I Am Burned at the
My bare foot touches the cold paving stones of the square. The chain connecting the shackles fettering my ankles clanks sharply. I shiver and my teeth chatter as I am led forward, my head down, two guards on either side of me, strong hands on my arms. As if I can escape. I can see the boots of the guards lining the pathway to the scaffold, holding back the throng. Their words assault me, though, as much as the refuse that they pelt my body with.
I stumble, falling to my knees, my manacled hands scrapping on the stones as I catch myself. The crowd laughs, and the guards who let me fall haul me back to my feet. I glance up, through the cleared passageway to the stake. It rises high from a tall pyre, the bundles of wood neatly stacked, a cart with more kindling beside it. At the front of the cart, a donkey lowers his head and searches the ground for something to graze on.
I look down again, at the thin white shift that I have been forced to wear to my execution. Bits of garbage cling to it now. Soon it will be covered with soot before it burns away. I have tried for days not to think of how I am to die, but it has been impossible. I have seen many people burned at the stake; Iíve heard the screams and cries for mercy. For days I sat on the floor of my cell and saw each face as it contorted in pain before blistering and blackening. Is there anyone in this pitiless crowd who will be haunted by my death? Or will they all enjoy the spectacle of my gruesome execution and reminisce about the fine entertainment I provided. I hate all of them, almost as much as they hate me.
The inexorable march to the stake continues, accompanied by the rattling of my chains and the insults of the crowd. They shout for me to burn in voices filled with self-righteous glee. Not one thinks that they could ever be in my position. But I know better. I was once part of the merciless crowd.
I look up again, the stake close now, looming upwards against the gray sky. It has begun to snow. A wooden ladder rests against the pyre, and the executioner waits atop for me, dressed in black with a hood covering his face. Except for his eyes, grimly resolute on me. The guards lead me to the ladder, placing my hands on the higher rungs for me to climb. The executioner steps forward as they shove me upwards, forcing my feet up. As I rise up, the executioner grabs my arm with a large hand and pulls me up the rest of the way. I kneel on the top of the pyre at the foot of the stake, staring at a log that has been set against it.
Hands grab hold of me again and pull me up, and I realize that a couple of the guards have followed me up the ladder. At the instructions of the executioner, they force me against the stake, my back against the wood. I am lifted slightly so that my feet stand on the log at the base of the stake. As they hold me in place, a chain is quickly wrapped around my waist three times and pulled taut before being crossed over my chest. I hear a hammering as it is secured to the wood. My ankle shackles are unlocked but quickly bound again with cold chains holding them tight against the post. More chains crisscross my legs. Finally my manacles are removed, but the guards immediately grab my arms and pull them behind the post. A smaller chain, freezing cold, is wrapped around each wrist, then pulled tight to bind them together before being nailed to the stake behind me.
Other than my head, I cannot move more than just a bit. The guards and executioner check the security of my bindings as I try to struggle. Satisfied that Iím held fast to the stake, the executioner dismisses the guards, who climb back down the ladder. I look into the face of this man who will soon put me to death, into the dark eyes that show no emotion. He returns my gaze for several long seconds before turning and climbing down the ladder, which he removes when heís reached the ground. I am alone now at the stake, bound tightly.
Finally I look out at the crowd, my head resting against the back of the stake. The wealthy sit in the grandstands or are gathered on balconies, huddled under blankets and furs. The poor people and the less successful merchants squeeze together in the town square. They have grown quiet now, and I know that they are feeling the erotic thrill of seeing a young, healthy body bound to a stake atop a pyre, ready to be burned to death.
I shake as much as the cold chains allow, my feet and hands almost numb. My breath comes in rapid gasps, visible in the cold air as small puffs. I sniff to keep my nose from running. The executioner places a few small bundles of faggots around my feet, but keeps the pyre well below my knees. He will not burn me quickly. The magistrate takes his time standing at the officialsí platform in the grandstands, but eventually he announces to the gathered crowd that I have been condemned to be burned to death at the stake for my crimes. The crowd roars as he orders the execution to proceed.
The executioner picks up a torch and touches it to a brazier standing by. The torch ignites, and the executioner carries it to the pyre, touching it against the kindling that has been placed among the stacked logs. I see the kindling ignite, and I feel sick. The executioner continues to move around the pyre, touching the torch to several spots of kindling. I crane my neck around to watch him, his progress a sinister fascination for me. I hear the crackling of the dry wood and immediately feel the heat. The executioner, done with lighting my pyre, steps back and surveys his work with satisfaction.
The warmth of the fire feels pleasant for the moment, and the crowd moves forward to take advantage of the heat it gives off. The flames surround me, but they are still low for now. My hands unclasp and my finger stretch out towards the warmth. I quickly tighten them back into fists again. They will be warm soon enough. I can feel the snowflakes fall against my cheeks, and I close my eyes for a moment as they catch in my eyelashes. The acrid smell of burning wood reaches up to my nostrils. When I open my eyes again, it is snowing harder, the white snowflakes falling down as the bright orange embers float upwards.
I wince as the first snap of the flames is felt against my feet. I writhe a bit, uselessly, which incites the crowd crying out for me to burn. The icy breeze comes from my left, pushing the smoke away from my face. In spite of the flames, the crowd can get a good look at me. I suck in my breath, determined not to cry out, as the flames begin to play around my feet. I struggle harder against the chains now, trying to pull my feet away from the blaze.
Tilting my head back as much as I can, I stare up at the gray sky, the snow falling onto my face. I blink several times but concentrate on the cold against my skin. The pain in my feet is agonizing, the skin blistering and the nerves throbbing. This is to give me a taste of the searing torment that I will experience in Hell, a precursor of the eternal damnation of my soul.
I clench my hands and cry out. The blaze grows higher, licking against my chained hands. The faggots around my legs catch and burn, sending fingers of flame up my legs. The thin shift I am wearing catches fire and burns away, scorching my skin. My lower body is in agony. I beg for mercy, for a quick end to my torture, but the executioner grabs a long pole with a hook on it and pulls the burning faggots away from my body. My naked, tormented body is exposed to the crowd, my legs blackened, my skin blistered and red up to my shoulders. Even without the flames, my body is still racked. Smoke wafts up from my skin to my nostrils, and I gag on the smell of my own burnt flesh.
The crowd stares at my mutilated body, and I let my chin fall forward. Charred flesh is what I see below my waist, the blackened chains still holding my legs tight against the stake. My body has become less human, more that of the demon that I am accused of being. I shudder, and look towards the executioner. He stares back at me impassively, giving everyone a good, long look at the half-demon chained to the stake.
Finally he steps over to the donkey cart and grabs several faggots from those piled on the bed. He tosses them on the pyre around my legs, feeding the fire around me again. The flames flare up again, once more consuming my flesh. I scream in agony. Smoke sears my throat and lungs as I struggle for breath. Rapt eyes watch as I writhe against my chains, enjoying my futile struggles. I curse them as my hands and arms burn, and I pray for the release of death as the flames reach my shoulders and burn away my hair. My blood boils in my veins.
My anguished body sags against my fetters and my head falls forward again. I see the chains binding my legs fall away as my legs collapse and disintegrate. I feel nothing now except the hate and anger at those that condemned me and the humiliation of my ignoble death. My singed lips utter their last curses as my eyes grow sightless.