I closed my eyes and prayed.
I didn’t expect to be doing it, and I knew it was pointless. Everybody knew by now that there was no one listening. But I couldn’t think of anything else to do. Hell, at that moment I didn’t even care that it was banned, what more could they do to me? I’d be in the exact spot I was now anyway. So it didn’t really matter.
The baying crowd jeered and shouted obscenities in my direction. Mothers, fathers, shop keepers, even children: all had gathered to see me fall. I wasn’t sure whether to be disgusted or proud of such a large and passionate turnout. It was hard to imagine that anybody in the crowd didn’t know who I was. I’d probably arrested or killed a relative of most of them. This was their chance for a little pay back, the chance to see ‘that bastard’ get what was coming to him. I’m sure that was what most of them were thinking.
As rotten food and vegetables struck my face, time and time again, I twisted inside my steel bindings, trying in vain to find a more comfortable position. But there was none; the cold metal clamped even tighter around my wrists. It was midday by this point, and I was as exposed as anybody out there. The sun’s rays had been pounding me for over an hour; my entire body screamed out for shelter. You could have fried a draken egg on me at that point, I was that hot. Sweat coursed out from every pore; the sun assaulting me from the outside, fear, I’m ashamed to say, ate me up from within.
The surrounding horde suddenly fell silent. I knew by now that this meant Locke was making his way up the steps and into position. Even if I hadn’t seen it a hundred times before, his putrid stench growing stronger and stronger told me. The clang of metal behind me signalled the revealing of ‘The Captain’, as it had become known. Locke used to call it his ‘Decapitator’, a name which was used for quite a while, and usually shortened to ‘Decap’. But one day, as we prepared to off a group of Marginals (for looting, as usual), one of them screamed, “Please no, not Le Captain!” The dumb fuck. It caught on after that. Whatever its name, it was Locke’s weapon of choice. I’d lost track of the amount of heads this weapon had removed, but it was many. Locke would tell you the number was in the thousands. He was probably right.
A burst of cold air brushed my face and the crowd’s silence was broken. Their screams coincided with what I knew was the raising of the axe. I didn’t have long. As the crowd’s euphoria grew, as their screams and chants and wails reached a crescendo, I squeezed me eyes closed just that little bit harder. As if, in some way, it would protect me further from what was about to happen. I’d witnessed citizens do this, from the other side, many times before. I’d always laughed. But, as I led there, wondering why nothing had happened yet, it didn’t seem so funny.
Marcus and the rest of the team should have begun the assault by now. The raising of the axe, when all eyes were forward, on the stage, on me, was the signal. Why hadn’t they moved? We’d carried out this sort of operation many times before, and we never missed a mark. Ever. As I reopened my eyes to get one last glimpse around me, I could only think that one of two things had happened. Neither was good news for me.
One: something had gone wrong. If The Dean had somehow got wind of the plan, he could have had the entire group placed under arrest and held in The Cellar. But that would have meant we had a leak. There’s no other way he could have found out. So, even if we, I, somehow got through this, we would have another problem to deal with.
Or two: and I knew this couldn’t be true, but, maybe, maybe this was the plan all along. As I led there, seconds left to live, I ran the plan through my mind. Its inception, the planning, the build up: had I missed something? Was I expendable after all? No, surely not.
My only hope was that there had been a slight blip. That a momentary delay meant Marcus hadn’t already fired. But that he was in position, about to fire at any second. About to save my ass and give Keeley the time to hold up her end of the plan.
As Locke bellowed out his familiar battle cry, I knew the axe was about to come down. He’d drive the crowd into a frenzy, until their ravenous hunger for blood was bursting out of them, before finishing me. It was the big build up before the pay-off, the foreplay before the climactic ecstasy. I’d seen it a hundred times before, and it always ended the same way: with a head rolling down the steps, and the horde throwing it around like one of those old leather balls children used to play with, sometimes found over the wall. And so, as the axe swung down, I could think of nothing else to do.
I closed my eyes and prayed.