The Hangin' Tree

“Hold up, Ted. The tree’s too low for a hangin’.” Ted caught up with Abe out of the mist. “When’d it bend over like that? Dint you hang Iverson here last week?”

“He did,” said Ben, joining them, hauling a hogtied Brekhus behind him. And Sam hanged Loberg day after that.”

“Huh,” said Ted. “I missed that one.” He turned back to the tree. “Well, we can’t hang ‘im on this. Something happen when Loberg hanged?”

“Nope,” said Abe. “Anyone get hanged after last Tuesday?”

“Don’t think so,” said Ted.

“No way,” said Ben.

“Then what we gonna do?” said Ted.

“You could let me go,” said Brekhus.

“Shu’up,” said Ben. Without looking away from the tree, he kicked at Brekhus but barely tapped the man. “We voted, an’ yer t’ be hanged.”

“It ain’t fair,” said Brekhus.

“Course it’s fair,” said Ted, “It’s democracy. Everone gets t’ vote, and we voted for hangin’. Majority won by a show o’ hands.”

“So what’s wrong with th’ hangin’ tree?” said Abe.

“Is it sick?” said Ben.

“’S not right to kill a man just ‘cause of a vote.”

“Don’t think it’s sick. Don’t know a bug that’ll bend a tree over like that in a week,” said Abe.

“’S th’ will o’ th’ people, Brekhus,” said Ted. “It’s fer th’ greater good, and if you felt diff’rnt you shoulda got more folks t’ vote yer way.”

“Look fer marks,” Abe gestured Ben at the branches. “Maybe somebody hitched it up and pulled fer some reason. I’ll look at the roots.”

“Ain’t enough of us t’ vote my way,” said Brekhus. “Y’all outnumber us three t’ two or so. An’ it’ll be two t’ one soon if you keep hangin’ us.”

“Looks fine here,” said Ben.

“Maybe y’all should go somewhere you ain’t outnumbered, then,” said Ted.

“Nothing bad at the roots, either,” said Abe.

“Don’t matter, I guess,” said Ben. “Let’s find another tree.”

“Izzat it?” said Brekhus, “Yer just tryin’ t’ get ridda us. Why not vote fer us t’ move, then?”

“Hey,” said Abe.

“Can’t make a man keep walkin’,” said Ted. “But y’ can stop him from walkin’.”

“Hey, guys,” said Abe.

“What?” Ted turned away from Brekhus.

“Lookit this tree.”

It was about ten feet away, the next closest volunteer to hold a rope.

“Why?” said Ben. “Can’t hang a man from that one either.”

“Was it bent like that when we came by?” said Abe.

“Whaddaya mean?” said Ted.

“I mean, I don’t think that tree was bent over when we came by this way.”

“I dunno,” said Ted. “It’s hard t’ see in this fog.”

“A tree don’t just bow over like that,” said Ben.

“I know that,” said Abe. “I just tol’ ya there ain’t no way to bend a tree in a week, and now you’re telling me it don’t happen in five minutes. I know that.”

“Okay, Jesus,” said Ben.

“So was it?” said Abe.

They stared for a few heartbeats.

“Probably,” said Ted.

“Probably?” said Abe.

“Well, I think so.”

“Me too,” said Ben.

Abe whuffed. “Maybe. Maybe it was. Well, fine,” he turned to the others. “There!”

They turned and looked.

“That tree was not bent over like that. We were all lookin’ at this tree here, no way we’d miss that one bein’ all bent up.”

“You’re right, Abe,” said Ted.

“Yeah, that’s weird,” said Ben.

“I think,” said Brekhus, “that y’all are missin’ somethin’.”

Ted turned to say something, but his jaw dropped open as he saw the many bent trees, looming out of the mist behind Brekhus. Ben and Abe muttered muttered curses as they saw the same, and more: trees all around them had bent double sometime when no one was looking. Hangman’s knots hung from several branches almost to the ground, remnants of previous hangings.

“Are they... are they closer than before?” said Ben.

“...No?” said Abe.

“Yeah,” said Ted.

“What’s goin’ on?” said Ben.

The hangin’ tree rustled, and the men that could jump jumped. Then all the other trees rustled.

“It’s... a breeze,” said Ted.

“Course,” said Ben.

“That went out from the middle?” said Abe. “That--”

More rustling cut him off, this time from a tree off to the side. And then trees rustled all around them. And then the hangin’ tree rustled again, all by itself.

“This ain’t possible,” said Ben.

Just a bit more than half the trees straightened to full height. Every tree trailing a rope straightened, lifting the nooses to hang a dozen feet in the air.

“What th’ hell,” said Abe, and then he froze as a tree bent over him and a noose settled around his neck. Abe and Ben were in the same spot.

“Did they just... take a vote?” said Ted.

All the trees were bowed over again, and the hangin’ tree rustled alone.

Brekhus said, “Maybe they did,” and his voice was high with fright, “and I think they’re about to take another.” He gulped. “By a show of hands.”

The trees straightened.