A fun ghost story: Three Bells and the Hangman’s Rope:
It’s a ghastly business when you find a man dead. It is a strange tale to tell. Indeed, one might excuse the existence of such a tale as this to the ravings of a superstitious fool. At first, I thought it was delirium brought on by the harsh and infernal weather during the heat of the mid-August day.
But, as I was also to discover, there were just too many strange facts that border on the ludicrous to dismiss.
As I said, it was a ghastly business finding a man dead. The off-color of the man’s bloated face, the strange odoriferous smells of decay starting to settle in. His purple tongue swollen and hanging on his chin. The sight was truly gruesome. It’s true what they say, once you see and smell death, you’ll likely never forget it.
But, forgive my ramblings, it is only now after my 3rd swallow of whiskey that I find my tongue loose and my memory pliable enough to tell the shocking story.
We’ve all seen a person dead at a funeral, lying in the coffin waiting to be placed in that ground where it’ll take the endless sleep. But when we found Father Enrique, he was about as far from the ground as we could dream. We discovered him hanging by the neck in the upper reaches of his own church bell tower.
We made the grisly discovery on Sunday morning. It had grown late in the morning and the sun was already starting to heat the day into what would be an unbearable hot and humid afternoon.
People started searching for the Padre once they discovered the church had not yet been opened for mass. It’s a fact, Father Enrique never missed mass. Now, some might claim that he was a devoted shepherd protecting his flock from the talons of the devil, but most people understood him for what he was.
Mind you, it’s hard to speak ill of the dead, and my entire upbringing points to the fact that people are fallible, priests included. But Father Enrique, well, best way I can put it is that the man was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Father Enrique had tastes; rather extravagant and expensive tastes, and most townsfolk knew about it even if they did not wish to admit it. People talked about his extravagances but no one dared do anything. Very few people around these parts feel it’s wise to upset a priest no matter how backward he may seem.
There even existed a rumor that he had a bit of a bugtussle with the bishop and that is how he got placed here. Nonetheless, the Padre controlled the finances of his parish with an iron fist, however, it did not escape some of us that items such as fine wines and elegant clothes would appear now and then at the post in town addressed to his care.
On Sundays, some of us could catch glimpses of his true nature when his round pudgy face, hawk nose and small eyes would take on a special glimmer and a crisp thin smile would cross his lips when he’d pass the collection plate around. Once the collection plate was back on the altar, he’d turn his back to the congregation, look at it and smile. He’d then almost immediately compose himself and place a stern look on his brow and pull his lips back into almost a snarl. Then he’d turn to the small congregation of peasant farmers and meager townsfolk and brusquely remind us how it was doing God’s will to give money and property to the church.
Gave they did. Till it hurt, and yet, somehow the church building would only just receive the necessary maintenance to keep going. Humph, I guess it finally caught up with him when the rope for the bell tower broke.
Several witnesses claim they saw him at the general store last week. He inquired into the cost of a new rope and the workers necessary for it’s installation. The store clerk told me later that when he had calculated out the estimate and given it to the Father his faced turned red with anger that no one was willing to challenge. He left the store yelling that the “Lord would show no mercy on such audacious sinners!” He made quite a scene and frightened a few people.
He had managed to leave the store still muttering to himself when he met the deputy coming out of the sheriff’s office to discover what the noise was about. It seems that once the deputy heard of the need for a new rope in the bell tower, he thought he could improve his status with the priest and make a little money to spend in the saloon. He knew of Father Enrique’s reputation and saw this a unique chance to make some easy money.
You see, two long but unforgettable weeks ago three cowboys were hung in the town’s square, for murder, horse thievery and cattle rustling. It was unpleasant to watch men dangle their last breaths of their miserable lives at the end of the hangman’s noose. But, truth told, they placed themselves into harm’s way by willfully committing their crimes. None of the three even expressed any sort of remorse for what they had done and the judge, following frontier Texas laws, ordered their execution without delay.
Usually, after a hanging, the executioner’s rope finds its place beside the body in the coffin. Its done this way simply because the rope fibers stretch under the weight of the victim and become too lax to be of any further use as an executioner’s rope. However, in this case, as I was to learn, the rope escaped it’s ignominious end rotting away in the coffin of the guilty dead.
In a turn to make quick money, the deputy removed the ropes from the coffins before they buried the bodies. He’d gone and figured that selling them to the livery stable or some ranch hand would be much more profitable than sitting in a decaying coffin. But, seeing the problem the Padre had, coupled with the fact that he hadn’t been able to sell the rope yet, he decided to take a chance.
He told the Padre that he had three pieces of rope that when tied together would make for strong rope in the bell tower. The best part, he said, was that he had to get rid of the rope and the priest could get it for just a few dollars.
Well, I can only imagine the thin smile and gleaming face Father Enrique must have conjured up when he saw the profit in this endeavor. Cheap rope and cheap price meant more money left over. So they installed the rope without delay and the workers got enough pay to not ask questions about it.
It is at this part of the story that I shudder to think about the horrid results of this foul plan. How did the rope end up tightly wrapped around the Father’s neck and his body hoisted like some limp flag to the top of his own tower? The bells are heavy cast iron and any extensive pulling or tugging on the rope necessary to place his body high in the tower that night would result in a ringing bell and alerted townsfolk. Yet, no one heard a sound.
As if this strange and macabre tale wasn’t enough to separate rational thought from reason, I now have a deputy sitting in my jail after confessing his involvement in the theft of the rope. He jibbers and squawks at the walls all night. The look in his eyes and the fear on his face is palatable. He screams curses and at one point we even had to restrain him from doing himself harm. He keeps yelling “Don’t ya’ll see?” “It’s a curse!” “Them dead cowboys want their rope back!”
Am I supposed to believe such ramblings of a clearly insane man? Am I to launch an investigation in my town about 3 ghosts killing a priest with the rope they were hung with?
No, No… I’m the sheriff. I have to pull myself together and come up with a logical explanation. I’ll place a reward for information about the vigilantes who caused this, that’s what I will do. But still, there were no witnesses to the deed and in the back of my mind like the scraping of long nails on a rusty door, the shivers in my brain cause me to question…
How did the body of Father Enrique get up there?
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