You were murdered. You were walking home from a night out with the girls. They wanted you to take a car, but it was beautiful spring weather and you were determined to walk. When you’ve been drinking martinis, there is no stopping you. You walked away at they pleaded with you futilely from the taxi.
As you staggered down Sixteenth Street, you realized this may not have been wise. You were having trouble walking straight and there weren’t many women out, just staring men. But you were only a block from home.
You turned down S Street, which was unusually dark. It looked like the streetlight was out. As you turned off the sidewalk to your building, a shadow rose up and pulled you off the stoop. You fell hard on your shoulder and squealed. You tried to rise but something slammed into your head and all went dark.
When you awoke, you were face down in the alley. Someone was on top of you. Someone was raping you. You screamed and then regretted it as the man behind you took your head by the hair and smashed your forehead into the pavement.
“Quiet or I’ll kill you,” he hissed. His molestations continued.
You saw stars, but were still conscious. You went limp, playing dead, but were terrified. Whatever he was doing back there hurt. You wondered if you’d wind up with HIV. Or pregnant. Or pregnant with HIV. Fuck that. You resolved to fight.
You spun underneath him and clawed for his face. You felt something wet and warm on your thighs. You screamed as loud as you could.
You reached for his eyes, but he batted away your hands. He punched at you and your screams were cut off. Surprised, you looked down and could see a hand holding a knife in your throat. The hand had a spiderweb tattoo that ran up his arm. The spiderweb was covered in red.
You tried to breathe, but felt only warm liquid in your lungs. Deprived of oxygen, your brain slipped into unconsciousness and you drowned in your own blood.
When you wake up you are seated in a room facing a long table. At the table, three men and two women are watching you. You look down and notice you are wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. Your ankles are shackled. Your hands are handcuffed in your lap. On your right hand, a spider-web tattoo snakes its way underneath the cuff of your jumpsuit.
You wonder what the hell is going on.
“Mr Armand Garrett Mayfield,” the man at the middle of the table says, “this is your parole hearing. Do you remember why you are here?”
You think back. You remember growing up in Kansas. You remember going to Iowa State for school. You remember the love of your life breaking up with you at graduation. You remember getting a summer internship in Washington D.C. You remember going out clubbing with the girls. You remember walking home. You died. You think you know that. But you don’t know why you’re here.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” you say. But someone else’s voice — a man’s voice — says the words. You reach up with your handcuffed hands and touch your face. You feel rough, crooked features. You feel deep grooves and lines. But your skin is healthy, young and smooth. This is someone else’s skin.
You look at your hands. You recognize the spiderweb tattoo, but the hands look even more worn and wrinkled than the man that killed you. You don’t understand. These are someone else’s hands.
“Mr. Mayfield, you were sentenced to life in prison for the assault and murder of seven women,” the man says. “The judge imposed a rather unusual set of conditions for your parole. In order to leave prison, you would have to live the lives of the seven women you killed. Including their sexual violation and murder at your own hand.”
You blink away your double vision and wonder if you’re on some sort of drugs. Your brain doesn’t seem to be working right. You look at the men and women in front of you and know there is something more. Something you aren’t remembering. But it is like a stone slab covering a well, and you can’t slide it away to reveal what’s underneath.
You look at your hands. And then you remember.
You remember those hands wrapped around your throat in your bedroom in Arlington. You remember that spiderwebbed fist punching you repeatedly in an Anacostia alley. You remember that tattooed hand covering your mouth as you tried to scream in a Hagerstown park. You remember those hands killing you.
“I don’t understand,” you say, “what is this? Why am I here?” You just want to go back to your bed and wake up from this nightmare. You want to call your mother in Kansas, or is it Toronto? You want to call her and talk to her, since she could always calm you down. She could explain this.
“Mr. Mayfield,” a woman at the table says, “you have now completed four out of the seven procedures. Is it still your intent to continue the process of applying for parole?”
“What do you mean?” you say. You rattle your leg irons, but they are connected to the chair. You just want to go home.
“I mean,” the woman says, “is it still your desire to try to leave prison?”
“Yes, please,” you say, “I just want to get out of here and go home.” You think about your cat. You need to get home and feed your cat. You imagine her warm fur and her purring.
“Very well then,” the man says, “by the authority vested in this board by the State of Virginia and in accordance with judicial order AB-322817 by Judge Peter Strauss, I hereby remand you back to the custody of Virtual Detentions Incorporated for your next court mandated procedure. We will reconvene this board in one year’s time when that work is completed.”
The man gestures behind you. “Guards, you may removed the prisoner.”
Strong hands pull under your armpits and lift you to your feet. You try to walk but your legs don’t quite work right. The guards guide you forward and you shuffle down a hallway to what looks like an operating room. The medical staff lay you on a table and strap you down. The guards remove your handcuffs and leg irons. A doctor leans over you.
“Mr. Mayfield,” the doctor says, “I’m going to insert an IV and give you a little something to take the edge off. This won’t take long.”
You feel a prick in your arm, and then a cool fluid runs into your veins. You feel calm and relaxed. You will get back to your apartment, your cat, your friends and your family soon. This was all just a terrible dream.
Your eyes feel droopy as the doctor leans over you again.
“We’re ready to start Mr. Mayfield.”
You close your eyes, wishing yourself to wake up.
And you are born again to be murdered for the fifth time.