Dead man walking towards the gallows with eyes that scour the dowdy skies, on his brow a question mark; a puzzle. On his lips, a mysterious half smile
as if oblivious to the relentless drizzle which soaks his prison rags and his hair
as if unaware of the ill-wishing crowd that ghoulishly fights for the clearest view; to mock and deride, and to stare as the trapdoors drop, stretching his neck
and hard as they try, nobody knows if the wet that shines on his cheeks is caused by the rain or tears from his eyes, and aside from the woman clad in black, weeping behind a midnight veil, away from the crowd, far off to the back, not one of them offers a kindly prayer.
They wrap the rough noose around his neck while he calmly continues to stare at the sky, as if searching the gloom for a heavenly ray. He stands silently. No sigh leaves his lips, no string of curses, no sob, no brief cry.
When the trapdoor flaps with a creaking report it can smash the hearts of kindly allies, sending hands to the throat as if they are feeling the cut of the rope, the constricted breathing, the pounding head and the weight of lead; the filthy stench of their own demise.
But only one woman is on his side. The rest will be cheering until he has died.
Briefly he dances the final adieu of every man who ends on the gallows, then his body stretches, and swings only a little, then eerily stills, to dangle immobile from the thick hemp.
Still the mysterious half smile plays, and still his bright eyes, open and swollen, try to stare skywards, with the question still, stilled on his dead face, as if he is searching a heavenly place.
Like a miracle brought by his hallowed gallows gaze, the weather clears and the clouds disappear, lulling the eager, satisfied throng who are self validating while they’re waiting to see the rope cut and to hear the thud of the corpse hitting the floor, when something unseen, an uneasy feeling seems to stir briefly through the air. People glance toward the dead man and shudder anew at his upwards stare.
In an instant dread darkness shadows the sky. Thunder assaults the earsdrums and rain drives diagonally against the prison walls, painting them the shade of the prisoners lives, slamming onto the ground; splashing, spattering brown mud onto the drenched dresses of the women who watched the thrilling spectacle of death and mocked the flailing victim as he fought and lost his battle for breath
The milling citizens lick their lips, tasting savoury flavour on their skin, shocked by the strangeness of salt-caked rain which attacks their heads, their faces and ears, when over the commotion a young child speaks a simple truth, “this rain tastes like tears.”
And now, through fearful eyes, they wince at the victim. His lids have closed. His cheeks and skin are dry as biscuit. His arid lips still have that strange half-grin, and although the rain falls all around, it falls just clear of the hangmans sting.
The fleeing throng who’ve been baying for blood, taking entertainment from the theatre of pain, won’t rest easy in their beds tonight, with the taste of phantom tears still fresh in their minds and the threat of sorcery or the terror of a phantom with a mysterious smile.
This is my take on this week’s Writing Challenge from Esther Newton
She asks us to write a story or poem on one of the following themes
I couldn’t choose which one to go for, so there’s a hint of everything here.
©Jane Paterson Basil