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Monday, March 22, 2010

Mag 6





I passed through the gates at the institution for the criminally insane, past thick iron bars, past stolid armed guards. I was told bluntly to stop, to raise my arms and was frisked thoroughly. As the guards eyed me, seemingly hostile, I felt a nervous tremor in my stomach. I was not a threat but they didn’t know that. They knew only that I was here to visit one of their most dangerous prisoners.

Burt Jensen had been born in a tarpaper shack on a dirt poor northern Wisconsin farm. He lived through his childhood in that shack with only a small iron stove for heat, sleeping on a ragged pad with one blanket on the floor in one corner of the single room that housed them all. His mother had died giving birth to him. He had one brother four years older, who used to beat him nearly every day and steal food from the tin plate on which he ate. Those were the good days. The day his father, Olav, didn’t beat him.

One night they both beat him, kicked him into a small bundle and left him on his pallet while they laughed and drank the evil smelling alcohol they brewed out of potatoes. Later that night, after they had passed out, he took a knife and cut both of their throats.

When the police came to take him away, he was hollow-eyed and chanting, over and over

Fratricide,
Patricide,
Cops call it
Homicide.

That’s all the authorities ever got out of him. Just that mad rhyme. That was all he had ever spoken since that horrible night.

So now he was here. In the bowels of this huge grey institution. And so was I.

I was a reporter. After months and months of effort, I finally had been granted this opportunity to talk to Burt Jensen. Was I fearful? Oh, yes. Even in spite of knowing that he would be shackled, hand and foot, and I would be "protected" by the armed guard in the same room.

So I entered. And waited. The room was empty except for a small wooden table and two straight-backed wooden chairs.

I jumped as I heard the door clang open. And Burt Jensen came in, with a guard holding tightly to one arm. His dark hair was disheveled and hung down on his forehead. His eyes were on the floor. The guard roughly pushed him down into the chair by the table opposite me. I sat and, slowly, his eyes rose to my face. They were blank.

My long sought interview was a disaster. Burt Jensen didn’t answer any of my questions, he didn’t respond at all, he just stared. Not at me, exactly, but through me. He sat still for the entire time, just staring.

Finally, I had enough. I gave up. I turned off my recorder, looked at the guard and nodded. He took Burt Jensen’s arm and raised him from his chair. And I turned to leave. As my back turned, I heard, for the first time, Burt Jensen’s voice.

Nails in his arms,
Spear in his side,
Jesus Christ
Was crucified.

I stood there, stunned, as he repeated the words over and over again as the guard shouldered him down the hall. His words grew fainter as my hands gripped the edge of the table in an effort to stop the trembling.

==============================

This is the sixth in series of weekly writing exercises initiated by Willow, who posts a photo and invites people to write a poem or a story or an essay based on it. You can learn more and read other entrants' writings at Magpie Tales.

54 comments:

Amanda Cooper said...

Loved this!

You did a great job using the voice of the reporter.

willow said...

Chilling, Mr. C!! That last mad rhyme gave me the shivers! Is this one totally fiction?

Peter Goulding said...

This is very deep stuff! I've always thought that if the story of Jesus were to happen again, his fate would be incarceration in this kind of institution.
Chilling how a man who has known only evil can speak of Christ.
And no, I don't believe my effort is more inspiring - you are being too modest, my good friend. Great stuff!

Berowne said...

Powerful take on the "nails" prompt.

Steve said...

You are a deep thinker, but quick with the pen. Super job.

SUN DANCE HILL said...

So compelling, intriguing, and gripping! Well done, I thoroughly enjoyed your story. Thanks!

chiccoreal said...

OMG I was going to move to WI, Green Bay area. Is this a true story? It sure feels like we meet up with the uni-bomber or some facsimile. Could be something much worse: inbreds! Reminds me of Stephen King, America in the Rough, real rough! Love your writing!

Catalyst said...

Amanda - By time I had written and polished it, I thought the reporter was a woman. My chief editor, SWMBO, says she didn't get a feeling either way.

Willow - Well, it is totally out of my head. As far as I know it is fiction.

Peter - Kind words. Thank you.

Berowne - Thank you, Shakespeare! :^)

Steve - Or maybe I'm mad! Thanks, pal.

SDH - Oh you're welcome. And thank you!

Jane - Why anyone would move to Green Bay is beyond me. I mean, I left North Dakota because of snow and cold! But no, it is not a true story, to the best of my knowledge.

Rob Kistner said...

This gave a start and a chill...
...rob
Image & Verse

Brian Miller said...

dang that was good...thinking hannibal lecter...and shivering...very nice.

Joan Tucker said...

I felt a rhythm to the piece,
almost the repetitious sing song of his burst of rhyme; a very impactful piece. I felt, saw, experienced not only the cabin but the prison.. essentially the same place.ah
Thanks for some moving writing. Joan T

joanny said...

Catalyst

In years passed - that is why I changed my degree (clinical psych)-- the internship was at the State psychiatric ward --- where they filmed "ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST"

Very good account.

Joanny

Catalyst said...

Rob - "a chill" - That's good!

Brian - "shivering" - Also good!

Joan - Thanks for your kind words!

Joanny - Loved the movie but I think I would have been horrified by the real place.

Anonymous said...

Wow! That last rhyme gave me goose bumps!

Catalyst said...

Dawn - "goose bumps" - that's good, too!

R. Burnett Baker said...

You had my attention from beginning to end....I almost felt sorry Burt, though. Seems from his entry to life, he never had a chance.

Great story!

Rick

Catalyst said...

Rick - I concur. Burt never had a chance. It is a sad truth that many have faced his fate.

Thanks for your comment.

little hat said...

Spooky. Some people's lives are hard to believe - and some families just create generation after generation of devastation. I believed his story.

Katherine said...

Shivers up my spine!
Abuse .. can do terrible things to a persons mind (I have seen this in my work)...especially to a mind that has not yet fully formed.
I felt sickened by the treatment Burt received in his formative years & saddened that he felt murder was his only outage!
He cracked!
I know this story was fictional but in sadly it could have been true!

Vicki Lane said...

Nice one, Catalyst! Love the creepy horror of the rhymes.

Lyn said...

The mind of the criminally insane..asleep, and when it speaks, an enigma..very chilling!

Catalyst said...

Little Hat (Steve) - There is a lot of tragedy among us.

Katherine - While this story is fiction, there are many true stories like it abounding.

Vicki - Thank you. I have to do something lighter before people believe I'm a creepy horror! ;/

Lyn - Spoken better than I wrote it. Thanks.

Krunal Palande said...

you see madness as you know is like gravity, all it needs is a little push...your story just reminded me of these immortal words by the Joker of 'The Dark Knight'....well did this story took place in Arkham Asylum???

Great Stuff...loved it...

Lynn Hamilton Rutherford said...

Catalyst ... oh wow. Someone up above said EXACTLY what I was thinking: this piece reminded me of a vignette out of a Stephen King novel! Such powerful imagery!! I got goosebumps up my arms!

Catalyst said...

Krunal - While "Batman" was one of my favorite comics "some" decades ago, it had no influence in this story. At least, I don't think so. Glad you liked it.

Catalyst said...

Lynn - Who is Stephen King? Nooooo, just kidding! Thank you so much!

Angie Muresan said...

Gave me the chills. Absolutely brilliant.

www.angiemuresan.com

Catalyst said...

Angie - You are too kind. Thank you so much.

Pat transplanted to MN said...

Oh my oh my!Glad I did not read it late at night in a cabin in the woods alone! The setting in WI surprised me, I'd have thought deep in the south, bet it was cold in that tarpaper shack in the WI winters...then the brew from potatoes! ...I could picture him in the prison resembling one of the Gitmo detainees.

An eerie tale of a life gone bad from birth This was creepy and yet thrilling. As others have already said, chilling. I was worried about the reporter!

Wow! Amazing, it pierced my mind! :)

Catalyst said...

Pat - Thanks! Sorry I scared you. No, wait! No I'm not!

Suz said...

Haunting,but I wanted to know what was the reporter really after and did he get it
..and rhythm of this writing was
chilling
thank you for coments about my story..yes, I have hit a writer's block...but I'm recovering...I need to go and find some found language or people watch for a while...thanks

Catalyst said...

Suz - He/she was after what any reporter always wants: a story. Thanks for your comment, Suz.

Jennifer Morrison said...

Catalyst, it's your best yet. Story drawn out so well, and the rhymes - so creepy! Well done!

Jennifer Morrison said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Catalyst said...

Jen, thank you so much!

Lisa said...

so many ways readers can interpret this one, a sign of a very good writer. I read truth and redemption in this piece. Thanks for making me think. :) Lisa

Enchanted Oak said...

Love this twisty tale. I like what Lisa had to say. It is a story of a strange kind of redemption.

Anonymous said...

Great job of creative writing on what I thought was a difficult lead. :) The Bach

Catalyst said...

Lisa - Hmm, truth and redemption. Now it's my turn to think. Thanks.

Enchanted Oak - Wow, two in a row. Thank you, too.

Bach - Always good to hear from you. Thank you for your comment.

Kitty said...

This is fantastic - wonderful bit of writing. x

Lorenzo at the Alchemist's Pillow said...

Agree with willow ... chilling!

Catalyst said...

Lorenzo - I bow with humility.

To any of you who have not read Lorenzo's entry in this exercise, I urge you to go to his site and read the mastery of his words.

steviewren said...

There are a couple of ways to read this one...Burt's still crazy after all these years or Burt found forgiveness for the murder in the death of Christ or Burt is fixated on Christ/maybe he thinks he is Christ, maybe Burt only speaks in rhymes or maybe Burt is just creepy as Hell! Great story!

Catalyst said...

Stevie - You have given me pause and reason to consider the effect of my writing to my readers. I can't answer which of those "ways" is correct, or if any of them are. But you sure have got me thinking! Thanks, Stevie.

Lucy said...

Blimey Cat, I'm shaking a bit just reading it.

Catalyst said...

Lucy - Thanks for reading it!

Jarart said...

I am late but just now had time to read this. It was a good read and gave me goose bumps at the end. Kind of Stephen King-ish.

Catalyst said...

Judy - Thanks for reading and for your comment.

The Hausfrau said...

Creepy, real, fascinating use of the prompt!

Catalyst said...

Hausfrau - Thanks for your input.

Jim Swindle said...

I agree with Lisa.

Meanwhile, the poem makes me think of my visit to a mental hospital, a pastoral call on "Tony," a young man whose mother sometimes visited our church. Tony's arms were tied with leather thongs. As I spoke with him about spiritual matters, he made a fist and slugged me as hard as he could. The leather stopped his fist after it hit my cheek, but before it hit my cheekbone. I considered that a small miracle. The guard didn't see it that way, and evicted me. I don't know what the future held for Tony.

Catalyst said...

Jim- I, too, have been in those places. All I can say is "I'm sorry." For all of us.

Aoife.Troxel said...

Great...I read this just before going to sleep. Scary!

Catalyst said...

Aoife.Troxel - Oh, I'm sorry. Hope you didn't have bad dreams.