A dark tree; crooked branches; gnarled trunk.
From a low branch, a figure hangs. Wrists, stretched high overhead by metal bands, are bound so tight blood drips from where they cut into flesh to splatter across a broken body and onto the ground.
Around the tree, a mob is gathered. They shout obscenities and mock the hanging man. Occasionally, a stone strikes his torn and battered frame.
A road runs nearby. In the distance, a cloud of dust rises from its surface. More are coming. The end is near.
Byzmon turned from the screen of the viewing console and spoke to the agent beside him. “It looks like this thing is about to get pretty rough in a couple of minutes.”
“Yeah,” Callergron growled. “I hope they rip him to shreds.”
“Uh-huh,” Byzmon muttered through gritted teeth. “I hate these Radicals. This kind of death is too good for them.”
His companion grunted his assent. “I’ll go get us some ja. It’s going to be a long night,” he said and walked out of the room. Byzmon turned back to the glowing vid.
The other Protectors had arrived, their knives and scythes gleaming in the moonlight. The crowd’s shouts rose to a deafening crescendo. As if of one mind, they began to move toward the man hanging broken from the tree.
His voice stopped them like a cold slap across a face. They stood, stunned, and listened.
“People,” he cried, “Why do you do this? Don’t you know that you are mere pawns in an even larger game, that you are just doing the work of Them?” Then, with a strength that belied his suffering, the broken man told them a story.
Sometime later, exhausted from his speech, the man paused and hung his head. The crowd waited, captured by the words of the prisoner. They strained to hear what he would say next. In a voice barely above a whisper, he rasped. “Why do you walk with death when you can live?” he gasped. “You are loved. God loves you!”
The man watched the people below him as they tried to digest what he had said. “God,” he prayed. “Please give them a sign.”
“I will,” a Voice answered, sweet and refreshing. “I love you. Come to me, all who are weak and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” The air seemed to fill with an unseen Presence.
“I love you,” the Voice said again.
The people heard. Startled, they looked around in fear. Then, as one, they fell trembling to their knees as if struck down by a mighty wind. Hearts so recently filled with murderous intent began to change, prodded by the words of the hanging man and that other even more disturbing Voice. Tears began to stream from once dry and bitter eyes.
Somewhere, in the dark depths of their minds, the people remembered the God of their forebears and humbly asked for forgiveness. They knelt, transfixed, as their sins were washed away and their souls cleansed as white as snow. Then they remembered the Christian hanging from the tree.
“He should live!” they cried, rising up as one to cut him down. Many gentle hands held the broken man as he gasped for breath, but they knew they were too late.
The Christian raised his head from where he lay midst the crowd and whispered, “God bless you, my children.” And then, with a shudder, he was gone.
Byzmon sat at the console, his eyes glued to the images on the screen. He watched as the crowd took the man away from the tree and marched with him down the road. In a little while, the sound of their weeping died away. No witnesses to the strange incident remained, except for an old tree and an old soldier.
A figure loomed in the doorway of the room. Two steaming cups of ja rested in Callergron’s hands.
“Byz,” he said. “I’ve got your…” He stopped in mid-sentence, for the agent was nowhere to be seen. The chair beside the console was empty and the view-screen had been shut off. Puzzled, Callergron glanced around the room and noticed a door leading to a small alcove standing slightly ajar. He walked toward the door cautiously and as he drew near it, he was surprised to hear the soft sound of someone crying.
“Sir?” he said, wonderingly, and stepped through the door.
“…for the PM Communique. Two members of the VidPol were reported AWOL today. There is no clue as to their whereabouts, except a note that was left on their security console. It read, ‘Free at last.’ These traitors are to be considered extremely dangerous. A worldwide search has been called to…”
Written April 30, 1984
Originally posted here August 2010, reposted with edits today.
Part of the Cold War Kid collection.
A Friday Campfire Tale