The Girls’ Boarding School
These are the adventures of Sarah the hangwoman, the first woman who managed to establish herself in a profession which had before been exclusively dominated by men. And you can believe me that she’s a damned sight better at it than any man.
The gallows in the central square of Sarah’s hometown could accommodate up to six condemned at once. Normally, this was not a problem. Although the death cells in the courthouse were actually always full, most days only one or two prisoners were hanged. A couple of months usually passed between the times the gallows was fully occupied, and it was seldom that more than six individuals had to be hanged at once. For such occasions there was a portable gallows for mass executions stored in the courthouse basement. With this apparatus, up to 30 persons could be put to death. When required, its parts could be loaded on a truck and brought to the place of execution, where it would be assembled.
Today was one of those rare days when the mass gallows would be needed. Massive drug abuse had occurred in a girls’ boarding school on the other side of town. Apparently, an entire class of girls had secretly consumed huge amounts of marijuana the night before, during a party. The crime had been discovered during an unannounced inspection by the school’s rector, and she had immediately telephoned the police. Based on the reformed, fast-track Justice Department jurisdiction, sentences were passed by the duty judge within 2 hours and, when possible, carried out the following day. The girls were 18 or 19 for the most part, and therefore legally subject to be tried as adults. For possession and consumption of drugs, the penalty was the rope. It was as simple as that. Now five of the girls were under 18, and these would receive a warning from their schoolmistress, but not before having to witness how their 21 adult classmates would suffer their punishments. The judge had decided that all the condemned would be publicly hanged in the schoolyard, for the sake of deterrence.
The sun was just about to rise, as the Justice Department truck entered the school grounds and stopped. Sarah, the town hangwoman, opened the passenger-side door, and yawned as she got out of the truck. She took a long stretch, trying to become wider awake. It was six AM and she had already been up for two hours. She had supervised the loading of the gallows, tied 21 nooses, and then left with the four policemen who had been appointed to assist her for the day. She shook out here splendid black hair, stretched her slim, athletic body, and, chilly, pulled the zipper of her army-parka up, she was wearing over her police-uniform.
The rector, who looked around fifty, came across the schoolyard, and the two women quickly shook hands.
"Where are they?" asked Sarah curtly. She did not like to waste time. The rector nervously wrung her hands.
"The janitor has the girls locked up in the class room where they were celebrating."
She looked pleadingly at Sarah.
"Is this really necessary? They’re all so young, after all."
"The law is the law. They knew the risk," rang Sarah’s glum reply.
This was all too true. Everyone knew the penalty for drug possession. It was unfortunately very much in fashion at the time, a kind of test of courage, playing with fire. Whoever didn’t go along was considered a coward and shunned.
"I really am sorry," said Sarah in a somewhat milder tone to the desperate rector. "But I can’t do anything for you. The Department is very severe with drug offenses. It would like to eradicate the problem. That is why I am here today to make an example."
She shrugged her shoulders and looked around the schoolyard to find a good place to set up the gallows. The area was more than adequate. She decided that the scaffolding should be erected in the rear of the schoolyard. The police could put up a cordon around it, so that the spectators, most of whom would be the remainder of the schoolgirls, could be held back. Sarah’s gaze fell on the huge cast iron fence which divided the schoolyard in two. This gave her an idea. She turned to the rector again.
"Take me to that classroom".
As the two women walked off, Sarah indicated to her police assistants that they should follow her with the crate containing the handcuffs and leg irons. The classroom still reeked of marijuana smoke. The girls squatted or lay on the floor. For most of them, the previous night’s buzz had yet to ware off, and they starred blankly at Sarah and her entourage. They were bay and large pretty girls, who evidently wanted to prove to each other how mature they were. Most of them were dressed in jeans, running shoes and sweaters. The sweaters were hand knitted wool sweaters or industrial made sweaters witch looked like hand-made ones. This was the latest fashion. On a table at the back of the room, the girls had piled up their winter-coats, due to the cold season mostly down-jackets and parkas.
Sarah inspected the girls. They did not have a clue what was waiting for them. The Reformed Jurisdiction allowed sentences to be passed with or without the accused presence or knowledge. Not a single individual in this classroom had an inkling that she would soon hang. Sarah sought to take advantage of this fact. It would just take too long to drag 21 screeching and hysterical girls, one after the other, through the entire building and then across the schoolyard to the gallows.
“OK, girls wake up!”, Sarah shouted, “Obviously all of you have drunken too much alcohol last night. I’m here to investigate that. I think those of you, who have more than the allowed amount of alcohol in their blood will have to do some extra homework as a consequence. We will now take you down to the schoolyard. There’s a special police van waiting for you were we will do the alcohol-tests in. Please put on your coats. We will handcuff you to lead you down. That will be a little bit embarrassing, but you all knew before, that drinking is forbidden at school!”
So the unsuspecting girls got up and started to put on their fashionable winter outerwear. Most of them just put on their jackets and were ready, since they were already wearing their shoes, jeans and sweaters. But Sarah noticed a red haired girl, dressed very sexy in a tight tank-top, a very short skirt and black panty-hose. Sarah and the policemen watched this pretty girl, preparing herself for the cold weather outside. It was like in a commercial-spot for winter-outerwear: First she pulled a warm woolen sweater over her tank-top and woolen stockings over her panty-hose. Then she put some big puffy black down-trousers and winter boots on. Finally, she pulled a black down anorak over. All that stuff looked unused, perhaps it was worn for the first time. As she now filed up with the other girls, all movements of her in her down-outfit caused small rustling noises.
As all girls were dressed for the wintry school yard, they voluntarily offered their wrists to the policemen, who began to apply the handcuffs. The procedure was the same for every girl: First, they had to pull up the sleeves of their puffy winter jackets, to give good access to their wrists. Then, they were instructed to cover their wrists with the sleeves of their sweaters, to make it a little bit more comfortable when the heavy steel handcuffs were snapped onto their wrists tightly. After all girls were handcuffed, the officers applied the ankle irons. These restraints were fastened to each other with a three feet long steel chain. Pinioned this way, the girls could take small steps, but could not kick or run. Since the girls were still largely stoned, there had been little resistance or cry of protest. But now they began to sober up. Then Sarah commanded:
“Christine Wolf, please report!”
“That’s me!”, one of the girls said. It was the red haired girl in the down outfit. Sarah continued:
“Our records say, that you broke the rules before, Christine. We will have to perform an extra treatment at you, therefore you’ll be the last to be taken down. ”
Then the hangwoman pointed at another girl and said: "OK, gentlemen, take her out to the schoolyard."
The officers pushed the protesting girl forward and shoved her through the door. As they came to the yard, Sarah pointed to the cast iron fence.
"There’s another box of chains and locks in the back of the truck. Go get it and chain the girl to the fence. Then go and get another girl, bring her down and chain her next to this one. Understood? And remember: Our down-model Christine must be the last in the row."
The policemen, who knew exactly what Sarah had in mind, grinned and hurried off to carry out her instructions. Within the hour, the 21 condemned were neatly chained in a row to the fence. It had all gone off pleasantly with little resistance. The young ladies still had no idea what was to happen to them. They probably thought that they were being led out to be exposed in the pillories for a day, the way more serious offenses were customarily handled in the schools.
Sarah went down the row of fettered girls and looked closely at her victims. Most were sober now, and they stared surly back at her. Finally, she gave her helpers another wink. Now the policemen began to assemble the gallows. At this point unrest immediately took hold among the prisoners. After the supports were put up, and the crossbeam laid across them, the purpose of the scaffolding became all too clear. The gasps became louder. But most of the girls still seemed to have no conception of what was about to happen. They probably thought that someone was only trying to frighten them.
Only when Sarah slipped her leather hangman’s hood over her head, the symbol of her office, and began to toss the ropes with hanging nooses already tied in them, over the cross-beam, did it become clear to the girls what was happening. On top of the gasps came shrieks, some from rage and some from fear. Sarah ignored this. After she had thrown a rope over the crossbeam, she pulled the noose up to the correct height, and tied the other end to the cast iron fence which stood behind the gallows. After she had repeated this 21 times, she stepped back and, with hands on her shapely hips, surveyed her work, satisfied. It was still hardly 8 AM. She turned to the rector, who stood a couple of meters away.
"We’re ready," she said. "You can let the public in to the schoolyard now."
The rector nodded and went to the entrance of the building where the dormitories were. The students were immediately informed by their teachers that classes would be canceled, and that they should appear in a group in the schoolyard, where they would observe what drug abuse leads to. The rector opened the dormitory door, which had been locked up to this point, so that the activity in the yard could not be seen by curiosity seekers. More than a hundred girls between 16 and 19, began to stream into the schoolyard. In an instant, they stood initially shocked by the sight of their schoolmates chained to the fence, and the 21 dangling nooses. Their reactions became varied: shock, fear and horror. On the faces of some students, and some of the teachers, though, if one looked closely enough, one could see a carefully concealed anticipation. After several minutes the schoolyard was full. Because of the way it had been sealed off, five meters of empty space remained in front of the gallows. To the right of the gallows waited the condemned girls, their eyes wide with fear.
Sarah stepped in front of the gallows and took a briefcase from one of the policemen, which contained the order for execution. It was regulations for the sentence to be publicly read before an execution. Sarah adjusted her leather hood and looked at the crowd, which silently stared back at her. She began to read:
"Pursuant to Paragraph 8, Section 3 of the reformed Drug Act, the following individuals, guilty of possession and consumption of controlled substances, are sentenced to death by hanging...”
She read out the names of all the girls who were chained behind her. Occasionally, a groan could be heard, or a loud "No, no!", when she read a name. Sarah cleared her throat and continued:
"the above-named individuals have been found guilty and sentenced by a duly constituted court. They will be hanged by their necks until they are dead. Execution to be carried out on the day following promulgation of sentence, on the premises of the Marie Curie Boarding School for girls."
Sarah put the paper back into the briefcase and looked at the crowd. It was too loud to hear. She turned around to face the police assistants standing behind her and nodded. "Let’s get started".
They began with the girl who had been brought first to the schoolyard and stood at the head of the line. It was a blond girl, wearing jeans and a blue parka with a large hood that was trimmed with black fur. As Sarah and two of the policemen came for her, she started to shriek. The policemen seized her arms from right and left as Sarah unfastened the chain holding her to the fence. As the assistants dragged her over to the gallows, she screamed louder and tried to defend herself. But the handcuffs and leg irons allowed for little resistance. After several seconds she was standing on the gallows and staring up stunned at the noose dangling in front of her. Sarah unzipped the girl’s parka down to her breasts and arranged the parka’s hood to give free access to the girl’s neck. Then she took up a position behind the girl and reached past her head for the rope. The girl whimpered and threw her head to the side, looking for any means to dodge the noose. But Sarah had a lot of experience with these situations. She gripped the youngster’s pony-tail with one hand and brutally forced her head forward. With the other hand she simultaneously pulled the noose over her head. Before the girl had time to comprehend what had happened, the noose was snugly tightened. She pulled the girl’s hair out of the noose and adjusted the hangman’s knot just behind her left ear. Then she took a step backwards and scrutinized this arrangement. Nodding, she grasped the end of the rope stretched from the cross beam to the fence and took a short breath. Then she lifted the girl with a quick tug. The noose tightened and the rope went taut as the victim’s feet left the gallows floor. The crying abruptly halted and became a gurgle, which likewise quickly ceased. The girl’s legs began violently kicking, and the hands which were fastened behind her back clenched into fists. Sarah pulled until the feet dangled approximately two foot above the scaffold. Then her helpers tied the rope to the massive fence. Now everything was absolutely quiet. Only the creaking of the rope could be heard, as the violent movement of its load caused it to scrape over the crossbeam. The rope had now tightened fast around the girl’s neck. Her face turned first red, then purple. The eyes bulged out of her head; the mouth opened and closed as she vainly sought to take a breath. Occasionally, a slight rattle was audible. Her body began to rotate about its own axis. Almost two minutes passed and she was still kicking wildly. Over the next two minutes her struggle slowly weakened. Finally her eyes closed and her body went limp. Sarah spun the hanged girl about in order to see her face.
"Everything’s OK" she said to her assistants. "She’s unconscious. I estimate death in 10 minutes. Bring me the next one".
It was sheer assembly line work. One girl unshackled, dragged to the gallows, the rope put around her neck, strung up, and then the next in line. Some of them let themselves be hanged without resistance; others fought to the last. Each reacted differently when she was strung up. Some hung limply and seemed to just be waiting the inevitable. Others kicked and fought wildly. By and by, as the row of hanged corpses on the gallows grew longer, the line of girls chained to the fence became shorter. For those who waited their turn, it was naturally excruciating. They could see at every instant what was going to happen to themselves. They could calculate when it would be their turn. Sarah needed an average of five minutes for each victim. So if a waiting girl had three others in front of her, she knew that her turn would be in 15 minutes, then ten and then five...
After almost an hour and a half the time had come for the last remaining girl, witch was Christine Wolf, the girl in the down-outfit. Now it was time for Sarah to announce the special treatment, that would be issued to Christine. Sarah produced another official paper out of her briefcase and read the text out:
“Christine Wolf, you have broken the law twice before. One year ago, you was tried for shoplifting and sentenced to one year in prison, but you was let off with probation after one month. During your probation period, you committed another shoplifting and received two years then. You was to go to prison after finishing school. That means: There are two additional crimes you didn’t yet pay for!”
Christine was confused. First she thought, she would be sent to prison before her death penalty would be carried out. That would have meant that she wasn’t to die today. But slowly she became aware where this explanation was really leading to. Sarah continued:
“Christine Wolf, to punish you for the repeated cases of theft, both of your hands will be amputated. You will not receive any anesthesia. The pain and agony involved with this punishment will compensate for the two years in prison that you’ll spare!”
Christine started to shriek. Still chained to the fence, she had to watch the preparations for the amputation. First, one of the guards brought a wooden block and placed it near the gallows. Then the hangwoman herself brought the ax, which soon would cut through her flesh. It was horror. As everything was ready, two guards got a hold of Christine’s arms, unchained the girl and forced her to the block. Sarah commanded:
“Pull the sleeves of your Jacket up. I want to see your bare wrists!”
“Put your left hand on the block!”
“If you move the hand, I’ll
chop off your feet too!”
Christine had watched almost an hour and a half as her schoolmates had been executed one after the other. Her nerves were so worn that she complied to Sarah’s commands without any resistance. She closed her eyes as Sarah raised the ax. With one swing, she removed her beautiful hand at the wrist.
Christine screamed as blood sprayed from the stump. Sarah would need someone to hold her for the next one. “Bring me one of the under 18’s.” The guards picked out the prettiest. She was a busty blond girl dressed in a blue down coat. “Now, I want you to hold her hand as if you are shaking her hand. Hold it tight or I’ll chop off your fingers as well.” She looked as terrified as Christine, who knelt there sobbing. Sarah raised the ax again and: Whack! Off came Christine’s other hand. The other girl just sat there screaming holding Christine’s hand. Sarah picked up both hands and drove a meathook through them. She tied the hook to the scaffold above where Christine was to hang. Blood was still pouring from her wrists.
Sarah picked Christine up and pushed her towards the gallows. The girl was in too much pain to think about the noose as Sarah slipped it over her head. Carefully the hangwoman arranged the collar of Christine’s turtleneck to make sure that it won’t obstruct the noose. The girl was ready to hang now. Sarah started to pull the rope tight and Christine instinctively tried to grab the rope. Blood sprayed from her stumps as she tried to grab. She started a final scream that came to a quick end as the rope did its job. Her eyes began to bulge. She started kicking but couldn’t find a support for her feet.
As Sarah tied the last rope to the fence, she breathed easily. She watched her last victim’s death struggle calmly. Normally she didn’t take her eyes off her victim until she was certain that the girl was dead. But now her work was essentially done and she could enjoy the last execution a little. After several minutes, the body went limp and dangled lifeless to and from. Sarah turned and let her gaze pass down the line of hanged girls. This was the largest mass execution she had officiated, and she was just a little proud.
Meanwhile, it was almost ten o’clock. She turned to the teachers and students, who for the most part were all still there, and clapped her hands.
"OK people, that’s it", she announced. "You can go back to your business. According to the regulation, the girls have to remain hanging until 6 pm. You can watch them all the day if you like, but the special show is over".
The law stated that a hanged prisoner can be taken down from the gallows only after eight hours, at the EARLIEST. This had certain advantages. First, the deterrent effect was greater, and secondly a doctor wouldn’t be needed to ascertain death. Whoever spent eight hours on the gallows would be dead. Period.
After Sarah had spoken, the crowd began to party disperse. Many stayed though, to gaze in fascination at the gallows. Several students, and even a couple of teachers, took pictures, at first very furtively and secretively, then more openly as time passed.
The hangwoman was obligated to kill eight more hours. She had no desire to sit around in the Rector’s office and listen to that old woman, so she took her seat inside the truck in which the gallows were transported. She had brought her notebook with her and now she started to write her Execution Report. When this was ready, she attended to the rest of the papers she had been shoving in there for weeks. Occasionally she tossed a glance at her victims, who dangled from their ropes only a few meters from her. 21 well-built young women together on the gallows. What a sight! One of the policemen had filmed the execution with a video camera. The tape now lay on the table next to Sarah. The Justice Department would make a pile of money from selling copies of that tape.
Afternoon came. The shadows were growing longer when she looked up and saw a blond girl staring at her. She was a pretty young thing, perhaps 18 years old. Sarah had noticed her before, because she was the one eagerly taking photographs. She had stayed in the school yard all afternoon and hadn’t taken her eyes off the gallows. She kept her camera in her hand, and she seemed to be struggling with herself as to whether or not to speak to the hangwoman. Sarah laughed softly and attempted to calm her down.
"You want to take my picture, right?" The girl nodded shyly. Sarah shrugged her shoulders. "No problem". "Would... would you put your hood back on and maybe stand by the gallows?" the girl asked, embarrassed. Sarah looked thoughtfully at her for a couple of seconds, and then took her leather hood to put it back on her head. She went over to the gallows and stationed herself next to one of the girls she had strung up. She grabbed her body and rotated it enough so that the dead girl’s face was turned toward the blond. Then she put an arm around the hanged girl’s hips, pulled her a bit nearer, lay her head on the girl’s side and smiled as if they were a couple of good friends posing together for a photo. "How’s this?" she asked. The girl swallowed, nodded, and began to take pictures. Finally, it seemed that the camera was out of film and she lowered it. Sarah let go the corpse and stood waiting. The girl seemed to want to say something else, but didn’t dare to.
"You can come behind the barrier", Sarah came to her aid again. A few seconds later, the girl was standing directly in front of the gallows and was staring in fascination at the hanged girl next to Sarah. The dead girl was a delicate black haired teenager. She was dressed in a black down jacket and dark-gray padded cotton winter trousers. It was visible, that she was wearing a hand knitted crew-neck wool sweater under her jacket. The well-tied hangman’s knot, which led along her left ear to the rope, had forced her head somewhat to the side. The eyes were closed, the mouth slightly open, and you could see the tip of her tongue. The blond let her gaze wander slowly down the girl’s body. Her gaze stopped for a moment at the place where a wet stain had spread across the front of her trousers. Sarah saw what she was looking at.
"When someone hangs," she explained in a gentle voice, "he or she looses control for a short time over their bladder and they wet their pants. Many wet themselves as soon as they see the gallows. It’s normal."
The blond let her gaze pass over the line of dangling girls. Most of them had stains between their legs as well. "What’s your name?" asked Sarah. ”Tania”, answered the girl without taking her eyes off the hanged ones. "Well, Tania," Sarah said, who now knew what the youngster wanted. "You can touch her." Tania slowly reached out her hand and touched her dead schoolmate’s upper arm. She carefully spun her a bit, both to and from. Then she gave her a push so that her body began to rotate.
“Did you know her?" Sarah asked. "Stefanie Blackman. I couldn’t stand her," came the answer. Tania kept looking at the dangling body. "What did it feel like?" The words burst suddenly from her. She turned to Sarah. "I mean, what did it feel like when you put the noose around her neck and strung her up?" Sarah stopped the rotation of Stefanie’s body with her right hand and passed her fingertips over the loops in the hangman’s knot. "It was... exciting. It’s difficult to describe the feeling. A person has to have done it himself in order to really understand." Sarah smiled thoughtfully at Tania. The girl was actually trembling with sexual excitement. Sarah made a decision. "How long have you been at the school, Tania?" she asked.
"I take my exams next year."
Tania looked at Sarah and shrugged her shoulders. "I don’t know. My parents want me to work in an office." Sarah frowned. "That’s really boring." Tania shrugged her shoulders again.
"I know, what else can I do?"
"You liked the execution, right?"
Sarah grinned at the girl. Tania nodded shyly.
"You would have liked to put the rope around Stefanie’s neck yourself." Tania realized it, but didn’t reply. Her heavy sigh was answer enough. Sarah decided to show her cards.
"You know, I could use an assistant."
Tania looked at her, her eyes growing enormous.
"But I..." she stammered. "You’ve got enough assistants already." She pointed at the policemen lounging around the truck loading area, waiting for quitting time.
"Oh those are just
auxiliary police assigned to me for
today only. I need an assistant who can be an example for the modern
Tania was speechless and stared at the older woman.
"Do you know," Sarah added, "that I get a whole pile of applications for hangman’s assistant in the mail, every day? But they’re mostly stupid idiots who think it’s the shortest way into my bed." She gazed pensively. "Most of them can be really pushy. One was outright obnoxious." She smiled grimly.
"What did you do?" Tania asked.
"The asshole was calling me all the time, saying he absolutely had to work with me, that he couldn’t live without me." Now Sarah was grinning ghoulishly. "His going on about not being able to live without me gave me a good idea. I lifted some drugs from the police archives and planted them. Shortly after that, he got my undivided attention for a while, albeit in a much different way than he had imagined. In any case, his neck got longer and I got my peace and quiet."
Her thoughts came back to the present and she looked at Tania. "So, what do you think?"
Tania seemed confused.
"My parents wouldn’t approve."
"Your parents want to lock you up in an office for the rest of your life. Shit on them. My parents don’t speak to me."
"What do I have to do to be a hangwoman?" Tania asked.
"First, you’ve got to find someone who will take you on as an assistant. You’ve got that someone already," Sarah pointed at herself with her thumb. "Then you have to work for a year as an apprentice. Two years more as an assistant, and you can apply for a hangman’s post, if any is vacant. Room and board is free at the Courthouse. The pay is nothing special, just like any government work. But I’ll tell you something: I’d do the job for nothing. No, really, I’d do it without pay. So, what do you think?"
With these words, Sarah took her hood off, ran her fingers quickly through her hair and looked attentively at the girl. Tania looked at the hood. When Sarah noticed this, she squeezed the leather headpiece she was holding. Tania rolled the hangman’s hood back and forth in her hand. She seemed to want to pull it over her own head, but apparently was unable to bring herself to put it on.
"Look," said Sarah, "here’s my business card. Think about it for awhile and call me if you find you want to become a hangwoman." She looked at the schoolyard entrance, where a second truck has just entered and parked behind the one Sarah had arrived in. People got out, dropped the tailgate and started unloading oblong wooden boxes.
"Listen," said Sarah, "the gravediggers have arrived. I have to give this idiot some instructions, so I have to cut our little interview short." She nodded over at the gallows.
"Think it over!"
With this said, she walked over to the second truck. Tania ran after her.
"You forgot your hood!"
Sarah only grinned. "Keep
it. You’ll need it." She
winked goodbye and began supervising the unloading of the coffins.
passed the hangman’s hood through her fingers back and forth, and then
pulled it over her head with a decisive motion. She ignored the
astonished looks of her classmates who were still in the schoolyard.
"Yes," she said. "I’m going to need this."