"Now look here, son. Don't do something you're gonna regret."
Recoiled and cornered in his own kitchen, the prison warden kept a leery eye on the angry pistol pointed straight to his heart. But the steadfast intruder couldn't have been swayed by a hurricane. Dressed in black with a ski mask, his whole being an extension of the gun. The warden's vaunted snake-like words wouldn't save him this time.
"Funny," spoke the mask. "I was just about to say the same to you."
"Just put that gun down and it's gonna be all right. You'll only be making things harder on yourself you pull that trigger." The warden's southern drawl oozed a magnetic pull to do what he said. Years and years of snake-charming worminess could put even the most hardened of criminals under his spell. He was the master puppeteer of chain gangs, mass brutality and rogue thugs with a license to maim. No man had bested him and his institutional authority yet.
The gunman's voice was razor sharp. "What we have here is a failure to communicate."
"Luke?" answered the startled warden. "That you, boy? We done buried you. What's your real name, son?"
The reply was deliberately inadequate. "Luke."
"I don't know what you're on about but nothing you do can bring that boy back."
"Not aiming to."
"If you put that gun down, we can talk about this proper-like. I can sees somethin's eatin' on ya."
"I'm fine, boss." The voice was cold, unwavering. "I just have one question to ask you."
Chills went up the warden's spine. Here was an adversary that would take all his wiles to master. The warden's face was the picture of accommodation. "Well, sure. I'll answer anything you want. I knew you was a reasonable sort."
"I just want to ask you: Do you regret it? Do you regret what you've done to the men under your control? Do you regret the pain you've brought into this world?"
"I don't regret nothin'!" lied the warden - it was a lie he struggled to tell himself every day. "These are bad men we're talking about here. They get what's they deserves. It ain't up to me. They decides their own punishment. I don't keep them in line and all hell breaks loose. No, sir, I don't regret a thing I've done to do my job."
Defiance was always the best bet. The warden's institution was untouchable. When push came to shove, the naysayers always backed down. The choice was between him or the criminals. He couldn't wait to further the argument. But the man in the mask merely chuckled.
"You think you've got it all figured out, don't you? This little power game of yours - no one can touch you. It's just funny really if you could see just how pathetically petty your life is." The gunman was genuinely amused but deadly serious. But the warden was ready to bluff it out.
"I've had about enough of this. If you're gonna shoot me then shoot me! I don't need no gun to make me right."
"No, you need about twenty of them." Stalemate. "I'll ask you again: Do you not regret the pain?"
Outside, the gusty wind blew cold as shadows of night time leaves fluttered by the old square framed window. How empty this house when stripped bare of its illusion. The old, grey warden wanted to go home with all his might. Words of sway now seduced him. Did he dare to chance the agonizing pain of lying a second time? "No, suh," he gruffed. "I don't regrets none of it! I won't stand here and let the likes of you stand in judgment of me."
"Then I can't regret the pain I bring." The gun spoke with two vicious shots shattering each of the warden's two shin bones. No one heard his screams. No one came to his rescue. Unrepentant Pain came to visit him that night - the one thing he had spent a lifetime avoiding. His writhing soul wailed in torment.
"I came here not to judge you but for you to judge you, to bring you out into the light. You thought lying would save you - as you falsely believed it had in the past. But tonight I am the Avenging Angel and your regrets are mine. But don't worry, I shall not kill you.
"Instead, I've given you a prison of your own.
"It will be like this: a cripple, bound in a wheelchair the rest of his life, forever dependent on others to live, appears before the prisoners. The cripple knows they know how he reached such a sorry state and he wonders if he's too cruel will it happen again. Will another abused prisoner come after me and finish the job? Fear and paranoia wither his soul to his dying days. But there is a way out. The cripple can become as the lamb, gentle and healing. I ask you, sir, will you become like the lamb?"
"Never the lamb!" spat the cripple.
"Then never is when you will leave your prison."