Clancy woke up thick-tongued and bleary-eyed surrounded by thirty or forty frowning beards. He went for his revolver, but someone stomped on his hand and someone else took the gun from his holster and tossed it into a corner where it discharged and shot out the eye of the sheriff’s daughter, who had snuck into the lynch mob dressed as a man.
The lynch mob hoisted Clancy up on their shoulders and rushed him out of the library in an unnecessary hurry, toppling magazine racks and sweating like the fat, hearty men they were.
Once outside, the mob bound Clancy’s hands and feet with rope, and then threw him over the back of a horse. The horse, named “Thrice Gelded,” spooked and ran amok in the streets of the town until it died of a heart attack and fell on top of Clancy’s head. The lynch mob decided a cattle-drawn cart would be a more reliable option, and it was. Twenty minutes later Clancy stood on the hard earth under the hanging tree with the noose around his neck and the other end of the rope slung over a thick branch above him. He had tiny, sweaty horse hairs stuck to his right cheek The unused, unneeded rope lay in great heaps and loops on the sharp, brown grass of the plains. The crowd had grown by then to include women and children and stray dogs and all but the drunkest of the many town drunks.
Shivering despite the blazing heat of the day, Clancy requested one last smoke in an uncharacteristic, high pitched squeak of a voice. The gathered crowd was stunned. Some assumed he was mocking them, others that he had lost his mind. But that was Clancy’s real voice. Staring death in the face, Clancy dropped the false, raspy monotone he had affected on his eighth birthday and used ever since. When the lynch mob heard Clancy’s real voice, Mr. Griswuld, the town’s trendiest psychiatrist said, “Oh, he’s out of his mind with fear and also because a horse fell on his head.” Clancy didn’t contradict Mr. Griswuld’s assessment, but he didn’t need to. Most of the people could tell just by looking at Clancy, shoulders drooping, eyes already fading, that the voice they had heard belonged to the real him.
Clancy tried to smoke very slowly. The mob correctly interpreted this as a cowardly act, got fed up with waiting, and finally just yanked on the rope before Clancy could finish his cigarette, jerking him into the air, the cigarette falling down into the dry grass beneath him. While Clancy kicked his ankles together and gurgled, a few men tried to stamp out the little fire the cigarette had sparked under Clancy’s feet. Then somebody walked up and took Clancy’s boots and everyone was surprised at how fancy his socks were.
A few moments later, Clancy stopped struggling and the spectators could see the tension fall out of his body. He just swung back and forth, the branch creaking under his weight. A woman who had lost a husband and a secret lover to Clancy’s notorious temper strode forward and spat on Clancy’s knees. Then everyone sort of just stood around. Someone suggested desecrating the corpse, but Big Hotch said, “He weren’t no child molester.” Clancy’s body looked like a poorly made dummy. Never handsome in the first place, death hadn’t done his appearance any favors. A few people noticed just how egregiously they had overestimated the amount of rope they’d needed. Everything was coming to a pretty somber conclusion.
“Maybe,” Big Hotch finally said, “we shouldn’t a’ hanged ‘im yet.” A hot prairie wind, smelling ominously of locusts, blew through the crowd and twisted Clancy’s body on the rope.
“Shouldn’t have hanged him?” said the Burkett’s Boy. “Why not? He was as villainous as they come!”
Big Hotch rubbed the melanoma on the back of his neck. “Well, I don’t know,” he said. “When Clancy’s voice came out like that, so shrill and girlish, that just weren’t what I was expectin.’ And lookit those socks. A man who’d care to gird his feet in such as those knowin’ few folks’d ever see ‘em….well, maybe he didn’t deserve this.” Big Hotch turned his sorrowful gaze up to meet Clancy’s bulging eyeballs.
“Of course he deserved this,” said the Burkett’s Boy. “He was a murderer and a thief and probably other things too. Our inaccurate perception of who we were hanging does nothing to alter the fact that justice was served. Therefore, this lynching must be considered a success.”
Big Hotch and the other men shook their heads. “Boy,” said Big Hotch. “You’ve got a lot to learn about lynchin’s.”
The crowd dispersed. Back to their failing farms, failing saloons, failing churches, ruinous card games, and meal after meal of gray, salted pork.
Big Hotch was the last to leave Clancy’s dangling corpse. He reflected on the fact that more and more lynchings were ending this way. “Maybe I’ll sit the next one out,” he said to himself, but deep down he knew that when the next one rolled around, he’d be right out there in the front of the mob, his heart soaring and pounding, yelling at the top of his voice, “More rope, y’sissies! We need more rope!”