Will To Power
A Short Story by Jason Moore
Written using the suggestion "Band"
Originally featured on 03-27-2008
As part of our series "Marching On"

The guard handed me a small plastic stool. He undid the lock, then slid the thick, white, steel bars to the side. I stepped inside the cell, and the door slammed behind me with a loud finality. Even though I knew the sound was coming, I flinched. The guard turned his back to us and walked to the rail. I watched him for a moment as he folded his thick arms across his broad chest, surveying the cellblock.

Thompson’s cell was six by nine feet, furnished with a small cot, a stainless steel sink, and a toilet. It was barely enough room for one man to spend his days and nights, and a tiny space for two men to occupy for our weekly interview.

Thompson was on his cot, dressed as always in his orange death-row jumpsuit and light blue, plastic slippers. His hands were cuffed together, which was standard procedure when death row inmates had visitors. His prisoner description indicated six foot three, 250 pounds, Caucasian. Born February 19, 1958, in Lubbock, Texas. His gray hair was cropped short, and the remaining bits of black reminded me of the markings of a bald eagle or a ragged wolf. Every feature on his face — his thick black eyebrows, smashed nose, thin lips, and ruddy cheeks—was severe and pointed downward. He had K-I-L-L tattooed on the fingers of his right hand.

Like all the men on death row in Florida, he was there for first-degree murder. His particular brand of violence was killing for money. He’d been associated with the Colombian drug cartel and had been a hitman for years. Authorities suspected him of at least 12 murders and numerous kidnappings and beatings, but they’d only convicted him of one slaying. He’d killed a customs agent who had once worked with the cartel, then double-crossed them when the DEA caught on.

I put the stool in the corner by the steel bars, and began unpacking my tape recorder. No need for greetings or social graces.

He began with his usual opening, which he varied slightly from week-to-week. “I have something specific I want so say today.” I always assumed he’d spent the whole week reading and thinking about our meeting, and had every word planned. The other inmates called him The Professor. He was rumored to have read every book in the prison library and had written several crime novels, all best sellers, during his five years on death row. I was trying to get as much out of him as I could, for one last book.

“OK,” I replied, “Just give me a second to get my tape recorder setup.” I was nervous, and my breaths were quick and short, making it hard to speak. I fumbled with the machine, dropping it on the hard ground between us. Even though he’d never been a violent prisoner, I never stopped thinking about whether he felt he had anything to lose, or gain, if he had the urge to do me harm.

Thompson liked to pace when he talked. He towered over me as he began, his hands swinging in front of him. “What most people don’t understand is the great pleasure and clarity of the dark side.” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, a faint smile appearing on his lips. He opened his eyes and continued.

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and I realize I’ve achieved a kind of enlightenment. My history, my actions, my experiences, they’ve given me special knowledge. I understand life in a way that almost no modern man does. I truly see that life is ephemeral, and that nothing you do will matter once you’re dead. Nothing matters when you’re alive either, at least not in the way that most religions and philosophers think.

“All that matters is gathering experiences, as many as you can before you die. It doesn’t matter if you do so-called good, or bad, because neither exists. You take your experiences and store them away, and gain power and humanity. Then you die and greet oblivion.”

He liked it when I engaged him during the interviews, playing the part of foil in the drama he seemed to think we were acting out. I had finally relaxed, and breathing was more normal, making it easier to speak. “OK, I see what you’re saying. But don’t you ever feel bad? Don’t you care about your victims? Their families?”

“You see, that’s where people like you just don’t get it. There aren’t victims or culprits. We should stop using those words completely. There are only actors, agents of cause and effect. That’s where we separate the strong from the weak, the freethinkers from the sheep. People who get this, and people who don’t.

“Does the mountain lion feel remorse as his jaws rip through the skull of a newborn rabbit? Does a man feel guilty when he kills an intruder in the night, when he shoots him in the gut then kicks him in the head until you can’t even tell what he looked liked? No. He feels visceral joy in the moment, because he acted properly in his role of protecting his family. That’s the key. I’ve been reading the Baghavad Gita lately, and it teaches us to be intent on action, not the fruits of action. It’s all about your role, and playing it well.”

“So your role in your organization was as a killer, a protector, and you wanted to do it well? You wanted to achieve excellence in your given position?”

“Exactly. You see, that’s what separates us from the Greeks. I would’ve been a hero if I lived a few thousand years ago. They only considered their positions within their societies, their tribes, and nothing else mattered. There wasn’t any morality outside their small groups. The soldier fought for his people and vanquished his enemy. Did it matter if he tortured his enemy or raped the women as he pillaged? No. His role was simple, and he was rewarded for fulfilling it.”

“But you don’t live several thousand years ago. You’re restricted by your role as much as any of us. How can you be happy?”

“Who is more fulfilled, more self-actualized? A free killer, or a caged, happy man? A free killer in our society knows that his time is short, and he lives every minute with a heightened sense of his own mortality, like his consciousness has been shot out of a cannon. And what’s the difference between the free killer and a man who has terminal cancer, and has devoted himself to living every minute? The drink is that much sweeter for both of them, the smell of the flower that much more pungent.

“Yes, it is easier for the terminal man to achieve true peace of mind, because his situation is a luxury handed to him by chance. But the easier path is never the best one, and a killer who chooses his own path knows this. He is an animal looking for his next meal, and life surges through him. Time slows, and he is the most alive being in the world. Nietszche knew this and called it will to power. He teaches us that nothing can serve us better than believing in our own greatness. Once you embrace this, the dark side will be your path. The light side will seem a na

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