/ short story

The hanging tree

A new short story. when you think you've had a bad day, it might not seem so bad after you have read this...

Ben Roberts watched as the warm evening sun slowly folded itself into what would become the night sky. He sat on one of the ornate benches that the council had placed around the Green. People sat on them, enjoying the peaceful sanctuary, before returning to the hustle and bustle of town life just beyond the wrought-iron gates that provided access to the Green.

He wasn't sure how long he'd sat there, certainly an hour or more, trying to work out what to do. He'd even stood up to leave a couple of times, but then a fresh set of thoughts came sailing in on the gentle summer breeze, and so he sat down again.

He rubbed a hand across his short cropped hair, that was greying at the edges. Then he rubbed the stubble on his chin. Finally, he rested his head in his heads. He was aware that it was a gesture of despair, but it helped him think clearer.

There had to be answer. But what was it? What could he do to save the shattered remains of his life? It started with Phil Tyler, his boss, telling him there was no job for him any more. Then he returned home from work, early of course, due to his redundancy, to go through the whole "boyfriend finds girlfriend getting fucked silly by some other guy" routine. Just like in the movies. Except this wasn't the movies, this was his life.

Sally-Ann had been the love of his life. But the truth was, she was far too pretty to be stuck with an ordinary joe like him. She had long legs, long black hair, green eyes, and a supermodel figure. It turned out, that she had the morals of an alley cat.

He just stood there, while her new (or was he new?) fuck-buddy tried to get his clothes on, and Sally-Ann covered herself with the bedding, or what was left of it. Why? He'd seen what she had plenty of times. It made him feel like the wrongdoer, and that angered him.

"Sorry mate, look we didn't mean.." Said the lover, still yanking his trousers on.

"Ben, I'm sorry, we didn't mean you to find out like this..." Sally-Ann pleaded.

Ben stormed out of their bedroom (it felt like an alien place now), slamming the door so hard that he heard the splintering of wood. He could hear the conversation, urgent, and half whispered between the love rats in the other room.

"Go, just get out of here. I'll sort it out..."

"Will you be OK?"

"Yes, yes just go..."

He heard the Lothario step out of the bedroom.

He opened the cupboard under the sink, and pulled out the crowbar he kept there. He sometimes had to jemmy open the kitchen window. The frame was badly fitted, and the little flat was quite old.

He knew what he was going to do. A cold rage drove him. He stepped out of the kitchen, and swung the crowbar in an upwards arch. The result was spectacular - and grotesque.

More by luck than by judgement, the flat blade end of the crowbar caught the Lothario under the chin. Because Ben had swung it underarm, the momentum of his arm (and the rage that powered it he realised later) kept the blade moving. It tore up through Lothario's face, breaking his jaw bone.

It eventually stopped under his cheekbone. Ben pulled back, and reversed the crowbar so that the teeth end raced down to meet Lothario's face. It deflected from his nose, and plunged into his eye socket, jetting blood up onto the ceiling.

Lothario collapsed at that point. And Sally-Ann screamed.

She'd pulled on her underwear, and was stood in the bedroom door.

"Ben! No! What have you done?"

Her hand covered her mouth, her deep green eyes were glazed over in shock. The cold range slowly cleared a little, he looked at her, trying to calm his racing mind.

"How long?" He croaked.

"We only just..."

"Don't fucking LIE TO ME! How LONG?"

Sally-Ann's eye flashed with anger. She straightened up, and placed a hand on her slender hip.

"What do you want me to say Ben? That we've been at it for ages? Will that make you feel better?"

Ben glanced at the bloody crowbar. Then he looked back up at Sally-Ann. "I don't care, you're a dirty whore."

He turned to walk back in the kitchen, but saw a blur of movement from the corner of his eye. He twisted away slightly, so that the huge slap that Sally-Ann and swung grazed the side of his head.

He felt the dark anger rise again. He swung the crowbar in a wide arc. It came shoulder height and fast. Sally-Ann misjudged his aim and ducked, bringing her head in line with the steel.

It connected with the side of her head with a loud thud. The power of the swing knocked her sideways, so that her head connected with the door frame. The was another thud, and Sally-Ann dropped to the floor, blood gushing from the head wound.

Ben didn't have to do that other Hollywood thing. The pulse checking, the shaking of heads in dismay. She was quite obviously dead.

He walked to the bathroom, washed the blood off himself, and then quietly left the flat. He lit a cigarette and walked, just walked. He didn't really remember any of the details. He didn't know why he went to the park.

He felt that something or someone had summoned him there, though.

Sitting the bench, he lifted his head out of his hands. People had gone home, and it was now nearly dark.

It was then that she spoke to him.

"Hello, Ben. Don't be sad. Life can be difficult at times. There is no need to despair."

He looked around. There was no one around. Just the big old Oak tree, with it's low hanging branches, standing a few yards away.

"Who said that?"

Then he saw her. Sitting in the lower branches of the tree. A young lady, yet she seemed to be dressed in some sort of historical outfit. A long, cream coloured dress, tightly cinched in around her slender waist, quite low-cut, and tailored to accentuate the female form. Yet she looked like an actress from one of those period dramas. Perhaps she was.

Ben waved a laconic hand. "Oh, hello there..." Then it struck him, she had spoken his name. He looked more carefully at her, but he definitely didn't recognise her.

“How did you know my name? I don't know you..."

"No, you don't know me, Ben. But I know of a lot of people. Especially people in trouble. My name is Jemima. I can help you."

Ben thought she had the softest, gentle voice he'd ever heard. He stood and walked to the base of the tree. Even in the fading light he could she that she was also beautiful. Not in the supermodel way that Sally-Ann was (then he corrected himself with a jolt, used to be was more accurate), but in that classical English way. All gentle lines, and delicate features.

Then he remembered that she was sitting in a tree. And now it was dark. That was weird.

"Okay, so why are you sitting in a tree in the middle of the park?"

Jemima smiled, a lovely delicate smile. "Oh, I'm always here Ben. People don't always see me, but I'm here."

"What, you live in the tree?"

He tried hard to keep the incredulity out of his voice. The day was already weird and horrible, and now the night was heading down oddity avenue too.

Jemima smiled, although this one was more mischievous. "I exist in this tree, let me put it that way." She clearly felt elaboration was needed. "I said I'm here to help people like you, Ben. And help you I will."

"What makes you think I need help?"

The expression on her face changed, her brow creased and her eyes narrowed.

"Oh, come on, Ben. I think you know the answer to that."

Ben reached in his pocket and pulled out his cigarettes. He lit one, and took a long drag. He exhaled gratefully. Something told him that Jemima didn't smoke.

"Enjoy that, it'll be your last one."

Ben looked up. Was he hearing things? "Sorry?"

Jemima smiled sweetly. "I didn't speak my dear."

"So how are you going to help me?"

He thought he heard sirens in the distance. Maybe Sally-Ann and lover-boy had been found.

"Well first, you should come up here. It's nice, and I can tell you about it."

Ben decided that wasn't a bad idea. He'd been standing for a while and he could do with a nice rest. There was something else too. He felt compelled to go up to her. It was a strong feeling, very strong.

He finished his cigarette, and stepped onto the knurled, knotted trunk of the the tree. It was going to an easy climb.

He sensed movement above. Jemima had climbed quite a bit higher. "Come up here Ben, the view is wonderful."

"Yeah, okay, on my way."

"you'll come down a lot quicker."

"What?"

Ben definitely heard that. He glanced up, and what he saw nearly had him fall. Her face had changed. It was a bloody pulp, her eyes blazed with a crimson glow, and he could see the bones of her skull.

He froze in shock. Leaning over, he rubbed his eyes, and looked up again. And this time she was back to smiling Jemima, pretty Jemima, alluring Jemima.

"Come, Ben. Come up to me. Then I'll show you want you can do to fix things."

She'd climbed higher still. But Ben felt the urge to climb up to her, despite what he'd just seen. The urge was strong. He looked up, and she was sitting on a branch, holding her arms out to him.

He continued to climb. The tree was easy to climb. There were plenty of footholds, and knurled branches to grab onto. He was only vaguely aware of the height he was gaining.

Ben finally arrived at the same branch Jemima was sitting on. She really was very beautiful (in this mode, he still wasn't sure what he'd seen earlier), and that was certainly something alluring about her.

She patted the branch next to her. "Come and sit down Ben, there is room."

He did as asked, and glanced around. It really was a great view.

"Do you know how old this tree is, Ben?"

He had no idea. It had certainly been there for as long as he could remember. He also thought of a fact about the thickness of a tree's trunk being an indicator of age.

"I don't know. Look, how do you..."

"I told you Ben. I know people that are in trouble."

Ben thought about that for a moment. He couldn't quite get the nasty image of her out of his head. There was definitely something odd about her.

"How old do you think this tree is Ben?"

"Why does it matter?"

"It matters because then you'll understand something about me."

"Okay, well, I'd say it's very old. Couple of hundred years maybe?"

"That's close Ben. It's actually 350 years old. And I've existed here for most of that time."

Ben decided the day couldn't get any weirder. He was also aware that he should climb down and go and face the police.

"Oh, you won't be doing that."

Ben glanced at Jemima again. She was still sitting serenely on the branch. But as she turned to meet his gaze, her face contorted into a dark grimace.

"You can't go around killing people Ben. Even if they have wronged you. So now I will avenge their deaths."

"How do you know what I did?"

"I know when someone has done wrong. That's all you need to know."

"Yeah? Well you go and fuck yourself. I'm going now..."

"That's right, you are."

She leaned over, grabbed his jacket and pulled. Ben jolted in surprise. Her face twisted into a hideous smile, and Ben felt himself falling. A claw-like hand grabbed him, and held him by the collar of his jacket. Jemima reached behind her and produced a rough hemp rope.

Ben, fighting to breath, and trying to find something, anything to grab hold of watched in horror as she slipped the perfectly formed noose over his head. He felt the rough hemp scratching his neck. Then he felt the rope tighten.

Jemima smiled that hideous grin and then let go of him.

Ben fell.