An avid fan of the fantasy, dark-fantasy and mythology genres. Will use adjectives with reckless abandon.
The tree was undoubtedly infamous.
Unfortunately, it was the kind of infamy that caused dumb kids – my friends and I – to consistently dare each other to go near the tree, touch it, or break off a twig from it every day on our walk home from school. None of us were dumb enough to honor these dares (thankfully). But still, the frequency of the requests and the unrelenting insistence was enough to irritate someone who already loathed that mangled, overgrown monstrosity.
As we grew into our pubescent years, the dares and the jokes gradually subsided as the distractions of adolescence consumed our lives, ensuring that none of us thought much about the tree. The tree did not seem to hold as much power over me anymore. It still loomed eerily in the center of the park, but I would distractedly walk past it now without the hairs at the back of my head standing on end, or sometimes; when the moon was out and the night sky was clear, I would forego closing my bedroom blinds, and stare off into the stars until I fell asleep.
I did not realize it then as I do now, but those were the nights when I would have the dream…
Of dreams and hanged men
The subject matter was always the same. I was standing in an open, lush field. It was gloomy, and the air hung heavy with the smell of an approaching thunderstorm. In the middle of the field was a tree. It had a strange familiarity, and I would eventually recognize it. It was the town’s tree. But it looked drastically different. Its long branches were not gnarly and dead-looking but full of leaves, flowers, and even small fruit. Several black birds cawed above, circling the tree noisily.
That’s when I would notice it; a tall figure beneath the tree. No, not beneath the tree, but hanging from one of the lower branches. This realization always made me run towards the hanging figure, my legs pumping beneath me, barefoot and cushioned on the soft grass.
When I got closer to the hanged man, I could better see his features in the dim light of dusk. His clothes were old-fashioned; like the kind I saw in Bible illustrations at home. As I approached, I could hear his raspy breathing, nearly drowned out by the cawing birds. He was struggling against the rope’s noose, digging into his neck. At this point, I also noticed other things, like the presence of a pond to the right of the tree, eerily similar and unchanged from the pond that I knew from my town’s central park.
I was also close enough to notice other features of the hanging man. He was lean and lithe, like an athlete, but he also exuded an aura of power that radiated off of him. His tunic, once white, was now soaked in red. The blood was streaming down from… somewhere on his body. He slowly revolved on the end of the twine that hung him, and I ground to a halt, gawking at the ghastly sight.
He was smiling. A cold, almost inhuman smile that didn’t reach his eyes, or more accurately, his eye. Where his left eye should have been was an ugly gash, with blood coating half his face and staining his tunic. But yet he smiled. Then ever so slowly, he revolved away from me, and I saw the source of all the blood. At his side, a long spear jutted out; having struck just below the ribs on his left side. Its shaft was covered in the scarlet liquid, dripping slowly and staining the glass beneath him red. And yet, he still smiled. At the sight of the spear, I usually woke up in a cold sweat, gasping into the night.
I dismissed the dream as just that: a dream…
© 2022 Ralph Kiragu