Short Story
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                STAY OF EXECUTION
                                                by J. Steven Fischer

Near England, the eighteen eighties

The Sea Sprite cleaved through the waves off the western British coast, the
salty air slicing into the crew's lungs on this early autumn's day, wheen the
look-out shouted.
"Look!  Off the port bow!," he cried, almost falling out of the crow's nest in his
excitement. "Do ya' see it?!"
"What've ye’ spotted now, Math'son?," the first-mate, Long, responded
skeptically, but gazed in the direction indicated anyway.  "Seen another
mermaid, or "He stopped short, as he saw what appeared to be a long neck in
the ocean, not thirty meters away.  It dived beneath the water, after turning
away from
the English shore, vanishing into the briny waves.
"Did ya' see it, sir? ," asked the young look-out eagerly from above.
"Yea, Math'son, I seen it already," First-Mate Long called out in reply, then
turned to the crewmen gathered about. "I think it be well best none of us say a
word to the Cap'n about this, understand?  Else, he's apt to think we've all
been hittin' the rum! That clear to ye all?"
"A chorus of "ayes" came from the sailors, along with a hesitant "Aye, Aye,
Sir," from the lookout. with a disappointed air, he resumed scanning the sea
beyond the ship's railing.

                                        ***

Northern Ireland, roughly the same time.

Tarin 0' Connell turned away from the prison cell's window, out of which she
could see the gallows standing starkly against the darkening sky.  With
considerable annoyance, she spoke to her cellmate.
"Well, love, it's tal night, or never! So, what's it going to be?!"
Morgan Regan stared across the clammy stone cell at her friend, her black
hair flowing down her back, set off against her pale skin.  She swallowed hard,
twice, before answering.
"You know I'm terrified, Tarin! Of th' hangman, and of tryin' to escape before
it's too late!  Why do you always have to be so stern?"
Tarin crossed the cell to Morgan’s side, sat down beside her on the filthy cot
and caressed Morgan’s trembling hand with hers, then the long hair flowing
down her back.  She could feel the healing scars from the head-matron's whip
on Regan's back she had received her fair share of those. Tarin's golden-
blonde locks made for a striking contrast in the cell's deepening gloom.
"I'm sorry to be harsh, love," she told Morgan softly. "I sometimes forget how
mousey you can be - especially for a girl who cut her husband's throat!"
Tarin ran her fingers gently about Morgan's breasts beneath the rough-hewn
gray prison dress, to underscore her apology.
Morgan returned the favor by placing her hand between Tarin's legs, and
stroking her, gently, before replying.  As always, the warmth she found there
had an enhancing effect on her courage, as well as in other ways.   
"Well, I su'pose I can be brave, if I have to.  'Sides, you would've cut the
bastard's throat, too, if you had found out he was sleepin' with every tramp in
town!"
"Maybe so," Tarin came back, squeezing playfully both of Morgan's breasts.
"A'course," Morgan went on, enjoying the sensation, and  feeling braver by
the moment, "At least! didn't poison my aunt, just to collect my inheritance two
or three years early!"
Tarin pulled away sharply from her lover, then said, with some anger.  "That
isn't funny, Morgan!  I've told ya' fifty times, I didn't realize the old biddy's maid
was suspectin' me from the start!  Or that she could get the bobbies to dig up
the old crone, so they could test for arsenic!"
Morgan snickered quietly, then looked away from Tarin a moment; she had
enjoyed annoying Tarin about their respective motives for murder, since they
had been in prison together.  For a brief span, their impending dual-hanging
was overshadowed.
Tarin, still irritated at Morgan ( as she always was by this antic of Morgan's ),
looked out again to the gallows -- she noted the moon rising over the prison
walls beyond it, casting its shadow almost directly into their cell.  A mild-
shudder ran through her, any boldness aside, for it seemed the moon's face
looked skull-like to Tarin.  Forcing her gaze away, she turned to Regan again,
stern once more.
"Fact is, my girl, neither of us is going to live past tomorrow, if we don't
escape! So, what about my plan?!"
"You know I'll go along I have to," Morgan sighed, shivering some herself, at
the thought of the noose.  "Slim chance is bet tern , none at all!  You know I'm
not much of a fighter, love, so I still think it'd be better to lure the witch in here
by my pretendin' to be sick!"
"No! ," Tarin replied firmly. "She's been around this hole too long for that ta’
work.  The "fight" is our only chance, and you know I won't really hurt you, out
o'anbody in this pit.  Now, I'll throw you down here, then slam myself against
the door.  When she comes in to "break us up," I'll snap her fat neck, an' grab
the key-ring, understand?"
"You want to be the one to finish her, naturally!," Morgan said resentfully,
feeling her back's scars. "I owe her more than you do, lover! I was in here
almost a month before you came!"
"Never mind that!," Tarin commanded. "We've been over it all before - I'm
stronger than you, an' our last night's here!  So, let's get started!"
Morgan rose, approached Tarin, having apparently given up on the point, to
begin their staged fight.
"Call me a coward, will ya'? You blonde whore! Take some of this!"
Morgan slapped Tarin across the right cheek, leaving a vivid stinging red spot
on her face.
"Why, you little bitch you!,"
Tarin snarled at her, surprised by the attack's intensity. "You'll regret that!"
The blonde leaped forward, shoving Morgan roughly to the floor.  Morgan
slammed her left elbow against the unforgiving stone, which sent a sharp pain
up her arm.
"Damn you, slut!," Morgan exclaimed. "You'll be the sorry one!"
Morgan rolled to her feet, furious, and was set to pounce on Tarin, when the
sound of heavy footsteps came from the hallway.
"All right, bitches! ," the head-matron shouted through the tiny window-panel
in the door. "Stop that ruckus now, or I'll do it for you!"
Inserting her key, the matron stepped inside as the fracas continued, and
drew her truncheon.  She started to grab Tarin by the arm, when Morgan
suddenly broke away.  She seized the guard in rage,
pulling her to the cold floor, burying both thumbs into the older woman's eye
sockets.  A cry from the matron was silenced by Tarin's hand across her
mouth, as a dripping mess streamed down the woman's face.
"Damn you, Morgan! I told you I would -- "
"Shut up, Tarin!," Morgan growled, adrenaline fueling her rage. "This is for
the lashings!," she spat, slamming the matron's head against the rock,
resulting in a loud crunching noise.  "This one's for th' lousy slop you feed
us!," and she rammed the now-broken skull of the officer into the floor,
sending: a spray of blood across the darkened cell.
"Enough, Morgan!," Tarin said in a mixture of anger, and shock at the
savagery of her friend's assault. "How many times do ya' think she can die!?,"
Tarin scolded Morgan, pulling her off the dead woman's body, then, shoving
her aside.  Quickly, Tarin snatched the key-ring from the matron's belt. "You
calm yourself, girl, so we stand some chance at gettin' out 0' here!"
Morgan, breathing hard, her arm still throbbing from her fall, hesitated a
moment, then caught another glimpse of the gallows waiting outside, and
began settling down fast.
"Yes, Tarin," she replied, trying to sling blood and eye-pulp from her hands,
then wiped them off on the cot. "You're right, I know I just lost myself with her
a minute there - but I'm not sorry I did!"
"All right, love, good! Let's get movin,' and, remember, follow my lead, you
promise?  No more
surprises!," Tarin commanded.
Morgan nodded assent, then they rolled the cooling body of the matron to
one side, and covered her with a blanket.  Cautiously, the women peered into
the hallway it was clear.  The gas lamp's flame flickered slightly, casting
constantly changing shadows on the dim corridor's walls.  These mixed with
patches of moonlight shining through the few windows, creating an eerie
effect.
"Just as we hoped, love!," Tarin whispered. "She was the only one on watch
this shift!  Now, if only the other one didn't hear -!  Well, corne on!"
They began slinking down the corridor, hearts beating rapidly.
"The second-floor exit's just past the matron's room!," Tarin whispered
further. "That's where we'll really need th' luck, so hope it holds!"
They made the edge of the small matron’s quarters without other inmates
noticing them; so far, no other guards had shown, either.  Tarin stole a look
inside the open door, noted that the junior-matron was intent upon a book,
and seemed oblivious to all else.  The matrons generally rotated duty in
watches of ninety minutes duration.
"Go!," Tarin ordered quietly, as they took the two, or three steps needed to
pass by the open door, although it seemed thirty meters to them.  Abruptly,
the exit door which the murderesses sought so desperatately, finally came
into sight at corridor's end.
Both women rushing as quickly as possible, Morgan had, by now, returned to
her usual-skittish state; she hoped feverishly the pounding of her heart
wouldn't yet give them away.  Reaching the door, she almost pleaded to her
companion.
"Get it open, Tarin!  Once outside, we're halfway free!"
"Hush, girl!," Tarin ordered. "Have to try the keys ta’ find th' right one!"
On the fourth try, the lock        turned - over, and Tarin practically drug
Morgan outside, then gently closed the heavy door, hearing the faint click of it
re-locking as she did so.  The moonshine was brillant, casting a silvery glow
over the eastern walls, as the pair of murderesses hurried down the steps,
into the courtyard below. Once there, Tarin indicated the ancient, gnarled oak
tree, with its deep pool of surrounding shadows.  The killers raced across the
grounds, acutely aware of their
visibility, but reached the patch of darkness without incident.
"Look!," Tarin gasped excitedly, wiping sweat from her attractive brow.  
"There's the eastern supply-door down the wall, just where that old convict
said it was 'fore she died!  One of these other two keys must fit it!"
Morgan peered that way, the cool night air chilling her own sweat, which ran
down her back, and between her heaving breasts, unused as she was to such
exertion.
"Why we waitin', Tarin?," Morgan asked. "They're bound to find the old sow's
body any moment!"
"Yes!," Tarin agreed. "We'll really need luck now, girl," she continued, leading
the way out from the tree's shadow toward the supply-door. "If the watchman's
even half-asleep, we ought ta’ get by him!"
In the eastern watchtower, said-guard smothered a yawn, admiring the night
full of brilliant stars.  He wished his shift would end soon - escapes from
Lanwelly prison were very rare.  Indeed, the post of tower-watchman was
almost a ceremonial one.
The fugitives reached the supply-door unseen.  There, with Morgan urging
her on, Tarin hastily inserted the first of the two remaining keys into the
deeply-inset exit.  To her delight, it proved the correct one, allowing the
women to slip through outside with lightning-like speed.  Then, Tarin gently
shut the door, but it's aged hinges still squeaked like a cry in the tense night.  
This caused Tarin's heart to nearly leap from her throat, but again, their luck
held. Only themselves, along with the assorted small night creatures heard a
thing.
"Where to now, pet?," Morgan breathed, holding her chest as if to physically
slow her heart's pounding.  
“The stream’s over there!,” Tarin pointed, again wiping sweat from her face.  
Rivulets of it trickled down her still-desirable body, despite the months of
incarceration.  "Maybe a hundred fifty meters, and now's not time to be
stoppin,' love!"
With that, Tarin led the way once more, running as fast as her slim, strong
legs allowed her.  It seemed to both women that hours passed, before they
reached the swaying marsh grass at water's edge.  Finally, both descended
into its' cold depths, the water reaching their waists, sending chills through
them.
"Looks good for us!," Morgan gasped, breathing hard; just as she finished
speaking, the alarm bells rang out behind them.
"God, no!," Morgan cried out. "Not when we're still so close! They're sure to
get us, Tarin!!," her voice returning to it's usual mousey wail again.
"Not if we hurry, girl!," Tarin growled determinedly, pulling Morgan by the arm,
as growing sounds of pursuit came closer. Ignoring the cold water, the two
desperately struggled forward, but the guards could be heard closing in by
the second, the bloodhounds barking enthusiastically, eager for the chase.
Tarin stopped suddenly, and then pulled Morgan onto the far side of the
bank, where Tarin could see the lights of the approaching guards.
"Why we leavin' th' stream!?," Morgan protested.  "The dogs will . . .”
“Forget th' damned dogs!," Tarin interrupted. "We've got no choice now, but
ta' cut across the marshes, or else, it's back for our date with the noose!"
Stumbling along behind, Morgan protested more, starting to whimper some.
"I hate these damn marshes! They're full of sinkholes, and quicksands, and --
"
"There! ," a harsh voice carne over the breeze. " I see them on other side of
the stream!," the guard shouted, cutting-short Morgan's whining complaints.

"See, Morgan?," Tarin responded sarcastically. "If you want to hang, fine, but
I'm taking my chances in th' marshes!  Now, shut up, and run!"
Realizing Tarin was all too correct, Morgan whimpered again, then ran as
hard as possible after her lover.  Pushing deeper into the marsh, knowing
certain death was at their bare heels, the convicts fled on.  Morgan's chest
pained her, for she had led the more pampered life before her crime, than
Tarin.  Consequently, her endurance was much poorer.  Fighting to keep up
with the golden-haired killer, Morgan heard the sound of the guards fade
slightly, but she knew they were still close on them.
A razor-briar slashed into Morgan's left shoulder, and breast, nearly causing
her to fall tearing-free of it.  Blood coursed freely from her brest, over her flat
belly.
"Please, Tarin! Slow down some!," Morgan cried to her friend, tears dripping
from her eyes.
"We can't slow down, idiot! ," Tarin snapped back. "Not if we're to have a
chance in hell of reachin' the fishing village!  That's where th' ship's at my
cousin bribed us passage to America on!"
Stifling her moans, Morgan staggered along, falling farther behind, only to
entangle herself in yet more briars. She had to scream as the thorns cut fresh
gouges into her creamy white skin.  Getting free, Morgan saw Tarin some
distance ahead, and, in her haste to catch up, failed to notice the bog Tarin
had avoided.  Morgan didn't notice it, until her feet were firmly ensnared in the
clutching ooze.
"God above, Tarin, help me!!," Morgan shouted in horror. "I'm caught in some
damned bog get me out!", she wailed, struggling mightily.  Her efforts only
caused her to sink deeper into the sucking-mud - Morgan knew she didn't
have long.
Tarin stopped at Morgan's cries, looked back at her trapped lover, and
actually took a few steps toward her.  Then, she heard the barking of the
hounds again, and halted, a slight touch of sorrow on her cruel face.
"I'm truly sorry," she told Morgan, some honest regret in her voice, although
not a great deal. "If I take th' time to save you, it'll mean both our skins!"
"You can't be saying that!," Morgan shrieked. "Not after what we've meant to
each other! I could've never've survived in that place without you, and' now,
you're going to let me die like this?!"
The slime was past her navel now and touching the undersides of her breast,
surely drawing Morgan down to an inglorious grave.
"Morgan, love, when it's 'tween my skin, or anybody else's, you should've
learned by now, I always come first!  If it helps any, I truly will miss you!"
With that, Tarin turned away, leaving Morgan able only to watch as he ex-
lover vanished into the dark.
"Damn you, Tarin 0' Connell! ! ," Morgan screamed after her.  "Damn you
forever!"
The creeping slime now engulfed her throat.
"Hanging woulda' been too easy for you, ya' selfish tramp!," Morgan
hysterically shouted into the night.
She gulped in one last, great lung-full of air as the mud sloshed over-top her
beautiful, black tresses.  The young murderess disappeared, leaving only a
mild disturbance of watery-ooze to mark her final resting place.  She kicked
her legs wildly, as her descent increased it's speed; then, her lungs
expelled the last air she would ever inhale. Foul, gritty slime filled her silently
screaming mouth, then her nose and eyes, until her struggles ceased at last.  
Down into eternal darkness Morgan Regan’s body sank to join the bones of
innumerable unfortunate animals, plus a number of other human skeletons,  
which waited patiently to receive her still form in the nearly-limitless depths.
A shame the sexy little fool had to die that way, Tarin reflected, as she fought
her way through the marsh.  She was fun, and had a nice body, too.  Ah,
well!  Maybe those fools will think we both went down back there!  Tarin then
came abruptly upon a treacherous-looking depression in the ground, and
carefully made her way by it, briars and thorn-bushes taking their toll on her
as well.  Abruptly, Tarin realized she was nearing the marshlands' end, and
increased her pace.  With the sounds of pursuit diminishing, Tarin pushed
through a last tangle of briars, to find herself near a dirt road.  She knew it
would lead her into Lanwelly, where the ship to America waited, to carry her
away, forever, from the threat of the noose.
In fact, Tarin's luck was still holding, as many of the guards had assumed both
convicts had drowned in the bog, upon discovering Morgan's tracks leading
into it. A few, though, had decided to continue searching, just to be certain.  
Tarin wasn't a fool, and knew not to count on Morgan's drowning to halt the
manhunt.  So, she ran hard and fast along the road, her devious mind
planning her next moves.
Hate to risk an open road, she mused, attempting to pace herself somewhat,
after the rugged trek through the marsh.  I must reach Lanwelly before dawn,
and get aboard that ship!  If my luck holds, I ought to make it in another hour,
or so!  She glanced at the now highly-risen moon, her sweat-dampened
clothes clinging to her skin from the harsh journey.  Must be midnight or much
later by now the townspeople should be fast asleep!  Tarin topped a modest-
hill in the road, and saw the  lights from numerous buildings in Lanwelly, now
only a kilometer or such away.
"Damn it!," she exclaimed, coming to a halt. "Forgot about the telegraph - of
course, they would've sent word ahead to keep watch for us!  Tarin began
walking again, slowly, thinking rapidly
of what she should do next.
Guess I've no choice, but to chance going into th' town, or at least it's edges,
her thoughts ran on.  If I take time to cut-around, I might miss the ship.  They'll
sail just before dawn, with or without me!  They made that much entirely clear!
Tarin quickened her pace; soon, Lanwelly' s outskirt's drew near. There, she
realized that all the gas-lamps were lit along the town's main streets.
“Damn it again!,” Tarin hissed aloud. slowing down.  It’s clear somebody knew
Lanwelly would be a logical place for us to try an’ leave Ireland, she thought
bitterly.  Hiding behind a tree, she considered her few remaining options.  It
certainly isn't going ta’ be easy ta’ get past th' village to the ship, she admitted
to herself.  No choice but to try, though!, this last thought with increasing
panic in her mind.
Creeping slowly onward, Tarin passed some outlying homes without incident;
she briefly thought of snatching some different clothing from a laundry-line at
one house, but decided against it.  From the look of the eastern sky, dawn
was closer than she'd guessed.  Shortly, she found herself on a cobblestone
street, strewn with rubbish.  It led her away from the village's center, but
generally toward the docks.  There, Tarin's luck went sour, for a group of men
emerged from the semi-dusk ahead.
"Halt, you! , " the apparent leader called.  "Identify yourself!"
"Fuck it all!!," Tarin cursed through clenched teeth, frantically looking around,
then darted into an alley, as footsteps of running men approached.  To be
caught when I'm this close!, she continued cursing to herself.  On the border
of total panic, her eyes lit upon a manhole cover, which she dashed for. with
surprising strength, Tarin quickly ripped it loose, then descended into the foul-
smelling darkness, pulling the cover back into place, while more voices came
directly above her.
"Anybody in there, constable?," someone asked. "There's nobody out here!"

Tarin held her breath tightly, as feet trampled about overhead, then began to
recede. Another voice came, more faintly this time.
"Must've been a trick 0' the light!," another man said. "Nobody's in there, sir,
and it's a dead-end alley!"
More distantly still, another spoke.
"The sun'll be up fairly-soon, men, and we're sure to catch those murderin'
bitches then!"
So you think, asshole!, Tarin said to herself, smirking.  Then, she carefully
descended the rusting ladder, until she felt a slick stone surface beneath her
feet.  Waiting until her eyesight adjusted to the Stygian world of the sewers,
her mind raced.  That bastard said sunrise’ll be here soon!  The escape must’
ve taken a lot longer than I’d planned, as’ that means there's not much time
left tal reach the ship!
Tarin breathed the fetid air gingerly, nearly retching from the stench of raw
sewage, but forced herself to take another shallow breath.  Even the prison
dungeons smelt like roses compared to this!, she thought, repulsed.  If I'm not
imagining it, I believe I'm catching a hint of th' sea down that way!  This thing
must empty into th' ocean not far away!
Cautiously, Tarin proceeded along the narrow stone catwalk, clinging as best
she could to the mold-covered wall of the catacomb-like tunnel, with the filthy
water slowly moving just beneath her.  She made quick progress then, having
gotten used to murky places in the dungeons. Still, the desperate woman
almost fell into the disgusting waters repeatedly, but grimly pushed forward.   
Suddenly, Tarin knew for sure that she'd guessed rightly, for as light breeze
wafted along to her, the
unmistakeable scent of saltwater on it.
"I am getting close to th' ocean!," Tarin said in a burst of exhilaration. "Looks
like I'll reach shore in time to climb to the wharves after all!," she continued,
smirking in triumph. "Those dumb bastards will think for sure I drowned along
with Morgan in the bogs!"
Something splashed in the channel, causing Tarin to start, just as her right
foot turned-over in a crumbled-edge of the walk.  With a despairing cry, she
pitched backwards into the brackish water.  "Oh, God!,", she choked,
surfacing and gasping, wiping madly at her filth-covered face. "Some damned
fish makes me fall inta' this slime, when I'm all but -- "
A shape shot through the water, and Tarin whirled about, to see a huge,
razor-toothed head lunging, spear-like, for her.  Its jaws buried themsel ves in
her waist, resulting in a shower of blood, as Tarin screamed in agony, and
disbelief.
"God above, not like this!,", Tarin shrieked, as the thing
momentarily released its hold, only to take a second large bite out of her right
thigh.  Tarin gripped the slippery edge of the walk vise-like, attempting to pull
herself out of the drain.  Tarin screamed again, much more loudly, as the
creature tore-away another chunk of her soft flesh, then slid down into the
channel.  The water turned from its usual brownish-green color, to a deep
crimson, as her once-lovely body was bitten into pieces, which were then
eagerly swallowed.

                                                ***
As the sun rose on what promised to be a gorgeous autumn day, the giant eel
swam out to sea from the sewer-tunnel's outlet, its stomach full.  It's brain was
primitive, small, but it had learned long ago, that edible morsels were
sometimes found in the sewers.  Swimming away, it again passed an
Americas-bound cargo ship, unseen this time, which was minus two illegal
female passengers who had failed to show for their departure. Not that it
really mattered anymore; their debts had already been pre-paid.