M. R. Sellars
Old Chain of Rocks Bridge
Saint Louis, Missouri
Eldon Andrew Porter was trying desperately to make sense of his current situation.
He knew that he shouldn’t be unsteadily perched here on this cold steel girder high above the icy waters of the Mississippi river. He also knew that he shouldn’t be forced to finish by hand a job meant for, and started by, a hangman’s noose. But the most important thing he knew, without any sense of doubt, was that he was short on time.
What he didn’t know was just how this peril had come to pass.
The thing that kept going through his mind was that this very simply was not how it was supposed to happen. Still, no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t focus on exactly what had gone wrong.
Once again, he mulled through the last few events leading up to this particular moment in time.
He had lured the warlock to the bridge.
He had applied the razors of the Malleus Maleficarum, a mere formality as such, because by the warlock’s own public actions and admissions he was quite obviously guilty of the sin of WitchCraft.
He had even applied the test of “pricking” in order to be certain of the accused one’s guilt. Of course, the warlock had tried to deceive him in this test by screaming out in pain when the ice pick pierced his flesh, but Eldon knew this to be a ruse. A trick used by the impenitent sorcerer in order to avoid his due punishment.
He had not been fooled.
With the warlock’s guilt proven, Eldon had then set forth the judgment as decreed by Almighty God and the Holy Church.
He had proceeded with the sentence by placing the noose about the man’s neck and pronouncing his punishment as death by hanging. And finally, he had executed that sentence by throwing the warlock over the side of the bridge…
That should have been it. End of story. But something had gone quite terribly wrong.
Eldon was finding it hard to think, his head ached so miserably. As he mulled over the events yet again, he vaguely remembered that for some reason he had pitched over the railing himself. Somewhere within that ghostly memory he also recalled feeling a jarring impact against the steel girder that stopped his fall. Then, everything had faded to black.
The top of his head burned like fire whenever he touched it. There was a tortured spot on his scalp that seemed devoid of hair. It was damp and sticky and the wetness clung to his hand when he pulled it away. From its feel, he assumed it must be blood.
The raucous clamor of loud music blaring from the warlock’s vehicle on the bridge above blended hesitantly with the eerie sounds of the ice-choked river. The cacophony was disconcerting, and when combined with the pain, it made it even harder for Eldon to concentrate.
“What could have gone wrong?” he wondered silently.
Again, he rewound the sketchy memories and thought through the scenario yet another time.
He had lifted the warlock upward, pronouncing the punishment as he did so. Then, straining against the man’s weight, he had pushed his arms outward to thrust the condemned over the railing and into the foggy night.
It was then that his head suddenly began stinging.
His scalp had felt as if it was on fire, and he was instantly doubled forward against the railing himself. Gasping, he was deprived of the breath that had been forced from his lungs by the sudden crush against the blue and green steel barrier. The rest of it was a blur, and a split second later he had blacked out.
The fact that he had blacked out was troubling. He hadn’t had any of those episodes for such a long time. Not since prison. He didn’t even want to think that it could possibly be happening again. It had been years since he had blacked out, hadn’t it?
Or had it only been months? He couldn’t remember. The uncertainty forced him to consider another option. Could this predicament be his own fault? Had he simply fainted and fallen over the side?
No, he decided. There was something different at work here. There was the burning in his scalp. His episodes had never been preceded nor followed by pain, ever. This felt like someone had physically ripped the hair from his head.
But how could the warlock have done that?
His hands were bound.
He had tied the warlock’s hands, hadn’t he?
Surely he had done so.
The sudden rush of the real-time events brushed aside his fractured attempts at reasoning and flooded in to answer the question.
Eldon watched his hand as he sought to choke the life from the warlock hanging in front of him. He also watched, as well as felt, a smaller hand desperately clawing at his own bony fingers.
The warlock’s hands weren’t bound. They were free.
Had he been in such a rush that he had merely forgotten to bind the hands of the condemned?
No, he couldn’t have been that careless. He refused to believe it. He wouldn’t have forgotten to do so simple and necessary a task before hanging one accused of the heresy of WitchCraft.
Somehow the warlock had tricked him. He had conjured a glamour that made him believe he had completed the necessary tasks when in fact he had not.
But…that couldn’t be. He should be immune to the conjurings of the demonic, for he was righteous in his path. This revelation was almost as disturbing to Eldon as the fact that the warlock still lived. He felt certain that it bore a need for inner reflection and perhaps even judgment upon one’s self.
But not right now.
Not at this particular moment.
There was a more pressing judgment at hand.
Still, Eldon found himself unable to ignore the question of why the hangman’s noose had not done its job…
In a burning fit of curiosity, he relinquished his single-handed grip around the man’s throat for an ever so brief moment and quickly felt for the nylon rope.
It wasn’t there!
In that fateful second, the warlock coughed and gasped, quickly sucking in the air he had previously been denied.
Through the darkness and fog, Eldon could just make out the rope stretched taut from the railing above, thinly scribing a tight line in the night to finally disappear behind the man’s outstretched arm. He had thought perhaps the rope had merely twisted beneath the man’s shoulder during the struggle, but now he knew this was not the case. The noose was cinched tight about the warlock’s arm instead of his neck where it should have been. A triple twist of the rope serpentined around the man’s appendage and trailed through his tightly clenched fist.
The warlock had managed to slip out of the noose and save himself. But he still couldn’t avoid his final judgment. Eldon would see to that.
“It won’t be long now,” he thought, as he slipped his pale hand back around the man’s throat and