A story from the series: Folk Tales from the Twelve Dominions
“Hey Tomestone, the hangman knows you’re coming,” casually announced a teenaged spirit messenger wearing a white sundress with pink daisies. Her thick, brown, curly hair bounced on her shoulders. With the forest floor beneath her bare feet, she teetered back and forth from the boredom of being mostly ignored. She spoke to a woman chopping wood outside a circular twig hut with a fern covered roof, the dark green leaves draping over the edge. Tombstone wore black work pants and thick black leather suspenders over a tan knitted sweater, the kind with a tall collar. Her hair was ash-black and short, but it never got into her face.
The forest smelled of mulch gathering moisture before the first winter snow, and almost over powered the scent of pine and sage. The chill in the air was ominous of a hard winter to come. Without acknowledging the messenger in the flower dress, Tombstone lifted up her axe and stuck it into the chopping block. A large ash-black stallion stood beside the hut. Walking to him, she brushed the side of his neck and spoke softly a location. She lifted herself onto his black saddle. The fearsome horse heeded her signal to jolt into a gallop, and they sped toward the small village beyond the forest.
Slingstone Village is nestled in a mountainous valley surrounded by tall pine trees and many sheer rock cliffs. They are a self-sufficient village in a territory that fears them. Although they trade woollen garments for grain before winter each year, only a few towns will trade with them. Slingstone villagers seem strange to the rest of the nation: many of their people see ghosts.
The sun shone brightly, warming the ground in the morning. Tombstone rode through a concrete tunnel onto the flat, grassy arena of a large concrete colosseum. Every seat was empty. In the center was an elevated wooden stage with a guillotine and space to hang five criminals. On the ground beside the stage, a few guardsmen chatted, waiting for three men to die. She couldn’t hear their voices. A horse and buggy with an empty trailer waited at-the-ready to transport the bodies to the grave. The hangman stood on the stage. His gloved hand rested on the lever. To his left, three men writhed on their nooses. Pretty soon, their transparent souls fell slowly from their bodies.
“All thieves,” spoke the hangman as she neared the stage. Three bodies dangled, now still. Three souls…