The Gallows Tree
by Constantine Mountrakis
I come from a town called Fallow.
Fallow was an unexceptional place, full of unexceptional people. But it had a Gallows Tree, and it was the only town in the area that could claim such a thing. This made Fallow something of a big deal. On the last Friday of every month, people flooded our town square to attend to the business of hangings.
The Tree was always full.
“My dad told me that its roots go all the way down to Hell,” my friend James told me one Friday morning, while the last of the peddlers were setting up shop for the days executions. “That’s why its leaves never fall.”
My father never told me any such bullshit. They hung him from the St. Nicholas Branch when my mother was 8 months pregnant. So I didn’t really care what James’ idiot of a father thought about the tree.
No one knew this tree as well as I did.
Later, James was busy taking bets for his boss; guessing how long it took someone to die up there was a lucrative business. My job didn’t come till later, after the crowds dispersed. So I milled around as was my habit, in the periphery of this human circus. Here vendors hawked trinkets, food, and gallows tea. Whores came from all over, offering anything for anything. Living saints offered their healing touch to the gullible and desperate.
In the nucleus of this circus, some people cried, others cursed. All struggled against their ropes and died pissing themselves.
When all had finally done so, the crowds began to disperse back into the murk of their daily lives, and I was left alone with a few drunks. I took what I could from them. It was usually enough for me to get by. I was living dangerously, but I knew that sooner or later, I’d look at the world from the St. Nicholas branch. I walked to the tree to see if there was anything of value on the ground.
I walked around the enormous trunk and its numerous hollows. There were some tomatoes and onions that were thrown by the crowd that seemed more or less unspoiled, so that was something.
And then I heard him gasp. In the largest hollow, under the Witch’s Branch, he lay in the loam. Naked, with a purple umbilicus leading from his belly to the Tree. His hands were the color of blood, as was his mouth and his horrible, erect prick.
“Are you the Devil?” I blurted and regretted it immediately.
“No,” is all he answered, and then grabbed the umbilicus with both hands and chewed through it.
He stood and walked toward me.
“I am Murder.”
“Assist me,” he said and began to embrace me, but pushed my head toward his umbilical cord. I hesitated, and despite my better judgment, bit into the soft thing, and nearly gagged in disgust as I tore it off with my teeth.
With a motion of his hands on my jowls he instructed me to get back onto my feet. He took my hands, still holding the severed cord, into his, and held them up between our faces. To this day I can’t remember what he looked like.
“A gift, child,” he said.
I awoke sometime the next day, at the same place, still clutching the piece of torn flesh.
I should have been afraid with what I saw, but I felt strangely numb. Maybe a little relieved. He was nowhere to be seen, and the Tree was heavy with a foliage of the dead. It seemed as though most of the town was either hanging, crowded on those massive branches, or strewn across the canvas of atrocity that was the town square.
I pillaged what I could, armed myself as best I could, and left Fallow, in search of the fruit of the Gallows Tree.
“I am murder,” he had said to me. I felt it in my bones that this was true. Because my roots go all the way down to Hell as well.
Issue #3 Contents
ART & PHOTOGRAPHY
Kirsten Imani Kasai
A Heart So Pure
Slips of Yew
The Anointed One
The Flustered Husband’s Guide to Spices
The Gallows Tree
The Gardener Estate
When You Love Someone
Constantine Mountrakis is a poet and writer from New York City. He lived in Athens, Greece, until recently, where he pursued a doctorate and a girl. He married the girl, but is still pursuing the doctorate. His work has appeared in Lunch Ticket, Mojave River Review and Red Fez, among others.