I wrote this little story a few months ago for the October Writing Challenge (octoberwriting . livejournal . com) which I moderate and run. I had recently had the opportunity to take a tour of San Quentin State Prison, and I used this story to work out some of the ideological issues that I had run across during the trip. My goal was to create a character who was completely unsympathetic, evil - yet by the end of the story make the reader feel pity and at least some small sort of sympathy for the character. I'm hoping that I was able to take this evil character, and make you all feel something for him.

I ended up loving this story a lot more than I expected, and now Jim is stuck in my head like no other. He's demanding a novel, but I just don't have the time to oblige him.


Kady glanced at her glowing alarm clock. 10:01 p.m. October 30th. She'd awoken to the figure glaring over her a full minute ago. And looking around, she couldn't imagine a more perfect setting for him.

"So you're a-" She couldn't quite bring herself to finish the sentence, and watched as he moved to stand in front of the window, open in the Indian Summer.

"Yeah." Nonchalant, dispassionate, and not even the Southern accent could warm it up. He didn't seem particularly concerned with whether or not she'd accept this offering of himself, and he caught her eyes looking through him, not at him.

"And you do all of the-" Kady waved her arms a bit awkwardly, but quickly stopped when she saw how patronizingly amused he was. She couldn't quite look at the black of his eyes though, and instead watched how her curtains drifted back and forth through his arm with the wind.

"Yeah." A pause, and then sardonically he added, "Without all the arm flailing though."

She flushed quickly, and unhappily. And when he turned for a second to flick a cigarette from behind his ear and light it, she surreptitiously pinched herself. Nope, she really was awake. "Oh. I didn't know that."

She could see the smoke from his cigarette, how it was translucent, and twisting, and how it never quite took the shape she though that it would. She could see how his lips pursed around the role of fine tobacco leaves, and how he expertly blew fumes from his lungs into the air. But she couldn't smell it.

"Learn something new everyday." Even more apathetic. He held the coffin nail between index and middle finger in order to half grin at her, then turned around to stare out her bedroom window.

"Yup." Her agreement was less than enthusiastic, truth be told, but she had a good enough excuse, she said to herself. Mainly, the way he always wavered when the moonlight hit him, and then even his cigarette smoke seemed more substantial. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed that a new smoke had appeared behind the same ear when she wasn't looking.

Kady rearranged the blankets around her legs uncomfortably, then finally swung around to sit at the edge of the bed. From the new position, "You're a ghost."

"Not hard to miss, is it?" He tried out a half snarl on her, with little effect and shrugged, deciding that she was only shell-shocked. It would work next time.

From her position on the side of the bed, she could see the tattoos that covered his arms. Radius and ulna were outlined sharply on the inside of the forearm closest to her, in black ink, stark against the translucence of his skin. In the inside crook of his closest elbow a pin-up nurse sat atop the bones – her legs spread, her cleavage gaping, a hypodermic needle in her hand. She winked at Kady from just below the rolled up sleeve of his white shirt, perched on his bicep.

And if she looked close enough, she thought she could maybe see old track marks, just between the pin-up's legs.

When she looked back up he was staring right through her, like he could see the very indents of her lungs and heart and ribs, like he was imagining them as her tattoos. Kady sat on her fingers to stop from pulling at her tank top.

"Don't like it when I stare, do you?" He let his cigarette fall from his lips and stomped on it, but when he lifted his foot there wasn't even a smudge to show its existence.

"Why don't you tell me your name?" She countered, looking him straight in the eye to contradict any signs of nerves.

"Why don't you tell me yours?" And he delighted when she answered first.

"Kady."

He enjoyed the mesmerized audience she presented when he ran his tongue along the line of his upper teeth. "Katherine Conrad, right? Anyone ever call you Kitty?"

"No!" Kady stood then, incredulous as he sat down in a chair, black jeans stretched tight over legs once living, and propped his feet on her desk. "How do you know my name? Better yet, why are you here?"

He spread his arms wide as if to say 'Why not?' and she saw an American Eagle taking flight from the pit of his other elbow, one talon still grazing the top of the radius.

"No, seriously, why are you here?"

Instead he stared out her window at dripping Spanish Moss on her backyard tree, already lighting another cigarette from the nicked lighter he palmed from his shirt pocket. Kady slammed the window shut to spite him, and stood in front of it, feeling slightly triumphant that he was forced to look at her suddenly.

The ghost re-crossed his black harness boots on her desk. "What Kitty? Didn't your grandmamma tell you the house was haunted before she willed it to you? I'm insulted." There was some unholy pleasure he took in saying those words, in the aggravation, and Kady had the feeling that he really was insulted.

Without waiting for her response, he tipped his head back to take one long drag from his cigarette and exhale smoke out his nostrils. There above his Adam's apple, otherwise shadowed by the sharp cut of his jaw, were roman numerals: MCMLV.

"Is that a date?" Kady advanced cautiously, too curious by half and too allured by his mystery by far.

He kept his head tilted back, and indicated for her to touch the tattoo, "What do you think?" And when she hesitated, he beguiled, "Come closer."

"You're a ghost." Kady sucked her lower lip in uncertainly, and although she was absolutely convinced that this was not the sort of thing she should have been doing, she inched a step forward. "How could I touch you?"

"Just try." He was so supercilious that she almost backed off all together, but it proved to be too much of a temptation. A ghost was offering to attempt to make physical contact with her, and though his reasons were more than likely not as pure as the driven snow, she couldn't resist.

Kady was afraid that if she pressed too hard, she'd push right through him and on to the floor. But she reached out anyway, just barely grazing the skin of his neck with her fingertips. He had the feel of otherworldliness that still held the gritty tang of his life in it. Even the Roman numerals themselves were textured to meet the pads of her fingers, like Braille or inscriptions on gravestones. The longer she touched him, the less feeling she had in her hand, as if her skin was slowly dying.

But Kady pressed her fingers against the V. "What's the date? Five something. Something five."

He hadn't reacted to her touch, kept his head tilted back so that strands of gel-thick hair brushed the papers on the desk. "It's '55. 1955." He raised his head some till his eyes were black slits that bore her down like a shotgun to the back.

"Fifty-six years ago."

"Feels like a hundred Kitty." The Roman numerals, she saw now, were not alone. A scattered trail of matchsticks wound around his neck and shoulders till they led to the numerals on his neck, but Kady could not see from where the came. And even more black ink peeked out from the v-collar of his shirt.

Kady refrained from protesting the nickname; it seemed to her that the air tasted differently, smoky and without idealization, disturbing her. Perhaps it was the close proximity to the ghost. More likely, it was the way she sensed some sort of impending, unhappy revelation. "What happened in 1955? Did you get married? Did someone die?"

He'd managed to cross his arms underneath her outstretched fingers, and now he lifted one hand in a careless gesture; even the palm of his hand, she saw, was tattooed with raw bone structure. "Naw. Just the year they executed me."

The blood drained from Kady's face; she snatched her hand back, and held it to her stomach, recovering warmth. His utter nonchalance just made the revelation even more staggering than if he'd said it with anger or regret. Swallowing, she refused to give him the satisfaction of backing up, of falling under his brazen cockiness as he lifted one corner of his lip and exposed a canine. As she watched, his left hand came up and pulled down the v of his white shirt to expose a highly stylized word, 'Angola.'

"Sure. You know Louisiana State Penitentiary is a few parishes over. The worst prison in America." And when she still didn't answer, he added, "Didn't your Grandmamma Conrad tell you about how she used to visit me? Every week."

The look on his face spoke of devious knowledge that didn't bode well for Kady, and when he stood up, she backed away even more. But instead of presenting her with the sharp planes of his face, dark eyes, or the date 1955, he turned around.

Below the greased, combed back black hair was another date: MCMLIII. This was the starting point of the matches, they spread from the new date and scattered about his shoulders like wildfire kindling. And one of the matches closest to the date was newly burst into fire, the flame voluptuous and sparking; it would soon consume all.

"1953." It wasn't hard to summon this number, and at the spoken date, the ghost turned around again. "What happened in 1953?" Kady did not, under any circumstances want to know, but she said the words anyway. She felt as if she could hear sirens buzzing in her ears, clouding over her thinking, her judgment.

He ticked a dimple at her and reached for her arm. But Kady drew away, as if his touch might spread the poison of prison to her. The gesture triggered a reaction of venom across his face, bitterness that would not and could not be quelled. But he wouldn't let her get away that easy, he hadn't let anyone get away easily. With an angry growl he snaked forward and took hold of her wrist before she could react.

This was nothing like the tentative touch that Kady had initiated – this was full blown contact, there was nothing she could do, and he was engulfing her. The frozen feeling of being held in any way by him left her breathless and startled and entirely corrupted.

"Let go of me!" Kady yanked on her arm but it wouldn't come free. She braced herself to try again.

"Kitty," He was so condescending. "You can't get away. I don't want you to get away. I'm concentrating on you." As he bent his head forward, a lock of hair came loose, and suddenly he was so close that it brushed her forehead.

She tried again. "Let me go! Leave me alone!"

The ghost uncurled the fingers of her fist and raised her hand until he could press the hand flat against the back of his neck. The tattooed date there was raised and prominent, and she could feel each letter cutting into her palm. Up this close, she could swear there was a scent of cigarette smoke and metal bars.

"Why would your grandmother visit me in prison? What happened in 1953?" He seemed disappointed when she didn't come up with answer right away, as if his reason for existing should have been important to her.

"The end of the Korean War?" And when he still didn't seem satisfied with that, she wracked her brain for more, uncertain, and growing more scared by the second. "The first James Bond book was published? I don't know what you're looking for here."

His grip on her hand had become uncomfortably tight, and she curled her fingers to scratch him to no avail. "Think, Kitty! What happened in '53? What happened?" It was almost like he was begging for recognition, for acknowledgement that he didn't have to provide for himself.

"I don't know!" Kady cried back, shrinking away from the looming of his face and the tattoos and the winking nurse. "I have no idea!" She found herself looking for weapons around her bedroom, but then realized the absurdity of it; he was already dead, and there was nothing she could do to him.

The ghost was suddenly calm, as if he was sinking back into the past or letting a new mask slide over his face. Without letting go of her hand, he leaned back from her face, and Kady suddenly found herself having to stand on the tips of her toes to reach. She felt for a moment that he was judging her, for forgetting something important to him.

"Didn't your grandmother have a sister?" The sudden change in subject confused her, but he continued on again, facetiously. "Yes, I'm sure she did. Her name was, uh… Adelaide, wasn't it? Wasn't it?"

Adelaide, yes, that was correct.

Finally glad that she had some idea of what he was talking about, Kady latched on. "Adelaide, yeah, she was murdered-"

Kady's face went slack. Her entire body went slack, and when she stumbled back against her bed, he let go abruptly. The sudden rush of warm night air shocked the starch back into her legs, but didn't burn away the revelation.

"She was murdered." The ghost finished for her, grimacing. "I murdered her." But she only gaped at him, unable to really form a sentence.

Tired of the non-reaction, he snapped his fingers at her. "Kitty?"

"I need some air." Kady rushed from her bed, her swinging arm slicing right through him. "I need some air." She violently pushed open the window and leaned over the sill to gulp night air and stare at the ground. "I need some air." She murmured again.

And for a moment, Kady felt the ghost standing behind her, felt his menace. Afraid that he would try and push her out the window, she leaned back and turned around to face the room. To face the empty room. On her bedside table, the clock clicked to midnight.


It was so hot.

Kady fanned herself with fast food napkins as she sat stewing in her car and the dashboard clock read 12:29 p.m. on Halloween day. She hadn't quite adjusted to the heavy heat of Louisiana, and so air seemed to settle like molasses, sticking in her hair and lungs. She took a sip of diet coke and rested her forehead against the steamy circle of her steering wheel. Just down the road, the front entrance to the Louisiana State Penitentiary stared at her angrily and vindictively, beckoning to her to partake of the vengeance it served out.

The rest of last night had crawled by, sleepless and unhappy, with only the buzzing sound of insects outside her window. And even though she'd known that she was alone, Kady had still felt the eyes of the ghost on her, had still spent the night wondering if he was sitting right next to her, and she didn't even know it. Only the dawning sun had given her any respite, and even then she couldn't sleep.

"And how do I even know that he's telling me the truth?" Kady murmured to herself for what must have been the hundredth time that morning. It was true: her Grand-Aunt Adelaide had been murdered, and at least two people had been convicted and executed for the crime. It was a great tragedy. But it happened more than fifty years ago, and all those directly affected by it had died already. Did she really even care if he was telling the truth? Maybe he was just a naturally malicious… ghost.

"Yes." Saying the word out loud only helped to reaffirm it, which Kady needed desperately. "Yes, I do care." Not caring left her feeling empty and inhuman, left her feeling too much like she imagined the ghost felt. It was selfish, she supposed, to care about someone's death only to make herself feel better, but the important thing was that she did care. At least, that's what she kept telling herself.

She'd been sitting there for what felt like hours, thinking about the night before, wilting in the heat and wondering if she was even sane. If it had even happened at all. Perhaps some sort of late night heat stroke had hit her? Or maybe stress had done it. Or if she wanted to be completely alarmist, maybe she was insane.

One thing was certain, she found that it was a terrible thing to doubt her own sanity. And even that thought brought her back to the ill-fated Adelaide. The gossip of her grandmother's generation had been about Adelaide, about whether she'd been 'right' in the head, so to speak. According to her grandmother, the scandal had spread like wildfire through the town each time a new theory surfaced, but no one had ever confronted the family. And there was no way to determine either way now.

But just the suggestion left Kady wondering about herself, about her susceptibility to mental defect; made her wonder about last night.

A sharp rap on the window shield jolted Kady out of her thoughts, and she squinted against the sun to see a tall, broad figure standing on the other side of the glass. The first thought that ran through her mind was the ghost, looking almost black and white in the yellow-tinted sunlight, menacing her even during the day. But it was only one of the prison guards, standing with one hand in his pocket and the other resting on his belt loosely. His tan uniform and red burned skin only served to further separate him from the apparition that was lately haunting her day and night.

"Miss, is there something I can help you with? You've been out here for half an hour." He didn't even wait for her to finish rolling down the front window before questioning her, and Kady frowned. The fingers on his baton twitched, and she reformed her snappy answer.

"No, thank you. I was just stopping for a moment to think." Kady picked up her large soda and flashed it at him, as if that was reason enough.

"Then I'll have to ask you to move along miss. This is federal property and loitering is strictly prohibited." He crossed his arms officiously before quickly uncrossing them to keep up with what he was saying. Pointing off into the distance, and unknowingly exhibiting a fresh sweat stain in his shirt, he added, "If you're new to the area, the main road is just down that way."

Kady nodded, a small, forced smile on her face. "Yes, thank you officer. I'll move in just a moment."

His brisk nod was answer enough, and as he walked away, boots crunching on gravel, she was left with her previous problems. But a question occurred to her just as he reached the red stop sign at the gate entrance, and Kady jumped out of her car in a hurry.

"Sir!" She called after him, resting her hands on the hood of her car before snatching them away from the near blistering paint. "Sir? Actually, if I could just ask you a question? Sir?"

The officer stopped and turned around slowly, as if he'd anticipated her question and was dreading it. His gait as he walked back over was slower, and he couldn't seem to stop rubbing his forehead tiredly. "Miss, we're not executing anyone today. Death penalty protests generally occur the night of."

So that was what was making him so reluctant. "No, no." She waved the protestor identity away as best she could in the sweating humidity. "No, I'm not here about that. I just wondered if there was some sort of record library in the prison that I could look at?"

At his silence, Kady added, "I just want to look up some information on an inmate that entered here in 1953? If that's possible."

The guard scratched the back of his neck, but he no longer seemed wary of attack or attempted conversion – only bored. "Miss, even if we did have the time and the money to put together and maintain something like that, I couldn't just let you into the facility without prior visitation permission. We'd be seriously liable if something happened to you."

That was the answer that Kady had been expecting, but was hoping she wouldn't get. Accepting, she searched through her purse for a pen and a piece of paper, and held out the items to him. "Is there someone I can call or email about this information?"

He waved away the pen and paper without even looking at them, and moved to stand with his arms akimbo, and she got the feeling that he thought that she had an alternative motive for wanting to get inside the prison. Perhaps to see a current inmate, attempt to break one out. Maybe, she could see him thinking, she's one of those who writes love letters to inmates.

But he didn't mention any of that in his answer. "You can go online to the state correctional facility website and search for prisoners by name or by identification number." He thought for a moment. "You said this guy got here in 1954?"

"1953. I'm looking for information on the man-"

The guard shrugged, interrupting her carelessly. "Even if you do that, I doubt you'll get much information on who ever you're looking for. Even if he got here last year, you wouldn't get a lot as a non-family member."

"How do you know that I'm not related to the man I'm looking for?"

"Family members already know all they want to about their incarcerated flesh and blood." He seemed matter of fact about that, as if he knew first hand what it felt like to have someone close to him in prison.

The guard turned half away, taking only one step before facing her again, and Kady lifted her hand to her brow to better see him. Wondering what he might have to say, she stepped around the front of her car. "If you want an old case from the 50s or something, you might try old newspapers. A library in the area might carry a collection that goes that far back."

"Oh, that's a… that's a good idea." Kady rolled the idea around in her head before thanking the already retreating guard again and dashing back around to slide into her car. That was more than a good idea, that was the answer! There was an old shoebox full of yellowed newspaper clippings that she had found among her grandmother's things. She'd stored the box in an obsolete corner of her linen closet, but it would be simple enough to retrieve. There had to be a few articles on Grand-Aunt Adelaide, and the trial surrounding her murder. And at least one of those was bound to have a name or a picture, something that she could use.

Smiling morbidly to herself as she revved the engine and took off, Kady shook her head. "Here I am, anticipating that he's gonna come back. That a ghost is real. Maybe I am crazy."

Kady felt rather generous with speed limits as she drove away from the prison, and made it home in half the normal amount of time. The old colonial house loomed out of the trees at her as she drew to a pealing stop right in front of the porch and jumped out of the car. Her hands shook as she searched through her key ring for the master key for the front door, her level of anticipation was so high.

The front door opened with a bang, and Kady was up the stairs in seconds, opening the linen closet and dragging a chair close to reach for the box. It felt old, and smelled of age as she pulled it down and carefully walked it to the kitchen table.

In a patch of sunlight she removed the lid, and took a second to stare down at the messy pile of black and white articles, the jumble of titles and the aged photos that peeked out here and there. The answer was there, Kady could just feel it – this would prove whether that ghost had been telling the truth.

The fact that she so frantically was searching for proof for or against a ghost's words only faintly occurred to Kady as an oddity, but as her hands sorted through the articles almost mechanically, she found that it was suddenly more about her grand-aunt's murder, rather than the ghost himself. If it was him, she wanted to be able to ask him, 'Why?'

She wanted to know what had given him the license to destroy Adelaide's future while she was in the prime of her life, only 17 years old. Mostly, she wanted to know why he didn't seem to care.

Kady found five newspaper clippings about her grand- aunt. Whether they were all that had been published, or the only ones Grandma Conrad had chosen to cut out, she couldn't say. But they were all heartbreaking.

The oldest one was the worst – so sad that Kady that had to stop for a moment and hold her head in her hands. It was an article about how Adelaide had won the sixth grade spelling bee, complete with a picture of the twelve year old proudly holding out her ribbon. The creases were so sharp that the paper almost crumbled in her hands, and she could imagine her grandmother reading and re-reading the article for years, never able to stop grieving. Or looking at the smiling face that had been worn down by time alone.

The others were more typical – they related the crime, revealed details that were horrifying, even with a fuzzy picture of the sheet-covered body. "Raped and Murdered," said the headline of the second oldest clipping, and the words 'multiple assailants' and 'struggle' and 'shotgun' jumped out at her before she could push the old paper away.

The three clippings left were slightly more tolerable – there were no gruesome details in these, only news and updates on the investigation and the trial, with the final clipping detailing their upcoming executions. It was in the fourth article, which reported that three men had been arrested and were being tried with murder, that she found her answer.

It was odd to see him looking so solid, Kady decided as she held the clipping loosely. Three grainy pictures, each labeled with a name, lined the paper underneath the article itself. The other two men convicted looked similar to her ghost, as in, they had tattoos just visible underneath the collar of their shirts, but there wasn't nearly the same intensity in their eyes as there was in his.

He looked so completely depraved, his head tilted back a bit, looking down his nose at the camera, as if there was nothing he cared about less than his death sentence.

As she looked at the pictures, a fired burned rabidly across town. Kady heard the fire trucks race by in the streets, their sirens blaring. From her kitchen window she could see huge, smoky gray plumes of smoke as they rose into the sky, so much more substantial than the ghost's cigarette smoke in her room. She even thought that she could feel the heat of the fire in her kitchen.

But mostly she imagined that the ghost probably felt like the burning house: disintegrated. Nothing. Suddenly worthless, nothing more than dust and ashes in the wind. And she was glad about that, she thought he deserved it.

His name was Jim Clyde.


Kady stayed up that night, waiting for him. And just like the night before, he was suddenly there. She bent to rummage through her closet for a pair of slippers, and when she turned around, he was behind her, staring at the newly framed article about Adelaide's sixth grade spelling bee.

Pushing on the frame until it clattered to her desktop, he didn't look up at her when he spoke. "Fifty-six years ago tonight." And he somehow knew the way she looked at him, and he responded with a vulgar, "Bzzzzzt." The sound of a heavy electric current.

"Why'd you do it Jim? Why are you here now?" Kady finally reached the desk, and she reached across him to pick up the framed photo and hug it close.

The ghost, Jim Clyde, didn't react to her knowledge of his name, or even her sudden acceptance of him and his crimes. He only wandered over to the window, where the moon glowed through him, and lit a cigarette. The red butt flared brighter, and more real, than he did in the dark. Starting on the back of his hand and reaching his elbow was the long double barrel and stock of a shotgun, and Kady remembered the articles with a shudder.

"I don't know why they had to kill me." He said petulantly, disingenuously. "I was a good prisoner. I didn't cut my heels or nothing."

"You killed my grand-aunt!" Kady was surprised by the level of vehemence in her voice, and she waited for his explosive reaction. In fact, hoped for one so that she had some proof that he'd once been human inside, but there was none.

Jim chucked a half-smile at her over his shoulder, and he drew deep on his cigarette. "Your grandmamma came to visit me every week. She came to see me the day they, you know, bzzzzzt. Said some pretty nasty things to me, that woman. I guess it was 'cause I was the one who had the gun."

"She had good reason to." Kady had sat down on her bed while he spoke, and now she pressed her back straight against the wall for stability. "She had every right to say anything she wanted to you. You shot her sister!"

"Twice." Jim stomped his cigarette out and sat backward in her desk chair to face her, his arms folded across the back. "Damn girl wouldn't stop screaming that she'd tell everyone we knew. And we were just boys then, all we were thinking about was how to get out of that mess." He took a moment to compose himself and said, as if he couldn't help it, "Everybody was looking to me, so what else could I do?"

"Walked away." She said forcefully, holding the picture frame tighter and tighter until she was afraid the wood would splinter in her hands. "Took responsibility for what you had done already."

He looked up at her, eyes black as his hair, his tongue cocked to one side in his open mouth confidently. The folded hands on the back of her chair looked like spider webs. "Nope. Can't do that with all those eyes looking at you. You don't know what it's like. Even when you're on the inside, you know all those others are saying, 'That's the guy that did it' and looking at you."

Kady shook her head, reviled. She wanted so badly to take him by the neck and shake him until he cracked in half, do something to remove him from her life. But he was a ghost, and she couldn't think of any way to hurt him, short of an exorcism, and it was already too late for that. "Are you really trying to make me feel sorry for you?" She could hardly even bear the taste of those words.

"Nope. Just want you to know." And Kady suspected that was the truth. She studied him with a melting pot of feelings that could only be described as burgeoning hatred. But even alongside such a passionate emotion as hate, she could barely detect something else inside, just as she could see something else on his face.

Was that repentance? He was looking down at his hands, and didn't see the way she stared at him. The way he kept licking his lower lip, or the way his left leg kept bouncing up and down – it was only a semblance of the self-confident ghost that had appeared the night before. It was like he was only pretending to be that ghost, though she knew they were one and the same.

He just couldn't quite hide the look in his eyes. No matter how villainous or inhuman he acted or was, there was just something in his face that made her think there was more to him. And thinking so led to immediate guilt for her, for feeling sorrow for him as well as for Adelaide, right next to the hatred.

Try as he might to hide it, the person who had died on October 31st, 1955 was not the same person who had murdered Adelaide a year and a half before that. And the only thing more evident than that, was that he was ashamed of that change.

Vicious and depraved and malignant, but also ashamed.

"Well, I told your grandmamma that I'd be there to show her future children just what a piece of… nothing I was, as soon as they stepped into this house, and they were old enough to understand. Of course, I did that when my mother couldn't overhear me." Jim laughed hoarsely, as if this was funny. "And I waited, and I waited. And she never did bring any of her children back to the house. And I couldn't do anything to them anywhere else, a promise is a promise, after all."

"Now here I am." Kady finished for him, not liking where this was going. At once she was angry and scared, as well as morbidly fascinated.

"Here you are." Jim echoed, and he stood up abruptly, swinging one leg over the chair, and returning to his post by the bedroom window. With the moonlight streaming through him, she could just see etches of his tattoos in his arms, looking straight through one side of his arm to the other.

From his profile, Kady could see him grimace. "I'll tell you, there's nothing more I want to do to you than what I did to Adelaide." And according to the predicted effect of his words, Kady felt herself start to shake, the true fear settling into her bones, and their marrow. "Isn't anything I'd rather do right now."

"So why don't you?" Kady shut her eyes tight, and cursed herself for being so stupid as to ask the ghost that. The murderous ghost Jim Clyde, at that.

He sighed, and she imagined that it was a real gesture. He plucked another signature cigarette from behind his ear, but it stayed unlit between his fingers. "Well Kitty, I'll be blunt with you. You're new to this area. You don't know anyone. No one would notice if you just kinda disappeared. And I'm disappointed. You're just not worth the effort."

They were the coldest of words, completely without any trace of remorse or penitence. But the way he looked out through the window at the Louisiana night, and the way he could probably pinpoint exactly where it had all happened fifty-eight years ago, spoke volumes. He was staring straight out at that place.

Perhaps it was the way he bit his lip, as if to stop himself from letting the heart's blood of his regret spill out of his mouth. Maybe it was the way he breathed so tightly, like the muscles of his chest were some gateway to a different person, and if he relaxed, it would all come out. Or the very tension and self-loathing that outlined every inch of him. Maybe it was how she swore his eyes grew glassy, just a little bit.

And Kady wanted to believe more than anything she had ever believed in her whole life, that he just couldn't bring himself to do it again. That his actions disgusted even his own self. That he was denying himself redemption as a sort of punishment, an otherworldly self-flagellation when no other options were left.

"You can't do it because you're not the same person you were then. You've changed. You regret. I think you even mourn for Adelaide." And suddenly Kady was speaking so passionately and earnestly to him, as if her words could change the way his life had ended. "You're a better person now." There was nothing she could believe more.

Jim turned away from the window, and as he did he flicked the unlit cigarette into the empty night air; it vanished into smoke within seconds, leaving no trace. He stuck his hands in his pockets, tilted his jaw and looked down his nose at her. He presented himself completely to her – the tattooed radii and ulnae on his arms, the flying American eagle, drug pushing pin-up nurse, the dates on his neck. They were all blatant statements of what he was and what he'd once been.

His canines were sharp as he spoke. "No Kitty. You're worth nothing. You really aren't good enough. I think I'll keep waiting."

Again the words were so harsh, and she felt the judgment like a gun to her face. And yet again his eyes spoke a different story, and told her different things, that proved even more that she was right. That he could be deserving of sympathy from her, and that he needed it most of all.

Kady looked down at the picture of twelve year old Adelaide in her lap, and at that smiling face. She fought with herself to reconcile the sympathy she felt for her grand-aunt, with the sympathy she felt for her grand-aunt's murderer. The pity she felt for him, the way she knew that he'd keep waiting until he just faded away, completely without rest or resolution. At least she was sure that Adelaide hadn't suffered the same fate of wandering.

When she looked back up, Jim Clyde was gone. And she was left with nothing except the photo in her hands and the war of morals within. So Kady did the only thing she could do right then: she burst out crying. But she didn't know who it was for.


Historical Notes:
- Jim is supposed to be the typical 1950s American greaser. He represents that subculture of dissonance within American culture, as well as the hot rod culture.
- Jim says that Louisiana State Penitentiary is "the worst prison in America." And a magazine really did call it this in 1953. If anyplace could change anyone, it was LSP, or Angola.
- Jim says that he "didn't cut my heels or nothing." He is referring to the Heel String Gang of the 1950s, who cut their Achilles tendons to show their membership.
- I thought that Jim's cigarettes were a nice little allegory for how he was feeling. When he was certain of his actions and what he had to do, he smoked them without a thought. But when he felt regret and penitence, he only picked them up, and threw them away.


The Songs that Helped Inspire This:

"Have You Ever Seen Rain?" by Creedence Clearwater Revival
"Victory Does Not Make Us Conquerors" by Ramin Djawadi (Game of Thrones soundtrack)
"Child of Midnight" by Jim Croce (seriously, I must have listened to this 40 times or more)
"Fall: Ghosts - Falling" by Clint Mansell
"Death is the Road to Awe" by Clint Mansell
"Corrupt" by Depeche Mode
"Barton Hollow" by The Civil Wars
"Summer: Ghosts" by Clint Mansell
"Blue Veins" by the Raconteurs


So I hope that you all enjoyed this little literary adventure of mine - it was certainly a journey for me, and a surprisingly emotional one, too. I'll tell you, I finished writing this at about 11:30 at night, and I was sobbing hysterically (I'm very a very emotional person). The tour of San Quentin that I took certainly had an incredible impact on me, and I feel that this short story is very indicative of that.

Let me know what you thought! Review!