the hanging tree

Are you, are you coming to the tree
Where they strung up a man they say murdered three
Strange things did happen here, no stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree.

Are you, are you coming to the tree
Where the dead man called out for his love to flee
Strange things did happen here, no stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree.

Are you, are you coming to the tree
Where I told you to run so that we'd be free
Strange things did happen here, no stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree.

Are you, are you coming to the tree
Wear a necklace of rope side by side with me
Strange things did happen here, no stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree.

Her footfalls are soft, directed with precision, and leave the earth with naught but a little ruffle of her skin against grass, inaudible in the cacophony of the night. Her strides are like those of a dancer, and those of a fighter – graceful, fluid, deliberate, robust – and when Minami sees them quickening, growing closer, she feels herself forget to breathe and remember how to live all at once. Her heart races towards some unseen finish line and stumbles over itself, and when Atsuko finally looks at her, it falls right on its face.

"You look like you've seen a ghost, Minami."

Minami doesn't really understand how she could possibly look as such. Looking as though one has seen a ghost involves looking pale, frightened, or wide-eyed, she's sure, and she certainly doesn't feel any of those at this moment in time. Atsuko shakes her head at Minami's confused countenance, and makes to amend herself, only to shake her head again, smiling a little.

"That was probably the wrong choice of words."

She waves it off, and eyes Minami, who sits against the trunk of a tree with her legs boyishly splayed out before her. An oversized coat hangs about her, and she motions Atsuko to take a seat on the earth to her left, which the latter does willingly.

Minami probably senses Atsuko shudder amidst the stale cold of midnight, because she courteously takes her coat off to wrap it around the both of them, so that they may be forced closer together and can share in each other's warmth. They're both in a state of calm and comfort, while both remaining rather flustered, too, but the longer they stay this way the less embarrassed they become. Atsuko lays her head upon her best friend's strong, reliable shoulder with a pounding, rebellious heart, and she feels so tranquil in this moment that she doesn't long lament the dark, the cold, and the fear she braved to make it here.

"So why exactly are we here, at midnight?" Atsuko asks, at last.

Minami shrugs. Atsuko waits a moment for this to be followed up with a satisfactory verbal explanation, but none ever comes, so she settles for this meagre reply. Her eyes wander, seeking to see what they can in the darkness, and suddenly her eye is caught by a piece of rope, tied up into a rather impressive noose, hanging from one of the tree's lower, thicker branches. Atsuko frowns.

"What exactly is the significance of this place?"

She feels Minami shake and hears a soft, fond burst of laughter.

"You don't miss a thing, do you, Atsuko?"

Atsuko just huffs, a little indignant.

"It's the hanging tree," Minami says simply, as though this, by way of explanation, encompasses everything. After a short pause, she continues, "A man was hanged here for killing three men he never killed. His neighbours killed him – he was never taken to court or anything, they just took the law into their own hands – and the last thing he did was call out for his love to flee."

Atsuko is silent for a moment, and unconsciously, she clings to Minami a little tighter.

"That sounds pretty cliché to me," she mumbles over her emotion.

"Yeah."

Minami smiles, but she looks distant. Atsuko isn't sure she likes that look at all; it frightens her to no end.

"I just wanted you to know," she says, quietly, "that I would do that for you."

Atsuko swallows.

"Do what?" she croaks, dumbly.

"Die."

Atsuko's chest constricts painfully, and she hides her face in Minami's cheek, pressing her lips to it for a moment, desperate to get her feelings across.

"Me, too."

But she never had the chance to.