Donnie stood atop the wooden platform, his hands held together with iron shackles. The sky was overcast and threatening rain. Nobody from town had come out to witness the execution.
A tired-looking priest recited scripture in a rote, monotone fashion.
Donnie felt the rough fibers of the rope scrape against his skin as the noose was lowered over his head. The hangman pulled the rope tight against Donnie’s throat.
He swallowed hard, already having trouble finding his breath.
Without further ceremony, the hangman stepped back. Donnie closed his eyes. He heard a grunt of exertion and the creak of wood before the ground fell out from under him.
The briefest moment of freefall, and then a choking—a terrible blow to the throat.
His body fell, stretching his neck and snapping his head back.
Donnie felt something inside him fracture. An agonizing pain shot through him.
The break wasn’t clean. He was still conscious.
The fibers of the rope had torn into his throat, and he could smell blood.
Donnie felt his windpipe being crushed as his entire weight pulled against the noose. He struggled and gasped as pain filled his world.
He felt intense pressure and heat in his face as the rope squeezed his arteries.
Desperately, Donnie thrashed and kicked, but soon grew too weak to continue.
As consciousness began to slip away, Donnie’s life started playing out like the reels of a kinetoscope, but so much more vivid—so much more real.
He remembers the smell of his mother’s hair—the warmth of her arms.
He remembers the farm house where he grew up. Taking unsteady steps through the fields. Later running. Jumping from boulder to boulder on the stony plains.
He remembers the fire. The scent of burning wood and the towering of the flames. The stinging of salt tears in his eyes. He remembers leaving home and never looking back.
He remembers Maria. The taste of her lips, the feel of her skin, the way her brown eyes sparkled with mischief. He remembers her walking away from him for the last time.
He remembers stealing those horses. The feeling of freedom as he rode all-out against the setting sun, deluding himself that he wouldn’t be followed.
He remembers the wooden platform beneath his feet. The iron shackles on his hands. The droning of the priest.
The ground falling away.
He remembers the rough rope cutting into his throat, the burst of pain as his windpipe is crushed by his own weight.
Pain. Blinding, tearing pain. It seems to stretch on forever.
He remembers how his life began to flash before his eyes.
His mother’s hair and warmth.
The farmhouse, the fields—jumping from boulder to boulder.
Maria. Her eyes. Walking away.
The horses. Fleeting hope.
The platform. The shackles. The priest. The noose around his neck. His windpipe being crushed.
Pain. The smell of blood.
Remembering remembering his life.