A mysterious groove in the ground

Hanging Tree AA

Mike and Linda Baxter sat in the shade of an enormous tree. It was mid afternoon, and their three children jumped, jiggled, and squirmed in place, waiting for their picnic meal.

Linda dished up food and Mike poured drinks. Ralphy, the oldest of the three boys munched on an ear of corn while he waited for his plate. A kernel of corn fell from his mouth, bounced off an edge of the table and fell to the ground.

He noticed that it had landed in a dusty groove in the earth, “Hey Dad, there’s a groove in the dirt over here; wonder what it’s for?”

Mike moved around the table and looked his son pointed. “Oh! That’s Bailey the Rapist’s boot mark.”

Linda’s head snapped up, “Mike; the children, don’t talk like that please.”

“But it’s true honey. That groove doesn’t ever go away; it’s been in the ground right here, for years. People try to erase it, fill it in, and it always reappears.”

“Oh, puh-lease,” Linda said.

“Scout’s honor,” Mike replied. “You wanna hear the story about Bailey the Rapist?”

Ralphy’s eyes twinkled, and his cheeks brightened,  “All right Dad! Yeah. Let’s hear it.”

“Mike,” Linda glared at her husband.

“S’okay, honey, they wanna know, I’ll clean it up a little and tell ‘em. After all, it’s a true story.”

“What’s a ape-iss?” The youngest boy asked.

“See Mike I told you,” Linda scowled.

Ralphy fired back, “I’ll tell you later Junior, Eat your corn and let Dad talk.”

Mike swallowed some potato salad, “Well boys, it happened a long, long time ago. There was no city around here then, and hardly any buildings either. This was a part of the countryside; Just trees and wild life.

There were a few homesteads though. They belonged to folks who worked hard and settled the land. It was tiresome work, but all the kids helped out. They had big families then…”

“Mike,” Linda cautioned.

Her husband nodded and continued, “Most of the homesteaders had families with more than 10 kids. And the kids worked hard too. At the end of each week, they’d all try to attend what was called a “social” at the biggest barn owned by one of the homesteaders. Most of the young men and young ladies, for miles around, tried to attend whenever possible.”

Linda’s fork clunked on the table, and she aimed her puckered lips toward her husband. “It’s okay honey. Just listen,” he said.

“Yeah Ma, let dad tell the story. It’s getting’ good now.”

“Well, late one night, while the music was playing and most of the people were dancing, a fellow named Bailey carried a teen-aged girl away from the barn, and assaulted her.”

“MIKE!” Linda shouted.

“Relax, honey. That’s as bad as I’m gonna get.”

“Yeah buddy, it’s getting’ good now. Go ‘head, Dad,” Ralphy said.

“When the music stopped so the players could take a breather, a few of the men heard the girl’s screams coming from behind the chicken house. They ran to investigate and discovered what had happened. Fortunately, the young girl was alive, but seriously traumatized.”

“What’s tommaside?” the youngest boy asked.

“I’ll tell ya later, eat more corn,” Ralphy said. “What happened next, Dad?”

“They tied Bailey’s hands behind his back and loaded him into the back of a buckboard. That’s what they called a wagon they hitched to a horse. And the men all drove him out to right here, this very spot, under this big old tree.”

The youngest boy put down his corn, grinned wide, and removed a slice of chicken from his sandwich, “And they all had a picnic!”

“No son, they didn’t have a picnic.”

“Mike…” Linda warned.

“Don’t worry honey. You see boys; Bailey did something very, very wrong. And he had to pay the price for his transgression.”

“Transmission,” the youngest boy said, examining his chicken.

“No,” Mike continued, “Bailey broke the law, and criminals who break the law, sometimes must pay the ultimate penalty.”

Mike paused, waiting for someone to speak. None of the four people at the table uttered a sound. He sipped some iced tea and continued.

“They parked right here, under this tree.”  And he looked up.

Linda and the three boys all followed his gaze, all the way up into the tree branches above their picnic table.

“They made Bailey stand up in the back of the wagon, and put a noose around his neck. Another fella tossed the end of the rope over a low hanging limb, and tied it off around the tree trunk.

A man wearing a wide brimmed black hat, held a big book up in the air. He shouted to bailey, “Pray for forgiveness, my son. Pray HARD!”

A whip cracked, and the buckboard lurched ahead, leaving Bailey hanging by his neck.

Everyone at the picnic table went silent, and nobody chewed a morsel. Ralphy turned his head toward his father, “So, Dad. What about the groove in the ground?”

Mike nibbled a brownie, and sipped a little tea, “It was horrible son. The rope stretched, and when Bailey’s full weight dropped, his neck stretched too. Oddly enough, the toe of his right boot touched the ground, and he kept trying as hard as he could to stand up and relieve the tension on his neck.”

Linda gasped.

“But since his hands were fastened behind his back, it was too hard for him to balance on one foot. His boot toe kept digging into the ground. He kicked fast, from left to right, and the dust and little pebbles flew everywhere. Funny sounds came from his throat as the noose pulled taut. His whole body jerked up and down several times, like a yo-yo.

“One of the men carried a lantern and approached the dangling man, ‘He’s wet his pants.’ He called.”

“MIKE!” Linda shouted.

Her husband smiled and bit off a corner of his brownie, chewed and swallowed. “What you see, right here, on the ground by our picnic table, is what remains of the groove carved by Bailey’s boot. That mark is permanent now. It’ll stay there forever.”

Ralphy leaned over to one side and looked down again at the indention on the ground. “Cool. Cool story, Dad.”

Later, on their way back to the car, Ralphy asked his youngest sibling, “Do you still want to know what a rapist is?”

“Nah. Never mind. I’m still trying to figure out what a salted lady is.”


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