Hanging On: Twenty Nine

After slowly looking through several pages, the old woman seemed to grow impatient, and started turning over leaf after leaf at a frightfully rapid pace. Not a word, not a one did she find. Unable to see what she wanted to see, she stamped her foot in disgust, and turned to the very last page. She moved in closer and leaned over, putting her face within inches of the book, as if she’d finally found something to read. Following those invisible sentences as they went across the page, she turned her head from the left to the right four times. Right away, she stood up and stepped back into the rose bed. In shock and disbelief, the trembling began and she covered her eyes with both hands. But the little old lady’s grief was quickly discarded in exchange for an earnest fit of anger. She moved forwards again, and reached out to grab the back cover of the book. A slight hesitation ensued, and then she slammed it shut. The closed book stood still for a second before falling over backwards onto the grass. After the ledger had been laid to rest, she raised her arm, and pointed her finger at it. Shaking the bony digit up and down, she appeared to be speaking her mind. Perhaps, she had to make sure that she’d be the one getting in the last word. Once she had her say, she put her hands on her hips, and looked at the chief, but before she had a chance to open her mouth, something else caught her attention. When the spiteful old hag turned to look down the road, those eyes of Mark’s did the same.

The targeted object was found about a block out of town in the middle of the road. The eyes then set their sight, and Mark beheld the tall black stallion majestically prancing its way towards Bedlam. The saddle was still empty, but there was one major difference now which added to the horse’s overall appearance. A wreath of white flowers had been handsomely draped around its thick, black neck. Aided by the pure light of day, Mark was then truly able to see the horse’s beastly beautiful nature. Mark’s uncontrollable view stayed glued to the visiting stud as it made its way north for town. As the stallion pranced along, it began to nod it’s big, long head with a show of friendly gestures, which seemed to be intended for the fast-approaching preacher and his band of marching drummers. With a spring to his lively steps, the dark horse high-tailed it past the graveyard, and paid no heed whatsoever to the ongoing nag, nor to her quietly sitting side-kick chief. By the time the steed had reached the road directly in front of Mark, all of the attendees of the festival had gotten up, and aligned themselves up and down the other side of the parade’s chosen route. Musicians, dancers, and picnickers alike, all stood and clapped their hands as the proud and distinguished guest passed them by.

Soon thereafter, the angle of the view was such that Mark could see it all coming together. The pastor clothed in white, and the fine black stallion were about to meet each other on the southernmost edge of Bedlam. The gap was quickly closing, and once they were within twenty feet of each other, both man and horse stopped their steps. The minister spun himself around in place to face the marching band, and raised his silver flute to the sky. Altogether, the drummers caught the signal, stopped their march, and ceased their beats.  The leader of the band then turned back around to welcome the mighty guest with loving open arms. Standing tall and firmly in place, the stallion returned the greeting with one swift swish of its black bushy tail. Bending his neck forward, he put his chin to his chest, and bowed his head for a short half-second.  Then he raised himself back up, and stuck his nose high in the air. Slowly and carefully, the preacher walked up to the splendid steed with arms held wide. Seemingly unsure about the whole situation, the horse kept his ground. He allowed the pastor to come to him, and graciously accepted a few affectionate strokes on his nose and several pats on his neck. The minister took hold of the flowery wreath, and brought it close to his face. Cautiously, he then moved alongside, and reached up to grab the horn with his left hand. The stallion stood still, and permitted his new friend to saddle up.

Now endowed with one of Nature’s finest creations, the musically ministering man raised the flute for all to see, and begged the horse to spin around. The stallion offered up his full cooperation by turning himself and his rider in the opposite direction. The pastor promptly proceeded to restart the march. He lowered his arm, and pointed the conjuring instrument straightaway down the road. The preacher then leaned over, and whispered into the stallion’s right ear. Having revealed the master plan, he gently tapped the flute two times on top of the horse’s head. Now ready to strike up the band, he brought the silver pipe to his lips, and began to play anew. The magical tune may have remained the same, but the pace of the beat had slowed considerably. In an easygoing manner, the steed started walking down the middle of the road. Hearing the delightful song that they seemed to know by heart, the tuxedoed drummers resumed their march as before, keeping the rhythm smoothly perfect with a beat between each step.

The highly interested spectators in town were enchanted by the glorious sound. They each fell in line as the last row passed. Rejoicing for reasons unknown, they happily followed the parade out-of-town. The awaiting festive crowd continued their cheerful applause, but the minstrel and the stallion ignored them completely, as if they weren’t even there. The leader carried on with his morale-boosting tune until they’d made it as far as the hanging tree. At that point, he once again brought the performance to a halt. When he gave the band the signal, he pulled back on the reins with his free hand simultaneously, and the stallion stopped in his tracks. Preacher man looked over at the base of the tree, and faintly smiled. Wanting the horse to go that way, he tugged the reins to the right, but the steed refused to budge. Understanding as he was, the pastor forgave him for his obvious aversion to trespassing. He placed the flute behind the cantle of the saddle, and climbed down.

Back on his own two feet, he walked around front until he was face to face with the stallion. The pastor put his left hand under the horse’s whiskery chin, and tenderly stroked the bridge of his nose with his right. After the preacher spoke a few comforting words, the stallion lowered his head, and allowed him to remove the flowery wreath from his neck. The pastor took the wreath, and hung it around his own neck, and then he began to make his way under the branches of the hanging tree. Mark’s eyes stayed focused on the flower-bearing fellow as he walked towards the mighty oak, and he finally got to see what lay below him on the ground. Two wide rings of freshly bloomed flowers encircled the base of the tree. Bright red tulips made up the inside ring, and yellow daffodils composed themselves in the border. Not far from the trunk on the north side of the tree stood a three-foot high wooden cross. The loose dirt around it was barren of life, as if it had only recently been planted. It appeared to be standing in the exact place where the murderer had buried his treasure.

Over to that old rugged cross, the pastor carefully tread. With great caution, he stepped between the flowers of yellow and red, and placed himself in front of the sacred memorial. He then removed the garland from around his neck, and draped it o’er the emblematic sign. As he did thus, the jovial expression on his face was replaced by a reverently toned look of sadness. The pastor closed his eyes, and placed the palms of his hands together. After he’d said his silent prayer, he opened his eyes, and raised them to the heavens, but instead of seeing God, he saw Mark up in the tree. When those eyes of Mark’s met up with the preacher’s, the pastor motioned him down with his hand, and mouthed these words that the Kid clearly heard, “Mark! Mark! C’mon, let’s go!” Mark awoke with a start, and raised himself from the floor to see Sam yelling at him. “C’mon now, Kid. We’ve got to get a move on. Someone’s up there messing around by the hanging tree.”




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.