by William Ables
The Hangman’s Tree was my masterpiece. It was my Sistine Chapel, my Pietà, my Big Mac.
They said there could be nothing frightening about a tree. The trunk was a broken husk, I twisted it, freezing it in a moment expressing pain.
They said a tree was pure, not unsettling.
I spun its branches out, sprouting them like grave gnarled fingers.
They said a tree was worshiped, a symbol of sustenance.
I crafted an opera of arboreal horror.
I was hailed as a genius, I was celebrated as the next great
thing in Terror. Everyone wanted to know what I would imagine next, what fresh fear I would craft to surpass my self. I tried to go in new directions, confident that I could recapture the magic in an entirely different medium. I immersed my self in rock formations, I assembled antediluvian caves miles beneath the sea and terrifyingly monolithic desert mesas. I worked with a self assured fervor.
None of it worked. Everything I tried was being done by someone else, someone who was fresher and unhindered by expectation. The critics smelled blood and began to circle; before I knew it I wasn’t even a has-been, I was a “who?”.
Generations passed, new masterpieces appeared: the dead glow of a dying fire, the empty silence of a becalmed sea, winter thunderheads with towering faces in them. The speed made my head spin; the world of Fear had more than me passed me by, I didn’t even recognize it anymore. I watched as my vocation became a game of one-upmanship, what had horrifying been became cliche when it was re-imagined for the hundredth time. The world became crammed full of trite spookiness.
I was alone, brooding in the Place where fears come together. It’s an elaborate Grand Guignol that brims with every horror you can imagine. There is also a bar.
“Ghosts,” I said to a fellow drunk.
“Where?” he asked.
“No,” I said, “I think we made a mistake. Ghosts were our
“What? You’re crazy, spooks are our bread and butter. Everything is built on them! People become ghosts, and then they start scaring regular people. It’s a perfect machine.”
I grabbed a bar napkin and started writing. I crossed out ideas, I wanted the perfect description.
“What are you writing now?”
I took the idea to BM. He’s the be-all-end-all in the world of Terror, CEO and God all in one. He approves every design change and new initiative, nothing does any scaring until it goes through him first. Anyone in Terror can get an audience, and he’ll review your proposal. If he approves then it goes right into real world production. If he doesn’t approve, you are promptly wiped from existence. Along with your proposal. He likes it when you bring copies.
“Good morning, sir.” I laid the booze smelling napkin on this desk.
He didn’t look at it, “You’re the Hangman’s Tree fellow, aren’t you?” I nodded.
“What the hell have you been up to?” he asked. “Not wasting your time with my bad ideas, sir.”
He picked up the napkin and glanced at it. “Ghosts were my idea,” he said.
“I know that.”
“And you want to get rid of them, do away with our greatest success?”
“Yes. That’s my idea, sir.”
He handed me back my napkin and reached for his desk phone, “Did you bring copies?”
I glanced at my shakily written words again:
William Ables is a writer from Tennessee where he currently lives with his wife and their two dogs, Dr. Jones and Athena. Being Southern born and bred, he has a love of all things humid, gothic, and tragically weird.