's 2019 Horror Write-off:

The Gallows

Submitted by Shakara

Basia watched through the crowd. Theofanis was giving the Last Rites. Ignacy scowled at the minister, pulling derisive looks to those gathered who’d come to watch the execution. Basia did not want to be here, but it was tradition that every person of proper age come and watch what happened to sinners. 

She did not know Ignacy, but had heard he’d once been an honest lad, even winner of the Half-Moon Dances. Seeing the tall boy tied to the post, eyes wild and face with wounds and bared teeth, made her feel rather ill.

“Ignacy Majewski, thou art charged with the crime of theft and the ignoble murder of Lady Izolda Gorecki. Thou did steal 500 groszy from her home, and when she was alerted of thine presence, thou proceeded to attack and then defile her.” He closed his book, the ‘thud’ of the leather binding echoing through the sombre plaza.

Basia didn’t understand half the words, but she knew it was serious. She coughed as quietly as she could into her handkerchief.

“Before the execution begins, is there anything thou wouldst say? Last words, mayhaps?”

Ignacy sneered at Theofanis, spitting upon his chasuble.

“I have words aplenty, you skurwysyn!” He unloaded a litany of vulgarities.

Basia felt her elder sister’s hands over her ears. Zula didn’t want her to hear. Zula looked as if she’d been crying. She was sure that she’d once been friends with Ignacy.

After a while, her ears were uncovered. Theofanis had spoken again.

“—e forgiven for thine sins, and repent to see the fault of the path thou had taken. God have mercy ‘pon thine soul, Ignacy Majewski.” He walked away from the struggling young man bound to the post, over to where a bell hung.

It had been in the plaza for as long as anybody could remember. It was an old silver bell, tarnished with patches of dark yellow. It was said it was as old as the mountains themselves. Perhaps even older. Theofanis spoke something Basia couldn’t understand, and the crowd repeated. Zula gave a hitching sigh, but settled herself.

He rang the bell, and the crowd went deathly silent. Basia held her breath, and felt Zula hold her hand.

“If you get scared, you can leave with me.” She whispered softly to the small girl.

“Okay, Zu.”

Ignacy looked around, that mocking smirk still on his lips, as if it were all a joke. The sound of the bell faded out, and silence reigned. The boy laughed harshly.

“Well? Am I to expect something?”

Theofanis looked to the ground and pointed upward, muttering something in that other language. Latin? Basia was always bad at Latin. The crowd stiffened, but remained quiet as something descended. Suddenly, almost imperceptibly, something came down from the sky. As if lowered by an invisible pulley, it came closer until the girl could see what it was. A person. But who? What was this? Zula held her hand tighter. Would it get scary? Dread fizzed in her stomach.

Ignacy was still smirking.

“I reckon you plan to kill me with sheer boredom.” He half-laughed.

The laugh died in his throat as the figure came down fully, hovering above the ground. Basia could see fully now. A man in a threadbare cloak, held by a mossy rope around the neck.

Hanged. She started to shake, gripping Zula’s hand for dear life.

Ignacy had started to sweat, his veil of bravado now gone.

“W-What’s happening? Who is this? Oh, God, who is this?”

Basia’s involuntary whimper was drowned by the boy’s panic. She realised- it was no cloak, but a shroud, exposed to the elements so it barely covered the mummified man. It was a corpse! Zula stood closer to her sister, pallid.

Theofanis didn’t even change his expression, but simply watched as the corpse began to move. With grinding joints, the dead man gripped Ignacy under the arms and began to pull. Slowly, he was raised up off the post, the ropes still tight around his arms. He thrashed, kicked, screamed and struggled like a man possessed, but nothing he did worked. Greyed arms wrapped around him tighter as he rose into the air. The face of the corpse didn’t move, but it couldn’t as most of the skin had fallen away, exposing a ghoulish grin.

The crowd did not move until the last miniscule speck of the now-sobbing Ignacy and the cadaverous executioner had vanished into the white blanket of the clouds.

“Thus perish all sinners.” Theofanis spoke at last. The crowd began to disperse, and Theofanis left to speak to another minister about something.

Basia didn’t realise it, but she had been weeping. Carefully, she extracted her teeth from her lower lip and prised her fingers from Zula’s hand.

“Are you alright?” Zula asked. She had also been crying. The others in the crowd looked positively sick.

Ignacy was gone. Despite seeing no clear evidence of it, Basia knew that he was surely dead.


Time passed. Life resumed its normal rhythm. Basia tried her hardest to avoid the plaza in the town, and worked to her upmost to keep away from sin. Not even stepping on a singular blade of grass.

Basia knew not what happened to Ignacy up in the sky, but she dearly didn’t want to find out for herself.