Friday, February 04, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday: The Hanging

     It’s not everyday they hang a fourteen year old boy. ‘Course it’s not too often you get one as mean as Willem Coolidge, either. But the day’s finally came and Pa told me that I could go watch despite Ma’s saying otherwise. He told her he had half a mind to make her go too, just to put her in her place, I reckon. She piped down pretty quick after that. Willem was my friend and it’s only right I should see him off.
     So me, Jamie, and Pa loaded up the horses and headed into town. Had a full day’s worth of chores to get to before the hanging and Pa never was one to dawdle. We got to town and Pa dropped me off at the jail and told me to stay put until he came back. Said Willem was askin’ for me.
     “Can Jamie stay with me?” I asked him.
     “Naw, I need his help with the corn. You’ll be alright. That boy’s still your friend ain’t he?”
     Well Pa had the truth in him. Willem was still my friend and I guess he deserved some company, being his last day and all.
     “Good girl,” Pa said. “I won’t be gone too long.”
     Willem was sitting on the bed all alone inside his cell. The sheriff knew me and Willem were friends, so he let me in his cell with only a common sense warning. Now I ain’t never been locked up before, ‘specially not with an accused cold-blooded killer, and I have to say it’s not a feeling I want to experience again. There’s just something indescribably awful about the sound of iron slamming shut.
     I sat next to Willem on the bed. Our feet were dangling off the side like they would when we sat out at the lake and fished.
     “Hey Willem,” I said.
     I didn’t know what to say. What can you say to someone that’s never gonna get to see another sunrise? Or hear another church choir sing? Or eat another potluck dinner? I didn’t know then and I don’t know now.
      We sat there in silence for a long time. The sheriff scribbled on some papers or read the Herald or smoked his cigar. People came in and out, but nobody to see Willem. The boy was an orphan and a drifter, tossed around town after town. Somehow me and him connected. Might’ve been his cute eyes or his lanky arms, I don’t know. Coulda been that almost-white hair he had.
     After a time the sheriff brought us some lunch. I didn’t much feel like eating, so I gave mine to Willem. He chomped down his stuff without a word, eating as much from routine as from it just gave him something to do.
     “I ain’t sorry I did it,” he said abruptly. I almost jumped out of my skin. His voice was so quiet, like he was already dead.
     “What?” I don’t know if I said the word or not, but he kept on talkin’ like I did.
     “I was out at Jack’s house hammerin’ some boards on the barn. The windstorm a few weeks back knocked off some planks and he was too frail to get up and do the work hisself so he hired me to do it for him. Five dollars negotiated. I didn’t finish the first day and asked if I could stay over for the night to finish in the mornin’. He didn’ look too pleased that I didn’ get it done and went a complainin’ about being ungrateful and stealin’ from him. Said he was gonna have to take off fifty cents for lodging and another fifty if’n I wanted food for the night. I haggled him down to fifty cents total and he let me stay in the den and sleep in front of the fire.
     “After he went to sleep I lay there thinkin’ about my life and my Ma ‘n Pa and what they woulda been like. I could hear Jack snorin’ deep and I wished sore bad that I had me a family. But I knew I never would. I felt it in my soul that night, El. Lookin’ into the fire as the logs died I felt the certainty that this was it and I didn’ have nothin’ left to live for. It was like somethin’ went off in my brain and the next thing I know I’m standin’ over Jack’s dead body.”
     He was looking down at the floor, eyes never finding mine.
     “I coulda ran. I coulda fled town an’ nobody’d knowed, but I didn’. I went and fixed me another plate a’ ham and watched the fire until the sun came up. Then I went out and finished hammerin’ them boards up on the barn. After that I took four-fifty from Jack’s billfold and made my way here to the sheriff and told ‘im what I done.”
     Willem finally looked up at me. His eyes were the empty sockets of a skull, unseeing and far-off. I don’t know if he was looking for a response or not, so I blurted out the first thing that came to mind.
     “Did you talk to Jesus, Willem?”
     No recognition came to his eyes, but he did crack a smile. It’s the smile that’s haunted me to this day. Not the lifeless eyes or the sound of his neck breaking later on. Not the fact that they had to put sandbags on his feet to give him extra weight for the drop so he’d die proper. The smile. Cocked slightly and teeth showing. It looked alien on his face.
     “Jesus don’t know me, El. I learned that early on. He ain’t got no place for me.”
     “Jesus has a place for everybody. You just gotta ask for forgiveness and He’ll save ya.”
     Pa came in then and the room changed. I searched Willem’s eyes again for some sort of acknowledgment, but I saw nothing. No fear. No hope. Just acceptance. The sheriff let me out of the cell and Pa asked if I said all I needed to say. I said I had and that was that.
     I’m not sure if Willem ever asked for forgiveness or not.
Word Count: 1039


Jay Belt said...

Good story, and wonderful voice and dialect! Thanks for sharing it, Logan.

Paula Titus said...

Awww ..kind of sad. :( I had to keep reading to find out what would happen next - must be a good story.:)

Okie said...

very stirring and thoughtful. It leaves me torn somewhere between sad and hopeful for the future...not entirely sure why.

Well done.

Daniel said...

Powerful, sad, easy flow of narrative with a beginning and end. I really enjoyed this piece.

Kristopher A. Denby said...

I liked it, Logan. A departure from the genre stuff you usually write. I just saw True Grit, and this had the same flavor.

Later, skater.

The Sound and Fury of Kristopher A. Denby

logankstewart said...

@Jay: Thank you! I was aiming for a convincing dialect (and considering I talk like some of this it was pretty easy).

@Paula: Aye. Thanks for reading.

@Okie: Thank you!

@Daniel: Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for reading my story, too!

@Kris: Thank you, friend. A departure from genre-influenced stuff is nice every so often. I've not seen True Grit, but I will eventually.