Narrated by Bob Eccles
Above, the sky rattled, trembled. Below, the ground hissed, shivered. The man wanted to look away from these shifting prisons, but his mind hurt. Stung. Floated within the blood of his wounded thoughts.
He felt nothing. Nothing but the rope on his neck. The noose.
“Sentenced to death,” the judge had said.
Sentenced to death.
A painful phrase. Agonizing. He remembered wanting to scream at the judge, burn him with the poisonous spit locked away in his throat. How he longed to spray it at a cringing angel.
They had cried his name. Wept. Pleaded to the judge. But the judge had been firm with his verdict.
“Even snakes don’t cry when they choke,” he had said.
A liar. Twisted within the truth. Coiled upon his lies.
He had simply done what his starving instincts told him to do. Nothing more. If he had been conscious of his decision, he would have denied himself. But he had been asleep. Asleep inside his shed. His skin. How comfortable he had been. Until he awoke, red ribbons tied to his fingers.
The sorrow he felt upon the discovery. The pity. Anguish. He had been so alone. To his blind eyes, the victim had seemed appetizing. Under his hypnotic trance, he had had to say yes, let himself slither across the scent of his cowering victim.
But he had struck anyway. Mesmerized the victim. Distracted the victim long enough for his teeth to pierce his writhing veins. Such a shame, allowing himself to move. Such a shame. He had no choice, however, and that justified his situation.
The judge hadn’t thought so. The judge whispered to him when the serpents of his choices wrapped around his grave: You will suffer for what you did to him.
He hung underneath the sky. Floated above the ground. Unsure of what he was waiting for, of what was going to destroy him, of why he had fallen into the pit of his insanity.
You will suffer for what you did to him.
Dead words. Crawling with rodents. Rodents ready to drown within a snake’s pitiless stomach, one full of venom and the dry blood of other animals.
He was the beast of the Nile. The soul of all moccasins. The crown of all kings. The husky reign of all constrictors. And yet, the trees frowned upon him, their arms ready to stab him, fork him into the earth’s face. Spear him upon the Equator. Impale his shadowed heart, marred by the filth of growth, the darkness of perfection.
His breathing. It had begun to drip upon his burning tongue, a solid droplet of glimmering toxins, ready to explode upon any of the rotting corpses below him.
His eyes. Clouded by hatred. Damnation. The kiss of Satan’s sweating brow.
A decaying heart burst into life. Beat upon a drum. How delicious it sounded. Thick thumps. Hearty waves of noise. This heart awaited his decision to stretch out his mouth. And let it grow. And slide around it, cutting off the living veins, squeezing out the hardened glory it once possessed.
A crumpled voice: “. . . he shall face the death penalty, under the order of . . .”
Something tightened the rein around his throat. And the voice died.
But he remained, remained within himself, remained within the pain that managed to slice the apple of his throat. Blood gushed from his pitted stomach, a red snake tainting his esophagus like a crimson river upon its shore. He needed something. Something to calm his hunger. He had been praying for something to come, but nothing came. He had been alone for so long. And now, now that this man was here, the man who owned the deceased voice, he wondered why he was empty.
The blood squirmed up to his mouth. And he choked upon it, choked upon his prey, his spoiled water. How he wanted to drink it, let himself enjoy it. But the judge forbade him from enjoying anything, from doing anything that would bring him joy. The judge ripped joy from his heart, which he would steal with his fingers, fingers that would reach down his throat, dig for his heart, pull it out. At least then, he would no longer live in a famine. He would have reason to survive, his energy arriving in polished packages.
Why couldn’t they just see his innocence? Why did they assume so much? The people had no right to ruin his body, because he had obeyed his natural tendencies. And they had let him do things such as that before, so what was different now? Nothing. Nothing.
He spewed out the blood. Regurgitated past meals. His prey finally protesting against his decision to eat them.
The voice of the past rose from the dead: “. . . and because of the savagery inflicted upon his father, the brutality of the murder itself, we have decided to strangle him. We all understand killing outsiders is acceptable, as we all know our conditions are rough. But to kill his own family member, it’s sick, unheard of. Cannibalism is a rare tradition, especially in our day and age. We must honor it. Keep it preserved. Alive.”
Though the blood that his throat spat into his eyes fogged his vision, he finally understood what had happened to him. The executioners had loosened the thing around his throat in an attempt to cause his neck to snap. But he had lived through it, lived long enough to believe that his sickly heart had sensed betrayal. A shame he had to unbury such a slippery bit of truth on the day he died. He felt it anyway, and as the snake tightened around his throat, he heard something hiss. Whether it was his own throat or the snake made no difference, because of the disloyalty of his own people. His own kind devoured his privilege to live, his corpse smearing its blood upon death’s slithering eyes, throat.
AUTHOR BIO: Stephan Heard, now twenty-three years old, has been writing since the second grade. He writes both poetry and fiction, and has written three full-length novels, with plans to write forever. He believes in “rising from the ashes,” and his nickname is Phoenix. Stephan (Phoenix) hopes to spread his flame of passion throughout the world, and the magic that comes along with it.
ILLUSTRATOR BIO: Eleanor Leonne Bennett is a 16 year old internationally award winning artist. Her photography has been published in the Telegraph , The Guardian, BBC News Website and on the cover of books and magazines in the United states and Canada. See more of her photography at www.eleanorleonnebennett.zenfolio.com