The Twilight Twenty-Five
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The little girl had long dark hair in two braids down her back, big forest green eyes and a freckled nose that had been burned by the summer sun. She sat at the edge of a river in a pair of denim overalls and a straw hat, with a cane fishing pole in her hands and a small woven basket on the bank next to her. There were three silver-scaled fish in the basket, and she was working on getting a fourth. She had an air of great determination about her, as though fishing were the most important thing in the world. It was a quiet task, and she was a solemn child well-suited to it.
All around her were tall trees that reached towards the cool, crisp water. They covered the path back to town and added an ominous quality to the woods. They were old trees, with long dark leaves that pulled the low branches down. The air was getting crisper, though there was little in the way of a breeze, and when the little girl glanced at the cloudless sky she saw the deepening redness in the west. It was time to be getting home. She reeled in her line, disappointed that she didn't get that extra catch, picked up her basket and started to head back.
Towards the middle of the path, she came across a man dangling from a noose. He was wearing an old worn-out navy blue suit with a string tie, and a pair of brand new cowboy boots. The rope hadn't broken the man's neck, so he was slowly choking. He was reaching for his throat, and his face was purpling as his eyes bugged out. His body twisted and swung above the ground, and he gave off the impression more of a dying animal than a dying man.
But the poor hanging son of a bitch wasn't alone. A tall, leanly muscular man with honey blond hair was leaning against a nearby tree, watching the hanging. He was dressed a little like a gaucho in loose black pants, a white shirt and a brown leather hat. The little girl would have guessed that he was from someplace over the border, but his skin was too pale.
He glanced over at her with a pair of ruby coloured eyes.
"You hang that man, mister?" She asked him evenly.
"Nope," The red-eyed stranger replied. His accent was Texan, but he seemed foreign. And not just from the Mexican clothes. He had a quality of another place or another time that made the little girl uneasy, "He did that to himself. Something about the way of the world and finances, I believe."
They watched the botched suicide, still squirming on his rope.
"I imagine, given his current predicament, he regrets his decision." He added.
"You gonna cut him down?"
"No reason for it. Besides, he told me I could have his boots when all was said and done."
"That ain't real Christian of you." The little girl scoffed, but the stranger just shrugged and went back to watching the hanging. The noose must have been tied wrong, because the choking and gurgling noises continued on unabated.
With a dutiful and long-suffering sigh, she put down her fishing gear and went over to the man on the rope. She wrapped her arms around his legs and pulled down as hard as she could. The loud snapping noise filled up the whole sky, and when she let go, the body just hung limply and the face was freed from its desperate suffering.
"That what they teach in church these days?" The stranger chuckled.
"I got to get on home. Momma's waiting on this fish. You best not keep around this place, mister, I don't like you too well," The girl said as she picked her basket up off the ground, "And if you take that man's boots, you best cut him down and do something proper with the body. Like a burial or such. It's respectful."
"Yes m'am," He tipped his hat, leaned back against his tree and grinned at the little girl, "Anything else?"
She looked him over like she intended to ask him some kind of personal question. But in the end she just said:
"No, mister. Ain't nothing else." And she slung her fishing rod over her shoulder and walked down the rest of the path without turning around.
She got to the edge of the woods, where a field of yellow wildflowers grew and the path forked two ways. To the north, where there was a very small cluster of old pioneer houses, and to the east where it met up with a paved road that led into town. Off towards the eastern path, where the little girl was headed, a woman in a blue gingham dress was picking wildflowers and putting them in a coffee can she had in her hand. It was probably decoration for the center of her table. She was humming a tune as she worked, and seemed startled as the little girl passed by her.
"Mary Alice!" She gasped, "You just about scared the life outta me! What are you doing out here so late?"
"Sorry to startle you, Miss Hessfield," The little girl replied without much in the way of emotion, "I'm just heading home now. Got me five fish, so I'm sure it'd be alright if you wanted to come along and have supper."
"No thank you, Mary Alice. I have plans for the evening."
The little girl looked over her shoulder towards the path she had walked down, and once again took notice of the darkening sky. Nightfall in about half an hour. There wouldn't be much of a moon, but without any clouds there'd be plenty of stars.
"You planning on being out here long?" She asked.
"Until I got my flowers," The woman nodded, "Now you run along home to your mother."
"Alright," The little girl shook her head in disappointment, "But you best mind them woods. I think they got a vampire in 'em."