One by One

“This rope around my neck feels a little itchy.” Carl said out loud as the hangman flipped the lever to the trap door at Carl’s feet. 

Hell of a thing to say as last words. That’s what I was thinking while the charges were being read to the next in line by the Lawyer. One by one each of us were executed for our parts every few minutes as the charges were read off, prayers were made, last words were said and the sentences carried out for each participant. Damn it now my neck is getting itchy too! I wish they’d just get this over with rather than build a public spectacle around our ending doing it one at a time. This town looks like a dang circus train derailed in it, down to the game booths an cotton candy for the fat kids. 

We were highwaymen, the eight of us responsible for a hundred counts of murder and theft between us it took the Marshals 5 years to catch up with us all. All finally caught one way or another and those of us that didn’t die during capture were lined up on this gallows to be executed one after the other.

Carl wasn’t very bright, but we loved that big dumb ox-ugly as sin and a hair taller than a buffalo’s hump, but bless his heart he was great company. I heard he was real smart and quite handsome before the war with the Union-a real dashing southern gent until he caught a cannonball to the face. The story went that as his regiment was taking a valley the Yanks stared firing their cannons at the Rebs and Carl caught one dead on between the eyes knocking him cold and mangling his face up. Everybody said it was direct hit and he was the toughest gray coat on the lines–Carl went on fighting every battle since healing but was never quite right up there. 

Makes for great story telling if you can live through that and brag it up, but what really happened was a bit more complicated-the cannonball was a ricochet that jammed itself in a tree only to be knocked loose by the next one flying by which finished off that tree. The stuck ball flew out of that tree with a whole lot less force than direct from a cannon. About three times as hard hitting Carls face with my Maws frying pan or about twice the speed of that of a pitcher in that game a lot of the little towns in the East play called baseball.

I am sure it’ll never catch on, it’s fun but too dang brutal to be a friendly game the way they chuck that thing at you to knock you out running for a corner-it’s a flash in the pan. Nope never last, too many broken bones and bruises to mend from getting tagged. I’m sure those decent religious women folk’ll probably find some way to persuade their politician husbands to ban it for brutality and immorality, along with booze, prostitutes, and brawling like they been doing for a couple of decades now to us menfolk. Them upstanding church going womenfolk really know how to suck the fun out of life for the rest of us.

This has to be the most boring hanging I have attended, either my mind is wandering or my life is flashing before my eyes. I sure am gonna miss big ol stupid Carl. Oh good, I just heard the second trap door fall, so about another half hour left, I guess I am not gonna miss Carl for very long. I’ll be too dead to care. Couldn’t make out what Rich said-never really ever could, he was one of them brown guys. Not Mexican mind ya, honestly I don’t know where in the hell he came from or what he speaks for that matter all I know is he would stop and get off his horse the same times every day lay out this really fancy looking horse blanket and sit there a while with his head dipping to the ground pointing the same direction every single time– he took that quite seriously.

There went our best rifleman, couldn’t pronounce his real name only called him Rich because when we could understand his wording he bragged about once having a small palace and thousands of “dinners” in his personal treasury. Didn’t rightly know why his treasury was full of food til he explained that a dinner where he was from was a kind of money and not something you ate. Guess some of his folks didn’t take much of a liking to him and ran him off without a dinner to his name. He was some high and holy important guy wherever it was he came from the ones who ran him off weren’t exactly happy he got away. I’ll be damned think I see a few of them here today too wearing those funny hats.

Hell there’s got to be a couple thousand people here, maybe I should do a little dance since my legs are still free they got my hands tied but I guess I can still give em a jig– might take my mind off this itchy rope. Or not, maybe the Marshal might crack me one good in the back with his rifle butt or pistol whip me in the head for acting like a fool during a good and decent public hanging due my making a mockery of the whole legal process.

They didn’t get us all to the gallows though, 3 went down elsewhere, 2 of them shooting. About a month after we scattered to the winds Sully got it in the back of the neck in a whore house just north of San Francisco. The madame of the house pierced his spine and windpipe with a letter opener after he roughed up one of her girls and tried to walk out without paying. The bodies were brought here and put on display in pine boxes near the gallows along with 5 more for us.

They didn’t think ahead enough. Sure, they made the gallows tall enough for Carl to dangle right and proper, but his corpse sure as hell ain’t gonna fit in in any of those little boxes unless they got a real big shoe horn. 

Jack took himself out, one through and through behind the ear after a Mountie cornered him on route from Washington Territory to Alaska at B.C. he couldn’t stand the idea of a trial and had one bullet left. Lucky him, he would have died from boredom up on this platform with the rest of us before the trap dropped. Ray took one in the head too in St. Louis of course the other 100 rounds which Swiss cheesed his body were quite enough. The mortician decided it proper to keep Ray’s coffin shut for the duration of the hanging rather than ruin everyone’s lunches.

The next door dropped. “Ernie was a hell of a cook wasn’t he?” Bill said to me as the preacher, the prosecutor, and the man in the black mask stared down the opening watching Ernie’s body twitch and jerk until he stopped. His last words were a recipe oddly enough–damn it now my necks itching and I’m hungry!

I turned to the next in line and said,’Just the two of us left little brother, won’t be long now I guess.”

“About damn time, I think Big Ol’ Carl’s got my neck itchin! Why’d that dumb ass have to say that?” Bill said.

My belly began to rumble at the thought of Ernie’s flap jacks, weird really we had a decent last meal, but nothing compared to Erns pancakes on the trail. Funny how thinking about things or saying things can cause all sorts of things to happen to the body and brains like they do. Bill was like that sometimes, charming of sorts, he could say just what he needed to and get the preachers daughter out of her knickers, or bluff with the worlds worst hand at a saloon poker game. He even once had a small Wyoming town convinced he was the ex Mayor of Savannah Georgia before he ran off with the sheriffs daughter and most of the towns life savings. Got 5 years for that one but talked the Warden out of it–or so he says. Never know what to believe for sure when you really know how Bill is.

My brother continued,”You, think I can talk em outta this one Bob?”

“I doubt that Bill.” I paused,”They got us on the end of the rope now, ain’t no way to go but down from here brother.”

“Well then, I’ll see you in hell big brother. Nice riding with you!” Bill returned sarcastically with a laugh.

Bill wasn’t a believer in much, his idea of a god was an impersonal one he believed what he called “it” existed but beyond that it left us alone rather than meddled nor did it make promises. I suppose he said that to comfort me more than as an expectation of eternal damnation. Maw dragged us to church every Sunday expecting it to fix us but I suppose the effects didn’t keep for him. I sometimes wondered myself if that trip down wasn’t going to be more than a couple feet stopping at the end of that rope or the door would drop and I would just keep going.

“Well, Bill if there is, at least we’ll be nice and warm,”I laughed back.

The cook took a while to stop twitching, he was a tough old bird. I was still thinking about those flap jacks and how itchy my neck was. The three stepped up to my brother and began the entire process again, reading the charges, saying the prayers, and when it came time my brother spoke,”I ain’t got shit to say.”

I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing hysterically, as long as I known him no one could shut him up. My stomach was still grumbling and starting to get just a little upset–it wasn’t nerves or anything I was just kinda feeling sick–might have caught a bug. I was full, but I was hungry. I suppose they feed em one last meal to make sure the body is fat enough for the rope to be effective in killing them. Bill’s door dropped–not long now, bye dear brother.

Bills kicking and twisting finally stopped and the executioners eyes lined up on mine. I couldn’t see his face but I could see the black fabric moving as his cheeks pushed against the sides of that loose fitting cowl–that somabitch was grinning wide. He took some pleasure in his duty apparently, probably felt his was a just task–and folks called me psychotic. I never shot a man who didn’t try to shoot me first–I never got the kind of pleasure from it this guy seems to. Damn it my belly’s doing back flips, I think my lil’ brother put a whammy on me or something. Here comes the preacher and the rest, that twisted fellow in the black mask still staring me down and grinning under that rag on his head.

The prosecutor began to read off the charges when it all came up. I had a big last meal, it covered the preacher, the prosecutor, and the executioner quite thoroughly. They were stunned for a minute or two.

‘Let’s just get this over with!”I commanded as the lawyer started scraping the vomit off his papers on the railing. He let the preacher go ahead waving him on–everyone already knew what we done anyway. The preacher trying to compose himself approached me to give last rights but slipped and fell down Bills trap door on the loose half digested food I sprayed across the platform. I started laughing as he slipped down the open trap door clawing at the floor for something to hang onto. The executioners back was turned to me and my legs being free like they were I kicked him in the butt, shoving him off the gallows into the crowd. Then I turned toward the preacher who was still struggling to keep from falling through as he grabbed the lever in a panic flipping it.

I was still laughing when the floor disappeared beneath my feet. Nothing was gonna stop me from dying I guess. As I fell through I got to see the preachers terrified eyes as he fell, following me down and he landed below my brothers dangling feet to the dirt.

At least that grimacing bastard in the black mask didn’t get me.

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