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He stood stiffly in the back of the cart, his eyes fixed on a point in the distance, not looking at anything. As the cart rolled to a stop, he blinked and looked around.

“Are we there so soon?”

One of the escorts shook his head. “This is your last stop along the way,” he said, gesturing at the building behind him.

The man in the cart looked past him and frowned at the sign swinging in the wind.

“No,” he said softly. “I have never frequented such establishments in my life, and I do not intend to start now.”

The escort looked surprised. “You’re in such a hurry to die you’ll refuse your last drink? Come on, man, a wee dram of whisky’ll settle your nerves for those last steps.”

The man shook his head firmly. “I will not drink. Let us continue.”

The escort shrugged, waved to his associates, and the horses were whipped and the cart rolled on.

The gathered crowd were surprised to see the cart arrive so soon, but the clamour was untamed. The man was led from the cart and up the thirteen steps to the gallows.

As the hangman placed the noose around his neck, the priest read his last verse, and the man was asked if he had any last words. He spoke, briefly, about the nature of evil and of his repentance, then the hood was placed over his head.

The trapdoor opened and he lurched into eternity.

At that moment, a horse was seen in the distance, a horse ridden hard by a young messenger with urgency written on his face. He shouted as he grew near.

“Pardon! A pardon!”

The hangman rushed to cut the rope, but it was too late.

“If only,” muttered the escort. “If only he’d stopped.”

© Kari Fay