The Last Breath – feedback appreciated!

This story is for my intermediate fiction class, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it before I turn it in. The assignment calls for a lot of description and adverbs… Not my usual style, but I tried. Let me know what you think.

The Last Breath

Heat waves danced off the flat roof of the prison in the distance and the paved roads seemed to shimmer and move under the hot sun. The fields surrounding the sprawling one story building were brown and dry and there wasn’t a tree or hill in sight. She drove through the expanse in silence, the miles making the prison bigger, and the closer they got, the more she wanted to throw up.

She stopped her car before the entrance. There were crowds of people, divided by the sun bleached road; on one side they held signs that said, “Capital Punishment Equals Murder,” and on the other side the signs read, “Fry The Bastard.”

“Are you ready for this, Ally?” her older brother Justin asked. He flipped the visor down to check the mirror, smoothing his brown hair with his fingers.

“No,” she answered, though just yesterday she had answered that question with a “definitely.” It was the only part left, her dad and younger brother Brian had been buried for five years, and this would be the end of it all. The last thing.

Justin took a bottle of champagne out of his backpack and held it up. “Well, I for one, am absolutely ready,” he said triumphantly.

The sun caught the side of the green bottle so brightly that she had to shut her eyes. When she opened them, there were lines of the bottle’s silhouette in her vision, and she tried to blink them away.

She drove slowly through the crowd, everyone shouting, everyone angry. Pristine men and women with microphones crowded her little car, shouting questions, behind them big men with big video camera’s followed along like puppy dogs.

The answer to the shouted questions was the bottle, held up proudly by her brother. He smiled and nodded, and didn’t say a word.

After they made it through the crowd they drove down the winding driveway flanked by fences topped with razor wire that twinkled in the sunlight.

Once in the parking lot, they sat in the car for a moment.

“I’m nervous,” she said quietly.

“There’s not a human being within twenty miles of this place that isn’t nervous, Ally. I promise you that,” her brother said. He took her hand and squeezed.

“Yeah, I know,” she said. “I’ve just never seen anyone die before, that’s all.”

“Are you having second thoughts?” he asked with a sharp edge in his words.

She rubbed her eyes, sore from the sun and heat. “It’s just we’ve been thinking about this day for so long, and now that it’s here, it’s nothing like I thought it would be.”

“What are you talking about? You wanna go, or not?”

“I guess so,” she said, her voice sounded like someone else’s in her mind though, so soft and unsure. And scared.

“Just keep thinking about those picture of Dad and Brian from the trial, think about what he did to them. He deserves worse than just falling asleep on a comfy gurney. He deserves to be burned at the stake.”

“Yeah, I don’t know. I just thought I’d feel more…free.”

“Free at a prison?”

“Nevermind. I’m fine, just nervous.”

“Well, like I said, everyone around here is nervous.”

The room was small, dark, stadium seating. And stuffy. In front of their seats stood a large glass window criss-crossed with tiny wire and a big black curtain hanging on the other side. She held big pictures of her dad and brother as they were in life, happy, smiling, standing in the cool river holding fishing rods and strings of rainbow trout.

“Which one are you going to hold?” her brother asked.

“This one,” she answered, “my favorite one of dad.”

“K, I’ll take the other one.” He grabbed the photo quick from her hand.

Then the curtain rolled back and there he was. Strapped down on a white sheet over the gurney, IV already inserted in his arm, he stared straight up, and looked so much smaller now than he did in the courtroom.

His room was brighter than the one she was in, she wondered if he’d be able to see the pictures. She held hers up anyway, steady, just in case he glanced.

The prisoner was asked for his last words. He said, “do it,” and looked to the glass, expressionless. He just looked. Her brother held his picture high and said, “We’ll be throwing a party after this.”

“He can’t hear you,” she said with a shaky voice.

Her brother whispered, “ I don’t care.”

Before this moment, before this day, she had been unsure of why she wanted to be here so bad. She just knew that she did. But she had been scared all day; in fact without her brother by her side, she doubted she would have actually gone through with walking into the building. Now though, watching the prisoner, she knew it would help, as if once the last breath left that monster’s body, she herself would be able to breathe easier, deeper.

As the guards and doctor pushed the buttons to release the chemicals into his body, she held her breath, intentionally.

Her brother took her hand again and squeezed, his hand shaking this time. She looked over to him for a second, and saw he was crying.

As the beeps on the EKG machine began to slow, she closed her eyes, and her dad walked through her vision, holding Christmas presents, wearing a Santa hat, her younger brother stuffing his face with cookies on the coffee table. She opened her eyes when the beeps stopped.

“Do you remember the time dad dropped mom’s present that one year,” she asked Justin, “that glass vase, and it shattered in the box?”

“I don’t think the champagne is such a good idea now,” Justin said. His eyes were red and glassy, and he held his hands over his mouth. “Oh, God, Ally,” he said, his voice breaking.

She looked at the body, lifeless on the gurney. “Or that one year,” she said, quietly, almost to herself, “dad gave mom a vacuum for Valentine’s day.” She smiled. “And mom went nuts.” She laughed and the reporters looked at her before scribbling on their notepads.

She looked at her brother, his face quivered, trying not to fall apart in the small room with all the observers. “I gotta get outta here,” her brother stood suddenly. “This’s fucking awful.”

She stood too, but only for her brother, and walked toward the exit. The prisoner’s grip on her mind loosening with each step.

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5 thoughts on “The Last Breath – feedback appreciated!

  1. Very good! I liked the tension you wove into this, and the clever reversal of the brother and sister’s feelings before, during and after the execution.
    Feedback-wise, I have a couple of minor grammatical quibbles but I don’t know if I should put them in a comment? Some of it is probably just personal preference anyway. I will just mention that the plural of “camera” doesn’t have an apostrophe.

    Anyhoo, I thought this was a great story – I could see the scene unfold in my mind 🙂

    • Thank you so much! And yes, any feedback is much appreciated, grammatical and personal preference feedback included! I really want to know what the reader is thinking, no matter what!

      I guess I have an apostrophe addiction. My last story had a few extra as well. Wouldn’t have known that without you!

      • If you really want to know my amateur feedback (I’m not a proof-reading expert!), I can email it to you if you’d prefer or would you rather it be in the comments here? Some of it is a bit nit-picky 🙂

    • I would love more feedback! Thank you.
      Let me just say this about the story: I wrote it for my fiction class and we were given a specific assignment to use flowery, Gatsby-esque language (i.e. lots of description, lots of adverbs and use words other than “said”).
      You can certainly email any comments to me, my email is: bjerke75@gmail.com
      If you do send more comments, can I ask one question? I tried really hard not to inject my own political beliefs about capital punishment into the story and I don’t know if I succeeded. Could you tell, while reading it, whether I am for or against the death penalty?

      • I sent you some comments! And no, I couldn’t tell at all whether you’re for or against the death penalty even after reading it several times.

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