Clara stepped through the doorway, surprised by the crowd that had gathered. She walked silently through them, forcing herself to look each person in the eye.
Then she came to the bottom of the steps, where she suddenly felt faint. It was as if she had come back to her body from some spectral realm.
Slowly she ascended the stairs, counting as she did. Thirteen.
Once on the scaffold, she was positioned over the trap door. From there, she looked down on the faces of those gathered.
The ropes coils were laid across her left shoulder as the noose was tightened about her neck. It felt heavier than it looked.
“Any last words?” the sheriff asked.
Clara looked down into the faces of the many men who had visited her in the darker hours. They all looked away.
“You men oughta be ashamed of yourselves,” Clara said. “You knew what they were doing and you didn’t have the guts to stop it.”
As she spoke, the sheriff bound her hands behind her back, then a strap around her ankles.
“Now, I gotta pay for your lack of courage,” she said. “Had you did so, you’d have gotten off for defending a woman, but no, you turned a blind eye.”
The sheriff slipped the hood over her head. Clara was surprised that she could still see the shapes of the men, women, and children that had come to see her hang.
“Cowards,” she yelled, realizing she was panting for breath like a dog pants on a hot day.
The trap dropped from beneath her, and blackness filled her eyes. But in her head, she heard a sharp hum, like a tuning fork.
The sound faded into the twittering of songbirds, or perhaps angels singing. She could not tell.
That faded too.