The Hanging Tree

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I reckon y'all've heard the rumors 'bout the ol hangin' tree just outside a'town. Well, lemme tell ya right now, they ain't rumors. The legend of the hangin' tree goes back a'ways. All started a year or so after I first rode into town with a starvin' horse and empty pockets. Had nary a cent to my name back then, so I took what odd jobs I could find here 'n there. And, like many a young man in these parts, that led me to huntin' bounties.

Let me tell ya one thing fer sure, bounty huntin' ain't all it's cracked up to be. It's a dangerous job, and though the sheriff makes sure I get my dues, you don't get much thanks fer it. And over time, it starts to change ya. Makes ya start seein' the world different. Makes ya start thinkin' about life, and what it's worth, different.

Around the same time I started huntin', a young man started to make a name fer himself. He was snatchin' up bounties left and right, and a few of 'em got people talkin'. He even managed to catch the invisible bandit. Started gettin' a real big head about it too, even got himself a fancy moniker to go with his growin' list of bounties - The Hangman. At least a dozen folks brought in by the Hangman saw their last light hangin' from that there tree before we noticed somethin' was up.

And they're all still there.

No, not the bodies, sheriff makes sure they get brought over to 'ol Hiram at the graveyard right quick. Their mem'ries. Their hearts. Their souls. That's all that's left. That's what the tree keeps.

Don't believe me? Touch it. G'on ahead and touch it. I'll wait.


Heh. S'what I thought.

Sheriff Ray was the first to really figure out what was happenin' with that tree. He was takin' down the Hangman's latest trophy, and said he saw a vision. "It was like a dream, but I weren't sleepin'," he said. Told me he was seein' things through someone else's eyes as the Hangman drug 'em back to town. Saw 'em slippin' the noose over his neck. Said he could even feel his breath runnin' out 'fore he finally got his hand off that cursed oak. Sheriff Ray wasn't quite sure how to handle it. He called in the town preacher and he did some prayer mumbo-jumbo, but it didn't do any good. Mayor even managed to convince a medicine man from the local tribe to have a look. He took one glance at that tree, shook his head, an' left.

The Hangman was makin' more and more of a name for himself by then. Sheriff Ray told him what he saw when he touched the tree, but the Hangman didn't care. He was just interested in the bounties. He just kept dragging more folks back to town, knowing full well that there was something off about that tree. S'long as I - he was gettin' paid, he didn't give a gotdang about the poor souls trapped in that tree.

Then one day, one'a his bounties went sour. He limped back ta town, horseless and bleedin' somethin' awful. Afore he could get to Doc Miller, he had to take a rest. And he slumped right up against that tree.

He saw 'em all. Sheriff Ray saw one, but the Hangman saw every single bounty he brought to be hung from that tree. He saw what it was like to face him. To face death. To breathe your last with regret and fear in your heart. Doc Miller found him at death's door the next mornin', still slumped against that tree, cryin' and wailin' about how sorry he was.

The Hangman died that night, at the selfsame tree that he took his namesake from. All that was left was just another Ranger, doin' his best to keep people safe, and some knotted ropes still swingin' in the wind.

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