It was after suppertime on a July night, and the heat of the day was leaching out of the ground making for a strange mix of warm and cool air depending on the beeze. I heard them moving along Pond Street at the edge of the park when all the rest of the kids were tucked up in bed. They weren’t looking for trouble, they were just bored, or waiting until it was safe to go home. Eddie, as always, was in the lead, this time with a large stick in his hands, running it over the iron fencing around the park with a clatter like something stuck in bicycle spokes.
“Come on Davey,” I heard him say, “you know you want to. It’ll be fun.”
Davey sounded less impressed, “I dunno, Chris broke his arm doing it.”
“Chris was a wiener,” Eddie pushed back his hair, “a whiny wiener. You’re not a whiny wiener, are you, Davey?”
“Then you’ll say it?”
“Yeah, go on Dave, say it, say it!” One of the other boys jumped in, eager to please Eddie. Soon, all of the group, with the exception of Eddie were chanting as they marched down the fence line to the place where one of the iron bars was missing, a short cut into the park. “Say it! Say it! Say it!”
Davey cleared his throat, “Old Mr. Corrigan hung from the tree-”
“Not now, you turd! We’ve got to get there first.” There was a thwack as Eddie thumped Davey upside the head with the flat of his hand. The others laughed as Davey ran off into the park.
I heard them pushing each other about, feet scuffling in the dust, as they headed towards the centre of the park where the gnarled old cottonwood stood beside the pond. The entire town, including the pond, had been built around the tree in the 1820s when the fur trade was gaining a foothold. Although it wasn’t really a town then, more of an outpost, even less than it was now. The tree had fine, strong branches, with one just right for hanging those who cheated on trade or did worse, though you couldn’t get much worse than cheating a furrier. The old cottonwood had seen its fair share of death. It was only natural that kids made up stories about it to scare themselves.