Short Story: The Unexpected Hanging
About this Short Story
A man is imprisoned for violent crimes of eccentricity and has himself completely convinced that his death sentence will not be carried out.
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A prisoner lay on his cell floor smiling, peering into a cleverly dug hole in the wall. “I will not be hung,” he said, talking to the one who had dug the hole. “The magistrate said it would be a surprise, but you see, Friday is not an option because it is the end of the week. If I survive Thursday then it would be no surprise to be hung on Friday. Likewise, Thursday is not an option. If I survive Wednesday and Friday has already been eliminated, then my hanging would be Thursday, no longer a surprise. As you can probably guess, if Thursday and Friday are not an option, than neither is Wednesday. If I survive Tuesday, Wednesday would obviously be the day of my hanging. Not surprising in the least. Monday is the only option because to survive Sunday tells me nothing, since the hanging must take place on a weekday. That means my hanging must be…
Short Story: The Unexpected Hanging
A prisoner lay on his cell floor smiling, peering into a cleverly dug hole in the wall. “I will not be hung,” he said, talking to the one who had dug the hole. “The magistrate said it would be a surprise, but you see, Friday is not an option because it is the end of the week. If I survive Thursday then it would be no surprise to be hung on Friday. Likewise, Thursday is not an option. If I survive Wednesday and Friday has already been eliminated, then my hanging would be Thursday, no longer a surprise. As you can probably guess, if Thursday and Friday are not an option, than neither is Wednesday. If I survive Tuesday, Wednesday would obviously be the day of my hanging. Not surprising in the least. Monday is the only option because to survive Sunday tells me nothing, since the hanging must take place on a weekday. That means my hanging must be Monday, which comes as no surprise,” he exclaimed with elation, “so I cannot be hung.” The mouse inside the hole cocked its head at his speech and scurried deeper within.
The man was a homeless beggar and the town eccentric. For shelter he slept under the skid ways in the port used to hasten ship offload, which is why the townspeople called him Skid. Everyone tolerated him for pity’s sake. After all, he had been born to an opiate addicted whore and a mentally crippled aristocrat’s son. For that reason, his grandparents assumed the role of guardianship, but two years earlier, he had witnessed their tragic death, which served to sever the final fibre of his sanity.
His behavior had never caused any real problems. That is until recently.
The town saw many mercenaries pass through looking for work. These men Skid preyed upon for they were ignorant of his trifles. Unfortunately, his latest dramatic concoction grew from evil.
Skid’s poisoned mind had gotten the idea that an imaginary group conspired to kill him, and that group comprised many innocent townspeople that he included in the death-dealing group for simply having been seen interacting. Eventual the Death-Dealers included prominent noblemen, which only deepened his hysteria. But he had to be sure.
For that he would hire a mercenary.
That day Skid paced on the cobblestones paving the town’s eastern gateway, awaiting new faces. While there, he saw one of the conspirators. She moved past him, through the gateway and into the countryside. He decided to follow her. Perhaps she would reveal some valuable information regarding the conspiracy.
She had reached a fork in the road and veered right in the direction of the grape orchards when Skid saw him. The man was very fat. He wore a patchwork of armor for a plate would not fit him, and no helmet could have fit his head, so he went without. In addition to his great weight, his wealth was apparent by the several silver and gold chains half imbedded in the folds of his neck. Skid halted his pursuit and warily approached the fat man.
“Good afternoon,” he began, his voice shrill and itchy. “You would not happen to be a mercenary would you?”
“I am.” The man’s voice was deep and cacophonous. “The name is Avaritias.”
“The townspeople call me Skid.”
“That seems an appropriate name, you are acting quite skittish. Is there something the matter with you?”
“That is irrelevant. I wish to hire you, but we cannot talk here, it is too dangerous. They could be eavesdropping,” he half whispered.
“They?” Avaritias’ bellowed.
“Shush, they will here you. Meet me by the wharf tonight, and make sure you are not followed. I will not reveal myself until I am positive you are by yourself.” With that Skid turned and ran back toward town. Even if Avaritias had been interested to, he could not have kept up with the wiry, moonstruck fool. But moonstruck or not Skid offered the prospect of money. If he were to continue his evenings of drunken, overindulgent debauchery, money was of the utmost importance.
Upon passing through the eastern gateway, a man wearing a hauberk adorned with the town crest on the chest emerged from the gate house and stopped Avaritias. “Excuse me, sir,” the guard said, “your name please.”
“Well, Avaritias, I could see from the parapets that the man called Skid approached you. What about?”
“He has a job. He gave the impression that someone or perhaps several townspeople are conspiring against him.”
“That is what I thought. However, as guard captain, it is my duty to make sure things are not out of the ordinary. So I can assure you that there are no conspirators, no Death-Dealers as he calls them,” The Captain laughed. “But I do enjoy debasing the idiot.”
A bewildered expression covered Avaritias’ face. “His mind is utterly broken and it proves quite entertaining to knot him up. Have fun with him,” he finished as he turned and re-entered the gate house.
Come dusk, Avaritias had made his way through town and purchased a room at the finest inn. There he too purchased a prostitute, and though he stood behind her thrusting, the fat of his stomach resting on her prostrate back, he couldn’t stop thinking about the fool’s offer. His rhythm slowed, and he pulled out of her, pushing her aside and dressing hastily, lastly attaching his money pouch to his belt. She stood as he moved for the door, and she stepped in his path.
“What I do is not free, honey,” she said.
“You did nothing,” he retorted. “No climax, no payment.”
“That is not how this works.”
“It works however I say it works.” He reached around her for the doorknob, but her hands snaked out and pushed against his chest. Unexpectedly, he grabbed her wrist and contorted her arm downward, forcing her own fingers inside her. She bit back her scream. “Listen whore, if you want payment stay and we will finish upon my return.” His grip loosened and she returned to the bed and sat down, misty eyed. He laughed heartily as he exited, slamming the door behind him.
Darkness fell quickly as he walked through the town, and he thought about what the Captain had said. This made him doubt whether the job would be worthwhile. After all, the man that had offered it seemed destitute himself. Too, if what the Captain had said was true, the offerings of such a madman led only to trouble. Still he continued.
By the time he was entering the port it was well dark, and he felt a slight tug on his belt. He spun fast only to see a shadow duck into an alleyway behind him. He groped his belt and felt only dangling strings where his money pouch should have been. He ran toward the alleyway but was out of breath within a few strides. Now he had no choice but to accept whatever job the fool offered, so he continued toward the wharf, anxious and angry.
On the wharf he heard, “Stop! Not any further.”
He couldn’t tell where the voice had come from but it was familiar and labored.
“Skid, it is I.”
“Are you mad, leave that name out of this,” Skid hissed, “and back away some.” Avaritias took several steps backward and waited. A few prolonged moments later Skid approached him from behind. “You are lucky.” Avaritias spun. “You were not followed, had you been I would have killed you.”
“Enough of these games do you have a job for me or not?” Avaritias exclaimed.
A smile stretched across Skid’s gaunt face then as he extended his arm. A single gold florin rested in his palm. “I want you to spy on an old farmer, the one that owns the grape orchards outside of town. I am afraid he may be much more dangerous than his appearance would suggest.” Avaritias took the gold coin from Skid’s hand without pause. “Give me any information you discover, and there will be more where that came from.”
“You do not strike me as a man with much money. Where did you get this?”
“Do you wish to question how money is made or do you wish to make money?” Avaritias didn’t answer. “Now leave.”
Avaritias’ return to the inn was hard. His money pouch had been stolen, leaving him with just a single florin, and all he knew of his new job was that he had to find an old farmer. With each step his frustration grew, and soon he came to blame Skid for his misfortune. He would not have left the inn otherwise and would yet have his precious money. It was then he decided he would take the Captain’s cruel advice.
He entered his room and saw a naked woman sitting on his bed. He had forgotten about the prostitute with all the other troubles on his mind, but he was overjoyed that she was still there. He stalked toward her, forcing her to her back, and penetrated her. With each thrust he became more violent. His great weight crushed her, and she tried to fight him off, but he only became more violent. He felt a rip but continued still. She screamed in agony for him to stop, so he grabbed her mouth. The fat of his hands plugged her nostrils. She couldn’t breath.
When he finished, he tossed the florin onto the lifeless body and left.
Downstairs he asked the innkeeper, “Do you know the aged farmer that owns the grape orchards outside of town?”
“Sure I do, his name is Enzio Agricola.”
“Thank you.” He turned and moved for the exit. “I might be away for some time. I want my room left undisturbed until my return.”
It didn’t take long for him to locate Enzio. He asked around a bit at the tavern. Everybody knew him. He had operated the grape orchards for much of his life.
Avaritias waited in the tavern for dawn.
Enzio would be only the first of many townspeople Avaritias would observe that day. He stood across the street from the man’s house looking through the foreroom window at the old man. The man was infirm and could not have tended grape orchards. Then, a young woman entered the room and kissed the old man on the forehead before exiting the house. She looked familiar, so he followed her.
He thought the young woman must be Enzio’s daughter. She probably cares for the grape orchards in his stead or perhaps had taken control of the family business, but he couldn’t think of why he recognized her.
He continued to follow her through the main gateway and toward the grape orchards. She was beautiful, with long black hair and green eyes and soft lily-white features, but she was dressed in a homely ankle length dress. Her elaborate floral-print, silk bonnet was dreadfully out of place. That’s when he remembered her, as she came to a fork in the rode and veered right. She had been wearing the same elaborate bonnet the day before. He had seen Skid following her. He was on the right track then.
He climbed to the crest of a shallow hill overlooking the grape orchards. From there he observed the young woman most of the morning. Her movements were most graceful and the sweat on her face glistened even in the shade, making her beauty almost ethereal. He found himself lusting after her and began to watch even more closely. Sweat ran down her neck and through the valley of her chest, moistening her dress and causing it to cling to her petit frame, outlining her supple breasts. A woman such as her, though, would without doubt reject him. If only he had his money, he could pay her, and she would not refuse him.
Come midday, she made her way back toward town carrying a large basket of grapes with her. Avaritias followed. She delivered the grapes to a winery in town. He ducked under the awnings of a row of stalls across the street from the winery entrance and waited. There, not too long after her, he saw a wealthy looking young man approach and move to enter the winery. He turned to a stall-owner near him. “Sir, I wonder if you know the highborn young man just there across the way?”
“Oh yes, that is Younger Brucaccio, the son of Lord and Dame Brucaccio,” the Stall-owner answered.
“I see. Do you happen to see him often at the winery?”
“Actually, he owns it. His presence there is often obligatory, though, I hear he has been smitten by Miss Agricola.”
“Miss Agricola?” Avaritias asked, feigning ignorance.
“Ah yes, forgive me; the lovely young woman that was carrying the grape basket. You saw her, of course?”
“Yes, of course.” Avaritias felt his hate toward the handsome young nobleman intensifying for reasons he could not explain. “Thank you, sir. You are very kindly.”
Avaritias waited well into the evening outside of the winery; so long that the Stall-owner had packed his wares and returned home for the night. He was infuriated by the young couple’s secrecy. It was no doubt frowned upon for a man of such affluence to consort with a lowly farmer’s daughter. They were obviously not supposed to be together if they were forced to meet in such a way, and he found their blatant disregard for authority maddening. Or was it that?
He heard dulcet female laughter as dusk approached. The young woman and her lover emerged from the winery holding hands, but they quickly pulled from one another to avoid detection and went their separate ways. Avaritias followed Younger Brucaccio, who carried a crate full of expensive looking wines. The man’s face showed his bliss and happiness, and Avaritias’ envy overflowed.
Younger Brucaccio led him through the western gateway and toward a vast estate-house guarded on all sides by high brick walls.
Standing in the all-enveloping darkness outside the estate’s wrought iron gates, Avaritias could easily see within the well lit estate-house, and it was apparent that the family was hosting an innocent, well-to-do wine and cheese party. But he would report to Skid otherwise. Although he stood stock-still, his mind was busily constructing his scheme. He would add details of dark rituals and wine-drenched libations in order to inflate Skid’s panic. His aim was anything but harmless.
Avaritias returned to the wharf. He was thoroughly fatigued and hungry but ignored his discomfort. He was eager to manifest his lies.
“Skid,” he whispered. It was even more muted than he had planned. The thick mist that had formed on the water and inundated the harbor had stifled the sound. And like a ghost, Skid materialized from within the mist and advanced.
“It is as you said. The old man is dangerous, but he is an insignificant link in the chain. The girl, however, relates with the ring-leader directly. I overheard them talking. They called themselves the Death-Dealers.”
“I knew it!” Skid exclaimed. “Who is the ring-leader?”
“That is odd, I had suspected someone else.”
“No! It is he. I too was unsure, so I followed him back to the Brucaccio estate, and I witnessed horrifying things.” Avaritias was deep into his own story at this point, a terrified look on his face. He paused, shrugging his head into his cupped hands.
“The torches frightened me. I thought they would see me in the darkness, but they were too concentrated on their sacrificial victim. The girl was so young, but they opened her throat nonetheless and smeared their bodies with her blood, and then taking wine, they poured libations on her body, chanting your name, praying for the dark gods to take your life.”
Skid’s mind was reeling at the information he was receiving. His eyes were wide and dilated, his complexion paling. He turned and, shaking, reached under his skid way.
Avaritias heard the familiar sound of jostling coins as Skid produced a pouch. The exhilaration he felt at the sound was erotic. “You have done well,” Skid concluded, handing Avaritias the pouch as he moved to pass, “It is time this came to an end.” But Avaritias recognized the money pouch as his own and grabbed Skid by the arm to pull him back.
Before he could speak, the dull edge of a rusty dagger flashed from the tattered sleeve of Skid’s patchwork tunic and pressed against his throat. Skid was so far off when the fat body hit the planks of the wharf that he could scarcely hear the thud through the mist.
The screams of the guests at the wine and cheese party drew the guards from the western gate house. He had arrived in time to upset the order of the ritual, and to make sure it could never be completed, he plunged his dagger into the chest of the Death-Dealers ring-leader, Younger Brucaccio.
Skid spent the night in a cell in the lower corridor of the western gate house. In the morning he was taken before the town magistrate in the Hall of Justice adjacent the town square to receive his sentence.
“The guards tell me they found a total of three dead bodies,” the Magistrate exhaled. “I can indisputably connect at least one of them to you. I think you know which that is. And another was found on the wharf near your skid way, so I assume you are responsible for that one too.”
“There would be more if it were not for me,” Skid replied.
“I killed the ring-leader of the Death-Dealers. They would not have stopped with my death. It was only by luck that I arrived before they could complete their ritual, else I would be dead.”
“The ritual you speak of was merely a wine and cheese party, imbecile. Who are these Death-Dealers?”
The Captain attended the sentencing. “I believe I can answer that,” he interrupted. “I should have acted to quiet his fears, but I thought nothing of it for the group was just another of his crazed imaginings.”
“He lies,” Skid said. “Avaritias discovered the Death-Dealers too.”
“And who is Avaritias?” the Magistrate asked with exasperation.
The Captain interrupted again, “The dead man on the wharf.”
“I see, and what is it your accomplice did to warrant such an end?”
“His death was unfortunate, but he got in the way of my saving my own life,” Skid answered.
“Yes, well, in attempting to forestall your fictitious death you have only succeeded in condemning yourself, and in my humble opinion it is a good riddance. You have been a pox on this society since the day your grandparents were burned to death in the fire. Your mind has been irredeemably lost since that day. And thus, you are hereby sentenced to hang until death.” The Magistrate smiled then, having thought of a way to tease Skid’s wits one last time. “The hanging will occur on a weekday in the following week, but the day will remain a surprise to you.”
Now, Skid was lying on his cell floor, and the sorrowful groan of the dungeon door echoed through the prison corridor as it was pushed open.
“On your feet,” the Captain sighed. “It is time.” He didn’t bother with restraints as he removed Skid from the cell.
Skid was finally being released. He was taken to the town square where a stage had been erected. A public execution was taking place. He would thoroughly enjoy the entertainment after days of staring at not but a wall. But to his surprise, he was escorted onto the stage, and a hooded man positioned him in a particular spot marked by a square, draping a noosed rope round his neck.
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