This is part of a novel or short story that I wrote when I was thirteen years old. I share it now with no real reason than to entertain.
I hope you will enjoy it.
Actually I will say something more. I have always wanted to be a writer and I am one now. Published on the other hand, not so much. Seems like such a faff being a published writer and I am not that bothered if I am read or not so…you know. Anyhoo, I wrote this over twenty years ago (I really hope that I have got better, ye gods), so please judge it kindly. It is what it is I suppose.
BORN TO HANG
Mister Mortimore. That was the most important thing, the formality of address. No-one called him by his forename. Always by his surname with the honorific ‘mister’. Respect that is, proper respect. It was also due to the unsavoury role he played in the little hamlet of Eame Monochorum and the surrounding district. A role that was necessary from time to time.
Not, perhaps, a role many would care to fill but Mister Mortimore was ideally suited for it. Tall, gaunt and with eyes the colour of ditch water. With a handshake which seemed to measure you for the noose, he seemed like the right man for the job.
Publicly shunned, not so much for the profession as his morbid enthusiasm for the work, he could be seen regularly walking around the countryside. A bad luck charm, people would walk over to the other side of the road if they saw him. Unavoidable sometimes, he would draw people into conversation: awkward words punctuated by awkward silences. His voice was surprisingly light and sensitive. He would talk about the changing seasons, the animals of the woods and many other things. The other side of the conversion was diametrically and tentatively spoken: mumbles, quick answers and excuses to get as far away as possible from Mister Mortimore.
As hangman, he had many responsibilities than the culling of the criminal. At christenings, it was his duty to give the new-born sprog a length of rope for the tradition of forewarning the child against wrongdoing. He also supplied the villages if the shire with coffins for the dearly departed. And perhaps the most unusual role for a hangman: sin-eating.
Sin-eating consisted of crumbling bread over the deceased during the course of a night. The bread crumbs covered the naked chest of the client and was thought to become saturated with sin as the soul left the meat framework. But there was a secret side to the sin-eating aspect: Mister Mortimore could absolve the living of their sins as well. It was one of the best kept secrets because while everyone knew of it, all were frightened of their own secrets becoming public if they mentioned it.
It was a centuries-old ritual: the sin-eating of the living. The hangman would be seated across from the client as a meal was made for him. The client, as they prepared the food, would confess their actions, secret desires or deviancy. When the preparation was finished, Mister Mortimore would silently eat the meal with his eyes firmly upon the client until the final swallow. Once the food was all gone, Mister Mortimore would proclaim them free of sin.
Perhaps this all added tom people’s ill-feelings of him. Their apprehension of the fact that he was a valuable part of the community yet also outside of it. A pariah with the secrets of the villagers constantly poured into his ear. What kind of man would be responsible for that? It was not him that they were nervous of: it was their ignorance of why any man would willingly want to be in that position.
And for all this unease he caused, he was a cornerstone of their lives. When civic matters were needed to be acted upon, Mister Mortimore was there to give advice and aid. When ignorance hindered them, it was him and his extensive library that they consulted. Life in the shires could no more go without him than a mill could without grain or a horse without shoes to canter upon. He was right in the centre of village life yet far removed from the populace.
It was many years into his tenure as the hangman of the shires when Elijah Serif entered into Mister Mortimore’s life.
It was night, the villagers had finished their work and were now at home with their families or carousing in the taverns. The harvest was freshly reaped, fields covered with the scythe-blunted crop stubble. Amidst all this came Elijah.
Mister Mortimore was at home. Sat in the inky-darkness with only a guttering candle lighting his face, his lips moving as they read the words from his journal. It was said that his journal was a compendium of every villager’s sin. It wasn’t. It was just the diary of a lonely old man, a book whose entries had been read and reread and annotated with further thoughts as the years passed. A piece of work that aided memory and gave silent companionship to the equally silent Mister Mortimore.
It was while perusing a slice of his sorry childhood, that he heard a rap-tapping at his door. This was almost unknown within the normal scheme of things. Mister Mortimore was never called out at night unless there was no other choice, Mister Mortimore was always the last chance.
Rising, creaking, out of his dark green leather chair, he answered the door to a figure that was both unknown and familiar to him.
Elijah Serif. As tall and thin as Mister Mortimore but with a pinched face made sly and tricksy by the thoughts that bubbled behind it. Honey-coloured hair pulled tight across the top of his head to a ponytail that flicked with each motion of that pinched face. Dressed in mournful black with a high-starched collar. The sparseness of the cloth created a stick think image of darkness crowned with a powdered high-cheeked head.
Elijah cocked his head and a thin toothy smile split across his tight face. ‘Greetings,’ he said, bowing deep with an elaborate flourish. ‘Do I have the honour of speaking to the master of the household?’
Mister Mortimore was silent.
Mister Mortimore was still.
Mister Mortimore was thinking and when thinking has been thought, he said, ‘Aye, I am he. Josiah Mortimore. What reasons have you for knocking at my door? Have I been called? Is there fresh sin to assuage? Pray tell your intention for night-time does not bring many visitors to my house; fewer than the day, aye, no-one bothers a gallows-man without the light of the sun upon them. Unless they have just cause.’
Elijah continued to smile. If reassurance was his reason for doing so, he failed abjectly. Mister Mortimore knew people and from what he could see of this foppish young gentleman he did not trust him. No amount of facial jiggery-pokery would dissuade him of his gut-feelings. This man was a fraud, that was clean in his mind. It was written all over him, it emanated from him, a great reek of dishonesty that rolled off him into his words and movements. But was he a danger to Mister Mortimore, mayhaps. That was the question in his mind. He had the flavour of the visitor but not the taste of intention.
‘I am most sorry, sire,’ the young man said, bowing his head. ‘I mean not to disturb you beyond dusk but I have travelled far to see you, so that is why I came a-calling. This unseemly hour unfits us both but I could not, would not, wait until the dawn. As to my intention… Hmmm… To me it is of great importance although it may seem trivial to one such as you. i bother you because my heart would have it no other way. It tears at me whilst I sleep, it murmers whilst I am awake. I am, despite, my apparent youth and vigour, worn out with emotion. Please grant me an audience with your good self and I promise to be quick.’
Mister Mortimore stood thinking, silent and as still as he was before. Yet again he had no reason to distrust this young fellow except for that nagging butterfly suspicion in his chest. This man was not right. He would swear upon the horned cat that he had the measure of him but…
‘Come in, young sir, there is little I can to do entertain you whilst you unload your soul for my ears but I have wine, bread and a little cheese, possibly pork-meat if you are lucky. Come take a seat and warm thyself upon my hearth.’
A gallow-crow could no more refuse audience than to refuse to hear the sin of one of his clients. Hunches and ill-feeling did not come into it, not into his responsibility, he was duty-bound. So with resignation, he moved aside and ushered him in.
‘Sir, I did not get your name. Pray tell.’
The man paused in the hallway, silent and unmoving as Mister Mortimore had been, turning his head in the glow of the gas-lights, a smile upon his face, he said, ‘I am Elijah Serif, my good man, and it is my pleasure to meet you, Mister Mortimore. My friends call me Lijah.’