After some good, critical feedback over on my deviantART page, I’ve made a few changes to this. I hope you enjoy it, and that it’s a stronger piece. Thanks to Tam and Tango for their input, and to everyone else for their support. -jdt-
I wept the first time it happened, helpless to prevent the atrocity, powerless to turn away from the horror. I trembled, loose leaves shook and tumbled on the brisk, chill bluster of the day. They gave me no notice, busy with their task, gloved hands clutched hats to heads as the wind tugged, kicked them loose. They spat, swore, pointed, accused. The horse pranced in place with nervous anticipation, and bobbed its head wide-eyed. The pale light of pre-dawn blue-grayed the mist that drifted in from the water. Like wraiths they clustered around a bound, blindfolded form with a rag stuffed deep in its mouth to still the cries, pleas, whimpers.
They hoisted him into the saddle, steadied the old stallion so he would not end the activity before its due climax. I wanted to scream, to stop the madness, but could not. A firm swat on the horse’s hindquarters sent him bolting with a snort. A sickening bone snap and the moan of creaking wood followed. A cold wind whipped past me then, tore at my flesh, my skin, bore into me. I felt it, felt it enter and never leave, meld, become one with my blood, my body, my root, my core.
At least no strangled cry of agony came. The drama ended without ceremony. The sinister mob gathered the body as it swung, loosened the heavy, stained rope from the cadaver’s neck, and stuffed it into a canvas bag loaded with rocks. Two of them rowed with darkened eyes on darkened water in a gray, faded boat to the center of the lake, then spilled their toil to its depths.
The others murmured on the shore at the bottom of the small hill from where I watched, then sauntered away as one. Satisfied with their work, justified in their reasons, consciences clear, they padded away on soft moss through the tall grass whence they came. They faded into the thick, low morning fog, and alone, I bore witness, mourned the lost soul. I alone.
It happened again, then again, then more, with greater frequency. Sometimes days went by, sometimes weeks, but never months. Somber men with black soulless eyes dragged kicking, bound victims, screams smothered by a gag. They brought them to the hill over the lake, to judge and execute without mercy, consideration or heart. They slung their rope, noosed their accused, swatted their horse. Time and again I felt that biting, frosted wind tear across my countenance, penetrate my fiber, merge with me. It becomes part of me, and I shudder to my base when it happens. They never heed me, seem to not see me. Soul after soul, one upon another they came, joined, united. We are one, yet there is only me.
I am haunted at night, in deepest dark, even still. How many years? I’ve lost count. My bark is cracked and faded now, my wood is stiff and brittle, my limbs gnarled and bent from the calloused evil. The voices, the faces, stretched to horrific masks and the screams they cannot release as they die gush from my pores, my grain, and I shudder, shake loose leaves and dead twigs to clatter and spill from my heights.
For decade upon decade they haunted me with their ghoulish march through the tall ragweed, spring wild flowers, crunching dead grass or deep, soft fallen snow.
Now I will torment them with images of what they’ve done, with the faces of the souls who reside in me, my being.
Now, I will avenge.