by E. O. Jr
A hangman finds himself haunted by the ghosts of those he sent beyond.
|In a small castle holding on the outskirts of the Retnia Kingdom, was a source of punishment. A reputation of death. The Silka Barony was notorious for its use of the gallows. The people there took pride in every death befell by the neck.
The castle is a notable passageway through the valley of the Heaven's Mountain range. The mountains divided not only Retnia north and south, but the Tormay continent as well. With Silka sitting on the south entrance of one of two of the only passages through Heaven, many traders and travelers find their way here. As well as thieves, crooks, smugglers, and murderers... Criminals who brought ill deeds and worse intentions.
A crowd gathered in the courtyard in the center of town. The baron didn't dare host these events in his dining hall, though the people fancied departing the soul with God's graces and gladly built the gallows a hundred feet from God's front door. In fact, they made it a part of morning mass. The courtyard is a large, mostly empty area. Many three-story buildings lined the edges of the square. Made up of homes and shops with sacks and carts outside their doors. Two Lilacs flanked either side of the church's double doors. Their leaves bright orange in the afternoon sun.
A cart entered the courtyard from the left of the church. Pulled by a single horse guided by a special policing officer. The cart, and it's two escorts following behind on horseback, made way through the crowd. The parting crowd hurled curses and insults towards the cart as it passed.
The four wooden wheels, and four hooves, of the cart came to a halt in front of the gallows. You could see the two faces of the young men through the metal bars of the cage. They sat, looking grim and angry. One stood, put his head to the bars, and stared at the rope meant to break him. He wore a black shirt. His dirty hair covered half his face.
The second one rose. He wore a brown shirt. His hair was cut short. When he looked through the cage, you could see they shared the same rugged complexion. Identical Twins. They both straightened and glared at me.
I was standing atop the gallows. A big burly man, I stood five feet and eleven inches tall. I watched as the escorts walked over to the cart after tying their black steeds to the side of the gallows. They opened the cage and ushered the two twins to me. The cart moved out of sight, and the crowd began their thunderous assault. The black capes of the escorts flapped in the wind as they stood guard. The two criminals stood on the trap door. I put a black cotton hood on their heads. They made no sound before the crowd. I guided their heads into their noose.
They stood upright; their hands tied in front of them. They didn't budge, even with tomatoes being hurled at them. I went and stood at my post by the lever while their crimes were spoken aloud.
The two criminals were named Simon, and Henry. They were tracked for two weeks after attacking a caravan carrying spices and trinkets for the baron. The crowd was outraged. How dare these thieves defile the baron? How dare they harm the innocent merchant and his guard? They dare to disrupt the sanctity of Silka’s trade.
I found myself questioning the crowd. These petty thefts were enough to sentence these two to death. Is this justice? What harm could they do behind bars? Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps the purpose of these deaths was not to punish criminals, but to abolish the fear of the unknown atrocities which could have been committed if they all were left alive. Was that fair? I pull the lever that takes the lives of all these supposed evil doers. Does that make me a threat? Would the crowd turn on me too?
“...Let there be justice!” The crowd began to chant.
I pulled the lever. The twins dropped 5 feet. The rope maximized its length with a snap. You could hear the crossbeam above groan with the added weight. Their bodies tensed. Their legs flared. Their final gasps of air echoed in my ears. The crowd cheered, getting their fill of death for the week. While the remains of life squeezed from the necks of the criminals, the crowd departed.
The two officers walked off towards their horses, their footsteps filling the empty square. I sat on the gallows’ steps; the old wood creaked under my weight. Clouds began rolling in. A shadow casted over the square. I heard a faint, continuous scream. I looked around.
“Where’s that coming from?” I walked out into the courtyard. I couldn’t see anyone in need of help. What was it? I noticed a figure in the corner of my eye. I turned towards the gallows. My eyes widened. The screams loudened. I stepped forward. In front of the gallows, was an image of a person. Someone ghastly. It turned.
It had black pits for eyes. Its mouth hung open, spewing a dark mist. More figures clawed their way out from beneath the gallows. They pointed and inched towards me. Fear swelled. My heart pounded. That sound? The screaming, it was getting louder. The agony within them horrified me. My ears ached. I covered them; blood rushed through my head. My mouth quivered. I stumbled backwards and hit the floor. The figures closed in, surrounding me.
I felt weak. I tried to turn and crawl away, but the screams hurt me. I fell to the floor wailing, “AHHHH!” Tears filled my eyes.
“Sir! Are you okay?” A man with a black cape knelt beside me. I looked outward, praying. I saw my wife, her eyes a black abyss. A dark shroud encompassed her. My vision faded.
“Claire? I’m so sorry…”