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Robert Reed

Robert Reed tells us that the genesis for his intensely powerful new story comes from the following: “In Nebraska, murderers are executed in front of small audiences that include members of the press. (Transparent justice and all that.) I know quite a few people who work for the newspapers, and some of them have witnessed executions. More important, these same people have interviewed the families of victims and the convicted alike. The executions carry huge consequences, even to the grieving parents and siblings of murdered girls, and in the end not even the most Old Testament of these souls are left happy, or even at peace. Years ago, after one undeniably heinous character was electrocuted, I asked myself what would make the state-sponsored murder into the only moral response. What would have to happen for the public to celebrate, shamelessly and without doubts, the death of someone who had stolen an innocent life? I wrote a novel proposal on the subject. Modern publishing was less than excited by my vision. This is the same essential story, chiseled down to the bone. There is one plot element added to the original tale, and everything that the editors wanted taken out has been shoved forward and made obvious. I guess this is my bid for transparent justice.”



Three men occupy a circle of harsh white light. The youngest sits in front, his brown hair and beard just beginning to grow out. Soulful eyes and a wry little mouth point at the camera. His happiness is guarded, skeptical. By contrast, the men standing behind him are simply and enthusiastically thrilled. A striking resemblance links the three faces, but time has been a juggernaut for the standing men, leaving them puffy and gray. By contrast, their father is a vibrant forty, lost for a time and nobody knows where, but back and full of life again. The sons have retrieved their dead father and they can’t stop smiling, while the musician stares at the lens, warily amused by everything he sees.

I flew Delhi to Tokyo and then home. Lauren began calling while I was over the Pacific, leaving messages that moved rapidly from anger to raving terror. By the time I hit LAX, she was a mess. I listened to the last message first; our daughter went missing yesterday. I called Kaylee right away, figuring she was having a fight with her mother—an old story. But she didn’t answer me and hadn’t left any messages or texts, nothing since before I was in Japan, and that seemed like a sterling reason to panic.
Calling Lauren, I learned that the police were thick in the mix.
“Where’s Elijah?” I asked.
“Oh, they have him,” she said.
“Who has him?”
“The detectives,” she snapped, as if I should know that already. “They’re interrogating the little shit now.”
Elijah was a seventeen-year-old problem put on earth to test boundaries and ruin nights for parents. I didn’t much like the kid, but I couldn’t share Lauren’s scorching mistrust. He was with the police, which meant he didn’t run away with my daughter. I felt as if I’d found good news, which Lauren sensed and squashed immediately.
“They’re looking for her and for the van, Shawn.”
The van was a third-hand clunker; I despised that hunk of rust. Stupid as hell, I said, “Well, she can’t drive it.”
Our daughter was only fifteen.
“Are you listening to me?” Lauren asked.
I thought I was listening.
“They had a fight last night, Elijah says. He says he left her and the van sitting in that turnoff east of Sweetgrass, and then he walked home.”
“Helluva walk,” I said.
“It took him all night, he claims. Except nobody knows where the van is, or Kaylee. Her friends haven’t heard from her. And you haven’t either, right?”
The temptation to lie was still vigorous, eight years after our marriage was finished. But truth ruled. “I haven’t heard anything, no.”
“I’m scared, Shawn.”
So was I.
“How soon can you get home?”
Not soon enough. That’s how I felt then, and nothing has happened since to change that grim impression.

The background is bright unfocused green. Sunshine pours from overhead, from God. The subject wears a nun’s habit, the white coif clean and bright against the pretty African face. Her sober, downcast expression conveys what might be deep spirituality, or it might be shyness brought on by the camera, but it could well be one of those innocent looks that mean nothing. Whatever the truth, the watchful eye is obliged to follow her gaze. The nun is shoeless. Bare black feet stand on red dirt. Several machetes and one stubby ax are scattered across the jungle floor—tired old tools with nicked edges and rope-covered handles. But the blades have been cleaned until they glow, not a fleck of rust or dust or blood anywhere on their murderous bodies. And the left foot is up on its toes, trying not to be cut for what would be the first time.

By Denver I was certain everything was fine. A good giddy feeling found me, and I was so convinced and so unwilling to risk spoiling the elation that I held out a full minute before calling Lauren.
Her husband answered. “Hello, Shawn.”
“Lauren’s talking to the officers again. Are you home?”
Not even close. I had an hour to wait for my commuter flight, and then another hour in the air. I was going to try to find an earlier flight, but I was still hundreds of miles short of the goal.
“We’ll call if there’s news,” Mitch promised.
I searched the available flights, which numbered two and mine was first. But at least I left on time, nothing but good weather ahead of me. Seated near the front, elbow propped on the armrest and my hand holding my chin, I must have looked bad. The girl in the uniform took an interest. She asked if I felt all right, and I said something about jet lag. Then she returned to tell me that we met once. Two years ago, I talked to her college class about careers in photography. But my encouragement didn’t take, and now she was doing “this stuff,” which gave her the expertise to offer a few words of advice about jet lag before wandering off to do her stuff.
Despite FAA rules, I called Lauren while the plane was airborne.
We didn’t crash.
“The sandpits north of Sweetgrass,” she said. No hellos, just those words pushing through a fair amount of road noise.
“What about them?” I asked.
“Somebody found something. The sheriff and State Patrol are there now.”
“I’m landing in a minute.”
“Which lake is Boomer Pit?” she asked.
“It’s on the west side of the river. No cabins, no houses. Maybe four miles from town.”
She shouted my directions to Mitch. Then returning to me, she admitted, “I don’t know what this means. But they may have found the van.”
Grown men who run through airports should expect to be noticed, particularly when they’re carrying a bag that might only look like a camera bag. But there weren’t any more outbound flights, and if I was a terrorist, then at least I was carrying my bomb off the premises. Nobody stopped me on the way to long-term parking, and because they would be quick and empty, I took the back roads, keeping my speed just under eighty.
Sweetgrass stands twenty miles east of the airport—a little river town that never was quiet or peaceful, but is unusually pretty, at least for this part of the world. I grew up there, graduating from its one high school, and my parents would never willingly live anywhere else. Turning at the tallest structure in town, the grain elevator, I ended up on the riverbed road. Gravel rattled behind me. Spinning lights marked my destination. Standing beside a deputy’s cruiser was a sorry old fellow who waved me through. As if I was expected. Then just to make things more difficult, my Prius got stuck in soft sand, and I ended up running over the final manmade dune, dropping into a scene full of headlights and spotlights and stern male voices barking orders.
The white van had been pulled from the water. Someone had opened the back doors, and a roving light showed me that the vehicle was empty. That seemed like wonderful news. But then I heard a woman’s cries and found Mitch holding my ex-wife. Lauren’s pretty face was hidden, but Mitch looked older and grayer than usual. Spotting me, he gestured with his head before turning away completely, and I followed that trajectory, staring at a motionless, colorless, and astonishingly small shape that couldn’t be human—stripped of clothes and littered with knife wounds that culminated with a single long slash that had nearly severed my daughter’s head.

The boy looks proud and happy, standing beside his van, an agreeable girl under his skinny arm. A tattooed eagle full of strength and fire rides that arm. He is seventeen but looks younger. What will never be a beard rides the unremarkable chin. Say what you will about Elijah, the boy has a nice smile. The world is a wonderful place when you have a girl and a van and an eagle on your arm, and the only obstacle between you and your glorious future is a crazy father who tells some stupid-ass joke, tricking you into smiling for his damned camera.

Kaylee was eighteen months dead when the trial began.
There were good, smart, and inevitable reasons for the delays. The prosecutor’s office was aiming for first-degree murder and a lethal injection, which meant that every shred of useful evidence had to be teased from a landslide of data that didn’t help. And the defense attorney was the very best that a single mother of three could afford, which meant psych evaluations and suppression motions and any other useless dance that might, just might, prolong his client’s reckoning.
I barely recognized the defendant. Two inches and forty pounds had been added to the willowy frame, the ratty black hair had been cut and whiskers sliced off with razors. Elijah was filling a suit freshly pulled from the rack at JC Penny. His mother probably tied the soft blue tie that so nicely rode his neck. At least that’s the way it played in my head. Jail food and jail living had transformed Elijah. Tough and unhappy, and in some deep fashion absolutely indifferent to whatever was happening to him, he was a lot more impressive than the boy that I remembered, and much easier to hate.
I brought my parents for the trial’s first day, but hard seats and an afternoon filled with wound analyses quenched their need for vengeance.
The second day was devoted to sober, well-dressed police officers discussing interviews with the defendant and other critical witnesses.
Lauren had launched the search for our daughter. The police spoke to her before visiting Elijah’s house. There they found the defendant looking as if he’d just got out of the shower. Elijah said that he was very, very tired. He said that he’d just gotten home. News that his girlfriend was missing brought no visible impact. But after several moments of reflection, he asked the officers, “How the hell would I know where she is?”
That’s when Elijah’s mother arrived, fresh from a night at her boyfriend’s apartment. She asked what was happening and then instructed her son to be honest. She told the officers that her son was always honest. More routine questions led to the defendant’s admission that there was a fight last night. “But I didn’t hit her,” Elijah said. Nobody had accused him of battery. “I never hit girls,” he said, looking at his mother. One officer asked where and when he last saw Kaylee, and Elijah claimed that she was sitting in the van at the rest area, and it was ten or ten-thirty. Or eleven-something, he wasn’t paying attention. Then without any more prodding, the defendant added, “She was all tears but alive.” Which seemed like another odd admission: Nobody had mentioned the possibility of death.
Later in the day, the defendant and his mother were brought downtown for a second, much longer interview with two detectives. The detectives played with the details of last night. Once again, Elijah claimed to have walked straight home. But one detective pointed out that he must be very slow, if it took him all night to cover fifteen miles at a normal walking pace.
“I didn’t walk the highway,” the boy claimed. “I used the gravel roads. Yeah, and I got lost a couple times too.”
And why did he use the county roads?
“I didn’t want Kaylee seeing me.”
Why not?
“She might have done something stupid,” Elijah said.
What would have been stupid?
Elijah said nothing.
Then one detective suggested that the girl might have been angry with him. Maybe Elijah was afraid that she would try to run him down.
“She wouldn’t have, ever,” Elijah said. Then he sat up tall, saying, “No, I was afraid she’d feel sorry for me. She’d pull over and then I’d climb in, and we’d start the fight all over again.”
At that moment, Elijah’s mother decided to help.
“That Kaylee has a temper,” she told the detectives. “That’s one little girl you don’t want to turn your back on.”
And now I hated the killer’s mom.
On the third morning, the defense attorney did what he could to dismantle the police account. But the professionals told a compelling story that was practiced and poised. They didn’t find a second suspect because there weren’t any candidates. They didn’t find blood splatters because the boy disposed of his clothes and washed his body. The detectives didn’t think it was unusual that an adolescent male without any criminal record might stab his girlfriend to death, and dumping her body and the murder scene into a stretch of deep water was the most reasonable thing in the world. And while they never found the murder weapon, they reminded the jury that there was more than twenty miles of ground between the sandpit and home, and that knife could hide anywhere.
That was the day, the trial’s third, that doomed Elijah.
Afternoon brought the star witness. I hadn’t seen Gus Castor in years, but time hadn’t visibly changed the man. He was still a leathery old river rat, strong in the shoulders and forearms, that trademark shuffling gait carrying him up the aisle. His usual expression was more grimace than smile. But he always seemed like a happy man. I smelled tobacco when he passed. I didn’t smell whiskey, but this was a special day. He noticed me and gave me what looked like a knowing nod, and then he finished the journey to the witness chair, lifting a giant’s hand as he pledged to tell us the truth.
The prosecutor asked for his name.
His voice was even rougher than I remembered.
“My name is Donald ‘Gus’ Castor.”
The prosecutor wanted an address and life story.
“I live above Sweetgrass,” said Gus. “My cabin’s ten minutes north if you let the current do your work. I guide fishermen and hunters, goose and duck hunters mostly. And I trap in the winter. But mostly I just hunt for myself, and I fish to eat, and I know that river better than most, and this is quite an honor to be here today. Thank you.”
At that point, he threw a tooth-impoverished smile at the jury.
Decent souls melted a little ways. This was the pure, undiluted Gus at work.
With an all-business voice, the prosecutor asked about an evening that came and went a year and a half ago.
“I was on the river,” Gus said.
“What were you doing on the river?”
“I was putting out a net,” he said.
“Is net fishing allowed?” the prosecutor asked.
“Not now and not then,” Gus said. Then laughing, he added, “It’s what you might call poaching. Me? I think of it as supplying food for hungry bellies.”
Some in the courtroom laughed, and then recalling the circumstances, everybody shut up.
The prosecutor started tugging out details.
Gus confessed to quite a lot. He explained how there was a market for wild catfish and even carp, and sometimes there would be a bass or a few sauger in the catch. He said that the new game warden was giving everybody hell, which was why he was being careful that night. That’s why he was wearing night goggles.
“Where did you get the goggles?” asked the prosecutor.
“My boy used to be in the Army,” said Gus. “And now Jeremy is overseas, working for one of those private security firms. That’s how I get the best of everything. From my son.”
An excellent pair of goggles was put into evidence, and then the prosecutor wanted to know more about the game warden.
Gus said, “He’s just a kid, but he seems halfway bright. And if he knew what he was doing, he might drive up to Boomer pit, park on one of the high dunes, and scope the river with half a moon shining.”
“So you were searching for the game warden?”
“Just like he was hunting for me. Yes, sir.”
“And what did you see parked beside the sandpit?”
“An old white van,” Gus said. “It was on the far bank, in the open, up where the sand was pitched steep. I didn’t need night goggles to see it. That’s how big and bright it looked.”
“Did you see any people?”
“Not right away, sir. No.”
“What did you do next?”
“I went down to the river to check my net and have a little beer. Oh, and check my stuff on eBay.” Then he turned to the jury, adding, “I’m a high-tech river rat. Just so you folks know.”
He laughed, and the jury laughed without shame.
The prosecutor asked what happened next.
“Yeah, I heard this sound. It was like a scream, like what a rabbit makes when she’s grabbed up by a coyote. But it was louder and even worse, which is something. Rabbits have this god-awful scream.”
“What did you do?”
“Went up the bank to look.”
“And what did you see?”
“A boy,” Gus said. “The boy climbed out the back end and walked down to the sandpit, got low and splashed his face ten or twenty times. Then he peeled off his shirt and his trousers and underwear and pulled different clothes from behind the driver’s seat. I watched him get dressed. Then he stuffed the first clothes in a grocery sack and threw them and a big knife off to the side.”
“And then?”
“He popped the clutch and put the van in neutral, and as it started rolling, he jumped free and watched it hit the water,” Gus said. “The van floated for a half minute, maybe. Then it sank. And I watched the kid all that time, using my goggles. He looked young to me. Some kind of tattoo was on his arm; I couldn’t tell what. But the face was pretty clear from where I was lying.”
“Do you see that face in this courtroom?” the prosecutor asked.
“Mostly,” Gus said.
Surprised, the prosecutor asked warily, “What do you mean, ‘mostly’?”
“He’s grown up since that night,” the old man said. Then one big hand lifted, and even though everybody knew where he was going to point, it was amazing how much tension kept churning inside that one overcrowded room.

The girl knows what her father expects. She stands under the boy’s arm and the eagle, smiling on command. The dirty white van is behind her, the remnants of a plumber’s name and phone number past her right ear. Lighting and composition could be better. But this is what the photographer deserves, ambushing two unwilling subjects as they escape from his townhouse. She is small and blond like her mother, with her paternal grandmother’s strong features and stubborn nature. She wears jeans and flip-flops and a boy’s rude T-shirt and that perfect smile, unconscious but still fetching. Her father is leaving for Asia. Interesting lands and fascinating people need to be captured by his lens. He won’t see his daughter again. Twenty days from tonight, she dies inside that van, and this is the final photograph that her father will take of his most patient, most suffering subject.

An upscale sports bar was within walking distance of the courthouse, and Mitch had rented the party room, graciously inviting me to sit with his family and friends. The host picked up the tab for everything but hard liquor. I appreciated the old man’s charity. I let him deal with Lauren’s temper, and even more dangerous, her moments of elation. And after that third day, my ex was ready to dance on a barroom table.
“This is going to put him on death row,” she said.
I was ignoring my curly fries. Mitch was nibbling at a Caesar’s salad. Seven years of marriage came into play. Without sounding sanctimonious, Mitch told his wife, “I think you’re probably right, dear.”
She looked at me. “Gus,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Thank you, Gus,” she called out.
Mitch watched me. Then with a careful voice, he said, “You know the man, don’t you?”
“Pretty well,” I admitted. “He and my dad ran on the river together, back when they were kids.”
“And you ran around with Gus’ son,” Lauren said.
I shook my head. “We were in the same class. But Jeremy and I were never close. Not like our fathers.”
“Well, thank you for the wonderful goggles, Jeremy!”
People were pleased, but most of the room preferred to stare at me.
Mitch was a man who knew the value of grooming and poise. He took a deep breath, not quite wringing the worry out of his handsome features. “Well, this was obviously a good day,” he managed.
Lauren started drumming on the table. Hard.
“John, Jackson,” Mitch said. “Go to the bar and bring back enough for a celebration. Four pitchers should do the trick, don’t you think?”
His grown sons weren’t the most energetic fellows, but the promise of booze got them on their feet.
“I don’t want beer,” Lauren said.
“Well how about a margarita, dear?”
“Perfect,” she said.
“You sit, I’ll get,” Mitch said. Then he looked at me, using a careful tone when he said, “You might want to order your own. My treat.”
I warily went with him.
The bar was busy for mid-week. Patrons were eating fried vegetables and fried meat, watching walls filled with televisions. Basketball was the dominant sport, but one raucous group was living and dying with some NHL game.
“I’ve heard rumors about our witness,” Mitch said, touching my forearm.
Mitch wasn’t the touching sort.
“You mean Gus,” I said.
Insurance was a local industry, and Mitch was one of its titans. He was also a skilled golfer and an expert at making small talk at country club parties. When he had a rumor, it almost certainly came from the top.
“Three weeks after the murder, Gus came forward,” he said. “Three weeks. Of course the police asked why it took him so long. The old fellow claimed that he didn’t want to be involved and was afraid to get a poaching charge. But the granddaughter of an old friend was dead, and so there he was.”
“Okay,” I said.
“I can’t reveal my source,” Mitch said.
“I don’t want to know it.”
“But the police assume that he was hiding something worse than nets.”
Possibilities popped into my head. Guns and dead whooping cranes. And big illegal guns, maybe.
“Do you know any specifics?” I asked.
“Does Elijah’s lawyer suspect any of this?”
“You’re sure?”
Mitch nodded, watching my eyes. “The authorities didn’t have the forensics to convict Elijah, so they made a conscious effort not to ruin the only witness. And besides, this is the defense counsel’s first murder case. The man means well, but he doesn’t know his business.”
I crossed my arms and then let them drop again.
“I hope you don’t share any of this,” he said.
“I won’t.”
“Particularly with Lauren,” he said.
I couldn’t have agreed more vigorously.
Mitch drifted off to the bar. I didn’t feel like moving, so I stayed where I was, defending that little patch of floor. I could have stayed there forever. My thoughts were jangled and stupid, and in the end, utterly useless. But that’s what I was doing when the tenor of the room changed, slowly at first and then rapidly. A bartender sprinted past, changing channels. Then someone behind me shouted, “Volume. Turn up the damned volume!”
Games vanished. News feeds replaced balls and pucks, and even the hockey fans didn’t complain for long. A pale, profoundly bald man was standing before cameras and lights. The words “Baghdad” and “Live” were stuck in the corners. The bald man was smiling. He wanted to say something, and every reporter in the room wanted him to speak. But there were too many questions and too many high emotions, and another man felt obligated to step forward, shouting with an Arabic accent, ordering the room to please allow the honored guest to have his say.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” the bald man began.
I recognized the voice.
“No, I don’t know where I was,” he said.
In Baghdad, nervous mutterings fell back into silence.
Then the man said, “I’m sorry. But I don’t know where I was. I remember being on the ground, on my stomach, with a gun at my head. Then I was on the same ground but naked. Naked and there wasn’t any gun. And the man holding me prisoner was gone. And it was evening instead of afternoon, cool instead of hot, and I stood up and right away started to shiver.”
A barmaid was watching the closest television.
I joined her, and she asked me, “Do you know what’s going on?”
To my considerable surprise, I did know.
“His name is Foster,” I said. “He was an AP photographer. About ten years ago, he was shot and killed in Iraq . . .”
Yet the television kept insisting these were live images.
“I don’t know where I was when I was dead,” said the big hearty voice that I couldn’t forget. “But all things considered, I feel pretty good.”

The eyebrows were a distinctive trait, but for some reason they haven’t returned. The man sits on a stool in what is obviously a photographer’s studio. He wears khaki shorts and sandals but no shirt. The old scar from bypass surgery makes a bold statement on his chest. Despite the warnings of doctors, the man is smoking again. He holds the cigar clamped in his teeth, furiously blowing smoke into the lights. A dense mat of new brown hair covers his scalp and tiny slivers of red show where the razor cut his chin just minutes ago. He was making himself ready for this portrait. Always the photographer, he claims that the cuts were intentional, giving his face the necessary mortality. But there is no such monster as Death. That is what Simon Foster shows the world. There might be other realms and other realities, unmapped and mysterious, but the seemingly firm and eternal grip of Nothingness has been expelled, and probably forever.

Lauren was crying and crying.
She hadn’t been this happy in years, if ever.
Court was out. The jury had been sent home for the weekend. I was at Lauren’s house, at Mitch’s house, eating delivery pizza while watching another freshly minted documentary about the Elysium Chamber. Gordon Tran was the investor, the sparkplug—a Texan billionaire who saw a problem and found the means to fix it. People were far too compassionate with the murderers of the world, Gordon maintained. Capital punishment was the reasonable response to cruel, soulless men. He claimed that he wasn’t a cruel man. Indeed, Gordon seemed affable and warm, rationally discussing the nature of evil and the concerns of soft-hearted souls who couldn’t put down a psychopath with the same tools used on a dying dog.
That’s why Gordon found himself a pair of bright fellows—tech-savants netted from the wilds of Seattle. And that’s why he spent two hundred million of his own dollars in the development and initial testing of the most famous machine in the world.
Lauren pulled her knees to her face, giggling and weeping in equal measure.
Now the tech-boys got to talk. Minimal edits gave the piece a natural feel, but the camera pulled in too close, proving the boy on the left still had pimples. He explained how the Elysium Chamber was designed to take an object, living or otherwise, and obliterate it as quickly and efficiently as physics allowed. Nobody wanted to divulge details. Several hefty patents were riding on their ingenuity. But the boys admitted to borrowing techniques from experimental fusion reactors and high-energy cyclotrons. The goal was a clean means to end life, without pain and the associated guilt that comes with inflicting suffering. Then the pimple boy admitted that they really went into this business hoping to find a better means to generate power.
“Except the reactions aren’t as rich as we hoped,” he confessed. “The Elysium isn’t going to replace coal or windmills, not any time soon.”
Lauren grinned at me.
“What?” I asked.
“Are you happy?”
What was I? “Cautious,” I said. “I’m not letting myself get crazy.”
“That’s so like you,” she said, laughing at the doubter.
Several months ago, Gordon and his boys started searching for the means to test their machine. But even nations who routinely executed criminals were shy about experimental electric chairs. China and Russia refused. Saudi Arabia and various African nations refused. Even Texas took a pass. But officials in Iraq were willing to help—probably with a suitcase full of cash helping sway opinions, I assumed. A condemned prisoner was selected. Captured last year and convicted just days ago, he was an exceptionally bad man—a known terrorist who had personally murdered dozens of civilians, including one AP photographer named Simon Foster.
The world’s only operational Elysium Chamber was a bulky contraption full of capacitors and fancy machines hovering just above absolute zero. It was flown to Baghdad last week, and after some last-minute negotiations, the prisoner was led inside a closet-sized space and told to remain motionless. But that final instruction was unnecessary. The man felt nothing but the typical self-important emotions of a psychopath facing execution. And this was a very bad man. The inventors and Gordon kept making that point. “The worst of the worst.” There was no noise inside the Elysium. The only light was a pale blue glow from a tiny overhead vent. One moment, the killer was there, and then he simply ceased to be. An exceptionally busy picosecond shattered every long molecule in his body, and electrons were stripped free, and the composition of his mind and thoughts was so thoroughly randomized that it was as if the man had never been.
Foster was murdered in the hills above Mosul. He discovered himself naked and alone on the slope where he died, and he nearly died a second time of exposure before a Kurdish patrol stumbled across him. Twenty-three men and two women were reborn, but Foster was the face known in the West. Sadly eighteen other people were killed by the spring chill or the kinds of mishaps that are inevitable when young soldiers see naked men approaching out of the darkness.
Gordon Tran and his cohorts were sorry for those losses, but how could any sane mind anticipate this kind of event?
“All right,” the interviewer said. “I need to ask each of you: What is the explanation for all this?”
Without hesitation, the Texan said, “It is God’s gracious heart at work.”
“It has to be,” my ex-wife whispered, grabbing up her husband’s hand.
But the tech-boys wouldn’t let the Supreme Deity into their machine. “We built an accidental time machine,” one of them proposed. “End a murderer’s life that quickly, that perfectly, and the souls that he killed are instantly teleported back into the living world.”
The pimple boy glanced at his partner while shaking his head.
“You don’t agree,” the interviewer pressed.
“I’m avoiding hard, fast opinions,” said that lucky genius. “But there is an interesting middle ground here. I think. Intelligent, sophisticated forces might be at work in the universe. They’re gods or aliens, and my guess? They are very advanced aliens. And like all conscious beings, these creatures value some things more than other things, and preserving human souls might just be an activity that powerful good entities would wish to do.”
“Preserve them how?” the interviewer pressed.
“Well, maybe like photographs,” the pimple boy replied. “But these are photographs accurate to the nearest atom and kept in some very safe place. And all we need are the proper tools to retrieve them.”
For me, that was the riveting beautiful perfect moment.
I grabbed up my ex’s other hand, sick from happiness when I told her, “You’re right. I know you’re right. We’re going to get our little girl back.”

The house stands behind a weathered For Sale sign. The yard is weedy, the front storm door is missing, and particle board covers the living room window. Three children and their mother sit on the curb. Five-year-old boys smile at their world, identical faces looking like eggs painted with happy eyes and happy mouths. Mom is as skinny as the day she died. The smooth scalp and prominent cheekbones lend her the appearance of a vigorous cancer patient, and while she isn’t as happy as her sons, she does seem relieved by circumstances that she couldn’t have predicted. Her twelve-year- old daughter is the worrisome subject. Looking over her shoulder, the girl glances at a house nobody wants to buy. In profile, she looks nervous and sorry and scared. Most of the bad things in the family happened to her. At her feet is the framed portrait of a smiling man who resembles the twins but not the girl. That man was executed three days ago. Three days ago, she came back to life. With her right foot, the girl stamped on the portrait, leaving her stepfather smiling his way through a tangle of bright li......

Copyright © 2012 by Robert Reed


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"Murder Born" by Robert Reed copyright © 2012 with permission of the author.

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