Hanging On: Twenty Eight

Mark’s Dream: Part Two

*

Captivated by the ongoing scene in front of him, and imprisoned behind the dreamy eyes that were free to fly to and fro as they wished, Mark’s choiceless awareness floated along in flight, and made a beeline for the dancers. In the short amount of time that it takes to blink your eye, Mark recognized the men. Sure enough, it was Sam and the guys, the guys who had formed the posse. They were dressed exactly as they were when last he’d seen them, except for now they weren’t all wet, and their miserable expressions had disappeared completely. The men were quick on their feet as they took their steps in time. They were wearing joyful smiles, and looking happier than hell. The six ladies in the circle seemed vaguely familiar. (He didn’t know why at the time, but he would come to find out later on. The reason he thought he’d seen them somewhere before was because they were the girls he knew from the saloon.) The women were traditionally dressed in style for the dance, wearing full-bloomed skirts and fancy petticoats. Cheerful in their merriment, they certainly seemed to be enjoying the occasion.

Through perfect eyes that never once blinked, Mark watched as the view receded from the dancing scene. Once the musicians were in sight, his movable lookout station smoothly came to a stop, and turned just enough to put the group front and center. Twelve elegantly dressed, beautiful ladies made up the band. (Mark was not familiar in the least with any one of them.) These dozen women wore long white gowns, delicately trimmed in lace. Their chairs were arranged in a semi-circle that curved away from the crowd. Two harps were being masterly strummed at the ends of the line. Over on the left, four violinists were swiftly drawing their bows. Across from them were four speedy cellists adding harmony to the tune. And lastly, in the middle, sat two banjo pickers dueling it out with graceful gusto.

Once those eyes of his had had their fill of that fun scene, Mark was sucked clear back to his original position in the tree. Immediately after that his focus turned left, and set it’s gaze on the little town of Bedlam. It was no longer as small as he remembered it to be. The town was overflowing with spectators, Mark could tell that much from the tree. But the eyes wanted to see more, so off they went, flying as the crow flies. (The distance between Mark and the ground always remained the same, 20 feet up in the air, or so he said.) When they’d made it as far as the first house on his left, the eyes eased their speed until they came to a halt. Teams of happy folk crowded both sides of the road. Some of younger adults were waving colorful banners on a pole, and a couple of old men were hoisting America’s flag way up high. The celebration was being enhanced by some kind of marching band. They were traipsing up the road in Mark’s direction. Waiting patiently to see what the fuss was all about, the eyes hovered in place.

The leader of the band was dressed in white from head to toe. All the men behind him were dressed much the same way, but their formal attire was entirely black. The contrast was staggering, but the keen eyes kept their focus. The frontman played a silver flute that glittered in the sun. His white polished shoes were brilliantly spotless. He wore a long tailcoat, and a little white bow sat tied over his throat. High-stepping his way down the middle of the road, he looked to be quite jolly nodding his head from shoulder to shoulder as he piped his tune into the air. The eyes wished to see this figurehead up close, so they took off once again, and hovered in front of him, keeping a distance of ten feet between themselves and the man by slowly backing away. In remembrance of the past, Mark found himself to be in the act of recognition. The leader was none other than the cruelly murdered preacher man. He appeared to be having the time of his life. Alive and well, and still in his prime, the pastor was hitting his stride to perfection. Satisfactorily pleased by Mark’s acknowledgment of the familiar character, the eyes began to scan the clan beyond him.

Marching behind their leader in a strict formation was a percussion band of a hundred men in ten rows of ten. Each hatless man had a wood-sided drum strapped around his neck that hung waist high. Seemingly oblivious to the folks cheering them on, they stared straight ahead with a stern look on their faces. Holding a drumstick in each hand, they alternated the beat with one strike between each of their steps. They were identically dressed in black tuxedos and black, shiny boots. But they weren’t entirely clothed in black as they had first appeared to Mark. Now that he was up close he could see that their bow ties were made out of thin cords of rope. The observant eyes paused for a moment, and waited for him to put two and two together. He didn’t get the picture right away, so the eyes allowed the witness to further examine the faces of the men in the first two rows. Mark thought they all looked vaguely familiar, but he didn’t know the reason why quite yet, so those eyes pulled him back to his hangout spot in the tree. Without the slightest hesitation, the eyes started pivoting to his right. From Bedlam to the picnic gathering, the gaze continued to move southward on across the fertile land. It didn’t stop and set it’s sight until Mark was able to grasp a complete view of the graveyard scene. Dwelling in the unfathomable depths of a dream as he was, Mark wasn’t about to be easily startled from sleep by this ongoing stretch of his active imagination.

Mark told Matt that his first impression of the scene was picturesquely magnificent. The haven of the dead had been transformed into a garden grandeur of life. The graves had been replaced by a hundred beds of blooming red roses neatly arranged in ten spacious rows. The drab slabs of engraved stone that previously marked the graves were gone. Standing in their stead at the head of each bed were open books. Their lily-white pages were flapping back and forth in the breeze. These books were all about four feet tall, and the pages were purely empty. Here and there and in between, little white bunnies could be seen hopping over and around the living beds. There were also a lot of red robins bopping about. Taking low short flights in a willy-nilly manner, they searched the surrounding lawns, and pecked at the ground in hunger for worms.

A tall totem pole stood erect in the midst of the rose beds. Skillfully adorned with a traditional variety of carvings, it ran straight as a rail from the ground on up for the first twenty feet. From that point on to the top, which was another ten feet beyond the last carved face, the narrowing pole was noticeably bent, and the bark was still intact. According to Mark, there was one thing especially odd about this pole. Several newly-formed sprigs shot forth from the very tip, as if somehow or another, it was still alive and growing. Having seen that unlikely combination, Mark’s memory drew from it’s store of resources, and offered him a clue as to the pole’s origin. Once Mark became conscious of the freely given clue, he automatically thought, “This pole was made from the lowest limb of the hanging tree.” That was all the eyes needed to hear. The focus point then fell from the very tip top on down to the bottom.

Sitting cross-legged on the ground at the base of the pole was an Indian chief. He was typically dressed in leather clothing strewn with beads, and a long eagle-feathered warbonnet sat on his head. The decorated elder had a small hand drum on his lap, but he wasn’t beating on it at the time. Mark could tell by the solemn expression on his face that he was either meditating on something highly important, or patiently waiting for the rest of the party to arrive. A little ways away from the chief, and standing directly in front of one of the books was a frail old lady flipping through the blank pages. She had her back to Mark, so he never did see her face. She wore a tattered grey dress and a pair of brown, laced boots.

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Hanging On: Twenty Five

Sam raised an arm and pointed a finger, “There it is. There’s the place.” Mark thought the little shack looked harmless enough. Sam went on, “It’s not supposed to be locked. He didn’t leave anything of value behind, except wood,” he added, “dry wood. I hope he remembered right about leaving a few pieces in there. They’ll be worth a lot to us.” “No doubt about it,” Mark confirmed. “There’s a barn around back,” Sam continued, “we can leave the horses in there overnight. Maybe we can find them something to nibble on. I’m sure they’re hungry.” Mark replied, “Yeah, I bet they are, so am I. Say, do you have any more of that jerky?” “Sure do, Kid.” Sam caught his own self in the act of downgrading, so he quickly reiterated with a congenial smile, “I mean Mark! Sorry, about that. I’ve got some flatbread left over, too. We’ll have to make do.” Mark easily forgave his forgetful boss for the minor gaffe. “Sounds good, Sam. I’m starving.”

The two men went on to get their horses into the barn. Luckily for the horses, just inside the doors they found a smallish pile of stale hay, and Mark divided it between the two famished beasts. Sam grabbed the remaining grub from his bag, and untied his bedroll from the saddle. Proudly showing it to Mark, he said, “I put a big candle and few matches in here, so we’ll have some light to start with. Of course, you know, we’ll have to sleep on the floor.” “I figured as much. No big deal,” Mark said. “I’ll need to let this blanket of mine dry out first, anyway.” With dire necessities in hand, they exited the barn, and barred the doors behind them. The drizzly freezing mix that had bedeviled the men all night finally ceased. Nothing but snow now fell from the sky, and the winds had calmed considerably. Crunching the crispy blades of dormant grass beneath their boots, Sam and Mark carefully stepped their way to the door in the back. As good fortune would have it, the door hadn’t been locked. With a sigh of relief, Sam raised his eyebrows at Mark and smiled, “Alright! We’re in luck.” Mark feigned a smile, and nodded silently. He wasn’t quite ready to declare that all was well. Not yet, anyway. Before he could even begin to feel lucky, he’d first have to see that the place was actually empty. That is to say, he wished to be positively certain of the fact that it was absolutely devoid of any and all mysterious  objects, or any activity whatsoever that could be deemed suspicious.

Seeking refuge from the storm, the cold, wet, miserable men carried their belongings across the threshold, and made their way on into the dark but dry shelter. Sam knelt down, and laid his goods on the floor. Whereupon he immediately took to the task of finding a match. “Here they are, safe and sound.” Mark braced himself for the worst possible scenario. Preparing to scan the area, he stood still with eyes wide open. Sam struck the match on the floor, and sparks went flying. A glorious flame burst forth from the end of the wooden stick. Sam cupped his hand around it, and allowed the flame to take hold of the ingenious device that worked like magic. Appearing to Mark from out of the dark, came Sam’s glowing face. He was wearing a big grin, and baring his teeth. “Ah-ha!” Sam exclaimed. “Here we go!” Sam picked up the candle, and brought the wick to the flickering flame. A brighter light began to emerge, and it soon lit up the room ever so slightly. “Now we’re in business,” stated Sam. Nervously standing nearby at the ready, and on his alert for any signs of danger, Mark looked to the left and back to the right, as his darting eyes started to make a thorough investigation. Much to his relief, there wasn’t a soul in sight. Nothing was revealed that was out of the ordinary. A couple of crummy old chairs were tucked away in a corner, and a stove occupied the center of the room. A few valuable pieces of wood lay beside it. Other than that, the house was barren, just as Mark had hoped. No longer having a reason to be afraid, he let down his guard, and permitted himself to relax. Reflexively, he took a deep breathe, and fully exhaled a sigh.

Still shielding the flame with his hand, Sam stood up, and walked over to the stove. When his eyes caught sight of the logs on the floor, he was practically thrilled, and to a great extent his distress was alleviated. “Well, I’ll be. How about that? He did leave us some wood. Good for him.” Sam bent down, and opened the door. Then he brought the candle to the hole, and peeked inside. It was fairly free of ashes, and some half-burnt chunks of wood lay on the grill. “Well, okey-dokey then, we’re gonna have ourselves a fire!” He turned to look at Mark, and kindly gave him an order, saying, “C’mon over here, and hold this candle for me, while I get this thing to going.” Mark jumped at the chance to be of help, and quickly followed the order to the letter. Straightaway, Sam went to work, and in no time at all, the logs were catching fire. As soon as the flames began to leap out the stove, Sam reached for the latch on the door, and shut it tight. Then Sam did something that all men do, he took a few steps back, and proudly admired his work. “There we go,” he said, assuring Mark that everything was under control. Moving nearer once again, Sam held up his hands, and felt the warmth penetrate the skin of his palms. “Ah, nice and toasty! How you like that?” Mark blew out the candle, and set it down. After raising his own hands close to the stove, he answered the question. “Man, oh, man, Sam, that feels great! Really great! Way to go! I can’t wait to get dried off a bit. I need to find a place to hang my hat.” Mark scanned the room again, “Hey, we can use those chairs over there.”

On his own initiative, Mark went to the corner, and grabbed the wobbly chairs. “We can hang our coats on these, too.” He set one down by Sam, and said, “Here you go. Be careful about sitting on it though. They’re pretty shaky.” Sam appreciated the gesture, and looked the Kid in the eye. “Thanks, Mark! I think I’ll just hang my stuff on it for now. I’m gonna roll my blanket out, and hit the floor as soon as I get a bite to eat. Mark frowned, and with a sad voice he said, “My blanket’s all wet. It’s gonna have to dry for a little while. I don’t know if I can get to sleep now, anyway. Maybe, after I eat.” Mark took off his coat, and hung it on the chair, along with his hat. Sam did the same, and then grabbed the remaining grub. He tore the loaf of bread in half, and gave Mark his share. “That ought to help fill you up, and here, take as much jerky as you want. It gives me heartburn.” “Thanks, Sam!” Mark replied gratuitously. “Don’t mind if I do. My canteen here still has water in it, so help yourself to a drink whenever you need it.” “That’s good,” said Sam, “I’ll need it to wash this down. The bread is getting a little too dry, and the jerky is chewier than all get out.”

As the men ate in silence, the fire crackled away, and the room continued to warm. The ambiance allowed the two to lose themselves in thought. Among other things, Sam was wondering if the Deputy would show up in the morning, for his mind mostly concerned itself with business matters left undone, and how he would deal with it all come sunrise. Mark was living more in the present. His mind was on a wide variety of terrible things that might occur if he laid down, shut his eyes, and fell fast asleep. Mark knew better than to tell Sam what he was thinking. Not that anything strange was bound to happen. He didn’t want to believe in that sort of outcome, anyway. But having to deny it made him feel foolish. Nevertheless, he kept quiet, and they both finished their food without saying another word.

The Hanging Tree Of Bedlam – 24

With one remaining task to fulfill, the posse headed home, and rode away into the wind, leaving Sam and Mark behind in the process. Down through the darkness that contained the freezing mist, freshly formed flakes of snow began to fall upon the scene. Making sacrificial gestures with their short-lived appearances, they humbly melted together the very instant they touched down. Now back into their initial state of grand unification, they immediately began to solidify themselves en masse for their next temporal phase. A period of cold, hard existence lay in store for these closely related particles, who were but a few minutes before, created to be the beatific crystallized structures of separation. How befitting it is then, that the same intricate latticework of laws govern over every manner of delicacy?

*

Fighting to regain a sense of equilibrium, Mark’s destabilized self did its best to get him to his horse, and back in the saddle. With sore aching bones, and a red runny nose, Sam did likewise. Mark’s slumbering mind was slowly coming to, and thus it reminded him of his oh-so curious nature. Knowing he wouldn’t get a straight answer, Mark still went ahead and asked Sam a question. “Hey, Sam! What do you think he buried in that hole?” Sam answered quickly, as if the question had been pestering his mind, too. “Oh, hell, Kid, I don’t know! There ain’t no use in worrying about it now. We’ll dig up…whatever it is in the morning. Let’s go get warmed up. My friend supposedly left some wood. A blazing fire sounds pretty good right now.” Quietly, and practically under his breathe, the Kid said, “The name’s Mark, sir.” But Sam was being dense, and hard of hearing. “Say what, boy? Speak up!” A little louder, and a little bolder, the Kid asked again, “Would you mind calling me Mark, sir? That is my name, you know.” Sam paused for a moment, and then gave the Kid a wry smile. “Okay, Kid. Mark it is. And quit calling me sir! Now let’s get out of this godforsaken place.” Sam took off and Mark studiously followed him, keeping his next few thoughts to himself.

Mark was wishing he knew what exactly happened to him when he knelt beside that scary old hanging tree. He was feeling fine up until that time, and he thought he’d been a help, not a hindrance. Mark hardly ever took sick, and it bothered him to think that he might be getting an ear infection, or a cold, or something of the sort. He was a bit better now, but there for awhile, it felt as if he’d been spinning in circles, as he used to do as a boy. Making one’s self dizzy was fun back in those days. He thought that he must have outgrown that type of enjoyment, because he was no longer having fun. Something had gotten into him, that’s all he knew. He was quite beside himself as to how to make it go away. Mark had a hunch that some how or other the haunted tree was to blame. Not that he believed it was haunted, but he wondered, “What if it was?” Mark was torn between two disparate ideas. “Trees can’t make the wind blow. What an absurd notion! Unless…the broken limb…an escape route? Let the ghosts out?” Mark’s heart began to race after that last thought arrived. He chuckled to himself in an attempt to laugh it off. “That’s ridiculous. Isn’t it? So, what else…what was it then? What caused me to hear all those ghostly sounds? And see all those faces, as if I’d been there to watch each one of them be hanged? I bet that killer…that murderer…that evil man had something to do with it. Did his soul go into the tree, too? Oh, no! No, no, no. That would mean he got out like the others. And he’s on the loose? No, no, no…but his horse is gone. Where’d he go? Why, he should have gone straight to Hell! If there is such a place…and if there ain’t one, there ought to be, specifically designed for men like that…for eternity…for the longest of times.” When Mark fell to pondering the concept of infinity, his mind reached out in a furious attempt to grasp a thread of understanding, but it was all for naught. Finding nothing substantial to cling to, it simply mirrored the void and went blank.

After an unknown quantity of empty moments passed by, Mark’s newly cleansed mind willed it’s way back into his head, and thus it thrust itself into the tension of life’s confounding present. A short term later, it regained it’s store of memories. Twas then that Sam’s sidekick began to have second thoughts about staying the night in Bedlam. He questioned himself as to whether or not he should have rode away with the rest of the men. Sam had proclaimed that his friend’s old house was vacated. Mark dearly hoped Sam was correct in making that assumption.