The Executioner could feel a terrible space at his back.
There was always a terrible space at his back, and he was always afraid to turn and confront it. Afraid of his room or his own shadow or just the sheer, relentless absence that accompanied his life since taking this awful role.
Executioner. Most hated man in five worlds.
He twisted at last. Quickly, like he might catch something behind him. Nothing was there, of course. Nothing ever was. Instead all that happened was that his chair let out a protesting squeak, which startled him.
In response, he raised a pistol high. An ornate, old-fashioned thing with a wooden handle that was impossibly curved, making the long nose look unbalanced. But at least it was deadly.
Unlike what he clenched in his other hand. A feathered quill. Well, deadly in a different way, he consoled himself. There were still a dozen Writs of Execution left to sign in a profession where the paperwork could almost overwhelm the actual, well, the execution of the role.
His thumb already spasmed with a new cramp.
He gripped his weapons and stood. Carefully, like he was testing whether he could. His knees clicked and there was a stoop to his shoulders that he could feel all the way to his soul. Ridiculous for a man of twenty-six.
Twenty-six, he reminded himself.
Of course, it wasn’t age but fear that kept his knees stiff and leant the bend to his spine. As if he were curled on the starting blocks of some great race, and might leap forward at the sound of the starter’s gun.
Stress, the doctors called it, and there had been many doctors. Stress has built up the soft, protective layer of flesh that hangs from your chin and your belly and those soft arms you use for signing writs.
He eased his rigid knees with a slow march around the room. He twisted as he walked, looking not just forward but back. In case some untoward visitor had found their way inside. Impossible, of course. No one could hide here. Not with the weight of the security system that skinned the building on every floor, wall, ceiling and false window.
Impossible to hide under the bed. He’d had it lowered to the floor. Impossible to hide in a wardrobes; there weren’t any. Except for the desk, with its ponderous load of writs, all other furniture had been removed years ago. Removed and stored by a begrudging staff, none of whom he’d allowed access to the Executioner’s rooms since.
It was this robust and relentless paranoia, he liked to think, that had made him the longest-serving Executioner in nearly three hundred years.
… Continued in Review of Australian Fiction, Volume 9 Issue 2.