Skeletons

He could feel the wooden planks below his feet. Could hear the priest shouting over the assembled crowd “Lord Jesus Christ!”

His ears were ringing as he stumbled off the sidewalk and into the street, narrowly avoiding a taxi in the right hand lane. Sprinting past a woman yammering! Went the doorbell. She looked up from the cake she was frosting for the church bake sale. She wasn’t expecting anyone of the guards had been at the bottle already. He could smell the reek of the rye on the cold morning air, the smell carried on tiny cirruses of respiration. The priest had finished, and the noise from the crowd and the cars had reached a violent crescendo, though he could hear none of it over the ringing of the doorbell. Who could it possibly be? She thought as she moved across the patterned linoleum towards the front door. Maybe it was one of those Jehovah’s Witness people! We are gathered here today to witness the execution of a most vile criminal. In accordance with royal decree, he will be executed by decapitation. Let it be known, that all those who seek to elude justice will always get BACK! GET THE FUCK BACK!”

He had nearly reached the police barricade and a young officer was screaming at the crowd rapidly assembling along the orange and white sawhorses. He shoved his way forward reaching out to take hold of the smudged and shiny brass knob. She opened the door slowly, revealing not a religious evangelist, but a middle aged man in a spotless green uniform. As his sharp blue eyes registered her, he swept the black billed cap from his crew cut head will be placed on a spike along the castle ramparts, as a reminder to those who seek to follow in the footsteps of this loathsomebody! I need to get in there!”

He was growing frantic now and the press of people around him sense it like a herd of frightened deer, instinctively drawing away from the one whose panic was radiating off him in confused, erratic waves. He put his hands on the barricade to steady himself, his eyes meeting those of the officer. More than a little surprised, she still managed to stammer out:

“Good afternoon sir. I must say I was not expecting your visit. I was just doing a little baking when I heard his name before! Now look upon the face of the man who you call the Rascal King!”

Sunlight, jarring and intense flooded his vision. They had yanked the bag from his head, exposing him to the crowd.

“You can see that he is but a man, no spirit or phantom he. And now, as an officer! I have to get in there! My girlfriend is in there!”

            The cop met his panicked gaze.

            “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to step back from the barricade.”

            He was stunned, had he heard correctly? What was this man trying to say? She could see his mouth move, but it was only a succession of sounds, nothing that made any sense. Something about Tommy? She tried hard to concentrate, to make sense of what he was saying, when she heard the scream. He looked up, blinking hard against the sun to fight the glare. As his vision began to clear, he could see her, her usually mischievous beauty contorted by the malignant spirit of shock and anguish that seemed to possess her body. He felt his jaw clench as he stood there. His mind buzzed, the ringing in his ears threatening to drown out everything. The cop turned to his back to him, and the man saw his chance. He swung his legs over the barricade and took off sprinting, even as the momentarily distracted officer grabbed for his arm. He felt the officer’s hand on her shoulder and it was then she realized she was on her knees on the living room rug and that the screaming she heard was coming from her eyes locked on his and he was afraid that the sight of her face, tear streaked and pleading, would undo him more than the executioner’s axe could ever managed to break free from the attempted grab, his five hundred dollar shoes pounding the pavement as he raced towards the cluster of flashing red and blue lights about one hundred yards ahead. He could hear shouting from behind him as he drew close enough to see the actual scene of the accident. She was lying on the pavement, and his breath caught in his throat as he saw that she looked miraculously unhurt. He took a few steps closer before he noticed the unnatural angle of her neck, and the way her autumn gold hair fanned out from her head like some sort of otherworldly headdress. He stopped, eyes fixed on hers as he tried not to notice the trickle of blood making its slow, inevitable way from the corner of her mouth to the uncaring asphalt below. Searching for recognition in her green eyes, eyes he had blearily gazed into across the tundra of sheets and pillows not twelve hours ago, he was met only with the glassy stare of some infinite stranger. It was then that they grabbed him. Two officers from a nearby patrol car and the one he had briefly eluded at the barricade. He threw himself against them, screams tearing into the night sky from the very depths of his lungs, wrenching cries of pain that somehow seemed both more and less than human. He nearly broke free of the officers’ encircling arms, desperately trying to reach her, but they dragged him back until he could no longer see her prone form, stretched out on the floor. She looked up into the blue eyes of the officer, and slowly managed to process what had been said. Tommy had been killed, along with the rest of his unit, as they had ben trying to rescue some wounded marines stranded behind communist lines. It had happened near a city called Oro in northern Korea, a few days before. They had been hopelessly outnumbered, and Tommy had fought bravely, but took a sniper’s bullet to the chest and died moments later. She felt her body spasm as the image of him lying dead in the snow halfway around the world enveloped her. The officer reached down to help her to her feet, and she unconsciously accepted his hands and tried to stand. He led her over to the davenport and took a seat next to her. Grief washed over her anew as he began to speak! I demand to speak before I die! ‘Tis my right!”

            One of the guards behind him on the battered platform chuckled at this. The sheriff, who had been presiding over the secular matters of the execution turned to him, with an exasperated sneer.

            “Yes, ‘tis true. The condemned do have a right to speak. But traitors to the crown have no rights. So there will be no last words for you.” At this, the sheriff turned to a guard. “Gag him.” He felt the hand that had been clamped on his shoulder release, and he leapt forward towards the crowd. As his feet parted company with the planking, he screamed her name above the impossible roar of the massed people. She caught his eye as he landed clumsily on the cobbles. He had managed to get out “I lo-“’ when the first arrow thudded into his chest. It was followed soon after by a second and a third and he felt his legs unhinge. Tumbling to the smooth stones of the courtyard, his words trapped in the bubbles of blood forming on his lips. He could see her, as the darkness began to swallow his vision. She was bent over the balcony, her face a red mask of pain and horror as she reached out arms impotent to save him. The blackness rushed in and consumed them all.