For a time, a quiet
excursion to exotic ports was quite exciting. But after a while it all became a little
tedious - a little sameish. This Estate was now becoming that way with its quirky,
tiresome inhabitants and sense of frustrating cliquishness. Still, it was a place where
odd things happened and the occult was almost a way of life, and that suited him just
Listening quietly, observing now, he had followed
them easily. Guile was second nature to him. It was in his blood, but it was the blood of
others he had on his mind today. Firstly, though, came the research. Facts were precious
here and gleaning information was a lengthy but rewarding experience. He had, for example,
recently discovered that the grieving widow was not in quite as much turmoil as she
appeared to be. She was, in reality, neither forlorn nor destitute and he would have been
happy with just a quarter of the money she had squirrelled away. Right now, however, he
was observing yet another argument between the obnoxious lady from the mansion and the
equally uptight scholar. Fuelling this little tête-à-tête was useful and it amused him.
He cared little over what they were bickering, just that they were. It also sounded like
the stuck up bitch had a new animal to replace the mongrel he had poisoned earlier.
Pointing the finger at the scholar had been easy, and he needed a scapegoat because next
time the stakes would be substantially higher.
He paused then. Something wasn't right. He didn't know what but
he knew he must leave. Trusting his instincts had got him this far and had saved his skin
at least twice recently. The first time, while observing the widow he had almost been
discovered by the thief. Luckily this particular Artful Dodger was an amateur. Had her
stealth matched her ambition, she may well have been the first resident of the Estate to
lay eyes on the mysterious Hangman. It wouldn't have done her any good, of course, for she
would have died before a breath left her lips. That would have been a pity, for she had a
role in things to come as well. The second close encounter had involved his next door
neighbour - the middle aged, self-pitying ex-rock star. The man had certainly heard
something that night. The question was, had he seen anything? Probably not, but it didn't
pay to be uncertain.
The man vanished. Seconds later a bough snapped, drawing the
attention of the squabblers below. Must have been the wind they thought. The ghostly
assassin crept silently away on a path long travelled yet showing no sign of human
Off an ancient, venerated Mayan manuscript he sustained unending
fear. That was how he lived his invisible life - in accordance with the ancient and
powerful doctrine. He relished the text's extrapolated vision of a future world filled to
the extreme with total, unadulterated dread, fear and, above all, death. It appealed to
that ineffable calling within him and drew him inextricably into a life of subterfuge and
shadows. An irascible heart tempered by a heightened sense of awareness and self
preservation left his whole being laced with irony, and it was that ironic part of himself
that lead to his next devious move.
* * * * * * *
A blackbird singing a melody. A bullfrog crooning the bass. The
wind whistling a descant. An opera of nature that went unheard by the occupant of the
darkened room. Dave Villesent shrugged his shoulders in a vain attempt to appease his
itchy neck. It only made things worse, however, as the thick rope around his throat
scratched him even more. With his hands bound behind him only his legs were free to move
and, he thought dryly, he was nowhere near nimble enough to scratch himself with his feet.
Maybe in his younger rock-n-roll years. Those times were long gone as the Dive Shop owner
sat alone in the dark trying desperately to slow his frantic pulse rate. He had no idea
how he got here and that was worrying enough to begin with. Trying to think, he was
momentarily blinded as a light flashed on. Squinting, Dave just made out a silhouette.
"Who are you?" he managed to stammer. "Why," said the figure in a
voice that sounded eerily familiar, "I'm you." The man stepped forward into the
light. Dave was shocked. This man was the spitting image of himself. "I don't
understand." Dave said, his heart rate climbing again. But then he did.
"Realising the situation, Villesent?" the Hangman
"I'm in the Hangman's House."
"And you plan to, what, replace me?"
"Not your concern."
A pause. "You won't get away with this."
The Hangman laughed. It was Dave's jovial chuckle, just devoid of its usual humour.
"And here I was betting that you were man enough to avoid using that awful
cliché." Dave said nothing as the Hangman took another step towards him. God the
resemblance was uncanny. "I'm you now Villesent. Even the self-absorbed witch can't
tell the difference. I've just endured an hour of backgammon with her. Neither she nor her
cat were any the wiser I'm afraid."
"You're the Devil." Dave spat, suddenly gaining courage.
"No," said the Hangman, "But he's on my list." A penetrating stare.
Then a tug at the rope. Dave was forced to stand up on the chair. The rope was tied off.
"Do you really like backgammon?"
"Yes." Dave said, struggling to get the word out.
"Well I can't stand the game." The Hangman kicked the chair away. Dave didn't
struggle long. The Hangman turned from his victim and walked calmly away. "I really
hate backgammon." He said to the darkness, "That, and poetry."