The Tale of Tie-Burn Tridds
by Chris Chapman
part 1 of 2
No one quite knew when he first attached himself to that tree. Even Old John Gumper, the oldest man in town couldn’t place his finger upon it.
“The ways I ‘member it,” Old Gumper said when I questioned him over the matter, “was tha’ jus’ one day he weren’t a swingin’ and the next day he were.”
Some folks say that the town was built round that dangling figure and that the bad luck that coated us all was his dastardly slime trail. That old Tridds himself had been hung there by the town’s founders and that every building had been constructed to purposefully surround him as a punishment. So that from every angle he would always be able to see the lives that he never managed to destroy. But boy did he still ever try to; he weren’t no quitter by no means.
Was he once a killer? Cattle rustler? Adulterer? Did old Tie-burn Tridds himself even remember what crime he had committed to earn that noose? One thing we all knew he’d forgotten was how to die, and that’s why he still swung there, dripping off a branch of the cedar, cackling on top of that hill.
Worst hit by his blight were the farmers whose land sat anywhere near that ghoul. Cattle that ate from the land by that tree suffered from its supernatural taint. Calves were born with two heads or with extra limbs growing out the side of their heads like horns.
Milk curdled within the guts of cows making it impossible to drain them. The night air was always full of groans from beasts laden so heavy with churned milk that they could barely stand. Some we could save by lancing them and siphoning the goo out like sucking gasoline from a pick-up, but even these could never produce milk again and rarely lasted longer than a year before passing away.
Probably the luckiest of the bunch died from asphyxiation. They would lie down on their sides, for a moments respite from the cannon ball they dragged in their guts and simply not be able to breathe from the sheer weight of the mixture pressing down on their lungs. One or two of ’em, they just burst, and you’d wake up to find the side of the house coated in green yoghurt and the chickens pecking around at pieces of innards.
No one could ever dream that any of this would stop, hell it’d been going on so long that any cattle market nearby would sell their stock with the tag-line ‘80% untouchable by the hanging man’ or ‘dipped in holy water and stroked by an angel.’
But all this was before the stranger walked into town.
Now it wasn’t unusual for the mayor to call a mid-week meeting in the town hall. You know how it is; misery loves company, they do say. We’d huddled together so close as a community that sanity had no means of escape though our wall of linked arms and determined faces.
For sure, Old Gumper was priceless at these turnouts. He’d get so aggravated that he’d leap from his seat — had a bit of go in him too, for an 84-year old — and he’d poke out his walking stick, sword fighting with Johnny nobody and shouting, “le’ me at tha’ sum’bitch, le’ me run him thro’ like a dawg. Took care o’ ma share o’ villains in the war, Barn, I’d do it agin ya see!”
Funny thing is, old Gumper never was in no war. Plus Barney Matterson hadn’t been the mayor of these parts in over twenty years. He gave us all something to laugh about; the whole town loved him for that.
Now I don’t know why but even before I arrived at the meeting that day something felt different. I remember how odd the sky looked, how normally it was just this mess of greyish brown, like the dregs of a coffee pot. Only on that day a line of pure blue streaked straight through that mess, clearing a way. It even turned right as though it led me directly to the town hall doorstep. I was late but even from the outside I could hear that something big had already begun.
I heard whoops and hollers as I stared in through the window, and then Mayor Buckley boomed out. “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Benjamin Berman, the saviour of Appleton!”
People whistled and people clapped, and in return the man politely bowed and waved a gloved hand. He didn’t seem all that tall, maybe only a few inches taller than me, I reckon, and as slender as me too. He wore a doozie of a suit though; pinstriped it was with a matching brown waistcoat. On his head sat a derby hat slightly cocked to the side, and on his face perched above his wide smile was a well-kempt handlebar moustache.
He didn’t look much like a hero, more like a cash clerk or a soap salesman and I sure did say this to Billy Ford as he walked out through the town hall doors. He didn’t even answer though, he just thrust this piece of paper in my hand and followed the rest of the crowd spinning and dancing down the main street. I glanced down at the paper:
Dear Civilians of Appleton, through the shrewd inquires of your good mayor it has come to my attention that your lives and indeed the very life of the land upon which you live has for too long been subjected to the scabrous whims of a supernatural entity. As an itinerant problem solver and collector of curios I feel it my right to aid you in this matter. Three nights hence the evil will be banished, for three nights hence I will take to that hill and vanquish the body of bubbling blasphemy from our plane of existence.
Yours steeled with gallantry and defiance,
B. Berman, Esq.
Three nights hence was a starless night but it was freezing cold for sure, with a wind willing to whip the skin from your bones. A full moon shimmered above my head as though it were a reflection from a pond.
Now if I’d had any sense hopping around in my skull I’d have been wrapped in blankets and toasting nicely in bed like the rest of the townsfolk. Instead I’d snuck behind a chicken coop, kissing the cross that dangled from my neck, and I’d watched and waited for the hero to show himself.
“Go get off to hell, fancy pants, go get off my land before I send down the crows to peck out your eyes.” He spoke like splintering wood, cracking at times and then at others howling balefully.
Benjamin Berman had sauntered up that hill, holding a small doctor’s bag under his armpit as he donned his gloves, straightening out his waistcoat with a swift tug as he stopped under the cedar tree. “Sorry?” responded Berman.
“Go get, stranger, afore I get rilly mad,” shouted Tridds, brandishing the brown tombstones that festered in his gums.
Benjamin Berman shook his head and looked confused. He removed his derby hat and held it to his ear like a shell.
“My dear man, I cannot hear a thing you’re saying; this wind rips your words to shreds the moment they jump off your tongue,” he said. “Be good and come down here, why don’t you? I’ve a quart of rum fit for two.”
Tridds’ throat creaked like the branch he hung upon, some would say it was laughter that crawled out. “Ya think I’m a fool, fancy pants? Ya’ think I don’t know the second I slip this hoop and touch that there ground that it won’t swallow me whole and gulp my soul down to hell?”
“Oh really,” sighed Berman and with a flick of the wrist he batted away every bad word that Tridds spat at him. Those white-gloved hands flit before him like trained doves. “You expect me to believe you have a soul?”
“Sure do, varmint, black and rich, a prize pearl for any hell spawn’s jewel box. I’m bad luck, you better believe it, un’ the devil’s helpers need all the bad luck they can get.”
Benjamin showed no sign of fear faced by that skin-dribbling fiend. He never once flinched when looking into those worm-eaten eye holes. What he did next was pull an apple from his trouser pocket and start shining it upon his thigh.
“Yes. I did hear you think yourself as some sort of totem of ill omen. Whereas what I hear is you’re nothing more than a cattle worrier.”
Tridds shot out a boot, the tip caught the brim of Berman’s Derby and flipped it higher up on his head. Casually Benjamin took a bite from his apple and watched as the leg of Tie-Burn Tridds swung back and forth, lowering in height and pace with each swing until it lay dangling under his body once more, swaying only to the lick of the wind.
“Has the tantrum passed?”
“I don’t know who or what ya are, stranger, but I do know it dun’t take a donnybrook to hurt ya. Bad luck I tells ya, I’m bubbling over with bad luck.”
“Oh dear, big bad wolf,” cooed Berman, and he tossed the apple from his left hand to his right. “Why don’t you prove it?”
Now just as that apple smacked firmly in his palm that stranger drew back his arm and let it fly, and it cracked into Tridds’ nose with blistering venom. Now if he’d have had any blood left in his body it would have poured from that blow like the falls at Niagara. Instead the head of a worm popped out of a nostril and wriggled around, most likely wondering what had woken him from his sleep.
Tridds went wild, his limbs thrashing about although without life. Kinda like as though a kid had gotten hold of a puppet’s worker and tried to make it dance. “I’ll kill ya, stranger, I’ll kill ya where ya stand. Ain’t nobody ever disrespected me in such a manner!”
“Well, come down and teach me a lesson then,” teased Berman, and below that bristly moustache a smile shone through, so big it looked like he’d eaten a crescent moon.
“Uh huh, stranger, I’ll jus’ hang here an’ curse you. Curse you up a storm, Mister suit and tie. You’ll wake in the morn with your bones all bent out of shape an’ ya stomach on the floor before ya where it crawled up out your throat in fear!”
Copyright © 2007 by Chris Chapman