The Swingers

The Swingers

A Story by Rawhide

This is based on a dream I had. I had been reading Stephen King's Wind Through the Keyhole before going to sleep, and I suspect that this was the inspiration for the setting to some degree.

It was a hot, dusty day, a normal day for these parts, when they marched me to the swingers. The dark cloth bag that covered my head kept out most of the light, but the dust made its way in and dried my lips and throat. My story was an age-old story, told time and again. The Indenture Act of 2483 had sealed my fate long before I had committed my crimes.

According to law, I was to be hanged unless someone paid for my release. Slavery had been ended a long time ago, longer ago than memory could recall. The Indenture Act had brought it back on a limited basis. Someone sentenced to death could pay their debts through hard work rather than hanging on the swingers. On hanging day, the men who owned the big farms would come from as far as the next territory and bid on the condemned. The number of years you owed them depended on how much they had to pay to set your crimes right. The worse the crime, the higher the initial bid.

I had killed 14 people. I knew that my starting bid would be quite high, but I was young, and strong. I could give many years of hard work. The farm owners would be happy to pay for my release. Plus my crimes had been mostly accidental. I had killed 14 people, but I had not set out to do so purposefully.

I had seen these auctions when I was a boy on my father's farm. One of those times, there was a woman there, clutching a book and yelling at everyone. My father had called it "preachin". I still don't understand what preachin' is.

The deputy that was leading me, said, "Stairs. Step up." I moved my leg forward slowly until I felt the first step, and I climbed the swingers. I stopped when we reached the top and the deputy told me to. My hands were bound behind my back. I just stood there waiting for the auction to start while they put the rope around my neck.

Next I heard the Sheriff's voice speaking loudly, "Jack Hornwood, you have been found guilty of 14 counts of manslaughter and sentenced to hang by the neck until dead. Do you have any final words?"

The cloth over my head was pulled up enough to free my mouth. I tried to lick my lips to wet them, and directed my words to the crowd, "I'm not a violent man. I'm young, I'm big, and I'm strong. I can work hard. You'd be lucky to have me working on your farm." I paused trying to think of what to say next, but they had taken that as a cue that I was done. They pulled the bag back down over my mouth. I started to protest, but I had not thought of what else to say so I decided I was done after all.

Then I heard the sheriff address the crowd and say, "You all know why we're here. We're starting the bidding at 4 bits."

I couldn't believe my ears. Only 4 bits for my crimes? I'd have farmers lining up for a mile at that price. Yet, I couldn't hear any bidders calling out.

The sheriff continued, "Come on folks. We need to get at least 4 bits. I know you're not getting much for your money, but it helps out the town."

I wanted to laugh. Not getting much? I could take on the sheriff and the deputy even with my hands tied. I was twice the man either of them were.

The sheriff then said, "Alright, do we have any bidders at all? What would you be willing to pay?"

I heard a voice pierce the darkness I was in, "I'll pay two bits. For my son. This is his first time seeing the swingers. I want him to remember it."

The sheriff asked, "Anyone else," paused for a moment, and said, "Sold for two bits. Please come up here with payment and claim your prize."

This couldn't have turned out any better for me. At that price, I'd be a free man in two years at the most. I heard two sets of footsteps come up the steps beside me. I was eager to meet my liberators. I heard some coins clank against each other.

I heard feet shuffling and hushed talking. I couldn't make out exactly what was happening or being said, but I had a sudden feeling that I wanted to get out of that rope and cloth bag as soon as possible. I heard the sheriff's heavy feet walk over to me. I could feel his breath against the front of the bag as he faced me. Finally, he was going to release me.

He put his hands on my shoulders and leaned in close. I could smell remnants of last night's whiskey on his breath as he spoke to me. "I'm sorry son. The judge gave you the full ride. No indenture for you."

I jerked out the sheriff's hands and tried to back away. As I stepped back, I heard the voice of the winning bidder say, "Now son."

It had been a very long time since they had actually hung anyone, and the rope had been too short. My neck survived the drop, but the rope kept growing tighter and tighter. I heard a mix of sounds from the crowd. Ladies crying. Men grunting, whether it was approval or disdain, I didn't know. My feet kicked looking for ground or anything that would give me support. My feet found nothing. My chest gasped for breath but could find none. I tried to yell, but nothing came out.

The last thing I realized right before darkness took me was that my feet had stopped kicking, and my body was swinging gently back and forth.

© 2013 Rawhide

Author's Note

Not looking for reviews, per se, but feedback is welcome. This is just the first draft. I basically wanted to get the story down on paper (so to speak) before I forgot it. I'm thinking it needs to be expanded and maybe told from a different perspective.

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Added on January 16, 2013
Last Updated on January 16, 2013
Tags: Horror, hanging, death sentence, slavery



McCleary, WA

He puts his quill to parchment to preserve his story. Eons from now, no one will be able to fathom the depths of the suffering he felt nor the expanse of the suffering he caused. He will be villified,.. more..