The thud of the gavel roaring from the towering chair of the judge presses on my chest, with the same weight of the doors of Hell closing behind me.
I suppose that it will actually happen, as soon as the Grim Reaper will come and claim my soul. There in the square, where the gallows stand waiting for me, the Lone Rider will escort me to Hell, like the sheriff did to the jury house.
How I got here still escapes the grasp of my understanding. My hands had known for all my life nothing but the stern touch of plow and sickle, the same as my father and his father before him. Yet here I stand, with my hands stained in blood.
My legacy glares at me from the ruins of generations of hard work, destroyed by my deeds like a mad Nero setting Rome to fire. The pressure of that gaze pushes and pulls my organs, scrambling them in my chest, urging me to puke, but there is nothing in my bowels to expel, except for my filthy conscience.
Country life allows for little rest, and even less fun. Ever since Jeb got his rifle, me and him spent all our free time practicing our aim for our amusement.
The thrill that came when the cans dropped from the fence, diving to the ground with magnificent somersaults, was something only me and my big brother could share in that desolate strip of land.
When I grew older, at times, he lent me his jewel, that I used to carry around in its holster, playing in the open space up on the hills, taking aim at trees and bushes.
Not even once I shot when Jeb was not around.
That day was one of those. Jeb was out working and I had a free afternoon, so I embraced the rifle, and went for a trek.
The air brushed me in a soft caress, accompanying me along the ridge of the hill. I found my sweet spot, somewhere between an oak and a knotty bush, where I laid on my stomach like an hunter in wait.
In a game of figment I closed one eye, with the other following the bead in point of the gun barrel.
I moved around the tip of my gun, looking for targets. No shooting there, just targets. First a distant log, then a branch, my aim was perfect. I could hit a falling leave if I wanted. Then a bird crossed the sky, and following in its trail I found several instances where I had a perfect shot to kill it.
Far in the distance a small figure appeared on the other hill. A man on an horse was trotting on the path, I could tell it was Mr. Cash, our neighbor going out on a stroll wearing his usual dark clothes.
We used to call him "the man in black", me and Jeb. He always dressed ready for a funeral, never saw him once sport a colored scarf or even and handkerchief.
Still he was a good man after all, played the guitar for us from time to time.
I kept my game of aiming for trees and birds, but it was getting dull.
The man in black was still there, dressed like Death, and I pointed the cold metal of the rifle to his position, anticipating the path of his horse, placing my perfect aim straight to the chest.
Maybe it was him, inviting the End, with his dark clothing. Maybe he was dressed in black to always be ready for his funeral.
I don’t know what took me. It wasn’t me. Maybe a gust of wind pushed my finger. Maybe an hidden devil whispered unholy words in my ear… I felt something there. Something that wasn’t mine, still was inside me. The power of that moment was wild and primal, something fundamentally human and so unimaginably alien. The feeling that at my fingertip was the power to tip of the scale, the supreme judgment between life and death, with no reason but the piece of lead resting in my gun.
It was the bellow of the explosion that snatched me from the bubble that wrapped me like a comforting pillow. All of a sudden my head exploded with the notion of what was going to happen in the next fraction of a second.
I did not need to watch to know. With the hole of the barrel still exhaling a line of smoke I turned my back to the scene and ran. I ran down the hills, I ran past my house, I ran South and passed Cash’s farm, I ran through bushes of brambles, I ran across the ditches, I ran with bells tolling in my ears with the voice of gunpowder, I ran with the image of a man somersaulting from a horse etched in my eyes.
I don’t know how many miles I was hoping would be enough to detach me from the corpse up in the hills.
They told me that the sheriff found me with my head clutched in my hands, with my fingers piercing my scalp, as if to dig inside me, to find that parasite lurking in my brain and remove it, throw it away and step on it to kill it.
There was no need to confess. I am aware of what I did.
Every step parading in front of the jury was the step of Jesus carrying the cross to the Golgotha. Except he was going to erase our sins, I was there to display mine.
His widow and orphan children ogled at me with glassy stares, ragged dolls with sewn lips, witnessing my march with desolate acceptance.
What really made me desire the punishment that was waiting for me, was passing in front of Jeb.
Not a line on his face held one of the sentiments we once shared. There was nothing of what had been being brothers for so long. Only an estranged expression devoid of complicity and love, the same stare of a viewer in front of the evening news on the TV.
My whole body revolts, my guts boiling and burning in an attempt to punish me for something that no punishment may ever cleanse.
Today is the day I pay from my crimes. Today the gallows claims my life. God have mercy on my soul.