The Man in the Hanging Tree: Redeye

He told her he knew her deepest desire. He told her he could read dreams in her eyes that she did not even dare whisper to the night. He told her he could make them all come true.

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1. Tricksters and Queens

The first time I met Redeye, I was in the small cottage outside of town. My friends lived there, Tim and George, and I used to come around whenever I could. There was always such a lively spirit. People were drinking and playing cards till long after dawn. On this particular night we were playing Tricksters and Queens. We played that every night, really. It was a wonderful game where the players relied completely on their ability to cheat. I usually won.

“Household of spades,” I announced, as we sat around the small table that one October evening.

The man next to me roared his triumph.

“Trickster!” he yelled. He threw his cards on the table for everyone to see. The Queen of Spades was grinning at me like a simpleton.

“Pay up,” Tim demanded. His eyes were gleaning. It was seldom that anyone took me down, and they were all relishing the moment.

“Guys,” I protested. “You know I don’t… You know I can’t –“

“If you play, you pay.”

It was the one next to me again. I did not like him. He was large and sweaty and the smell of his rotting teeth mingled with beer and tobacco in his breath. I was just about to tell him I couldn’t pay, well knowing that it would probably end in violence, as someone knocked on the door.

“I’ll get it!” I shouted, scrambling to my feet before anyone had time to react. The door was old and did not quite fit in the frame. I had to shove at it a few times before it sprung open, sending me tumbling after it.

“Oh, I am sorry,” I began. “It’s just this door, it’s…”

The words dried in my mouth. I stood there, hand still on the door, staring wide-eyed at the man in front of me. He was tall. That was the first thing that registered in my mind. But then his eyes caught mine, and I felt everything around me grow dark. It lasted only an instance. Then Tim appeared behind me.

“What’re you doing still standin’ out here?” he said. And then: “Redeye! Long time no see, eh? Well, come in, man!”

I was still frozen in place, as the man greeted Tim and walked past me. I could hear them talking, but their words seemed just a blur. I shuddered.

“You coming, lass? It’s pouring out here.”

Was it raining? Yes, I suddenly realized. My clothes were already soaked through, and I was shivering from the cold. I allowed Tim to take me inside. The door protested as he pulled it shut.

“Just like you, disappearing for ages. Well, it’s good to see you, old friend. Where’ve you been? Beer?”

He was talking to the stranger again. I kept my eyes on the floor as they chatted about old days. The stranger’s voice was surprisingly soft. Still, there was something off about him – though standing in the dense air of the cottage, I was unable to remember what. Tim told some joke, and their laughter made me bristle.

“What’s wrong, little lass? You know, Redeye is the uncrowned king of Tricksters and Queens.”

My head snapped up at that. For just a moment, I locked eyes with the stranger. I had not imagined it. They were truly red. It was not natural. Part of me wanted to just make a run for it. Somehow that thought made me angry. Who was he, to barge in here and creep me out? This was my place, my small haven.

“You may just have left your throne vacant for too long, Sir,” I said with a mock bow.

Redeye smiled.

“Is that a challenge?”

I never got a chance to answer. At that moment, the door was pushed open. The cold breeze hit me, and with it, the voice I wanted least to hear of all.

“Excuse me. Has anyone seen – Miss Maryann! I have been looking all over for you!”

“Who is this, little princess,” Redeye asked. “Has the nanny come to take you home to daddy?”

“Indeed she has.”

A plumb woman made her way towards us.

“Miss Maryann! You know your father does not allow you to frequent these... people. I want you home with me this instance!”

“Go away, Lucy.”

“I’m not leaving without you. This is not a place for a fourteen year old girl. Come at once! ”

And without further ado, she grabbed my arm and dragged me out of the cottage. The last thing I saw, before the door was slammed shut behind us, was Redeye’s condescending smile.

 

It would have been a shame to say that my father was pleased with me. I, his little darling girl, partying with the scum of the city. But we had been through this argument so many times. All we did was repeating what had already been said. I was just a child, I should stop behaving like an adult. Surely I knew that I was not one, and even if I was, it would still be improper for me to mingle with such lowlife creatures. I should think about my station. Did I not know how it made my family look that their daughter ran off in the middle of the night to play cards with thieves and robbers? I made no reply to any of this, but he did not expect one. Not anymore.

When he was finished rebuking me, my father sent me to bed. I went without complaint. My room was on the second floor. It was a pleasant place; the pale green of the carpet resembling the colour of the tapestry. Someone, probably Lucy, had put flowers on the nightstand. Roses. Red. Even as I enjoyed their sweet fragrance, I felt a chill running down my spine at the thought of Redeye. Tim had seemed to know him well, but still I had never heard of him. And how could he be friends with such a man? Did he not sense the danger that lay behind his smile and glittering carnivore eyes?

When I was little, Lucy had once taken me to the Cirque du Soleil. There had been a woman there, with eyes as red as Redeye’s. She had been white as snow, and Lucy had told me that she had a disease that made her look like that. But Redeye had not been pale. Not at all. His hair was black and his skin too tan to be considered suitable. I sighed and pushed the thoughts aside. The soft mattress greeted me as I lay down to sleep.

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