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The Strange Town in the Middle of the Forest by Max Szredni (49)


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            The next morning was humid and overcast, much like it had been when Domei and his fellow pupils had trudged to the museum. The townsfolk gathered about the gallows nervously. This would be their first time witnessing a hanging, and none of them quite knew how they should behave at such an event—should they jeer boisterously? Should they hang their heads in solemn acceptance of the execution's sad necessity? Should they glare unforgivingly, letting Lelae know until her very last breath how terrible her actions had been?

            What resulted was an odd mixture of all three responses; people yelled at Lelae—who stood atop the gallows, wrists tied, long auburn hair knotted beneath a black coif—they were sorry she was such an evil witch who deserved to die, but such was life, and could she please remember what she had done was terribly, terribly wrong.

            To the left of the gallows, Carpenter Clerae leaned on a spade, smoking a cigarette. To the right, Supervisor Toqaer scrawled in their leather bound notebook, face and hands smudged with black ink.           

            Daid stood near the back of the crowd, swaying in a tide of spirits. He was incredibly angry and could often be seen shaking his head fiercely, clearly hoping someone would notice his distress and ask what was wrong. Daid knew, though, despite the egregious amount of alcohol he had ingested (he was sure his insides were now halfway to embalmment), he could never tell anyone that the woman donning the canvas sack was his illegal daughter.

            Just one little slip, he reminded himself, trying to keep his eyes focused, and you could be up there next. Don't want that, Daid. No—if someone asked what the matter was, he must come up with some other conversation item, even if it were far less interesting than the truth. 

            Daid turned to the person closest to him. He couldn't be too sure, what with their coif and the way the world was now spinning, but they seemed young—maybe fifteen or sixteen. "You," he growled.

            The youth turned to face him, clearly frightened by the drunken barber. "Y-yes?" they asked.

            "Do you—wait—do you know who taught me—wait! listen—taught me to shave? My face?"

            "Uhm—no...who?" They were already edging away. Daid would have to tell them quickly, before they escaped into the crowd's anonymous blur.

            "My father! Ha! Bet you don't know what one of those is—no, was—I had one, though. He had a mustache, and his friends had mustaches"—Daid tried pointing at the white bristles on his upper lip but ended up poking himself in the nose—"just like this! My dad—father—my father taught me to grow this mustache. See it? See what I mean—the way the world used to be—"

            But the youth was gone, and Daid was alone. He stumbled to a nearby tavern, forgetting why he had even gone to the gallows in the first place.


            Lelae stood facing the crowd, using all her willpower to try to not sweat into the rapists' canvas sack. The crowd's cacophony washed over her, and she was glad there would soon be Nothing. Like a trebuchet, her body would fall into the space below, and its weight would launch their violating presence far away. Away, away, away...
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