by Peter Dudley
Up here in the branches, the wind slithers under my coat and tightens around my arms. My breath freezes in my beard. This new rope scratches, but it warms my neck.
Wind whistles through the barn nearby, and ice breaks with thunderclaps on the river. Smoke escapes from the farmhouse chimney, disappearing into a gunmetal sky. As if from nowhere, one big crow flaps onto a close branch and stares me down with coal eyes and a black icicle beak.
Through cracking lips, I croak, “You never seen a man hang himself before?” My teeth chatter. I grasp the trunk to keep from slipping. “You come to stop me?”
“No.” The quiet voice visits my mind directly. The crow cocks its head to the side, its beak shut. The voice is Sarah’s. “I’ve come to witness.”
I glance to the ground, skin prickling. Sarah might be there, my shovel still buried in her naked chest, her blood staining the gray snow. Jefferson might stand next to her, headless. I whisper, “Begone, adultress witch,” and I shiver in every bone, right to my soul.
Sarah’s voice coos, “You will be warm enough, husband, when you join your brother in Hell. I bear no fault. He took me by force.”
“Begone!” I swat at the crow. My foot slips. I pitch forward and swing down in a slow arc, feel the rope cut my throat and freeze my breath. A gauzy haze drowns my vision, and the crow ascends through barren branches.