TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Jim McDoniel. Jim McDoniel is a writer of monsters and mirth, not always in that order. He also writes radio plays. He holds a Masters degree in Writing and Publishing from DePaul University. He is a writer for the podcasts Our Fair City and Unwell. He was a finalist in Deathscribe 10 for his piece, “Monstruos.” and a five time Midnight Audio Theatre Scriptwriting Competition winner. Jim is the author of an amazing novel, An Unattractive Vampire available from Sword and Laser publishing. This is “Cephalophore”
Content Note: This story features a frank depiction of death and a person being ostracized. If that content makes you feel unsafe, you may want to skip this story.
I’m not supposed to feel it. This death is meant to be quick, instantaneous. A modern,
humane way to die. I was assured I would not feel a thing.
And yet I do. I feel it all. The falling blade breaking the skin. Then the bone. Then the meat. The blood leaking out from the muscle like a sponge wrung dry. I am ripping away from myself. Falling, somersaulting forward but not as I should, not all of me. I look up hoping to see myself but all I see is steel coming to rest with a thud. It blocks my view, separates me from hope with its sheen of modernity stained crimson. And then blood pours into my eyes and I am swallowed by the darkness of the basket.
Pain. I feel it. Continue to feel it. There at the base of my skull, there where the spine was severed, the throat cut, the esophagus torn away. The nerves scream all at once. They are fire. What blood was pumped into my head before the end rallies to the call and spills away. On the other side of the device, there is an answering cry, the twin to this agony. Two halves that never should have been. I feel this to. I feel it all.
A cheer goes up. My death is celebrated. It is the day’s entertainment. Parents bring their children. Friends greet each other from across the square. Someone is trying to sell his neighbor a horse. A vendor is handing out nuts. The shells plunk off the stage. One bounces off my back.
Seconds pass. Millennia. I am still here in the basket. I am still there on the stage. I have always been here. This is all there is. All there ever was. The fire in my neck turns to pins and needles. Every frayed edge of sinew calls out for attention, for relief, for the sweet blood that is pooling on wood and wicker.
Fingers loop themselves in my hair. A new pain. The darkness of the basket gives way to light. I see them through a haze. They stand on the other side of a veil, the applauding crowd. I squint, try to focus. Someone gasps, another screams. Then laughter. The laughter of those who have seen many executions. The gallows crows know all the tricks, all the little foibles of the dead. The hanged man’s erection, the drowned woman’s gas, the sweet whiff of shit as bowels release.
I blink. The veil remains. I cannot see. But I feel. The hair tugs at my scalp in the
committee man’s grip. His other hand rips a lock free for himself, a memento to treasure or to sell. The breeze blows against my ragged wounds and it is like knives tickling the flesh. A wet, warm pool spreads around my neck and chest. Hands are in my pockets, at my feet, pulling free my shoes, looking for anything the guards didn’t take. I am split. Here and there. Pain in both places. It hurts. It hurts so much. Why doesn’t it stop? WHY DOESN’T IT STOP?
I scream. I cannot scream. The audience jumps in delighted fright. They clap for me. There is no relief. I thrash and kick. A real scream. Somewhere behind me, where I am. I flail. I punch. I bite. Again, applause. I am putting on quite the show. My fingernails tear into skin, wet and warm. Someone else is in pain now. It does not help but it is the only thing I can do. The only way I can tell them I am still here. Tell them what I feel.
Bodies pull against me. Footsteps clatter off the wooden stage. There are more screams. The man holding me turns and for a moment I see myself, see the other half, the stump begging to be made whole. I am clear, unveiled, beautiful, and hurting. But then I fall. The world blurs before it slams to a halt. My skull cracks. A splinter lodges itself in the skin next to my left eye. More wounds to add to my collection.
Hands everywhere. Hands pull at me. They try to hold me back, pin me down. I tear at them. Their screams join the chorus and then go quiet. But I go on. Why do I go on? A call to aim, a crack of gunfire. I am pierced one after another. The little lead balls,
flying through me. Ribs crack. My stomach bursts open. Acid and bile spill into my gut. It
BURNS. And then they come, the sharp blades of the bayonets thrust into me, less chaotic than the mess of the round shot, the metal slices with merely a whiff and whisper of suffering. All save one. He thrusts his stock against me, against where I should be. My collarbone splinters, the shards separate the skin. There is no blood left to spill.
They scream. I scream. The world screams. Screams are all there is. It is deafening.
The world has become a sliver of veil between my blood-matted hair and the wooden stage. I see a tall blur holding a smaller blur to its chest, hurrying to safety. The small one stares back at me. Its eyes become clear. His eyes. Brown. I try to tell the eyes, tell them I’m still here. Tell them I’m in pain. Tell them to help, find help, get help. Help. It hurts! God, please. The eyes shut and are gone. The blurs disappear into the world beyond me.
I am near. I feel myself. The footsteps shake my world. Hands—wet and warm but gentle, familiar—are at my cheek. I am lifted, am lifting myself. I see the wreck of myself even as I feel the lightness of what is left of me. We try to put the pieces back together, to make the halves whole. But the pain persists and we remain we.
They are gone. All of them. Even the most devout of the gallows crows who stayed to watch the show fled when they saw there was no anonymous throng to hide in. We are all that is left in this fading world. We walk. Off the blood-soaked stage. Into the barren streets. All doors closed to us. We walk.
There is nowhere to go. No vengeance to seek, no sermon to give, no message to herald. There is only us and the pain. And we both go on and on and on.
Alex B Reynolds began acting as Sherlock Holmes in the second grade. Since then, they have played Shere Khan, Gandalf, Iggy Pop, numerous zombies, Jason Voorhees, Luigi, and Skeletor. Character acting is kind of their wheelhouse. Their voice can be heard on the Filmthusiast Final Cut podcast and the Meet/Cute sitcom podcast.