“Tell me a story,” she said. And I obliged.
Philip Philip is a small-time investigator and journalist for a small-time publication. “The Weekly Weird” puts out stories that deal mostly with the quaint types of paranormal and supernatural activities. Things like a piece of toast that looks like someone’e dead relative or a cat that could (supposedly) walk through walls. Mr. Philip always fancied himself a writer and was drawn to a magazine like “The Weekly Weird” because he was raised by two people who named their child Philip Philip.
Philip’s boss had run across a story of a mad man on death row. “Says he’s just asleep and killing him is only gonna wake him up, or something like that.”
“Wha…” Philip began to ask, but his boss cut him off.
“Doesn’t matter. My guy inside says he’s got all the other inmates spooked with some story he’s been telling. My guy wouldn’t tell me what it is, so I’m sending you out to the prison to get the story.”
“How does a dying man fall under our area of journalism?” asked Philip. “I would understand if they had tried to kill him a few times and it didn’t work or something like that…”
“Doesn’t matter. If this guys is telling a story that’s got hardened criminals spooked, we need to know about it. And you are going to write about it.”
“But I’m still working on that cat piece,” objected Philip.
“Doesn’t matter. Gary or Ralph can finish up an article about a cat that runs into walls, no problem. Today, you are going to prison.”
And that was that. Philip had learned early during his employment at “Weekly Weird” that arguing with his boss was pointless. He was a self appointed aficionado concerning the things that did and did not matter. Philip Philip was off to Sandstone Prison where an inmate was apparently not being put to sleep.
Inmate 409 had a very agitated manner, but spoke very slowly and calmly as he paced around his cell and fidgeted with his hands. His behavior made Philip very uneasy.
“Mr. Philip, it is my sincerest hope that you will see the reason in my story and be able to persuade the warden. When that needle is plunged into my arm, it won’t be me that fades away. It will be all of you instead.”
“And that is because,” inquired Philip, “you are actually asleep right now, dreaming, and all of us are just characters in your mind?”
“That is precisely the case,” said Inmate 409 as he paged furiously though a book he picked up from his bed. “When I die I will wake up and everyone in this world will be gone.”
“Well that seems odd,” Philip thought aloud.
“It is the truth, I assure you.”
Philip shook his head. “No, not your story about being asleep. Well, that is also odd, I have to admit. But I was thinking it odd that you would be so eager to stay asleep. If we are all just characters in your dream, what is the incentive to keep us all alive by staying asleep?”
“And they consider me crazy,” sighed Inmate 409. “I tell you that all of you are in mortal danger, that my so-called execution will only result in the disappearance of everyone in this world, and all you have to ask is why I’m interested in saving everyone? Is not life -any life- valuable and worth preserving?”
Philip reluctantly spoke. “Well, I mean… That is to say you are on death row. You aren’t exactly a person easily pegged as someone who cares about all life.”
“Well that was a bit harsh, Mr. Philip.”
“My apologies,” said Philip.
“No matter,” said Inmate 409 as he waved the notion off. Philip has the oddest feeling of déjà vu before the prisoner began speaking again. “Did they tell you why I was in here and placed on death-row, Mr. Philip?”
“Well, no. I forgot to ask, I suppose.”
“It wouldn’t have done you any good,” said the inmate. “They can’t give you a reason. There is no reason for me to be in here. It is all just one big dream brought on by my subconscious.”
“I’m certain there is a reason.”
Inmate 409 stopped and looked at Philip. “Take this book,” he said, “and tell me what you see inside it.”
Philip took the book from him and glanced over the pages. “It looks like any other book to me. Letters, words, paragraphs and all that.”
“That is my point exactly. You see it as a normal book because you are a part of the dream. But when I look at it, it’s all gibberish. The words float and swirl around the pages. This is a dream, Mr. Philip. Once I’m killed off in this world, you are all going to disappear.”
Philip was about to object when the warden stepped into the room and informed him and Inmate 409 that it was time. While Philip was leaving the room, from behind him he heard Inmate 409 plead to him. “Save me, Mr. Philip. Save yourself.”
About half and hour later Mr. Philip and the warden were seated watching another room from behind glass. In the other room was Inmate 409 strapped to a hospital bed and a nurse attending the i.v. in his arm. Mr. Philip was asked to be a witness to the execution as the Inmate could not provide the names of any family or friends to be present at his execution.
“What did you think of his story?” asked the warden.
“It was something, that’s for sure. I’m not sure it will make it to publication though.”
“Oh?” asked the warden.
“I mean, it isn’t the type of thing that we normally report on.” Mr. Philip watched as the clock above the viewing glass ticked towards Inmate 409’s last seconds. He was only slightly anxious that the inmate was telling the truth.
“Oh, warden, I forgot to ask you. Why is Inmate 409 being put to death?”
The warden got a look on his face like someone had just asked him to describe a square circle. “What do you mean?” was all the warden managed to say.
For a very short moment before Inmate 409 died, Mr. Philip was gripped by a great feeling of impending doom.