Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Highwayman

by TLCoston

Sit young man, and listen to this tale
For the time is short and fate prevails
You ask why you are here
 I too wondered that many years ago,
As I sat in your spot and listened to an old fellow’s woe

I see you’re confused, as I once was too
You were compelled, and as for that I pity you
For your purpose is intertwined with mine
It’ll be a ghastly play we’re destined to make tonight

Notice we sit in the Highwayman’s Pub with fireplace aglow
Look around, no patrons, only shadows move to and fro
Listen – nary a whisper or a sound
Only the crackle and pop that emits from that infernal mouth

How I dread the hour, for the time is near
So I’ll make haste and explain as to why you are here
A witness to my death; that is your role
You’ll watch as the dreaded Highwayman takes my soul

Ah, your eyes widen, and a shiver runs down your back
You want to run, but you can’t
No, you’ll sit and listen, as I once did  
As did my predecessor and all the unfortunates before him

You wonder why I came here, knowing my doom
I tried to stay away, but fate knows no ruse 
So, with a heavy heart and a shaky hand
I’ll relate as to how this infamy shall end

Many years ago, I followed my predecessor out that very door
A distance kept as I was forewarned
I remember there was no wind with a full moon bright
Leaves sparsely fell on that autumn night

The old man’s gait was cautious, yet sprite
His eyes darted from left and to the right
His aged hand clasped a weathered coat at the throat
His breath quick and palpable from the cold

I dashed across the churchyard and through the cemetery gate
Tripping and falling onto a freshly laid grave
I can still remember the smell of dried leaves and moist earth
And the sweat that saturated my shirt

A giant oak stood over the hill, and to the right
The old man hesitated when it came into sight
I remember the urgency and the fright in his eyes
It was then he picked up his stride

Suddenly, I heard a snort and a neigh
It was he, the Highwayman, silhouetted on his bay
He drew his sword, then spurred his steed
At that, the old man screamed

The ground shook as hooves pounded the road
Sparks flew as shoes struck stone
The spectral animal flared a heavy breath
As horse and rider bore down on that poor, old man

Run, Old Man! Run! That’s what I screamed
My legs frozen from this horrifying scene
I clasped my mouth and prayed to God
Please Lord set this unfortunate free

I watched the old man run with all his might
His wisp of gray hair flailing in the moonlight
Askance he looked over his shoulder
Only to find the Highwayman coming closer

To the tree!  To the tree!  I yelled not knowing why
And indeed the old man seemed to have it insight
For with purpose he bowed his balding head
And strained his arms and legs with all he had

To the Tree!  To the Tree! I waved to the goal
Fifty yards and your home!
To the Tree!  To the Tree! You’re almost there!
He’s going to make it!  He’s going to make it!  I declared

It was then, horse and rider picked up the pace
And just like that, the distance weren't so great
Closing, the Highwayman’s sword glinted; prepared
I cringed, as the demon’s laughter filled the air

The old man looked back measuring his fate
It was then he stumbled and fell on his face
I gasped in horror.  This cannot be real
Get up! Get up!  The demon is on your heels!

My predecessor picked himself up and ran
Blood streamed down his forehead and hands
Twenty yards and then ten
Yes!  Yes!  You’re going to make it old man!

And just then as he made it to the tree
He turned around inexplicably
Holding out his arms and exposing his breast
Surely this can't be a taunt, or a jest.

The Highwayman’s steed slid to a halt
Gravel sprayed the old man’s dirty clothes
There predator and prey stood under a large bough
Not a word either one did spout

The spectral thief pointed his sword to the branch
At this the old man did glance
Down came the weapon with full force
Cleaving the old man gut to throat

The Highwayman dismounted his steed
As my predecessor fell to his knees
The demon stood over his prey
While watching his victim’s entrails splay

Hot tears stung my cheeks
Get away from him!  You demon thief!
My anger turned to wrath
For a weapon, I picked up a branch

Running through the cemetery, I gave a banshee scream
The Highwayman then turned towards me
He pointed his sword at my branch
And then gave an awful laugh

A mist poured from a hollow in the tree
Engulfing all three
And as I neared the scene of the crime
They disappeared into the night

I looked around in disbelief
Evidence is what I need
And to reaffirm this grisly act
Blood saturated the grass

Why did you stop? I cried out in vain
You had him beat.  You won the game.
And at that instance I looked up at the bough
Only to see where a rope had burnt its bark

So, now it’s time for us to play our part
Finish your beer for we must get a start
Remember to keep your distance, don’t fall behind
For tonight is the night the Highwayman rides. 

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