What is silence?
Is it that brief period of nothingness, wherein the rasp of a blade, sliding from its sheath, seems doubly ominous, as though some gut instinct tells you- "this is the sound to be aware of".
So I thought, as the strike severed the branch at its base.
I see nothing, I told myself. I see nothing.
And again, like a mantra, I see nothing.
The axe in my hands felt like a thousand kilograms, like a chain from the abyss, dragging me down to hell. I was damned.
Knowing it doesn't make it any easier when the time comes to make that choice; it only makes it harder, the tension, the terrible awareness makes you dread each second until, like kissing the tip of a blade, you wait for the sword to sink hilt-deep.
Foresight is of no use when the path you choose is a binary one- there are no three ways about it. You either hold your hand, or extend your arm; and the choices are there not to stay, but to haunt you till the rest of your life.
Worse still is that people gather, not to mock and jeer, but if you look into those obsidian stares, all you see is countless reflections of yourself. Make the choice, and that carefully-constructed eidolon shatters beyond repair, a mirror promising seven years of bad luck with interest.
Fate is a bitch.
One last look at the Prosecutor, who stood so gravely, his air of fine contempt like the Faustian devil; I have consigned your soul to hell, you may follow it there; then stood the Judge, in his mercurial presence, a thin rake of a man, whose sole authority lay in what the office granted him; and lastly the officer, stolid and silent; I have done my job, to find my prey; do your job, and don't delay.
So be it.
My soul is as darkened as any of those I kill; what matters it that I follow them soon? In hell, we are all judged alike, kings and peasants, cats and mice.
Paladins... and executioners.
I patted the axe once more, and she shoon, crooning softly for fresher blood.
The convict shivered, his head on the block, his eyes feverishly searching for a familiar face; for even a speck of humanity, of familiarity to be found- "please," he seemed to beg, "please, do not send me there so aloof". I hefted the axe. A familiar weight does not lessen over the years- but grows until you have to bend over, trying to carry it.
Time slows down, as if some higher power revelling in the long memories of humans, wants us to fully appreciate the power we hold over ourselves, locking our lives into a wheel of industry and law, hierarchy, where we distribute unequally, and punish those who try to show us a better way of life.
I counted my years in that swing, like I have done for so many. They say you always remember your first kill.
They are wrong. You forget it, because after that happens, you lose a piece of your soul, the most important part of it that cares for your fellow man.
And when you lose it, it's like a banner flying over your head; others instinctively sense it, like you or I can tell a leper at twenty paces- and go to great pains to avoid them.
The feel of the axe hitting something is never pleasant. It's a shiver that runs up your arm, making every bone vibrate for just enough time to affect, the feel of your own muscles tensing involuntarily, putting unneeded effort into the equation, then a relaxation, as flesh parts seemingly of its own accord.
A clean kill, they call it, when the bone is severed flat; little do they know how bone feels under the edge of an axe; like some faltering castle wall, it stands firm for a few seconds under a battering ram, then gives way. The spine splinters, unable to bear a strain it was never meant to feel; then gives way, and for a few moments, the axe flies of its own accord, and veins pop out while you try to slow it down.
Another pause, as you feel the edge of the axe hit the wood below, as though finding that familiar gouge on the block by force of habit, wherein the axe is the thinker and the human but a machine.
The blood spurts like a fountain, and the heart itself pumps out the ichor needed to keep the body hale. Worst of all, though, is the head- detached, unheld, it rolls like some macabre ball, no longer seeming human, eyes glazed over, in a rictus of less pain, more fear and intense surprise; as though, in his final moments, the owner saw something he could never believe.
I hope, for his sake, that he made his peace to whatever Gods see fit to let this cycle continue.
Humanity has never actually deserted violence, as so many try to convince themselves, affecting themselves enlightened, civilized, sophisticated.
When it comes to that, strip a man's face from his flesh; and what is underneath is the same as any other, no distinction whatsoever; if we, in our oldest ages, would use bone and club to crush our opponents, is it any different from the axe, or the rapier? From the flintlock, or the revolver?
Or from the muzzle of a cannon?
All we've actually done, is to find new, and more sadistic, ways of actually killing our fellow man.
Until then... until then, I keep making that binary choice; until then, I remain one of Charon's minions, fuelling his train into the Abyss.
Sometimes you just let your pen wander, your hands play across the keyboard, and come up with stuff so random, so bizarre, that later you wonder whatever had possessed you to write it- and that memory's a blank. This is a bizarre story- I've no idea what prompted it, and although I usually give a title after finishing it, nothing comes to mind.
Comments- and ideas for a title- appreciated.