Estimated reading time — 16 minutes
The Killer’s Interview
“You sure you want to go in there alone?”
The warden was an uncompromisingly beefy man who drank, smoked, and just wanted to survive until retirement. He ran a tight, clean ship and, for his efforts, he was rewarded with the pleasure of guarding the vilest of abusers. His charges were lifers and he got to babysit them until they died. But he wasn’t paid to babysit the small, bespectacled poindexter with the briefcase walking next to him.
“Yes,” the little man said, avoiding eye contact. “I think he’ll be less inhibited if there are no guards.”
“That’s the last thing he is,” the warden growled. He could sense the tension in his men as they descended further down the basement. “Do you know his story?”
“Yes, I’ve studied Benedict for a long time.”
“Do you know he almost escaped once? Took only a moment. Still not sure how he did it, but he got his claws on one of my men and—“ he voice trailed off as he noticed the two guards look at him. “He killed him. Only took a moment. I don’t know how he got to him, but he has a way of sort of hypnotizing people. He talks in a way that sucks you in. I guess that’s how he got all those kids to come home with him.”
The little man fidgeted nervously and said nothing. The warden studied him closely. He looked woefully out of place in a dungeon like this. He belonged in an ivory tower office, writing condescending academia bullshit about the troubles of the world. They began to walk again. The guards walked slower than before and reflexively put their hands on their weapons.
“So, does he say much?” the little man asked.
“Oh, he talks all the time. I think he thinks he’s some kind of prophet. Lots of biblical, end-of-the-world shit. He’s here for life. No chance of parole. Can’t even be around other prisoners. He’s in solitary twenty-three hours a day. He gets one hour of exercise in the yard.” He stepped in front of the little man. “He’s got nothing to lose.”
The little man shuddered but seemed determined to go on. The warden sighed. They turned down a long, deserted hallway that was dimly lit by fading fluorescent lights. There was a closed door at the end of the hall. The guards drew their weapons.
“Okay,” the warden said. “This is how it goes down. He’s secured. The door will be locked from the outside the moment you go in. No way out until you hit this signal.” He handed the little man a small remote. “There’s one camera that we’ll be monitoring. No windows. It’s all padded, so no sound. As you requested, we won’t be listening. No audio. The guards will be with you the whole time.”
“This remote here. Shuts the lights on and off. Not sure why you want that.”
“Perfect,” the little man said. “But I was promised he wouldn’t be tied down. Cuffs are okay, but not chained to the chair.”
“I don’t know who promised you that, but he’s going to stay chained. I’d advise you not to get within five feet of him.”
“Warden, I appreciate your concern. But, please. I had to call in a lot of favors to get this interview. I must have him relaxed. He has to be unchained. And no guards.”
“Are you crazy?”
“Please, warden. I know the risks. Again, favors.” He handed the warden a small slip of paper. The warden read it carefully. His expression changed from pity to annoyance.
“I’m not taking responsibility for you if you go in alone.”
“I understand. Please, warden.”
The warden sighed, pulled out a cigarette, eyed the door nervously, and then nodded his head as a signal to open. The guards checked the small viewscreen to ensure that that Benedict was secured. One drew his weapon and the other nervously approached the door. The guards made eye contact, nodded curtly, then rushed into the room.
Benedict watched them curiously. He was in his late forties, still fit despite years of solitary, and had a piercing, unblinking gaze. He offered no movement or resistance. He scanned the intruders and then fixated on the lit cigarette. The warden knew he’d salivate over it.
“Hello Benedict,” the warden said, standing close to the door. “This is the guy who wanted to talk to you. Are you okay with that?” He puffed his smoke in a small display of superiority.
Benedict looked him in his eyes and wet his lips. “It would be my pleasure,” he said in a measured, slow, soft voice. The warden nodded. “And do give my best to Susan, Cassidy, and Cody.”
The warden reflexively tried to stay calm, but his forehead instantly began to sweat as the murderer spoke the names of his wife and children. “The professor here just wants to interview you. You play nice, and you get an extra hour in the yard every day next week.”
The first guard kept his weapon pointed firmly at Benedict’s face. The guard was tremulous and looking for a reason to shoot. The second guard nervously unlocked Benedict’s chains. The prisoner’s eyes raised as each lock clicked open. He met the warden’s gaze with an amused, questioning look. In an instant, they both knew the little man was in grave danger.
The warden grabbed the little man again and whispered into his ear. “This is nuts. If he charges, we’ll come in firing. We’ll be shooting to kill. If you get in the way, well, it won’t be good. I know people who think killers are sympathetic. I know people who think they are the ones who can find the good in them or some shit. But there is no good in him. Only darkness. I know others who are just fan-boys. Sickens me. Don’t think you’re special to him or to me. I don’t care who wrote your little note. Also, don’t forget that he’s a killer who mutilated thirteen children. One was four years old. Don’t forget that.”
The little man nodded. The guards retreated, weapons still trained on Benedict’s head, and the door shut with a vacuum seal thud.
The little man sat on the chair across the small table from the cuffed killer. Benedict’s eyes focused on his every mannerism. The little man put his briefcase on the table, folded his hands, looked at the killer and smiled nervously.
“What can I do for you, professor?” His voice was low and soft enough that the little man felt compelled to lean in to hear.
“Thank you for agreeing to this. I’ve read all your writings and media pages –“
“And you want my autograph?” Benedict held up his cuffed hands.
The little man paused, seemed to realize that he sounded foolish, and continued. “No, thanks. No. Um. But again, thanks for taking the time to talk to me.”
Benedict raised his eyebrows. “Are you a comedian?”
The little man giggled nervously. He fumbled with the lock on his briefcase. The opened the top and pulled out copies of Benedict’s writings and multiple photographs. Benedict instantly took an inventory: two pens (one plastic, one with some metal) and two paperclips. “Do you mind if I record this?” the little man said, placing his phone on the table. Benedict nodded an affirmation keeping his eyes fixed on the pen with metal. The little man pulled out a letter opener and cut open a manila envelope. Benedict masked his surprise at the sight of the small knife.
“So, uh, where would you like to begin?”
Benedict studied the little man. He wasn’t making eye contact. His movements were jerky – no rhythm – a clear sign of fear. He wasn’t sure how to start the interview – another sign of fear. He’d probably never been out of his office. This was almost too easy. Benedict considered him prey. He licked his lips.
“Would you like to hear about my mother?”
The professor laughed nervously. “Well, I think what I really want to know is why you did it? I mean, a lot of the victims were, well…”
Benedict took a deep inhale. “I wanted to destroy the illusion of innocence.”
The professor gulped.
“Are those pictures?”
“Yes,” the professor said pulling out the photographs of the crime scene. Benedict had called the police himself, perhaps bored of the chase. When they arrived, dead bodies were hanging on the wall of his small ranch house like obscene Christmas decorations. Benedict confessed instantly to the crimes. Unlike other mass murderers who commit suicide, Benedict relished in telling the parents of the victims every detail on their children’s sexual assault, torture, and pleas for mercy. Benedict seemed to enjoy describing exactly how each sounded when they cried. He became excited at the prospect of seeing the pictures of the scene.
“I can’t see, move them closer.”
“Oh, okay, sure.” The professor slid a batch toward the killer, still clipped in the upper corner. The little man said nothing as Benedict slowly paged through the pictures. He stared lovingly at one particularly brutal photograph of a child lying in a pool of blood and vomit.
“The body will often expel feces or semen at the moment of death,” Benedict stated placidly. “It’s beautiful. Don’t you think it’s beautiful? Angel lust? The death of the innocent?”
“No. I can’t really look at those pictures. Gives me nightmares.”
Benedict smiled. This was too good to end quickly.
“I’m afraid I never caught your name.”
“John. John Smith.”
“Is that right?”
The little man shyly giggled again. “Do you ever think about them?”
“Yes,” Benedict said, looking up from the photos and squarely in the little man’s eyes. John Smith squirmed in his chair and broke the gaze, looking down in his lap. Benedict imperceptible slid the larger paperclip off the table into his lap. John looked back up. “I think about them every night. I carry a piece of them with me. That used to be literal.” Benedict smiled at his macabre joke. “ They comfort me at night – small voices begging me to stop. It’s like a lullaby.”
“Do you ever feel guilty?”
“Well, they’re children.”
“For now. But then they’ll grow up to be policemen or bankers or models. They’ll perpetuate the lie of this world. I helped them escape before they became as evil as the rest of us.”
“You think we’re all evil?”
Benedict laughed. “All evil. All predators, it’s just that I’m the only one honest about it. Millions of more children will die of diarrhea this year than from anything I did. Millions. And do you care about that?”
“Really? Have you saved any of them?”
Benedict leaned back in his chair and looked to the ceiling. Under the table, he quickly bent the paperclip into a small pick and began to work the lock of his cuffs.
“You go about your life, secure in the knowledge that you are a good person, but a short plane trip away, children are starving, being raped, being killed, and you don’t care. But if they are little cute white kids, you pay attention.”
The little man scrunched his eyebrows. “I’m not sure that’s fair. You don’t know anything about me.”
“I know much more about you than you think. Would you like me to tell you?”
Benedict leaned across the table and spoke softly. “Your parents were professionals, academics probably. They were fixated on their work and you always felt like you needed to live up to their standards. You made good grades, but excellence eluded you. You were accepted into a state college and got a master’s degree. You tried to get into medical school, but failed. So you got a doctorate in some psychobabble that was given more out of charity than achievement.”
John seemed to shrink in his chair, his face belying shame and vulnerability. Benedict smiled and savored his dominance. “You married, but you know she never loved you. You also know she’s cheating on you. You are hoping this interview leads to a big splash in the papers and finally some work that you can be proud of.” Benedict’s voice continued to lower. John leaned in to hear. “Am I close?”
John looked stunned. “That’s incredible.” His voice was soft and weak.
“I know everything about you. But I won’t help you with your interview.”
John looked hurt. “Why not?”
“Because I don’t trust you. You won’t even tell me your real name. If you want me to trust you, you’ll need to show me.”
John looked up hopefully, seemingly eager to please his master. “How?”
Benedict looked up at the camera. John turned around for an instant. “Cover it.”
John thought for a moment. He sighed, took off his coat and reached toward the camera. He dutifully hung his coat over the lens. While his back was turned, Benedict freed his hands, quickly snatched the letter opener and hid it in his lap.
“Better.” Benedict smiled. “I can tell there’s a question you really want to ask me.”
John looked shaken. “Yes,” he said softly. He sat down, paused and gathered his thoughts. “Yes, there is.”
Benedict leaned forward, inching his face across the table. John did the same.
“Have you seen it?” John asked quietly. His eyes pleaded.
Benedict paused. “Yes.” His voice was barely a whisper. John leaned closer.
“The Darkness?” John whispered.
Benedict smiled. “Yes.”
John leaned closer. “Tell me about it.”
“The Darkness lies in all of us. It’s in your heart right now, just waiting to bubble to the surface.” John leaned closer. “The world is a vampire. It feeds on the poor. You grow fat eating the bodies of children. I just let it show through my actions. I’m really just you. I show the world its hypocrisy, because I have the strength to do so. You just sit by and let the rich grind their bones to dust. I give the world a gift.”
“What gift?” John whispered.
Benedict paused and leaned closer. John did the same.
John’s eyes widened. Benedict began to see each step. His hands were free. The letter opener was poised. He would strike quickly, right in the face. Maybe he would catch his eye. He loved slicing an eye. John would recoil. He would spring on him and plunge the knife – not too quickly! – into his neck. He would puncture just medial to the sternocleidomastoid muscle, plunge about two inches, feel the resistance of the tough arterial wall, then feel the quick give as the adventitia was cut. The blood would be under significant pressure. It would shoot — hopefully into his face! – and into the opposite wall. He would drink some. He was aroused at thoughts of orgy.
John inched closer. “Benedict, did He tell you his name?”
Benedict paused. It was such an oddly specific question. “Yes.”
John’s voice lowered still. “What is it?”
John’s face fell in disappointment. He shoulders shrugged and he shook his head. Benedict wasn’t sure how to process this look, but it was time to spring. His pupils dilated, his heart raced, and his lips smiled. At the speed of thought, he relished the orgasm of the simple brutal act of dominating another man. He would tear into his fragile throat and, for a sweet instant, the small professor would look to his better in pleading surrender. He felt the edge of the professor’s throat, then he felt a foreign snap vice grab his wrist. Down became up. He saw the ceiling, then felt his back and head smash into the unforgiving cement floor. All breath left his body and his vision tunneled to a small corridor. For an instant, he thought his was dead. Natural instinct put every ounce of energy into finding the next breath.
Benedict coughed and sat up, confused. John stood at the corner of the table, sighing deeply with his back toward the fallen killer. Benedict felt the letter opener still in his hand. He sprung from the floor with a warrior’s yell and reached for his prey’s nape. He again felt his feet leave the ground. He flew brutally into the wall. The acoustic pads softened the blow, but the blunt crush again expelled all his breath. He felt a penetrating punch under his right rib and heard a sickening crack. Benedict spun around in angry fury. He reached savagely toward John, but again he lost control of his body. His face violently smashed into the table bloodying his nose. Involuntary tears filled his eyes. Fire flooded through his right hand as he heard the slice stick of the letter opener pierce his hand into the table below.
Benedict recoiled, blinded and in searing pain, and realized he was fastened to the table. His mind pleaded to grasp the situation but he found no answers. He moaned, choked, and and searched for his breath. His eyes focused on the knife sticking through his hand. The little man stood next to him. He reached forward, grabbed the knife, and yanked it with enough force to lift the table for a small instant. Benedict’s hand was free and he slumped back into the chair. He gasped for breath and stifled a cry.
John sighed, calmly righted his chair from the floor, sat down, and stared at the table. Benedict instinctively squeezed his hand, trying to stem the bleeding and the pain. John rubbed his head and searched for words. He eventually looked up, met Benedict’s eyes, and sighed in disappointment.
“Beelzebub? Beelzebub? Really? That’s the best you could come up with? Why not Azmodeus, or, or maybe Beetlejuice, or Darth Vader? And did hear you right? Did you really quote a line from the Smashing Pumpkins? Are you serious?” John shook his head and clucked his tongue. “I’ll be honest, I’m disappointed.”
“Call the warden,” Benedict hissed. He looked at John with abject, burning hatred.
“I will give you credit for getting the cuffs off so fast. That was pretty good. But the letter opener? Really? You went for that instead of the pen? I really expected more.”
Benedict was humiliated and hurt. He searched for a way to attack his foe. John seemed to notice.
“Heh. Well, here, you want to try again?” He tossed the letter opener toward the prisoner in a clear act of dominance. Benedict shrugged. “I’m not going to talk to you, let me out.”
“And all that – that – bullshit about pain and rich people. My goodness. I expect better exposition from some freshman seminar paper.” He shook his head. “You’re really just nothing. I mean, just nothing.” He gathered the pictures and papers and stacked them neatly in the briefcase.
He thought for a moment and then looked Benedict in the eyes. Benedict met his gaze and, for a brief moment, John’s eyes turned completely black. Benedict was angry and hurt, but in that moment, he became scared.
“I thought your actions were so horrific, that you had actually seen the Darkness. The real Darkness. Not the, the watered down version we experience every night. The real Darkness. He has a name. But you didn’t. At least not in a conscious way. But those kids – I mean, that was so horrific that maybe you saw it in the past or in a dream. Maybe you were just too stupid to notice. Anyway, I must apologize, but I have to check.”
“Let me out.” Benedict fancied himself the smartest man in any room. He’d been called evil, a monster, a villain, but never stupid.
“We’ve evolved away from darkness, haven’t we? We hide from it. We fear it. We huddle together and pray for the dawn. Really, we’ve become weak. If light leaves, well, we’re helpless.
“You’re right, ‘John Smith’ is not my real name. You were wrong about everything else. My parents are terrific. I love them dearly. I have a sister. I never did marry. I was good at numbers and did pretty well as an accountant. Made partner early. I had a good, if humdrum life. But one night, I saw the Darkness. I saw it just as clearly as I see you now. I thought I was dreaming. But I wasn’t. It spoke to me. It was real. It was real.”
He began to turn the briefcase, revealing a hidden snap on the side. He slid it open. He looked squeamish and he backed away. Two thick, hairy legs poked out. John pulled out a pen, fished in the pocket quickly, and pried out a hideously large spider that had waited smashed in a tiny space. John backed up and shuddered. The spider sat fat and motionless on the table.
“Do spiders bother you?”
Benedict tried to conceal any hint of emotion. “No.”
“They scare the crap out me. Ugh.” The spider sprang off the table and scurried to the corner of the room. It squeezed into a small space and looked into the room with hideous, unblinking black eyes. “That thing is a Goliath Tarantula. It creeps the beejezus out of me. You can imagine how horrible it is to carry that thing around. Didn’t show up on the x-ray when they searched my bag. These things normally eat birds. Whole birds.” John mimed a bird size with his hands. “This one can smell and taste blood. Ugh.”
Benedict rubbed his injured hand.
“Watch.” John grabbed the letter opened and tossed it into the corner. The spider reached out with its front legs, drew the metal into its body, and Benedict imagined it licking his blood from the blade.
“I think that’s the worst thing about darkness. Uncertainty. Just as we’ve evolved to pray to the light, that thing evolved to live in the darkness. When we lose our senses, we become naked and helpless. Even the worst of us feels the gnawing fear of uncertainty.” John took a deep breath. “I saw the real Darkness and He told me his name. I heard it reverberate down to my very soul. You can’t forget that. I saw Him dance. Things started to happen to me. I can’t explain any of it. But something distracted Him and I ran. I ran for all I was worth. I ran for my life. I’ll never forget that face, that voice, that name. I also know He’s coming back. I know I’ll see signs. I’ll see heralds – other’s who have seen the Darkness. I imagine as His time gets closer, I’ll see more of them. I thought maybe I’d see it in you. I thought your actions were so inhuman, that maybe the Darkness corrupted you. Maybe you were the herald of the end. But you didn’t see Him. You just did all that cruelty for masturbation. Really. You’re just a pervert who finds pornography in violence. You’re meaningless.”
John began to pace around the room.
“The thing is, I’m not even sure I’ll know what to do when I find a herald. If you’re naked in a room with a spider, do you want to find it? Or do you not want to find it? You know? I can’t stop Him from coming. What should I do? Call the police? Who will believe me? I don’t even know what I’ll do. I just want to know.” He approached the chagrined killer. “I just want the uncertainty to end. I want the dread to end.”
John stood, walked over to Benedict. “Look at me.”
“Go to Hell.”
John smiled. He roughly grabbed Benedict’s face and lifted it to his. He leaned in as if to kiss him. “There’s a moment of naked, unadulterated fear, where I can see into a man’s soul. It’s a gift from Him. He calls to me. If He’s in you, I will see it. If you’re a herald, I will see it. I need to know. I need to see into your soul, in your moment of greatest fear. Maybe, just maybe, you’re not just a meaningless pervert. Maybe sometime in the past, you were exposed to something beautiful. Terrifying. But beautiful.”
Benedict spat in his face. John backed up. “All of us are afraid of the dark.” He hit the signal to turn off the lights. Benedict was smothered with heavy, complete darkness.
“I’m not afraid of the dark,” he said weakly.
There was no answer. Benedict sat still for what seemed to him like an eternity. He waited, waited for any sign that something would happen. “I want out. WARDEN!” Benedict screamed. “WARDEN, LET ME OUT!” He screamed for a few minutes. He thought about trying to rush the door, but to what end? The spider was in that corner. The door was locked. He thought about feeling around for John – maybe he could grab him and force him to open the door. Could John see in the dark? Was John still in the room? He alternately wanted him there and wanted him gone. He felt the sick dread that he was alone and exposed with a blood-eating goliath spider.
He felt around the air near his body, but then he reflexively pulled his hands in for fear of what he may feel. A shudder seized his spine. He considered screaming again, but now felt that any sound drew unwanted attention. He sat perfectly still, listening for any movement or breath. All he heard was his own heartbeat. He wondered if he could hear his hand bleed.
“This won’t work. I’m not afraid,” he pleaded, but his voice was meek. He stood, but felt dizzy and nauseous. His visual cues of balance were gone. He stumbled backwards toward the wall, hoping for some sensory feedback to orient his mind in this new, horrifying world. “This won’t work,” he sobbed. He tried to hold perfectly still, hoping he would hear some movement or breath. He heard nothing.
Minutes passed. Or was it hours?
Benedict became afraid to speak or cry out. He wanted to cry. “Please. Please let me out. Please, I’ll tell you anything. I’m sorry about the children.” He felt a quick brush against his leg.
* * * *
The door opened and the little man emerged with his briefcase in hand.
“You were in there a long time,” the warden said. “Holy –“
“I don’t know what happened. Heart attack, maybe. I dropped the signaler and tried to do CPR for the last hour, but, well, he just died. I’m sorry warden. I even think I accidentally cut his hand in the process.”
The guards rushed over to the body. One kept his gun fully trained on the killer’s head. The other nervously checked for a pulse. He shook his head.
“Again, I’m really sorry. Really.”
The warden looked puzzled at the placid look on the little man’s bookish face. “Did you at least get what you wanted?”
“Tragically, no. Nothing useful. I really thought I would with this one.”
They both glanced at the dead body on the floor.
“Warden, I heard you have an interesting prisoner in Cell 12, block D. Life term. Killed a family of six?”
“Yeah. He’s a piece of work all right.”
“Do you think I could ask him a few questions? In the same room?”
The warden backed away from the unnaturally calm little man. “Sure. We’ll set it up for next week.”