On the western bank of the wide river, whose waters rushed strong and cold during the spring and remained treacherous even during the hottest summers, grew a tree older than the memory of even the oldest residents of the nearby town. Its branches brushed the sky with rustling green leaves during the growing season, promising life, just as during harvest time their lifeless husks whispered of the dead when the chill wind passed through them. Roots that ran deeper than any person could imagine were rumored to be anchored in Hell itself, and no lovers had ever been able to carve their initials in the tough, deep, ashen-grey ridges of its bark.
“Cursed,” the village elders proclaimed, “haunted.”
Yet, it didn’t stop the younger generations from heading down to the river on the anniversary of when the tree supposedly acquired its curse, or asking the old folks their take on the situation.
“Some say it was a pair of lovers, caught by the girl’s father as they were trying to run off. When the father had the boy strung up on the tree’s branches, she threw herself into the river, and the father’s bitter tears tied him to the spot. You can hear him crying there,” said one old man, his toothless grin extremely satisfied by the wide-eyed listeners.
“Feh, I heard ’twas an outlaw and his childhood sweetheart. She waited years for him to give up his wicked ways, and he finally did, but on the night they were to meet and begin their life together, his past caught up to him. The lawmen of the time ran him down on their horses, stabbed him near a hundred times, and parted his head from his shoulders as she wept over his corpse. It’s her that hangs from that bedeviled tree, taking her own life in a fit of grief,” proclaimed an elderly woman, who spent much of her time rocking back-and-forth on her front porch.
“Hah! Young lovers and childhood sweethearts my aching foot,” yet another man, a nearly ancient fixture in the small community, spat. “No good dissenters, is more like; caught in the act of planning a coup beneath the rattling, bare branches of the tree. By midnight, everyone gathered to watch the various forms of execution. Most were attached to weights and thrown into the river, a couple were flayed alive as their small children watched, a few were staked down and disemboweled to die slowly, while the youngest, thirteen summers old, was spared such pain by being beheaded.”
“At the very least,” the soft-spoken voice of the woman who ran the general store asserted, “the ground around that damned tree is soaked with the blood of the innocent and guilty alike. Nothing good can come of such a thing–best you keep away.”
But they never did. Fueled by foolish provocations and the desire to impress their crushes, the children–usually teenagers–would sneak out and head to the tree.
Most times nothing would happen despite numerous claims otherwise, and they would go back home incredibly disappointed, but ready to scare the next generation into the time-honored right of passage.
Sometimes, however, when the moon was a disc of ebony in the sky and the wheel of the year began to turn toward darkness, a lone, misguided person might be granted a meeting with the souls trapped in the heartwood. It was then they could whisper angrily or woefully of their crimes, injustices, and demises to the living, as they were doomed to experience the moment of their deaths over and over.
Most fled for home and spoke to no one of what happened. Others, though, succumbed to the madness of the ghosts and were never seen again. Marked as runaways, no one searched for them. However if one dug deep enough near the roots of the tree, just a breath farther than most felt they needed to, the corpses of the missing would be found–an expression of horror forever etched in their features. While their souls joined the legion of dead to fall beneath those branches.
So if you’re asked, or taunted, to visit the tree, maybe it would be best to accept the good-natured ribbing of your cowardice over the loss of your life and eternal soul? But then again, who’s to say you’ll meet with the dead? Take a chance and roll the dice…if you dare.
I happened to find myself accompanying someone to an office, and decided to spend my time writing while I sat and waited. Not only did it give me something to do, but it also helped me think outside of my normal areas of inspiration.
Here is what I wrote that day:
The air conditioning worked double-time to keep the room at a subarctic temperature, and the frigid air blew directly at the couch where I sat. It was a squashy, red pleather sofa, and it wasn’t necessarily too tall as I was too short to put my feet on the ground when sitting all the way back.
There was only one painting hung on the wall, and the colors on the canvas were a reflection of the couch and walls. Three of the walls in the office were a pale yellow that matched the odd, contemporary building in the picture. The fourth wall was the color of azurite, and it was a toss-up whether it matched a view of the sky or a body of water just beyond the building in the picture. The rest of the art had a bold stripe of red on the right side that correlated with the couch, but didn’t seem to play any particular role in the picture. Just one of those paintings you picked up because it matched the decor and not because it had any particular meaning, I guessed.
The reddish-mahogany frame of the painting complemented the desk, which took up almost a quarter of the room and sat in the corner right across from the door. It was in the shape of a half square, and looked as though it may have been two separate, matching pieces.
Aside from the painting the rest of the walls were bare, and lent credibility to the woman’s story of having just moved into the office. The other clue was all the boxes stuffed in the available spaces beneath her desk. A few personal touches dotted said desk: cards, a small award made of glass, and a picture that was difficult to discern from my place on the couch. The rest of the desk held functional work items: papers, filing systems, a printer, and a laptop that exhibited a flair of her personality by being a neon violet.
She sat at a table of smooth, real wood–none of the pressed, fake wood here. Its stain was light and appeared slightly aged, with metal bits nailed onto the corners as accent pieces. The legs of the table were a dark brown, almost black, metal, and I imagined that at least one person a day would smart their shins when they sat down.
The six chairs at the table had the only contrasting color in the room–a grey fiber with buttons pressed into the backs. They had no arms, which wasn’t a problem for me as I tend to speak with my hands, and the legs of them were black.
The only hint toward the woman’s profession stood toward the ‘back’ of the table–a set of scales. They were in the center of the table until everyone say down, which was when she had to move them so everyone could see each other.
The most interesting piece of furniture, by far, was a hutch with a multitude of drawers, and it sat in a sort of extra corner of the room. The wood was a medium brown between the darker color of the desk, and the lighter one of the table. The largest drawers on the bottom were three up and two across, with a smaller section up top that allowed for a small shelf. The top portion had many tiny, rectangular drawers, twenty-one in fact, and they sat on top of four small, square drawers.
The drawers on the bottom had old burnished metal handles, and the drawers above used small, tongue-type handles that you’d hook your finger under and pull to open. The wood was dinged and scratched in places that suggested consistent use, but not necessarily neglect.
When the woman took something from the drawers she unconsciously ran her hand, almost lovingly, over the wood. I imagined it must have been a pain getting it into the office, but it clearly held fond memories that made the effort worthwhile.
Atop the hutch sat two silver birds, an antique, stained glass lamp that couldn’t have been more than six- or seven-inches tall–more pretty than functional. There was also a glass plate with horizontal stripes of various blues, greens, and one stripe of cream, that sat in a curled metal holder. The final piece was on the shelf above the bigger drawers, and it was a flowery, metal business card holder.
The convenience of the office location in relation to her home made her enjoy the space, though she’d stated that beyond that the just was still out on whether she truly liked it–pun intended. The joke made her and me smile briefly before she continued to work.
As I’d walked up earlier I’d seen her through the window just prior to knocking. She’d kicked her shoes off beneath the desk, and was moving them restlessly across the computer mat and the purplish Berber carpet, whose highlights complemented the couch.
Her job involved more sitting down than anything, and her desk/computer chair reflected that. It had the rolling wheels, hence the computer mat, and looked to be comfortable and made of black pleather.
Well that was all I got before we had to leave, and even though it doesn’t hold any story, plot, or point, world-building is something we have to practice at, as well! Sometimes how a writer describes a place can make all the difference in how well a person connects with a scene.
All the links for my stories can be found here!
The blog has been up for a couple of years now, and I figured it’d be a good time to compile the story links again! Click here to visit the page. All the chapters will have links to the other chapters for the story at the bottom of their pages. Enjoy!