Tongue (Flash Fiction)

There is a man on a gallows whose tongue lolled out of his mouth even before he was hanged. He is unsympathetic because of his tongue and other oddities, such as walking with a left foot hitch and speaking as if he can’t get that lolling tongue out of his way, which wouldn’t have been so bad—we can have sympathy for a defective—but what he said through his obtrusive tongue was usually lies, so we are not so disturbed that he is getting hanged today. Lied about the wrong person, we assume. Offended the wrong ears. Or maybe it was that one time he told the truth and the one time somebody believed him that got him on the gallows today. In any case, we are glad to be rid of him.

We see he has a note in his pocket. It’s about to fall out as the hangman tightens the noose around his neck. He inclines his head toward it and says something urgently through his tongue. He is terrified, naturally, we give him that, so he’s making even less sense than usual, but we know, and the hangman knows, he wants someone to read that note.

Dead men, or just-about-to-be dead men, deserve one final wish, so long as it’s not an evil wish, so the hangman obliges, grabs the note and reads:

“I am Lucifer in the flesh and God has got my tongue. He pulled it so hard the last time I teased him for losing at checkers that he ripped the muscle and I haven’t been able to draw it back in the whole life I have been trapped in this limping body. I thank the hangman in advance and I thank all of you watching for giving me this dramatic new beginning. Out of this ugly carcass I will be restored a handsome devil with a silver tongue I can keep in my mouth, for heaven’s sake, and I can tease and tattle again as eloquently as I was made to do. You all do me a favor this day and I thank you. Hang me quickly! My tongue is sandpaper dry and I’m dying to be dead!”

The hangman frowns and we see the paper trembling in his hand. We are a superstitious people, we don’t mind telling you. We won’t even have decorative devils on our damper pulls because we worry so much about inviting him into our houses. Though those damper pulls are awfully cute, we can’t risk it! So how can we risk releasing the very devil now? What do we do with him? He’s probably lying, but the devil is the best liar, isn’t he? And this would be the very best lie.

We are a God fearing, fearing people too, and if God trapped that rascal in this body and pulled his tongue out, who are we to kill him and have the undertaker respectfully lay that tongue back in the empty corpse’s mouth?

The hangman looks out over us and we look at each other and back at him, and though we are looking at him and not each other now, we all know we are nodding our heads. Let him go. Let God’s punishment stand. Let the flesh be a prison. Let the tongue go so dry it eventually altogether falls off. Up with God’s will and down with this man off the gallows which, we think, must be the hard way God intended.

The hangman, his name is Collin incidentally, nice fellow, lifts the noose from around Lucifer-in-the-Flesh’s neck and Lucifer jumps down off the gallows, spritely as a schoolboy playing hooky. “Don’t worry,” he says, “I can untie my hands myself.” We hear that perfectly despite his tongue. We also hear perfectly his rattling laugh as he hightails it, long fingers working the knot, off into the desert.

-M. Ashley

(No one would believe it, so I had to take a picture. When I originally wrote this, before editing, it came out to exactly 666 words! All by itself. Ha! Wicked cool!)