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The Taxman 

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Nobody accused Moad of generosity. The unlucky man who collected taxes for the Romans did not garner much in the way of sympathy or goodwill from the community.

No one minded him during his nightly walks. People do not watch a taxman’s movements. People are only interested in the movements of the good and the true, because it is nice to see them stumble.

He carried two skins with him, one of which he took small sips from as he made his way through the winding alleyways and drainage tunnels of the city. The tunnels smelled of shit, but he didn’t mind.

Moad emerged to a clear night. Fogginess encroached on the edges of his vision. The fog had happened to his father before him, and it would happen to him. He had saved enough money to live, once they took away his work.

The familiar groans and the sharp smell of urine greeted him at the hills outside the city. He silently set about his work among the crosses and the dying men.

His feet were still sure, and his arms strong. He climbed up each cross, whispering words of comfort to the dying men, and giving them sips from the second skin. Most said nothing, a scant few thanked him. Then they died. A poison his wife mixed each night with mulled wine. It dulled the pain first, then they slipped away.

Vinegar filled Moad’s skin. It was made from the apple tree that grew in front of his small home. He sipped it carefully; it always cleared his head, cleared a little fog.

He came to the last cross. A dying man, who looked down at him and smiled. There was a great tension in his muscles, and Moad could see that he was still holding himself aloft. He didn’t rest his feet on the block. The block was the final insult; so low that to rest on it meant only pain. Men often drowned in their lungs.

“Have you come to end my life?”

Moad said nothing, moving to the base of the cross.

“I heard about you. They call you the Angel.”

“You must be silent; the guards might become curious, and then I will be of no use to you.”

“Angel. Angel.” The man grimaced, and his arms shuddered. “I suppose you may call me…Carpenter.”

Moad climbed the pole, hung next to the man, and reached for the skin with the wine.

“What is in your other skin?”

“A drink my wife makes for me.”

“May I try it?”

Moad gave the man a sip from the flask. Vinegar dribbled down his bearded chin.

“That, Angel, is only vinegar. But, I thank you for it.”

Moad offered the other flask, and Carpenter shook his head.

“We must see how long my arms hold out.”

Moad climbed down. Nobody had refused him before.

“It isn’t finished yet.”

Moad turned from the hill and made his way back to the city. His eyes were clear.

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Thomas Wells is a writer from Wyoming. He now lives in Portland, Oregon, where he’s working on getting a novel published and trying to perfect his pizza crust recipe.

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