Death in the Afternoon

Three men to carry out a drama that has been enacted since the dawn of recorded time. Two prisoners at the forest's edge. And an executioner who will show no mercy.

The executioner is a big man. A barbarian. And the prisoners are as old as the oldest living things, the oldest trees in the forest, the oldest word, the oldest thought. One of the prisoners is named Raul Faith. The name of the other is not known to him. The executioner takes out a knife. The sun is not shining, but the knife is gleaming. Raul notices that the other prisoner is staring at the ground. He looks half-dead and he shows the signs of torture.

Another man appears. Evidently he is the commanding officer, for the executioner salutes him. The executioner's face is filled with a look of criminal impassivity and he begins yelling at the prisoners, jumping up and down, and shaking his fist in the poor men's faces.

The prisoner who is looking at the ground glances up. The expression on his face is serene. He knows he is about to die. The executioner motions Raul aside. Then he takes his knife and goes up to the other prisoner and places the edge of the knife against the prisoner's throat.

At that moment, a warbler begins to sing from a nearby tree. It is a beautiful song, a song Raul has never heard the warbler sing. The executioner pauses and looks at the knife. In a punctilious tone, befitting the solemnity of the occasion, he asks the prisoner if he has anything to say before the sentence is carried out.

When the prisoner speaks, his voice is hoarse: "You offered what we did not want in exchange for our doing what we had pledged never to do. Of course those were conditions we could never accept. You fools!"

"Comrade!" Raul manages to cry.

The executioner scowls and he turns to face Raul. "Shut up," he barks and he strikes Raul across the face and there is blood on Raul's lip.

The commanding officer smiles. Then he motions for the execution to continue. The executioner turns back to the other prisoner and grabs him by the hair and yanks his head upward. And then, for a moment, he hesitates. What is it that Raul detects in his countenance? Anxiety? Fear? Perhaps, he thinks, this is his first execution. Raul closes his eyes; he is praying.

Suddenly, the executioner utters a horrible cry. It echoes throughout the forest as he plunges his knife into the prisoner's neck, severing the jugular vein. Blood spurts out in a long dreamy arc and the prisoner slumps to the ground. Raul wants to cry out but he cannot. He feels like he is floating in a dream, only this is not a dream. He watches as the executioner jumps on the dying man and hacks him to pieces. He is slavering like a rabid dog and strange whimpering sounds are coming from his throat and his fiery eyes give him a demonic look. The commanding officer is laughing. Now, he moans, the other one. He turns to face Raul and he raises the knife.