Friends, enemies and a hanging tree. A western novella/time traveler story.
|The Face of Evil|
Wet and clinging, the wool folds of my skirt hung heavy across my thighs. Miserable sodden leaves dripped relentlessly on us as we huddled beneath the big oak hanging tree. On the lowest branch were two nooses that swayed and twisted slowly as if we were already swinging.
“Please don’t do this.” I whispered to him. Fear cut through me like an iron plow blade biting deep into spring soil.
I risked a glance toward him and wondered how in Gods’ name could evil look so ordinary? He sat his roan horse poorly. His bony knees were pinched tight against the saddle leather. His pasty white fingers clutched the reins tightly. I watched as his horse shifted nervously and took a step backward but he did not release the pressure of the bit.
I saw the blow coming and ducked my head sideways. The butt of his rifle caught me high on the cheekbone anyway. There was no strength in it though. He was a weak man but his mind was cunning and his brand of twisted justice was strong and deadly.
“I told you to keep your head down, girl.” He said in his soft lisping way. “Are you stupid or what?”
I hung my head and hoped that would be answer enough. I thought back to when I’d gotten supplies in his store. How often I had felt his pale eyes on me. How when I would turn and look at him he’d always looked away as if I’d scorched him with a hot poker. His eyes were always watery and sort of pink at the corners. His skin was the color of sourdough biscuits ready for the dutch oven. He had never looked me in the eye back then, not even once.
“You been warned.” he said as the rain dripped steadily off the brim of his hat. “More than once.”
“Yes Sir” I replied, nodding my head as I struggled against the rope that bound my hands.
“We got a right to do this.” He stated piously. “Don’t we boys?.”
He looked toward his outriders but they just sat their horses in silence. I sensed they might not agree but I knew they would not stop him either. Like Judas from the Bible stories they had their silver coins safely stowed in their saddle bags. The border trail was not far and I expect they were thinking of brown eyed senoritas and glasses of hard rye whiskey by nightfall.
“Let her go, Sullivan.” Nathan’s voice was rough and dry like the feel of burlap against your skin. “She’s not a part of this.”
“Shut up, Nate.” I said. “Please, just shut up.” I knew I was pleading but I could not stop myself.
“If you let her ride out of here I’ll tell you where Ethan is.” Nate bargained.
“You can’t Nate.” My voice came out in a wild shriek. I whipped around so fast I nearly fell from the saddle. “He’s just a boy!”
I was jerked up short by my bound hands and pain tore across my back. I heard one of Sullivan’s men behind me say “Well I’d sooner hang a boy than a woman anyway.”
The rain fell harder as blood trickled slowly into my eye. I could barely see Sullivan where he sat looking at the hanging tree and weighing the idea. “Please don’t do this.” I whispered again.
Where was God I wondered when men bargained as the skies poured evil and nine year old children were hung for their Mother’s sins.