The Execution

Gavin Paul
3 min readDec 13, 2022

You don’t really see the body drop. The frame is tight, claustrophobic. There is a persistent wobble in the grainy cell phone footage, material record of unknown hand. Many bodies in a small concrete structure, dimly lit. The man with the grey beard and black hair is quietly defiant until the very end, eyes flaring beneath his sinister black brows. Everyone else is wearing black masks.

There seem to be titters of nervous laughter, though you can’t be sure. The men in masks and other voices from offscreen taunt the man in alien tongues. The strangeness of the language seems to complete the viewing experience. It’s more real because you can’t understand what they are saying.

They put the noose around his neck. The noose seems comically large, like something from a cartoon. The man with the noose around his neck is talking, calmly, when the platform beneath his feet swings open. His body lurches downward for an instant and then the camera wheels and wobbles — whoever is holding it runs down the stairs. The screen is black for a long time as the phone makes its way down the stairs and around a corner. The body is there, magicked from above to below. Head twisted at a wicked angle. The man’s face is caught in a puddle of soft yellow light from the trapdoor above him. Only his face can be seen, dead eyes gazing up through the fragile column of light. The thick cords of the noose tower from where the man’s neck should be. Everything else is lost in the black. The way the slowly coiling face is suspended in the light seems vaguely cinematic, and you feel nauseous thinking of it in these terms.

You remember watching in strange wonderment. There it is. You just watched someone die. How modern, how futuristic it all felt, the collapse of distance and time. This is what the future will be like, you think. This is the moment the present becomes the future. Death in your hand. World shaping events on the other side of the planet, beamed into your home almost as soon as they occur. This man in the noose. Alive above, then darkness, dead below, then light.

The light of that strange room becomes the light of the screen becomes the broken light of memory.

You think about the black masks and you think about the word gallows. Play it back and watch again. Temporal marauder hunting some old kill. Timelost and in search of a medieval death to bring back for the archives. Headsman. Black hoods. Axes. Chronal worm sniffing out potential targets, burrowing into its future history. Eager to witness some fateful doublecross at a misty crossroads. The gallows. Strappado. Pike to the gut. Drawn and quartered. Imagine an arrow in your chest, sunk to the fletching.

Play it back. Can you see the body drop?

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Gavin Paul

English Professor. Author of "Conspiracy of One," a small book of short stories, and “The Coward," a collection of essays. amazon.com/author/gavinpaul