Award-winning author and editor Nancy Kilpatrick has published 23 novels, 3 novellas, over 220 short stories, 6 collections, and has edited 15 anthologies. She wrote the non-fiction book The goth Bible: A Compendium for the Darkly Inclined, and the graphic novel Nancy Kilpatrick's Vampyr Theater. Much of her work has been translated into 9 languages.Her most recent project is the novel series Thrones of Blood, the final volume #6 coming soon in print and ebook. The series has been optioned for film and TV.

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by Nancy Kilpatrick


Alexander Mifflin was stabbing my mother as my brother Bill and I walked in the back door. I dropped the Eatons shopping bags I carried and screamed. Last-minute gifts tumbled into the pools of bloody mince meat. Mifflin turned. He and Bill fought. Bill outweighed him; he had wrestled at college. I rushed to my mother's blood-soaked body. The knife was lodged in her eye and, desperate, I yanked it out. Mother died in my arms seconds before Bill brought her killer to the ground. Before I could dial 911. Before she could say goodbye.

I know what you're thinking, the same thing the media is saying--I'm a psychopath. What makes me believe I have the right to be judge, jury and executioner? Your silly questions have nothing to do with me. I have that right by virtue of the fact that I have fought to stay alive in the face of shattering despair. You know yourself, it's survival of the fittest. You've thought that, even if you can't bring yourself to admit such a politically incorrect idea. I was a woman with a mission. Mission accomplished. If you'll hear me out, I know you'll understand.

Four years after my mother's death I came to the conclusion that murder is not so terrible. We all die anyway so what's it matter when or how. That might seem a jaded statement, but you know in your heart you've thought the same thing. We all have. It follows then that if one murderer can get off virtually scott free, why not another? Why not me?

I used to believe in divine justice. Then I grew up. For a while I had faith in our man-made justice system. When that failed, when jurisprudence let a guilty man walk away with his freedom and my mother's blood on his hands, I grew up some more.

Who would avenge my mother? Who would stop that madman from repeating his crime against humanity? No one. No one but me.

Let me start closer to the beginning, the easiest place to try to make sense of me and my crime, although there's no sense to his senseless crime.

The evidence was tangible, not circumstantial: Alexander Mifflin, a thirty-five-year-old Caucasian male broke into our North Vancouver home on Christmas Eve, ostensibly to steal anything of value. My mother was preparing mince meat pies for the holiday dinner the next day. The lights were out in the rest of the house--apparently she had been working in the kitchen and when the sun set turned on only one light. He surprised her there. She fought him--she was a large, strongly built woman of Scandinavian ancestry who did not give herself over easily to being intimidated. No one would have ever called her a coward. Neither is her daughter.

It was apparent they struggled. Chairs were overturned, the floor was a sea of mince meat. A paring knife lay on the table, to trim crusts, but he reached to the white ash knife rack and pulled out a Henckel with a six inch blade. Mother always loved good knives and had the blades honed by the man with the knife-sharpening cart who came by weekly. The coroner commented on the sharpness of the blade, because the twenty-eight stab wounds were, for the most part, clean. There were seven in her chest, two in her stomach, one in her left leg. The knife penetrated her diaphragm. She was left-handed and that side received the worst treatment. But the majority of the stab wounds were to her back, puncturing both lungs, one kidney, and, because the blade was so long, her heart. The most gruesome sight was to her left eye, where I found the knife lodged. The blade had pierced her brain. As I withdrew it, pale matter seeped from the wound. I can still see the tissue, like wood pulp.

I lived in a state of numbed grief. At the funeral I couldn't cry. Later, when we sold the house, before I left for college, as Bill and I sorted through my mother's belongings and I asked for her knives, he stopped and advised me, "Connie, try to forget what happened and get on with your life." But how could I forget?

No fourteen-year-old should have to experience what I did. Unless you've seen death close up, you cannot know how shocking it is. When the body seems to sigh. When the light fades blue lace crystal eyes to flat dull agates. When a kind of gas--maybe it was her spirit--wafts from the open mouth and ascends, rippling the air. My mother was gone. Her murderer would pay.

But he did not pay. Four years passed before Alexander Mifflin came to trial. I waited patiently through the delays, the motions and counter motions. He opted for judge only, no jury, knowing that ordinary people would find his acts against my mother incomprehensible. Still, through my frozen grief, I had faith.

But he'd had a bad childhood, a therapist testified, and had paid in advance. A minister assured the court that Mifflin attended church, helped out in the community, would be missed. He was a father, out of work, with a lovely wife and children to support. Not a crazed dope fiend, but a decent man, just desperate, said his brother. A police officer reported he'd been a suspect in several crimes and charged with burglary once before, but those charges had been dropped for lack of evidence. The court ruled that information inadmissible. Mifflin testified he did not recall reaching for the knife. He did not realize he stabbed my mother. Twenty-eight times. When I pulled the knife from my mother's brain, effectively I destroyed his fingerprints.

All throughout the trial I felt nothing, just stared at Mifflin, memorizing how he looked, his mannerisms, and finally his cursory testimony. The entire process had been like mining a vein that turned out to be corrupted. And the further along we traveled, the worse it got. The delays only helped his case. And the deals. Not murder one for Mr. Mifflin, who pleaded guilty, but manslaughter. Twenty years. He had already served four, he would be eligible for parole after another six.

The system failed me. But I vowed not to fail my mother.

How do you kill a murderer? It's not as easy as one might think. It takes a lot of planning. Alexander Mifflin was paranoid--he assumed everyone had an intent as evil as his own. I understand paranoia. I've lived with it since that Christmas Eve. I have not felt safe since because there are other Alexander Mifflin's in the world and you never know when they will invade the privacy of your home and take control of your life and stab you or a loved one to death. You understand that, I know. You read the news. You have the same fears.

During those years of growing up without her, when I needed my mother most, I developed a plan. The day he entered that penitentiary as a convicted prisoner, legally I changed my name. I earned a BA, and then an MA in Social Work. All the while I was doing time too, waiting for Mifflin.

In anticipation of his release, I changed my hair color, even the color of my eyes--I needed contact lenses anyway, and blue to green was not much of a stretch. The business suit and crisp haircut that had become my disguise were a far cry from the sweater and skirt and shoulder length hair he would remember.

With my excellent grades at university, I could have taken a job anywhere, but I wanted to work for the province, in correctional services. Normally the so-called easy cases--like Mifflin--are the plums and newbies are assigned the junk no one else wants. I told my supervisor I needed extra work and begged for Mifflin's case--I wanted to research a case with a good prospect for rehab. She was happy to get rid of an extra file folder.

That Thursday morning of his release--Thor's Day--I phoned his wife and told her not to bother taking the six hundred kilometre bus ride to the prison. "I'll get him," I assured her. I left a message with the warden's office with instructions for Mifflin to meet me at the gate; I would drive him home. It was partially true--I did meet him at the gate.

The day was overcast, I remember, with steely clouds hanging low over the British Columbia mountains, determined to imprison the sun. The day suited my mood. It's inappropriate to feel jolly when a life is about to be extinguished. Even I know that.

I watched him walk out of the prison a free man.  

Mifflin reeked of guilt. But his guilt would not bring back my mother, and I wasn't about to forgive him. He would not make it home to his lovely wife and three children. He would not resume his good works in the community. He wouldn't make it past the parking lot.    

 Mifflin hadn't seen me in six years--since the case finally came to trial. My testimony had been brief. Over that week as the travesty of justice unfolded, he faced front and didn't look at me, although my eyes were drawn to him like iron filings to a magnet. I will never forget his left profile.

He looked the same, although his muscles were more developed--presumably from working out in the prison gym--and his cheeks more gaunt.

"Mr. Mifflin," I said, removing my glove and extending a hand. I wanted to feel the skin of this killer, the flesh that held the knife that had ended my mother's life. Is the flesh of a killer different from normal flesh? Would I feel the slippery blood of my mother that had seeped into his pores ten years before, blood that could never be washed away?

He shook my hand. His grip was not as firm nor as cool as I'd anticipated, but mine made up for it. He looked at me skeptically. "Shelagh McNeil," I said, "your new case worker."

Mifflin ran a hand through his greying hair; his brown eyes reflected confusion--he didn't know what to do with me. Maybe it was hard for him to be in the presence of a woman without a weapon of destruction.

"I have a car," I said. "This way."

I slid behind the wheel of the tan Nissan and he got in on the passenger side. I sat without turning the key, staring at his left profile.

He fidgeted, punched his thigh in nervousness, looked out the window. "Mind if I smoke?" he asked, pulling out a pack of Rothmans.

"Yes I do," I said.

He slid the pack back inside his jacket submissively. The silence was getting to him.

Finally he turned. "Do you need my address?"

"I know your address."

He scratched his head. "Can we get going? My wife's waiting. Christmas, you know. The kids and all."

"I know everything I need to know about you, Mr. Mifflin. All but one thing."

He waited, expectant.

"How did you feel as you murdered Mrs. Brautigam?"

"How did I feel?" Now he was really uncomfortable. "Look, I talked to a shrink about all this, inside." He shifted and turned away from me. "Can't we talk about this later?"

"That's not possible, Mr. Mifflin."

He turned back. His eyes narrowed. He struggled to make a connection but there wasn't enough left of the girl who had watched her mother die. And it wasn't just the physical changes. I was no longer vulnerable, but he was.

He put his hand on the door handle. "Look, I'll catch the bus."

"The last bus is gone," I told him, "and I believe your parole stipulates that you are required to meet certain conditions, including working with your social worker. I simply want to know how you felt, that's all. When you stabbed Mrs. Brautigam twenty-eight times, and her blood gushed out, splattering you with red gore, and her screams filled your ears. And her son and daughter watched their mother die. How did you feel?"

He turned away. In a small voice he said, "I don't remember."

"I need to know how it feels," I said, slipping a hand into my briefcase, "because I don't remember feelings either." I hit the automatic door lock.

His head snapped back.

I used both hands to plunge the knife into his left eye. I had sharpened the Henckel daily after the police returned it. Most of the six inches slid in as easily as if it were pie dough I was cutting. I felt the finely-honed steel pass the eyeball and enter the pale brain tissue. He clamped his hands around my wrists; I couldn't tell if he was trying to pull the blade out or helping me push it in as far as it would go, but I held tight.

Mifflin went rigid. He stared at me for a moment, his face creased with uncomprehending horror, his pierced brain struggled to make the awful connection. His hand clutched the handle and he yanked the blade out. Blood spurted into my face, across the windshield, over his brand new prison-release shirt. He was shocked. Before he could react, I grabbed the knife and stabbed him twenty-seven more times, counting aloud. He didn't struggle, like my mother. He did not possess her character. The same character her daughter possesses.

The media would be surprised to know how passionate I felt as I stabbed him. My feelings, the first after so many years, were surely different from whatever Mifflin must have felt as he murdered my mother, although I'll never be certain. Pressure lifted from my heart when I pierced his. My mind cleared of thoughts as blood and brain tissue gushed from his mutilated left eye. His body cooled and I defrosted. I watched his life dwindle much as I had watched my mother's life fade, and now I feel released. Finally I've reached the end of the corrupted vein and moved beyond that constricting tunnel into a world of complete and utter freedom. I have arrived back where I began, into a state of innocence. Justice has been accomplished. Don't you agree?

Many questions have been asked about me, but I have questions of my own and I hope you'll consider them calmly and rationally now that you've heard how it was. Do I deserve a worse fate than Mr. Mifflin's? Is my crime more heinous than his? I'm charged with murder one. The papers say I'll get life in prison unless I plead insanity, but I can't do that. He killed my mother. I killed him.  What act could be more rational? An eye for an eye. Isn't that the purest form of justice? You decide.

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