They hauled him, black bag over his head, through the jeering crowd, toward the gallows. He endured the wild curses, demands, and insults as one does with a cold wind. He accepted, and shivered. But what hurt him, what affected him, was hearing them shout his name…
My own name, he thought. Why does it make me cringe? What is it about a title I’ve had since birth that brings these shivers up my spine? Makes my hair stand on end? Gives me gooseflesh?
A name given to me by my mother, not without a lofty pride. It was my grandfather’s name. My grandfather – a heritage of honor, a noble Captain of a ship. My grandfather the courageous explorer, loving husband to my Grandmother Rosemary, and lifelong giver of alms to the poor. By all accounts, my grandfather was a great man.
By all accounts, I am not.
Hence, up ahead. The gallows. I see only black. But I know that noose is there all the same. It’s almost as if I can smell it…swinging to and fro, in the wind. It smells of an odd mixture of pine, sweat, and desperation…
A shiver ran up his spine. His spine was like a long fuse, burning up into explosions of fear inside his brain. His temples throbbed. His knees began to tremble.
So this is how my life ends, thought Randolph Metzger. As a short, nightmare walk toward grim fate. With blackened sight. With hatred, stuffed into my ears. With cold, hard prods from the guards, and sharp jabs and gobs of spit from this stupid, undulating mass of serfs.
Ah, but there is a brighter side. There is, there is.
Just think! I could be spending the remainder of my days like these fools. Sweating away the years, giving all, having nothing, starving, suffering, proffering sins, aching for a better life after death. Ha!
And there lies the rub. Life after Death, the only thing – the only delusion! – that makes this life the least bit tolerable.
As any wise man knows, if he is wiser than St. Thomas Aquinas, there is no such thing. These poor fools! These lousy, damned Idiots! What do they know with their shouts and damnations? They know only hatred and stupidity and work – that is their lot in service to the King. That is their life.
Why in hell would I ever want a part in that?
Yet even if there is some paradisiacal after-life, it won’t be for me. Not with the things I’ve done.
Indeed. If there be a Pearly Gates, they are open to some, closed to others, and yet barricaded with chains, locks, and hexes for those rare wicked, debauched souls like Randolph Metzger.
For Randolph Metzger the sign slapped across those golden Gates reads loud and clear:
The guard on his left rammed an elbow into his gut.
“HAULT!” he screamed.
“What, god damn you? What?!”
“The stairs! Step UP!”
Randolph stepped up, then up again, and up, up. A new pain radiated up his left leg, following the track of his spine, exploding ghastly fireworks inside his brain again.
My head, oh my head, he thought. Wouldn’t it be a beauty if it just exploded, right here upon the gallow steps?
Randolph imagined his pink, fleshy brains littering the imbecile crowd all ‘round him in one great BLAST! — a cranium ignited by pain and fear and set to fracture, split, and fly all in one breath!
…Oh, how they would scream!
The crowd cheered madly as Randolph shambled onto the stage. It was one hell of a great show and – by god! – he was the star of it. The closest he’d ever gotten to the gallows was as a child, when forced by parents and instructors to act in those cute little theater plays of Sophocles and Aristophanes.
Look at me now, ma! He thought, laughing wildly beneath black cloth.
The guards looked at each other and scowled. One of them struck a blow to his stomach. Randolph doubled over in agony. They jerked his shoulders back, forcing him straight again.
“What!” Randolph hissed. “Pray tell, a man cannot have a bit of fun at his own funeral?”
“Funeral?” shouted a guard. “There is no funeral for you, Randolph Metzger! The world should never provide you such fortune – You do not deserve it. No. For you, there is only execution. Justice!”
The guards dragged him to center stage. He now stood upon the trap door, which felt no different to his feet than the rest of the stage. He knew he was standing on it all the same. That cold wind blew again, carrying the sea of shouts and voices even closer to his ears. He drowned in that sea, but did not shiver, did not twitch. They put the noose around Randolph Metzger’s neck, snugging it tight.
Why fear what is deserved? He thought. Why fear at all? What is there at the end of this rope other than the inevitable? I am to be swallowed up by black nothingness. The void. The thing that exists for all mankind before birth…so what?
The shouts from the crowd grew ever more excited. Damnations, condemnations, or insults, it was no matter. He was becoming used to it.
So I never followed in my grandfather’s footsteps. I’ve ever had any desire to! I was never a kind man, compassionate man, a loving man…this is perhaps the most loving I’ve ever been. Here on the gallows, wind shivering my body, enduring the hatred of my country…this! I love all of this! I have walked a short life…yet I have walked in steps true to me and only me. This, I love. This, where I belong.
A voice, novel and foreign, shouted from the stage.
“QUIET! QUIET!” demanded the voice.
The crowd simmered to a low boil, leaving the air heavy, thick. The wind blew. The shivers on Randolph’s spine were pleasurable now, almost sensuous.
My god! he thought. I’ve never felt so alive!
“Randolph A. Metzger,” the voice boomed. “You have lived a life of thievery, decadence and murder. You have cheated and exploited every living soul you’ve ever known. Therefore, you have been condemned to execution by your King and country. You are hereby sentenced to be hung from the neck until you are dead. Have you any last words?”
“Yes,” Randolph replied without pause. “My last words are for my children. I know not their names, nor their homes, nor do I care. Yet if they ever become curious of their old man, and inquire to their mothers about my existence, they ought to know this:
“I, Randolph Metzger, am by all accounts a great man. My children shall know I am honorable heritage, for I am captain of my life. I am honest to my own Self, for one must always be honest if they are to live outside the law. I am a lover of widows and wenches, of money and of fools – murdered. I am a lifelong thief of the rich and poor alike, for all men and ladies are equal before my eyes. For all of them, as good as rats! Thus it is with great happiness that I be condemned – for it means I shall rest, at last, free and dreamless, of the stupid, mindless torrents of this plagued world!”
The crowd grew ever angrier. They threw stones, soiled fruit, whatever they could get their hands on. None of these flew high enough to strike their desired target – the man in the noose whom laughs.
“May the Lord have mercy on your soul!”
A guard pulled the creaking lever. The trapdoor swung open with a clatter, and Randolph dropped through.
The body came to a sudden mid-air hang as the neck broke. Somehow, the black bag around his head had dropped, leaving the face exposed. He appeared handsome, peaceful.
Randolph Metzger swung to and fro, a lifeless pendulum in a cold wind that no longer brought cold, nor shivers, nor wind.
© April 2019. Tylor J. Mintz. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.