FICTION: 25 Minutes To Go

johnny-cash-folsom-prison-blues-by-Jon-Langford copy

“Johnny Cash – Folsom Prison Blues” by JON LANGFORD


Charlie Taylor

Well they’re building a gallows outside my cell And I’ve got 25 minutes to go.

25 minutes left in my life. Shooting pain, then nothing. Every second is so precious, I spit out a tear in remembrance. In the end, your thoughts just travel, from childhood to this very instant, stopping in to see certain memories. Voices whip by your ears, followed by smiles, then yells, then quiet. I look up and there are the bars. The only hell is guarded, not by fire, but by cold metal, choking away my breath. If the end is nigh, why does everything feel so incomplete?

Well they gave me some beans for my last meal With 23 minutes to go

For my last meal, I ate soup, it could have been chicken or tomato. It was as tasteless as anything I’ve eaten here, but it made me miss Momma’s pea soup, sitting at the table with her and Jim while it snowed like it would never stop. It was always green and thick, but I was never hungry after. As I stood up from the table, I looked for Momma’s face but all I saw were other men, waiting for the end, just like me.

Then the sheriff said boy I gonna watch you die With 19 minutes to go

Then the warden said to me, “You committed a horrific crime. You deserve death.” I haven’t been scared of many people in my life. However, the warden is one of those people that terrify me. Upon my arrival in hell, he told me that I would never wake up to any sight other than steel bars. At least the end means I don’t have to smell his dead tooth anymore. He keeps the tooth to smell more like death, or at least that’s what Mendes always says.

Now hear comes the preacher for to save my soul With 13 minutes to go

I am walked back to my cell and the pastor approaches. He puts his hand through the bars, but I do not take it. Instead, fighting tears, I turn away. The pastor talks anyway, “My son, you have committed a horrific crime. But you can still be redeemed.” I don’t want redemption. I killed because I had to. I would have been killed otherwise. “If you repent now, your Holy Father will still make a place for you in Heaven.” But I don’t deserve Heaven, nor do I believe in anything after. I have already lived through hell.

Well they’re testin’ the trap and it chills my spine 11 more minutes to go

A guard, not one that I know, walks to my cage and tells me that it is time to go. “Go where?” I ask, “I’m certain I checked in for at least two more nights.” He grins and responds, “You are going to die, shithead.” I stare at him, unmoving until he grabs and throws me onto my feet. I trudge down the soulless hall towards the end.

Well I’m waitin’ for the pardon that’ll set me free With 9 more minutes to go

I guess now that I wish for some freedom. I only guess this because I’m not sure I could go back into the world. I’ve been in the cage for 3 years, while my case was reviewed. Death row isn’t the torture I anticipated it being because I knew I was going to die. It was inevitable. I shot the husband of my lover and then my lover too when she tried to stab me. I killed two people and now the world will kill me in response. I ask for no pardon because I simply don’t want to live anymore. Each day is long and every sleepless night is even longer.

With my feet on the trap and my head on the noose 5 more minutes to go

I inhale and with my next exhale, I am afraid. All of my bravado and indifference slips out of my body. I can’t see anything but the wooden board I will dangle from and the end that follows. I feel death waiting at my shoulder, it’s fingers grasping me, and it’s voice whispering in my ear. Now I slump forward in my chair, overwhelmed by the sight.

Won’t somebody come and cut me loose 4 more minutes to go

I yell. I scream. I kick. But nothing emanates from me. When I yell, my voice is lost, when I kick, my foot is locked to the chair. I look out at the faces, so many pensive faces, curious to see the death of a murderer. If I could find my voice, I would cry out for help. The glass that separates me from my captors could not seem more impenetrable. They will not come to my aid.

I can see the mountains I can see the skies With 3 more minutes to go

The last minutes race by. The wooden tomb awaits me. I look out at the faces again. I almost see them, the shrouds of the man and the woman who I sent on before me. Painfully, I look past them and I see flowers. A red rose sits in front of my face, being held by a young woman with curly hair. My wife. She smiles and looks up at me. Tears are flowing once again. Her specter fades, as a laughing boy and barking dog replace her. The boy, dressed typically in a baseball jersey, throws his head back in laughter as the dog nuzzles his face. My son. I close my eyes and do not open them for a while.

And it’s too darn pretty for a man that don’t want to die 2 more minutes to go

I still have so much left here. I don’t want to die.

I can see the buzzards I can hear the crows 1 more minute to go

Death knocks on the glass, dressed in the guise of a police officer. The “doctor” saunters over to me, my tears choking away the chuckle in his throat if only for a second. Then he turns to my audience and begins Act 1. I will die in Act 2. He reads out my name, my conviction, and the result of my hearing in the cage. “Death”, he states, a pseudo-steely stare plastered onto his ugly, hideous, horrifying face, “would not be enough for this man, if we could prescribe something else.” I stare at him as he says, “He raped and killed a lovely young woman, then butchered the husband in cold blood.” This is untrue, but unimportant. I raped no one. I have morals.

And now I’m swingin’ and here I go!

He looks at me and asks if I have any last words. If I could make my eyes burn through his I would, for the amount of effort I put into this stare is all of the power I have left in my life. “I’m not sorry” flows from my mouth, unthinkingly, followed by a smirk. The “doctor” startled, declares, “These are the convict’s last words.” He motions to the man shrouded in black next to him. The man pulls a lever and I fall. Sharp pain, then nothing. Here I go.

* “25 Minutes to Go” – Johnny Cash