This story is by Theresa Walker and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Drums sound as my head is laid upon the block, crusted with the blood of countless others before me. Above me, a man speaks: “You are guilty of treason against the throne, and murder. Have you any last words?”
At that I smile to myself, let them have their fun, I think. “You think I feel guilt for what I’ve done? To be labeled a criminal for serving justice is the true crime, and for this you will all pay dearly. I rid this world of a heartless murderer, and for that I take pride.”
“You mean to say you do not regret the murder of your king?” He asks.
“I mean to say I do not regret the execution of the man who robbed me of my family.” With that the man gives me a solemn look and raises his hand begrudgingly. The executioner raises his axe and as the man’s hand falls, so does the axe and on instinct I close my eyes.
All I hear is an explosion of metal and when I open my eyes the axe has shattered to pieces and I am kneeling amongst the metal shards. I look around at the spectators staring in shock and an unfamiliar cackle bursts from my throat. I stand and the headsman stumbles back wearing an expression of shock and fear, and I stand over him and as I do, a gruff voice speaks. You know what to do, it says; but I shake my head.
I can’t go through with it; I’ve already done what I had to do, and I will do no more. We have a contract, I’ve held up my end, and now you owe me. In an instant the reluctance seems to dissipate and is replaced by a hot white hatred as if it has a mind of its own my arm plunges through his chest until my fist closes around his heart. Fear and regret flow through me as I feel the fleshy, pulsating organ in my grasp. My hand stills, but once again it acts on its own as it squeezes tighter shut until I feel the tissue burst between my fingers; it comes back warm and scarlet, I raise the mangled flesh up high to show the crowd “this is what treason looks like,” I say, “only those truly guilty are punished.”
The group trembles before me, the shocked expressions morphing into fear; some begin to kneel and soon others follow until all of them do. At the back of my head there is a slight feeling of glee at the image, but then I see a girl who looks like my daughter, no, she is exactly her, staring at me trembling in fear with the others and then she disappears. A feeling of regret flows over me and I walk off the platform.
I sit in a chair by my fireplace, alone for the first time. Out of the corner of my eye I see a shape, I turn, startled to see my daughter standing next to me, the fear still on her face. I stare at her, terrified as well, when she speaks: “mama, why did you hurt that man?”
I keep staring, stunned, but am able to find my voice again, “but Gwendolyn I had to, he was a bad man and he had to be punished.”
“What did he do, mama? You never hurt me like that when I’m bad.”
“He tried to hurt mama.”
“But you’re not hurt.”
At that I lose my voice again, she’s right, I knew I would be fine, and it was what he had to do. I didn’t need to hurt him. I jump again as a face appears in the flames of the fireplace, “don’t listen to her,” he says, “remember all those who are unjust pay the price.”
“But that is not what I bargained for,” I reply, “I came to you to avenge my family, I’ve done that. I didn’t want to hurt anybody else.”
“So, you’re just going to waste what I’ve given you? You have infinite power, it’s a gift, you could rule the world, and none would dare get in your way.”
“But that isn’t what I wanted; it never was.”
Gwendolyn backs away from the fireplace, closer to me. “mama, the fire man is scaring me, who is he?”
“Don’t worry, sweetheart, he’s a friend. He helped me deal with the bad people who hurt you.”
“But he’s scary.”
“I’m sorry, dear, he’ll go away soon,” then turning to the fire, “I will not go through with these heinous acts any longer. Leave now.”
The face cackles, sparks flying as it does, which makes Gwendolyn shrink away further. “Do you really think it is that easy? This is no regular bargain; you came to me and I followed through. You don’t just owe me; I own you now!”
My blood runs cold as he says this, but I look to the ghost of my daughter and turn back to the fireplace, “You may own my soul, but I will not be your puppet. You cannot make me kill for you.”
He flashes a disturbing smirk, “We shall see,” and with that he disappears from the flames, I look to where my daughter stood, but she’s gone as well. I am alone again. Tears spring to my eyes.
I am awakened by the sound of men barging in, they grab me, I try to fight them off but there are too many and I’m dragged out.
They take me to the palace, but once we enter we go down sets of stairs, so many I lose count. We go down, deeper and deeper until we finally reach the cells. I’m brought before a guardsman, he looks at me with disgust, behind him I see chains and what look like tools for torture. “Greetings madam, apologies for the poor treatment, but after your treatment of Henry the headsman, we thought it appropriate.”
“What is this?”
“You were right, justice must always be served, but you killed an innocent man; his job may have been a threat to you, but he did no wrong, and he had a family.”
I glare, “just as I did.”
“I do apologize, I did not mean to offend. You may have felt justified in your murder of the lord but do kill one of your betters is still treason. However, there is no justification for Henry’s death, and as you said, this cannot go unpunished.” He then gestures to the torture devices behind him, “and while I know we cannot execute you for your crimes, we can find an alternative to this.”
You know what to do, comes the voice again, you have no choice. I know he is right. I’m not sure how I do it, but the guardsman starts to bleed from his eyes, ears, and nose, and then he just drops like a rag doll; and so, do the two men holding me. I’m free.
You’re welcome, he says to me, but I just ignore him.
I get back to the top, passing the throne room, and something stops me.
“Mama, what are you doing?” Gwendolyn stands next to me now.
“I-I don’t know,” I move to keep going but something is keeping me in place.
You are so close now, you’re almost there, take it, and you can have anything you want.
“Mama, why are you not moving? Can we go back home now?” She grabs my hand, hers shakes.
I look into her eyes, “I’m just going to take a look.”
Her eyes are pleading, “please, mama, please let’s go.”
Go on, we’re so close, we can rule the world.
Just a few more steps.
Now just take a seat.
“Mama, no! Please!”
I look around me, “what was that?” I say to myself, “I must be hearing things.”
We are so close now, no need to think of Gwendolyn.
“Who is Gwendolyn?”
Two guards burst into the room, and I greet them from the throne.
“How dare you!” one guard bursts out, “this is treason of the highest order, now get down at once! You are under arrest.” They make to move towards me, but I keep them in their place. “How are you doing this?”
“You do not question me,” I say, and without having to touch them I force them down until they are on their knees, “You will kneel before your queen.”