I sat on the hill with my rifle. I was just watching the sunset after a day of hunting. There was no wildlife out that I saw today. So I sat and watched the sun sink beneath the horizon. It was a beautiful shade of orange that I hadn't seen in a long time. It reminded me of being a young child with nothing to worry about. I would sit in the same spot with my father after a long day and we would just watch the sunset in silence. I was at peace.

I was just about to mount my horse when I saw an animal coming up over the hill in the distance. I lay down on the ground and held my breath as I lined up the shot. At last I would have meat to feed my family. We have been eating nothing but what we can grow in our garden. I had a perfect shot lined up, I pulled the trigger. The animal fell to the ground and another ran off into the distance. There must have been another one I didn't see. That didn't matter though; I had gotten one of them.

My horse wasn't too spooked by the gunshot. I got into the saddle and rode to retrieve my prize. The trip felt as though it took forever. All I could think about was my kids running up to me and giving me hugs and my wife's smile right before she gave me a hug and a kiss. We weren't going to have to eat cabbage or carrots with the dream of meat. I approached the hill where my kill awaited me. My mouth started to salivate when I saw the lump on the ground. I looked down with glee at the kill. I looked away immediately.

The man was looking up at me drawing in slow breaths. Blood was coming out the corner of his mouth. He was in so much pain. I saw tear run down his cheek. I got off my horse and kneeled down beside him and held the wound in his chest where my bullet had gone through. The only thing I could say was that everything would be alright, but I knew it wasn't going to be. He was going to die. I had killed him. As he drew his last breaths he said a series of names. I could only assume they were his wife and children. They would be left without a man to care for them, all because of me. I thought of my family. I thought about how happy they would be when I brought home dinner. Then I realized that I wouldn't be bringing home dinner. I wouldn't even be going home. I would go into town and find the doctor. The doctor could fix this, the man wasn't dead yet. I would still be seeing my family soon enough. Right before I put the man on my horse he leaned in to me and asked one thing, "Why?" I didn't know what to say so I said nothing. I put him on my horse and we rode into town.

The whole time we rode the man repeated the same names over and over. Then he choked and said nothing. Even though I knew then he was dead I rode into the town. The people on the road all stared at me and gave me looks unlike any I had ever seen. They were disgusted that I was riding into the town with a dead man on my horse. I ignored them and went to the doctor's office. The doctor and I lowered the man off the horse and into his office. The doctor felt the neck of the man to check his pulse. He had a sad look on his face and shook his head. He left and a few minutes later he returned with the Sherriff.

The Sherriff came into the doctor's office first. Anger had twisted his face. He looked at me, and then looked at the man on the table. He stopped back on me and said, "Well." I knew he wanted an explanation of why I killed the man. I didn't have one to give. I just bowed my head and said nothing. I closed my eyes and heard the Sherriff talking to the doctor. I was too confused to listen to what they were saying. I thought of my family again, this time instead of them being happy they were crying. My wife was just going on hysterically saying why in between sobs. My kids were sitting with her and crying into her shoulder. At this thought I started to cry. I would never see them happy again. This was the end of happiness. I thought of the sunset. I wondered why I had decided to stay there as long as I had. I also wondered why I shot the man, was I so delighted with the thought of meat that I mistook a man for an animal?

I felt the hand of the Sherriff on my shoulder, he told me to stand and I did. He told me turn around, I did. He put the handcuffs on my wrists, a little too tight. He pushed me through the doors of the doctor's office. A crowd had formed in the streets. They all shouted at me, they called me a monster. The Sherriff shouted at them to calm down, they did. I walked down the street with the eyes of the townspeople looking on me with disgrace. I never felt so bad in my life. The Sherriff was still holding onto my shoulder, that's probably why no one threw anything at me. We approached the jail and my tears came back.

We walked through the door and the Sherriff told me to wait, I did. He took the handcuffs from around my wrists, relief. He gently me pushed me into the jail cell, which wasn't as bad as I had imagined it would be. I sat down on the bed and thought. I knew what would happen, they would get my family to come and say goodbye. I would be hanged tomorrow morning. I lay my head down on what they called a pillow and closed my eyes.

I think I may have been asleep for a few hours when someone told me to wake up. I opened my eyes and saw my wife. Tears were in her eyes and running down her face. I started to cry as I got up and walked to her. I put my hand through the bars and caressed her cheek. The bars were wide enough for us to get our arms through and hold each other, we did for a while. She didn't say anything, I only said three words. The Sherriff came in and pulled her away. I never saw my children.

I lay back down on the bunk and stared at the ceiling. I tried to sleep, I couldn't. I thought of my family and how happy they would have been had I just gone home. Then I thought of my parents, father and mother, how upset they would be if they were still alive. My head felt heavy, I was thirsty. The heat of the summer was almost too much to bear. I thought of my children, growing up with no father. My wife, would she move on or would she find someone else to care for them? Could someone's life end so suddenly? No, it didn't seem right. Then I thought of the man I had shot. He had a life too. I thought of all the names he had mumbled before he died. Their lives would be the same as my families. Had he thought the same things I had thought before he died. Is it fair? I cried more. He had a family and so did I, both our lives ended because of my mistake.

I sat up and leaned against the wall. I hung my head in shame. The tears had stopped; death would be a release from my pain. Then I thought to that, is that fair? Should I be allowed to be relieved of my agony while the family of the man I killed lived on? I couldn't decide. I thought of my family again. I put my head in my hands and closed my eyes.

I guess I fell asleep because I was then awakened by the Sherriff banging on the bars of my cell. It occurred to me that I was about to be sent to my death. Time seemed to slow down. Never before had I felt so much pain and relief at the same time. It was strange. Just yesterday I was out getting food for my family and today I was walking to my death. Strange how things can change so quickly, isn't it? As I stood from the bunk I looked at the Sherriff in the eyes. Again he asked me if I had anything to say, I didn't. I looked him in the eye and he looked at me. He opened the jail cell and told me to turn around, I did. The cuffs came back, but this time not too tight. I guess the dead need to be comfortable. Again he placed his hand on my shoulder and pushed me through the door.

The gallows were in front of the jail so we didn't have to go far. The walk felt like miles. The Sherriff's hand began to feel heavy on my shoulder. I could feel the weight of the cuffs. I could smell the waste of the horses in the streets. The gallows stretched high into the sky. I wondered to myself if this is what that last moments are like for everyone. If every outlaw ever hung at these gallows felt. I could see the crowd of people beyond the gallows. They stood there waiting for me to die. The Sherriff paused at the steps. He took a deep breath and pushed me forward again. I wondered what he was thinking. We went up the wooden steps of the gallows.

I thought again of the man I killed and his family. I thought of my family. I thought of last night and of all the people watching me die. I thought about the sunset I saw yesterday and how happy I was. I thought about the animal off in the distance. I thought about the taste of the savory meat. I thought about running up to me and giving me hugs and my wife's smile right before she gave me a hug and a kiss.

We reached the platform of the gallows. The Sherriff told me to step forward and stand in the center. I looked up and saw the noose hanging above my head. I looked at all the people watching me, I thought I saw my wife in tears but I wasn't sure. Then I looked out at the horizon. The sun was rising. It was beautiful. I wished I were on my hill watching it. The shade of orange was unforgettable. I stared at it until the black bag came over my head. I felt the noose come around my neck and tighten. I thought of my wife smiling and the man I had killed. I heard my death sentence. I felt the platform fall from beneath my feet and for a brief moment I thought of the orange sky and how beautiful it was, and I thought of my wife and how beautiful she was, my children, my parents, the man I killed, and should this really be my fate. I thought all these things at once, I asked to be forgiven. I heard the scream of the crowd, one louder than all the others. I felt the sudden stop and heard the loudest bang I had ever heard.

The Gallows

By: Anthony Dimick