On a Limb

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Review Chain

A Halloween decoration sparks a confrontation.

Submitted: October 29, 2017

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Submitted: October 29, 2017



On a Limb


By Harris Proctor


Skeleton arms reached up from the ground around the front walk.  Spiders the size of king crab clung to the house.  Webs covered the windows.  An animatronic witch endlessly stirred her cauldron out on the lawn.  Beside her, a projector threw a never-ending cascade of ghosts across the home’s façade.  I was terrified, but not of the decorations.  Not entirely.  If I was my son’s age, I would love it.  I thought it was overkill.  Especially the black guy hanging from the tree.


I paused at the bottom of the front steps and heard creepy organ music complete with spectral groans.  I had never set foot on this property before.  I had barely spoken with the owners.  A pair of Styrofoam gargoyles stared down at me, their empty eye sockets filled with shadow.  I felt the need to turn and go back home.  My house was only a thousand feet away.  I’m a good guy, I told myself.  I haven’t done anything wrong.  This isn’t my fight.  I thought of my son.  What was I supposed to tell him?  This is our town.  Our neighborhood.  Our street.  My son was the reason I came.  He was the reason I couldn’t turn back.


I climbed the stairs. It was a beautiful home.  New construction, but built to look old.  I envied their wrap-around porch.  It was festooned with rubber zombies.  One of them gazed endlessly into an antique television housing that had a rapid-fire strobe light inserted behind the screen.  There was a lot of effort put in to this display.  It made the black man swinging from a noose even more unsettling.  They put thought into this.  I reached out and pressed the doorbell.  A blood curdling scream erupted from a speaker.  I jumped.  The door opened.


“Hi,” he said.  He recognized me.  He pointed to the novelty doorbell and grinned.  I couldn’t remember his name.  I had met him when we moved in.  He introduced himself that day.  Tom.  Dave.  Joe.  A painfully normal name like that.  We had exchanged occasional waves over the years.  Sometimes He’d be walking his dog while I was mowing the lawn, or vice versa.  I remember him saying that he’d love to have us over for drinks sometime.  We never took him up on it.


“Hi there.  Evening.  Hi,” I said.  I stood for a second with my mouth open, trying to think of what to say.  All of my thoughts had flown away into the night.  “Um, hello.  How are you?”


“Fine,” he said as he looked me over.  The grin drained out of the corners of his mouth.  “Is there something I can help you with?”


“Help me, yes, well, maybe to do.  Ah, yes.”  For a flash I wished that English wasn’t my first and only language so I could explain away that nonsense.  I took a breath.  “I was wondering if you could take down the body in the tree.”


“Body?”  Laughter bubbled in his belly like a stew coming to a slow boil.  “Pal, that’s a Halloween decoration!”


“I understand that.  I know it isn’t an actual human body.  It’s a decoration the shape and size of a body.  And I’m asking if you would take it down.  Please.”


“What’s the matter?  You don’t like Halloween?”


“I’ve got nothing against Halloween.  I think it’s fine.  It’s great for the kids.  And that’s why I think you should take down the body.  It’s offensive.”




“Yes,” I said.  I didn’t understand how he didn’t understand.


“How is that offensive?”


“You have a black man hanging by a noose from a tree in your front yard.  He looks just like Uncle Ben.  I think most people would find that offensive.  People familiar with history would think that was offensive.”


He slowly folded his arms and leaned against the door jamb.  His eyes filled with gargoyle shadow.


“So what are you?  The political-correctness police?”


“Political correctness?  You have a lynching for a lawn decoration!  That’s not politically incorrect.  That’s indecent.”


“What do you care?” he asked.  “You’re not even black.”


“I don’t have to be black to find racist things inappropriate and unacceptable.”


“You’re the racist,” he said.




“You heard me.  You’re the racist.”


“How do you figure?”


“You assume because he’s black that he got lynched.  Maybe he killed himself, did you think of that?  You don’t think black guys are allowed to kill themselves, so that makes you a racist.”


“I’m sorry, but ‘maybe’ he killed himself?” I asked.  I was starting to sweat.  I could feel numbness in my fingertips.  The anxiety of a stressful, hostile and idiotic exchange was wrapping its electric grip around my spine.  You should have stayed home.  I took another deep breath.  “’Maybe’ he committed suicide?”


“Maybe,” he said.  “Maybe a witch did it.  Who knows?”


“You know.  You hung him…”


“Hanged,” he said.




“The past tense is ‘hanged’ when you’re referring to hanging a person.  Genius.”


“I thought it was a decoration.  Decorations don’t get hanged.”


“They do when they’re people-decorations,” he said.  “That thing cost me a fortune.  He got hanged.”


“You…”  I struggled anew for coherent English.  I put my palms to my forehead.  “People going past this house won’t think that he killed himself or that a witch hanged him.  They will see a lynching.  Because that is exactly what it looks like.


“It looks that way to you, you politically-correct, racist communist.  You’re like a little Hitler running around a perfectly peaceful neighborhood and telling people what to do.”


“That makes absolutely no sense.”


“Listen, Adolf,” he said as he stood straight and inched closer to me.  “Here in America we have a little something called the First Amendment.  And here is how it goes.  I have the right to say what I want, when I want to.  I have freedom of expression.  And that includes hanging what I want from my tree.  You don’t have to like that, but there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.  So go back to Russia and get the hell off my porch.”


“I’ll get off your damn porch.  But you aren’t the only person who has the right to free speech.  I can speak my mind when I see racist crap.  Your right to free speech doesn’t mean I have to shut up and listen to you.”  I started to turn when a thought flew into my head out of the darkness.  “And another thing!” I shouted.  “I am a property owner in this community.  And your blatant racism threatens the property value of my home!”  With that I turned and walked down his front steps.


“My free speech is worth more than your property!” he yelled over my shoulder.  I heard his front door slam.  I looked up and saw the dummy hanging from the tree.  It rocked gently in the breeze.  I walked until the house was out of view.  Then I broke into a run.


My wife was wrapping up bath-time for our son when I got home.  She asked how it went.  I shook my head and said I’d talk about it later.  I asked if I could read our boy his bedtime stories.  We read a book about a friendly ghost trying to be one of the “good guys.”  The two of us lay curled up in his bed.  I watched him drift off to sleep, fighting to keep my eyes open.  As they shut, I heard my neighbor’s last words echo in my head.


“My free speech is worth more than your property.”


I dreamt of a diminutive lawyer.


“Your honor, if the plaintiff’s expression is of greater importance than my client’s property,” the little lawyer began.  “It follows that my client’s expression is of greater importance than the plaintiff’s property!”  I heard distant mumblings and the banging of a gavel.  My eyes opened.  The gavel turned out to be the clock in the hallway.  It was dark.  Three in the morning.  My wife must have found me asleep in the kid’s bed and decided to leave me there.  I tiptoed downstairs and made my way to the basement.  I grabbed my stepladder, bolt cutters and work gloves.  I had a plan.


What about a disguise? I wondered.  He’ll know it was you, but what could it hurt?


I went to the oversized bin that held all the old Halloween stuff.  I found my medieval-themed costume from a few years back.  Once I was outside, I pulled the executioner’s hood on and trudged back to the neighbor’s yard.  I went along as quietly as I could, staying close to the trees and in the shadows.  It was so quiet.  Only a faint rustle of dry leaves or the occasional buzz of a car on the highway across the river.  I crept onto my neighbor’s property, my pulse racing harder than before.  I set up the stepladder and climbed to the top step- the one they tell you not to stand on.  I had to.  It was the only way to get to the rope.


The dummy looked amazingly life-like.  For a second I considered the possibility that the maniac had taxidermied a real black guy.  The look of terror on his face was creepy as all get-out.  It looked expensive.  Crap like this could depreciate the value of your house by tens of thousands, I told myself.  I stood as tall as I could, straining to reach the jaws of the bolt cutters around the rope.  I was starting to sweat under the hood.  As I squeezed the cutter handles together, my feet slipped.


I threw the cutters so that I wouldn’t land on them.  I grabbed the dummy as I went down and landed on him instead.  The house erupted in all of its Halloween glory.  The witch started stirring.  The zombies started groaning.  The projector sent the ghost cascade swarming over the building.  There must have been a motion sensor somewhere.  I had to hurry.  I gathered my ladder and cutters and started dragging the black guy by the noose.  He was heavy.  I headed for the woods.  Once I was in the shadows, I glanced back to the neighbor’s.  The porch light was on.


“I have a gun!” he yelled. 


Perfect, I thought. I’m gonna die over this.  I ditched the cutters and ladder and slid through the undergrowth toward the river.  Dried leaves were everywhere.  I kept dragging the black guy along.  The more we moved, the more noise we made.  The more noise we made, the faster we moved.  I was on the verge of hyperventilating, but I kept the hood on.  By the time we got to the water’s edge, I could hear my neighbor in pursuit.


I threw the black guy into the water.  I hoped he was buoyant.  He was.  I climbed onto him, laying down in a bizarre embrace.  I began to paddle along with the current.  That was when the first shot rang out.  I heard the bullet hit the water ten feet from me.  I rolled off the dummy and swam to shore, finally ditching the hood.  I looked back and saw the next two shots hit him in the chest, puffs of smoke rising from his wounds.  I tore through the trees and across my back yard.


I stood in the living room, soaked to the bone, staring out at the street. I triple-checked our home-security system.  Finally convinced that my neighbor wasn’t coming to get me, I changed into some dry clothes.  I brushed my sleeping wife’s cheek and went back to my son’s bed.  I was exhausted, asleep in minutes despite the lurking fear that a man with a gun was after me.


I awoke to find my son staring at me, his eyes wide.


“What are you doing, Daddy?”


“Just sleeping.”




“Yes, son?”


“Are we the good guys?”


“We’re trying to be.”


We both rolled over and went back to sleep.


© Copyright 2019 Harris Proctor. All rights reserved.

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