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The Strange Town in the Middle of the Forest by Max Szredni (50)


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            All Domei could think of was the white rat and the way its vile red eyes had popped from its skull like ruby buttons. The phantom of its slippery tail still slithered across his hand, constantly causing him to rub his sweaty palm on his neutral. Around him the crowd roared nonsensically at Lelae. Domei shivered, cold despite the wet heat. He knew what must be done but did not know how he could ever make it unfold. The white rat hissed loudly. Domei moaned.
            "It was me," he mouthed to the monster. Why couldn't he speak? How was he going to get their attention? The words of the exhibit application repeated in his mind—"...guiding our movements to benefit those who we have these feelings of Love for, sometimes to the detriment of our own wellbeing—a phenomenon known as 'self-sacrifice'". He saw the Head Authority speaking to the crowd atop the gallows, reading portentously from a ribboned scroll. An occasional word of their long-winded speech would pierce Domei’s consciousness—"heinous crime...Tower-tipping...condemned...hanging"—but their words were mostly drowned in the debilitating panic that was now squeezing Domei to the point of implosion.
            The Head Authority rolled the scroll back into a neat cylinder, finished. The executioner—Caretaker Di—fitted a white bag around Lelae's head, pulling its drawstring tight. The caretaker's face—the same face that had smiled mischievously at Domei while rubbing blackberry juice on Mil's ears—was impossibly nonchalant. It was the same face someone would make while yanking a pesky weed out of a patch of petunias.
            "It was me," Domei said a little louder. "It was me." Still, no one paid him the slightest heed, his voice lost in the crowd's anxious murmurings. He cleared his throat. "It was me!" he said again, and suddenly his voice seemed too loud. A few of the townsfolk looked at him curiously.
            Up on the gallows, Caretaker Di was placing the noose around Lelae's slender neck. Domei's violent shaking was dangerously close to collapsing his legs.
            "It was me!" Domei told the monster, "I tipped the Towers!" More and more townsfolk were beginning to turn their heads.
            He still wasn’t speaking loud enough. Caretaker Di was already walking toward the lever which would trigger Lelae’s deadly descent.
            "I did it!" he screamed. "Me! Domei! Lelae is innocent!" Why wasn't Caretaker Di listening? Their hands closed about the lever.
            "Wait!" the crowd began shouting, waving their arms at the caretaker. Caretaker Di looked up at them, confused at their cries. "Wait, Di!"
            And, finally, Caretaker Di's gnarled fingers unclasped themselves from the lethal device.
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