One man's final walk...
ALIAS ‘COLT’ DAWSON
At quarter of high noon, Colt Dawson’s cell door is opened and he is led out of the small jail. His hands are bound behind his back, but not tightly, because there’s nothing he can do. The townsfolk surround him, yelling their insults, and even if he tried to break free and make a run for it he wouldn’t make it ten feet before being overpowered by the excited crowd. One against one hundred are not very good odds, and he has already resigned himself to his fate.
The air is still crisp on this late autumn morning, and it smells so much better than that stuffy cage that he’s been locked in for the last three and a half weeks. It’s little compensation for his present state, but he’ll take what he can get, for as long as he can, which isn’t going to be very much longer at all right now.
Behind him is Sheriff Parker and his deputy, both with rifles at the ready, telling the people to stand back. They’ll get their show, if they just let them through. Whether from the Sheriff’s instructions or their own complacency, the crowd gradually steps aside to open a path for the condemned man, and by doing so he is allowed his first glimpse of the newly constructed gallows that looms some thirty yards ahead. It’s not as tall as he thought it would be, but it’s tall enough, a small voice says in his head. He tries to swallow, but his throat is tight, and he thinks of the irony of why that should be.
He walks tall, not slouching like the other one he watched make this walk before him. The people might sense an air of arrogance about him, and maybe there is. He knows he’s guilty of his crime, at least in their eyes. Yes, he did kill eight men, but not once did he ever fire the first shot. In his mind, it was self-defense — kill or be killed — simple as that. And regardless of the conviction, he knows he will ultimately be judged by a much higher authority.
A little further along he looks up to the right, where he sees Miss Kara standing on the balcony of the run down saloon. She’s wearing a faded white dress, the same one she was wearing that night when she told the sheriff he’d snuck back to town. The expression on her face is completely blank. Or maybe it’s apathy, he can’t tell. Why she turned on him is something he’ll never know, but she’s still the reason he’s making this final walk. She makes eye contact with him for a moment and then looks quickly away, either from shame, or guilt, or…he doesn’t care why. What’s done is done, and she’ll have to live with it now.
Before he knows it, he’s at the foot of the stairs. He stops and raises his head as he counts each step, thirteen in all, but almost fifteen feet in height, and not of very solid construction. The town seldom has these public spectacles, but when they do the attraction is quickly taken down so as not to besmirch the town’s otherwise friendly ambiance. He is not angered by their hypocrisy because it really is a small friendly town, just as it has been for all of his twenty-three years.
A gentle nudge in the lower back by what he knows is Tom Keller’s rifle urges him to get moving, and the slack jawed young deputy makes a crack about “that fifth step. It’s a little loose,” he says, “and we wouldn’t want you breakin’ your neck.” He doesn’t see Tom’s face, but he knows Tom is grinning, and he tries to fight back a feeling of vengeance for the town’s feeble-minded tippler, without any luck.
As he reaches the top of the platform a black dressed Reverend Collins waits with an open Bible in his hands, his parson hat shading his eyes from the midmorning sun. His expression is solemn and the words he recites are soft, but Colt is not hearing the words; his attention is now focused on the teardrop loop that hangs in front of his face. He swallows again, and this time he doesn’t seem to have any problem.
For the next ten seconds he just stands there looking out at the spectators. Husbands and wives, Grammas and Grampas, and some have even brought their little ones. A girl of about six with blonde wavy hair is sitting on her daddy’s shoulders so she can have a good view.
Who in their right mind would bring a kid to something like this?
The crowd begins to settle down, except for a dog barking somewhere down the street, and Colt realizes these noises are the last ones he will ever hear. It doesn’t really matter; he’s going into his own head now, listening to his own thoughts, so many thoughts, they’re bouncing around in his head so fast, he’s never thought about what he would think of just before he died. His heart begins to beat faster and he feels a drop of sweat roll down his temple. He takes a deep breath, exhales.
“Colt,” the sheriff says as he comes up beside him. “You ready?”
Colt thinks that’s a strange thing to ask, and he’s not sure how he should answer, because he knows his answer won’t matter. He figures they want him to say something, so he nods his head, and at the same time says ‘yes’ because he wants to hear his own voice for the very last time.
The noose drops over his head, brushing his ears, and then he feels the hairy bristles of the thick fiber scratch his throat as the sheriff adjusts it under his chin. From the corner of his eye he sees the coils of the noose resting on his right shoulder. They remind him of the coils of a rattlesnake as it gets ready to strike, and he quickly turns his eye back to the crowd.
Now the wind begins to pick up, making a low whistling noise as it winds its way between the town’s buildings. And over the heads of the crowd he sees a pair of tumbleweeds racing each other down the dusty road, the road that leads up the hill to where they will soon bury his body.
All of those thoughts start rushing back, and Colt wonders what’s going to happen after he has left this world. He doesn’t worry, just wonders. He wonders if everything will quickly go dark, where he will go, will he go anywhere, will his ghost haunt these parts, will he be a ghost, what will it feel like, will he feel anything? He’s not very religious, but he knows the ideas of Heaven and Hell. He’s still wondering when he feels —
— the platform beneath his feet give way as the hatch falls open, and now he’s falling, falling, falling, like this is all in slow motion, it’s taking too long, why is this taking so long, I can still see the people, that little blonde girl on her daddy’s shoulders, she’s looking right at me, she’s even smiling, I should be dead by —
Published In The 2016 Writing.Com Anthology Under My Real Name