Welcome to the Herd
It was Shepard’s first execution at the Supermax prison. He hoped he had the stomach for it. Finally privy to guarded secrets of the Keystone State Prison, he was now one of the elite. Months of intense physical and mental training was effortless compared to earning the trust of the Warden; a veteran by the name of Gerald Koffee. Koffee’s reputation throughout the penal system was that of a fabled beast in command of a labyrinth of monsters. And within the fortified walls of supermax prisons, where the inmates are deemed the worst of the worst, who better to forge the shackles of these monsters than a formidable beast?
Shepard stood shoulder to shoulder with a core group of men hand-selected by Koffee for their strength, grit and ability to follow orders without question or hesitation. Shepard was the youngest and most recent of the group. Rumors swirled that once a Keystone State employee, always a Keystone State employee; judging by the grizzled, ancient looks on many of the men the rumor was true. While in training Koffee had queried if he was willing to accept death as his faithful duty at the prison. Shepard believed in the cause implicitly and was all too willing to die in his uniform.
The window looking down into the killing room floor was dwarfed by the stature of the beast himself. Koffee cleared his throat, demanding the attention of his elected. He then launched into what Shepard would come to know as his customary pre-execution lecture.
“Gentleman, this prison was built to hold those with no regard for life, human or otherwise. Because of that critical flaw, we are at war. A war where we must fight to keep civility from being snuffed out by the unrepentant and the unviable. Culling the users and the takers of the world rests on our calloused shoulders. We are here to assist the cleansing of our society. Do you accept your role as the last line of defense?”
The men countered, “Yes sir.”
Flooding the killing room floor with light, Gerald Koffee peered down through the shatterproof glass. There a few dozen inmates stood shielding their eyes, attempting to blink away temporary blindness. Before placing the microphone to his lips, Koffee noted the time.
“June 30, 2030, at 4:45 pm. Let it begin.”
Shepard swallowed hard. He knew what was coming. The men on the kill floor glared into the large window as General Koffee barked into the mic.
“None of you deserve to live. You are a disease that feeds on the weak and vulnerable, and therefore must be eradicated. But today I give you an opportunity. An opportunity for survival. The rules are simple. You will either kill or be killed. This is the price of gaining your freedom. Kill or die trying.”
One of the inmates interrupted. A pending confrontation with death left him with little fear of reprisal.
“And what if we refuse to participate in your fucked up little game, Warden? Then what?”
Koffee declined to answer, instead motioning to the officer standing to the left of Shepard, who rushed to a small opening cut out of the window and promptly shot the affronting inmate between the eyes.
Shepard kept his own eyes forward, quietly relieved he hadn’t been asked to take the shot. But he knew his allegiance would be called upon soon. He clung to a hope that he wouldn’t disappoint Koffee or himself.
Without addressing the dispatched inmate, the warden continued into the microphone. He found his audience to be more attentive now.
“Once the room goes red and the sirens sound you may begin. When the room goes quiet and the lights are returned, the winner or winners will be acknowledged.”
An incensed roar rose from the kill floor, startling Shepard. He tightened his hold on his rifle. Meanwhile, Koffee bit his lip to keep from grinning.
“Death has brought you here. Now death is the only way out.”
The siren blared and the kill room was quickly bathed in red. The melee was slow to start but the possibility of freedom was enough to rouse the monsters’ savagery. Death was delivered in many gruesome and creative methods, the most common being concealed shanks that many inmates had fashioned from bits of honed plastic and shards of metal.
Shepard was surprised by his constitution as he watched the inmates tear each other to pieces. Any relationships built at the prison were quickly dissolved in the violent will to survive.
At 5:20 pm the red light was snuffed out and the kill room was quiet. Five men remained, kneeling on the blood soaked concrete, each with significant wounds of their own.
Koffee took a moment to survey the scene. Then he smiled and congratulated them.
“Well done. Your ferocity has kept you alive. You have proved you are survivors at any cost.”
One of the inmates spit out a mouthful of blood and smiled at the realization of pending liberty.
“So we’re free men?”
“Free? Nothing is ever free.” Koffee smiled, then lowered the window and nodded to his men. A barrage of bullets ripped through the five remaining combatants. Their bodies fell among the rest of the dead. Everyone except Shepard lowered their weapons.
Placing his hand on Shepard’s remarkably steady shoulder, which was still aimed on the kill room floor, Koffee carefully slid his hand down his newest recruit’s arm, guiding him to lower his weapon. Shepard’s voice cracked.
“I blew a man’s head off. A man that was promised a way out. You lied, sir. Why?”
“Those men have killed for much less son. I gave them more than they ever gave the people they murdered. I gave them a gift. I gave them hope. Unfortunately, the herd is always growing and it’s our duty to cull that herd. Congratulations, you’re now one of us. Welcome to the herd.”