The Hanging Man

Her mother was sad, and sent Reina outside to play. She was filled with anger and helplessness, powerless to help her mother and to fix what was wrong. She ran past the willows and down the overgrown driveway. There was very little pavement left, only crumbling patches here and there among the tall weeds. The Thomsons used to live here with their twins, but after the darkness they had moved away and their house had been torn down. Reina raced up the drive and past the flowering lilac to the old oak. She threw herself down on the carpet of haircap moss that surrounded it, clearing the green of leaves and twigs that had accumulated since she had been here last.

She lay on her back on the plush moss and watched the branches overhead move in the wind, listening to the sound it made as it rattled the leaves. She was not aware she was crying until the acrid tears ran into her ears, wetting her hair where it lay spread across the ground. She dug her fingers into the thick moss, feeling the cool sponginess of the earth beneath. She worried about her mom a lot, and she tried to make her laugh, but sometimes nothing she did seemed to help. During these times, her mother didn’t seem to be all there with her. She was preoccupied and didn’t really hear what Reina had to say. Reina remembered telling her about seeing a snake in the woods and her mother’s disappointing response of “That’s nice”. Reina had thought it was exciting. She had almost died and her mother had been unimpressed!
She rolled over onto her tummy and watched a beetle trundle across her carpet. She moved a twig out of its way absently. She was only six so she didn’t think she was big enough to help her mom out. Reina got to her feet and walked over to where the Thomson’s house used to be.

Her uncle had driven her up here on the back of his dirt bike after the Thomson’s had moved out but before the house was torn down. The front door had been standing open and her uncle stopped the bike across from the house. The front door opened onto a small landing, and stairs led to the upstairs of the old farmhouse. He told her that the man who lived there had died and it was now haunted. Reina, staring wide eyed into the abandoned house, saw the outline of a hanging man through the open doorway. He appeared to be hanging from the unseen upstairs, dangling over the front door landing. She couldn’t see any of his features. She couldn’t see what he was wearing or what his face looked like; she could only see the black man-shape. Reina had been filled with dread and had started to cry. It wasn’t that she couldn’t see his features, it was that he didn’t have any. The hanging man was just a negative space shadow, and the figure of him hanging there through the wide open door was somehow obscene. Her uncle laughed at her, teasing her, but she begged him to leave, half hysterical until he drove her away from the house and sped her through the woods to get her laughing as she clung to his waist.

After that, she did not go to the house again until after they had torn it down. Thinking it safe, she had gone excavating in the demolished house’s basement. It was full of broken brick and beams, and was irresistible to an adventurous six year old. She was down in the basement, pleased at having just found some blue chalk, when she felt she was being watched. She looked up and saw a man standing on the ground above, watching her silently. He did not make a sound, and she did not recognize him, but Reina knew instinctively that he was a ghost. She scrambled to climb out of the ruined foundation while he watched. He did not speak, or threaten her in any way, just gazed at her sadly. Once she extracted herself from the ruins, scraping her leg on a nail as she did so, she ran like a rabbit, hiding in the forest until her heart quit pounding against her chest. After that she was cautious, sneaking around the old property and keeping clear of the ruins until they were filled in.

Today she was preoccupied and was not thinking about the hanging man or the ghost. The cliffs were on the other side of the property, and they fell steeply down to the gravel pit where small pools were filled with tadpoles and snakes hid in the red clay cliffsides. She was not allowed to play down there, but she had been down there often, although normally with her cousins.

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