Dicky patted his cellmate on the head, then put the ramen pack they’d struggled over in his collection of soups, porn, shivs, candy, and tobacco.

Dicky was shorter and weaker than Caleb, but the prison had instituted a new policy and fundamentally changed the balance of power. The fight had been one-sided, Caleb receiving Dicky’s blows as if he deserved them. Caleb was still breathing, despite the pounding, so all was well.

Dicky was a psychopath. He knew he was one and it didn’t bug him much. Emotions got in the way for most people, but not him, and especially not now. The prison had become his personal candy store. It was fantastic.

The big change was a drug, Phalderall, which quickly earned the nickname “Shame.” That’s what it made you feel: feelings of shame, remorse, and guilt so intense it prevented, in the case of prison inmates, the victimization of their fellows. It was a revolutionary intervention, hailed as a humanitarian miracle, as it would finally stop people, like Dicky, from robbing, raping, and generally abusing anyone within exploiting distance. But for some reason, it hadn’t worked on him.

Two prison guards appeared at the door. Dicky assumed the docile demeanor he’d observed, staring at the floor with a vague look of concern, like that of a waiter hoping you didn’t need more ice cubes.

“Prisoner W6AUN.”

Caleb was on the upper bunk and Dicky hoped they didn’t check on him.


“Hands,” said one of the bulls.

He pushed his hands through the rectangular slot so they could cuff him wondering if a security camera had caught him in the act. Which act exactly he had no idea; he was up to a lot of mischief these days. He believed there were no cameras in the cells.

They marched down the corridors, past windows revealing inmates in various states of remorseful prostration, kneeling, praying and sobbing.

In the administrative wing, they stopped at a door labeled “Office.” This wasn’t an elementary school; there were many offices, yet there it was: “Office.” It made Dicky giggle.

“Laughter is a tell,” said the lab coat sitting at the office desk as the door swung open.

Dicky felt the desk should have a placard labeling it “Desk,” or better yet, “Office Desk.” It was prototypical in its office desk-ness, as were the wall clock, the linoleum floor, and the off-white paint. He’d passed through so many institutions in his life and they all had the same paint. He wondered if the paint store called the color ‘”institutional tan.” Or perhaps, in a moment of cheeky marketing, the paint people had named it “off-ice white.”

The man behind the chair had a flip of hair sticking up at the back of his bald head, like a comb-over caught in the wind, or the plumage of an unfortunately endowed turkey.

“Uncuff him?” asked a guard.

“God, no. Sit him down.”

They attached the cuffs to a length of chain bolted to the floor. More bad news. These days, guards often led inmates around without cuffs. But not Dicky.

“I’m Dr. Parnassus,” said the lab coat. “I’m overseeing Phalderall here at Sagimoor.”

“Thank you,” said Dicky, trying to keep up his “waiter wondering if you had enough ice” expression.

“Uh-huh. Listen, W6AUN,” the doctor gestured to his laptop, “you score an eleven out of ten on the psychopathy meter, but that shouldn’t matter.”

“I’m terribly sorry for disappointing you!”

“Drop it. I’ve watched about 100 CCTV episodes of ‘The Dicky Dirksen Show’ at this point. That’s okay; we need to know about guys like you. Now, in most other trials, Phalderall has worked on psychopaths. In a few cases, we’ve had to adjust the dose. That’s why you’re here.”

“Is that so?” said Dicky, ready to drop the act. He hated kowtowing. “I’ll sue you, Parnassus, you personally.”

The doctor grinned. All the inmates had signed consent forms in exchange for extra privileges. Apparently, the dose change was in the fine print.

“The fox in the henhouse is about to get skinned, W6AUN,” said the doctor.

Now the doctor, the guards, and Dicky went back out, passing more docile inmates trudging along the hallway.

Shame had started out for only the most hardened inmates. No more fights, rapes, and robberies. No more gang problems. No more little fish getting et up by big’uns. Soon it was being used on almost all the prisoners.

“So where now?” said Dicky.

“You’ll see,” said Parnassus. “I need to thank you. If you’d slipped through the cracks, there’d be hell to pay down the line.”

“You’re not welcome.”

Shame worked so well there was talk of giving it to people doing community service, get them to really stuff those county issued garbage bags. Dicky suspected the penal system was only a testing ground for the private sector. Once the kinks were worked out, they’d feed it to wage slaves; it would be part of every contract. No more eleven minutes on that ten-minute break. Unions? Forget it.

As they continued walking, he started to get an idea of their destination. No bueno. He’d seen death row in his brief stint as a trustee.

“This isn’t right.”

“Relax,” said a guard.

“I am relaxed. Why death row?”

The guards and doctor kept mum.

He could see the door to the execution room. It was at the very end of the wing. By an odd twist, the men here, being in perpetual solitary confinement while they waited, weren’t on Shame. They peered out of their little windows.

“What gives, Dickhead?!” someone shouted.

“Not like you don’t deserve it, Dick!”

“Why’s he going and not me?!”

He didn’t feel panic, but something switched in his brain and Dicky made a brief attempt to get loose.

“Calm down, Dirksen!” said a guard who suddenly had a foot on his neck.

“I told you, I am calm.”

They pulled him back to his feet.

Once in the death room, Dr. Parnassus set about preparing the injection gurney. Dicky watched him attach a turkey baster sized syringe to the “Y” fitting on the IV that had been used to kill so many people.

“You want to make this easy or hard?” asked a guard.

“Eeezy peezy,” said Dicky.

He lay down and let them tighten the ankle, wrist, and neck restraints.

“Is it a new version of Shame?” he asked.

“Same version, bigger dose,” said the doctor.

Parnassus inserted the needle for the IV in Dicky’s wrist and set a bag of saline solution to start dripping. Once that was done, he began slowly pushing on the plunger on one end of the vial of shame. It felt cold as it entered his arm.

“Why not just shoot me up with it?”

“You see the size of this dose? It would take ten syringes’ worth. You want to be a pincushion?” said the doctor.

“How long is this gonna take?”

“You got somewhere to be?” said the guard and they all chuckled.

“Can you at least tell me how much more of a dose I’m getting?”

“50 ccs. Now shut up.”

The big syringe was almost empty and he still didn’t feel anything. How could he make it seem like the Shame was working? Maybe screaming a lot. He wished he could shed some tears, but that wasn’t going to happen.

“You feel anything?” said a guard.

Dicky smirked; he didn’t mean to, but he did. He never felt anything.

“What’s funny?” asked Parnassus.

Dicky kept quiet and considered his situation. The day sure had gone sideways. Couldn’t catch a goddamn break! Although, come to think of it, he’d had plenty of breaks; he broke Caleb’s face for one thing. Ha! Yeah, what a sucker. And he’d broken plenty of guys’ cherries in the last few months.

Shame made it easy; just walk around and pluck a few cherries whenever he was horny. Had to be careful of course. But he knew all the tricks; beneath blankets, in shower stalls, and the punks thought they deserved it! Not that Dicky cared. Though, when their sentences ended, those guys he did would be taken off the Shame. It wasn’t like it erased your memory. Once they realized all what Dicky did, those boys would be pretty much ruined.

Normally, he went straight to being horny when he had these thoughts. He waited, but it didn’t happen, and he rooted around in his mind. Desire and fulfilling desire were the end-all-be-all for Dicky, although he also got satisfaction from getting what could be got from the suckers.

Desire, for the ramen stashed under his bunk, or a Snickers, for a TV show, for the feeling of connecting his fist squarely to someone’s jaw. All of a sudden it was like he was watching all that desire go bye-bye, washing away like blood down the drain in the shower room. Receding and leaving a void.

But it wasn’t a void. Not completely.

There was something else there, creeping up on him, not exactly remorse or regret. He felt sorry for himself, which he didn’t usually do. Being locked up like this happened to guys like him. Over a lifetime, the things he did added up until the world, or God, or the government, something noticed him. Something finally noticed he was wrong and put him in a cage.

When he was eight years old, he shoved an M-80 up a cat’s ass. The cat’s ass exploded, but the cat was still alive for a while. Dicky watched it howling, and then, because he was worried someone would notice the noise, he took a brick and smashed the cat’s head. He felt like he’d done something right back then, not wrong.

That was when he was eight, and now he was 38 and he’d done thousands of things worse than that cat. But it started with the cat.

And now he felt bad for the cat. He couldn’t help it. He imagined what it was like being that cat and getting trapped by Dicky, who pretended to be nice until he got hold of it. And he imagined the feeling in its asshole getting that firework shoved up there. That led to thinking about shoving his cock into all those unwilling rectums, and it was too much.

He began to cry. He’d never cried before.

“Please,” he said.

The guards and the doctor looked at him.

The doctor hadn’t finished the dose and pushed the plunger the rest of the way in.

And then it was the world he felt ashamed for betraying. It was every intake of breath, an infinite multitude of bacteria destroyed, untold thousands of creatures crushed with his every footfall.

His job suddenly became clear: it was to do no harm. But that was impossible. It was impossible to go on feeling this way, and it was impossible merely to exist and do no harm. There was no solution.

When they unfastened him, he was unable to move. They tried to stand him up, but Dicky collapsed, moaning, “No consequences, no consequences.”

Finally, they wheeled him out on a gurney.

“Do we put him in the infirmary, Doc?” asked a guard.

The doctor felt Dicky’s pulse and looked in his eyes with his penlight.

“Put him in his cell,” said Dr. Parnassus.

Once there, with Caleb wheezing in a troubled slumber, Dicky regretted blinking, regretted sneezing, regretted breathing. It always started with breathing, he realized, with lungfuls of doomed germs.

He got out the plastic bag full of shivs, tobacco, and candy, emptied it, and pulled it over his head.

Because the pain he caused started with breathing, and that was the only way it could end.