by Maurice Ogden
Into our town the Hangman came.
Smelling of gold and blood and flame
and he paced our bricks with a diffident air
and built his frame on the courthouse square
The scaffold stood by the courthouse side,
Only as wide as the door was wide;
A frame as tall, or little more,
Than the capping sill of the courthouse door
And we wondered, whenever we had the time.
Who the criminal, what the crime.
That Hangman judged with the yellow twist
of knotted hemp in his busy fist.
And innocent though we were, with dread,
We passed those eyes of buckshot lead:
Till one cried: "Hangman, who is he
For whom you raise the gallows-tree?"
Then a twinkle grew in the buckshot eye,
And he gave us a riddle instead of reply:
"He who serves me best," said he,
"Shall earn the rope on the gallows-tree."
And he stepped down, and laid his hand
On a man who came from another land
And we breathed again, for another's grief
At the Hangman's hand was our relief
And the gallows-frame on the courthouse lawn
By tomorrow's sun would be struck and gone.
So we gave him way, and no one spoke.
Out of respect for his Hangman's cloak.
The next day's sun looked mildly down
On roof and street in our quiet town
And stark and black in the morning air,
The gallows-tree on the courthouse square.
And the Hangman stood at his usual stand
With the yellow hemp in his busy hand;
With his buckshot eye and his jaw like a pike
And his air so knowing and business like.
And we cried, "Hangman, have you not done
Yesterday with the alien one?"
Then we fell silent, and stood amazed,
"Oh, not for him was the gallows raised."
He laughed a laugh as he looked at us:
"...Did you think I'd gone to all this fuss
To hang one man? That's a thing I do
To stretch a rope when the rope is new."
Then one cried "Murder!" One cried "Shame!"
And into our midst the Hangman came
To that man's place. "Do you hold," said he,
"With him that was meant for the gallows-tree?"
And he laid his hand on that one's arm.
And we shrank back in quick alarm,
And we gave him way, and no one spoke
Out of fear of his Hangman's cloak.
That night we saw with dread surprise
The Hangman's scaffold had grown in size.
Fed by the blood beneath the chute
The gallows-tree had taken root;
Now as wide, or a little more,
Than the steps that led to the courthouse door,
As tall as the writing, or nearly as tall,
Halfway up on the courthouse wall.
The third he took-we had all heard tell
Was a user and infidel, and
"What," said the Hangman "have you to do
With the gallows-bound, and he a Jew?"
And we cried out, "Is this one he
Who has served you well and faithfully?"
The Hangman smiled: "It's a clever scheme
To try the strength of the gallows-beam."
The fourth man's dark, accusing song
Had scratched out comfort hard and long;
And what concern, he gave us back.
"Have you for the doomed--the doomed and black?"
The fifth. The sixth. And we cried again,
"Hangman, Hangman, is this the last?"
"It's a trick," he said, "That we hangmen know
For easing the trap when the trap springs slow.""
And so we ceased, and asked no more,
As the Hangman tallied his bloody score:
And sun by sun, and night by night,
The gallows grew to monstrous height.
The wings of the scaffold opened wide
Till they covered the square from side to side:
And the monster cross-beam, looking down.
Cast its shadow across the town.
Then through the town the Hangman came
And called in the empty streets my name-
And I looked at the gallows soaring tall
And thought, "There is no one left at all
For hanging." And so he calls to me
To help pull down the gallows-tree.
And I went out with right good hope
To the Hangman's tree and the Hangman's rope.
He smiled at me as I came down
To the courthouse square through the silent town.
And supple and stretched in his busy hand
Was the yellow twist of the strand.
And he whistled his tune as he tried the trap
And it sprang down with a ready snap.
And then with a smile of awful command
He laid his hand upon my hand.
"You tricked me. Hangman!" I shouted then.
"That your scaffold was built for other men...
And I no henchman of yours," I cried,
"You lied to me. Hangman. foully lied!"
Then a twinkle grew in the buckshot eye,
"Lied to you? Tricked you?" he said. "Not I.
For I answered straight and I told you true"
The scaffold was raised for none but you.
For who has served me more faithfully
Then you with your coward's hope?" said he,
"And where are the others that might have stood
Side by your side in the common good?"
"Dead," I whispered, and sadly
"Murdered," the Hangman corrected me:
"First the alien, then the Jew...
I did no more than you let me do."
Beneath the beam that blocked the sky.
None had stood so alone as I.
And the Hangman strapped me, and no voice there
Cried "Stay!" for me in the empty square.
THE BOTTOM LINE: "...I did no more than you let me do."
Into the small locale of Scioto County came a different kind of hangman. Not a normal entity bent on destroying all scapegoats of stereotypical blame, but a scourge of pharmacological evil just as deadly to the inhabitants of the area. It cloaked itself in the form of a much-touted, safe prescription drug endorsed by order and justice. And, at first, it appeared to be just another "good old boy" looking for good buddies and high times.
So enticing were its qualities to the populace that soon, many people began to believe the Hangman could deliver them from the evils that pained their lives. It thrived with an intoxicating charisma as it began to seize large groups of the desperate, the jobless and the poor. Over time, many relied upon the Hangman and its rush of euphoria in exceedingly high doses.
Yet, with sober reflection, some inhabitants took note that the Hangman enjoyed inflicting mayhem and lethal destruction as it strengthened quickly throughout the dark hollows and small towns of Appalachia. For many, their association with the Hangman, now ruthless in its abuse, was short-lived No strangers to suffering, at first, many folks trusted that the hangman's seemingly prescribed proliferation in the community would harm only ignorant outcasts and expendable refuse; however, it became apparent the Hangman had no such consideration for intellect or income, social status or upbringing.
As more and more people began to loathe its noxious presence, the Hangman swiftly tightened its deadly noose of suffocating addiction and defiantly spread its greedy power base throughout Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia. It constricted its hold on those seeking pleasure, those craving relief from chronic pain, and those who wished to escape for a few moments of euphoria during their boring existence. Simply put, the Hangman had became a deadly menace of gigantic proportions with mind-altering powers of control.
So, as the glutenous Hangman fed on victim after victim, the community began to understand the inherent evil in its design. This evil, driven by overwhelming greed, had deeply entrenched itself in the very fabric of Appalachian society. Of course, it had delivered on its promise to ease the temporary suffering of many in need. Yet, soon the hangman delivered its own brand of unforgiving suffering to those who abused it. And, in turn, the Hangman's henchmen pillaged neighbor after neighbor to please their master.
After years of watching the Hangman grow dangerously out of control, the good people who remained in the community knew they should eliminate the means of their terrible tragedy. But, who would dare take this dangerous step against such a mighty adversary? The mission was fraught with danger and entangled in graft and politics.
The drug companies that produced the scourge in the first place felt no direct responsibility because the Hangman did help to ease the pain of those who followed it as directed - the terminally ill and the people in the agonies of chronic disease. But, feeling slightly guilty for some indirect participation, the companies compensated a few lucky souls from their large coffers procured by the Hangman but they still refused to participate in terminating the Hangman and kept marketing its "so-called" beneficial work.
The legislators, after much debate, responded. But being notably gregarious and eager to protect their own interests, they pondered and pondered their options. They did decide to issue new warnings and official statements of restrictions concerning the working conditions of the Hangman; however, realizing too much control might effect their constituency, they eventually distributed stately papers craftily designed with loopholes for those wise enough to worm their way through. After all the alignments and votes and discussions and amendments, the duly elected issued a series of guarded statements of condemnation from the safe halls of the State capitols. As election day ever neared, they hoped this legislation would give glimmers of hope to the voting populace. Of course, without raising taxes.
When the medical boards and pharmacy boards received their official statements, they spent many months weighing the benefits and problems of deciding what limitations and evaluations would fairly judge the hangman. After all, someone had rightfully employed the hangman in the first place, so might not others slightly more qualified want to occupy the position? Who was to decide the morality of the hangman? And, what about the cost of putting the hangman out of business? The business end of the tricky business of ridding the area of the hangman took lengthy calculations of projected margins of profit. In the end, the boards decided to create another board to study the ramifications of the proposed legislative changes.
The enforcement officers, not too fond of using rather questionable legal documents against the all-powerful Hangman in the first place, were undecided upon how to approach the problem. After all, the Hangman was huge; their resources were extremely limited; and they rather liked the way this guy was keeping other crime down with his brute force. Not to mention the added paperwork! The captain knew the HEA (Hangman Enforcement Agency) would be called in to investigate, and who would want those Federal guys nosing into the lawyers' and officers' legal briefs anyway? To err on the safe side, enforcement decided to create a new anonymous public tip line and turn the matter over to the mayor and the city council.
And, the press? Well, the press was eager for huge coverage but secretly hoped that some major snafu would occur with the entire mess because they knew "good news never sells." Reporters were busy talking with influential citizens to create the proper spin, and editorial writers were already lining up to call liberals conservatives, call democrats republicans, and call for the ACLU to defend the Hangman's rights. All in all, the situation presented itself as the perfect opportunity to make a sideshow out of a failed blessing and to offer a golden opportunity for a special report on CNN titled "You Might Be a Pill Billy If..."
The neighborhoods pretty much went on with their daily routines. People went to work (those who had jobs). Others went to Krogers and Walmart while still others rooted for their American Idol, played the lottery, and spent hours on their computers. The Hangman? Oh, he cooled his heals for a few minutes and went back to laying waste to the lives and property of those in Appalachia. Pretty soon, the public forgot about the dangers of living with the menace and rested under false assumptions, assured that their nightmares would not become reality. After all, one person cannot do anything to effect a meaningful change in society. Can they?