A flash of black. Almost as fast as a blink though just a touch slower. Next, a loud snap as something broke, that couldn’t have been my neck…could it? I would expect it to hurt, at least a little…The soles of his weathered boots struck something hard sending jolts up his legs and into his body as suddenly he realised that it must have been the rope that had snapped as the rest of his body collided with the ground, hard. Not quite as hard as I would have imagined, he thought as he braved opening his eyes to look up at the top of the stairs he had just hanged himself from. Please, please, no! I hope I didn’t wake up the kids! They don’t need to see this! He opened his eyes but had to close them again to adjust to the brightness, I didn’t leave the light on did I? Oh no, I must have woken them up!’ He panicked as he heard footsteps softly approach. He scrambled to sit up pushing his hands into the ground whilst trying to think of a reason that could possibly explain what had happened to Daddy, what has driven me to do this unthinkable act…The ground felt bristly and soft, it felt like grass! Grass? He puzzled as he turned onto his side and looked at the blading patch of grass he was lying on. The frayed blue nylon cord still wrapped around his neck snaked off to the side. Quickly he turned his head toward the sound of approaching footsteps, a feeling of deep worry beginning to settle over him.
The figure came into focus slowly. It was a man. Slight of build with a long, well-kept beard and wearing a blue robed outfit, the kind that you see Middle Eastern men wearing. He looked down on him and smiled, although it wasn’t a kind smile. It was a smile that sent chills through his body. As if he were laying on a block of ice, as oppose to a soft grassy bed. The man stopped in front of him, his head blocking the bright light that had been preventing him from opening his eyes, where am I? He thought as he noticed that at least ten feet behind the stranger was a tree with a thin rope hanging down flat and still. The end was frayed and as he returned his gaze to the robed man he noticed that he too had a loop of white rope around his neck, with one end in tatters hanging loosely down the front of his chest. He struggled to get to his feet and warily accepted the hand offered out to him.
‘Come with me, my friend’ spoke the robed man as he turned and headed toward the tree behind him. Reluctantly he followed, though he made sure to keep his distance. He could feel the rope dragging along, skimming the blades of worn grass as they topped the small hill and headed down toward the tree. He fished for the loop around his neck to remove it.
‘Please…It is not time to make that decision.’ He said as he turned and gestured for him to continue following his lead.
‘Where are we going?’
‘Head towards that tree, Matthew’ he said pointing over the shoulder of Matthew, who in turn stopped in confusion, how far away is that tree?
‘How do you know my name?’ Matthew asked
‘I know the names of all who commit my Sin’ he smiled, though again it was not a kind smile. The robed man continued heading down the soft slope towards a small stream that almost ran invisible through the grass, though the robed man leaped over it with ease. He showed Matthew the way, who still followed looking at his guide with a reserved fear. The tree stood tall and dark at the top of the hill before them, it never seems to get any closer! He thought with a grumble as he began to make his way up the hill. He looked around himself once more, though he could not see any further than ten feet away. Whichever direction he tried to stare at, the light shone too bright. He looked down at the grass and followed his feet as he began to notice the grass become thinner and shorter again. The robed man stopped suddenly in front of Matthew almost causing them to collide.
The tree glowered over them and Matthew could feel ‘eyes’ watching him, like the eyes of the accusing. He tried to look away but he couldn’t as he felt his stare being drawn back to the dark and sinister branches that loomed over him. Suddenly he could feel something different, something that melted his heart, the sound of his children crying. Screaming in the distance and Matthew could feel their horrible suffering and pain. He wanted to go to them, but tripped as he took his first step and fell onto a patch of dried brown earth, where the roots of the great tree had broken through the surface momentarily before dipping back down. A metallic sound caught his attention as he landed with a crash, though again no pain. He turned to see what he had fallen over. The robed man bent down and picked up a small leather pouch and shook it lightly making the metallic sound ring. Is that money? Thought Matthew as he realised the crying had died away and all that remained in this strange place was him, the tree, the robed man and the money. The power coming off the small pouch was like nothing Matthew had ever felt, as he found himself being pulled up from the ground and dragged across the short dry grass. The robed man began to slowly empty the contents of the pouch and Mathew felt the smile pulling across his face as he gazed at the dozens of gleaming silver coins that rang beautifully in his ear. He stretched his hand over to the robed man, who looked at the coins in his hands with a sadness that disturbed Matthew. He looked up and into Matthew eyes, questioningly as the crying returned. Matthew lowered his hand and turned, trying to find the crying voices. The brightness was all around and Matthew could not see a thing, yet still the robed man held the silver. Matthew eye’s occasionally being drawn as he searched the white washed wasteland with a yearning he could not describe.
‘Where are they?’ he shouted at the robed man who looked on unreadable.
‘Where you left them’ he replied taking a step towards him.
‘Where I left them?’ he repeated ‘ahhh!!’ he gasped as he realised what had finally happened. The robed man’s smile vanished completely as he held out the silver coins. The crying and wailing sound of heartbroken children echoed through Matthew’s mind as he felt a repulsion toward the coins and a repulsion toward the robed man.
‘I am dead?’
‘Can I return, can I go back to them? They need me!’ cried Matthew dropping to his knees as he realised what he had done. A picture flashed through his thoughts to accompany the sound of utter anguish. The robed man pointed one long finger toward the tree, without turning toward it.
‘You must hang, again from that tree. You must hang and die, in order to live. Though if you hang…you will feel everything. Every Sin committed will die with you and you will suffer beyond anything you could imagine.’ A coldness filled him as he listened to the robed man’s warning. ‘Yet take the silver…and have peace and a wealth to satisfy you for an eternity’ the silver seemed to glow with a warmth, as the voices had disappeared and Matthew could feel his fingers and hand begin to reach out towards it. Quickly forgotten until a slight breeze brought the misery and despair back with the sounds of his children crying out for him. The robed man reached across toward Matthew’s out stretched fingers, lightly brushing the end of his thumb, sending Matthew into a sense of euphoria which was broken by the sound of another. A female voice that joined the chorus of grief. Debbie!! He realised as he slapped away the bag of coins and gripped one hand on a low branch of the tree and began to climb. The robed man scurried away after his treasure and Matthew scaled the tree to the long horizontal branch which had several colour of ropes tied around, all swinging wildly. Frayed ends flapping in the wind. Carefully he bent down and tied his blue nylon cord around the thick white branch, stripped of bark by the ropes of others he presumed. The robed man stood at the foot of the tree, this time looking up at him with a smile on his face. A smile that felt right for Matthew as he finally stepped off the branch and the world turned black.