The body swung freely on the wind, dangling from the sturdy limb of the oak tree. Crows protested shrilly to my invasion, before flapping off to higher branches.
I stepped cautiously closer, ignoring the stench and the annoying buzzing of the flies. I wanted to see who it was that hung from the tree.
No, that wasn’t really true. I desperately needed to see. I needed closure. After days of torment, I needed to know who hung from the stout branch.
My feet rustled in the crisp frost covered leaves as I approached. Finally, I could look upon the mottled face, hanging upside down from my trap. The face meant nothing to me. I had never seen this man before.
Why then had he been prowling around in my back garden, night after night?
His hair was long, greasy, and knotted in places. His tangled beard was equally unkempt. His clothes were as unwashed as the rest of him, ragged and ill-fitting. He also smelled rather badly, and probably had done so before his untimely death. There was a cloying stench of cheap whiskey, tobacco, and stale sweat about him. It made me gag and waft my hand before my nose.
I was tempted to go no closer, but I had to know. Why was he here? Was he spying on me for some reason? Was he a pervert? Had he been watching me undress each night? Had he broken into my home and stolen anything? Had he stood over me while I slept?
What had brought him here in the middle of winter? How long had he been visiting the garden while I slept, unknowing?
It had been the snow that had finally given my trespasser away. A few days ago I had woken to see a blanket of snow covering my back garden. I’d squealed in delight and hurried to get dressed, eager to be outside and play in the snow. I had plans of making a snowman as I had done as a child, when my father was still alive.
My joy had quickly turned sour, however, when I saw the stranger’s footprints in the snow.
It snowed again the following night, and again, there was fresh prints in the snow come morning.
At first I considered calling the police, but after some thought, I decided against it.
No. This was something personal. My inner sanctuary had been violated. I felt betrayed. I was angry. I wanted revenge.
I never meant to kill anyone.
Once I knew who it was, I was going to call the police and let them arrest the perpetrator … Once I’d made it quite clear that my garden was out of bounds.
In the darkest depths of my mind, I might have briefly considered some mild torture, but nothing serious. Nothing permanent.
It hadn’t taken me long to learn what I needed to know. It’s surprising the things you can learn these days, thanks to the internet.
To my surprise, the trap had worked perfectly; well apart from the fact that I now had a dead hobo in my back yard. How was I going to explain that to the local constabulary?
I analysed my dilemma, weighing up the chances of me getting caught if I said nothing and just buried the stinking tramp in my raised bed, along with the dahlias. He smelled like he’d make good fertiliser. He was already half composted as it was.
First things first. I’d have to cut him down. I hoped rigor mortis hadn’t set in, but it was hard to tell. It was colder than a nun’s heart out her.
Moving to the garden shed, I selected some gardening gloves, a garden fork, shovel, and finally, my trusty pruning shears. They were state of the art, or so I’d been told, and they had cost me a small fortune. I only ever used them once a year to prune the apple trees.
Placing my equipment in the wheelbarrow, I trundled back down the garden to where the tramp still hung from the tree like a side of bacon.
Heading for the base of the oak, I picked up the shears and started to cut through the narrow rope I’d used to make my mantrap. One by one, the threads gave way, and then with an almighty twang, the last of the rope snapped apart and the dead body crashed into the dirt.
The sound came from the dead body, and at first I thought it was just air being forced out of the lungs as the dead man fell, but then the dead man muttered, “Bugger! That hurt!”
I squealed with fright and brandished the shears menacingly as the tramp staggered shakily to his feet. He seemed disorientated.
I’m sure I’d be disorientated too, if I’d just spent half the night hanging upside down, and then landed head first in the dirt.”
Turning around, he noticed me for the first time. “Easy, Missy,” he placated. “There’s no need to get all het up now!”
Discarding the shears, I grabbed the garden fork instead and stood my ground. “No need to get all het up!” I mimicked. “I thought you were dead, for fuck sake!”
He hobbled a few feet closer, limping on the leg which was still attached to the rope of the snare. His hands were held out in front of him and spoke softly. It was like he was trying to calm a rabid dog. “It’s okay, Missy. I don’t mean you no harm!”
“What’re you doing in my garden then!” I demanded, waving the fork at him menacingly. “You scared the crap out of me!”
He stopped, taking time to finally assess the situation. With a look of bewilderment, he studied the rope, still attached to his ankle. “Is this you’re doin’?” he asked mildly.
I nodded my head, unable to answer. Adrenaline coursed through my body and I wasn’t sure if I was angry or terrified. It was one of those fight or flight moments.
“Well … no real harm done, I guess. Look, I’m sorry, I’d best be on me way …”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. To make matters worse, I still didn’t know what he was doing in my garden. Grasping hold of my courage before it fled me all together, I hissed, “What were you doing in my garden?”
“It’s been a bit cold recently, Missy, that’s all. I didn’t steal nuffin’, honest. I was just sleeping in yonder shed. A man could freeze to death out ‘ere on nights like these. I’ve seen it with me own eyes!”
For a moment, I almost felt sorry for him, but not sorry enough to allow him to continue sleeping in my shed. “I’ve already called the police,” I lied. “They’ll be here any minute. You’d best be gone before they get here, or there’ll be all hell to pay.”
He nodded, smiled softly in thanks, and backed slowly away. When he reached the far end of the garden, he turned and clambered over the wooden fence. In seconds, he was gone.
“And don’t come back,” I shouted after him, before me waning courage finally left me.
It was then that the nerves kicked in, shaking me to the core. I barely made it back to the house, I was shaking so badly. Locking the patio doors behind me, I staggered into the kitchen to make myself a strong pot of tea.
I looked long and hard at the phone. I even reached for it a couple of times, but I didn’t have the heart to call the police. I felt sure that my midnight intruder had learned his lesson.