The Deathly Hangings
Jerome remembered the first time he saw a man hanged in the town square. He was horrified. Staying in his house all day when the hangings started. Covering himself with blankets to deafen the cheering.
One day he received a note. “Huh?” Jerome said to himself. He licked his finger and carefully opened the paper envelope. The note read:
Why are you afraid of the hangings?
Jerome was confused. He never got letters and why would it be somebody’s business if he was scared of the hangings. Jerome dismissed it as a jest and threw it away.
Next day he got another letter. He was starting to become interested, so, instead he was a little less careful, opening it with eagerness.
Watching you throw that letter away was sad, do you even know who I am?
Jerome looked over his shoulder. He stared at the nicked and scarred window that had resisted rains and stormy weather for generations. He looked back. Is the Mayor spying on me? Jerome quickly dismissed this allegation as the Mayor was bloodthirsty and currently in a war with another village, so he would have no time to spy on a single villager of his. Jerome could not think of a good answer, so he threw it away again.
As Jerome went to bed he saw flashes of light emanating from the stairwell across from his bedroom door. Out of curiosity he got out of bed. Turning the corner he found the lantern lighting up and then being put out again by itself? Jerome knew it was a dream. “Has to be right?” He thought. Jerome did not desire any encounter with a monster and ran back to bed to sleep hoping the dream would end that way. Eventually, the flickering stopped and Jerome slept.
A year has passed and Jerome has never heard from any more letters. He forgot about them and continued to shelter himself away from the hangings. Whenever Jerome would go to the market for fish and fruits he would have a peculiar suspicion that he was being watched. His house was the only safe space where Jerome would no longer feels stressed.
When Jerome walked in the park he would constantly see a hooded figure from behind tress or hills watching him. Whenever he would walk closer to investigate it would vanish instantly which to Jerome was extremely jarring.
Once home, Jerome would have nothing to do. He did not possess any important skills that would be used to get a job like painting or smithing. Jerome grew up in a tiny hamlet not far from the town and did not receive education because of the family’s lack of wealth. They saved up enough money to move into the town and find a heavily broken down house that only required a one-time payment to move in permanently. Jerome got his money through going to the back of bakeries and selling the bags of rotten food to farmers which would be used as manure. He only made just enough money to get his exact amount of food.
He would spend his free-time inside different public house’s not purchasing any drinks and only being there to listen to the same piano music and make small-talk to random people. Jerome would often talk about his way of making tiny amounts of pocket money which would only be laughed at by the other patrons since they had jobs and did not need to go rubbish diving. Jerome walked back home sulking and rushed to bed once he got home.
The next day he would put on the same pair of clothes which was filthy with people’s spit and his own sweat. Jerome thought a nice walk in the park should suffice his depressive attitude and walks out the front door without eating even a single grit. He took in the quiet surroundings, fresh air and shivering trees. Jerome sat down on a bench because his legs were getting tired from walking. After a while a man appeared from behind an apple tree as if he just teleported there.
The man walked towards Jerome and sat down next to him on the same wooden bench.
“I know you have received my messages.” The man said.
Jerome immediately remembered the messages that were given to him a year ago.
“The letters I had been getting a year ago?” Jerome questioned.
“Yes, the ones you carelessly disposed of.” The man said in a slightly angry tone.
Jerome starting sweating, not because he was scared of the man, but his head flooded with all sorts of questions to ask the man, and he did not know what to say.
“Why did you send me those letters?” Jerome said thinking it was the best question to ask.
The man took a deep breath “Have you seen everyone around you?”
Jerome looked around.
The man continued “Inside every single person is a packet of sin big or small that they keep hidden until the hangings. Thats when every person opens that packet and feel true happiness after cheering on the mistreatment of their own kind using the excuse that the hanged committed petty crimes. You on the other hand don’t have this sinful packet that normally every human being has, you hide away and feel sympathy for the hanged and I messaged you and spied on you to see how you would react to try and find a reason for your moral difference.”
Jerome just stared at the man, astonished at what he has told him. “Who are you?” Jerome said in amazement, trying to figure out what position he has to apparently know this information. “I am currently in a comprehensible form as the end of everything, you humans refer to me as Death if I am correct?” Jerome could not believe if any of this was real, was he dreaming? Is he really having a conversation with the embodiment of Death?
“I guess so.” Jerome muttered.
“So, all this time you have been sending me these letters to find out why I am morally different?”
“Yep.” Death said.
“Hey, why are you afraid of me at all?” Death laughed.
“I don’t know, the feeling of everything being over with no explanation is scary.” Jerome responded.
“I’m a part of everything’s existence, things die and others become born.” Death said.
“But hanging people over stealing a loaf of bread is not part of life, humans are changing the status quo of life where any insignificant infraction can cost you your life.” Jerome said.
“The same is with nature.” Death snapped back.
“Yea, but those at the top never get touched which is not the same as nature.” Jerome explained.
Death thought a while about what he said and handed him an ominous green vial.
“Go to the Mayor and poison him.” Death said.
“Are you insane? If I’m caught I will get something much worse than a hanging!”
“Look, I know I’m pretty much a deity that is not allowed to interfere with human activities, but I can make this one exception.” Death said.
“But how can I poison the Mayor? If I am caught I will be tortured for months!”
“If you can somehow put the entire solution into his body either through his blood or his mouth then you can kill him.”
Jerome was leaning towards the benefits of this idea and took the poison from death’s hand and did a speed-walk to his house only looking back once to see an empty bench and a chilly stone pathway into a misty park. Once he got home he carefully laid out the poison onto his desk trying to not break the delicate glass vial that housed the viscous liquid and started coming up with assassination plans. The Mayor was not well guarded because who would try to poison somebody and have the risk of being tortured?
Jerome remembered a tried-and-true method of sneaking poison into his food. This type of assassination has been used for centuries poisoning the mightiest of kings and has become a cliché amongst the public in many works of fiction. Despite this he did not care if people criticized his actions in the future because his mind was only living at the moment. Jerome snatched the vial and ran out of the house. After walking down a few alleyways and crossing some roads he came across a house that was separated from all the rest of the houses in the town. It was a huge mansion decorated with colourful windows and a fountain. He thinks that lacing one food the Mayor really likes with all of it should do the trick.
Jerome shook the gate which rattled but did not open so it's locked. He saw a nearby pine tree that loomed over the wall and thought about the idea of climbing it. As a child he would spend most of his free time climbing trees for fun and competing in the other children who could climb the highest on a certain tree that was gigantic compared to the rest of the trees. He would always get second or third place, but he was really fast and swift when he did it. At least, in his eyes he was.
Jerome grabbed the branches and put his feet on the edges of the bark and slowly made his way up the tree. Once he got to a good height Jerome leapt over the wall which was taller than he thought. He was still fine after making the landing and silently sprinted towards the house. It had its lights on which completely ruins his plans. Jerome decides to hide a nearby bush and waited for the lights to turn off.
After waiting for hours and a huge clash in his brain over if he should even do this or not. The house lights shut off and Jerome was ready. His body was sweaty and thoughts were racing so fast in his mind he did not know what he was thinking. He decided to do an equipment check:
The vial was the only thing that Jerome really needed, so he decided to just go already. Enough stalling for the sake of his own paranoia. He went to a nearby window which, surprisingly, was unlocked. A gust of wind shot the window back into place with a muffled bang as soon as he had opened the window. He stood still for a while to make sure the tension would die down, and then he tried again with quieter success.
He looked around and saw a large kitchen adorned with golden... everything. Elegant patterns covered the walls where fancy paintings didn’t. Jerome looked in the different cupboards and eventually one bottom cupboard contained a large wooden box. Inside was a paper wrapping that housed a freshly baked cake.
Jerome knew that the Mayor would have to eat this. Who wouldn’t eat a cake just freshly bought? He opened the cork and poured all the poison onto the frosting which soaked quickly into the cake itself. He backed away and sneaked out of the same window and sprinted towards the gate. But saw now that there was no tree that would help him get out.
He hadn’t thought of an escape plan. Before panic could take him he had an obvious though. He strolled over and simply opened the gate instead.
That night at home, a nightmare disturbed his sleep. He was in a bustling crowd that was so dense that Jerome felt like his eyes would pop from the squeezing. There was a giant wooden stage that towered over the crowd and Jerome. On it were old men would shout and scream random words with no meaning nor context and as they spoke a tired sack of a man rose from behind the stage and screamed at the top of his lungs. The scream became higher and higher pitched and once it became almost tinnitus-like and Jerome woke up in his bed. He struggled to sleep the rest of the night.
The next morning he woke up to muffled talking outside. It was the town’s council —whose only purpose was to announce extremely important news about the economy that happened once in a blue moon or deliver the news if the Mayor was dead. Wait…
Jerome felt his heart pump faster as he came to the sudden realization. Did I just kill the Mayor? He heard the council speak more clearly as he concentrated on their voices.
“Following the death of the glorious Mayor we will select a new and even more… glorious... Mayor than before.”
Through the mirror Jerome saw a drunk man stumble onto the stage. He could see the expressions on the council’s faces were snickering as they led this new mayor to the back of the stage. He kept shouting about how he was the best and even more self-indulgent comments.
Jerome knew that this Mayor was not what anyone wanted. “I can’t believe I killed someone for no reason.” Jerome said to himself.
He waited until everyone got bored and left. Once the crowd dwindled down to only 2-3 people he rushed downstairs and with sweat dripping onto his shoes put them on and did a speed-walk to the park. Once in he went to the same bench and waited for Death to come and yell at him.
Instead, Death slowly walked forward to Jerome in a calm and collected manner as he took a deep breath and said:
“I told you it wouldn’t work, those council folk? They picked him only because they know they can get away with doing things that the Mayor will be too drunk to notice.”
Jerome stared at death emotionless but inside his head he was agreeing with every word.
“But, there is still hope…”
Despite just five words Jerome had his face lighten up in joy as he eagerly awaited what came next.
“In the bar that you go to at the back there is a table untouched by many of the guests which allows them to retain a clean and more elegant shape. The only patrons that sit there is a small group of rebels that want to put their leader; a wise old man who in my eyes and theirs is a capable Mayor.”
Death continued: “If you can somehow make their dream come true I believe my-and-your job here is done.”
Jerome shook hands with this entity and he speed-walked even speedier towards the bar. He slowed down once he got closer and accidentally pushed the door open with one finger as he forgot how light the doors were. He felt the mixture of beer and body odor felt like home as he walked past the chairs which were meters away from where they should be. Jerome detected the 3-person gang chatting about their personnel lives. He tried to introduce himself by giving his thoughts maybe.
Jerome said in a silent moment of opportunity: “So what are you guys talking about?” They all looked at him in confusion.
A giant beast of a man told him: “Right now we are talking about future jobs if this thing doesn’t work out.”
He continued: “If you want to join our soon-to-be protest club you can talk to our leader.”
The man gestured to a wrinkly person with a cartoonishly white beard.
He spoke in the voice of a comforting grandpa: “So you want to join?”
Jerome responded: “Uh, yes.”
The man said: “All you need to do is swear an oath to secrecy about us.”
“Say, I will not tell any soul about the group”
Jerome retold the oath, and the old man happily exclaimed: “That's all! You're one of us now.”
“So what do I do now?”
“You could either spread these flyers around discreetly or you could stay here with us.”
Jerome asked: “Why don’t you do it?”
The old man said: “I did, thats how I got these fellas, but they have done nothing at all.”
The two other men looked down in disappointment.
Jerome, eagerly wanting help obliged. He took the flyers from the man’s hands and ran to a black market of sorts where they sold unlicensed meat and other goods. He worked through the day giving flyers to all sorts of people. Tall, short, fat, skinny, ugly, not-so-ugly and so on. Once he ran out of the stack of flyers that he was given he walked back home and took a well-deserved sleep.
The next day he walked back to the bar and opened the door to find it completely empty. Even the bartender was gone which was not normal since he is always working here at this time. He walked past the empty chairs and found a note on the back table that said:
“Our next meeting is at the park”
Jerome put the note down and walked to the park. He met a large group of people with large banners signs that demanded “Freedom” and “Against Tyranny” or something like that. They were suddenly pushed Jerome out of the way as they began parading the streets. Jerome followed from behind curious to see what would happen. As they got to the Mayor’s mansion they shouted loudly about how the Mayor should step down from his position.
Nothing was said, so they shouted louder and started shaking the gate. Still, nothing was said. They were confused on what to do next which appeared obvious to Jerome that they had no plan after that. Out of the confused voices in the crowd Jerome and a few others noticed a council member peek his head out of the window of the mansion and yelled “GO AWAY”. As soon as the crowd all heard him they began shouting and banging again for the council member to show himself. Eventually, they learned of the tree hanging over the gate, and they all began to climb it and jump over. They grouped together and bashed through the door to find empty wine bottles and an incapacitated Mayor.
They walked up the stairs, ignoring the Mayor, and they all tackled the Council that were hiding from the window.
The Council was then escorted out of the house, forced to open the gate, and they promptly resigned themselves.
“What about the Mayor” a protestor called out.
“He is dead…” one Council member shamefully admitted.
As the Council were hauled off to the town’s jail they applauded the old man as he stepped up on the original platform the Council stood on and spoke:
“From today onwards there will be changes for the better! No more dictatorships and tyranny! We will live how we deserve to live!”
Everyone cheered and applauded and as Jerome looked behind he saw Death in a corner with a smug smile.