This is a short piece I wrote when I wasn’t in a good mood… On the other hand, it suits the general October spookiness quite well.
You’ve been warned.
Today I will be executed for my crimes.
The guard banged his truncheon on the bars, and I obediently kneeled at the back of the cell. His mate pushed the key into the lock, twisted it, and opened the door. The first guard, Harry, put a tray on the floor. “Your chateaubriand and reserve vintage Bordeaux, sire,” he said, before pushing the tray further in to the room with his boot. The slops in the wooden bowl sloshed out, and soaked the stale hunk of bread next to it.
The guards left, laughing.
I ate whatever was in the bowl and drunk whatever was in the cup, no longer caring.
The priest came later — the barber having given up on me — and read me my last rites in a bored tone before leaving.
At noon Harry and Jonas came for me. They put manacles on my hands, and led me to the public yard. “Got somethin’ new for ya today,” Harry said. “Hope ya like it. One of the monks read about it in a book about the Celts, and the mayor thought we might as well get some entertainment value out of you.”
There were more people than usual in the prison yard, here to see my execution. Jonas made a flourish of opening a scroll to read from, though I knew he must know the words by heart by now. He gave the usual “so dies a traitor” spiel, which got him a tomato in the face. Hey! One less rotten vegetable for me later. One must take the small victories in life as they come.
“Right,” Harry tole me, “take off your shoes.”
I lifted my brow and rattled my manacles — they tied my hands behind my back, out of habit.
“Fuck, yeah. Shit. If you kick me, I’ll castrate ya, execution or not.” He bent down and undid the laces of my shoes, muttering “I don’t even know why we bother with these.”
I kicked the sorry leather things off.
“Step in this,” Harry indicated a low wooden tub. It didn’t look ominous, not like any instrument of torture or execution I’ve ever seen — and I’ve seen all of them, trust me. I stood obediently in the foot-high tub. Jonas called to a workman, who brought a wheelbarrow to the yard. The crowd was watching and chattering, trying to figure out how I will be executed.
The labourer took a shovel, and started heaping wet cement on my feet. When he was done and I was ankle-deep in it, he smoothed it up — clearly taking pride of his work, god knows why given the circumstances — and left.
Jonas stepped forward. “Right, you lousy maggots! You may heckle the prisoner, but I swear — one single cabbage leaf gets on me and I’ll flog the lot of ya!”
I got a few half-hearted turnips, but I think the crowd just wasn’t sure what’s going to happen. They left at tea time.
I ended up standing there all through the night with a changing guard, until the cement around my feet set. No food or drink, mind you, as I’ve had my last meal already. It got pretty awful around midnight when the guards kept poking me awake to keep me standing straight. I’ve had worse tortures, though, in recent memory.
When the noontime sun was slowly baking me I wondered if my execution was starvation and exposure, but then Jonas and Harry came back after lunch. They were followed by the same workman, and a few straggling onlookers who came to watch developments since yesterday. One over-eager spectator threw a half eaten apple at me.
Jonas yelled at the crowd, then ordered the labourer to break the mould. The man hammered away, and I was left standing in a square block of cement. “Right,” said Jonas. “Let’s hoist the bastard on the wheelbarrow and get him to the bog.”
“Sorry mate,” said Harry as he grabbed my other arm, “seems like the cement boots are to make sure you sink to the bottom of the bog, there to drown.”
“You think that’ll work?” I asked. “You could have just buried me in a casket full of cement.”
“Nah. The mayor asked about it, but the monk said something about cats in boxes and how we’d then have to break it to check you is dead. Called it a Schrodingcat thingie, and said it’s bad for philosophical reasons.”
They carted me down the hill to the public jetty, and there loaded me on a skiff. My knees were hurting as the weight of the cement pulled on my legs. I thought to point out they could have cemented me down here and saved everyone the effort, but I knew that’d just earn me a smack from Jonas.
Harry rowed us out across the river and into the marshes. As we entered the mangroves the noises dimmed, replaced by the warbling and odd calls of hidden birds. The occasional splash of a jumping fish or frog heightened the ominous feeling, and I felt in my bones why the ancients held the bog sacred. The guards found a deeper spot of muddy waters amongst the rushes, and both came to sit next to me at the stern.
“Didn’t bring me pen, so keep any last words short,” Jonas said. I just shrugged.
“Right. Up and over.”
They tipped me head-first into the bog. Brownish waters swirled over my head, and the noonday sun faded into shades of green. I held my breath as I rolled and twisted, and then the cement around my feet hit the ground and sunk so deep the muck rose to my thighs.
When I couldn’t hold it any longer, I opened my mouth and breathed in the murky water in a desperate, frustrated gasp. My vision blurred as my chest constricted and my head exploded, and the last thing I remember is that circle of green light winking at me, winking out.
Hacking coughs wracked my body but cleared the muddy water from my lungs. The boat swayed with my convulsions.
“Fuck, he’s still alive,” said Jonas.
A none-too-gentle slap on my back helped clear the last of the waters.
“How long?” I managed.
“’Bout a week,” Harry’s face swam into my bleary vision. “And the mayor was so hoping that this would do it. The monk said sacred bogs are different from the river drowning we tried before, see. Oh well, we got a witch burning next week so we’ll just stuff you as part of the pyre, until we think up something else.”
I hated burning. I took an excruciatingly long time to die in them, and I was conscious during the painful recovery as my skin knitted back together, with nothing to think about but the method of my next execution.
Legends tell of immortal creatures, acquiring power and riches throughout their centuries of life. My guess would be those people would have rose regardless, whether by business, or magecraft, or sheer old-fashioned strong-arm robbery. I was nothing but a lad, uneducated and unskilled, when I stole a loaf of bread from an old woman. An old woman who turned out to be a witch, and who cursed me — yes, cursed — with immortality. Time, they say, and practice will make you good at anything. But when you’re starving society doesn’t give you much opportunities to practice anything but stealing. And if you’re not good at that, you get caught, and it only takes a couple times before they sentence you to death.
Only, the witch’s curse still stands and I can’t die. Not even when beheaded, as they found out to their horror. My original crime was long forgotten, my worst offence was not fitting in where they consigned me to. So they just kept executing me in creative ways again, and again, and again.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this flash fiction. If you’d like to sample more of my writing, there are free short stories — including a free novella of Togas, Daggers, and Magic — here.
Do let me know what you think in the comments.