I was the only one home when my father called me in for his death bed confession.
He wasn’t very old in the grand scheme of things, only fifty-eight, but after a violent mugging that took place about twenty years ago, his physical health hadn’t always been great. It really took a downhill turn last year. Heart failure. And it just wasn’t getting better.
My sister Amber and I were taking care of him as his health deteriorated. Last week though, Amber was running errands for our grandmother, so yeah. I was alone. When dad called for me I thought he might need a drink or help getting to the bathroom.
Instead, he told me to sit down. He told me I needed to know the truth, the truth about the mugging and about what really happened that night.
After all of this, he’d pass in his sleep a few hours later. I can’t ask for any more details. All I can do is relay this story to you… and find out how much truth there really is to it. Below is the confession, word for word.
You know, if your mother and I weren’t in the middle of our first separation, it may have never happened. I wouldn’t have been alone in bed that night. Alone in the house, since she took your older sister with her and you were still two months out from being born. That following morning I was found on the streets, all bloodied up, pockets turned out and missing my shoes. They concluded I had been mugged. I let them maintain that conclusion.
I hadn’t even left my house the night before. It was an early night, I was tired from work. I basically passed out on the couch while the TV was on. I don’t remember if anyone broke in, if I woke up before they abducted me.
The next thing I do remember? Waking up strapped to a chair, dressed in white scrubs with electrodes plastered on my now shaved head and sitting with a circle of people in the exact same condition.
I only recognized three of the other people there, and I only knew two of their names. One of my classmates from back when I was in high school was to my right, I barely recognized Magnolia since most of the blonde hair had been shaved right off. A few patches were still plastered to her scalp, whoever had taken the razor to our heads hadn’t been the most meticulous about it. Perhaps because they had a lot to get done before we woke up.
The other two I recognized was Augusta, an older woman who lived down the street from where I grew up, and the homeless man that I usually saw begging for cash in downtown was to my left. I didn’t know his name, I only recognized him because he’d been there every day.
There were eight of us in total. The woman right across from me had smeared lipstick and a cut on her forehead, maybe the razor had slipped during her head shave. Next to her was another woman with long fake fingernails and a natural scowl that was even there when she was unconscious, like she sucked on lemons in her spare time. The most conscious of us was a middle aged guy with a few more bruises than the rest of us, I imagine he put up a fight, he was a big dude. Finally there was this portly, smaller man who didn’t need his head shaved, since he was already bald as an egg.
Magnolia began breathing faster when she came to full consciousness, glancing around wildly and in full panic. “What the fu- where am I!? What’s going on!?” She yanked at the straps, which didn’t so much as budge. “Get these things off me?! Help! Someone help!”
The burly bruised guy shushed her loudly. “Quiet down. Don’t want to alert the wrong people we’re up,” He craned his neck around to look at the room around us, it was quite bare other than the circle of people strapped to heavy duty chairs- dark brick walls, a cement floor with a drain in the center. The only light was in the center of the ceiling, and that thing was set on to bright as it could go. Everyone looked a little washed out, a little pale, sickly.
The one thing I had missed was the speaker, attached to the wall right behind my head. It crackled to life before shrieking with feedback. This definitely got everyone awake, the portly fellow moaning and bitching the loudest while the woman with smeared lipstick being the only one perfectly quiet. Her eyes I remember the most, dark and careful. She was watching everyone in the room.
Once the feedback died down, the male voice coming from it was perfectly calm, smooth. It would’ve almost been soothing if the situation surrounding it wasn’t so bizarre.
“I am the Judge.”
I flexed against the bindings experimentally. There was no coming loose from them. I was stuck there, here for whatever this ‘Judge’ had planned.
“You sit in them now because you have all committed crimes. Crimes ranging from white lies to ones that may result in… capitol punishment.”
The scowling woman’s jaw dropped. “What do you mean, capitol punishment?”
“This is my court room. Where we are, no one will hear you scream. I advise you don’t cry out unless you can’t avoid it.” The Judge didn’t even take note of the interruption. “These are my Chairs of Truth. When we are finished, you will pay for what you’ve done. If you lie or talk your way around the truth, you will be punished. We will start with you, Connie.”
The scowling woman sputtered. “How dare you! I’m not a criminal! Do you know who I am?”
“Yes. Of course I do, Connie Andrews.” The Judge sounded almost… amused. “I know everything about you. Your first question is this: where do you go every Wednesday afternoon?”
“Are you for real?” Connie looked genuinely baffled.
“We are starting with an easy question. One that has minor effect on your life, legally or illegally. Where do you go every Wednesday afternoon?”
Connie looked relieved. “Um… I get my nails done,” Her fingers tapped on the arm of her chair. “What, is that a crime?”
“We’ll come back to that. Frankie? Can I call you Frankie, Frank Smith?”
The burly guy shifted in his chair. “You can,” He decided.
“Frank, during highschool, what was the extracurricular you and your wife participated in?”
“I was a football player, she was a cheerleader.” Frank cleared his throat. “And who are you?”
The Judge quietly chuckled. “I am not important. I am here only to fulfill judgment, officer,” He cleared his throat, “Onto the next. Augusta Armstrong? How many children do you have?”
My neighbor looked terrified, shaking in her chair like a scared Chihuahua. “I have five, they’re the light of my life. Please, please, let me go,” She whimpered.
“If you answer these questions, we can see about that. Charles Nolan?”
“When I get out of here, I’m going to sue you!” The man snapped, lurching in his chair. It didn’t so much as budge, it had been bolted to the floor.
“Charles, what is your occupation? No need for specifics, you like those, I’m aware.”
“Businessman, I work for-”
Charles suddenly breathed in sharply. I had to crane my neck around the homeless guy to see what had happened. I only caught the glimpse of what looked like a sewing needle exiting Charles’ arm and going back into the chair, a pinpoint of blood beading from his skin.
Fuck. I took a better look at the chair, which I’d only assumed was a heavy duty wooden chair. Now I saw there was holes all in it, some small enough for needles to come out and jab, others thin slats that looked large enough for daggers to come out and slice through us.
“When I say something, I advise you listen,” The judge explained patiently. “Harley Scott?”
The homeless man lifted his head up. I’d never heard his name before then. It was strange, finally putting a name to the face I’d seen so often. “Yes?” He said, barely louder than a whisper.
“Harley, what branch of the military were you in, and what was your rank?”
“A-army,” Harley swallowed, “Private.”
I flinched when I heard my name.
“What is the date of your wedding anniversary?”
I actually had to think for a second. My mind was running blank.
“What is the date of your wedding anniversary? Don’t make me ask a third time.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat. “I- it’s June 6,” I managed to get out.
I felt genuine relief when he went on to Magnolia, asking what she did for some extra spending cash, and she responded that she was a babysitter. The final question was asked to the woman with smeared lipstick and careful eyes, and it asked where she lived. I don’t remember the exact address, but I know it was in a rough part of town. Part of town I’d never go, anyway.
The Judge sighed, sounding pleased with our cooperation. “Very good, so far, only one punishment had to be doled out,” He said.
“Oh go fuck yourself!” Charles snapped. This did get the needle jabbing back into his arm, right where the wound had just began to scab over.
“These questions are not going to get any easier. In fact, they will be harder. So learn to cooperate and answer truthfully now. It will save you later.”
I expected him to start going around the circle again. Instead, the voice surprised me.
“What is your occupation, Delilah?”
“Unem-” Delilah cut herself off, sighing. “I bet that’s not what you mean. Fine. Sex worker. Prostitute. Hooker. Whatever you want to call it. That what you wanted to hear?”
“Very well. Charles, how did your friend Rosemary Marshall make so much money from your company’s stock?
Charles shifted. “Good luck?” He tried to lie, so poorly though that no one was convinced.
I didn’t expect to hear the crackle of electricity and Charles’ eyes to bug out of his sockets, his teeth clamping so tight as his body jolted with electric current running through his veins. When he finally did manage to scream, he flopped back against his chair, screeching and howling at the top of his lungs. The room beforehand reeked of antiseptic, now I could detect a faint hint of urine. The rest of us sat in mostly dumb silence, the only sounds being Charles gasping for breath and Augusta crying. I certainly didn’t know how to react.
“Charles? Answer the question correctly.”
“I…” Charles swallowed. “I gave her some information… that helped her out. She’s a single mom, she needed the money!”
“Which you took a cut from. About ten thousand dollars, a high price from the single mom you claim you sympathize with. Edward?”
“How did you pass your final exam in algebra, senior year?”
I actually sighed with relief. That wasn’t nearly so bad as I expected, since I was following up on Charles’ question. “My friend helped me cheat.”
“Your friend’s name?”
“Jordan. Jordan Mills. He was a genius, he knew I needed his help. He gave me the answers.”
The Judge paused for a moment before turning on Magnolia. “And you, Magnolia? How did you pass your SATs with such high scores? Remember, I can see the rest of your grades. They’re… barely mediocre.”
“What!? They’re-” Magnolia glanced over at Charles, who still looked like a mess. “… I cheated too,” She grumbled.
“Both of you, such poor students, in the same graduating year,” The Judge tutted his tongue, “Our future generation is looking so promising already. Frankie, what happened to the cocaine from the raid on the Wolfe home?”
“It’s in evidence,” the answer came out so fast I think ‘Frankie’ didn’t even consider it a lie, and for a second I thought it wasn’t a lie either.
Then the knife came out and sliced clean through the meat of his shoulder. To his credit, Frankie just breathed in sharply, gritted his teeth and took it.
“I presume you want to change your answer?” The judge asked as the knife slid back out, blood now staining Frankie’s white scrubs.
“Mm… mmhmm,” Frankie exhaled slowly, his body shaking as his face went white. “M-me and another officer took some. S-sold it to someone we knew was a dealer.”
“Therefore putting it back on the streets that you swore to take it off of?”
“It’s different!” Frankie swallowed, his eyes fluttering shut as his shoulder continued to bleed. “The original punks were dealing to highschoolers, kids! The dealer we sold to, he only sold it to thugs who have already ruined their lives.”
“… An interesting point of view, for sure,” The Judge said. “Now, Augusta? How did you get your eldest to sleep sometimes?”
“Oh, I’d rock him to sleep,” Augusta bobbed her head up and down, “He was always so fussy, and-”
She didn’t even get a chance to finish her lie. Her whole body seized up and she screeched as the electric crackle filled the room. It wasn’t as long a shock as it was for Charles, but Augusta looked far worse for wear, gasping and coughing as she tried to calm down.
“Augusta. Stop lying.”
Augusta wailed before her head flopped forward. “A… little whiskey in his bottle… never really hurt anyone, honest, how could I ever hurt my own children?” She said.
I was blown away. Magnolia cheated on SATs, a police officer dealing drugs, and now one of the nicest neighbors on my block gave her kids alcohol so they’d sleep. Christ.
It didn’t get better. That first round wasn’t always fair, after all, all I had to answer for was a false grade, and Harley admitted he took part of a military hazing in which the poor victim had to streak across the base naked. Meanwhile Connie confessed to cheating with a married man and convincing him to leave his wife for her, only to completely blow him off once the wife took the sap for all he was worth. He couldn’t spoil her if he was broke, after all.
I only lied once, I learned quickly enough after that. It was over something stupid, about driving drunk and getting into an accident, slammed into a tree. Jordan covered for me that time too, said he was the one driving since I was tanked. I’d never been electrocuted before that day and I never wanted to again. I didn’t judge Charles for wetting his pants after that, you lose all control when you get shocked like that and that’s all I’ll say about it.
It’s amazing how often some of them chose to lie, and which ones chose not to. Delilah never once lied, completely blank faced as she told us how she robbed one of her johns of everything in his wallet because he passed out drunk or how she didn’t tell her boyfriend that she tested positive for gonorrhea, although the Judge was kind enough to inform her that it was likely him that infected her and not vice versa. Harley only lied twice, once about that hazing and another time about how he abandoned his pregnant girlfriend without even a note.
Meanwhile, Charles had to be shocked and stabbed nearly ever other question, and Augusta lied literally every time. The elderly woman I’d thought was the kindest soul admitted to so many shitty things, some things I can’t even say. All I can say is I pity those poor children of hers, with such a nightmare mom that would beat them for shattering a glass or literally calling the police on her second youngest when he brought his black girlfriend home. She had claimed the girl was trying to rob them. Actual sociopath.
We’re all devils, you know. Devils with different sins blackening our hands, tearing up our souls. No one is innocent. And the Judge knew every one of those sins, no matter how some of us tried to hide them. I wish I knew how he knew that Frankie beat a suspect to get a confession, only for it to be revealed that suspect was innocent all along. I can’t even imagine how he found out that Magnolia slashed her ex boyfriend’s tires because she was mad at him for dumping her, especially since he dumped her since she was so goddamn controlling he couldn’t even see his friends.
For that final round, we all looked fucked up. Shocked, stabbed with everything from knitting needles to steak knives, being forced to reveal our darkest secrets around people that were acquaintances at best, and most were just strangers.
“It’s time for your final question. You will only have one chance to answer this properly. We will start with Augusta.”
Augusta definitely looked the worst off. Like I said, she lied every question, sometimes even more than once. I was surprised she was still alive.
“Augusta, how did your eldest two children die?”
Augusta shakily inhaled and my heart sunk to the bottom of my stomach.
“Doctors… don’t know… I don’t either… mystery illness took my babies from me when they were just six and four years old… let me go home,” Augusta whined.
The Judge sighed.
“Augusta, that’s not the truth. And I told you, this time you would only get one chance to answer correctly.”
The door on the far end of the room and the Judge finally walked out. We finally saw his face. He was tall, well built, probably at least a little handsome, but by that time my brain felt like watery pudding so all I could do was blankly stare at him. He pushed in front of him a television connected to a VHS player, tapes stacked on top of the screen.
The Judge plucked the first tape up, showing us all the name ‘AUGUSTA’ written in black sharpie on the front. He placed the tape in the VHS player and stepped back.
It was a recording of medical documents, a lot of them. The camera panned over several paragraphs nice and slow so we could get the general gist. And that general gist? Augusta’s children would get sick for no discernible reason, but would recover at the hospital. Once they got sent back home, they’d just get sick again. And one day, they both got just too sick and passed away.
“Munchhausen’s by proxy,” The Judge said, and I saw true pain in his eyes as he stood by the wall, where eight switches were neatly lined up. Each of them had a name beneath them, our names. “What are your final words, Augusta?”
“I…” Augusta shook her head. “No, I loved my children, I really did…”
She paused to take a breath and that’s when the Judge flipped the switch.
Augusta writhed and her eyes went so wide they looked like they were going to fall out of her head. She wailed one last time before her eyes rolled back and then the only movement from her came from the electric current.
The switch was turned off and the Judge looked back at us. Then he raised his hand and had his fingers ready at Delilah’s switch.
The woman, the truthful one, finally looked up. “Yes?” She asked.
The Judge stared at her. “Your boyfriend. Calvin McLaughlin. Was his murder premeditated?”
“… Yes.” Delilah bowed her head. “… he had friends in the force. He was getting out of jail for nearly killing me, because none of them believed me. So I just waited for him to get home. I waited for him to get drunk. And I wasn’t going to wait for that first punch, so I took a baseball bat and I smashed his head in.”
There was a deathly quiet pause before the judge lowered his hand from Delilah’s switch. The Judge turned his gaze on Frankie, who went pale.
“How did your wife die, Frankie?” He asked.
Frankie, to his credit, did come off as convincing. “Car accident. She went off the road, killed her instantly,” He said.
The Judge did his best to hide any emotion to us, but I did see that look of murderous intent as he grabbed another VHS that had Frankie’s name written on it. He put it in.
Another recording of another document. An autopsy report, about how a Mrs. Nancy Smith had many injuries that were in different phases of healing. How her ribs had been broken multiple times in the past, and this time one of those rib fragments broke free and punctured her heart. Followed by that were reports, doctor’s reports about Nancy’s many visits to the hospital, all for ‘accidents’.
“Was Nancy that clumsy, Frankie?” The Judge asked quietly. “I highly doubt it. Your last words?”
“You don’t understand!” Frankie blurted out. “No one seems to understand how hard our job is, what we see! It takes a toll! It’s not my fault that Nancy didn’t get it-”
I turned away from this electrical death, and when I heard the electrical chair powered down I looked up to see a froth bubbling from the dead cop’s lips, his dead eyes staring at the now flickering light on the ceiling.
Connie slowly looked up at the Judge, her face twisted in rage.
“Where did you get the poison for all of the husbands you killed?”
“Fuck you,” She spat at him, saliva landing on his clean white shirt. The Judge simply wiped it off, picked up another tape that no doubt had her name on it, and put in the VHS player.
This time it wasn’t a document, it was a woman exiting a nail salon and heading into a small drug store that happened to be right next door. It was clear the video was taken from someone’s car. Connie exited the store about ten minutes later with a small bag. A newspaper was raised in front of the camera, revealing the date.
“This was two days before your third husband mysteriously passed in his sleep. Your last words?”
Connie went white as The Judge raised his hand for her switch. “No, wait! Don’t do it! I’ll give you whatever you want! I’ll confess! I’ll tell the truth!” She yelped.
Click. The acrid smell of Connie’s fake fingernails melting was so bad it made my head spin.
Magnolia shook her head wildly as The Judge went to her switch next. “I never hurt anyone! What the hell are you doing?!” She screamed, thrashing about so wildly I thought she might actually tear an arm free.
“What did you tell your boyfriend, Zachary Cullen, to do before he shot and killed himself?” The Judge’s stare.
“That… that wasn’t my fault!” Magnolia shook her head again and again, the strap holding her head in place actually coming loose. “How was that my fault?!”
The Judge held up a finger before pulling a voice recorder from his pocket. “This doesn’t need video,” He said simply before he hit play.
The conversation I heard… I can’t repeat it. It was too terrible. Magnolia telling her boyfriend again and again how worthless he was, how he was such a pathetic waste of space, and how she couldn’t wait for him to kill himself because that was the only good thing he’d ever do for himself.
The recording ended with a gunshot. The Judge cocked his head to the side.
“Your last words?”
“How was that my fault!?” Was all she wrote. Being right next to the person being shocked, it’s… it’s so disgusting. I could smell the burning hair and skin, hear every garbled sound that ripped its way out of her throat as she jolted and contorted in horrifying ways.
Charles moaned loudly as The Judge approached the switch. “Don’t. Don’t ask,” He said, even though he knew what would happen.
“Charles? Last month, early morning. Rushing to work because you were late. Did anything happen on that drive?”
Charles didn’t even speak, he just shook his head.
Another tape was taken off the VHS player, the Judge flashing the front to show off Charles’ name.
This was from a traffic cam. A couple was walking across the street, probably the same age your mother and I were at the time. The collision happened so fast, the car slammed into them and sent the man flying over the hood while the woman was crushed under the car. The car stopped for a moment, just a moment, and I recognized the bald head that poked its way out of the window. Just for a second.
And then he zoomed off, leaving the bodies broken and bleeding in the street.
“Mr. Oscar Long was dead on arrival, but Miss Hannah Garcia? She took longer to die, and she suffered for every minute of it. Do I even need to ask for your last words?”
“It was just an accident!” Charles wailed.
I don’t need to describe what happened next. I’m sure you know by now. Another human being electrocuted to death, executed by the expressionless Judge.
Harley sighed shakily as The Judge looked at him. “And?” was all the Judge said.
“… I know what I did was wrong.” Harley admitted, his head bowed before he raised it and looked at The Judge. “So I will not be confessing today, Judge. I know what I deserve.”
The Judge paused and I caught a glimpse of something. Sympathy. “Being apart of the massacre of a village of innocent people and then covering it up. The act of a cowardly soldier. So, I believe this is the bravest thing you’ve ever done.”
“Just end it already,” Harley said, his eyes closing as he prepared for the shock.
“I won’t make you suffer.”
For a moment, I thought the Judge might have an inkling of mercy in him. Instead, he crossed the room of corpses and grabbed Harley’s head. It was so efficient, the twist of his head, the snap of his neck. Harley was dead in less time than it takes to finish a sentence. Perhaps it was mercy in the Judge’s mind. It was certainly quicker than what the others went through, that was for sure.
The only people left that were still alive in that room were me, Delilah, and The Judge. I was the only one left who had a final question. He went to his switches. I knew what he was going to ask.
“Why did you kill Jordan Mills, Edward?”
I took a deep breath.
“Because I was in love with his girlfriend. And she wouldn’t give me a second look as long as Jordan was alive.”
“And the girlfriend?”
“We’re now married. Have a daughter. We have another kid on the way.”
Delilah stared at me, probably shook that someone else confessed their most dirty secret, their most wicked of sins. The Judge nodded.
“And with that, court is adjourned.” The Judge left the room, coming back a moment later with two needles. He jabbed one into Delilah’s neck, the woman’s eyes flickering as she fell unconscious.
“Why did you do this?” I asked as the Judge walked up to me, tilting my head to the side with the hands he’d just used to murder six people.
“So you never do it again,” The Judge hissed before the needle entered my neck.
The next thing I know I’m lying on the street, cops are all around me, asking if I was okay and what happened. I was back in the clothes I’d fallen asleep with, the only sign that anything that had happened was the bruises on my wrists and the memories.
Oh, I know, you never expected me to have taken a life too. I regret it. Jordan was… kind to me. It was a moment of rage, something not at all planned out. I was just lucky no one ever found the body until it was too decomposed to really tell anything. Everyone assumed he fell off the hiking trail and hit his head on the way down, causing his death.
I paid for it my own way, of course. Ever since that night in the Chair of Truth, I’ve practically been a saint. Paid my taxes, watched my words, donated time and money to help others, and even when your mother finally left me for good, I never held it against her.
Why? Well, it’s hard to do anything wrong when you know someone’s gone through your life with a fine tooth comb. The fact someone is still watching me, no matter what I do, and I feel if I ever slipped up again, I’d wake up in the Chair, and next time I’d not get away so easily.
And I hope, my son, that you learn from my mistakes… that no matter how well you hide your sins, you will be found out, whether in the afterlife or this one.