Hanging On: Twenty Two

Hanging on to hope, but fearing the worst, dreadfully suspended o’er the abysmal expanse that separates truth from doubt, Sam was desperately searching for a clue that would provide him with the means to positively identify the silhouetted dangling man. Through a perilous atmosphere thickened with doom, one trembling moment passed on to the next, grimly determined to breach the day that lay beyond the midnight hour. The old oak tree loomed large in the background of that frightfully picturesque scene. It towered over the graveyard like unto a shepherd guarding his flock. Burdened by the weight of their ice-coated skins, the tips of every branch submissively bowed to the earth.

In the midst of the scattered tombstones stood the hanged man’s loyal horse. Now wary of the ongoing situation, it stared down the suspicious invaders, and let out a deep snort of warning to any and all who would dare to encroach upon its territory. Sam’s horse took the lead, and immediately squealed a reply of dissent. The rest of the men’s horses were alarmed by the call. Stirred into action, they readied themselves for a charge. Realizing it was outnumbered, the faithful steed relented. It turned away and walked to the far side of the graveyard. Once it had reached the outer edge, it stopped and turned back around, refusing to displace itself completely from the haven of deep rest. Sam knew then and there that it was the foreigner’s black stallion.

“Well, I’ll be damned!” Sam exclaimed to his men. “It is that sonuvabitch, and somebody else got to him first.” Sam’s men, with one exception, were relieved to hear him say those words. With obvious disappointment, Mark asked,”Are you sure that’s his horse?” Sam answered him matter-of-factly, “No doubt about it, Kid!” Someone had stolen the show, and Mark wondered who the culprit might be. “Then who do you think got him?” Sam didn’t care who. He was genuinely delighted to see the killer hanging there, dead as a doornail. “I don’t know, Kid. It’s hard to say. Let’s go take a closer look.” From Mark’s perspective, after that horridly artistic seen in the cave, he couldn’t believe the man had been caught and hanged before they’d had a chance to catch up with him. The murderer they had chased was despicably evil, or so he surmised. He had to have been possessed by demons to pull off a stunt like that. At the very least, he must have had invisible, magical, and violent accomplices. Perhaps he’d been supplied with superhuman strength. Maybe he’d attained some type of unknown devilish power. No way did he think the manhunt would end up as simple as that. It was all too easy. Mark didn’t believe the night was over. That the big, old ominous oak was haunted, now that he could believe. If the story be true, then the tree had just accepted another ungodly soul into its outrageous inventory. But something else was going on too, or so it seemed. Everything was up in the air, as far as Mark was concerned. It wasn’t yet time to relax and unwind, nor was he ready to call it a day. “He is dead, isn’t he?”

Sam didn’t bother to answer Mark’s question, he jerked the reins instead, and headed towards the graveyard. Sam’s highly strung horse was acting jumpy, and hesitant. When they’d come to the edge of the burial grounds, his horse stopped for good, neighing out its refusal to go in there. The rest of the horses felt the same way. Not a one of those men could get their ride to take the shortcut. “To hell with it!” yelled Sam. “We’ll go around.” So back to the sloppy road they went. Once they’d gotten passed the last standing slab of stone, they got back off the road, and made way for the hanging tree. The wind picked up its speed for a second, and blew the hanged man’s cloak away from his dead body, exposing his hands. They were tied behind his back with the same rope that was around his neck. The end of the extra long rope lay on the ground beside his boots, which were barely off the ground, and slightly swaying in the wind. The length of rope from the knot on the limb to the noose appeared to have been measured perfectly, just long enough to strangle the man to death.

They hadn’t gotten far from the road, when the horses reneged a second time. They wanted nothing to do with that tree, either. “Damn!” said Sam. “What’s your problem, big boy?” Sam let out a huff, and then dismounted. Mark did the same, imitating his hero. The rest of the posse stayed by the road. They’d already seen enough. Mark was going to make himself take a look. He’d never encountered the freshly dead, and he wanted to be perceived as a brave and courageous man in the eyes of his reticent comrades. As Sam and the nervous Kid closed in on the swinging corpse, Mark focused his attention on the killer, the rope, and the limb. “This guy better be dead,” was his only thought. Sam was eying the tracks on the ground. His curiosity caused him to wonder, “How many of them were there?” But as he peered down and around on the ground, all he could see were prints in the mud, and they all looked alike. Mark’s will was stronger than his fear, and the first thing he did was to walk right up to the fancy dressed man, and poke him real hard on the arm. That set him to swinging pretty good, but the deceased didn’t open his eyes, as Mark had nervously anticipated.

It was a gruesome and grotesque sight to behold. Hanging from the lowest limb in black formal attire was a once handsome man who’d turned blue in the face. He was dressed for a funeral alright, and ready to hit the coffin, except…he was all of a mess. Mud had been smeared from the knees on his pants, all the way down to the toes of his well-polished boots, as if someone had dragged him by the arms to that very spot. Little balls of ice were clinging to his hair, and an icicle had begun to form off the tip of his nose. Even though he’d been cleansed by the freezing rain, he still reeked of that awful, rotten smell back in the cave. Mark was grossed out, and after a few seconds, he had to turn his eyes away. Stunned and awed, he gazed at the tree. Just then he noticed an item laying on the ground next to the trunk. “Hey, Sam! Here’s that guy’s funny looking hat.” Mark went over to pick it up, but as soon as he got close to the tree and bent over, he got light-headed and dizzy. He put one hand on the trunk for stability, and knelt down to grab the hat. It was resting on and surrounded by loosened chunks of wet soil. “Hey, look! Someone dug a hole here!” Mark picked up the hat, and found himself staring at an ivory-handled dagger that’d been stuck in the mud, and purposely hidden underneath the wide-brimmed hat. As soon as he reached down to pull it out of the ground, Sam yelled, “Wait! Don’t touch that!” But Sam’s command had missed the deadline of 12 o’clock sharp. As the hands struck midnight, Mark simultaneously removed the long-bladed knife from the saturated earth. A split second later, the result of his action could be seen and heard. Mayhem in Bedlam was destined to ensue shortly thereafter.

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23 thoughts on “Hanging On: Twenty Two

  1. Here we go, Mayhem in Bedlam. I’m not going to even venture a guess but I would bet those rain soaked posse boys are in for some midnight fright.

  2. “Mayhem In Bedlam” by Uncle Tree

    I like the looks of that, Derek.
    That’s what I was going to name this next chapter.
    If this were ever to miraculously become a book with pages,
    I thought it would make a good title for the whole dang shebang.
    I been saving it up, waiting for the right moment to introduce the phrase.

    A little midnight fright is right, my man!
    And then we’ll have a morning after, and that should wrap it up.

    Again, thanks for hangin’!

  3. You’re going to hear some howling, Ed,
    but I already said…hmmm, excuse me. Matt already said
    that he slept through the night. We can’t have his ‘damn dog’
    waking him up, now, can we? Buster doesn’t believe in ghosts, anyway.

  4. If I can trick an old dog like you, Ed…
    if…we’ll see. I gave you a hint awhile back.

    .

    It wasn’t that many ages ago,
    when dodos roamed the earth.

    They couldn’t learn at any age.

  5. Those dumb birds are extinct. (they’ll always be stupid but they can text message with the kiddie GO phones, can only make phone calls with grown-up cell phones though)

  6. Sorry to keep you folks waiting.
    I’ve been on this all day, and I only
    have 652 words to show for it.

    I’m doing the best I can.
    Please, believe me.
    Thank you! UT

  7. Yo, i believe you Uncle. Just knock those icicles off your nose and warm up with some hot chocolate. I’ll be here when the end comes.

  8. We’ve had the same freezing rain…..brrrr. Perfect for reading your story.
    Well take your own advice, Keith, you hang in there too. You’re doing
    great.

  9. I made it home and back, safe and sound, Derek! Yeah!
    I saw 5 cars in the ditch in a half-mile stretch on the way to work.

    Coffee with French Vanilla cream is my fav.

    I’m glad you’ll be here. 1000 words done, and a few hundred to go.

    Tomorrow? Tomorrow? The sun?………………….I wish.

  10. Lousy weather, Bonnie. Tedious, scraping windshield weather
    that’s for sure!

    Take my own advice? I’d be rich by now, if I’d have done that. 🙂

    And thanks! I wish I believed…

  11. The sun will come out tomorrow bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow it will be here……..well……..we will have sun here in Colorado, i don’t know about your neck of the woods. We still have ice and snow from that storm. Our city is broke so not much snow plowing going on. Yo, the only growth business here is medical mary jane……..I may have to become a farmer. Ya mon.

  12. Ya mon is right, doodoemon!
    Yes, the stars were out the night before
    allowing the temp to drop to -6 freezing degrees.

    A White Christmas was staged ahead of time. 😉 Happy Holidays!

  13. Okay…first how is it known that the clock is striking Midnight is someone looking at a clock?
    What difference would it make about grabbing the dagger there was no such thing as forensic evidence back then and daggers were a rare commodity they existed but in the west… it would be something that stuck out like a sore thumb in a small town people would know who had one if it belonged to any of the posse so it would probably be assumed that it was the man in blacks dagger. The real bad thing is that that posse is under the tree. Makes for the set up of that whole group being framed.

  14. For the sake of plausibility, I wanted to use the power
    invested in the bewitching hour. Only the omniscient narrator
    and the reader need know that. Sam tried to stop Mark because
    he was afraid it was a trap of some sort. I did research daggers.
    They knew this foreigner had a knife, and no rifle. (Ch. #11)
    Can we assume the soul of the bad guy entered into the
    inner realms of the hanging tree? If knot, I screwed up.
    That was his sole purpose. Like a prison breakout.

    This was no ordinary suicide. There! I gave away the secret.

  15. Oh I sensed it wasn’t but the point I was making was that here the picture of was is happening and the time that it is happening need to be very distinguishable between narrator telling and action happening otherwise it raises these questions. You’ve done a pretty good job of leading toward the bad guy entering the tree inner realms with out being blunt

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