The Unencumbered

Ivan lay on his bunk and took in the sounds that came unbidden to his ears. The hollow footfalls of the guards, the metal cup running along the bars in a bid for attention, the faint tune coming from a radio in the guard station. He was tired of these sounds. He was tired of waiting. There is, he speculated, no form of waiting that was more tiresome than waiting for the end. He looked over at the apparition sitting in the corner – he didn’t feel it anymore.

Two sets of footsteps echoed down the hall. One would be his lawyer. He didn’t allow himself to think about the news coming his way. The guard unlocked his cell and the lawyer walked in and sat down on the seat opposite his bunk. He didn’t bother sitting up. A condemned man had certain privileges.

“Hello Ivan. How’s it been since I was here last?”

“Hello Fred. Small talk? Really?”

Fred sighed and opened his briefcase. “Your final appeal is being heard in – he looked at his watch – even as we speak.”

Ivan looked out the cell door at the guard. “So what do you think my chances are?”

“I won’t lie to you Ivan, unless your witness is ready to talk I don’t see anything changing.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t suppose she will. Easier to let an innocent man die than put your own neck out. Ain’t that right?” He focussed his attention on his companion in the corner.

“You’re still talking to ghosts I see.”

“Sure, why not. He says I’m going to be joining him soon. They like to get to know the newcomers.”

Fred knew the story but it might be his last chance to hear anything he hadn’t got in the past.

“So you’re telling me that the ghosts of men who’ve been executed here visit the condemned prisoners before they die?”

“Yep. Once they know for sure you’re going to hang they come to get acquainted.”

Fred looked at the empty corner. “So what does he look like?”

“Like a dead guy Fred.”

“I see. They bury the executed under the prison. How many are down there?”

Ivan looked to his companion. “He says they are legion. Whatever that means.”

“Well, Ivan, if it helps you to have friends in here with you I guess that’s how it should be.”

Ivan was listening. “He says you shouldn’t disrespect the dead.”

“Well now, how can I disrespect something I can’t even see?”

Ivan turned toward the corner and listened, then nodded his head.

“He says he wants me to tell you something.”

“And that is?”

“That your brother loves you very much and that he has never regretted that it was him and not you that died that day.”

Fred felt the blood drain from his face and looked down at his trembling hands. “How did you know…” He jumped when his cell phone rang and it took him three rings to answer.

While he listened Ivan turned to the corner. He stared intently and a smile came to his face. Fred closed his phone.

“I have some news – “

“I know. I’m being pardoned. At long last I’m going to be free.”

“How did you know that?”

“He told me he had to leave. That I wasn’t going to be joining them after all. He faded away. He’s gone.”

Fred stared in disbelief. Some things were best not examined too close. “Well anyway, congratulations. She showed up for the hearing and told them everything. She’s been taken into custody while they check it out. If what you’ve been saying all along is true you’re going to be a free man.”

He got up to go and shook Ivan’s hand.

“Just one thing Ivan. Did they ever tell you their names? You know, your…friends.”

“I did ask once. He said they were the unencumbered.”

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