Hour of the Condemned – M. Peyton

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I write these final words on the eve of my doom. Whether anyone will read them is another matter. I feel compelled to dictate a warning to other wayward souls; in the unlikely event that they might actually heed them. A person should think deeply in advance about the consequences and gravity of their actions before doing them. That would be the best advice that I could offer my fellow man. In fewer than a dozen hours, I will swing from a gallows rope until dead. That doesn’t bother me. Long ago I made my peace with the reaper. It’s what may come ‘after the end’ that digs into my craw.

This isn’t meant to be a confession or last minute repentance. Nor am I pleading for undeserved mercy from the hangman’s noose. I’m guilty as sin and shall be forced to atone for my crimes once this miserable life is extinguished. As I’ve said, I’ve made peace with the dark deeds I have committed. There is no giving back the lives I have ended or the gold that I’ve stolen. What’s done is done. I shall receive no reprieve.

The stench of rot and soiled straw permeates these stone walls. Many a condemned man has gripped the rusty iron bars while staring at the deadly scaffold in the public square that awaits him. It has consumed the hope of countless wretched souls like me. I’ve grown sick of the sight of it and yet, I can not look away. It’s a horrible thing to know the time and place of your own demise. You can’t bargain with the hangman. He has a job to do.

Should I try to sleep one last time or cling to my fading hours? What’s the point of a last night’s sleep or a last meal? My appointment with death has been set. I’ve convinced myself that I will walk those final steps to my platform as a man; and not as a simpering coward. Only time will tell whether I keep my word. The padre will be back at dawn to deliver my last rites. I rejected his hollow offer of heavenly salvation. There will be no insincere act of contrition from me. I assured him he was wasting his time.

When the rope is around my neck, I will stand tall and face the rabble in staunch defiance. The crowd will still mock and jeer. The executioner will remain expressionless under his black mask. Regardless, I shan’t offer my captors the opportunity to feel better about executing me, nor will I seek to appease their guilty conscience.

You see, for the past year, I knew that my freedom was all but over. I’d escaped the determined clutches of the law too many times. Once they captured and led me away in chains, ‘justice’ would be severe and swift. There would be no Christian mercy or leniency. My sentence would be capital punishment. I accepted the truth of my eventual fate. I began to plan for that which awaited.

On every occasion which I found myself in the courtyard of the public square, I cast a dozen handfuls of black powder around the perimeter. When they finally did come for me, my retribution had already planned. A carefully hidden match, struck between my thumb and forefinger will drop from my lifeless hands as I dangle from the rope. In an instant, all the gawkers and my executioner will join me in hell. In the end, we’ll meet death together. Heed my advice. Always plan ahead.

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