By J. A. Kossler

Chapter 1

The guard poked his spear into my back, tipping me off balance. "You're not feeling so high and mighty now, are yah, Charac?"

I could have burst out laughing—but that might have been because of the sheer terror I was experiencing. I knew, in approximately two minutes and fifteen seconds, I would stand before a crowd that demanded my blood. It was very little time to plan, and believe me, I didn't have a clue what it was going to be like.

Stepping up behind me, I felt another guard breathing rancid gas directly below my ear—I shuddered, feeling my hands clench and unclench. I thought about my companions in the last fleeting moments of my life. They told me not to worry, told me everything would be okay—but I wasn't really sure. I didn't trust them enough to gamble my life, but it seemed I had no choice. Destiny does go full circle in ways that make your blood boil.

"Company!" the guard behind me shouted, smashing the friendly end of his spear against my back. I wretched forward with a pained yelp—did my spine crack? I heard something snap, and I damn well knew it wasn't the wooden pole—falling to my knees.

Three guards filed out behind me. They gave me triumphant looks, as if to say, 'Well praise the Banner, we finally caught this damn man and now we're going to bring him tuh justice.' Just like that, with the speech impediment and all. If I weren't in my current position, I might have clapped for them (ropes bound my hands tightly behind my back, remember?). You see, with my profession, catching me was a formidable task.

But somehow, they did.

"Salute the Banner!" the leader guard exclaimed.

"Salute the Banner!" the excitement-faced crowd shouted, pumping their fists and voices in eerie unity. Now that I think about it, it almost seemed staged—wouldn't there be a person in there who sympathized me? Or, maybe all the citizens of the Banner were bloody-thirsty savages, as much as I deplore a cliché.

A rather primp looking man in frills and bright red clothing stepped onto the scaffold where I shamefully kneeled. He held a document in his hands, and he planned to read it to me, as if I didn't know what I was indicted for or why… though, on second thought, perhaps most of the criminals they executed were simple-minded creatures.

"Salute the Banner!" the primp lobsterman said. He had a queer pointed black beard that made me want to roll my eyes.

"Salute the Banner!" the crowd echoed.

I groaned. What a fitting end. If I wanted to die, I would have preferred dying on my feet, facing these guards in a deadly and uneven 4-to-1 battle. But they would never allow that—first of all, as I mentioned, my hands were tied behind my back, and though I'm an escape artist, there were no weapons in sight beyond those strapped to the guards.

I mean, sure, I could make quick work of them, but…

In my mental ranting, I ignored most of what the lobsterman said.

" … Charac Aero, as a traitor to the Banner, we, as the loyal followers of It, hereby sentence you to death by hanging. You are allowed last words. What would they be, Mr. Aero?" A thousand eyes looked at me, waiting my answer.

I shrugged. "Salute the Banner?"

I wasn't shooting for mercy, and they knew it. The guards and their lobsterman refused to react to my joust, but the crowd murmured amongst themselves, discussing what it meant that I spoke their loyalty pledge. I felt a thick rope lowering around my neck. A guard stepped forward—gleeful, as I could tell by the glint in his eyes—and fastened the noose. It was so tight I could barely breathe—not that it would matter!

"One more word!" I shouted.

The lobsterman looked at me, unimpressed. I figured he wanted to go back to his lobster family and talk of lobster things. "What is it, Mr. Aero? I suppose this court could allow you one final message."

I smiled, knowing that death was big, red, and fat.

"If I finally become a disconnected spirit," I said slowly, "I will haunt you on the john." With that, I wickedly smiled—showing a mouth full of sharp teeth.

With a disconsolate psh of dismissal, the lobsterman waved his hand. The guard to my right pulled the lever, and I felt the door below my feet drop. As I sailed through the opening, approaching my death, I couldn't help but wonder if my death would come quickly with a snap of my neck, or if I would have to suffer on the rope, waiting to suffocate.

As it turned out, my neck didn't snap. Instead, I struggled.

I know I will die. That is a fact.

My dear reader, I very much would like to end this chapter here, and escort you to the next chapter. Perhaps beginning with "Six years before", "six minutes before", or "six thousand years before"—any would have sufficed, though I would be a little unnerved to visit the middle choice. But alas, dropping you into the past would be most rude, would it not? After all, you're here witnessing my death.

So, let's continue moving forward. Time functions better that way—there's always a little rip and a rather big punishment when you move backwards.

But this is the end, you say? Have I not died?

Well, to tell you the truth, as I am slowly strangling on the end of this rope, hands tied behind my back, rendered perfectly helpless—I have approximately three minutes, forty-six seconds, and twelve nanoseconds before I die.

That is plenty of time to change the world, don't you think?