Frayed Knot: The Hangman’s Tale I (first re-write)

CHAPTER ONE

“I am in the business of gravity. It is a very reliable business.”

He woke to the smell of damp straw, like a thousand times before. Swinging his feet to the coarse, wormwood floor, he paused. A rare moment of contemplation. If you make your living as the public executioner its probably best not to afford yourself too much time for contemplation. A wasted pursuit anyway, he thought.

He made his way across the room where he poured some water from a white pitcher into a small china basin. He splashed the water on his face, an icy cold slap to begin his day. This freezing morning baptism was a ritual he relished. The process cleared his mind, and Jack Thrumble was a man who appreciated clarity. Men of his profession take great comfort in the stark righteousness of life being either black or white. It required a sense of absoluteness and unwavering faith in the Hand of Fate in order to pull the lever on a trap door and send a man to the end of his rope.

“I pull the lever, that’s all. It’s unfailing gravity that does the deed,” he told himself.

And, of course, he was right. He didn’t put the retched soul on the town square’s black platform. He only fit the thick, heavy rope around his guilty neck. Humanity dictated that he ensure the knot was pulled tight at the base of the man’s skull so the drop would break his head away from his spine and make his dying quick. At least, as quick as hanging a man could be. The “dance” that came soon after the drop was inevitable. Jack told himself he was no more than the king’s, and God’s, puppeteer.

He liked his job. He didn’t mind the solitude that came with the profession. Not many folk wanted to hoist a flagon with the county’s hangman. That was fine with Jack. He didn’t much care for the company of men. Dogs, it seems, took a shine to him though. Every dank morning as he went to fetch wood for the stove a pack of mangy hounds of all sizes greeted him with wagging tails. Even if he had no scraps for them, they didn’t seem any less happy to see him. “Nice thing about dogs,” he thought, “they be happy with the way what is.”

Jack was happy with the way what is, too.

* * * * * * * *

Not so, Hortense Liverspott. She was not happy with things at all. Not one little bit. Life, she believed, had been overly cruel to her. She was 34 years old and grossly overweight. She was unmarried, childless and without any visible means of support. Her mood was generally dark, and she took great pleasure from pulling down the shade on everyone else’s window whenever the opportunity presented itself. Heaven help the poor sod who passed her on the wet, stony streets of Old Bristle and tipped his hat and bade her a good day. He was apt to be the recipient of a blathering, foul, spewing forth of sour bile in exchange for his pleasantry. Hortense was adept at venemous outbursts and went out of her way to find a reason to unleash her unholy wrath on anyone or anything that had the gall to enter her sphere of being.

She could cuss like a salty seaman. Salty seamen being one thing she was quite familiar with. Old Bristle is a seaport, after all.
* * * * * * *
Jack was slowly making his way to the town square. He always made sure to head out for work before the rest of the village crawled out of their damp straw. It was a typically gray morning. The sound of seabirds screeching overhead in circles over the town square. He could make out his morning’s destination in the fog. The dark silouette of the gallows becoming more visible with each shuffling step of his heavy boots. But, something was not right about his wooden tower on this morning. Not right at all. As he came closer and closer and his eyes fixed on the scene behind the cloudy veil he was able to make out an unexpected shape.
“What? What do that be? No, no, that ain’t right. There was no hangin’ yesterday! Nor is there one scheduled today!” He would’ve know for sure.
He climbed the 13 creaking steps to the platform and looked down through the square door in its floor. There, swaying like a watch fob suspended just a few feet from the ground was the body of a man. A dead man. Neck broke and blue-skinned as any brokeneck man you’ll ever see. But, Jack Thrumble had not been the man who pulled the lever on the trap door for this customer. No decrees had been read from the High Court. No half-hearted prayer of mercy had been muttered on this poor sod’s behalf.
This man had been hanged in the dead of night, without benefit of witnesses nor ceremony. This man was murdered. Plain and simple.
“It be the way it is,” said Jack aloud. He went to fetch the High Sheriff.
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5 Comments on “Frayed Knot: The Hangman’s Tale I (first re-write)”

  1. Uncle E Says:

    Great beginning, Phil. Set the stage and introduced us to the lumbering prideful hangman with some pretty masterful descriptions!
    I was already slightly familiar with the heroine, although I am looking forward to knowing her a bit better. I’m curious to find out why she is how she is (is it genetic, a product of the town, or possibly some hateful wrong which has shaped her physically and emotionally.)

    Or maybe she’s just plain fat, ugly and stupid. Who knows?

    Well done!

  2. Budd Hodges Says:

    Phil…Enjoyed your story. It leaves with a hanging climax that I’ll be back to enjoy more. Don’t leave us hanging.

  3. czygyny Says:

    My gosh, I had to go put a shawl on, the dank marine air just crept in my house and gave me a chill!

  4. Large Marge Says:

    Dear Mr. Philbertosophy, it’s me, Large Marge! Holy cow, things are getting bizarre on this whole Dave Haerle thing. But alas, I must ask if you were joking about your encounter with him in the bathroom??? If not, I might just have to run with that one….. Because you know, that is just too much to pass up. So, were there any hand gestures along the bathroom stall dividers, or toe tapping in code??? Sorry, I know…. I shouldn’t. I’m just sick and twisted. 😉


  5. Marge, I must confess that it’s quite possible I mis-read the Men’s Room encounter with The Hurl. It seemed obvious by the look in his eyes and the brusque way he skittered past me, like a frightened fawn. A fella just knows these things.
    I would suggest you leave this one sitting in The Fiction section as I can’t be certain of his intentions. He may have just had some bad clams at lunch, I’ve gotten those signals crossed before too…with hilarious consequences. In fact, my wife and I can pretty much write-off 3 of our 5 kids to bad clams.


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