were there, in
the garden. Mozart played over loudspeakers, giving the place a divine, happy
feeling. Everyone was dressed in their best. Mr. Hawks's bald head gleamed in
the fresh sunlight; Mrs. Gregory had brought out her brightest shade of red
lipstick; Mrs. Delaware had her hair tied back in a professional bun—not a hair
stuck out of place.
nice to see you, Ana.”
smile at Dixie Blackwell. I've known her most of my life, but I don't ever see
her unless it's at parties. She's wearing a bright yellow dress that stops just
below the knees; a solid gold bracelet studded with emeralds and sapphires
jingled on her wrist. She wasn't a fan of diamonds. I shut off my phone and
focused my attention on her.
smiles at me.
“Have you heard the news?”
course I have, but I let my face look dumb. “No. What news?”
you waited until you were twenty-three, and not fifteen. I think. This
brings a genuine smile to my face. “I'm so happy for you!”
you. Thank you.” She gloats. She thinks she has all my attention, but I'm only
playing along. “I'm due in September.”
sure you send me a photo—although, I know I'll see the little bug on
here.” I held up my phone.
of a grimace sweeps over Dixie's face, like she'd just bitten into a lemon. But
it's gone as quickly as it had come. I'd known Dixie long enough to know how
easily she can shift her emotions about.
I guess I'll see you around.” She leans in and gives me a swift, pitiful hug.
sure you send me photos of the kid.”
almost go back to my phone, but decide against it. I scan the crowd for Devon
but don't see his face. I look at the refreshment table, and spot him. Of
course. He's always eating. I stand up, press my dress down. No one is looking
at me. I start moving towards Devon. I don't know why I still come to these
things. I lost interest long ago. It's the same shit every time. Never changes.
But it isn't supposed to. Changing something wouldn't be in the interest of
these people. I reach Devon's side without a single soul talking to me, and
place a hand on his shoulder.
looks at me with a mouthful of crackers. Devon has always been polite to me,
never speaks with his mouthful of food. He holds up a finger. One moment.
Chews. Swallows. “You scared me.” He chuckles.
can we go?”
can't just up and leave, Ana. Have you eaten anything today? You should eat.
See if you feel better.”
looks at his watch. “It's almost one. What time did you eat?”
it matter? I'm not hungry.”
Cartwright.” Mr. Coyne says as he extends his hand. Devon shakes it, smiles.
Beside Alister Coyne is Wendy Coyne. The two look like a match made in hell;
she is twenty, and he is approaching sixty. She's small, apt to break if
someone looks at her wrong. She is new to this, after Vivian Coyne kicked the
bucket earlier this year. Wendy doesn't like making eye contact and will stare
off into space if looked at. It's something she's going to have to change if
she wants to be with Alister in the long run.
met Wendy, right?”
But everyone knows about her. Made national news when the billionaire lost his
wife of thirty-six years and married someone twice his senior less than three
sorry about Vivian. Did you get my card?” Devon avoids the matter. I look at
his face. His eyes don't stay on Wendy long.
did. Thank you for the kindness.” Mr. Coyne says, his voice is agitated at the
mention of his former wife.
was nothing. Vivian was one of us.” Devon smiles, shifts his gaze to Wendy.
Alister touches his forehead with his index finger and brings it down to his
chin. Devon and I repeat the gesture. “Be with you.”
with you.” Devon and I say in unison.
was slick.” I say.
smiles. “I didn't do anything.”
bullshit me.” I take his hand. “Let's go sit down.”
you wanted to leave?”
shrug. “Promise me we'll leave after the speech?”
guide him back to our reserved table with Mr. and Mrs. Zahor. Neither of them
were able to make it this year. Something about their son falling off his horse
and breaking both his leg. I don't know. It doesn't matter. We have the table
one-ten on the dot, Mozart ended. The chatter in the garden died. Everyone
focused their gazes on the old wooden gallows. It's said in the Book that the
gallows were built before the house. But I don't know. I've never managed to
make it through the Book. I know enough of it to keep me alive.
Greene's age is unknown. Some say two-hundred, some say more. He's the oldest
man I've ever met. That's for sure. He walks with a slight limp of the left
leg, and hunched over; he has only wisps of hair that blow like strands of
cotton in the light wind.
stands in front
of the gallows, looking out at us. His left eye is milky white. He licks his
cracked, bleeding lips.
es 'nother year. 'Nother year of blessins. An we wouldn't be here wit'out 'elp
with him!” Everyone shouts.
Greene trails his index finger down his face. Everyone repeats it.
will be nother year of blessins.”
back door to the house opens and everyone stares at the man as he is dragged
towards the gallows, kicking and screaming muffled groans. He is brought to his
feet at the base of the stairs. A bulging man dressed in a blue suit shoves the
man up the stairs. There's absolute terror in the sounds coming out from under
the gag. The bulging man presses on the gagged man's back. The man loses his
balance and falls hard onto the wood. A light laughter drifts from the crowd.
Together, the gagged man and the bulging man reach the top of the stairs and
walk across the platform.
here the man is turned towards us and unmasked. I always try to imagine what
it's like to be in total darkness then to see fifty or so people dressed in
their best, staring back at you. The man darts his eyes about, not locking on a
face for very long. The bulging man takes him by the arm and drags him a few
paces back. I've seen every emotion possible on the faces of the people as the
noose is placed about their neck—even a few people smiling, probably asking
themselves: when is the joke over. C'mon guys. Enough is enough.
isn't until the last moment they realize this isn't a joke.
Greene slips the mask onto his face. It's golden and reflects brightly in the
sun. The nose is elongated, like that of a plague doctor mask. The eyes are
small vertical slits. Two girls dressed in white walk about with a tray of
masks and crystal goblets. A girl reaches me and I take one of each. I slip it
over my head and reach out for Devon's hand. I find it and squeeze. He squeezes
can't blink or look away. Mr. Greene walks to a tarnished brass tub positioned
under the gallows. He strips off his shirt first, holding it out to be taken.
It takes a while, but eventually he remembers how to work his belt and let his
pants fall about his ankles. With assistance from a small, hunched man, Mr.
Greene kicks them off. Next he is naked, ass towards us. Mr. Greene steps over
the side of the tub gingerly and adjusts himself into it. He nods to the
hunched man. The man steps back and nods to the bulging man.
man doesn't make a sound as the floor beneath him drops—and if he did, the
rusted hinges on the deadfall drowned them out. He swings slightly once to the
left and stops. Mr. Greene looks at the man hanging above him. There's a smile
on his face. The hunched man approaches the tub with a long spear. Mr. Green
opens his mouth; the man is jabbed, and the blood flows.
by one the people at the tables are ushered to the gallows with cup in hand.
be Him.” I say, sticking my goblet under the drips. I don't get much. I only
need the taste of it. Bless be him. Don't ever let me have children. Let me
die old, doing this. Not my children. Bless be Him. In return for this
Blessing, I will give myself over to your order. Bless be Him. I tilt the
cup and let a drop fall onto my tongue.
never gets any easier.
I want to throw up.
lives in Tennessee. He enjoys classic horror paperbacks and Faulkner. He has
been published in Black Petals once before, and has other stories published