She was swept up in the air, her body limp. Even in the dead of night, he could see it all perfectly: her bare feet gently swinging back and forth; her toes pointed downward, toward the Majestyk's wooden deck. He kept waiting for her to open her eyes—to see the peril in front of her—but it never happened, as she was lifted higher until the man holding Anne Walsh tipped her over the starboard rail, where she fell wordlessly before being swallowed by the churning black waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
The deed was done. While her body tumbled lifelessly into the liquid abyss, the man in the frock coat turned, quickly spotting him.
Galen awoke with the sunrise, which brought with it the sound of birds in flight, taking off toward the sky—on their way to warmer climes. A single black crow had stayed behind and cawed angrily at Galen from the top of a nearby tree. Galen couldn’t tell from where the crow berated him, for this marked his third dawn in the pillory, and he was no longer able to raise his head due to the agonizing strain of his confined posture.
Galen was certain that this crow was the same that showed up yesterday and sat in the trees, incessantly mocking him and constantly drawing closer. The bird, Galen reckoned, had already identified him as a trapped and tasty morsel, it was sitting back just biding its time until he died and it could sup on his body.
Or perhaps, if it grew impatient enough, it would realize its prey was powerless to fight back and would swoop down to greedily take Galen’s eyes.
In a few hours, the boy would arrive with the bucket to splash water in Galen’s face and place a palmful of wet gruel into his open mouth. The bucket boy had no fear of Galen trying to bite off his fingertips; he could tell the captive was too weak to put up any kind of fight.
If they had intended to squelch his bravado, then they had done so quite effectively. He was currently using whatever physical strength he had left to keep himself on his feet—his leg muscles burning with exhaustion. He had no choice, though; if his legs were to give out, his dead body weight against the wooden stock would surely strangle him. And with the distinct possibility that his subsequent death would only be temporary, such a hellish scenario could indeed repeat itself without foreseeable conclusion.
While his body fought desperately to remain upright, Galen’s mind battled its own demons. When darkness fell, nightmarish visions would creep in to haunt him. He struggled to keep his eyes open—to overcome the exhaustion of it all—but even then they came as some horrible waking dream he couldn’t escape. His mind vacillated between moments of mental twilight and complete delirium. It was here the scene of the burning church replayed itself again and again—the screams and helpless cries.
Quickly they moved—the ones still alive. Feet shuffling down the rickety steps, their panicked voices muffled by hands and sleeves over their mouths to block the smoke from their lungs.
“Hurry!” Galen yelled. They blindly followed his every word, throwing themselves into the dark, round ditch, desperately trying to escape from the fate that awaited in the conflagration upstairs. With terrified voices they screamed—their bodies thudding against each other, the thick wet sounds of flesh on bone and bone on rock as they hit bottom.
That sound! Galen’s mind cried because his voice could not. That maddening sound!
Men and women falling down a well became Anne Walsh tumbling into the ocean—and the man in the frock coat, his face completely visible.
But this time, it seemed as if his gaze lingered on him longer than it had in any of his other visions. This time he stared knowingly back into Galen’s eyes—revealing a very distinct glimmer of recognition before the vision faded into nothingness.
Dozens of ruddy faces peered up at him as he stood above them on the gallows, their voices calling out for his neck. In the moment the noose was being slipped over his head, he saw the man—standing unnoticed among the angry crowd. The remains of two burnt wings protruded from his back, just as Galen remembered—just as he couldn’t help but remember. This man’s lips silently moved, and his dark, piercing eyes entered Galen before drawing the two together. He could see those eyes as he saw them before, in the church as the man cackled “Brother Thomas, do something!”
“Father?” Galen’s voice croaked out loud, suddenly back on the Majestyk.
He blinked, back on the gallows with the rope around his neck, the cheering faces of Sagebrush’s poor calling out for his death.
“Father?” he asked again. When the trapdoor opened under his feet and his head jerked upwards, he was vaulted back into consciousness by someone yanking a handful of his hair.
Galen wanted to cry out but was silenced, his mind fully stifled by the face of the hooded woman staring directly into his eyes. Nena cocked her head at Galen, trying to read his face. Here in the daylight, he could finally make out her pupils, which appeared like two cut pieces of raw jade.
“What did you see?” she asked.
Galen let out no answer, save for a low grunt.
“I asked, ‘What did you see?’” Nena bellowed.
Again Galen held his tongue, angering Nena to the point of violence. She yanked hard on the fistful of hair—hard enough to extract some by its roots.
“Let him out,” she hissed.
The pockmarked man produced a set of iron keys on a ring. He opened the pillory lock and, with a grunt, lifted the heavy upper half of the stock off its frame. Immediately, Galen fell backward, slipping through the neck and wrist cutouts before collapsing on the ground.
As he lay there, he could smell his own stench. Nena must have as well, because she turned her head and ordered bucket boy to douse him with water from head to toe. The splash caught Galen; he gasped for air, inhaling the chilled water into his lungs. He began coughing.
I'm going to drown on bare land, he thought. “The irony.” He laughed and a chortle escaped his mouth.
“What is so funny?” demanded Nena.
Galen couldn't help himself; what had started as an unintentional slip had now grown into full gales of laughter.
“I said, ‘What is so funny?’” Nena roared this time, obviously losing patience.
Enraged, the man with the pockmarked face grabbed the wooden bucket from the boy's hand and, with one swing, smashed it across Galen’s face. The boy turned his head as to not be hit with flying shrapnel.
“Shut yer god-damned mouth!” he shouted at Galen, who had been dazed and nearly knocked unconscious by the blow.
Galen groaned and tried to rub his head, but his arms were so weakened by his confinement that lifting them was near impossible. Although was free, days locked in the pillory made his limbs feel as if they were still imprisoned.
The pockmarked man threw aside what was left of the bucket, grabbed Galen by one of his arms, and began dragging him across the grass. The force caused Galen to yelp, as he feared his enfeebled arm would be dislocated. When he looked up, he saw he was being dragged into a circle of about two-dozen men. The men parted to allow them inside. Galen immediately spotted the pole, which had been secured in the ground. Galen's eyes widened in horror as he thought of what they had done to Maria; weakly he tried to fight and pull away. He desperately willed for his physical strength to return and, with one swift movement, pulled away from his surprised captor.
Get up, damnit, his mind screamed. As he felt his legs begin to respond, dozens of hands were already on him. The men from the circle had descended upon Galen and were pulling him upwards toward the pole. In moments he was pinned; one man lashed his hands above his head to the pole while another used a knife to cut his clothes away, stripping him naked.
“Burn them,” Nena motioned toward Galen’s fetid shirt and pants. They were the clothes that originally belonged to Maria's dead husband; they were now ruined by Galen’s blood, sweat, and waste while being confined in the confines.
Galen tried to eye Nena, but the blow from the bucket had opened a cut over his left eye, essentially half-blinding him.
She has something in her hand, he thought. What is it? A torch?
He tried to squint but still could not make it out through his veiled vision. When she got closer and raised her hand, Galen could clearly see the whip.
The leather cracked as the lash snapped against Galen’s chest, forcing his pent-up scream to birth itself from his upturned mouth.
Before the sound of Galen's wail could die down, Nena's whip once more hissed through the air, cutting a line across Galen's stomach so deep that crimson droplets surfaced from his raised and reddened flesh.
Again Galen screamed, his neck arching back, its skin straining against the bulging veins within. From Nena's other hand came something that she shoved in Galen's face. Flinching, he turned away. But something, a force beyond his control, pulled his gaze toward it again. Although blood covered vision, he saw it and recoiled in horror.
In Nena's hand was the eye—the same cursed thing he had left behind after fleeing Kansas City. But as she held it up to his face, Galen could see it was different. Whereas the eye he had killed the Gypsy crone for was perfectly preserved, the one in Nena’s hand appeared to be chipped and yellowed with age.
He was pulled into the singular gaze of the eyeball, and once more his mind flashed to a vision. Columns of demons marched up from the depths of the abyss, their front lines clashing headlong with winged warrior angels. The earth was left scorched—a scarred battlefield.
The vision was torn from his mind as Nena pulled away the eye.
“What did you see?” she demanded. As Galen’s gaze fell to the ground, she seemed to intuit the answer.
“Where did you get that evil thing?” grunted Galen weakly.
“This eye, and its twin, were carved out of the skull of my father after he put a bullet in his skull and left us in the woods to die. This eye belonged to William Lawton. I began life as his daughter, Alyson, and if I am not mistaken, you are my older brother Thomas.”