My spastic hair drifted in front of my eyes. Sweat continued to trickle down my back and drip off my hair. I stared with one eye at the ground, dizzy from lack of food and almost nauseous with a terrible feeling about what my fate was going to be in a matter of minutes. My heart pounded steadily—not what I would have expected, given the circumstances of certain death and having made the city’s number one wanted poster. 9:57. I had three minutes to do something before the curtain drew open and everyone saw Emmaline O’Meern tied up like a mantis on a spider’s web. God, why is this happening? I begged, I prayed, I pleaded for His help.
A Guard strode up to me with the air of an executioner. So I was going to die. I stared at his boots, dark green and luminescent as the dying light from the window far to my right glinted off the tanned and treated forest leaves. Oh, how I’d love to walk the forest, the rivers, the mountains, the world, just once more before I died. He said, “Traitor.” That was my new name, and my cue to obey if I didn’t want another smack across the cheek like the one I got in the cell hole. The first cut had finally gummed up all the way, so it wasn’t bleeding, but it itched like crazy.
I pulled my head up, struggling to keep looking straight at him as my head swam. It felt like I was falling to one side, but there was no way to fall. You’re all hung up like a wet, smelly towel, remember?
His eyes glinted with a maniac’s pleasure. “Traitor,” he smirked, “you still have a way out of this. It’s really quite simple, Traitor. Admit you were wrong to disobey the High Order and all its affiliates, and we’ll let you off with a simple expulsion. Beyond the Wall.”
Nobody could survive beyond the Wall. That’s what they said, not that I believed anything they’d said anymore. But if it was true, I was dead either way. It was hard to keep my good eye open. Exhaustion crawled up from the floor. My knees started failing. I started crumpling up like a wet paper sack, but the cuffs on my wrists kept me from falling all the way to the ground. So this is what the Crucifixion must have felt like, minus the crown of thorns and metal stakes and the perfection of being God.
“So, Traitor, what do you say? Confess? Or die?” The executioner stared intently at my scrunched-up eyes and bloody face. That was their game: they threatened to kill your self-respect, and even if you said yes, they’d just plain kill you anyway. Some game. I refused to play.
I rose from my half kneel in front of him, pulling my feet back under me, straightened up, and stared squarely back into his face.
“You’re going to kill me one way or another. If I’m dying, I’ll die as myself.”
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