The loud chime of a bell wakes me from my restless sleep.
I sit, my sore muscles protesting, and glance around the cold, bare cell. There is one small, barred window high on the wall. I can just barely see out of it if I stand on the dingy cot that is the only furniture in the cell, unless you count the disease ridden bucket the guards have provided as my lavatory.
I stand on my tiptoes on the bed to see what time of day it is. The bell still tolls, reverberating around the confined cell and invading my ear drums.
Peeking out of my window, I can see that it is barely daylight. I have an almost unblocked view of a dirty street, and as the bell chimes a final time, a grunge-coated man scrambles down an alley, coveting a small bag clasped to his chest.
A criminal, perhaps, like me.
I stare at my left hand, remembering why I'm here. Three of the fingers are missing, one for each time I was caught stealing before the guards got tired of maiming me and decided to throw me in this cell instead.
Of course, stealing isn't the worst thing I've done.
I have killed. In cold blood, and for almost no reason at all. And I've done it more than once.
I never got caught, until my last murder. There was a flaw in my plans, and in my judgement. I had memorized his schedule, watched him go through the exact same routine for weeks, but one day, his routine changed unexpectedly, and that was the day I had planned to murder him.
My original idea was to catch him on the way to the market and pull him into an alley, quietly sliding a dagger into his back without any passersby being the wiser.
But my plans went awry. The man didn't take his usual route to the market. I don't know if it was premonition, or he had just gotten bored of taking the same path every day, but I waited in the alley and he never walked past.
Later that day, I found him in the tavern at his usual time. I couldn't contain myself. Bloodlust took over and I attacked him in plain sight.
All I saw was red as I leaped upon him and began stabbing him repeatedly in the chest.
I stayed in a blind rage until guards pulled me away and dragged me to this cell. I vaguely heard the words "execution," and "sentenced to hang," before I was thrown on the hard floor and locked inside.
This is the day of my execution. I can tell because I see a crowd gather around the gallows at the edge of my view.
I step down from the cot and go to the bucket.
I crouch and release my bladder and bowels for what will likely be the final time until after death.
I remove the prison pants and proceed to use them to wipe myself clean. After consideration, I remove the shirt as well, deciding to face the guards bare.
I sit in the corner farthest from the door, waiting for them to take me.
It isn't long before I hear heavy footsteps coming down the hall. They stop at my cell. I hear the jingle of keys and pick my discarded clothing up in my right hand.
When the guard enters my cell, I throw my feces stained pants in his face. He sputters and flicks them away, wiping his face and spitting indignantly.
He storms over to me and roughly pulls me to standing by my wrist. I am turned away and I feel coarse rope binding my hands behind me.
He turns to a comrade who is standing just outside the cell. "Get her a robe."
The guard marches away down the hall, and returns shortly, a pretty white dress in his arms.
"A little rich for someone like her don't you think?" The man holding me says.
"It was the only thing I could find, sir." He tosses the dress to my guard.
"Go," my captor motions down the hall, "I will make sure she gets to the execution."
The soldier hurries away, knowing my guard wants some time alone with his prisoner.
The guard pushes me to the far wall of the cell, holding my face against the cold stone. I can feel his erection pressing into my thigh.
I grind my teeth when he trails a finger down my exposed back.
His breath is hot and wet on my ear. He whispers something incoherent and wraps his rough hands around my breasts.
He trails one finger down my chest, and inserts it into me.
I try to pull away but there is nowhere to go.
I hear more footsteps come down the hall. My captor pulls his hand quickly away from my body. "Shit." He mutters under his breath.
He pulls me away from the wall and grabs the dress off the floor.
Another guard peers into the cell. "Is she almost prepared?"
"Yes just let me dress her."
The guard nods and leaves.
The soft white dress ties around my back and leaves my neck exposed. Its hem brushes the mouldy floor.
I am forcefully shoved out of the cell and led down the hall, reaching the doors to the courtyard.
The sun pierces my eyes as I am pushed toward the gallows, where a large crowd has gathered.
They part to allow me past, and I spit on the ground beside me.
I am lifted onto the gallows where a single noose hangs from a beam.
I stand looking into the crowd defiantly. I feel their eyes boring down on me, and it is as if the world is holding its breath, waiting to see my limp body hanging from a string like a puppet with no master.
The executioner reads out my many crimes in a monotone voice, but it is background noise to me. All I can hear is the pounding of my heart as someone slips the noose over my head.
I catch the executioner's last words, "Mary will perish for what she has done. See her as an example, and do not take her path. Pull the lever on three!"
He holds one finger up, then a second, and before I can see the third I am dropped sharply into a dark hole from which I will never return.
The crowd who thought the execution would bring a sense of satisfaction is silent. They dissipate, walking away empty from what they thought would be a feast, and the limp body the executioner pulls from the gallows is just as empty as the crowd.