It was Patten's good fortune that the s.h.i.+fting light hid his blush. "By decree I am so ordered to say thus: may the Lord thy G.o.d grant mercy on thy soul."
Evanore shrieked laughter as blood drooled off her lips.
"Let's be about this," the Parson whispered with a grimace. "There be no G.o.dly justice so long as this intercourse-soiled attendant of Lucifer doth live..."
Another directorial nod from Patten, and his deputies dragged Evanore to the side, where a wall of flinty-faced spectators parted- Fanshawe's heart seemed to hiccup.
-to reveal the barrel with the ten-inch-wide hole in it.
The mob's commotion rose. Evanore didn't resist as she was hoisted up and then shoved down into the barrel. A rough hand reached into the hole, s.n.a.t.c.hed her hair, and yanked her head out. When the horseshoe-shaped collar was slipped over her neck, the crowd cheered.
Aw, no, aw, s.h.i.+t... Fanshawe knew what came next; impulse urged him to pull the gla.s.s away but when he tried, it was as though it had been glued to his eye. He detected, first, the hush of the crowd, then- The growls of a vicious dog.
The parson exclaimed, "May thy death be as revulsive as thy abominable sins..."
A slavering snarl fluttered through the air; it sounded monstrous. Another flank of spectators parted. Fanshawe half-fainted when he saw the size of the Doberman that was then led through the divide. The stout-armed deputy holding it back on its chain could barely manage to keep on his feet. It's the size of a small horse, Fanshawe thought in dread. The animal's eyes looked insane, which was understandable since it had clearly been deprived of food for some time. When the beast spotted the barrel-and the head sticking out-it surged forward by instinct, paws kicking up great scoops of dirt. Just as bad as the antic.i.p.ation were the looks on the faces of the townsfolk as they watched: They looked giddy with excitement.
I can't watch this, Fanshawe knew but, still, he could not take the looking-gla.s.s away. Enthused squeals rose up when the deputy lost hold on the leash, and- Holy Mother of- The dog was so large its jaws were able to take nearly all of Evanore's head into its mouth in a single lunge. Ropes of foam poured from its black lips; the sounds were nauseating. Fanshawe managed a blink, after which his vision registered just in time to see the ravenous animal peel most of Evanore's face and scalp off like pulling off a stocking mask. The animal deftly swallowed the macabre meal in reversed heaves, hair and all. The crowd "Oooooooo'd," paused, then cheered.
Evanore's head now existed as a skinned skull. It hung limp as the dog devoured what it had torn away but then-impossibly...
The head moved in increments- Holy s.h.i.+T!
-and looked up.
The lipless grin and
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