Pale Horse Coming

11/02/23

The alcohol swab, cool on his arm, felt like the touch of a lamb. The prick of the needle taught him nothing he didn’t already know.

The state of Kentucky saw fit to declare that this was the end for John Oscar Roiter. Like all dispensers of the law, they were given power over a slice of the earth to kill any way they wanted—conventional weapons, famine, germ warfare, and every manner of beast, including John Oscar Roiter himself.

He’d first been trained as a beast for the U.S. army, and he’d later become a beast of his own appetites. Before they had given him permission; now they were rendering punishment.

He rolled into the viewing room on a gurney, a cannula in each arm. The IV ran across the room and around the corner, so that he could not see the administering hand.

They had described the procedure to him yesterday. First came the flush, then the barbiturate, then the paralytic, then the arrythmia. One to cleanse, one to cloud, one to still, and one to kill.

He knew they were going to botch the job. Correctional officers were both clumsily trained and motivated by the bias of their profession. Anyone properly trained wouldn’t dare violate the oath of a doctor.

He laughed to himself. At least this way it would take four separate agents to rid the world of him.

He looked around and beheld the room, most of which was a discomforting white. A color that to him always meant control. The saline drip was already in him now, feeding him his last water and cleansing his puncture wounds of any bacteria that might infect him should his sentence be delayed at the last minute. It was nontoxic, isotonic, ironic.

They asked, “do you have a final statement for the public record?”

John Oscar Roiter looked into the opaque window.

“I see you,” he said slowly. “I see the souls of the ones I put to rest too. I know you want vengeance. They do too. I suppose they get it today. And you’ve come to see, haven’t you? Well. Come and see.”

He was conquered already. They had conquered him when they caught him. A detective had traced the arrowheads from the corpse back to the salesman. That was the risk of a more obscure murder weapon. They had a ceremony for the detective, crowning the man who had caught John Oscar Roiter.

He began to feel dreary. His eyes rested on the red receptacle where the sword-like syringes would go. The barbiturate had come. Some pharmaceutical company had committed mass slaughter in the making of such, stories of addiction all over the news, and here he was paying the cost of but a few deaths. When he’d stabbed his second victim they were at least conscious enough to fight back.

The voices drifted in and out. Whether it was the statesman or the clergyman or the officer or the victims…they were all the voice of the judge. Weighing condemnation, one more life to place on the scale.

It was growing harder to hold his head up. Below him was a carpet black as rot. The paralytic was doing its work, making him so weak he wouldn’t be able to lift a crumb to his mouth.

The curtains of his eyes fell to dark. He heard the moaning of the girl he’d kept locked in his basement, feeding her less and less until her bones were all that remained. Or was it his moaning he heard?

He should be asleep now. The barbiturate had not acted quickly enough. He could not move to breathe, which alone would starve his body of oxygen were it not for what was coming.

A burning touched his arm. In the numbness of his body he felt his heart seize within. The potassium chloride had begun cardiac arrest. He had no air with which to scream. The hurt leaped out of the inevitable rest.

He opened his eyes, and there before him was a pale horse. Its rider was named Death, and Hell followed close behind.

~ fin ~

me-grav

Caleb Coy is a freelance writer with a Masters in English from Virginia Tech. His work has appeared in Mystery MagazineMystery Tribune online, The Common, and elsewhere. He is the author of the 2015 novel, An Authentic Derivative. He lives with his family in southwest Virginia.