The Vampire of Huntsville
by Laura Lark
Macy drew the pale blue hood tight beneath her chin and aimed a dolorous pout at the passenger side rearview.
“God must have had a really good sense of fashion,” she said, tilting her head back and forth. “Wait. Has a really good sense. Ever-present tense-like. Since he’s always around and—“
“What. Are you—“ Geoff nearly knocked his forehead on the wheel. “Talking about?”
“She looks like the Virgin Mary,” Dario called from the back seat. “Like the other ones, too. Guadalupe. Oaxaca. It’s the hoodie.”
Macy turned her piety to Geoff. “Everybody looks good in these things. I mean good— the saintly way. The cute way, too. You’re not listening.”
“I’m not looking, either.”
“He’s driving,” Dario said.
The exit for Huntsville State Prison loomed ahead, punctuated with the chalky monument of Sam Houston that drove Macy nuts. Why did it have to be so damned big? Stories high. It somehow lacked dignity—like instead of serving to memorialize a Texas legend in a solemn, respectful manner, scale made the figure seem like something from a fifties B sci-fi movie.
The Revenge of the Ten Ton Texan.
It Came From I-45!
Geoff leaned as he took the curve. “We’re early, guys. Plenty of time to hit the gift shop.”
“You make it sound like Sea World,” said Macy.
“What I did on my summer vacation.” Dario cracked his knuckles. “I still don’t know what we’re doing here.”
What they were doing there was something that had bothered Macy since the night Geoff proposed the trip. — The job, although, like everything that didn’t totally suck, it, paid nada, and the notion of presenting themselves as a team of professionals covering the 500th execution at Huntsville State Penitentiary since the reinstatement of the death penalty in Texas made Dario snort and Macy cringe. Only Geoff, committed to blogging the event, and needing Macy and her Nikon, considered this an official outing. Dario’s presence was always a given, despite the fact that his only real input was, occasionally, a third of the rent on the Montrose bungalow they struggled to afford. That night Dario, more stoned than usual, toppled his beer and called bullshit on the whole enterprise.
“Who’s gonna buy,” he laughed, dodging Macy as she plucked the overturned bottle of Pearl before much of it spilled, “Any of us would ever be commissioned to do anything?” He belched. “Ever?”
Geoff said his followers wouldn’t care.
“All three,” said Macy, thumping Dario’s forehead as she would a ripe cantaloupe.
“Hilarious.” Geoff grabbed Dario’s beer and downed the remaining contents.
Macy used the Ladies, picturing the guys smirking their way through Prison Gift Shop fare. She felt queasy and sweaty. The camera bag strap cut into her shoulder. She removed her hoodie, but the sight of bare shoulders and dingy bra straps struck her as disrespectful, even in a bathroom, so she pulled it back on.
What was proper execution attire? This one was special, after all. Kimberly Mc Carthy, ex-wife of a Black Panther, had murdered an elderly neighbor and hacked off the woman’s ring finger so the wedding band could be sold, presumably for crack. Macy wished she hadn’t draunk so much last night. She wished she could get more indignant and passionate about this stuff, because, no matter what you thought about capital punishment, Christian forgiveness, whether Mc Carthy had gotten a fair trial or was even in her right mind when she committed the crime, it really was the stuff of passion.
What was her problem? That she didn’t have one?
Geoff had causes. She had a camera. At this point, she’d settle for Dario’s wry, stoner complacency—he’d Liked Facebook posts on the topic, constantly marveling at the fact that Pennsylvania’s execution rate came in a close second, with 200.
She checked herself, glad she’d gone with a skirt, though the decision had been solely comfort driven. Why was June, with its trap-door drop into the sweltering stew that would persis around here until late October, such a surprise? Every year? Even Dario, a fifth generation Texan, bitterly complained each summer like an Oregon transplant.
A woman with a dull copper-colored bob emerged from a stall dragging a girl who looked to be four or five. She sandwiched the girl between herself and the sink, turned on the water, and tried to force the child’s hands into the stream.
“But I didn’t touch it!” the girl bawled.
They struggled. More water wound up on the floor than in the sink and the woman, who was probably close to Macy’s age but seemed from a different galaxy entirely, gave her one of those Kids! What can you do? looks that always mystified Macy, because she had no idea what anybody did about anything. Especially kids.
Macy trailed mother and daughter as they joined stocky dad at the base of the blinding alabaster tribute to Sam Houston. She squinted. Maybe it was the sideburns.
“Take my picture!” The girl cradled her chin in her hands, expertly pointing one foot forward.
Macy obediently shot, then saw Geoff waving her over. Amanda here reminded her of job two, a Saturday morning toddlers-in-tiaras deal Geoff had found through classifieds in the Greensheet. She possessed the same determined confidence as every starched, overly ruffled cutie lined up in that musty, sweltering grade school auditorium.
Why did every topic that Geoff deemed blog-worthy have to take place in such stifling conditions?
“How am I going to get my picture!?!” The girl tugged at Macy’s camera strap.
Inside the plain, red brick, rectangular building that was Huntsville State Corrections Facility, Kimberly Mc Carthy was waiting for the chance of another stay of execution. Outside, to the left, generously shaded by a leafy Live Oak, stood two women. One, perspiring heavily in a police- issued windbreaker, toted a PlastiCore sign with vinyl stick-on letters.
Genesis 9: 5-6
In Texas as it is in Heaven
She didn’t look old enough to be the mother of a corrections officer or mother-in-law to the woman beside her, who was cooing to the fat little girl she bounced on one hip. Macy was taking photos from every angle as Geoff had requested, but found herself focusing mostly on the child, whose pink and white checked bonnet, framing an impossibly chubby face, matched her dress and diaper-covering bloomers. More ruffles. Macy forced a smile as the mother waved a meaty little fist in the air.
“It’s her second execution.”
Seated on a nearby curb were the only other pros: a young lesbian couple holding hands. One wore a spiky cap like the one Jughead had in the old Archie comics. Her sign, simply reading 500 RIGHT! lay face up on the grass behind her.
“There’s more sun and way more people—” Dario arrived, out of breath, and hiked a thumb over his shoulder. “—over there..” He looked around the shady spot. “Cooler over here, though.” He tapped his forehead. “Nice hat,” he said to the woman.
She examined her forearm.
Dario’s insistence on having their pictures taken in front of the huge BE A CORRECTIONS OFFICER! sign made all of them laugh. Macy did a perfect auto-show model pose as a couple of guys with buzz cuts and white button shirts that looked like they’d been sausaged into strode over. Both wore mirrored aviator glasses. One had a necktie that looked like a Texas flag.
“We’re going,” said Macy.
“We’re press,” said Geoff.
“We’re permitted to be here,” said Dario, snapping a few shots of the men. Geoff raised an eyebrow.
“It’s this camera!” Dario waved it above his head and laughed. “Something inside me suddenly gives a shit!” He trotted toward the street, toting the camera under his arm like a football. “Look ma! I’m of the blogosphere!”
The opposite side, devoted to sparing McCarthy, was, as Dario had promised, crowds, pavement, and blistering heat. There were almost as many causes as people. Student activists. News teams with anchors blotting at makeup. Angry Panthers. Nuns. Spectators in lawn chairs. A few guys in chef whites pleading that Texas reinstate the recently revoked last meal requests.
Despite placards decrying Governor Perry as the true murderer, angry chants led by megaphone, and the fact that those against the death penalty outnumbered those for it five to one, protesting this—or anything these days, from immigration reform to Occupy Wall Street–seemed an exhausted enterprise even before it started. And this one with its stifling heat and humidity, glare, concrete, the dozens of bored officers in wide-brimmed Stetsons– had they arrived too late for the energy? Macy felt her stomach pitch. Her scalp was getting sunburned. She pulled her hood up.
A tiny, withered black woman, hunched over and wearing a large floppy brimmed hat and a long coat with sequins and handmade patches of the African continent grabbed Macy’s right hand as a wide circle formed and prayers were uttered. The man on Macy’s left wore a green tee with the Black Power fist. He stared at her coolly and withdrew the offer of her hand.
She swayed with the group as a clear, high voice led the group in I’ll Fly Away. Macy turned to the man who’d earlier rebuffed her. He turned his back to her completely as the circle dissolved and its members floated to their separate camps. Macy found herself wishing there was something she could say to him. What did she want to say? She wanted to make this guy know that it wasn’t her.
What wasn’t her?
Geoff appeared at her side. “You’re getting this, right?” He glanced at the camera. “Shit! It’s not even on! What have you been doing?”
“I don’t know,” she said, freeing herself from the strap handing the camera to Dario. “Take this back.”
“Hey!” Dario happily grabbed it and pinched her cheek. “Thank you, Miss Santa Macia of the Southwest!”
“More Unabomber-girlfriend .” Geoff tossed her the keys. “Wait in the car.” He watched Dario fiddle with the camera settings. “You can turn on the AC.”
“She’ll miss everything,” Dario said without looking up.
“It’s not a half time show. God, this blows,” Geoff said, shielding his eyes. “I thought I’d be able to get more than this.”
Macy, looking down, had barely stepped away when she knocked into a heavy, dark skinned woman in a shiny black wig and a dress of sea foam green who looked to be coming from service.
“Oh, honey!” Her hem fell far below the knee, and her stockings, much lighter than her skin, ran down both ankles. Their eyes met as cries, groans, and gasps were heard from the crowd. They watched in silence as the men in white button downs congregated on the building’s front steps. The one with the Lone Star State necktie moved among the officers, clapping each on the shoulder as he shook their hands.
“It is done,” sighed the woman, and walked towards the scattering group.
“I guess. Yeah,” said Macy, turning away.
Geoff opened Macy’s door, handed her a bottle of water. He paced before the tiny chapel as a hearse pulled up and two men transported the coffin toward the entrance. Geoff slicked his hair back and tried to follow them through the door when the director, a tall, red faced man with horn-rims, emerged from the entrance and blocked the attempt.
“Man,” Dario slid out of the back seat, nodded toward Geoff. “I’m the biggest smartass this side of San Antonio and I’d never have the balls to do that.” He threw the camera strap around his neck as if it was his own. “But I bet he gets us in.”
While Geoff pled with the director, who folded his arms and shook his head, Macy watched a bronze Regal pull into the lot. The church lady Macy had encountered earlier parked and stepped out of the car and managed, despite sweat stains and stocking runs, to approach the chapel gracefully. With dignity. A young pastor who’d arrived in a minivan greeted her and led her to the entrance when she spotted Geoff, then Macy. She spoke with both men while Geoff hung to the side. The director finally shrugged. Geoff jogged over and pulled Macy to her feet.
“Pull that hood down.” He held out a hand. “They’re letting us see her.”
“That lady wants you. C’mon.”
As they trotted back toward the chapel, Geoff beckoned to Dario. The director held up his hand. “Absolutely no photos.”
“Thank you Jesus, because I did not want to take pictures of that!” Dario waved. “Go nuts!” he said, shaking his head. “Enjoy Hades! I’ll be chillaxin’.”
Kimberly Mc Carthy, lying in the coffin, looked nothing like any picture Macy had ever seen. Not the mug shot with wild hair and a disoriented look. Not those dug up from her days as the wife of a Black Panther. Not the smiling one from a more innocent time, when nothing, surely, predicted this.
Macy stood over her expressionless corpse, its skin muddy and brownish gray in hue. Her hair, cropped to the scalp, was as gray as her skin.
Through increasing waves of nausea, the reality of Kimberly Mc Carthy’s brutal existence and grisly end pounded through Macy’s skull. She tried for Geoff’s attention, but he was deep in something with the director, so she clutched at her sweatshirt cuffs and decided to leave on her own, thinking it might be the first decision she’d made all day.
Before she’d moved even a few feet, though, she felt someone grip her right forearm. Stifling a cry, she whirled around to face the woman’s enormous bust of sea foam green.
“Touch her,” she said, firmly placing Macy’s hand upon Kimberly Mc Carthy’s grizzled head. “She spent all that time on death row without never being touched.”
Macy tried jerking away, but the woman clutched with more determination, gently stroking the captured hand. Noticing Macy’s panic, the pastor neared apprehensively.
Macy felt both tears stream her cheeks and snot trail her upper lip.
“She wants you to touch her,” she said. “Please. She never had no one to before she left.”
Before she left, Macy stared down at Kimberly Mc Carthy’s face, thinking she could actually feel her warmth draining with every passing second.
The woman squeezed and let go. “I knew you were an angel ,” she said. “In your pretty blue.”
Though she’d been freed, Macy let her palm rest on Kimberly McCarthy’s forehead like she might be checking for fever. “I’m just another vampire,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m nothing like an angel at all.”