There are errors in creation.
Kasper was born in a village so small it didn’t even have a priest. His father had gone for a soldier and wages paid in silver and had never come back. No doubt he fell upon the field somewhere, pierced by bolts, or rendered body from soul by the halberd’s stroke. The flies dance, and eyeless by crows he is stripped and thrown into a common grave and there lies nameless, returned to the earth with all the others.
Kasper’s mother lives a hard life thereby. In the winter she took in laundry or sewing and in the summer she stooped in the fields. Kasper is no help to her. He does not speak, he does not learn. He does no labor. He cannot stand to be touched or to cut his hair. He stops dutifully if anyone asks him a question, but he never answers. His eyes roam the sky, the earth, the above and beyond, but he can’t look anyone in the eye. He is a thief too – taking this thing or that - food when he is hungry and bright cloth he hides here and there, a treasure to him. The bailiffs find him often and lash him with their rods. He runs when he can and cowers when he can’t, waiting under the blows.
They were hard men who gave him the number of lashes decreed, but not so hard that they felt no pity, and they gave him only the number allotted under law and no more. “He’s an idiot” they say, “But only an idiot”.
A stranger might see him and the welts upon his body and think him unrepentant but in the village they thought him merely feeble-minded and hoped that one day he might learn and that this lashing or that might be the last.
Boys mock Kasper, or pelt him with stones for their amusement. Girls ignore him. He likes children. Children are unafraid. Sometimes in the woods he might come upon a child or a small group of children and carry their small burdens for them. Baskets of berries, sacks of roots, bundles of kindling – such things as children are sent to gather. He does not ask. He just does. Returning to the village they thank him and he says nothing, his eyes wandering before them and beside them, and he goes to his mother’s house or back into the woods.
Little Magda he adores above all the rest, a child with long dark hair, bright blue eyes and freckles. Who can see such a child and not but love her? To be beloved by one is to be beloved by all. Often he would carry for her, her baskets of wild fruit, her kindling lashed together with leather thongs, her small sack of roots for her parent’s pottage. Once he brought for her a moth the color of whose wings she liked. Who could look upon such a beautiful creature and not want to hold it?
One day at dusk a week after the solstice little Magda did not return and her parents were seized with dread. They went into the woods; they walked the paths down by the river. They spoke her name, they whispered her name, and they cried her name. But little Magda does not come. Other people came with torches and more voices. Magda does not come. They tire with the sunrise and returned to their beds to await the fullness of the day. Some spoke of wolves, others whispered of witches. A child goes missing and people fear for the worst. “Maybe she is just lost” said the more hopeful of souls, “Maybe she will return by the light of day when she can find her way”. There were prayers. If God hears all prayers he should hear the prayers for missing children first.
She did not return with the sunrise. Her father held his beard and was silent. Her mother lay upon her bed and did not move. The sun moved upon its appointed path as God ordained and met each hour with the absence of Magda.
In the evening just past the supper hour she appeared.
Magda walked into the village. Her dress had been torn as if by something wild, as if by something hungry. Her hair was matted with earth and leaves. There were welts on her neck and her hands and nails were caked with clay. No mere luck but providence had placed her father near the centre of the village near the well when she appeared and he was the first to see her.
“She has returned” he cried, and gathered her in his arms “My little girl has returned! God has brought her back.”
Her mother came and with tears in her eyes held the child and they passed her back and forth, from one shoulder to the other. More and more of the Village came to see the miracle and they too lay their hands upon her and sought to touch the blessed, the lost one who returns. Magda lay in their arms with her eyes open as they passed her from one to another over their heads. She lay upon their hands with her back to the earth and her eyes, unblinking, to the sky. In the crowd was Kasper and he too came to look, his eyes neither here nor there but above and beyond, around and about.
When he came Magda was roused and cried, her tears began to fall. “He took me” she cried, and pointed at Kasper. “It was he that laid these marks upon my neck with his own hands”.
Indeed it could be seem that she had welts upon her neck. All could see.
“He made these marks upon me” she cried again, “And when I ceased to breath and my spirit left me he laid me under the earth, under the dead leaves and wet earth as if I was dead.”
Strong hands seized Kasper and he groaned. Rough hands brought hum before her but she turned away. He cried out like a wild thing, high-pitched and inarticulate. He could not stand to be touched, and here they had him by his arms and by his hair. His hands were held forth for all to see and they were filthy with earth, and there were dead leaves upon his shoes and trousers.
“These things speak for themselves,” someone said.
The crowd had become a mob and they tore at Kasper. Magda’s parents took her high in their arms to their house while the bailiff’s were summoned to restore order with their rods over the blows of the mob and the sounds of Kasper’s animal-like cries. His mother came from her home to shield him but could not get near. The mob met her with blows and with stones and bleeding from her brow she was driven to her knees. The bailiff’s came and managed to beat back the worst of the lot and save Kasper from being torn to pieces or strangled but it was agreed by all that his crime could not be unpunished and that he should be hanged. No need to summon the justice. No call for a priest. His mother, on her knees, held her hands to her face and begged. The wound from the stone to her head surged and her blood came down with her tears and the mob left her where she was. She prayed with her face to the ground and her hands in her hair. God hears all prayers but those of the mothers of the afflicted he sets aside. These he adjudges differently.
Kasper was taken to a post on the edge of the village used to hang thieves and was pulled up to his feet by his hair. By then he had ceased to cry and only looked around and away as he always had, his eyes darting this way and that. “Look around all you want, you devil!” someone shouted. “You’ll find no escape!”
Who can say what he looked for? Who can say what Kasper saw? None had ever known. To be cursed by one is to be cursed by all. The noose was placed around his neck and he was pulled to his feet and then into the air and they hanged him with his toes just barely off of the ground. He walked, walked like a man in pantomime treading water but his feet could find no purchase. He arched his back for air. He twisted. The rope stretched and his feet touched the ground and they pulled him up another foot.
He hung for a half an hour before his eyes closed. He spun slowly, this way and that in the breeze that came from the setting sun, the air cooling as it came across the river. Such clothes as he had they tore from him – these would go to the rag picker to be cleaned and cut for rags. Kasper hung there naked and dead, as silent as he had been while still alive. One by one, justice done and their children safe, the mob went to their homes, their hearths, and their beds.
One man stayed. A carpenter by trade, he is the man who makes coffins. His name is Sparrow as was his father’s before him.
Sparrow stayed with Kasper until he has hung for an hour and there were but the two of them left. There, near to sunset, Sparrow takes his short knife and cut Kasper down and lets him fall to the ground. He has to pick Kasper up under the arms to him in a small cart such as a man can pull without a mule. With Kasper in the cart, open-eyed and long-necked, Sparrow takes a shovel and digs up some of the earth underneath the hanging pole. It was the custom of the village and the duty of this particular man to take the earth underneath the hanged man and dispose of it. It is not uncommon for a man hanged this way, slowly and close to the ground, to have issue, and to have it fall upon the soil. From where his seed falls a mandrake might grow, and witches might come to harvest it and use it for potions and spells or in the summoning of devils and familiar spirits. This is no mere superstition. So Sparrow takes that earth with his shovel and throws it on the cart with Kasper. This done he lays the shovel with the boy and taking the cart in his own hands, hands ,made strong by hard labor, he walks the cart to the river.
There at the river’s edge, past a small and secret grave of earth and dead leaves, he took the shovel and the earth he had brought and put it in the river. He doesn’t throw the earth in – rather he sets the shovel in the water and lets the current wash the dirt away and disperse it as the waters will. Sparrow does not hurry. After he was done with the earth he took Kasper from the cart, picking him up with his arms under Kasper’s knees and shoulders just like any man with a sleeping child. When he had him fully in his arms Kasper moved gave a great drawn out sigh like a sleeper who adjusts their position for their comfort without waking up or opening their eyes. This would have frightened anyone but Sparrow, frightened them to flight or prayer or confession or even repentance – who knows what terrors a person will have when confronted by the breath of the dying? Sparrow knows better of course, he knows that the breath was not that of a living person, but of the re-posturing of the dead unfortunate enough to come to it by hanging. It is the last breath of the living, made by the wrack of a body hanged. Breath cannot not get in or out of a body hanging. He waited upon this last exhalation and then waded into the shallows by the bank and there let Kasper slip gently and slowly into the river, to be carried away on the current and to lie down, to find comfort under the water and there to be unfound.
Sparrow walked back into town with his empty cart, with his back to the river, up past that shallow grave of wet earth and dead leaves. His eyes never left the path in front of him in the waning light. But had he looked back to the river he would have seen the ripples in the water with a small soul coming to the surface even as a broken body drifted down into darkness, and then a zephyr sped upon a sand bar setting the dry leaves aside this way and that and carried into the treetops through the branches flying here and there like a small and bright thing. This is the soul of Kasper moving to the firmament, there to sleep. Here he remains until such time as all souls rejoin the living in their perfect form and earth will be as it is in heaven, on that final day after which no more days will come. This is what we are taught, and this is what we believe.
Issue #6 CONTENTS
MAKE DO AND MAKE MEND
STORM CLOUD RAIN, GRAVEYARD DIRT
THE BLUE BOY
MURDER AND CRUELTY FREE
S Van Sickel
A PROPER FOUNDATION
Steve Passey is from Southern Alberta. Previous fiction has appeared in publications in Canada, the UK, and the USA including Existere Journal, Minor Literature[s], and Big Pulp. You can reach him on Twitter @CanadianCoyote1.