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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10. Full disclosure

 

It was dark. My eyes were still closed, but I knew it was so. I lay perfectly still under the blue blanket, not yet ready to be awake. The quiet whisper of the wind in the corners seemed so peaceful. I sought the heat next to me where I knew Redeye was resting.

There was nothing.

My eyes flew open. Instant panic ripped through my chest and I choked on my breath.

“Easy there, princess.”

Frantically, I sought for the source of his voice. There. I felt my body relax as I fixed my eyes on his silhouette in the window. He leaned his back against the frame, staring at the air in front of him. Seeing things I could not see.

“Why are you not in bed?”

“Wasn’t ready to sleep yet. Sometimes I like being awake at night. The city is so much more beautiful when it sleeps. See.”

I came to his side. Outside the window, London spread around us like a giant, dwelling animal made entirely of different shades of grey. Every now and then its skin was pierced by a lantern or a candle in someone’s window. From our vantage point, it looked as if the light came from inside the beast.

“You see it.”

His hand came to rest on the small of my back, caressing it lazily. Together we looked at the creature that was London. The gushes of its breath made me shiver.

Later, much later, when the sun had brought the beast alive with little critters watering their horses and setting up market stalls, we had breakfast. It was a simple meal of bread and wine, but I thought I had never tasted anything quite so heavenly. Redeye found an old shirt for me to wear, for “Much as I appreciate your dainty little frame, you aren’t of much use sick.”

After we had eaten, he returned to his spot on the windowsill. I sat on the bed, watching him watch the world. He reminded me of an eagle, looking for prey. He seemed so strong. Every feature conveyed that negligent, elusive power that had made a whole cottage full of people believe him when he lied to their faces.

“You are troubled.”

I started. He had seemed so far away in his own thoughts. I had not expected him to pay any attention to me.

“Talk to me.”

“It’s just…”

I sought for the right words.

“I have never known anyone like you. I did not think I ever should, I… I could not imagine you if I had tried.”

He laughed.

“And this is a problem?”

“No! No. I just don’t understand why you bother with me. What I mean is – I know I did the whole naked in public thing and that it matters to you. But I don’t understand how it proves me worthy. Or why you cared for me before that.”

He looked at me. He looked at me for so long that my skin began to itch and sweat broke on my forehead. I was just about ready to combust, when he finally spoke:

“You need to understand something, Maryann dear. You are not worthy. You may never be. But you have potential, and that is why you are here now.”

“But…” I stammered. “I let go. You wanted me to let go and I did. I thought…”

“You did beautifully.”

He rose from the window and came to the bed. His arms engulfed me, curling me up like a child.

“We have a great journey ahead of us, little princess. Not many people can dance with me. I think you can.”

I closed my eyes and listened to the music of his voice. The longing it woke in me was so forceful it almost felt like pain.

“How did you know I had potential?”

I felt greedy for asking. The story he told me was so beautiful, I wanted every last bit of it.

“I didn’t, at first. You seemed like a spoiled girl who got a kick from flirting with the bad guys.”

His words stung. It was exactly the kind of thing Lucy would say. Or had said, several times.  The thought of Lucy brought on a wave of guilt I had not anticipated. What was she doing right now? Serving tea for my father, chattering inanely about how I would certainly return soon? Had she heard of what had happened? She must have. There was no way she could not have. I shook my head as if to rid myself of the thoughts. It all did not belong here in this room. Now is now.

“What made you change your mind?”

“That day when I found you in the cottage. When the thug tried to rape you.”

“Oh? Enjoyed playing the hero, did we?”

He returned my smile.

“Of course.”

I studied his face. There was something more.

“That is not the reason, is it?”

“No.”

“What, then? Tell me.”

He closed his eyes. Breathing through his nose, as if trying to catch a scent.

“You never thanked me for saving you.”

I blinked, once.

“I am sorry,” I said. “I wanted to –“

“No. You didn’t. You never thanked me for saving you, because you were never truly grateful. Because part of you wished I hadn’t.”

“That is absurd! Are you saying I actually wanted to – to give myself to that man?”

“No. You didn’t. But that is exactly why you wanted him to take you. You wanted to be hurt. You wanted to be hurt so badly you could not be mended.”

“You are lying,” I said. But he was not. I knew deep in my soul that he spoke the truth. The realization shook me like a quake. I pushed myself off his lap, not wanting him to touch me. He let me go without a word. I curled up in the other end of the bed.

“You couldn’t have known that. You don’t know how I feel about… about anything!”

“Oh, but I do.”

His voice was quiet, assertive.

“Look at me.”

I looked up.

“Describe me. Tell me what you see.”

I frowned. Knowing Redeye, I felt certain there was a catch – a hidden trap somewhere in his request.

“Just do it.”

“I… I see a man. With long black hair and bronze skin. Tall. Skinny. With soft lips and… And red eyes.”

He smiled.

“When I look at you, I see passion. I see longing. I see a will to follow your instincts and fear that you will live trapped for the rest of your days. I see your anger. I see your pain. I know every little whim that goes through your head, even when you don’t know it yourself. You asked me, once, what is wrong with me. This is it.”

There was no explosion this time. No flash of sensations overwhelming me, no sudden outburst of reaction. Everything was deadly quiet as the world disintegrated around me. I saw Redeye. I saw his witch eyes and how they had stripped me of my innermost secrets from the very beginning. I did not for a moment doubt that he was telling the truth. I wished I could.

The Devil is everywhere, our priest said. He takes on familiar shapes and tries to lure us from our path. We must be strong against him. With the light of God we shall recognize him and through our faith we shall fight him. But the Devil had not been hiding from me. He had stared me in the eyes the whole time, and I had surrendered willingly.

Redeye did not say a word as the world fell to pieces around me. He simply waited for me to reach the conclusion. I guess he knew before I did. When I got up and left, he did not try to stop me.

 

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