Friday, 28 October 2016

Happy Halloween - The Wishing Tree

Halloween short story in the October edition of The Littleborough Magazine and Shaw & Crompton Magazine.

The Wishing Tree by Denise Greenwood

The Wishing Tree by Denise Greenwood.
Photo taken at Towneley Hall Gardens, Burnley


Deep in White Star woods grows a magnificent tree. It grows out of a well that lost its source of water after a sudden shift of strata below. The trees bark is as red as blood and its branches filled with leaves as white as snow. A young girl lies outstretched beneath. Her eyes are closed and she’s smiling, cool and relaxed. The only sound is a slight rustle when she moves among a thick layer of white star flowers and leaves and when she does a wonderful perfume is released.
‘Why are you here?’ A whisper, barely audible, drifts downwards. The girl sits up and looks around with startled eyes. The whisper sounds again: ‘Tell me.’
‘I’m hiding.’ The girl can’t fathom where the voice is coming from. She shrugs but narrows her eyes to scan every branch of the tree above then they widen with astonishment. Just above her, within red bark, is a face. Although immediately terrified she can’t look away. Its deep hollowed eyes have a pinpoint of light.
‘Are you hiding too?’
Then the face laughs, its lips widen to reveal bright magenta. The voice within the laugh is no longer a thin whisper but deep echoes of sound. ‘You found me,’ the whisper returns but stronger. The face loses its smile.
‘Who are you?’ The girl is both frightened but intrigued.
‘I’m the wishing tree,’ the face replies and the girl’s eyes shine with wonder. ‘Can you grant me a wish?’
‘Yes, just one but, you must promise to do something for me in return.’ The girl nods eagerly, her eyes shin brightly. ‘You must return to me every year on this day and bring me one cup of blood. It must be human.’
‘What would I do with it?’
‘Pour it into the well around me.’
The girl thought about it for a moment.
‘I can’t do that. I’d spill a lot before I got here, see!’ She pointed to a steep rocky path down to the tree.
The tree groaned and the girl noticed that the perfume around her became too sickly-sweet. She gagged. There was foulness beneath the soft carpet she lay on. Long ropes of tree root sprang out and enveloped her. She screamed but the tree smiled again, wider and more sinister.
‘Then if I can’t have the blood I must have some of yours!’
The girl struggled, tears sprang from her eyes but as soon as one touched a root it shrank back. The more the roots tried to tighten the harder the girl cried until all but one root remained. It was tied around her shoulders. The root lifted her closer to the face. It was twisted with anger. The girl became calm and the face scowled.
‘You haven’t granted me a wish.’ Her voice was calm too.
‘What is it?’
As the tree hissed its question tiny splinters spewed out and cut the girl’s face. She didn’t flinch but the tree’s eyes widened. Its inner flicker of light grew. Then, out of its gaping mouth came a tendril of delicate new branch with a single leaf at its end. It stopped short of touching blood oozing from the girl’s cheek.
‘I wish,’ the girl’s voice faltered then she took a large breath despite the reek of decay and death around her. ‘I wish your sap was made...’ her tiny voice rose to a crescendo. 'From my tears!’
The tree’s face gaped with surprise then rage but it was too late. The root rope around the girl lost its hold and the girl fell into the carpet of leaves and flowers. She felt a tremor beneath before a deep rumbling shook her. She ran back to the rocky path and climbed as fast as her legs could carry her. At the top she turned to look down at the top of the tree. Its canopy of white flowers and leaves had once been so beckoning, the crimson of the bark like red velvet below. The flowers and leaves had withered, now brown and crispy. She gasped.
Slowly the tree sank into the well. Its leaves turned to water, salt water, the same as the girl’s tears and as the tree dissolved the well began to fill. The ground shook as the well overfilled. Water spilled out across the ground until a pool gathered then out of it stepped children. One-by-one they climbed the path towards the girl, smiling as they did so but as soon as they reached her they faded, their souls finally released.
The girl never shed a tear again and she never tried to hide from anyone or anything.

Happy Halloween!