One step in front of the other. That's all it takes, one step, and another. You try not to think too hard — thinking about it just makes it worse.
The noise of the crowd gathered around the gallows mounts in anticipation as the executioner walks the row of prisoners towards the ramshackle wooden staircase leading up to the eerily identical set of nooses.
The cellmates to the front and back of you have visages both sunken and hard; deep in thought, the pair stares at their feet. Surprisingly similar, you think to yourself. Almost a matched pair.
As your block of prisoners stops in front of the gibbet, you glance around, taking in the last few sights and sounds you're likely to absorb in your short life. At barely twenty-three, you wonder how you got yourself into this godforsaken mess. A few bad choices down the road; six months on a smuggling vessel in the Atlantic, another two in a prison in Algiers, and one too many "victimless" crimes along the way. At the rate you were going, you were bound to get caught sooner or later; you just kept hoping fervently to yourself that it would be later rather than sooner.
They had caught you at the docks, the last among a team smuggling in muskets, gunpowder, tobacco and a variety of rare, expensive alcoholic beverages imported from the Indies and beyond. If only you had left first instead of last, you wouldn't be in this mess. Instead, you find yourself moments away from death's sweet embrace, recollecting the trials and tribulations of your wasted youth.
As your group's turn comes, the hangman calls for the five of you to step up onto the rickety stairs and take your assigned posts, one to each of five distinct nooses.
Hold on a minute. There are six of us here.
The men to the front and back of you press towards each other as the six bodies forming your group walk up the hastily build staircase. As you step onto the sixth step — barely five feet off the ground — you feel the step beneath your front foot give way, as the imposing man behind you gives you a shove. You fall into darkness, surprisingly unnoticed by the bloodthirsty crowd. As you tumble, your head hits a wall, and darkness engulfs you.
You come to your senses an indeterminate amount of time later. Shaking your head, your wits slowly come to you as you feel a distinct pain emanate from the side of your skull. A gentle touch leaves a wet, sticky substance on your left hand. Must have grazed something on the way down. Looking around cautiously, you see what appears to be candlelight flickering in the distance, off to your right.
You get up, groggy, but surprisingly nothing feels broken. A mild breeze plays at your unshorn locks from your left, wafting a rank, stagnant odour in your direction.