Hangman Forest was particularly creepy that day. It was noon, and the trees looked like bony ghosts. The sky was dark and sullen. It seemed to be giving Fairmont the evil eye. It was raring to drop canisters of water onto the mountains and valleys.
Ernie was engaged in a bizarre private ceremony in the clearing with his beloved Ella. In his mind, he was marrying her. He was ditching his nagger of a wife and connecting his trigger-happy soul with the life-size doll.
“The god of one people is the devil of another,” he read from The Black Book. “Lucifer says a loaf of bread shall be taken from the house of Kochak and divided between bride and bridegroom, each to eat one-half.”
Ernie tore into a chunk of French bread with his teeth and then offered some to Ella, who was across from him and leaning against a log. In his mind, she took a bite. Then, he set down the loaf and continued with the reading.
“Marriage in March is forbidden, for it is the last month of the year.” Ernie smiled and spoke in his own words to the doll. “It’s April, pumpkin. The start of a new year. A right fine beginning for us, Ella-cakes.” Then, he returned to the text.
“A bride must visit the shrine of every idol she may happen to pass. The bridegroom must hit the bride with a small stone in token of the fact that she must be under his authority.”
Ernie then picked up a thumb-sized rock and used it to rap on Ella’s head three times. What he did not know was that two women had stumbled upon the Hangman Forest clearing and were watching this freakish ceremony unfold from behind a hazelnut bush. They had wide eyes and rattled expressions. They had no idea Ella was made of hay, fabric, and make-believe hair. They saw her from the back and assumed she was real.
Ernie continued reading. “It is the law that the bridegroom must pass a razor over his bride’s face.”
Ernie put down the text, donned his devil mask, and grabbed a John Deere pocket knife. He slashed at Ella’s face. This petrified the Peeping Toms, who believed a madman was dicing up a living, breathing person.
“Holy mackerel! He’s killing her,” one whispered to the other.
“Let’s make tracks.” The other moved, causing a rustle in the bushes.
Ernie heard the sound and was peeved. He shouted, “Who’s there?” as he caught a glimpse of the two women darting away. He bolted after them, still in his mask.