09 Dec The Detective and the Hangman
“The Detective and the Hangman”Written by Chris Koleszar Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 29 minutes
“With how many things are we on the brink of becoming acquainted, if cowardice or carelessness did not restrain our inquiries?”
– Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Detective John McCarthy stood in the ankle-deep snow. Blowing hot air into his cupped hands while examining the scene. Christ. Why’d he leave his gloves in the car? The app on his phone said it was thirty-three degrees, but it sure felt a lot colder.
Oh yeah… It’s because Sheriff Cotton had woken him half-past midnight. A dead sleep he’d managed to achieve courtesy of some Xanax and a generous helping of Jack Daniels.
But the big man had sounded scared. Which had immediately caused him to sit up in bed. The sheriff and John didn’t like each other as a general rule of thumb. But the detective knew he was no coward.
“He’s got a bag over his head, Johnny,” Cotton had said over the phone.
He could practically hear the man’s double chins quivering out there in the frozen forest. And so he’d done his duty and climbed out from under his warm blankets. Then driven almost an hour out of town to the edge of nowhere to see what was up.
It was a guy that was up. Hanging from a noose tied to a tree branch. It really just looked like some redneck had decided life wasn’t quite panning out. So he’d walked about a half mile into the woods and offed himself.
To be honest it looked spooky as shit. Especially because of the plastic bag the dude had wrapped around his head. His face was completely hidden behind the thick plastic. Now they were just waiting for forensics to finish up so they could cut the guy down and figure out who it was that had decided to off themselves today.
The wind picked up suddenly and the frozen forest responded with a chorus of creaks, and groans. John cursed and shoved his hands into the pockets of his trench coat. Giving up on the idea of warming them with his breath.
A camera flashed as Billy Jenkins, one of the two forensics guys took another photo. Briefly illuminating the macabre scene in brilliant blue. The Detective turned away to look back at where Cotton was standing with Jennell Buttchins. One of Duxbury’s local news reporters.
The thirty something woman was talking. But John couldn’t make out what she was saying. Cotton didn’t seem to be listening anyway. His large form leaned back against a tall oak. Just staring at the hanging man.
John turned to Deputy McDuff. The man had been standing beside him in the little clearing since he’d arrived thirty minutes ago.
“Gotta take a piss Jimmy.” He said. “Be right back.”
The Deputy nodded in reply. Not taking his eyes off of the dead man. His lips pressed into a flat line.
“And can you stop staring at the dead guy like he’s gonna come to life?” John said with as much good humor as he could muster.
“I mean Jesus man. You and the Sheriff are starting to make me paranoid.”
At these words McDuff turned to the Detective. He let out a laugh that sounded forced. And rubbed the back of his neck with a gloved hand.
“Sorry man.” He said. Smiling. “It’s just creepy is all.”
Well he certainly could agree with that. His first thought upon seeing the body had been that the bastard had wanted to be thorough. If the noose for some reason hadn’t been enough, the plastic bag surely would have finished the job.
He’d seen plenty of suicides before he’d moved to the quiet town of Duxbury. He’d actually lost count a long time ago. The City of Angels had a way of… Effecting some people. But in his experience people who took their own lives weren’t usually in the habit of being well prepared.
Thunder rumbled overhead. The sound rolling through the leafless trees. It looked like the weatherman had been right. A storm was about to hit. But would it be the blizzard they were predicting?
When John was about twenty feet away he ducked around the side of a large oak to do his business. He was a pressure pisser. Never able to go while in the presence of others. Which always made bar nights tricky.
He unzipped his pants and instantly felt the sting of cold in his nether regions. Shuddering, he let out a short gasp. There was no way it was in the thirties out here! Had the temperature dropped with the approach of the storm?
The detective’s eyes roamed over the nighted forest as he willed his member to come out of hiding and do its job. The land all around was lit in that muted pinkish/purplish glow that only a freshly fallen blanket of snow could create. Even on nights like this, when the moon was hidden behind swirling clouds.
It was the kind of night that spoke to the deepest parts of one’s being. Enticing the primitive part of his mind to throw off the shackles of civilization and just… Run.
To feel the cold wind whip through his hair as the dark outlines of skeletal trees whizzed by. Like a wild animal. Like a wolf.
Maybe some of the locals even succumbed to such primitive urges on nights like this. But society had long ago dug its claws deep into his being. And such compulsions would forever be nothing more than a vague fantasy tugging at the back of his mind. For John had been born and raised a child of urban encroachment. It wasn’t until the last couple years that he’d even known the peace of rural existence.
And so in lieu of running wild, as all men were meant to since coming to earth. He instead reached into his coat. Pulling out two oxys and a flask.
He popped both pills at once and chewed. Then washed the powderized remnants down with a healthy swig of Glenlivet Winchester Collection. He always saved the good stuff for shitty nights like this.
As the liquor burned it’s way down his throat John thought he caught the slightest glimpse of motion way off in the woods. Something high up in the distant tangle of branches. He stared for a long moment. Seeing nothing.
Then another rumble of thunder echoed overhead. This one is much closer. And the sound Spurred him into motion. They should really get a move on. This supposed blizzard was almost on top of them.
Snow was beginning to fall by the time he’d reentered the clearing. John stopped with about ten feet between him and the two forensics guys. They moved at the leisurely pace of two men who had all the time in the world.
“How’s it coming Mike?” The detective asked.
He always addressed him when the two men were on scene. Even though Billy Jenkins had been doing this job for five years now. He was still considered the “rookie” of the two.
“Pretty good detective.” Mike said as he aimed his camera for another shot. “We should be wrapping it up here in a few.”
Another flash of brilliant blue lit up the clearing in the strobe. This time however, John thought he caught a glimpse of something hanging from the dead man’s shirt.
The Detective began to trudge around to the right of the corpse. His breath came out in big white puffs. He gave the body a wide berth as he circled through the snow. Still looking for whatever it was that had caught his eye.
He was a big guy, whoever the Hangman was. He wore a black and red plaid jacket. Bob Vila style. And a pair of rough cut blue jeans. The boots that covered his dead toes and swayed in the bitter wind, were a brand called “Bear Claw”. John had never heard of them.
“Hell of a way to go.” Mike was saying through a mouthful of chewing tobacco.
“Who do you think it is?” Billy asked as his camera flashed a few more times.
“Dunno. Maybe Darby Gents?”
“Darby?! It’d be a God damned shame…”
John half listened to the two men as he continued to circle around the body. Duxbury was a small town. Everybody knew everybody. Darby Gents was the football coach for the local high school. And by virtue of the small town grapevine, the detective knew that Darby’s wife had left him a few weeks ago.
Still, he wasn’t sure if that’s who was hanging in front of him. There was something unfamiliar about this body. John had become familiar with virtually everyone since he’d moved to Duxbury two and a half years ago. And the Detective in him was saying that this wasn’t anyone he’d ever seen…
The sky lit up as lightning flashed from within the roiling clouds. The flickering light caused him to halt his movement and turn his eyes up to the sky. The snow was starting to come down harder now. Not quite in sheets. But definitely building up to it.
“Sounds like a storms a’comin’.” Deputy McDuff said to no one in particular.
“Hm.” Was all John offered in reply.
The Detective turned his attention from the sky back to the dead man. At the very least the guy had to be carrying an extra fifty pounds. His jacket and undershirt were pulled up as a result of the noose and the corpse’s weight.
His big belly sagged out over his pants. Yeah. He’d been a big dude. But who was he?
Without taking his eyes from the swaying corpse, he reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and pulled out an American Spirit. He tried to be slick and light the smoke without looking away from the dead guy. But the wind forced him to look down and light the cig like a normal person.
“You guys think we can wrap this up soon? Ah think there’s a storm a’comin’.” Sheriff Cotton said from the shadows. As if he hadn’t just heard his Deputy say the exact same thing.
John turned his gaze in the direction of the six foot, burly fat man still standing stiffly against the trunk of the same tree. His normally imposing figure looked strangely small. The Sheriff had his arms crossed over himself. But the detective could tell that it wasn’t for warmth.
“What the hell was wrong with him?” He wondered.
John didn’t like the man, but he knew he was no coward. And certainly not afraid of the woods at night. Cotton was a born and bred country boy after all.
And yet there he stood. Hugging himself in his big police issue coat. His eyes nervously darted around the surrounding forest.
All told there were six of them out there in the woods. The two forensics guys Billy Jenkins,and Mike Lawry. Deputy Jimmy McDuff, and the local reporter Jennel Buttchins. As well as the Sheriff and himself.
Six grown adults, and the man was shaking like a leaf.
“Sheriff, would you care to make a statement?” He heard the Reporter ask.
She was quite the looker. He supposed that’s how she’d gotten the job. It had to be, because the chick was definitely no rocket scientist.
“A statement?” Cotton asked condescendingly. “Why yes Ms. Buttchins ah surely would”.
“Here goes. It’s as cold as the ice Dante found Lucifer in. There’s a blizzard the size of Texas comin’ this way. And we should really think about gittin’ the Hell outta here. How’s that fer a statement Ms. Buttchins?”
Jennel gave a “hmph” in response.
McDuff made a half hearted attempt at stifling a chuckle. Billy and Mike continued on with their tasks. Chatting away about who they thought the dead guy was. They were either oblivious, or didn’t care about the Sheriff’s obvious discomfort with the situation at hand.
Finally John decided that he’d had enough. He felt bad calling the Sheriff out on being scared. But the Detective in him wanted to know what his problem was. So he momentarily turned his attention from the hanging man, and started to walk over to Cotton and the reporter.
That’s when there came a sudden sound that he couldn’t quite place. It was a sort of quick “FWOOSH!” that came from behind him. Followed by the cracking of several branches, and the frightened cries of his companions.
There was a – “Holy Christ!” That came from the Sheriff.
A “Sheeeezus!” From McDuff.
And a sort of high pitched muppet sounding “Meep!” that had come from Jennel.
John whirled back around in the direction of the corpse. Lit cigarette still pressed between his lips. And was greeted with a sight he did not understand. The hanging man was nowhere to be seen. And neither was Mike Lawry.
Billy was on his ass, frantically scooting backward through the snow. His mouth agape and eyes on the dark canopy overhead.
“What the Hell?” Was all he could think to say.
“He’s not dead!” Billy shrieked, as his frantic ass scooting took him past where John was standing.
“Jesus, he’s not dead!”
“What the Hell?” John said again. Feeling suddenly very much like how the Sheriff looked. He reached for his pistol.
“Did you see that?!” Cotton cried. “Holy Christ did you see that?!”
“Where’s the body?” The Detective asked.
“It took him!” Billy was shrieking. The man used his ass to carve a path through the snow all the way back to the Sheriff. “Oh god Mike!”
At this point John was feeling very much out of the loop.
“Could someone please tell me what the Hell is happ-!”
The loud snapping of branches above his head made the Detective’s words catch in his throat. Instinctively he dove out of the way. Blindly rolling through the snow. A split second later there came a heavy “THWUMP!” from the direction he’d dove from. Jennel, and the Sheriff cried out in unison.
McDuff shouted “freeze!”
John combat rolled another few feet and then came up on one knee. His gun pointed and at the ready. A maneuver that had saved his life on more than one occasion.
But then his eyes settled on the source of all the commotion and his mind missed a beat. The smoke fell from his lips and landed in the snow at his feet. Where it fizzled out.
For what he beheld made no sense. The dead man was back. He was still hanging from a noose Except this time the noose wasn’t wrapped around the original tree branch. It was just stretching up, and up, into the darkness.
The man was hanging over where the detective had been standing only seconds ago. His arms were outstretched, and his head tilted upward. In a position John found reminiscent of Christ on the cross.
“Holy shit he’s not dead!” His mind screamed as he aimed his weapon at the hanging man.
“Freeze!” He shouted. Repeating the Deputy’s words. “Get on the… Ground?”
His words faltered as the noose around the man’s neck suddenly went taught. Then the rope yanked him upward. Neck bones, and vertebrae “CRACKED!” sickeningly as the man rocketed up in a blur. Disappearing into the darkness above.
“Well that’s something you don’t see every day.” John thought to himself as he stared up into the darkness.
“Detective! We’ve got to get out of here!” The Sheriff’s voice cut into his thoughts.
“What?” He asked, dumbfounded, and turned to face the big man.
Cotton wasn’t waiting for a reply. He and Jennel were already high tailing it out of there. Deputy McDuff for his part had stood his ground. Billy Jenkins was nowhere to be seen.
“Are you fucking kidding me right now?” He shouted after Cotton’s rapidly fading figure. “A perp just took one of your men, sheriff! And you’re running away?!”
“That ain’t no perp detective!” The sheriff shouted back over his shoulder as he disappeared into the dark.
“I… I think the sheriff might be right Johnny…” McDuff said to the detective’s right. His eyes and gun trained up at the looming trees. “I think we need to call for backup.”
“Now that does sound reasonable, deputy.” John agreed.
He strained his eyes to catch any sign of the Hangman. There was nothing up there. It was all just shadows and leafless branches against a dark gray sky.
Then suddenly there came another cacophony of cracking and snapping branches. This time from the direction the Sheriff, and Jennel had run. A shriek that made the blood run cold erupted from the darkness, followed by the deafening “BOOM!” of gunfire. Both John, and McDuff took off in the direction of the noise.
There were six shots in total. John could tell that the Sheriff was firing “Old Lassie’’. His treasured .454 Cassul. The ridiculously huge pistol fired .45 Colt Case Rounds. Pretty light on the ammo side, but a bullet fired from that weapon could blow the trunk of a small tree in half.
Then there came that unmistakable clicking sound of an empty chamber. Followed by a jumble of curse words from the Cotton. Quickly followed by the racket of snapping branches, and a shout of surprise from the Sheriff.
Both the detective and deputy rounded the large trunk of an ancient oak. Nearly plowing straight into the Sheriff and the Reporter. Jennel hurled something heavy that whizzed by John’s head, and Cotton swung wildly with the butt of his pistol. McDuff dodged just on time. Narrowly avoiding what surely would have been a nasty concussion.
“Jesus Sheriff, it’s just me!”
“Jimmy?! Mother Mary! You’re lucky I didn’t just knock your block off!”
“Sheriff…” John gasped as he struggled to catch his breath. “We need… We need to stick together.”
“Then move your ass Detective! Cotton snapped. “For Christ’s sake, I’m thirty years your senior, and twice your weight!”
“Are you kidding me?!” The detective shot back. “You just took off while you’re deputy and I stood our ground! I don’t know what’s going on, but someone just assaulted an officer of the law! And you’re the god damned sheriff!”
Cotton flinched from John’s words as if he’d been struck.
“I saw what just happened.” He said in a low growl. “A dead man hanging from a noose just grabbed one of my men, and flew up into the trees with him.”
“He wasn’t dead.” John said matter-of-factly. “He couldn’t have been.”
The Sheriff suddenly laughed.
“He wasn’t dead?! Well he sure as shit should’ve been after I hit him with old Lassie here!”
He held up the revolver for them to see. As if proving to the two men that the Sheriff indeed had a gun.
“Cause that fucker dropped right down beside me and lil’ Ms. Buttchins!” He continued.
“And I can tell ya’ I just pegged that fucker at least four times at near point blank range! Any normal person would’ve had the courtesy to keel over and die! Shit! Any normal person would’ve been blown inta’ little fucking pieces! But that sonofabitch just went right back up inta’ them trees!”
As if on cue there came the sound of tree branches bending and breaking from somewhere overhead. The three men simultaneously snapped their weapons up in the darkness. The Sheriff, realizing he hadn’t reloaded his weapon, cursed and quickly bent to the task of reloading.
John thought he saw a dark, man sized shape swoop through the shadows of the skeletal branches. But in another instant it was gone.
“Johnny here, don’t believe me.” Cotton sneered. “Tell ‘em Ms. Reporter. Tell ‘em what you just saw!”
“It’s true.” Jennel said in a shaky voice as she stared at the dark canopy. “That man just came falling out of the trees right beside us! And the Sheriff shot him!
“I think he might have even…” She struggled not to vomit as she spoke. “I think he might have even shot off one of his arms. And then he… And then he just went flying right back up!.”
John glanced away from the sky and scanned the ground around them. It was too dark to be sure. But there were big dark spots all over the nearby ground that he guessed was blood. There was no sign of a disembodied appendage though.
“So where’s the arm now?” He asked. Unable to think of anything else to say.
“Oh for God’s sake! How should I know?! He took it with him!” The Sheriff shouted.
“Look, you ain’t from around here Johnny.” Cotton said as he slammed a round into the last open chamber of his gun and then snapped it back into place.
“But there’s some strange things that happen sometimes in and around Duxbury. City folk just don’t understand.”
“It’s true what the Sheriff says, Johnny.” McDuff said in little more than a whisper. “My Grandaddy used to tell me stories about this area.”
“He used to tell you the land was bad out here didn’t he?” The Sheriff asked in a tone that said he already knew the answer. “Used to tell you about Keene’s Road?”
“Yeah…” The deputy nodded in affirmation as his gun played across the darkness above.
“He told me these woods got something in em’. Something that lives beneath the ground. And in the air above. I never believed him of course. But I never really come out here either.”
“Not many people do.” Cotton said in a grave tone.
“Where is Keene’s Road?” John asked. He’d never heard of it and he thought he knew every backwood road that existed in these parts.
“Keene’s road ain’t on no map detective.” Cotton replied as he trained Lassie across the darkness overhead. “But never mind all that fer’ now.”
“Now Johnny. I know that you’re a practical man. And I begrudgingly respect you for it.” The sheriff shifted his gaze from the trees to John. “But there’s what appears to be a dead man hanging from a noose, flying through the trees.”
There came a sudden peel of thunder. The noise caused everyone to reflexively tense up. John noticed for the first time that Jennel had a can of mace in her hand. He almost laughed despite himself. The guy was wearing a bag over his head! What was mace going to do?
“So what do you suggest, Sheriff?” John asked finally.
“I suggest we get back to town. Get some backup. Come back out here with an armed posse, and clean house!” He hissed.
“Tonight? Not tomorrow? We come back tonight, and find Mike?”
“Of course! I ain’t leavin’ him out here!” The Sheriff spat as if offended.
“Now common! It’s more than a half hour drive back to town. This storm’s gonna overtake us before we get back anyway. So I suggest we get a move on.”
The storm was getting closer. That was a fact. The wind was whipping through the forest. Pulling at their clothes. And the night sky was filled with falling snow. John pondered their options for a moment. Finally he spoke.
“Fuck that.” You go back to the SUV and radio for backup. Then go get your posse. I’ll stay here.”
“What?” Cotton asked. Incredulous.
“You’re right, Sheriff. I’m not from around here. And because I’m not from around here, I’m not buying into this superstitious bullsh-.”
John’s words were abruptly cut short as the large figure of the Hangman came suddenly plummeting down from the darkness above. Landing on the Sheriff with bone crushing weight.
There came a veritable explosion of snow as both figures slammed into the ground. Followed closely by the snap of bones and a sort of guttural, gargling from Cotton. By the time the Detective lowered his hands, the Sheriff’s broken body was wrapped up in the Hangman’s embrace.
McDuff had cried out in surprise and leapt backward. Jennel however, to John’ complete astonishment, emitted a shriek akin to a war cry. And charged forward. Raising her can of mace like a priest warding off a vampire with a crucifix.
The Hangman once again shot up into the darkness. Almost as if the reporter had actually successfully scared him off. This time though, John got a better look at the Hangman as he rapidly ascended.
The man had three large holes in his chest from where the Sheriff had shot him. And his right arm (though still attached) looked like it was holding on by only a few strands of torn cartilage and muscle. Never mind the fact that the arm was bearing the weight of a man who had to be pushing three hundred pounds.
John took aim with his weapon but did not fire for fear of hitting the Sheriff. In another instant both fat men were swallowed up by the dark. That’s when he noticed the coughing and gagging sounds coming from behind him.
He whirled around. McDuff was on his knees. Gagging and shoveling snow into his face like a madman.
Jennel was standing over him, Just patting him on the back. And repeating the words “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Over, and over.
“What the Hell?” John asked for the umpteenth time this evening.
Jennel looked up from the Deputy’s gagging form.
“I’m sorry!” She squeaked. “I maced him by accident!”
Jesus. And for a second there he’d been considering giving the chick his spare sidearm. Her heart was definitely in the right place. She’d gone on the offensive instead of cowering.
But he could not abide such poor aim by supplying it with an even deadlier weapon. He quickly sprang into action. Running over to McDuff and helping the man to his feet.
“Alrighty buddy. We’re gonna take the Sheriff’s advice and get the fuck out of here.”
The deputy sputtered something unintelligible in reply.
“Jennel, you stay close. We move quick, and quietly. We’re only about a half mile from where we parked.”
Jennel sobbed and nodded. “Okay. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to spray him.”
“I know.” John said with as much sympathy as he could muster. “It’s okay Ms. Buttchins. You attacked your attacker. That’s impressive. Your aim was just a little off.”
She laughed a bit over her hitching breath.
“Okay.” The reporter nodded.
And with that the trio began moving. It wasn’t easy. The ground was uneven, and the powder was deep in some places. Every so often a gust of wind would come howling through the trees. Bringing with it sheets of sideways snow that would cause them to have to squint.
McDuff moved well for a man who could barely see. Recovering quickly each time he stumbled. And with every moment that went by his vision cleared up more.
“J-Jesus it’s f-freezing out here!” The deputy whispered through chattering teeth.
He wasn’t wrong about that. As the storm rolled in the temperature had rapidly gone from frigid to down right deadly. It had to be in the single digits.
“Can’t believe she fuckin’ maced me.” McDuff muttered under his breath.
John smiled despite himself. Ms. Buttchins had shown some true grit in the darkness of this damned forest. If they survived this, the part about the deputy getting maced was going to make for a great story. Not that anyone would believe them.
“Almost there.” The detective said as they neared the edge of the forest.
There came a sudden, distant shriek of terror echoing from somewhere way out in the darkness behind them. That’s when it had occurred to John that he hadn’t seen Billy Jenkins since he’d gone scooting passed him on his ass more than twenty minutes ago.
The sound lent strength to their legs. Causing the trio to pick up the pace. In another moment they were exiting the tree line and the storm wrapped them in it’s cold embrace.
Until then the forest had been shielding them from the worst of the elements. But now that they were out in an open field, the snow and ice whirled around them like an angry spirit. After what felt like an eternity, they finally reached the SUV.
John hopped in the driver’s seat, while Jennel took shotgun. McDuff jumped in the back and reached for the radio.
“This is Deputy Jimmy!” He shouted into the receiver.” We’re out at the Eastern edge of the Ashdod Forest! We have…Officers down! Requesting immediate backup!”
Static answered in return. McDuff repeated the message. More white noise. John turned the key, and the engine of the SUV roared into life. The headlights illuminated the field and the edge of the tree line.
The detective strained his eyes for a moment. If something was out there watching them, the falling snow was keeping it well hidden.
“God damn storm must be messing with the radio.” Mcduff said as the vehicle was thrown into reverse.
“Like a badly written horror story.” John replied just as he threw the SUV into drive and punched it.
The three sat in tense silence for a long moment as they flew down the uneven road. John kept his eyes focused on the land in front of the bright headlights. Not wanting to think what may be stalking them from within the trees that zipped by on both sides.
The storm was in full swing now. Snow coming down in sheets so thick that using the brights would have been suicide. The low beams and the swirling darkness made the road look more like a tunnel than a street.
Finally after what seemed like an eternity they crested a hill that marked the end of the road. And the lights of Duxbury appeared in the valley below.
John took a hard left onto Temple Road. The tires would have squealed loudly had there not been four inches of compact snow between them and the pavement. As it was, the SUV swerved and careened dangerously to the right. After a tense moment where the detective thought he may have overstepped his driving abilities, the vehicle managed to regain its traction and straighten out.
A few seconds later they were moving down the road. A little less than three miles of rural darkness lie between them and civilization. The heat was starting to kick in. And their shivering became less uncontrollable. John decided to slow it down to about forty five.
“What the Hell just happened back there?!” Jennel finally broke the silence.
“You tell me.” John said as he reached in and pulled the flask out of his coat. “You know a helluva lot more about the lore of this county than I do. And that sure as shit looked like something straight out of some old horror story.”
“Jesus. My Grandaddy wasn’t kidding about Keene’s Road.” Deputy McDuff said quietly from the backseat.
“So what is Keene’s Road?” John asked for the second time in less than an hour.
“My Uncle used to tell me about it. It’s this old road that used to run through the woods somewhere out here. Said it was here before the colonists arrived. And that no one had any clue who made it.”
A strong gust of wind buffeted the car. In response John let his foot off the accelerator.
“He said the first settlers of Duxbury were warned by the local Wampanoag tribe that the place was bad juju.”
The SUV went over a bump in the road, and John had to swerve slightly to keep control.
“You know now that I think about it, there was a story about a man being hung on Keene’s Road.” Jennel said.
“Supposedly a gallows was built out here a long time ago. But only one execution was ever performed there before the place was abandoned.”
“So… You’re saying that there’s an ancient, haunted road somewhere out here?” His voice was a mixture of incredulity and apprehension that he did not care for. In response he took a deep pull of liquor before handing the flask over to the reporter.
“That’s how my Grandaddy told it.” Said the Deputy.
John shook his head. He couldn’t believe he was having this conversation. This was ridiculous! This was God damn ridiculous! Why the Hell had he moved out to bum fuck Massachusetts?!
“Jimmy.” He began. Trying to sound like a logical Detective once again. “I don’t mean to be disrespectful toward your Grandpa. But doesn’t that sound a little-?”
His words were cut short as something heavy slammed onto the roof. There was a heavy “THWUMP!” And the frame of the vehicle shuddered violently beneath the impact. The roof buckled inward as if a boulder had been dropped on it. The SUV slid to the left, then to the right.
“Shit! Shit!” The detective cursed as he fought to regain control.
He glanced in the driver’s side mirror just on time to see a bloody hand wrap around it. Then it was violently ripped off. Both hand and reflecting surface vanishing into the dark.
After a few tense seconds of swerving back and forth he managed to regain control of the vehicle. The SUV straightened, and John accelerated as fast as he dare.
McDuff had begun struggling to unhook the 12 gauge shotgun from its mount in the back seat. Before John could say anything else his eyes were drawn to a dark shape plummeting through the sky just in front of them.
The Hangman landed on the front of the SUV and the hood violently crumpled inward. The vehicle careened dangerously once again. The Hangman reached up and grabbed both windshield wipers. Then the noose pulled tight, and the man rocketed back upward. Ripping off the wipers and taking them with him on his rapid ascent into the swirling maelstrom.
John simultaneously fought to keep the SUV on the road while continuing to watch in disbelief as the man disappeared into the swirling snow high over their heads. Looking like some sort of twisted marionette making a rapid exit from the stage. The last thing he saw of the man was his “Bear Claw” brand boots being swallowed up by the gray clouds.
“You have got to be fucking kidding me…” He said to no one in particular.
The hood of the SUV now looked like shit. He couldn’t tell if there was smoke rising out of it, or if it was just swirling snow. He supposed that if the engine had been damaged, they’d know either way soon enough. There came a distinct “Ca-Chak!” of a round being pumped into the 12 Gauge McDuff had successfully pulled off it’s mount.
“I’m gonna blow that fucker to kingdom come!” The Deputy growled.
The shaky timber of his voice had been replaced with one of wrath. John was impressed with the man’s intestinal fortitude. Anger in a situation like this was much more useful than fear. And the man seemed to be holding it together a lot better than he was.
The Detective’s hands were shaking badly. It made steering the vehicle that much harder. That’s when the engine first started going wonky. There came a sudden slamming sound that came from under the hood. The SUV shuddered along with the impact.
A quick glance at the dashboard showed that the engine’s temperature was rapidly climbing. Then there came a second jarring impact from under the hood, this one much louder. The SUV shook violently once again, and then began to slow.
The gas pedal no longer responded. No matter how hard and frantically he pressed down on it.
“Shit. McDuff said from the back seat. He started to climb back over to the front.
“Well Jimmy.” John said with as much composure as he could muster. “It looks like you’re gonna get your chance to blow that fucker to kingdom come sooner than later.”
“Good.” Was all the Deputy said in return. There was steel in both his voice and eyes.
“There… There’s something in the road. “ Jennel squeaked.
Both men strained their eyes to see what she was talking about. It took them a moment to realize that the Reporter was right. There was something in the road. Something being a far more accurate description than someone.
Through the swirling snow, and darkness. Barely outlined by the headlights was the Hangman. His arms dangling limply at his sides. Feet hovering about three feet above the ground. The rope attached to the noose around his neck just stretched up, and up. Disappearing into the swirling sky.
“Fucker must know the SUV’s done for.” John said through gritted teeth.
“Looks like it’s go time.” McDuff answered back.
The SUV continued to slowly roll forward for a moment. Then the engine sputtered it’s last, and finally died. After a few more seconds the vehicle lumbered to a stop in the middle of the road.
For a minute they just sat there in silence. Listening to the wind and the snow. John stared at the Hangman. Looking the distant figure up and down. What was this thing?
It just didn’t make sense. Gangbangers and serial killers made sense. The detective was not a superstitious man. He didn’t believe in ghosts, or goblins. Monsters he believed in. He’d killed monsters with his own two hands.
But monsters were just flesh and blood. Men made into beasts by class disparity, and an uncaring society that America tries so hard to pretend it’s not made of.
But this, this was a different kind of monster. And suddenly John found that he very much missed the monsters of old. The old monsters were back in a reality he’d left behind somewhere in a dark forest. They were much easier to deal with. You can’t arrest something like this.
John took note of the ragged holes torn through the Hangman’s chest. Even in the dark he could see big dark spots marking where blood had frozen over bullet wounds. If the man wasn’t wearing a shirt he would probably look like Swiss Cheese right about now.
It’s left arm was barely attached. The bone had been obliterated when Cotton had put a round from “Old Lassie” through it. Now it was just hanging by a few tendons and torn muscles.
“Well at least it bleeds.” He thought to himself. “If it bleeds we can kill it. Right?”
Now where had he heard that line before? It seemed like pretty sound logic. Except in this case he wasn’t sure if it applied. The Hangman had bled. But it didn’t seem to be having much of an effect.
Then suddenly a thought struck him. It was a true Eureka moment! At least he hoped that it was.
“Jimmy, when we get out, I want you to aim for the rope.” John said.
“The rope?” McDuff asked in a confused voice.
“Yeah. Let’s see how dangerous this fucker is when he’s stuck on the ground like the rest of us normal people.”
The deputy’s eyes widened in sudden comprehension. He even let out a short laugh.
“Alright.” The man nodded. A grim smile playing across his face. “Let’s do this…”
“Ms. Buttchins.” John said just before stepping out into the swirling maelstrom. “You better just stay here.”
All the young woman could do was nod. She’d been staring wide eyed at the Hangman ever since the engine had died.
John pulled out his nine millimeter and checked that it was fully loaded. He already knew that it was. He hadn’t fired his weapon once since this whole ordeal began. But he compulsively checked anyway.
Then the two men opened the doors, and stepped out into the blizzard. They were instantly wrapped in the night’s icy embrace. Thunder rumbled and the snow fell in sheets.
The Hangman, for his part, just hung there. His body swayed back and forth in the wind. It was as if the Thing was waiting to see what the two officers were going to do next.
John knew that hitting the rope at this distance would be nearly impossible. They would have to get closer. And so they trudged on through the snow. Slowly making their way toward the Hangman.
When they got to within about eight yards they stopped and aimed their weapons at the rope just above the man. The Hangman cocked it’s head to one side in confusion. Both men fired nearly simultaneously. Neither shot finding its mark.
The Hangman suddenly exploded into motion. Gliding over the icy road at frightening speed. John took another shot with his revolver. Missing again.
In the blink of an eye the Hangman had crossed half the distance between them. The detective switched tactics and let off a few shots into the oncoming nightmare’s chest. The Hangman’s body jerked violently as three rounds tore through him. Adding more to the Swiss Cheese quality of the thing.
McDuff took another shot with the twelve gauge. Even before he pulled the trigger, John knew it would be the Deputy’s last before the monster was upon them. The weapon “BOOMED!” loudly. The sound of modern man briefly winning out over the cacophony of nature.
At this distance the wide spray from the twelve gauge gave the deputy a much better chance of hitting the Hangman’s noose than John’s pistol. The Detective almost “hooted” in elation as the shot found its mark. The Hangman’s noose violently snapped.
It’s body jerked in the air as the noose was severed. And for a long second it seemed that the monstrosity was going to just keep flying over the ground. Both men could have sworn that the unholy thing actually did briefly defy the laws of physics.
But then gravity kicked in, and the Hangman collapsed in a heap. John and the McDuff just stood there watching the motionless body as snow swirled around it.
“Holy crap! Would ya’ look at that?” The deputy said as he pointed upward.
John looked up in the direction the man was pointing. The Detective’s eyes went wide as his gaze settled on what the deputy had been pointing at. Even in this darkness he could see the impossible length of the Hangman’s rope falling out of the sky.
It was piling on, and around the motionless body. Forming great cords. The two stood there dumbfounded. Teeth chattering in the blistering cold. Watching in disbelief as the rope continued to fall.
“What… What the Hell was it attached to?” McDuff wondered out loud.
“I don’t know. Satan’s dick maybe? At this point I’d believe just about anything.”
“This… This is crazy Johnny.” McDuff sounded exasperated.
Fear had not yet returned to his voice. but the steely edge had gone out of the man. Lightning flashed behind the clouds one again. And the rope was starting to obscure the view of the body. Finally after what seemed like an eternity, the end finally came falling out of the darkness.
John guessed that there had to be at least a mile’s worth that had just come out of the sky. It was the sight of that rope that had finally unhinged his concept of reality. And in that moment the Detective from LA truly did believe in monsters.
As one the two men started to approach the body. Weapons trained on the motionless heap. And a few seconds later they were standing over the seemingly dead Monster/Man. It’s bullet riddled form half buried in rope.
It now looked as lifeless as it had when Jonathan had first seen the man hanging from a tree branch in the woods. The Detective looked down at the thick plastic bag covering his head. He just had to know…
Slowly he began to reach down for the bag. McDuff read his intent and stepped back a few feet. Keeping the twelve gauge leveled. John’s hand closed around a loose part of the plastic that hung from the top of It’s head.
He took a deep breath. Steeling himself. Then in much the same way one would rip off a band-aid, he gave the bag a hearty yank. The plastic resisted as it’s lower section caught in the noose still wrapped tightly around the man’s throat.
But after a couple more tugs it finally gave way. And both men gasped in surprise. John really hadn’t known what to expect. But what he beheld certainly wasn’t anything he’d have guessed.
As the plastic ripped free, the two men were greeted with a sight as disturbing as the plastic bag had been. Covering the man’s head was an old style Hangman’s mask. It was made of rough, weather worn burlap. Like something you’d see in execution scenes in old black and white westerns.
Except that there were two buttons made to look like eyes sewn into the mask. And a ragged cut made where the mouth was. Though this had been crudely stitched shut with what looked like fishing twine.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.” McDuff muttered. His voice barely audible over the raging elements.
For a moment the two men just stared down at the mask. Already, snow was beginning to cover the body and rope. Soon it would be impossible to distinguish from the rest of the windswept land.
“Well what do you make of that Deputy?” John finally asked.
“My Grandaddy never had any stories about something like this. That’s for sure.” He answered.
“Did you guys really kill it?!” Jennel shouted over the storm.
She was hanging partially out of the passenger side door. Her cellphone was held in both hands. Like she was recording.
But before either of them could respond, there came another “SWOOSHING!” sound from behind. And out of his peripheral John saw McDuff get violently ripped off his feet. The man gave a cry of alarm that was quickly cut short as his back slammed into the snow, and the wind was knocked out of him.
Jennel screamed and John spun around on his heels. The Hangman’s body was already rocketing down the street. With the flailing Deputy in tow. The two bodies kicked a wake of snow high up into the air as they carved a path down the street.
John saw that the monstrosity had grabbed one of McDuff’s ankles. And that rope. That God Damned Rope was just stretching off down the road into the darkness. Pulling the Hangman by the throat.
Not knowing what else to do, the detective gave chase. Sprinting and stumbling across the frozen ground. Although already it seemed like a hopeless pursuit. They had to be moving at least twelve miles an hour! McDuff was kicking and screaming, for all the good it was doing him.
“Hang on Jimmy!” He shouted after the rapidly disappearing figures.
The deputy responded with an incoherent “Oooaahh!” just before he disappeared into the swirling night.
“Shit! Shit!” John gasped as he trudged on.
His heavy breath came out in big white puffs. The Detective ran. The snow fell. And the wind howled.
He just kept following the trail they’d carved. If the fury of the storm kept up the path would be hidden in an hour, maybe less. And so he forced himself to continue moving forward
But it wasn’t long before John found himself doubled over. Struggling to catch his breath. A brief glance back revealed that he could no longer see the SUV, or Ms. Buttchins…
“Johnny!” His head whipped back around at the sound of McDuff’s voice.
The Deputy was sprinting up the road toward him. Running as if hell itself was fast on his heels. Which might actually be the case.
The man’s clothes were torn and tattered from being violently dragged across the icy road. And there was something about three feet long attached to his ankle that was just sort of flopping about with his frantic movements.
“Jimmy! Jesus man!” John went running toward him.
The two men reached one another and their eyes locked. McDuff was pale as a ghost. Despite himself John laughed.
“Holy shit deputy! I thought you were a goner for sure!”
The McDuff doubled over. Hands on his knees.
“How’d you get away?!” The Detective asked. Elation, and relief etched into his voice.
But the man only shook his head.
“I don’t know. That thing was just dragging me down the street, when I heard this loud popping sound. And I realized that I’d stopped moving. When I looked up the guy was nowhere to be seen. So I beat feet!”
Jonathan’s eyes turned back to the Deputy’s ankle. His breath caught in his throat, and his eyes went wide.
“Um…” He murmured quietly.
The man’s eyes turned down to his ankle and he let out a gasp. Clearly in his mad dash to get away, McDuff hadn’t noticed what was wrapped around his ankle. A hand attached to a severed stump, where the damaged tendons had finally torn away just above the elbow.
The Deputy yelped and started dancing around like a madman. Trying to kick the thing off. But to no avail. The hand had a vice-like grip on him.
Finally after a few minutes John finally got the man to calm down enough to stop jumping around. They sat there in the middle of the dark road. Shivering as they pried the Hangman’s fingers off the Deputy’s ankle.
After another couple minutes they finally got the damned thing off. Then the two just stood there in silence, staring at the torn appendage.
“We’ve gotta take it with us.” John finally said.
“What?!” McDuff fired back. Not comprehending the words he’d just heard.
“Even if I have to carry it all the way back to town myself, I want the forensics guys to take a look at it.”
Tonight his perception of reality had been forever altered. He’d come to believe in monsters. And he’d be damned if he wasn’t going to take some evidence back with him.
“Okay.” The deputy said with trepidation. “Let’s go back and get Ms. Buttchins, and high tail it back to town. It’s going to be a dicey walk in this weather.”
John nodded as he stared down at the arm. Finally he reached down and picked it up by the wrist. Half expecting the thing to snap back into life and latch onto him. But nothing happened.
The two took one final look down the road. Hoping that the Hangman wasn’t going to come rocketing out of the night at them. But shadows and swirling snow was all there was to see. Then together they turned, and began making their way back down the snowy street…
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableChris Koleszar Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
🔔 More stories from author: Chris KoleszarPublisher's Notes: N/A Author's Notes: N/A
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