Tag Archives: Scene

The Hanging

The young man gazed into the eyes of the condemned man standing on the back of the wagon, hands tied behind his back, his sagging gut hanging over his black belt, his beard grandfatherly—black with splotches of white, and though not very long, it was thick and heavy. The young man looked earnestly into the condemned man’s eyes, wondering if he truly had it within himself to go through with what was about to take place before him.

Two other men climbed up on the wagon beside the condemned man, one was holding the long noose end of the rope that had already been secured to a high branch in the tree that might have been pretty in a different setting. The other man had some cloth he was wrapping around the prisoner’s neck—comforting the dying.

The young man thought for some long moments, what must it feel like to be there, in that other one’s position? Hands behind your back, the fast pace of your heart racing to its final great rhythms, it’s sad sad song a funeral march to the solution of the greatest mystery in humanity: what comes after? What strength did it take in a man to not buck, to not resist, to not break free and run as far and fast as one could when standing in such a position as the big man before him. How was it he didn’t look more frightened? Especially if he were guilty of even half of which the others had claimed.

The young man looked about the crowd he was standing in. He considered their faces, who they were when they weren’t executioners, and practitioners of death? He saw John Clemmens, the saddleback doctor that went around to at least three counties in rain, shine, or snow, and was happy to be paid in a hot meal. Standing not far from him was the motherly Sunday school teacher Marion Rutless, or Mrs. Rutless as so many in the community had known her—she had always been the surest figure of posterity, regality, and Christianity before. And yet here she was, in the death mob. Across the way, just opposite where the young man stood, were more faces, prominent figures, good men, good women, and even some children.

At their epicenter the death roll was drumming down. There was a hushed silence to the crowd, it was heavy, making its own darker atmosphere that contrasted the grey but happy day they stood in. Cold air cut through their mass, making more than a few hands grip shoulders, rub vigorously, or to just stand mule strong and shiver. It was really about to happen, the young man thought. They were really going to go through with it.

He watched, not helping himself, gazing deep into those brown eyes of the condemned wondering what secrets they held. Yet he was afraid to look for too long, what if the man’s essence, the man’s evil (if what they said were true), or some other piece or part of the man’s being stuck to the young man once the wagon was rolled away and he was left to kick? What if corruption of soul was a contagion worse than fevers, chills, or other such sicknesses?

“Our father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…” the condemned man began to pray.

“To hell with you! Should’a been praying long time ago!” one of the onlookers said. He shook his fist and spat brown tobacco on the ugly dirt at his worn out boots.

“…thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” the condemned man prayed.

Mrs. Rutless looked down, her head slowly, methodically, ticked like a shaky handed time piece. She was having some internal conflict for what everyone in the crowd knew was at their doorstep. Some leaned in, their eyes hungry for the lust of death and snuffing out of life, others leaned back, eyes wide, shock filled, unsure.

“Fess your sins before your community, and God a’mighty?” one of the men standing at the side of the condemned man’s sides asked.

“I do not fear death, I am too great for death, too great for all of you,” The prisoner said, his great belly shaking as he made his bold claims, and once his eyes quivered with nervous uncertainty. “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”

The two men at the prisoner’s side had hopped down off the wagon and went to the horse at its front.

“…I shall fear…”

One of the men slapped the horse hard and yelled, it took off with a damning speed. The wagon rolled out beneath the prisoner’s feet, throwing him off balance and leaving him with a great drop. For one long horrible drawn out moment he hung frozen in the air, an angel in heaven just prior to rebellion and being cast out. And then he plummeted in sickly sweet fluidity until the rope caught, gave a jerk and yanked him just slightly back up. There was a devilish snapping sound that went through the cold steadfast crowd.

The young man had never turned away. He felt sick with himself for being in the audience, for standing still watching, for saying nothing, doing nothing. Where once a man stood, now there was only the reminder of a life that had been, swinging from the tree like a twisted Christmas ornament in Hell. The prisoner was unnaturally still, no feet kicking, no hint of life, not even when the rope gave way and broke.

The crowd gasped and stepped back. The great man lay lifeless at the foot of the little hill beside the tree.

“Leave ‘em be,” said one of the men that had been on the wagon before. “If he still got life, let it leak out of him slow. Maybe there’ll be some justice in his suffering here before them Hell fires take his rotten soul.”

“Amen,” someone said in the crowd.

They stood together as one body, one group for long moments, simply watching. The air thick and heavy with what they had done. Death clung to each of them in a black tarry presence that was not physical and yet was completely undeniable. They stood together even as the day grew colder and a great snow started to fall.

Finally they broke, not all at once, but one at a time, and scattered back to the lives they had put on hold to see to the death of the one that had sinned against their community. Life would go on, or so the many in that crowd had thought.


Modeling Monday – Write like Steinbeck

Not even a full mile down the road, maybe a smidge more, the Kentucky river rolls through a low laying flood plain. When it’s the summer the fields there are wild and untamed, a happy lively wild place, a garden for the animals to come and eat. But there are other times when the river runs a deep ugly brown, painting the air with a muddy scent, and roaring its mighty voice as the damn is overtaken and the waters rage on. At first the water stays in its domain, the banks holding the brown majesty of the flood to its confines, but soon enough the water spills over and fills the little valley with a hungry need for expansion. When I was a boy, there were two old houses in the valley, never lived in, not for times longer than my short life can remember have those houses seen real habitation. But for those of us that lived near the river, we’d go to the high place the road took you and look down on that valley and measure the rising river’s fury against how far the waters had risen against the house. One time, I saw the waters go so high as the roof.

We were somewhat fortunate where I grew up, the river was far enough away to never reach us, and the hills provided a safety net enough to guarantee the water there would never come so far. Fortunate enough, which is not the same as saying I never saw a flood around the house. I saw several when the little creek that wound out behind and below my family home could take no more rain. Sometimes the bridge up the road would get clogged with debris. The water would back up and finally push over top and come down the road, which was a terrifying sight. Or, the water would simply rise and rise and soon enough poor over the rock fence out back and fill the yard. Flash floods are speedy demons, sometimes giving very little warning, and in no time, a family can be completely shut off from all the civilized world beyond, left looking to one another wondering, will this be the one to take our little home?


Swamp Rats (an exercise in setting)

A scene: Setting Building (An exercise):

 

It was a hot Louisiana night fresh from the swamps, stagnant as a dead stream and as lively as a bed of ‘skeeters singling in on the trail of a blood feast. The two figures in their tiny boat sat as silent as the night would let them be, their eyes communicating all their fears back and forth like a saggy slow ping pong ball.

“Listen now,” the one man said to the other, “you hear that?”

Their ears seemed to wiggle as they both leaned over the edge of the boat and studied the cricket ridden breath of the night. There was life all around them, and yet there seemed to be absolutely nothing but competing shades of darkness and silence on all sides of them. Somewhere, through the thick heavy tones of the steamy night there was one thing, just one thing, it could have been caused by any number of things. One ugly loud commanding thing.

“Goddammit Joe, how’d he find us?” the other man said, his voice ribbetted high then low bobbing his Adams apple as he threatened the sturdiness of the boat.

“Don’t know it’s him,” the other said. His eyes bugged out in fright no matter his words.

Another stick broke.

“Just row Stevie, row!” Joe said, looking half ready to leap in the dark abysmal unknowns of the swamp and run for his life.

“I ain’t the kind of man you be bossing about now,” Stevie said, and yet he was readying the oars and paddling hard. Somewhere in the inky black depths of the night one lone hound warbled out its lonesome call, and the two men in the boat trudged down the waterway as fast and stealthily as they could summon.


On the Run

Bonnie and Clyde infront a Ford V-8 Català: Bo...

Bonnie and Clyde (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An Exercise:

(Scene)

Jake sat on the couch, listening to Annette finish with the other man upstairs. He looked at the tattered frayed arms of the couch, then he played with the off centered little button barely hanging on. That was him, wasn’t it, he thought, barely hanging on. The same hand that played with the button was the same hand that wore the ring, the promise, the lie.

Annette came to a finish and not long after Jake heard a door open upstairs. The quiet, satisfied footsteps of his wife came pattering on the creaking boards toward the steps. She stopped a while, and then continued. Soon he could see her figure descending the stairs. She looked at him, and though she looked amused, she never smiled. Her eyes were a wrestling match of beauty and contempt as they bore in on him.

“I’m gonna kill that sumbitch,” Jake said.

“You couldn’t kill a half dead cockroach Jake,” Annette said, walking toward him, “let alone a stone built outhouse like that man upstairs.”

Jake pulled the snub nose from his pocket and toyed with it. Annette looked at it, and again gave the half cocked amused look Jake had fallen for.

“I’m gonna kill him, and then,” he couldn’t bring himself to say it.

“And then?” Annette asked, sitting in the old warn out chair across from the couch. She lit a smoke and held it like someone of fashion and class. Jake thought she had neither.

“And then I’m gonna burn this no good shack down and we can get going with our lives.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you,” she said.

“What?” Jake asked. His jaw threatened to swing loose at its hinge, as a roaring nausea threatened to swell in his stomach.

“You couldn’t pull the trigger back there Jakey, what makes you think you could now?” she said, she took a long draw on her cigarette and then, “we might’ve been caught if it weren’t for Sam stepping in.”

“Sam,” Jake said, and then he grimaced, “What’s Sam ever really done for you? For us?”

“He got me off three times for starts,” Annette said. Jake’s eye twitched, she saw, and then she finally did grin. “The third one was weak, don’t feel so bad, but the first two were out of this world.”

“Is that all that counts? Him making you happy? We’re married for Christ’s sake!”

“We’re crooks Jakey, outlaws like Bonnie and fucking Clyde. We don’t play by rules anymore,” she said, finishing her smoke going for another.

“We were just bank robbers till Sam came into the picture,” Jake said, finally laying down the gun beside him. “We can still have a life.”

“WE don’t have anything Jake, you’re just a farmer’s son with an imagination,” she said, “but Sam is real. He’s got what it takes to give me what I need. You, you’re just the one I had to marry to get out of momma and daddy’s house. Don’t you get that?”

“I’m gonna kill that sumbitch,” Jake said, his eye twitching again.

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