The first time I was executed

I remember being tied to a makeshift seat in a wooden ox cart that sat atop a dry and dusty hill in the parched desert beside the Gulf of California. Three Mexican Federales yanked leather and hemp straps tight and secured them to the cart. As they prepared me for execution they said nothing at all: No crime was described, no sentence proclaimed. The immense silence was disturbed only by the cry of an eagle high above and the wind that carried it.

Nearby a handful of officers kept watch while the soldiers tended to their assignment, lining up the cart’s wooden wheels in two deep parallel ruts that ran in a rolling yet nearly straight line down the dusty desert hill.

Sweat ran down the faces of the men as they nervously inspected each part of the wooden cart to make certain it was in good repair–a safety check of sorts, though not one that would benefit the passenger. They leaned on the most peculiar feature of the cart: two long smooth wooden poles that jutted straight out about three feet from the wheel hubs.  The soldiers took hold of the poles, made certain they were sturdy, then ran their fingers over scars in the wood, grooves that appeared to have been cleaved into both at exactly the same spot.

After my executioners tightened the straps restraining me one final time, they paused, their eyes following the deep ancient ruts in the hillside as they rolled downhill, narrowing until reaching a most bizarre structure of wood standing alone in the barren desert. Wooden poles and ribs joined together forming what looked, at first, like a massive cage, though even from a distance I could see an apparatus inside – a system of wood gears and ropes. Towering above the whole colossal structure was a massive wooden pole as tall as a Jeffrey pine, its bark planed-off until smooth. A huge triangular-shaped stone was lashed to the end of it, creating what appeared to be a tremendous hammer.

The cartwheels fit perfectly into deep ruts that ran down the hill and into an entrance to the edifice and an enclosure, each side framed by sturdy V-shaped wooden slots, opening outward, narrowing toward the back.

As they fidgeted, soldiers waited for word from their superiors, who huddled together and whispered in muffed tones, hands over their mouths, as though afraid their words may be overheard. A gust of wind, in breezy contempt of the desert and the conspiracy, carried the faint cool scent of the sea.

The conference ended and an officer nodded his head. The soldiers gave the cart a mighty push and off it went, bounding down the dusty hill toward the structure, the wheels bouncing up and down frantically, rocks and dirt spat out behind it as it gained speed.

The cart careened madly down the mountain, wheels smashing against the ancient hillside. Amid the pounding — wood buckling and groaning, the wind whirling in my ears — I glanced at the restraints that bound my hands and feet to the cart and at the great puffs of dirt that blew up around them, covering my arms and legs in a crystal-like powder. At any moment it seemed the cart would break loose from the rutted tracks and crash into the hillside, bursting apart into iron nails and ten thousand splintered pieces, a loose bundle tumbling down hill in a dense and chaotic cloud.

After one particularly violent jolt, the cart was launched into mid-air, clear of the tracks and the mountainside and everything, it seemed…

It was then, in one of those pauses that insert themselves into absolute chaos, that everything moving nearly stopped: Clouds of dirt that, until that moment, appeared then vanished in an instant, now expanded as slowly as a nebula in deep space. And in the space within those clouds, in between the granules of granite and specks of crystal, there was an opening: I could see an immense mountain range burst skyward, breaking upward through a desert plane, while volcanoes erupted, red and glowing yellow lava flowing, the earth itself breached.

I closed my eyes, wishing I could return to the frenzy of the cart as it bounded down the mountainside. When again I opened my eyes, sunlight calmly refracted against the dirt cloud: There was a rainbow and a hail of glitter; objects became sharper and all things slowed as waves do when seen from the heavens, surf calmly rolling toward the shore.

In that moment I looked down the hillside at the structure, now visible in great detail. It was then that I saw it expand, poles bound together moving outward, a dome stretching despite the resistance of leather-and-hemp binds. As it slowly ballooned, the dome groaning under pressure, there was a most horrendous rattling, ten thousand dry bones shifting, disturbed after eons of repose.

When the structure swelled until I thought it might burst, it suddenly stopped moving, rivulets of dirt sputtering toward the earth, dust settling…

In that place where the laws of motion had no force, I could once again see a massive pole towering above the whole apparatus, like a giant mast, a huge gray stone lashed to its end. The surface of the pole was perfectly smooth except for a series of evenly-spaced scars, shaped like claws, as though a dragon had fought its way to the top of the pole and back.

Then with a mighty heave, the entire structure began to contract as binds tightened and pine poles drew together, the dome collapsing inward.

At that moment, the full reality of motion reintroduced itself. Everything flew into action, the wheels of the cart slamming against rock and pounded dirt, once again following ruts on the hillside as it crashed back to earth, bounding toward the structure at the end of the road. The cart slammed into the wooden structure, the extended axis of its wheels finding the V-shaped groove and following the sloping sides as they narrowed, then ended in a device seemed designed to engage.

Timber cracked as the motion of the cart’s extended axis both struck blocks of wood, absorbed by the mechanism and structure itself, designed to receive it. Cogs were engaged, wheels and winches turned, ropes tightened, slackened then tightened again. Though I could not see anything but the cogs of a wooden apparatus before me — dust flying, rope spooling, loose then taunt — I could feel the swift and powerful movement of something high above, like a pteranodon turning and rolling into a dive in pursuit of prey…

I knew all along that it was the great rock hammer that wheeled toward me. Following an arc, it slammed into the back of my head, killing me instantly, the energy that was my soul following a trajectory created by the movement of the giant hammer, a curving strobe that jutted across the universe for eternity …