Hangman (Short Story)

“I’m innocent.”

S’what they all say. Right about the time they take them last steps up the gallows.

And they get up there and reckon those words mean a hillabeans to the hangman. Hell, ain’t nothin’ no one can say to the hangman to keep him from doin’ his job ‘cept the Sheriff, Or the guvner. That or an act of the Lord Almight from up above. In all my years of hangin’ I have yet to see the hand of God intervene.

No sir, ain’t nothin’ gonna keep the hangman from doing his job. It’s a respectable one at that. Matter of fact, it’s a downright damn fine public service he provides. When folks got a gripe about the justice system, they don’t talk to the hangman. If they’re pleadin’ their case to him, they might as well be prayin’ instead. They’d have better luck asking God to loosen that noose than the hangman.

Round about the time the condemned gets up that last step, they get to realizin’ they only got a few more feet to their death, they start to shake. Their eyes get real big like them fancy saucers they use in the restaurant next to the saloon. My eyes remain the same. Not too big like I feel for him, not too small like I’m judgin’im. But I do understand. The last moment on this here earth before they go off to God knows where.

I’ve even seen some of ‘em fall right down to the boards, clawin’ and scratchin’ their way back to the steps. I gotta pick ‘em back up and drag ‘em to their spot underneath the rope. Damn shame that is to see. Least they could go out with some dignity. But I s’pose ackin’ like a man ain’t what got ‘em there in the first place.
Then the preacher has his words. That’s about the time, if yer close enough, you can hear the sobs and sniffin’. You can see his shoulders shakin’ like a leaf in the wind. And I forget what the preacher’s sayin’ and I’m standing right behind the condemned, put my hand on his back. Usually that stops the cryin’ if only for a moment till the preacher’s done sayin’ his words. Seems like the preacher’s talking more for hisself and the folks watching anyway and ain’t no words from the Book gonna comfort no man in this time.

After the preacher’s done sayin’ his piece, I ask if he’s got any last words. Ev’rybody’s differnt. Some don’t say nothin’ at all. Others start up like a woman, hoopin’ and hollerin’. Usually them’s the ones I had to drag there in the first place. And then others reckon one last profession of innocence is gonna save ‘em like the other hunderd didn’t before. Just like God intervenin’, I never seen an innocent plea free a man in the final minutes. Like I said, ain’t nothin’ gonna keep the hangman from doin’ his job.

Now, I ain’t gonna lie. If I didn’t have a job to do, I mighta felt bad enough for ‘em to hold off the execution for another day. Or least a few hours. Long enough to get himself together and go through with it with some dignity. Hell, I wish I had that much mercy granted me. I’d bet most all of us would.

After the condemned’s done sayin’ what he’s gotta say, I put the hood over’im. That’s when he starts breathin’ real hard and fast. I can doggone near see his heart jumpin’ outta his chest. And I always wondered what went through a man’s mind at this point. I always wondered what his last thoughts were.

I always imagined I’d be thinkin’ ‘bout my last steps up the gallows. ‘Bout how my knees plum gave out. Not outta weakness or nothin’. They just gave out. If I said I wasn’t scared, I’d be lyin’. But I thought about all the men before. And I thought about how I wanted to keep my dignity. Still them damn kneesamine got tricky.

I’d be thinkin’ bout the preacher sayin’ his words even though I wasn’t listenin’. I could hear his voice and that was mighty nice. I’d think about how I made sure nobody’d see me shake or hear me bein’ such a woman about it all. I’da thunk about how I didn’t have no hand on my back. Course, I s’pose that’s my fault I ain’t teached him properly. And I’da thunk about that, too. And now, I’m telling you all this, I reckon when they put that hood over my head I wouldn’t be no differnt than all those others. I’d be scared. My heart may wanna jump outta my chest waitin’ for them trap doors as the noose tightens around my neck.

And as I stand here now before you, I know exactly what I’ll be thinkin’ when the hood comes on. I won’t profess my innocence. No sir, I done it. I’m guilty as all the rest and maybe even more. But that sonuvabitch deserved what he got and if I had it to do over again, I’d do just the same. And that’s that.

Hangman, you can go ‘head and put that hood on now. I’m ready.

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