Creak… thump… creak… bump….
The music played above the man’s head, a kind of percussive lullaby. He smiled, watching the different shapes play and sway in the wind. For all his troubles---and he had many---it soothed him.
None would come bothering him tonight. He was safe from the townspeople and their guns and pitchforks here on the outskirts of town. It was the land where no one dared to roam at night. No one except him. Perhaps he was the reason.
People disliked him. He reminded them of things they would rather have forgotten. He was old, bent, twisted, malodorous, uncouth. They were clean, sweet, soft, safe. In their sunny little bubble, they let themselves believe they would always be that way.
His very presence burst that bubble. He’d hobbled into town, a wandering beggar looking for a bit of kindness, but there was none to be found. They shunned him and all he brought on his heels: a firm and unmistakable reminder that fortunes change, and that no light can fight the dark forever.
The days when these things upset him were now long past. Today, he laughed, as he always did, to see them shudder and avert their eyes. This, he knew, was his lot in life, and he embraced it.
“Remember, pretty miss,” he said to one young thing, “all that lives must eat, all that lives must shit, and all that lives must die. Can you help me arrange for the first and second, whilst staving off the third?”
She ran from him and sought shelter in the arms of an older woman who glared from afar. The man simply threw back his head and cackled. “Ah, ah, ah!” he said, his ribs cracking as they shook. “‘Tis good to be in the sunny prime of life. Enjoy it, my dear, for there is no where to go from one’s peak but downward!”
A moment later, the men had come with their chests puffed out and their tools in hand. He took the chance they gave him to leave the square of his own accord. So it was wherever the drifter went. Someday, he told himself, I shall refuse to move. And then what will they do? We shall see!
For tonight, however, the place he’d found to curl up and lay his head delighted him so that he was grateful he hadn’t resisted. He wondered why he’d never thought of this before. Darkness, after all, will have darkness, and so he felt shielded and, if possible, welcomed by the cradling roots of the great tree.
He was nearly half asleep when he noticed the sounds above him had stopped. He sat up, wet his finger in his mouth and held it aloft. No wind, he realized. This will not do at all. Looking about him, he spied at last a long branch that had fallen to the ground. He rejoiced. Absolutely perfect!
He seized the branch and lifted one end of it to the dangling body above him. A strong push set it into motion and the deathly, rhythmic lullaby resumed.
Creak… thump… creak… bump….
The dead men swung to and fro. Their knocking against one another calmed the drifter’s nerves. He lay back once more and sighed. Yes, he would pass the night quite comfortably here with only himself and his companion, Death, beneath the gallows tree.
Written by Jdeschene