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The Boot-Tree Man

Pigeon Wynd, crooked and narrow. Night-lights flicker in glass cases, wind licking the candles, playing dip-and-twist with the flames. Shop signs creak on rusty poles and the barber’s red-n-white spins in glee. Half way up the street, a window taps in its frame. The baker thinks he hears a dog whining, feels sorry for it out in the snow. He listens to the night, watches the stars, then rolls himself out of bed. The frost on the windows is beginning to melt and it’s not so cold now the stoking-boy has fired the ovens in the cellars below. The Watchman is at the door, his staff raised slightly, his cloak well-wrapped, half-bottle warming in his pocket. The baker puts on his whites, opens the door and motions his brother in. They always spend the while together, one beginning his shift, one ending, sitting quietly at the big table having a sup, chatting vaguely about their days and nights. It is pretty much the last thing they’re expecting when the dog from next door comes flying out of a window, a high-pitched howl as it hits the parlour roof and falls with a ghastly thud and crack onto the paving stones of the baker’s backyard.


They both of them leap to their feet and the stoking-boy scurries up from the cellar, hair full of debris dislodged from the ceiling as the dog hit. The baker gets to his back door and has momentary trouble opening it because he’s forgot to slip the bolt. He wrenches it hard and it slams back into the parlour, blown by a gust of wind which extinguishes the candle on the table. They stare at the dog, eyes rolled back in its head, blood seeping from its nose, yellow foam on its lolling tongue and haven’t crossed the two paces to reach it when another form comes hurtling at them through the dark, and right above their heads two feet bounce and recoil, bounce and recoil, all the while kicking and convulsing, as the man in the noose above tears at his throat, the rope tightening all the while, his windpipe slowly crushed and closed, blood trickling from the corners of his eyes and through one perforated eardrum. Far up above in the silent black of heaven, a shooting star traces an arc across the sky and disappears, then another, and another as the Pleiades play out their games.

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