“Tell me. You’re supposed to be the doctor.”
“Open up Cullen. Don’t make me grab you by the cheeks.”
“No need for that. I mean, I’m already tired. There’s no need for you to waste any of your meds on me. I’m sure there are other patients who would be elated to get some sleep tonight-”
He grabbed my cheeks.
So you’re probably wondering who the fifth victim is. Did I ever tell you that I’m really good at swallowing items and then coughing them back up? I’ve been collecting the tablets since I got here. Just enough to overdose on.
Sidenote: I may or may not have told a fib earlier. I do plan these things ahead of time. I just don’t realize that I am.
Cullen Wilder. My final victim.
I can’t wait to have my face slapped on the cover of People magazine instead of my mother for once.
I’ll finally get the recognition I deserve.
Art Piece by Taite Smith