Flash Fiction Challenge: The Headsman’s Block

Photo by K.S. Brooks

This stump is the infamous Headsman’s Block. Countless outlaws met their end here. The ancient wood is scarred from the edge of the headsman’s blade as it bit through the necks of the condemned.

In the whole sordid history of the block, only one prisoner managed to escape the headsman’s cold sharp steel.

In 250 words or less, tell us a story incorporating the elements in the picture. The 250 word limit will be strictly enforced.

Please keep language and subject matter to a PG-13 level.

Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until Tuesday at 5:00 PM Pacific Time.

On Wednesday afternoon, we will open voting to the public with an online poll for the best writing entry accompanying the photo. Voting will be open until 5:00 PM Thursday.

On Friday afternoon, the winner will be recognized as we post the winning entry along with the picture as a feature. Then, at year end, the winners will be featured in an anthology like this one. Best of luck to you all in your writing!

Entries only in the comment section. Other comments will be deleted. See HERE for additional information and terms.

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10 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: The Headsman’s Block”

  1. …And the story of that one prisoner is a truly exciting tale. But I’m sure you’re all more interested in the story of this here stump. Most people don’t realize, but the stump was the victim of a decidedly horrible crime as well.

    When this stump was just a wee sapling, it was a happy little tree the forest. The stump lived with its coniferous cousins, in harmony with all things wooden and leafy. That is, until the day that became known as the Harrowing.

    It started as a pleasant sunny morn, the birds chirping away merrily, the squirrels dancing amid the greenery branches. But soon after sunrise, the skies began darken and the woods were filled with the noises of many tromping boots. Soon the sound of metal striking cellulose echoed through the trees, as axes tore through bark, causing them all to tremble in fear. The gritty, grinding slices of the saws barely covered the silent, echoing screams of trees, their precious sap pouring onto the ground, puddling into sugary pools, trodden into the death-soaked forest floor.

    The sapling, being small, escaped the carnage. But the wood-chipped horror was forever etched onto its mind. That’s why it welcomed the opportunity, decades later, to become the Headsman’s Block. The sweet, sharp pain of every blow of the axe was softened whenever the stump drank in the precious lifeblood of the offenders who suffered their final fate on his weathered face. Each chop was one more splinter of sweet vengeance.

  2. The Forestal

    James Bolger thought of himself as a Forestal. He rarely came into the burgeoning timber town at the edge of the great forest, and when he did, it was only to harangue the townspeople about the trees.

    The townspeople did not listen. Why would they? To them the forest was just a resource. When the loggers marked a new tree for felling, they saw only fine timber, nothing more.

    After a while, James Bolger stopped going into town entirely, but he made his presence felt in other ways. He set traps around the marked trees. Some would swing an unwary logger high into the air, to dangle by one foot until someone cut him down. Others broke limbs. None were designed to kill.

    James Bolger’s traps could not stop the tide of destruction eating away at the forest, but they certainly slowed it down, so much so that the mill owners decided something would have to be done.

    When a logger had his neck broken by a hidden trap, the townspeople blamed James Bolger. It took them three months to finally catch him, but when they did their justice was swift. They dragged him to The Block, and the mill owner was given the honour of swinging the axe.

    Just before the axe could fall there was an almighty crack. The tree that dropped killed the mill owner and ten of the townspeople, but not James Bolger. He escaped into the forest and was never seen again.

  3. Ropes dug into Calynn’s wrists, her hands long since numb from their prolonged bondage. Small, superstitious people, the villagers feared her. She was different, marked with the violet eyes of legends. For sixteen years she’d lived with these people, laughed, cried, and worked besides them. Only once did she fail to stain her eyes dark. Now they sought her death.

    It took four days for the priests to ‘examine’ her, another two to march to the killing circle with a parade of witnesses. Each step left a numb hole in her heart. Children she had once played with taunted as she was dragged to the chopping block. Of all she had endured, the look in Daniel’s eyes hurt the most. How quickly love had turned to hate.

    Hands forced her head onto the block and her nostrils flared. The scent of blood, soaked deep into the ancient wooden rings, was still strong even after nearly fifty year. Something pulled at Calynn, pulsing, calling her name. Hundreds had died on this stump, all of them guilty only in looking different.

    Visions of deaths long past surged through her mind as they tied her down. Her heart quickened. Only one had escaped the slaughter. It wasn’t until now that Calynn understood Nana’s dying words or the pain in her dark-stained violet eyes. Voices fluttered in the wind, calling, straining for release.

    “It’s time, Calynn.”

    Lighting burst from Calynn’s hands, breaking her bonds and releasing the slaughtered souls. It was time.

  4. It was a young woman who was condemned as a witch. When they led her up to the block and forced her head upon the wood, she resisted, but never said a word. No curse or whisperings left her mouth. So when the axe came down to meet her neck, the four men present were taken aback when the metal refused to contact her skin.

    There were multiple attempts to behead the poor girl, but it was as if an invisible shield protected her, like a scarf around her delicate neck. The men who had been given the order to carry out this gruesome deed were at a loss as to what to do.

    Before the men could gather their wits about them, the feral-looking lady disappeared. She simply vanished into thin air.

    The man who was wielding the axe that was to remove the head of this lonesome beauty described the situation as, “She were lookin’ at me with them dirty eyes one minute, then the next, she’s gone. Like she were never there at all.”

    The men were all found guilty of releasing the witch and obstructing justice. They all four were hanged.

  5. How does a man beat the headsman’s cold sharp steel, you ask? That my friend is a tall order that can only be answered by the story of Ol’ Bill Hickory. You see, he was the only man to survive the Headsman’s stump.

    Now Ol’ Bill was a quiet man. He had few words to bandy about to the people in the town of Blackwater. Kept to hi’self most of the time. But he did have an eye for Sally Mae Pennyforth.

    Now Sally Mae’s daddy, Jerome Pennyforth came from the old world and old money. He wasn’t keen on Ol’ Bill sniffin’ ’round his daughter. He made a point to let his disfavor be known to one and all.

    But there was a fly in the ointment for that. Ya see, young Sally Mae had a hankerin’. She thought Ol’ Bill to be a might handsome young man. She was keen on conversatin with him into the wee hours of the night.

    Well it was a night, come October, if I reckon. That night was a cold one. Winter was nippen at the heel of autumn. Well, Sally Mae’s daddy, he had hi’self a plan.

    Now I ain’t one to be tellin’ tales outta school, but Mr. Pennyforth was upta no good. He did somethin’ unthinkable. Somethin’ so dastardly that it could only result in someone making a trip to Ol’ Snatch’s place. What he did, well he found a way to pin the blame on Bill Hickory.

    He give him a trial, sure did. But that was too close for Mr. Pennyforth. He owned that jury. Even had the judge in his pocket. The verdict come in and that was that. Ol’ Bill, he had an appointment at the stump.

    It’s said that when Ol’ Bill was to face the headsman, Mr. Pennyforth said the words “Never again.” His daughter, Sally Mae was there. Her eyes filled to the brim with tears. It was a sight.

    Well, as the headsman raised the axe in the air and Ol’ Bill with his head layin’ on the stump, his neck was all exposed. It was that last second when Sally Mae rushed forward and pushed Ol’ Bill from the stump. That axe, it came down and took Sally Mae’s head.

    That stump was never used again. It sits there still in memory of the sacrifice of Sally Mae Pennyforth.

  6. They force me to my knees before the headsman’s block. My stomach churns, like I want to heave up last night’s roast venison. Is poaching a few deer so bad? A man deserves some comfort, don’t he? I breathe slowly and stare at the deep grooves criss-crossing the stump, thinking of all the other outlaws who lost their lives here. All but Robin, that is. No, not the Robin you’re thinking of. Robin of Mortwood Forest was his name and don’t you forget it. They don’t tell many tales about our Robin, but they should. He’s the only man to ever escape the block.

    “Don’t worry about me,” Robin would say with that smirk of his. “They’ll never get my head. You know why? Because I believe, boys. I believe in the magic of the forest and it’s going to do right by me when the time comes.”

    And darned if he didn’t speak the truth. They say the headsman swung his axe and Robin vanished, body, head, and all. They say that stump just swallowed him whole, like the forest spirits called him home. Wish I’d seen it.

    Me, I’m trying to believe, but I’m not feeling anything from this here stump. I start praying to the forest gods and the trees and the leaves. Even the acorns. Sunlight glints on the axe. I’m not near as brave or smart as Robin, but I’ve had a good life, haven’t I? I close my eyes and lower my head.


  7. Something pulled Earl from slumber. A ghost now, he haunted the old forest by night, rarely seeing daylight. He seeped from the cracks of an ancient stump, its dark wood stained black with the blood of thieves and murderers, save for one. That innocent blood imprisoned Earl’s spirit to the stump.
    Earl wasn’t the executioner. He’d been a highway man who robbed and killed. He was meant for that block.
    Earl drifted upward, letting the persistent tug guide him through the blinding sunlight. Fifty paces north of the stump, he heard the sweet timber of a female voice
    “Lord. Don’t let them catch me.”
    Earl floated beneath a huge oak choked with scrub-brush and weeds. The brush parted and he saw a face he recognized at once even though a hundred years had come and gone since he first laid eyes on it. It was a female version of the young soldier he’d overwhelmed, using his chains to choke him until he fell limp. Earl had unlocked his shackles, traded clothing with the soldier and dragged him to the headsman block to take his place.
    The young woman passed right through him, letting him see the reason for her terror.
    Two lusty-eyed rogues dogged her trail.
    Earl focused his energy into the chains around each wrist and struck down the two men, stopping them dead.
    Clawed shadows seeped from the earth claiming the two souls. Light surrounded Earl’s form, lifting him up as his chains fell to the earth.

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