The Hanging Bridge
A crowd had gathered at the entrance to Macon Bridge to watch the hanging. As long as anyone could remember, executions decreed by Judge Clemmons had been carried out on the old bridge. At some point a stout beam had been attached that extended about three feet out from the side of the bridge over the roaring water of the Reedy River. Beneath it, a platform had been built with a trap door that was controlled by a lever on the bridge. More times than people cared to remember the trap door and the beam had functioned flawlessly and justice had been dealt out quickly and mercilessly.
Boone McCracken stood at the side of the bridge, hands bound tightly behind his back by a strong rope, surrounded by seven men; the posse that captured him. He knew that resistance was futile and he offered none. The judge had ordered his hanging to take place at exactly 12:00 noon. He glanced at the sun in the sky and reckoned it to be close to noon now. Sheriff Bailey placed the noose over Boone’s head and tightened it around his neck just enough so that he was not choking. Then the sheriff read from a piece of paper he pulled from his weathered leather vest.
“Boone McCracken, you have been found guilty of the murder of Alice Monroe and according to the laws of this territory you shall be hanged by the neck until dead. Do you have anything to say before your sentence is carried out?
“I ain’t kilt nobody. I done told y’all that over and over. I was in love with Alice Monroe. Why in the world would I kill her?” His voice rose to a strained yell at that point. “I didn’t do it!”
“May the Lord have mercy on your soul.”
Sheriff Bailey pulled out a hood to place over Boones’ head but Boone shook his head vehemently. “I don’t want no hood over my eyes. I want to look each of you in the eyes as you kill an innocent man.”
The sheriff took Boone by the shoulders and guided him onto the platform. Boone could see and hear the roar of the river beneath his feet. He glanced around at the men on the bridge but as he focused on each man they turned their eyes away from him.
The sheriff backed off the platform and Boone knew that at any second the trap door would fall away and his weight would snap his neck. His mouth was as dry as dust! What he would give for one last drink of water. But his last thoughts turned to Alice. He had loved her since he had first laid eyes on her. But somebody had killed her and he was angry that he would not around to find the person responsible for her death. Alice had been strangled in her bedroom in the middle of the night. The fact that there was no sign of forced entry led the law to conclude that the murderer was known to Alice. Witnesses had heard Boone and Alice arguing earlier that evening and a kerchief with Boone’s initials on it was found at the scene. That was all they needed to put two and two together. That’s all he had thought of since they arrested him three days ago. The evidence was enough to convince the jury he was guilty. Now Alice’s murderer would never be caught. That thought was the hardest to take.
He saw the sheriff pull his pocket watch out and glance at it. Then he reached for the lever that would send Boone into eternity. Everything seemed to suddenly move in slow motion. He watched almost as a detached observer as the lever began to move downward. He felt the trap door beginning to open and then he was falling. The rope grabbed at his throat and he felt a blinding pain and then………….nothing!
He was cold, very cold! He was also aware of being in complete darkness and being tossed about like a tumbleweed in a sand storm. Was he dead? No! He suddenly realized he was in the river! He struggled to loosen the ropes from his hands as he propelled himself toward the surface. When he broke the surface he heard yelling and the “pop.. pop” as the men on the bridge began shooting at him. He saw and heard the bullets smack the water near him, but the raging river was pulling him away at such a pace that within minutes he was out of range. He kept struggling to keep his head above water with his hands still bound behind his back. He sank beneath the surface again, swallowing more of the muddy water. Just his luck, he thought, escape hanging because the beam broke under his weight and now he would drown in the river. He struggled with the ropes again, trying to hold his breath as he did so. His lungs were bursting! A voice in his head said “relax….give in”……That would be so easy! But he saw Alice’s face and he knew he couldn’t give in. All at once he felt the ropes give ever so slightly. He struggled even harder as he tried to kick his way to the surface again. But his legs were not responding and he felt himself slowly sinking. He knew that within seconds, out of desperation, his body would involuntarily gasp for air and it would be over. Then miraculously… the ropes were loose. He desperately flailed toward the surface. “His brain threw up a desperate prayer, “Oh, God, don’t let me die now.”
His head burst above the water and he gasped for the life-saving air as his lungs burned. He was free! But he was so exhausted that all he could do was try and keep his head above the water as he was swept helplessly down the river.
At long last the river began to widen and slow and he was able to make it to a shoreline. He pulled himself up onto the muddy bank and collapsed from pure exhaustion. He must have lost consciousness for a brief time because the next thing he knew he was startled by the sound of horses and shouts. It was the posse looking for him. They had tried to follow him down river but the going was slow since no paths ran parallel to the river on this side. He eased himself back into the water and found shelter under a rocky outcrop on the bank.
The posse was nearby but he couldn’t see them. But from their voices he reckoned them to be no more than a hundred yards away. He let himself sink lower in the water until only his eyes and the top of his head were showing …and waited. Slowly the sounds faded as the posse moved further down the river. When he was sure it was safe he pulled himself out of the water and headed toward Red Rock. He would find Alice’s killer and clear his name or die trying.
The next few hours were a blur to Boone and all he could remember was struggling to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving. His neck was raw from the rope burn and it was hard to swallow because of the swelling.
Then he was there! He didn’t know how but He was standing in Alice’s bedroom watching her sleep. How he got in her bedroom he could not figure. One minute he was walking back from the river and suddenly he was here. He couldn’t believe it…Alice was not dead! “Alice is not dead” his mind kept repeating over and over. He desperately wanted to wake her, hold her, apologize for the foolish argument that they had had. He must be dreaming. He shook his head and even pinched himself to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating. But as much as he wanted to wake Alice, he found himself unable to move…..only stand and watch her breast rise and fall with each relaxed breath.
Then he heard it! Someone was moving about in the house. It was a faint sound but Boone could hear definite soft steps coming up the stairs. He tensed as the steps approached the door. The figure in the doorway was tall and dark and at first Boone was unable to make out any features. Then as the figure moved into the room he saw the face. It was Drake Campbell, Alice’s old beau. She had broken off their engagement when she met Boone. He and Drake had had several run-in’s since then and he had sworn to get even with Boone. He even threatened to kill him!
Drake moved to the bed and bent over Alice softly, barely making a sound. Alice stirred! Then unexpectedly, she opened her eyes and started to scream at the sight of the dark figure looming over her. But she only got a short muffled sound out before Drake clamped his large hand over her mouth. He whispered for her to be quiet but she continued to struggle, trying to scream. Boone felt anger rising and he wanted to lash out with his fists…..to scream. He wanted to kill Drake with his bare hands but try as he might he couldn’t move…only witness the horrible scene taking place before him.
As Alice continued to struggle Drake placed one of his hands around her throat and while he covered her mouth with the other, he squeezed until she stopped struggling. Boone could see her eyes grow wild and wide with fear and then gradually a glazed and distant look. Boone tried screaming but no sound came out. Damn Drake Campbell….damn him to hell. If he could only move he would kill him with his bare hands…..choke the life out of him just as he was doing to Alice.
Then it was over! Alice lay still on the bed….no longer struggling. Boone wanted to throw up. He felt weak in the knees as his whole body shuddered. He saw Drake take something out of his pocket and dropped it on the floor beside the bed. Boone could see in the dim light that it looked like a kerchief. Then slowly he was able to make out something on the corner of the kerchief….initials; a “B” and an “M”.
Drake stood in the dark looking down at the body for a few seconds and then as quietly as he had come, he headed toward the stairs. How he did not see Boone standing there he didn’t know. But to get to the stairs he had to pass right by Boone. Boone quickly prayed that God allow him to kill Drake. “Help me please!” At that point, and with all of his might Boone reached out and grabbed at him. But all he could grasp was the chain hanging from Drake’s pocket. It happened so fast that evidently Drake did not realize that Boone had pulled his watch from his pocket.
Slowly his footsteps faded as he headed back down the stairs the way he had come in. Boone could not take his eyes off the lifeless body of Alice. There was nothing he could do now. As tears streamed down his face, with one last herculean effort he bent down and picked up the kerchief and dropped the watch in its’ place.
The trap door gave way as Boone dropped into the abyss. There was a sharp crack as the rope grabbed at his neck and did its’ duty. His body convulsed several times and then it was over. His lifeless body swung ever so slowly back and forth as the crowd began to leave. As the sheriff was getting Boone’s body down for burial he suddenly noticed it. It was a small piece of cloth….a handkerchief with the initials of BM in the corner.
RDavenport 2001 (C)