This story is by Louisa Bauman and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Nezzler the executioner rubbed his thick hands together and smirked at his captive. “Are you excited for tomorrow, friend John? Have you said your prayers, and repented of your sins?” He kicked the emaciated man in the shins.
John stared down at his handcuffed wrists, his thin shoulders sagging and his unkempt black hair falling over his face. He shrugged. “I have made my peace with God.” His weary blue eyes blinked at his captor.
“Any last requests?” Nezzler’s burning yellowish eyes suggested there better not be anything complicated.
John shifted on the side of the cot. “I do have one request.” He cleared his throat. “I would like to go home and see my newborn son before I die. I promise I will come back.”
“Are you insane?” The executioner bellowed like a charging bull, his spit flying everywhere, and John tried to shrink into the thin mattress. Nezzler’s face turned a mottled purple. “Your promise is worth NOTHING to me, and you shall not escape death, hear me?”
John nodded, suddenly wishing to just get the thing over with. He hadn’t expected to be allowed this. He was done arguing. His lawyers had failed to prove his innocence. Whoever committed the murder had done a spectacular job of framing John. Only he and God knew he hadn’t done it. Nobody on earth believed him, not even his wife. So he would die, unloved and unbelieved. His heart ached to hold his son, just once.
Nezzler stopped his ranting. The prisoner was serious.
“Tell you what,” he said. “If you find someone to take your place here in prison, to be executed in your place when you don’t come back, you may go.” Not for a moment did the executioner think such a person existed. Nor did John.
Just then, a beautiful woman in a gauzy white dress floated in through the door. The two men gaped at the perfect porcelain complexion, long-lashed violet eyes and sparkling golden hair. Her heavenly fragrance purified the stinking air of the cell.
“Hello, my friends. Why so sad?” She smiled at John. “My name is Angela, the Spirit of Truth, and my vibes tell me there is something that needs to be revealed here. I will stay and take your place at the execution, in case you don’t come back. My motorcycle is outside the door, and you may use it to go see your son.”
John’s mouth fell open, and he nearly fell off the cot. “Why are you doing this?”
“No questions, honey. Just go. I trust you to come back, ok?”
John pinched himself. Could he allow this? “I will be back on time. I promise.”
Nezzler frowned and reached out to touch Angela’s arm, but she evaded him. “What are you thinking, woman? This man will never come back, and you will have to die in his place.”
“That’s a risk I will take.” Turning to John she said, “Now go.” The handcuffs clattered to the stone floor and Nezzler retrieved them. His face screwed up in disapproval as he fastened the handcuffs on the woman’s wrists. John staggered to the door, and in another moment the motorcycle roared up the road.
“Now,” the executioner turned to Angela. “Say your last prayers and prepare to die tomorrow. The man is not coming back.”
“I believe he will.” Angela looked at him with huge violet eyes. Her ankle-length white dress floated around her like a cloud. “He’s innocent, you know.”
“No he’s not. He murdered the president,” Nezzler said. “Do you really want to die in his place?”
“I will die if I must. You see, it’s my job to help wronged people. As the Spirit of Truth, I bring hope to the damned, a fairy for grownups, if you will.” Nezzler took a few steps back.
“What kind of rubbish is that?” He checked his watch. “In twelve hours, I will execute someone, you or him. Mark my words, it will be you.”
Angela shrugged. “I doubt it.”
Nezzler sighed in displeasure. “I don’t relish killing a beautiful woman, even a crazy one like you.”
“So you believe love and truth are crazy?”
“What kind of love are you talking about?” He dragged his eyes over her body with a hungry look.
“Eternal love. Love that never dies.”
“I could show you love that never dies.”
“You mean lust?”
“Same thing.” He checked his watch. “I’m going home for the night now. Make yourself comfortable. Remember, tomorrow morning at nine, someone’s head will roll.”
With cool eyes, Angela gazed at the executioner. “Go ahead, but you will regret it. Now, go home, and sleep well.”
When morning came, the executioner was back. Checking his watch, he announced, “Eight o’clock. Your friend is probably speeding across the border by now.”
“Well, he needs his freedom more than I do. But I’m sure he will be back.”
“I’m going out to sharpen my sword now.”
“What’s with the medieval execution? I thought nowadays it’s the electric chair. Or an injection.”
“It’s being filmed for a movie. The director wants it to be real, and in case you’re wondering, it doesn’t matter if it’s a man or woman first.” He paused and looked at her and an eerie light shone in his eyes. “In fact, since you’re so generous, we could do both of you, then my job would be done. Save me from waiting until the next death sentence comes along. Hmmm…”
Angela put her hands on her hips. “How accommodating you are, killing innocent people because the movies demand it. Murder me then, if you must deliver death.”
“At nine. See you in a bit.” He left the cell, the bang of the steel door echoing down the long cold hallway.
At a quarter to nine he was back. “Fifteen minutes. I will start getting you ready. Your hair must be cut. It’s going to get in the way.” He produced a barber’s clipper, and walked towards her. The long golden locks slithered down her back and onto the cold floor as the clipper buzzed away. Then he undid the handcuffs. “Come outside. People have gathered in period costume to watch this. Crews are filming the place, but they want to see the prisoner.” He checked his watch. “Ten more minutes. He won’t come. Now, let’s go outside and I’ll show you what you need to do.”
Angela followed Nezzler outside, where he showed her the block where she would need to lay her head. It was a block of wood with a half circle cut out in the middle for her neck. He scrutinized her filmy dress. “Open the neck.” She did so. He checked his watch. Five more minutes. “Ok, get up on the platform.”
She obeyed and climbed up the few steps of the ladder. Glancing over the heads of the people, she noticed a cloud of dust on the horizon, and knew exactly what it was. Three more minutes, the executioner announced. He ran his fingers along the edge of the sword. It was razor-sharp, but he had never actually done this before. This was the 21st century after all and it had been a while since anyone had been beheaded. Anything for the movies.
He shrugged and checked his watch. One more minute.
A shiver and a thrill of horror rippled through the crowd when the beautiful Angela knelt on the platform and laid her shorn head on the block of wood. The executioner checked his watch. Ten seconds. Five seconds. He raised the sword, a little nervous now that the time had come, but he steeled his heart. If the guys in medieval times could do it, then by gore, he could do it too.
As the sword was coming down, a horse and rider plunged through the crowd, scattering spectators left and right. Wow, thought the period costumes, while dodging the flashing hooves, they’re going all out for this movie. Knights and all. “STOOOOP! Don’t do it!” Blood squirted in every direction. “NOOOO!” The man leaped from his horse and grabbed the severed head. He tried to stick it back on to the gushing body. His scream struck every spectator mute and frozen.
“You killed the Spirit of Truth! And I will be damned forever!” In a frenzy John rolled around the platform, soaking himself in Angela’s blood while clutching the lifeless head. “The Truth is lost, and evil has won! I got here a minute too late!”
Every person in the crowd was turned to stone, until finally the executioner let the sword fall to the ground, and grasped the writhing man by the shoulders. “Stop it. Get up and get a-hold of yourself. What’s the blabbering for?”
Wild-eyed, John screamed. “My son is dead! And the Spirit of Truth has died for me; for all of us! The Truth must live!”
John grabbed the fallen sword. More blood splattered over the platform, dripping between the cracks of the rough boards.