“April Fool!” Carter said to Dugan. “Now give me that piece of paper.” Dugan handed the piece of paper back to Carter, sank back into his bed, and resumed his vigil.
Carter walked away, crumpled the paper, and cocked his head in a lunatic laugh.
… One minute earlier …
“Here, Dugan,” Carter said with an uncharacteristically broad smile. “Get ready, buddy. It’s what you’ve been waiting for.” He handed Dugan a piece of paper. Dugan snatched it with greedy, fumbling fingers.
Dugan began to read the letter. “Dear Mr. Dugan: Thank you for your correspondence, which has affected me greatly. I am writing to inform you…” He’d been waiting for this letter for years. His pulse quickened, his palms quivered. He mouthed a hasty prayer of thanks. Then he reached the end of the letter, and discovered it was not at all what Carter had said. Not even close. In fact, it was a big joke. And he was the victim.
… Five minutes earlier …
Carter took the piece of paper from the printer. It looked good, it looked official. He had used the letterhead with the embossed seal and addressed it to Dugan. Carter used his best pen to sign it. He didn’t sign his own name, of course; he used the name of someone far more important.
… One hour earlier …
“Hey, Carter,” Wilson said to the man sitting next to him in front of the bank of video monitors. “It’s April 1st, you know.”
“How about we pull one over on Dugan?”
Carter lowered his feet from the desk and turned his attention away from the crossword puzzle in front of him. “What you got in mind?”
“Don’t you think April Fool’s Day is the perfect day to give him what he’s been waiting for?”
… One year earlier …
Dugan sat at the typewriter. It was an old machine that used the force of his fingers to lift heavy metal levers and strike through a ribbon onto paper wrapped around a roller. It wasn’t the first time he had written this letter. It had become a yearly tradition, something he did every spring. Nothing had ever come of the letters he’d sent before. But if there was one thing Dugan had plenty of, it was time.
He pressed the keys slowly, deliberately.
… Ten years earlier …
The guard escorted Dugan to his cell. He hadn’t introduced himself, but he wore a nametag that read “Carter.” Dugan walked in, and Carter slid the bars shut behind him. They locked with the sound of metal grasping metal.
“Let me have your cell assignment form,” Carter said.
Dugan turned and looked at his jailer again. Carter’s expression betrayed no compassion, no empathy. He handed Carter the piece of paper through the bars and stared him in the eye. “I didn’t do it. I know everyone says that here. But I really didn’t do it.”
“Right, buddy. I guess the judge who gave you life without parole thought otherwise. Only the governor can save you now.” Carter walked away, crumpled the paper, and cocked his head in a lunatic laugh.
Matthew Strada lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, son, and dog. His work has appeared as Every Day Fiction’s story of the day and is forthcoming in the Boston Literary Magazine.