Scott L Praegitzer | home
My First Short Story
I have always had an urge to write, believing I was better at expressing myself in written form, rather than verbally. The following story is totally fiction, although I have drawn from very personal experiences and feelings that I have never really dealt with in my lifetime.
This story is therefore, "therapy" for the author, as well as a storytelling "exercise." It was not ever intended for anyone else's eyes.
Scott Praegitzer © March 1996
It appears in print for public viewing for the first time --
A Means To An End
Sandy Sutherlin lay on the cold hard mattress of the Observation Cell of Death Row staring at the ceiling, deep in thought. This ordeal began in what now seemed a very short thirty-six months ago, but the ordeal that triggered this one began long before. Now, it was all about to come crashing down, in only twenty-four hours.
Somewhere along the line, Sandy had lost his way, his will to live. In retrospect, he felt life's cruelties had built little by little to an unbearable level. His lawyer, along with a variety of witnesses for the defense vainly argued that the emotional breakdown that lead to Sandy's crime was inevitable, that he was in fact a victim and the crime was a cry for help. The jury, however, did not agree, citing the obvious premeditation of the crime and unanimously voted for conviction, and later the sentence of death was imposed.
This did not faze Sandy, for his conviction was all part of his master plan to once and for all drop out of life. The plan was indeed carefully thought out, meticulously crafted and proficiently carried out. When he began considering what he was to do, he first had to dig deep into the dark recesses of his mind, to somehow pull up long since buried thoughts that had haunted him for half his life. This, he believed, would create the catalyst to help him arrive at his ultimate goal.
His mind traveled back to his sophomore year of high school. A time filled with teenage anxiety and angst brought on by low self-esteem. As if this were not enough, he was about to experience deep feelings of loss for the first time. Feelings he did not readily understand and never discussed with anyone, not that there would have been anyone for him to discuss it with anyway.
He can still vividly remember sitting in class worrying about a test or something trivial, when the teacher coldly told the class the official news of what had been up until that point only rumor. Rumor that Sandy had not even heard. It came as a complete and total shock. Two female classmates had been brutality murdered while hitchhiking to Nevada, end of story. The whispers began and even more rumors circulated. All in all no one really seemed to care. It was just one of "those things" that happen to “those kind” of girls who were not a part of the popular social cliques. The "Hood's", they were called back then. They smoked cigarettes and probably pot, dressed in unfashionable clothes and didn't care much for school, more often ditching class than attending. It was a shame, but the town would not miss them nor even seem to remember them the following year.
The girls were not actually friends of Sandy's but he had spoken to both of them in various classes. One girl he knew from as far back as Elementary School, the other was fairly new to the area. Sandy recalled how he sat in a warm relaxing bath in the safety of his home, wishing he could have been with them, to somehow protect and save them from such a horrible death. He felt sad and even guilty that he did not know them better. He did not attend their funerals, and this made him feel even guiltier.
After awhile the whispers around school subsided and things got back to normal. Life went on without the two girls whom no one, except of course their families, cared for. A small memorial in the back of the yearbook was the only surviving memory for the two slain girls. The following year, a teacher who committed suicide received a full page. It hardly seemed fair to Sandy.
The Seventies ended and graduation rung in the new decade, one certainly to be filled with hope and the realization of dreams. The pain of the past would remain buried another fifteen years, the exact age of the two girls when they were murdered.Time went on and things happened as does in every lifetime. We all experience a degree of success and happiness mixed in with an equal measure of failure and sadness. Sandy rationalized that his measure of the negative side of life was all but equal to that of the joyous, and that he somehow had been targeted by a "higher power" to suffer an eternity of always being held at arms length from what he desired. This somehow became a "comfort", when he allowed himself to believe that he was "born to fail", he sometimes had to chuckle at his losing.But that comfort was always short lived, and little by little the pressures began to build up inside him. He often considered suicide, going so far as to have thoughts of the least painful way to achieve this "ultimate freedom." He fantasized about it often, usually before drifting off to sleep late at night. But his fear of the unknown would always win, and he would try to believe that his "bad luck" couldn't last forever, that someday he would be happy again.
The Row was quiet now, the other inmates either sleeping or deep in contemplative thought like Sandy. He hadn't slept more than six hours in the last seventy-two. Whenever he finally succumbed to exhaustion, he would only be awakened a short time later by a nightmare. Not of his execution, but of the deaths of his two former classmates. It was eerie, as if he were there witnessing the murders, but unable to do anything to save them. It was a reoccurring nightmare that he had discussed at length with the prison psychologist on several occasions, seeking some sort of answer as to why this continued to haunt him. He thought his crime would at least free him of this burden. It was fairly simple to understand, the psychologist had tried to explain. The event, although Sandy had not actually been witness to it, was nonetheless a traumatic period of his life, which remained deeply buried in his subconscious. The dream itself was actually symbolic of how Sandy felt about himself in general. Helpless. He felt circumstances were totally out of his own control, which therefore made the rationalization of his failures easier to comprehend and accept. The psychologist explained that the nightmare continued because Sandy's crime had done nothing to bring peace to the girls or their families. Subconsciously he knew this fact, and his mind was tormenting him further. These discussions helped clear up a lot of Sandy's questions about himself that he had long since given up getting answers for. Sandy found it ironic and somewhat sad that it took such a drastic event, landing on Death Row for a crime for which he still felt no remorse in committing, for him to finally have the opportunity to understand his ultimate downfall. If he had sought out counseling in the first place, perhaps this whole mess could have been prevented. He would never know for certain, his execution loomed only twelve hours away. The crime he committed, he reasoned, served two distinct purposes. The first was to exorcise the demons of the girls' murders that had haunted him for half his life. He had planned to seek out the killer, who had just been paroled from the California justice system and kill him viciously and brutally in cold blood. Just as the man had done, Sandy believed, to his former classmates. The murderer had gotten permission to relocate to Oregon. This made Sandy's plans all the more plausible. Oregon still had the Death Penalty.
The second reason, he determined, was to be relieved of his own perceived emotional anguish, something he could not seem to accomplish on his own, carried out completely and swiftly by the State of Oregon. A suicide maybe, but one that would be state assisted and not by his own hands. Sandy was not much for the belief in religion per se`, but he had enough of a spiritual fear not to want to take a chance with out right, bullet in the head by his own hand, suicide. If there was such a place, he could pray for forgiveness and live eternity in heaven. Killing a paroled convicted killer was a necessary evil, to protect the classmates of some other poor soul, he had rationalized. It was a means to an end that he was more than willing to take. He even believed he would die a hero and a martyr in some people's eyes. That with this one desperate act, he could achieve some sort of purpose to his miserable existence. It was the only way he saw to make his mark in history.
Sandy had felt immense release when the act was finally committed. He had choreographed his moves flawlessly, and the plan was ingenious. His intended victim would not suspect a thing. Sandy had learned that the parolee must meet with his parole officer monthly, around the Thirtieth. Sandy contacted him the Fifteenth at Nine P.M., claiming to be the P.O.'s assistant and that it was urgent that they meet that evening around eleven. The location selected would be public enough not to arouse suspicion, but away from any potential witnesses that could botch the plan. Although he had fully intended on being caught, it had to be after the deed had been done. Sandy's heart raced when the man's car pulled into the deserted lot. He managed to calm himself enough to show the man believable credentials and explain that he must follow him to "a cabin" in the woods where his P.O. was waiting to meet with him. Sandy also quite convincingly explained the urgency of the meeting, claiming the parole board had reconvened on his case to consider re-incarceration. One of the members had a change of heart and convinced the board to hear her reasons. Sandy was quite surprised and relieved at how smoothly the sucker took the bait. The thought of returning to prison was enough to make the man accept anything Sandy told him as absolute truth. His only concern now was to talk to his P.O. and get this matter cleared up so he could go on with his life. He had no reason to doubt Sandy's words at this point. Step one of the plan completed, step two began. The drive into the secluded wooded area of the mountains took two hours, but an adrenaline rush made it seem like fifteen minutes. A million thoughts a second ran through Sandy's mind. The plan, could he carry it out, the slain girls and their families, his life, the happy times, the sad times. He stared into the oncoming headlights and dreamed of the bright white light he had heard described in television shows dealing with people who had survived near death experiences. He felt morbidly comforted at the thought that this light would pull him into its warmth and safety when the plan reached its final stage. A pothole in the road jarred Sandy back to reality and he realized he was nearing the exit which would lead him to the place where this part of the plan would take place.
Sandy had deliberately selected the sight for its similarity to the area where the girls' lifeless bodies were found by hunters fifteen years ago. He glanced anxiously in the rear view mirror to make sure his victim was still following. There would be no turning back now. The deed had to be done. His stomach began to tie in knots from the perverse excitement he was feeling. Sandy pulled onto an old logging road, his victim still following close behind. His mind raced. What would it feel like to exact his ounce of flesh, to actually end this worthless human life. He wondered for a moment about remorse, but quickly dismissed it. He recognized a landmark and determined the remaining distance, just five-hundred more yards and his moment of justice would finally be at hand. They stopped at the sight of an abandoned cabin. Sandy had found it after an exhaustive search of the area. He wanted a location that would fit in with his story and not suddenly arouse suspicion. He didn't want complications. He even went so far as to place a few lit oil lanterns inside to make it look like there could be someone inside, patiently waiting to help his victim maintain his newfound freedom.
Sandy carefully picked up the heavy lead pipe from under his seat and tucked it under his coat. His loaded forty-four magnum was in the glove box. He was determined to utilize the same methods the murderer had used on the girls. One had been bludgeoned with a blunt instrument, the other shot in the head, the local newspaper had reported. He remembered the classmates talking after the funeral. The families insisted upon open casket ceremonies. The girl who was shot had half of her head blown off. The mortician had done a poor job of hiding this fact. Maybe that horrid image would be lasting enough to deter other girls from taking the same path. The idea that the girls were somehow indirectly responsible for their own murders sickened Sandy.
As he stepped from the car he felt another surge of adrenaline kick in and he knew that he would be able to carry out his mission. As the man stepped closer to him and was within striking distance, the pipe suddenly emerged from the coat and swiftly struck the victims skull as Sandy angrily yelled "This is for Patricia!", and the man went down to his knees in the mud. The cracking sound of the mans skull made Sandy somewhat nauseous, but the feeling of power was exhilarating. Sandy struck him twice more across the shoulder blades for good measure. The man moaned in pain, but was obviously stunned by Sandy's words. The name Sandy spoke was familiar to the man and a memory of the murders flashed in his mind and he had a fleeting thought that this was a relative, finally getting their revenge. He was lying on his side, his pitiful life flashing before his eyes. Sandy struck him twice more, this time across the knees to incapacitate him. The blows had done just that, separating the bones from their joints. They protruded from the skin. Sandy felt further exhilaration at the sight of the mans blood flowing from his knees and skull. He walked calmly to the passenger side of the car and retrieved the magnum with an evil smirk on his face. He walked back even more slowly, casually, taking his time. He stood over the man, opened the bullet chamber and gave it spin, saying nothing. He wanted the man to suffer a little more in the silent pain of his own memories of his heinous crime from fifteen years ago. By this time the man began begging for his life, saying he had been rehabilitated in the correctional facility and that he was truly remorseful for his actions. After several minutes, Sandy had heard enough of his garbage. He closed the chamber, slowly, deliberately pointed the gun to the mans head and said in an angry whisper, "And this is for Karen you sonofabitch," as he pulled back the hammer and squeezed the trigger. In an instant it was done. The man was dead. His head was half blown off and Sandy again felt exhilarated. True retribution, he thought. The man would never harm another young girl again. He would never again have the opportunity to rob two families of their precious loving teenaged daughters. Sandy closed his eyes and sighed. His plan was half completed. After the killing, Sandy had calmly returned home and began jotting down his confession on his computer. He waited patiently for the law to arrive. He had left blatant clues of who the mans killer was, and hoped the law would be quick in finding and arresting him. He didn't have to worry. They arrived at his home and rang the doorbell as if they were next-door neighbors coming over to borrow a cup of sugar or use the phone. Sandy was surprised at how calmly the whole event took place. The local news would report a man was taken into custody without incident in the murder of a paroled convicted murderer. Although the media was quick to label the killing as the act of a vigilante, they were dumbfounded that the killer seemed to have no real connection to the crime for which the man had been convicted. They showed interviews with the mans family who told them how the man had been completely rehabilitated. The media therefore deemed it as a "senseless" killing. It had made perfect sense to Sandy.
Sandy's story was told in court, how the memory of his classmates' murders had drove him insane and lead him to commit the crime. Although his lawyer was confident of acquittal, the jury was not sympathetic, citing that two wrongs do not make a right and the felt it their duty to send a message that any sort of revenge killing would not in anyway be tolerated in this State. They unknowingly fell right into Sandy's hands.
The Warden and several Guards were suddenly outside the Observation Cell, it was time to move closer to the execution chamber. The Isolation Cell. Sandy felt mildly angry that they had interrupted his thoughts, but this soon passed and he was once again lying on his back staring at the ceiling, thinking about the past, how painful it once seemed, and now the present and his appointment with death in the very near future. For the first time since he landed on Death Row, he began to be truly frightened at the thought of dying.
He began to question his motives. Was his life really all that bad? Did the "pain" he felt require such a drastic end? He always had a roof over his head, never went hungry, and always could support himself. Sure he had a few bad experiences, but was any of it worth all this? Was it really so much that he couldn't tolerate it? Why was he worrying about it now, when it was much too late to change things? The questions continued in his mind and his head began to ache from so much thinking. Although he maintained a belief in what he had done to arrive at Death Row, he regretted the reason he did it. He had rationalized the killing as being necessary and felt somewhat a hero for better avenging his classmates' murders. But in the end he began to realize that his own fears of living his life alone and without all the material things he desired made his actions selfish and stupid. He realized his life wasn't all that bad and he made a terrible mistake. He vainly wished, as he was certain many in his position do, that he could go back in time and right his wrongs. But it was too late. Time had finally ran out for Sandy.
Sandy spent his last few hours alone, his family having long since disowning him. He really never had any close friends, certainly none that would be by his side in this his darkest hour. With only ninety minutes remaining, he finally gave up his reluctance to accept the possibility of an afterlife and asked to speak with the prison Chaplain. He gained a little comfort in discussing heaven and hell with the good chaplain and with as much sincerity as he could, said a prayer asking forgiveness from God, as well as Karen and Patricia for using their senseless murders to give some purpose and reason to his own wish to "drop out", before being escorted to the electric chair. He had a sudden appreciation for life and time was even more precious. The last hour flew by like seconds.
At the prescribed time of twelve seventeen A.M., when it was certain there would be no last minute reprieve phone call from the Governor, Sandy's life had finally ended. No fanfare, no one outside the prison gates cheering their Hero and soon to be Martyr. He realized his "ingenious" plan did nothing to relieve his emptiness. His last thoughts were of how ashamed he felt for just giving up and not making something more of his life. Most of all he was ashamed for tarnishing the memories of Karen and Patricia.
His last words were simply, "I am truly sorry."