Left foot. Right foot. Left again. Over and over. In reality, it’s not far, but when you’re walking to the gallows where you’ll be hanged, it’s an eternity. Step after step, guards on either side, fear mounting with every step. Maybe you wonder if it wouldn’t be better to make a run for it. Let them shoot you, get it over with?
I have no plans on dying today. Not by a guard’s gun, and certainly not by a hangman’s noose. I squint at the base of the platform. It’s there. It doesn’t look like much, at least not yet. Just a vague dark-patch on the ground near one of the corners. Good. It cost quite a lot to get this arranged, it would cost me my life if I got stiffed.
The guards shove me toward the platform. The dark spot looks a little bigger. I’m not sure what that means, probably just that I’m closer. One guard goes up the steps ahead while the other plants the butt of his rifle into the small my back. It hurts, but I keep smiling. They won’t get the best of me. Not today.
I make it up the platform and stare out at the crowd. There’s nearly two-hundred of them. A lot of people who want to see me dead. Or maybe look-e-loos who just want to see a hanging. Either way, a big audience. I look down. The darkness definitely getting bigger. It runs the entire length of the platform now. A rifle butt prods me over to the rope, and a smirking guard.
“You like all these people comin’ out to see you dead?” he grunts. I don’t say anything. Not going to give the bastard the satisfaction of thinking he got one over on me.
We’re in the middle of the platform now. I see the dark spot near the base of the actual gallows, the place I’ll be hanging from. They turn me around and it’s gone. I swallow. There are a few butterflies in my stomach now. I hope this works. Sure, I was told it would, but I won’t really know until it happens.
One guard holds me still while the other grabs the rope. The rope is tossed over my head and rests loosely on my shoulders. He tightens it around my throat. It bites into my neck. The pain makes this so much more real. I realize, for the first time, really, that if this doesn’t work, I’m dead. Really dead. Forever. I look out at the crowd, hungry for blood. It takes everything I have not to lose my last meal all over them. If this doesn’t work and I really die, I’m at least going out with a little dignity.
They crank it up, bringing me to where I can just barely touch the platform. I hear a faint, wet, sound behind me, like someone slapping a dish-rag up the wooden beam. My smile is back, a little. This’ll work. It’s got to.
“Any last words?” asks the smirking asshole next to me.
I do my best to spit in his face. I miss by a long way. “Fuck you.”
“Suit yourself,” he smirks, and nods to the other. He pulls a lever releasing the trapdoor from under me.
For half a second, I can’t breath, then the pressure is released and I fall through the hole. I hear the crowd gasp and look up. The dark spot has coalesced into a black slime that’s coating and eating the rope. It worked.
“Get him,” shouts the one at the lever.
The smirking asshole crosses to the pit, and under the rope, to reach for me. The slime jumps from the rope to his shoulders. Instantly, it expands and covers half his body. I back away as far as I can in my little pit. Within seconds it’s expanded over his whole body and is eating away at him. The other guard approaches him and yelps as the slime jumps to his hand. The smirking asshole is now little more than a smoking skeleton. The other guard screams and runs off the platform. He doesn’t make it far before he collapses, completely covered.
The crowed has finally realized what’s happening and it’s complete chaos. Some are running, there’s a stampede heading away from the platform, a few unlucky trampled. Some have pulled guns and are shooting at the slime. All I can do is hide in my pit and hope I don’t get caught by a stray bullet.
Within a few minutes, the screams and shooting have stopped. It took a lot less time than I thought it would. I rise from my pit and survey the smoking field below me, strewn with bodies. There are less than were in the crowd, but not by much. The slime is pooled in front of the nearest one. Carefully, I climb out of my pit and approach it.
As I near it, it rises and forms into a vaguely-human shape, a free-standing shadow. Against all odds, it speaks.
“It is done,” it says, its voice thick, and liquid, and deep as the ocean.
“You killed them all,” I manage to say.
“Yes,” it says. “I did what was needed to fulfill my end of the bargain. Are you ready to fulfill yours?”
I take a deep breath. I knew this was coming. The unpleasant, but necessary bargain to keep me from the noose. I let it out. “Yes, let’s get it over with.”
The slime collapses and crawls up my leg, to my head and into my ear. There’s a pop and then a searing pain, first in my ear, and then behind my eyes, then my whole body. My vision blurs, then goes out completely, leaving nothing but bright white in front of me. I think my knees have buckled, but I’m not sure, my whole body has gone numb. And then.
I get up. I’m still a little wobbly, but I’ll get the hang of it before long. It’s been so long since I’ve had a body. It feels good.