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The Strange Town in the Middle of the Forest by Max Szredni (51)

CHAPTER NINE (continued)

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            The townsfolk nearest Domei dilated around him, staring at the boy who had interrupted their ceremony of justice. Domei could not bear to look at their faces, the yawning lips of the monster's maw. He felt something wither and disappear within him; his instinct for survival—the animalistic force which had stifled his words when he first tried shouting his confession—had finally abandoned his body, knowing he was a lost cause. Domei understood it was too late to turn back.
            "I tipped the Towers," he said once more, no longer screaming. And Domei was telling the truth—well, most of it; he wasn't about to tell the volatile crowd about his masturbating in the white chamber beforehand. "It was me that went to them that night, not Lelae. I stole the materials from Clerae's warehouse the day before I set the traps, but I was going to give it all back—I swear it! I hid them in the field right after the falling, but I can unbury them if Clerae wants!"—the crowd was already stirring angrily—"And I only meant to tip over a few! I thought if I just wedged one over, a couple more would startle and run and trip over the wires and nothing all that bad would come of it because Raque would eventually be there to pick them up. They all started to run though! They all started to trip over each other!"
            Domei spoke as fast as he could. The monster's lips closed in.
            "I'm sorry!" he said, tears falling freely down his red cheeks, "I am! I just wanted to—"
            Hands were grabbing him by his neck and shoulders—rough adult hands from which there was no escaping. "Wait, wait! Please! I just needed to show people that there might be no answers! That even—even—"
            He was not making sense anymore, and he knew it.
            Domei had spent all the previous night envisioning this moment. In his hopeful imaginings, his speech had been as smooth and flawless as the ones made at the Town Hall, and the townsfolk had listened to him patiently, eventually understanding exactly why he had tipped the Towers.
            That all seemed laughable now.
            The crowd taunted and jeered, shrieking their sour hatred at him.
            "There might not be answers to our questions, that's all! I didn't mean for so many to fall! I even went back to try and apologize to them, I swear it!" Domei attempted to make himself heard above the awful din. He was being pushed closer and closer to the gallows. Caretaker Di was sawing at Lelae's noose with a knife, ordering for a replacement. "I was just trying to show that—please! Please let me go! Let me go!"
            When Domei first decided to confess to the act-of-mischief, he had had a vague inkling what his admission might entail. Understanding he would never be able to live with the guilt of Lelae dying for a crime he had committed, Domei had tried convincing himself of his own execution's unlikelihood—they are killing her because she is a witch. I'm only twelve, I'm sorry for what I have done, I'm just a child, it was a mistake, I didn't know Raque would kill himself, I'm just a child, I'm just a child. Domei's mantra of reasoning had actually succeeded in deluding him that all would end well.
            "Silence!" demanded the Head Authority, as Domei was brought before them, still shouting his pleas at the deaf crowd. "Silence, you lying vagabond. You let your charade go on this long?! To the very last second before this woman—falsely accused—was going to be hanged? You are evil! A thief! A liar! A sociopath—a child born to be Forgotten! Born to die as nothing!"
            To the side, Lelae was untying her black coif and watching him with her silver satin eyes. Domei did not even think he Loved her anymore.
            "You let me apologize to you, let me bend at my waist in order to tell you how sorry I was on behalf of my entire Barracks! You are a Tower-tipper, Forgotten child, and you shall be hanged!"
            There it was, as Domei had never truly expected it to be. His body went slack in the townsfolk's hands, as if the Head Authority's words had shattered his spine. Domei saw the white rat—heard its rustling passage through the grass. A pair of Authorities lifted him onto the platform by his armpits. His soul broke, spilling into his feet like a punctured egg yolk, understanding its vessel had just stood upon solid earth for the final time. The fresh noose had already been bound to the gallows' beam, and Caretaker Di was walking over to Domei, holding the same white bag that had just recently been covering Lelae's head.
            For no reason in particular, Domei thought of Paeren, and how odd it was that they were probably watching and hating him along with the rest of the crowd. As the white bag slipped over his eyes, Domei was once more reminded of the giant rat's fur...could he request a new bag? A brown or black one perhaps? He did not want to die feeling his disgust of the unnatural beast. Maybe he should ask Di, he thought. His old caretaker was wrapping the noose around his neck, pulling it tight. It would soon be hard to speak, he realized. Yes, he had better ask now, before it was too late.
            "Can I—"
            Domei's body dropped through the trapdoor, and the rope snapped taut.
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