Righteous Justice (Free Fiction)

Righteous Justice

A.J. Brown

I walk into the Sheriff’s office, Bible in hand, gun belt around my waist. I take my hat off and nod to Deputy Bill. He’s a lanky fellow with unkempt hair and a deep tan. His feet are propped on the scarred desk where his hat sits.

“Yah hear to see the prisoner off, huh, Pastor Michaels?”

Bill stands from the rickety chair that groans and grumbles as it moves. He comes over to me and claps me on the shoulder and smiles. 

“Yes, Son,” I say. “Each man should be given a chance to make their peace.”

“Even that old sack of crap in there?”

Bill thumbs in the direction of the two cells that take up the far end of the building. 

“Yes, son. Even Mr. Harris should be allowed to make his peace before meeting his Maker.”

I set my hat on the deputy’s desk, right next to his, and unsnap my gun belt. If there is one thing I have learned when it comes to dealing with the condemned, it is to never take a gun into a desperate man’s cell … unless you intend to use it. I made that mistake once. It almost cost me my life when James Reese managed to get the pistol out of my holster. I was young and naïve then, thinking no criminal would possibly attack a man of the cloth. If not for the smarts of the Sheriff, then I would be dead, and the outlaw would have gone free.

But, that was a long time ago. Since then, I have changed and the way I approach each of the men I pray over has changed, as well.

“Luke Harris, stand away from the bars and face the wall.” The deputy’s voice is somewhat monotone but forceful in the same rite. He’s not your typical sheriff’s right-hand man, but he’s not one to let others manhandle him. Bill’s just a good old boy trying to keep the peace in a town that really doesn’t believe in peace.

Harris, a hardened outlaw who once killed his own wife for cooking his eggs the wrong way, stands, moves to the back of the cell and faces the gray wall. The deputy opens the door and I walk in. The sound of steel on steel, clanging together behind me always leaves me unsettled, and it is no different on this day.

“Preacher-man, I’ll be right here watching everything if he tries anything funny.”

I nod and set my Bible on the old cot that has been the final sleeping quarters for many men before their deaths.  

“Mr. Harris, I am Pastor Michaels and—”

“I don’t need your prayers, Preacher. Just let me be until they string me up.”

“Mr. Harris, I don’t think that is the attitude one wishes to take into the afterlife.”

Harris turns to me. His eyes are slits and his mouth is bent scowl. He’s taller than I am and his dark hair is greasy. A black beard peppered with gray covers the lower part of his face. I can feel the anger and hate spilling from him and I know that this is a lost cause. However, it is my duty to my Lord to try and talk to him, to make him understand the afterlife and what awaits him if he doesn’t repent.

“Preacher man, you need to mosie on out of here as fast as you can.”

“I can’t, Mr. Harris. I am here to see you, and I am offering you penance for your sins.”

“Unless you can keep them from stringing me up, then we have nothing to talk about.”

“This is about forgiveness, Son.”

Harris steps forward, his arms reaching out for me. He takes me by my lapels and pushes me against the bars. “I don’t need your forgiveness, Preacher. Do you understand?”

“Let go of him,” Deputy Bill yells from behind me. I hear the hammer cock on his six shooter. “Let go of him, now or you won’t make it to the gallows.”

I grip the bars behind me, preparing to hold myself up just in case he strikes me as the look on his face says he wishes to. Instead, he releases me and turns back toward the small window. I peer around him and see the gallows he will swing from soon. Though I am not privy to his thoughts I feel the need to talk to him.

“Even the thief who hung on the cross was offered forgiveness.”

He says nothing.

“He wishes for none of His children to perish, but have—”

“Eternal life?” Harris interrupts me. “Eternal life? Who wants to live forever, Preacher man?”

“Eternal life in Heaven, Son.”

“I don’t want your Heaven. I don’t believe in your Heaven. So, you can take your Bible and be going now.”

I nod and pick up my Bible. “Mr. Harris, do you have any last words before you go to the gallows?”

“Yeah, tell the executioner I want him to look into my eyes before he pulls that lever. I want him to remember me for the rest of his life. Tell him he will have to live with murdering another man. And I’m sure no amount of forgiveness will get him into heaven.”

***

I stand and watch as Sheriff Loadholt leads Mr. Harris from the cell and into the dusty streets. The crowd that has gathered parts. Several of them make obscene remarks to him. I tell myself to pray for them, for their souls. But as I watch, the only prayer I can offer up is the one for Mr. Harris.

“Have mercy on him.”

It is simple, but sometimes the simplest prayers are the best. 

winters-gibbet-4089464_1920Harris still wears his dark pants and dirty shirt. I can see the nervousness and fear in his face even though he looks straight ahead to the gallows. I think about his parting words and I am saddened by his lack of desire to know salvation, to know that he is going to a better place.

Deputy Bill holds his rifle on Harris as they make their way up the steps to the platform. They lead him to where the trap door will soon open and slide the noose over his head and around his neck. Sheriff Loadholt tightens it and steps aside. 

“Luke Harris, for the crimes of murder, cattle thieving and bank robbery, you have been sentenced to death. You will hang by rope from your neck until such time as you are dead. Your body shall remain hanging for a period of three days as a warning to those who would come to Turner’s Mill and commit these crimes.”

I think about the cross and the three days that passed from death to resurrection.

“Any last words?” Loadholt asks.

“Yes, just one thing.”

“Speak.”

Harris turns to the executioner and sneers. “Look at me. Look in my eyes. My death, my blood is on your hands. You can rot just like I will and maybe the preacher can pray over you on your deathbed.”

When he is done the Sheriff nods. I look down, saddened by the task before me. I lift the hood from my head and stare into Harris’ scared eyes. “I have been forgiven.” I pull the lever and the bottom falls out from beneath Harris. I hear the pop of his neck as his skull dislocates from his spine.

He spins and kicks his legs though I am certain he is already dead. Minutes pass, and finally, he is still, other than the swaying of his body from the rope.

***

I lie here in bed. My thoughts center on Harris, his eyes and the fear in them when I revealed myself to him before I pulled the lever. I am left here to wonder if he repented in that second or two before his life rushed from him. I hope so, but I don’t honestly believe he did. 

***

Another town, another day. I pass the saloon on my way to the Sheriff’s office. Another member of the condemned legion of men await me. This one is an older man, one who shot and killed a lawman in another town. They didn’t want to wait for me to arrive, but they had no choice. My charges are many and my time is precious. 

__________

I’m not big into westerns. Sure, I liked Tombstone and Wyatt Earp, as movies, but I’ve never been a old west fan. However, I do have a handful of stories based on the dirt and dust and ruthlessness of the wild, wild west. Righteous Justice is just one of those stories. 

This story stemmed from one of those flash fiction writing prompts I mentioned a few stories ago. The prompt was to write a story about an executioner. This was my attempt at it.

I hope you enjoyed Righteous Justice, and please like this post, comment on it and let your friends know about it. The more folks share this, the more my words can get out to others. Thank y’all and have a great day.

A.J. 

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His Undoing (Free Fiction)

His Undoing

By A.J. Brown

“Aye, it’s a thankless task, but someone has to do it.”  

The words rolled off Ivan’s lips as if he had spoken them hundreds of times. He ran the blade across the grindstone, dipped it in water and repeated the process, making sure the blade slid across the gray stone at a slight angle. He held the axe up, then shook his head when the sun’s rays winked off the shiny steel.

“That should do fine.”

He leaned the axe against the stone house and looked over to Joseph. The young man’s face was a study in worry. The tips of his brows bunched above his nose, his lips pulled down into a thoughtful frown, his eyes focused on the dirt at his feet.

“Lad, what seems to be bothering yah?”

Joseph’s skin was pale white. His hands trembled. He looked like he would run away at any moment.

“This doesn’t bother you?” Joseph asked, his voice shaking.

“Oh, no, my boy. It’s a handy work not many appreciate, ‘cept for those with an odd tastes and a sick humor.”

Ivan picked up the axe and slung it over his shoulder. “Follow me, Joseph, and I’ll show you how it’s done.”

Joseph hesitated and gave his uncle a weary look. 

“Come, boy. Don’t dally.”

Joseph stood and fell in line behind Ivan. They made their way through town and across the Old London Bridge.  

“Where are we going, Ivan?”

“To the Stone Gateway.”

Joseph stopped in his tracks. An icy finger traced its way along his spine.

“But, Ivan, that is where—”

“Aye, lad, it is.”

“But, then you would be the—”

Ivan stopped, turned to face Joseph and lowered the axe to the ground. “Joseph, yah need not be concerned with what I am—yah need to be moving along and keeping up with me. The king despises tardiness. Especially, when his subjects are present.”

“I thought you just …”

“I just … what, lad?”

Joseph swallowed hard and shook his head. “I thought you only sharpened the blade.”

Ivan let out a laugh that sounded more like a roar. “I do not hone the blade for the executioner. What joy would there be in that? Now, come.”

Again Joseph followed Ivan toward the Stone Gateway. As they neared the entrance, Joseph’s stomach began to curdle. They passed lines of peasants and semi-royalty.  The stone structures on either side of them loomed high in the air, casting shadows on the ancient bridge. The king sat near the foot of the bridge, raised high on a platform.  On the ground beneath him was what looked like a stake, head and arm restraints and a chopping block stained with the blood of those executed before this day. Four men rolled out a large black cauldron on a stone slab with wheels attached to it.

Joseph’s breath caught in his throat for a moment when he saw the many severed heads on stakes lining the road and the fields near the castle. Most of them looked old but had somehow survived the elements and time.  

Ivan looked back with a smile on his face.

“Yah ‘aven’t been to this side of the bridge before, ‘ave yah?”

Joseph shook his head.

london-4115740_1920“Over there. Yah see that ‘ead?” Ivan asked. “That’s William Wallace’s ‘ead. It’s been there for 237 years.”

The head sat on a stake, its eyes missing, and its mouth frozen in an eternal scream.  There was still skin and hair and teeth on it; its tongue still resided behind its teeth.

“This is absurd,” Joseph said in protest. “This is not right, Ivan. We must stop this.”

Ivan looked at Joseph in astonishment. “Don’t let the king ‘ear you, lad. Or you’ll be one of them.” He pointed to the head closest to the king. “That’s Thomas Cromwell. He’s the newest one—only been up for a little over two years now.”

“But …”

A scream arose from the crowd as guards hauled a young man through the people, his hands in shackles. He fought for all he was worth but the guards held him firmly.

“Oy, here we go. Watch and learn, Joseph.”

A man with a shock of white hair on his head and dressed in a long blue coat and pants, stood. He unrolled a scroll and held it in front of him. “Louis Waddle, you have been sentenced to death for crimes against your king and your fellow man. You shall die by the blade and—”

“I did nothing,” Louis yelled.

“Liar.”

Louis gave one guard an elbow to the ribs and kicked a second one. The third one tried to grab him but missed. Louis ran through the crowd to the edge of the bridge, his chains rattling. When he reached an open ledge he jumped, plummeting into the Thames.

“This is an outrage,” Joseph said. “That man was clearly innocent of his crimes.”

“Joseph, close your mouth.”

“No, Ivan,” he said then toward the king he yelled. “This is wrong. It is a sin.”

The king levied a stern look to Ivan, then nodded without speaking. Ivan turned to Joseph, his only nephew, and frowned.

“I’m sorry, Joseph,” he said.

“What do you—”

Ivan struck Joseph with a balled fist, sending him to the ground. The guards grabbed him and carried him to the chopping block. His hands were put in restraints and he was lowered to the ground.

“I’ve committed no crime,” Joseph yelled in protest. 

Two of the guards held his shoulders, keeping his neck against the stone block.

“Ye should ‘ave kept your mouth closed, Joseph,” Ivan said and swung the axe down.

Joseph’s head fell into the basket at the base of the block. Blood sprayed from his neck.  His body twitched several times and his eyes blinked as if in disbelief.  

Ivan picked up the head as one of the guards lifted the stake from the ground. It pained him to place his nephew’s head upon it, but it was what had to be done. With Ivan’s help, the guard lowered the stake and Joseph’s head into the cauldron. They lifted it up and tar dripped off the head.  

Ivan nodded to the guard and several others came over to help him place the stake in the ground.  

“Well done, Sir Ivan,” the king said and clapped loudly. The crowd joined in, their cheers echoing along the bridge.

Ivan looked up at the head of his nephew. Tar dripped down the spike. His mouth was opened in a scream. One eye was open, the socket empty. The other one was closed. His hair clung to his skull, never to blow in the wind. Ivan nodded to the king. 

“Aye, it’s a thankless task, but someone has to do it.”

__________

Like the previous story, this one was written in the Flash Challenge group. The topic was to write a story of an executioner in old England. I took a few liberties with history but tried to keep it accurate as well. Most of us have heard the name William Wallace thanks to the movie Braveheart. Wallace was executed at the Old London Bridge and he was beheaded. His head was dipped in tar and placed on a spike atop the London Bridge. The amount of time his head sat on the spike and on top of the bridge isn’t accurate. 

Thomas Cromwell also died by beheading and his head was tarred and placed on top of the London Bridge, some 200+ years after Wallace’s. 

Obviously, I took a few liberties with dialogue and dialect. 

I hope you enjoyed this His Undoing and that you won’t give me too much grief for making a few changes to history. If you have a minute or two, please like, share and comment on this post. Thank you.

A.J.

 

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If you’d like to donate a couple of bucks to a working author, it would be greatly appreciated.

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