The Green Mile
by Stephen King

4.

The next day was the thickest yet, and the last of our strange October heat. Thunder was rumbling in the west when I came to work, and the dark clouds were beginning to stack up there. They moved closer as the night came down, and we could see blue-white forks of lightning jabbing out of them. There was a tornado in Trapingus County around ten that night - it killed four people and tore the roof off the livery stable in Tefton - and vicious thunderstorms and gale-force winds at Cold Mountain. Later it seemed to me as if the very heavens had protested the bad death of Eduard Delacroix.

Everything went just fine to begin with. Del had spent a quiet day in his cell, sometimes playing with Mr. Jingles but mostly just lying on his bunk and petting him. Wharton tried to get trouble started a couple of times - once he hollered down to Del about the mousieburgers they were going to have after old Lucky Pierre was dancing the two-step in hell - but the little Cajun didn't respond and Wharton, apparently deciding that was his best shot, gave it up.

At quarter past ten, Brother Schuster showed up and delighted us all by saying he would recite the Lord's Prayer with Del in Cajun French. It seemed like a good omen. In that we were wrong, of course.

The witnesses began to arrive around eleven, most talking in low tones about the impending weather, and speculating about the possibility of a power outage postponing the electrocution. None of them seemed to know that Old Sparky ran off a generator, and unless that took a direct lightning-hit, the show would go on. Harry was in the switch room that night, so he and Bill Dodge and Percy Wetmore acted as ushers, seeing folks into their seats and asking each one if he'd like a cold drink of water. There were two women present: the sister of the girl Del had raped and murdered, and the mother of one of the fire victims. The latter lady was large and pale and determined. She told Harry Terwilliger that she hoped the man she'd come to see was good and scared, that he knew the fires in the furnace were stoked for him, and that Satan's imps, were waiting for him. Then she burst into tears and buried her face in a lace hanky that was almost the size of a pillowslip.

Thunder, hardly muffled at all by the tin roof, banged harsh and loud. People glanced up uneasily. Men who looked uncomfortable wearing ties this late at night wiped at their florid cheeks. It was hotter than blue blazes in the storage shed. And, of course, they kept turning their eyes to Old Sparky. They might have made jokes about this chore earlier in the week, but the jokes were gone by eleven-thirty or so that night. I started all this by telling you that the humor went out of the situation in a hurry for the people who had to sit down in that oak chair, but the condemned prisoners weren't the only ones who lost the smiles off their faces when the time actually came. It just seemed so bald, somehow, squatting up there on its platform, with the clamps on the legs sticking off to either side, looking like the things a person with polio would have to wear. There wasn't much talk, and when the thunder boomed again, as sharp and personal as a splintering tree, the sister of Delacroix's victim gave a little scream. The last person to take his seat in the witness's section was Curtis Anderson, Warden Moores's stand-in.

At eleven-thirty, I approached Delacroix's cell with Brutal and Dean walking slightly behind me. Del was sitting on his bunk, with Mr. Jingles in his lap. The mouse's head was stretched forward toward the condemned man, his little oilspot eyes rapt on Del's face. Del was stroking the top of Mr. Jingles's head between his ears. Large silent tears were rolling down Del's face, and it was these the mouse seemed to be peering at. Del looked up at the sound of our footsteps. He was very pale. From behind me, I sensed rather than saw John Coffey standing at his cell door, watching.

Del winced at the sound of my keys clashing against metal, but held steady, continuing to stroke Mr. Jingles's head, as I turned the locks and ran the door open.

“Hi dere, Boss Edgecombe,” he said. “Hi dere, boys. Say hi, Mr. Jingles.” But Mr. Jingles only continued to look raptly up at the balding little man's face, as if wondering at the source of his tears. The colored spool had been neatly laid aside in the Corona box - laid aside for the last time, I thought, and felt a pang.

“Eduard Delacroix, as an officer of the court...”

“Boss Edgecombe?”

I thought about just running on with the set speech, then thought again. “What is it, Del?”

He held the mouse out to me. “Here. Don't let nothing happen to Mr. Jingles.”

“Del, I don't think he'll come to me. He's not - ”

“Mais oui, he say he will. He say he know all about you, Boss Edgecombe, and you gonna take him down to dat place in Florida where the mousies do their tricks. He say he trust you.” He held his hand out farther, and I'll be damned if the mouse didn't step off his palm and onto my shoulder. It was so light I couldn't even feel it through my uniform coat, but I sensed it, like a small heat. “And boss? Don't let that bad 'un near him again. Don't let that bad 'un hurt my mouse.”

“No, Del. I won't.” The question was, what was I supposed to do with him right then? I couldn't very well march Delacroix past the witnesses with a mouse perched on my shoulder.

“I'll take him, boss,” a voice rumbled from behind me. It was John Coffey's voice, and it was eerie the way it came right then, as though he had read my mind. “Just for now. If Del don't mind.”

Del nodded, relieved. “Yeah, you take im, John, 'til dis foolishment done - bien! And den after ...” His gaze shifted back to Brutal and me. “You gonna take him down to Florida. To dat Mouseville Place.”

“Yeah, most likely Paul and I will do it together,” Brutal said, watching with a troubled and unquiet eye as Mr. Jingles stepped off my shoulder and into Coffey's huge outstretched palm. Mr. Jingles did this with no protest or attempt to run; indeed, he scampered as readily up John Coffey's arm as he had stepped onto my shoulder. “We'll take some of our vacation time. Won't we, Paul?”

I nodded. Del nodded, too, eyes bright, just a trace of a smile on his lips. “People pay a dime apiece to see him. Two cents for the kiddies. Ain't dat right, Boss,Howell?”

“That's right, Del.”

“You a good man, Boss Howell,” Del said. “You, too, Boss Edgecombe. You yell at me sometimes, oui, but not 'less you have to. You all good men except for dat Percy. I wish I coulda met you someplace else. Mauvais temps, mauvaise chance.”

“I got something to say to you, Del,- I told him. ”They're just the words I have to say to everyone before we walk. No big deal, but it's part of my job. Okay?"

“Oui, monsieur,” he said, and looked at Mr. Jingles, perched on John Coffey's broad shoulder, for the last time. “Au revoir, mon ami,” he said, beginning to cry harder. “le t'aime, mon petit.” He blew the mouse a kiss. It should have been funny, that blown kiss, or maybe just grotesque, but it wasn't. I met Dean's eye for a moment, then had to look away. Dean stared down the corridor toward the restraint room and smiled strangely I believe he was on the verge of tears. As for me, I said what I had to say, beginning with the part about how I was an officer of the court, and when I was done, Delacroix stepped out of his cell for the last time.

“Hold on a second longer, hoss,” Brutal said, and checked the crown of Del's head, where the cap would go. He nodded at me, then clapped Del on the shoulder. “Right with Eversharp. We're on our way.”

So Eduard Delacroix took his last walk on the Green Mile with little streams of mingled sweat and tears running down his cheeks and big thunder rolling in the sky overhead. Brutal walked on the condemned man's left, I was on his right, Dean was to the rear.

Schuster was in my office, with guards Ringgold and Battle standing in the corners and keeping watch. Schuster looked up at Del, smiled, and then addressed him in French. It sounded stilted to me, but it worked wonders. Del smiled back, then went to Schuster, put his arms around him, hugged him. Ringgold and Battle tensed, but I raised my hands to them and shook my head.

Schuster listened to Del's flood of tear-choked French, nodded as if he understood perfectly, and patted him on the back. He looked at me over the little man's shoulder and said, “I hardly understand a quarter of what he's saying.”

“Don't think it matters,” Brutal rumbled.

“Neither do I, son,” Schuster said with a grin. He was the best of them, and now I realize I have no idea what became of him. I hope he kept his faith, whatever else befell.

He urged Delacroix onto his knees, then folded his hands. Delacroix did the same.

“Not' Pere, qui etes aux cieux,” Schuster began, and Delacroix joined him. They spoke the Lord's Prayer together in that liquid-sounding Cajun French, all the way to “mais deliverez-nous du mal, ainsi soit-il.” By then, Del's tears had mostly stopped and he looked calm. Some Bible verses (in English) followed, not neglecting the old standby about the still waters. When that was done, Schuster started to get up, but Del held onto the sleeve of his shirt and said something in French. Schuster listened carefully, frowning. He responded. Del said something else, then just looked at him hopefully.

Schuster turned to me and said: “He's got something else, Mr. Edgecombe. A prayer I can't help him with, because of my faith. Is it all right?”

I looked at the clock on the wall and saw it was seventeen minutes to midnight. “Yes,” I said, “but it'll have to be quick. We've got a schedule to keep here, you know.”

“Yes. I do.” He turned to Delacroix and gave him a nod.

Del closed his eyes as if to pray, but for a moment said nothing. A frown creased his forehead and I had a sense of him reaching far back in his mind, as a man may search a small attic room for an object which hasn't been used (or needed) for a long, long time. I glanced at the clock again and almost said something - would have, if Brutal hadn't twitched my sleeve and shaken his head.

Then Del began, speaking softly but quickly in that Cajun which was as round and soft and sensual as a young woman's breast: “Marie! le vous salue, Marie, oui, pleine de grace; le Seigneur est avec vous; vous etes benie entre toutes les femmes, et mon cher Jesus, le fruit de vos entrailles, est beni.” He was crying again, but I don't think he knew it. “Sainte Marie,6 ma mere, Mere de Dieu, priez pour moi, priez pour nous, pauv' pecheurs, maint'ant et l'heure ... l'heure de notre mort. L'heure de mon mort.” He took a deep, shuddering breath. “Ainsi soit-il.”

Lightning spilled through the room's one window in a brief blue-white glare as Delacroix got to his feet. Everyone jumped and cringed except for Del himself; he still seemed lost in the old prayer. He reached out with one hand, not looking to see where it went. Brutal took it and squeezed it briefly. Delacroix looked at him and smiled a little. “Nous voyons - ” he began, then stopped. With a conscious effort, he switched back to English. “We can go now, Boss Howell, Boss Edgecombe. I'm right wit God,”

“That's good,” I said, wondering how right with God Del was going to feel twenty minutes from now, when he stood on the other side of the electricity. I hoped his last prayer had been heard, and that Mother Mary was praying for him with all her heart and soul, because Eduard Delacroix, rapist and murderer, right then needed all the praying he could get his hands on. Outside, thunder bashed across the sky again. “Come on, Del. Not far now.”

“Fine, boss, dat fine. Because I ain't ascairt no more.” So he said, but I saw in his eyes that - Our Father or no Our Father, Hail Mary or no Hail Mary - he lied. By the time they cross the rest of the green carpet and duck through the little door, almost all of them are scared.

“Stop at the bottom, Del,” I told him in a low voice as he went through, but it was advice I needn't have given him. He stopped at the foot of the stairs, all right, stopped cold, and what did it was the sight of Percy Wetmore standing there on the platform, with the sponge-bucket by one foot and the phone that went to the governor just visible beyond his right hip.

“Non,” Del said in a low, horrified voice. “Non, non, not him!”

“Walk on,” Brutal said. “You just keep your eyes on me and Paul. Forget he's there at all.”

“But-”

People had turned to look at us, but by moving my body a bit, I could still grip Delacroix's left elbow without being seen. “Steady,” I said in a voice only Del - and perhaps Brutal - could hear. “The only thing most of these people will remember about you is how you go out, so give them something good.”

The loudest crack of thunder yet broke overhead at that moment, loud enough to make the storage room's tin roof vibrate. Percy jumped as if someone had goosed him, and Del gave a small, contemptuous snort of laughter. “It get much louder dan dat, he gonna piddle in his pants again,” he said, and then squared his shoulders - not that he had much to square. “Come on. Let's get it over.”

We walked to the platform. Delacroix ran a nervous eye over the witnesses - about twenty-five of them this time - as we went, but Brutal, Dean, and I kept our own eyes trained on the chair. All looked in order to me. I raised one thumb and a questioning eyebrow to Percy, who gave a little one-sided grimace, as if to say What do you mean, is everything all right? Of course it is.

I hoped he was right.

Brutal and I reached automatically for Delacroix's elbows as he stepped up onto the platform. It's only eight or so inches up from the floor, but you'd be surprised how many of them, even the toughest of tough babies, need help to make that last step up of their lives.

Del did okay, though. He stood in front of the chair for a moment (resolutely not looking at Percy), then actually spoke to it, as if introducing himself: “C'est moi,” he said. Percy reached for him, but Delacroix turned around on his own and sat down. I knelt on what was now his left side, and Brutal knelt on his right. I guarded my crotch and my throat in the manner I have already described, then swung the clamp in so that its open jaws encircled the skinny white flesh just above the Cajun's ankle. Thunder bellowed and I jumped. Sweat ran in my eye, stinging. Mouseville, I kept thinking for some reason. Mouseville, and how it cost a dime to get in. Two cents for the kiddies, who would look at Mr. Jingles through his ivy-glass windows.

The clamp was balky, wouldn't shut. I could hear Del breathing in great dry pulls of air, lungs that would be charred bags less than four minutes from now laboring to keep up with his fear-driven heart. The fact that he had killed half a dozen people seemed at that moment the least important thing about him. I'm not trying to say anything about right and wrong here, but only to tell how it was.

Dean knelt next to me and whispered, “What's wrong, Paul?”

“I can't--” I began, and then the clamp closed with an audible snapping sound. It must have also pinched a fold of Delacroixs skin in its jaws, because he flinched and made a little hissing noise. “Sorry,” I said.

“It okay, boss,” Del said. “It only gonna hurt for a minute.”

Brutal's side had the clamp with the electrode in it, which always took a little longer, and so we stood up, all three of us, at almost exactly the same time. Dean reached for the wrist-clamp on Del's left, and Percy went to the one on his right. I was ready to move forward if Percy should need help, but he did better with his wrist-clamp than I'd done with my ankle-clamp. I could see Del trembling all over now, as if a low current were already passing through him. I could smell his sweat, too. It was sour and strong and reminded me of weak pickle juice.

Dean nodded to Percy. Percy turned back over his shoulder - I could see a place just under the angle of his jaw where he'd cut himself shaving that day - and said in a low, firm voice: “Roll on one!”

There was a hum, sort of like the sound an old refrigerator makes when it kicks on, and the hanging lights in the storage room brightened. There were a few low gasps and murmurs from the audience. Del jerked in the chair, his hands gripping the ends of the oak arms hard enough to turn the knuckles white. His eyes rolled rapidly from side to side in their sockets, and his dry breathing quickened even more. He was almost panting now.

“Steady,” Brutal murmured. “Steady, Del, you're doing just fine. Hang on, you're doing just fine.”

Hey you guys! I thought. Come and see what Mr. Jingles can do! And overhead, the thunder banged again.

Percy stepped grandly around to the front of the electric chain This was his big moment, he was at center stage, all eyes were on him. All, that was, but for one set. Delacroix saw who it was and looked down at his lap instead. I would have bet you a dollar to a doughnut that Percy would flub his lines when he actually had to say them for an audience, but he reeled them off without a hitch, in an eerily calm voice.

“Eduard Delacroix, you have been condemned to die in the electric chair, sentence passed by a jury of your peers and imposed by a judge of good standing in this state, God save the people of this state. Do you have anything to say before sentence is carried out?”

Del tried to speak and at first nothing came out but a terrified whisper full of air and vowel-sounds. The shadow of a contemptuous smile touched the corners of Percy's lips, and I could have cheerfully shot him right there. Then Del licked his lips and tried again.

“ I sorry for what I do,” he said. “I give anything to turn back the clock, but no one can. So now - ” Thunder exploded like an airburst mortar shell above us. Del jumped as much as the clamps would allow, eyes starting wildly out of his wet face. “So now I pay the price. God forgive me.” He licked his lips again, and looked at Brutal. “Don't forget your promise about Mr. Jingles,” he said in a lower voice that was meant just for us.

“We won't, don't worry,” I said, and patted Delacroix's clay-cold hand. “He's going to Mouseville - ”

“The hell he is' ” Percy said, speaking from the corner of his mouth like a yardwise con as he hooked the restraining belt across Delacroix's chest. “There's no such place. It's a fairy-tale these guys made up to keep you quiet. Just thought you should know, faggot.”

A stricken light in Del's eyes told me that part of him had known ... but would have kept the knowledge from the rest of him, if allowed. I looked at Percy, dumbfounded and furious, and he looked back at me levelly, as if to ask what I meant to do about it. And he had me, of course. There was nothing I could do about it, not in front of the witnesses, not with Delacroix now sitting on the furthest edge of life. There was nothing to do now but go on with it, finish it.

Percy took the mask from its hook and rolled it down over Del's face, snugging it tight under the little man's undershot chin so as to stretch the hole in the top. Taking the sponge from the bucket and putting it in the cap was the next, and it was here that Percy diverged from the routine for the first time: instead of just bending over and fishing the sponge out, he took the steel cap from the back of the chair, and bent over with it in his hands. Instead of bringing the sponge to the cap, in other words-which would have been the natural way to do it - he brought the cap to the sponge. I should have realized something was wrong, but I was too upset. It was the only execution I ever took part in where I felt totally out of control. As for Brutal, he never looked at Percy at all, not as Percy bent over the bucket (moving so as to partially block what he was doing from our view), not as he straightened up and turned to Del with the cap in his hands and the brown circle of sponge already inside it. Brutal was looking at the cloth which had replaced Del's face, watching the way the black silk mask drew in, outlining the circle of Del's open mouth, and then puffed out again with his breath. There were big beads of perspiration on Brutal's forehead, and at his temples, just below the hairline. I had never seen him sweat at an execution before. Behind him, Dean looked distracted and W, as if he was fighting not to lose his supper. We all understood that something was wrong, I know that now. We just couldn't tell what it was. No one knew - not then - about the questions Percy had been asking Jack Van Hay. There were a lot of them, but I suspect most were just camouflage. What Percy wanted to know about - the only thing Percy wanted to know about, I believe - was the sponge. The purpose of the sponge. Why it was soaked in brine ... and what would happen if it was not soaked in brine.

What would happen if the sponge was dry.

Percy jammed the cap down on Del's head. The little man jumped and moaned again, this time louder. Some of the witnesses stirred uneasily on their folding chairs. Dean took a half-step forward, meaning to help with the chin-strap, and Percy motioned him curtly to step back. Dean did, hunching a little and wincing as another blast of thunder shook the storage shed. This time it was followed by the first spatters of rain across the roof. They sounded hard, like someone flinging handfuls of goobers onto a washboard.

You've heard people say “My blood ran cold” about things, haven't you? Sure. All of us have, but the only time in all my years that I actually felt it happen to me was on that new and thunderstruck morning in October of 1932, at about ten seconds past midnight. It wasn't the look of poison triumph on Percy Wetmore's face as he stepped away from the capped, clamped, and hooded figure sitting there in Old Sparky; it was what I should have seen and didn't. There was no water running down Del's cheeks from out of the cap. That was when I finally got it.

“Edward Delacroix,” Percy was saying, “electricity shall now be passed through your body until you are dead, according to state law.”

I looked over at Brutal in an agony that made my urinary infection seem like a bumped finger The sponge is dry! I mouthed at him, but he only shook his head, not understanding, and looked back at the mask over the Frenchman's face, where the man's last few breaths were pulling the black silk in and then blousing it out again.

I reached for Percy's elbow and he stepped away from me, giving me a flat look as he did so. It was only a momentary glance, but it told me everything. Later he would tell his lies and his half-truths, and most would be believed by the people who mattered, but I knew a different story. Percy was a good student when he was doing something he cared about, we'd found that out at the rehearsals, and he had listened carefully when Jack Van Hay explained how the brine-soaked sponge conducted the juice, channelling it, turning the charge into a kind of electric bullet to the brain. Oh yes, Percy knew exactly what he was doing. I think I believed him later when he said I didn't know how far it would go, but that doesn't even count in the good-intentions column, does it? I don't think so. Yet, short of screaming in front of the assistant warden and all the witnesses for Jack Van Hay not to pull the switch, there was nothing I could do. Given another five seconds, I think I might have screamed just that, but Percy didn't give me another five seconds.

“May God have mercy on your soul,” he told the panting, terrified figure in the electric chair, then looked past him at the mesh-covered rectangle where Harry and Jack were standing, Jack with his hand on the switch marked MABEL'S HAIR DRIER. The doctor was standing to the right of that window, eyes fixed on the black bag between his feet, as silent and selfeffacing as ever. “Roll on two!”

At first it was the same as always - the humming that was a little louder than the original cycle-up, but not much, and the mindless forward surge of Del's body as his muscles spasmed.

Then things started going wrong.

The humming lost its steadiness and began to waver. It was joined by a crackling sound, like cellophane being crinkled. I could smell something horrible that I didn't identify as a mixture of burning hair and organic sponge until I saw blue tendrils of smoke curling out from beneath the edges of the cap. More smoke was streaming out of the hole in the top of the cap that the wire came in through; it looked like smoke coming out of the hole in an Indian's teepee.

Delacroix began to jitter and twist in-the chair, his mask-covered face snapping from side to side as if in some vehement refusal. His legs began to piston up and down in short strokes that were hampered by the clamps on his ankles. Thunder banged overhead, and now the rain began to pour down harder.

I looked at Dean Stanton; he stared wildly back. There was a muffled pop from under the cap, like a pine knot exploding in a hot fire, and now I could see smoke coming through the mask, as well, seeping out in little curls.

I lunged toward the mesh between us and the switch room, but before I could open my mouth, Brutus Howell seized my elbow. His grip was hard enough to make the nerves in there tingle. He was as white as tallow but not in a panic - not even close to being in a panic. “Don't you tell Jack to stop,” he said in a low voice. “Whatever you do, don't tell him that. It's too late to stop.”

At first, when Del began to scream, the witnesses didn't hear him. The rain on the tin roof had swelled to a roar, and the thunder was damned near continuous. But those of us on the platform heard him, all right - choked howls of pain from beneath the smoking mask, sounds an animal caught and mangled in a hay-baler might make.

The hum from the cap was ragged and wild now, broken by bursts of what sounded like radio static. Delacroix began to slam back and forth in the chair like a kid doing a tantrum. The platform shook, and he hit the leather restraining belt almost hard enough to pop it. The current was also twisting him from side to side, and I heard the crunching snap as his right shoulder either broke or dislocated. It went with a sound like someone hitting a wooden crate with a sledgehammer. The crotch of his pants, no more than a blur because of the short pistoning strokes of his legs, darkened. Then he began to squeal, horrible sounds, high-pitched and ratlike, that were audible even over the rushing downpour.

“What the hell's happening to him?” someone cried.

“Are those clamps going to hold?”

“Christ, the smell! Phew!”

Then, one of the two women: “Is this normal?”

Delacroix snapped forward, dropped back, snapped forward, fell back. Percy was staring at him with slack-jawed horror. He had expected something, sure, but not this.

The mask burst into flame on Delacroix's face. The smell of cooking hair and sponge was now joined by the smell of cooking flesh. Brutal grabbed the bucket the sponge had been in - it was empty now, of course - and charged for the extra-deep janitor's sink in the corner.

“Shouldn't I kill the juice, Paul?” Van Hay called through the mesh. He sounded completely rattled. “Shouldn't-”

“No!” I shouted back. Brutal had understood it first, but I hadn't been far behind: we had to finish it. Whatever else we might do in all the rest of our lives was secondary to that one thing: we had to finish with Delacroix. “Roll, for Christ's sake! Roll, roll, roll!”

I turned to Brutal, hardly aware of the people talking behind us now, some on their feet, a couple screaming. “Quit that!” I yelled at Brutal. “No water! No water! Are you nuts?”

Brutal turned toward me, a kind of dazed understanding on his face. Throw water on a man who was getting the juice. Oh yes. That would be very smart. He looked around, saw the chemical fire extinguisher hanging on the wall, and got that instead. Good boy.

The mask had peeled away from Delacroix's face enough to reveal features that had gone blacker than John Coffey's. His eyes, now nothing but misshapen globs of white, filmy jelly, had been blown out of their sockets and lay on his cheeks. His eyelashes were gone, and as I looked, the lids themselves caught fire and began to burn. Smoke puffed from the open V of his shirt. And still the humming of the electricity went on and on, filling my head, vibrating in there. I think it's the sound mad people must hear, that or something like it.

Dean started forward, thinking in some dazed way that he could beat the fire out of Del's shirt with his hands, and I yanked him away almost hard enough to pull him off his feet. Touching Delacroix at that point would have been like Brer Rabbit punching into the Tar-Baby. An electrified Tar-Baby, in this case.

I still didn't turn around to see what was going on behind us, but it sounded like pandemonium, chairs falling over, people bellowing, a woman crying “Stop it, stop it, oh can't you see he's had enough?” at the top of her lungs. Curtis Anderson grabbed my shoulder and asked what was happening, for Christ's sake, what was happening, and why didn't I order jack to shut down?

“Because I can't,” I said. “We've gone too far to turn back, can't you see that? It'll be over in a few more seconds, anyway.”

But it was at least two minutes before it was over, the longest two minutes of my whole life, and through most of it I think Delacroix was conscious. He screamed and jittered and rocked from side to side. Smoke poured from his nostrils and from a mouth that had gone the purple-black of ripe plums. Smoke drifted up from his tongue the way smoke rises from a hot griddle. All the buttons on his shirt either burst or melted. His undershirt did not quite catch fire, but it charred and smoke poured through it and we could smell his chest-hair roasting. Behind us, people were heading for the door like cattle in a stampede. They couldn't get out through it, of course - we were in a damn prison, after all - so they simply clustered around it while Delacroix fried (Now I'm fryin, Old Toot had said when we were rehearsing for Arlen Bitterbuck, I'm a done tom turkey) and the thunder rolled and the rain ran down out of the sky in a perfect fury.

At some point I thought of the doc and looked around for him. He was still there, but crumpled on the floor beside his black bag. He'd fainted.

Brutal came up and stood beside me, holding the fire extinguisher.

“Not yet,” I said.

“I know.”

We looked around for Percy and saw him standing almost behind Sparky now, frozen, eyes huge, one knuckle crammed into his mouth.

Then, at last, Delacroix slumped back in the chair, his bulging, misshapen face lying over on one shoulder. He was still jittering, but we'd seen this before; it was the current running through him. The cap had come askew on his head, but when we took it off a little later, most of his scalp and his remaining fringe of hair came with it, bonded to the metal as if by some powerful adhesive.

“Kill it!” I called to Jack when thirty seconds had gone by with nothing but electric jitters coming from the smoking, man-shaped lump of charcoal lolling in the electric chair. The hum died immediately, and I nodded to Brutal.

He turned and slammed the fire extinguisher into Percy's arms so hard that Percy staggered backward and almost fell off the platform. “You do it,” Brutal said. “You're running the show, after all, ain't you?”

Percy gave him a look that was both sick and murderous, then armed the extinguisher, pumped it, cocked it, and shot a huge cloud of white foam over the man in the chair. I saw Del's foot twitch once as the spray hit his face and thought Oh no, we might have to go again, but there was only that single twitch.

Anderson had turned around and was bawling at the panicky witnesses, telling them everything was all right, everything was under control, just a powersurge from the electrical storm, nothing to worry about. Next thing, he'd be telling them that what they smelled - a devil's mixture of burned hair, fried meat, and fresh-baked shit - was Chanel No. 5.

“Get doc's stethoscope,” I told Dean as the extinguisher ran dry. Delacroix was coated with white now, and the worst of the stench was being overlaid by a thin and bitter chemical smell.

“Doc ... should I .. .”

“Never mind doc, just get his stethoscope,” I said. “Let's get this over ... get him out of here.”

Dean nodded. Over and out of here were two concepts that appealed to him just then. They appealed to both of us. He went over to doc's bag and began rummaging in it. Doc was beginning to move again, so at least he hadn't had a stroke or a heart-storm. That was good. But the way Brutal was looking at Percy wasn't.

“Get down in the tunnel and wait by the gurney,” I said.

Percy swallowed. “Paul, listen. I didn't know---”

“Shut up. Get down in the tunnel and wait by the gurney. Now.”

He swallowed, grimaced as if it hurt, and then walked toward the door which led to the stairs and the tunnel. He carried the empty fire extinguisher in his arms, as if it were a baby Dean passed him, coming back to me with the stethoscope. I snatched it and set the earpieces. I'd done this before, in the army, and it's sort of like riding a bike - you don't forget.

I wiped at the foam on Delacroix's chest, then had to gag back vomit as a large, hot section of his skin simply slid away from the flesh beneath, the way the skin will slide off a ... well, you know. A done tom turkey.

“Oh my God”' a voice I didn't recognize almost sobbed behind me. “Is it always this way? Why didn't somebody tell me? I never would have come!”

Too late now, friend, I thought. “Get that man out of here,” I said to Dean or Brutal or whoever might be listening - I said it when I was sure I could speak without puking into Delacroix's smoking lap. “Get them all back by the door.”

I steeled myself as best I could, then put the disc of the stethoscope on the red-black patch of raw flesh I'd made on Del's chest. I listened, praying I would hear nothing, and that's just what I did hear.

“He's dead,” I told Brutal.

“Thank Christ.”

“Yes. Thank Christ. You and Dean get the stretcher. Let's unbuckle him and get him out of here, fast.”