This flash fiction was written when I answered a request by author, Katharina Gerlach, who wanted flash fictions were the main focus was a Tree. This was part of a Writing Advent Calendar.
In my continued effort to push my comfort zone, I am sharing this here on my blog as well. Hope you enjoy! Any thoughts, feel free to leave a comment.
The tree appeared one day.
As the sun crested the horizon, Jonah looked out of the window to find a mature tree, dense with foliage in the corner of his garden. Leaves the colour of moss rustled in the winter breeze.
He staggered out, pulling on his coat against the chill that tore up his spine when he realised just where the tree had grown. His thick-soled boots crunched through the snow.
Already a neighbour was standing by his gate, staring in awe at it. Old Kennitt tipped his cap as Jonah reached the tree. “Ain’t ne’er seen a tree like that,” the old man murmured. He leaned over his walking stick, back bent.
Before Jonah could speak the old man touched his hand to the divinity pendant around his neck and shuffled away towards the village.
Alone with the tree, Jonah walked around its thick trunk. Didn’t dare to touch it. Kennitt was right, the tree’s species was foreign to him too. Bark dark enough it almost looked black. The canopy of branches tightly packed and strangely-shaped leaves.
Brushing some of the snow from its base, Jonah bent down and pressed at the earth. It felt hard. Winter earth, cold and compacted. He swallowed, his mind racing to what the tree’s roots were most likely tangled around. Secrets long buried and now marked by this tree.
Wracked with fear, Jonah trudged through the snow to his outbuilding. The wood had swollen in the damp and he fought with the latch. When finally inside, he donned some heavy goat-skin gloves and grabbed the old axe he used for splitting logs.
The snow had started falling again by the time he walked back up to the tree.
Holding the shaft tightly, he swung it at the trunk. The edge of the blade sank into the bark. A dark liquid oozed from the wound, spreading over the snow. In panic he yanked at the axe. The loud snap of the shaft breaking echoed out. Jonah stared at the axehead. Already the metal appeared rusted and brittle as if it had been there for years.
“You can’t cut it,” a soft voice whispered. Jonah spun around to find a young woman standing in the lane. Kennitt was beside her. She gave Jonah a smile. “It’s a blessing tree.” Her green eyes turned to gaze over the trunk in reverence. “It has come here to answer our needs.”
It was then he noticed the blue robe she wore beneath the winter coat. A grey tattoo of a fruitful tree could be seen on her neck. It marked her as one of the Sisters of Old Woods. They worshipped the earth, said to commune with nature and its spirits.
After the Sister’s visit, news of the tree spread. Jonah soon found gatherings of people visiting his land. Their arms ladened with offerings. Nuts, breads and even carved statues. All were laid at the tree’s roots.
On the Winter Solstice, Finn, the Sister who had proclaimed the tree, held a ritual. All those who gathered gave offerings then hung ribbons on the branches. Upon each ribbon they wrote a wish. Simple things, humble things.
Jonah stood at the back. At first he had been nervous about these gatherings, but then the people of the village had started to look at him with reverence. After all it was within his land that the tree had appeared. When maidens of the village had given him shy looks, Jonah had suddenly seen a greater benefit.
The next day, news of the wishes being granted spread. Kennitt’s crooked back had straightened. Jeremy’s lost sheepdog found its way home. The Parson’s cow had begun to produce milk again.
So when the night drew in Jonah waited until the last person had left, before creeping out with a lantern to the tree. In his hand he held a small carving. He found it in the basement. Cared little for it, wasn’t even his but would do as an offering. Placing it down amongst the gifts he reached up to tie on his ribbon. Crudely written ‘give me a wife.’
He smiled then. Thinking back to the pretty maids who had been offering prayers just that day. Any of those ladies would be suitable.
Turning to leave, the tree gave a loud crack. To his horror, he watched as a wound wrenched up through the centre of the trunk. Dark fluid poured out, covering every offering, except his. It cleaved in two and within the splintered wreckage, something moved.
Paralysed by fear, he saw an arm reach out. A tangle of black hair covered the head but as it pulled its body free from within, he saw the scars that littered its naked back. Jonah froze as he watched Liana, his wife, crawl from her grave. The grave where he’d put her after a drunken rage.
“You asked for a wife,” a voice said. Jonah turned wide-eyed to find Finn. She stepped into the lantern’s light.
“No, this isn’t real!”
“The tree came here for a need. A need for justice.” She swept past him then, drew off her coat and lay it over the trembling body of Liana.
As Finn helped Liana up, she looked back at the small carving. The one she had given Liana as a gift, when her sister had gotten married.
“I’m afraid that is not enough to grant the wish you made.”
Jonah felt something touch his ankle. Looking down he saw the thick roots that had crawled out of the ground, snatch at him. As he screamed, they wound up his body and pulled him back to the tree’s opening. Wood creaked as it closed around him.
“A life for a life.”
© Ari Meghlen 2017
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Thanks to everyone who reads my flash fictions, since I have always struggled to share my writing, it means a lot to me that you have taken the time to read this. I am continuing to push my boundaries so there may be more Flash Fiction to come.