"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,”
The lights ascend at stage left:
“You look into my eyes and you see a man. You see a man with bags under his eyes because he can't sleep anymore. You see a man who doesn't shave unless he feels like it. You see a man covered in tattoos and scars from god-knows-where. You see a man locked away and dressed in orange. You see a prisoner trapped in a damp and lonely cell and you feel no sympathy for him. He must not have a soul because of what he did and he deserves what he's getting.
“That's what you see when you look into my eyes. You see my tears and you assume things about them. You assume they're tears of fear for my fate yet to come.
“But you are so wrong.
“I look into my eyes and I don't see a man. I see a boy. This boy misses the days when he could be outside to play free and do what he wants. He never got the chance to really grow up. A long time ago, he made a mistake, a terrible mistake and now he has to pay for it with his life. He's there right now, looking in the mirror into his own eyes. He sees something that may be worth saving. But why don't they see it? Why can't they see that I'm a human being? I'm sorry for what I did! I'm not a monster, just a man who screwed up.”
The fourth wall is broken.
Straightening his glasses, Father Heller drew in a deep breath and spoke softly, “You aren't a monster, Arthur, you made mistakes. It is only human to err. God understands this and He's offered His hand in forgiveness! Take His hand, repent, and you can have eternal life at His side!”
“There is no god, father. There can't be.”
“Why can't there be, Arthur?”
“There just isn't. Not in this life.”
“Look around you! Look around at His wonders. He made you and he made me.”
“He made me? I really don't think any pure god like the one you keep babbling about would make a crazy person- a murderer like me.”
“Child, God knows you made mistakes. He created a perfect solution for imperfect beings; Arthur, it is only for you to accept it. Even I have made mistakes in-”
“What, so it's you and the altar boys then?”
The priest rolled his eyes, “No, not like that! I think you know what I mean.”
“I do, but father, I'm a lost cause. I ain't sayin' any prayers and I ain't doin' confessions or whatsits. I don't believe in heaven, I don't believe in hell, and I don't believe in god. I'm not giving up what I believe in just cuz I'm gonna die.”
There was still so much time, Father Heller notes. Why not use it? “Well, if that is the case, then shall we talk about something else?”
“Like what, how bad the food is or how much I miss bending over in the shower?”
“Well, we could discuss the weather, if you would rather.”
“Pfft, is that you all 'holy fathers' think about? God and the weather?”
“Actually, we sometimes like to talk about sports.”
“I am curious about something, Arthur.”
“How is it that despite your death on the horizon, you don't act as if you are frightened?”
“Why should I be? I've been scared all my life. That's why I think I did it, because I was afraid. Just scared of being, I guess. Then I did it and that's when my life ended. It isn't ending now, it's already over. Why should I fear for something that's already gone?”
“But Arthur, I think you are afraid; you're just too afraid to admit it.”
“Look, in a place like this, it takes a lot more than some chair to scare me.”
“But it's so much more than just some chair, Arth-”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it, it's eternal damnation, demons, hellfire, and-”
“That isn't what I meant,” Father Heller chuckled. “I meant that there will be witnesses, people who undoubtedly will be judging you, and I will be there. I will be there and I will be praying for you.”
“Save your breath.”
“Arthur, you believe that it is not right to pray and I respect that. I believe that prayer is of the utmost importance and I ask only that you respect my own belief.”
“Yeah, whatever. Pray or don't. I don't care.”
“You're a difficult one.”
“I guess you think you know me then, don't you? So, spit it out, what else do you think you know about me?”
“Well, I know you're very intelligent and you're very stubborn. I see that you are repentant for what you have done, but you are far too stubborn to admit before the Lord. With that said, it is clear to me that you need guidance.”
“And I guess you think you can give it to me?”
“I know you're afraid.”
“Ugh, you keep going back to this whole 'afraid' bit. For the last time, and don't forget, I ain't afraid of dying.”
“Arthur, if you aren't afraid, then why is it that you tremble?”
“Don't you think you would be if you were headin' for the electric chair?”
“If it is not fear, then what is it?”
“God, I don't know! I don't know anything at all, do I?”
Father Heller stands to his feet and straightens his tunic. He places his hand on the damned and softly asks, “If you will not seek comfort from God, might I then offer you my own comfort?”
“Yeah, sure, whatever.”
“I wish it wasn't the case, but your death is near. It will be quick and it will be over soon. If you're right about your beliefs, then misery will be over soon for you.”
The prison guards unlock the cell and pick up the inmate by the arms. “Come on, it's time,” they tell him.
“Oh, god, oh, god! Oh, god, no, no! No, no, no! Oh, god, no, I don't want it! It can't be time, not yet! I'm not ready!”
Father Heller follows them closely, “Arthur! There is still time for you to give your soul to the Lord! Salvation on high awaits! God loves you, don't turn Him away in your hour of need!”
“If god loved me, he would save me now!”
“And He will! Just say the word and He will grant you eternal life!”
“That's a lie! No god would ever give a murderer eternal life! I deserve the hell that awaits me!”
“Yes, you do, but God offers repentance and forgiveness! His Kingdom awaits!”
“His kingdom is as much a lie as this life! It's an illusion; it must be!”
“If this life is a lie, then why do fear for it so?”
“I don't know, oh god, I don't know! No!” They close the door to the chamber of death. The inmate is strapped to the chair as Father Heller stands in the corner to preside. The inmate cries and trembles. So much fear. “NO!”
Father Heller closes his eyes and recites the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is My shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Amen.”
The warden, who stands beside the damned, asks of him, “Does the accused have any last words?”
The inmate shakes his head as he trembles and sweats. With the greatest hesitation, he finally blurts out, “Our Father Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name! Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done! I have been led into temptation, now deliver me from evil!” The executioner pulls the switch as the warden nods. The inmate screams deathly terror of rue and of pain. And it all stops. The condemned's lifeless body moves not as the physician confirms the death. It is over. His soul is gone.
Father Heller feels remorse for the man who received the ultimate punishment, but also a glimmer of hope. He knows, in his heart, that Arthur went to be with the Lord. His repentance would not be in vain. The warden says to the silent priest, “Looks like you really got to that one, eh Father?”
“Yes, so it would seem.”
The warden smirks, “Just another day of playing God for us, huh?”
“Just another day,” the Holy Father acknowledges the full truth of those words. “Just another day.”
The lights fade.
The stage is dark and the stage is silent.
“And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."
Author's Note: This story is a rewrite of "God and the Noose"