Matt was in a hurry to get back to Bedlam, but his old mare was already giving him her best. It wasn’t long until she fell back to her normally slow pace. They arrived 10 minutes earlier than usual. The old girl was happier to be home than he was, and started prancing as soon as she caught eye of the place. Matt was looking down the road, setting his focus on the legendary oak tree with the graveyard close behind. He was glad to see it hadn’t changed a bit since he’d left. No one was standing around there, and no black stallion was seen nearby. The skies were clear, and the weather was warm for the sun was shining brightly. In the mid-afternoon of that day, the scene showed no signs of the menacing features for which it was famous, such as being haunted.
Matt had never believed in ghosts, not even as a child, nor did he ever believe that line about the hanging tree, “Home to a hundred killer’s souls, or more…” He thought all that stuff was a bunch of baloney, even though he was the one who’d repeated the story more often than anyone else in town. He stood by the line that says, “Seeing is believing.” He never completely ruled out the unlikely, and fairly thought himself open-minded. Matt liked to tell scary stories to people who believed in that nonsense. Though he knew many a fairy tale, he didn’t believe in miracles that could come into being all of their own accord. He imagined that if miracles ever existed at all, they came into being through action. To him, they were not make believe stories, they were made to happen historical events. According to Matt’s wife, he was a dreamer who often succumbed to flights of fancy. “He forever has his head up in the clouds,” was her claim, but she loved him nonetheless, and looked up to him in many respects. For his part, Matt saw himself as one of those types of men who would think things out before taking action. He’d didn’t enjoy delayed regrets. On his way home that day, he made up his mind in a rational way. He decided on the question he would ask his neighbors concerning the night before. This is what he came up with. “Did you see, or hear, anything strange last night after you went to bed?” Matt liked questions that were short and to the point. He liked to give short answers that were meaningless even more, because he enjoyed confounding his audience.
In her frustrated impatience, Matt’s wife had been waiting outside the house for him with her arms crossed. His hound dog lay at her feet, and didn’t bother to get up. He was late in coming back with the groceries once again. He rode up on his happy dancing horse, pulled back on the reins, and began to dismount before coming to a halt, and almost fell off. “Sorry it took so long. I have an excuse. Hear me out first.” His wife looked at the dog and shook her head. “Here we go again,” she said in a thought to herself. She unfolded her arms and put her hands on her hips. “For pity’s sake! What is it now?” She kept the next few words to herself. We can assume she thought, “This is getting to be old hat.”
Matt goes on to tell her the whole story, but he tried to tone it down a bit. He didn’t want it to sound too awfully bad, because then she’d be afraid to move there. Matt had applied for a job with the railroad, and they’d have to leave Bedlam if he were able to get himself hired on as he had hoped. She took the news rather hard, to say the least, but she took everything personally, so Matt was not too surprised by her hysterical reaction. He calmed her down best he could. Shortly thereafter, he proceeded to go out and make his way around to each and every neighbor. Matt repeated his well-rehearsed question to all, but no one had seen anything unusual, nor had they heard any strange noises. Their closest neighbor was an elderly widow. She had a complaint waiting for Matt. She madly claimed to have heard his hound dog late the night before. He was “…barking and howling away for the hell of it!” as she put it. She was awakened two hours after she’d gone to bed, and in her anger, she’d gotten up and looked out the window. Upon seeing this ‘nothing’, she opened it up and yelled, “Just what in the hell are you barking at, ya damn dog?!!” Matt told her he was sorry, and that he was home and in bed the same time as she, and he never heard the dog. “Are you calling me a liar?” she yelled at him. “No, ma’am, no,” he replied as he walked away. He did have to wonder if his dog heard, or smelled something, but thought no more of it. Having received no surefire confirmations, he went on back home feeling a little relieved.
That vision he had of the riderless horse in the graveyard? As far as Matt was concerned, it was a product of his imagination, and nothing else. He had no foresight, and had never had what one might call a premonition. He didn’t believe in prophecy. Matt didn’t go and investigate the graveyard to see if he could find any evidence confirming his sleepy suspicions. He didn’t go look for trampled down grass near the tombstones. As a matter of fact, Matt had never set foot in that graveyard. Not once since he’d lived there. He’d never read the names, nor the dates engraved on the pocketed, mossy faces. He didn’t feel the need to get a close-up view of the legendary hanging tree. He’d never seen the rings worn into and around it’s lowest limb. He never let his curiosity get the best of him. If one were to ask him why he’d never visited the dead, he would have said, “I didn’t know any of those people, so I’ve never had a good reason to go there.” At this stage of his life, Matt thought that youth could conquer all, so he had nothing to fear…which is another way of saying, he wasn’t experienced.
Later that afternoon, Matt’s wife sent him out to get wood for the stove. She was sickened by the news her husband had brought home. She wished to forget the whole thing, and would do so by starting dinner, and fixing her mind on her work. Not wanting his dearest beloved to have another tizzy fit, Matt took to the task set before him right away, and went out to the back to fetch a few logs. The first thing he noticed was a change in the wind, which was now from the north, and much cooler. The skies were beginning to look hazy, and he knew he should expect there’d be rain or snow by morning. His forecasts he believed in. He was a hunter, so he knew these things. He wasn’t guessing. As he began to choose between the logs, he fell to daydreaming again. This time around it was about building a new house in the new city. For no good reason, he raised his head and broadly cast his gaze up the road. A half a mile or so away, he could see a cloud of dust being raised and blown about in the wind. Quicker than he could say ‘horses’, he thought he knew who it might be. Matt ran around to the other side of the stack, ducked down, and took off his hat. He didn’t know why, and didn’t question his motive. “I bet it’s Sam and his men,” he whispered to himself. The rolling sound of thunder was headed his way. They rode up fast and went right past, then he popped up his head to look. The big man at the head of the posse was Sam alright, and they seemed to be in a hurry. But as they reached the edge of town, they all pulled up right fast. Matt watched in suspense as Sam walked his horse over to the tree, stopped, looked up, and just stared at it for a minute…a long minute. He unhooked a long, winding rope from his saddle , and dropped it to the ground. Then just as fast as they’d stopped, Sam yanked at the reins, took off with a start and his men followed him south down the road. The cloud of dust was reborn, and was closing in on their heels. The northern winds were right behind, pushing them away from Bedlam.