‘Between the boughs’

Deep in the woods grew a grand old gnarled elm tree with countless boughs and a massive, forked trunk. It's twisted roots dug deeply into the subterranean soil. It's outstretched limbs reached all the way up to the very top of the forest canopy. This 'wise old man' had seen many extraordinary things during its sequestered lifetime. From disease, fire, famine; and the bloody carnage of untold human wars. Regardless, it held all of those arboreal secrets very close to the proverbial trunk. They were sacred, unspoken truths of the forest.

One of those secrets lie far below the soil under its deepest roots. A sizable wooden chest with iron corners and hinges was buried there many, many years earlier. The old elm tree tickled the lid from all sides with its curious roots. Daily it felt along the sealed edges of the box for an opening but there was none. Since the locked box predated the life of the tree, it could only guess what was stored within. A pirate's treasure, or perhaps a human body?Whatever it was, the wooden trunk was not revealing its secrets anytime soon. If the tree unwisely divulged its location, then humans would surely dig up the mystery box for answers. The 'old man' knew that would bring about its untimely end. Mum was the word on the buried chest hidden down below.

One day a woodsman came into the forest seeking lumber to make furniture from. With its massive boughs and trunk, the majestic elm tree looked like a perfect choice. The old man had to make a split second decision. Either he had to break the oath of forest silence and entice the woodsman with a deal, or his end was all but decided. It was the elm trees only option but it had to be executed perfectly.

As trees are not apt to speak to woodsmen of sober constitutions, the old elm had to break the ice very carefully. The sharpened axe was only moments away from shredding his wooden flesh and torso. "Mr. Woodsman. Allow me to introduce myself at this crucial moment in time. I'm the large stationary tree before you that your axe seems transfixed upon. Before you embark upon any hasty actions, I'd like to suggest an equitable trade of sorts between us. One that I'm sure you will see as profitable. Can we possibly broker a deal?"

Understandably the woodsman was startled by the break in human-tree communication and etiquette. In all his years of felling trees for lumber, not one had ever spoke up or protested. Suspecting that a lurking prankster was playing a joke on him, he looked back and forth nervously. After a thorough search of the nearby woods, he was able to confirm that he was really absent of human companionship. The woodsman grinned in amused disbelief. The old elm was really talking to him! It had no face to make eye contact with and no ears to address. He wasn't even sure he was awake but he knew he was definitely alone in the woods. He decided to reply back to the gentlemanly request.

"In all my years as a lumberjack, I've never witnessed a talking elm. You'll pardon me if I appear to be caught off guard by this revelation! So, go ahead and tell me of this deal you mentioned. I assume you'd like me to keep walking through the forest until I locate another tree to make furniture from?"

The great old elm was relieved. The woodsman seemed like a reasonable man and might actually be open to a bargain to spare his bark. Now that their awkward introduction was out of they way, they could talk business. The old tree began to lay out his proposition.

"Its true that I would very much like to avoid the point of your axe but in the spirit of a bargain, both parties should get something out of the deal for it to be agreeable. If I can get you to agree to spare my life, I have something to offer you in return. Naturally, the only thing to hold two individuals to any agreement is their word. I can't stop you from chopping me down, but if you offer your word as a gentleman that you will spare me, I will reveal a financial incentive for you to do so. What do you say?"

The woodsman was intrigued. His vocation was full of back-breaking hard work with very little monetary reward. If the old elm had a mystical means of paying a self-ransom or monetary reward, it would be far more agreeable than all the work it would take to make a table or curio cabinet. While he was interested, he was very skeptical if the tree could offer anything of interest. In all fairness, it was his first negotiation with a plant.

"Before I agree to anything, I'd like some idea of what you are offering. I'm not sure the two of us have any common ground on what we value."; The woodsman replied.

"Very well. You are wise to inquire about the specific details of my proposal. If you would spare my life, I will give to you a massive oaken strongbox and you may keep all of it's secret contents."

"Strongbox? Filled with pirate treasure, jewels, Spanish doubloons, or what?"; The woodsman inquired with considerable interest."

"Aye. That's the rub."; The elm tree explained with a hint of mystery. "As I do not possess any hands, I can't open it myself but your species isn't in the habit of burying empty boxes, are they? One thing is for sure, I have no use for it and you'll never locate it without my help. I only ask for your word that you spare me of your deadly tool. As soon as you give your word, the box and all within is yours. That's the deal. Sound agreeable to you, kind sir?"

The woodsman reflected on the tantalizing details for just a moment before readily agreeing to the unusual pact. He envisioned a steamer trunk stuffed to the brim with golden coins. Visions of untold riches danced in his greedy head. All of his long days of hard labor were over. Suddenly the ground began to shake and rumble. The woodsman stepped back in nervous fear.

"Relax."; Reassured the massive elm tree. "Your prize is deep in the Earth beneath my roots. I must reach deep and retrieve it for you. I have to shift the soil back and forth to work it to the surface."

The woodsman rubbed his hands together in restless anticipation. "So it's very heavy then?"; He asked excitedly.

"Oh yes, it's very heavy!"; The elm tree remarked. "I have to shift more dirt under it so that it can raise up. Eventually I'll be able to wrestle it to the top so you can have it. In the meantime, please move over beside my trunk. I need to pull some loose ground underneath you to fill up the void I am making over here."

The woodsman dutifully did as he was told; standing between two giant limbs. Suddenly the top of the mysterious trunk broke the surface. The man shook with excitement. He was so preoccupied with watching it being unearthed that he failed to notice the massive limbs wrap around his torso. Slowly the old elm crush the woodsman to death as he gazed upon the newly unearthed chest. His fatal mistake was trusting the old tree. There's just no honor among threatened elms.

With a heave, the elm tore off the rusty padlock and cast open the old lid. The woodsman would have been disappointed. It was completely empty (but now it's not). Slowly the massive lockbox sank beneath the shifting soil to reside in its previous location. It probably wouldn't stay there forever. There was always the risk of more woodsmen.

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‘A twisted harvest’

That twisted thing that crawled its way out of the cold soil last night; I cradled and took it in. I always do. It wasn't the first and it shan't be the last of its earthen ilk. They only come out on the cusp of each new moon. I sit and wait patiently for them to break free of the tortured surface. Often they resist my hand but I pay their survival instincts no heed. I know what is best for them. Either they accept my assistance on the eve of this painful birth, or they perish from apathy and indifference. It's as simple as that. In the end, it's up to them.

For the ones unwilling to accept my guidance, they are soon reburied neatly in a row, down in the valley. Their fearful cries and final protests do not haunt me. I shall not mourn their unfortunate passing. They have returned to the darkened abyss from whence they came. Instead, I await the arrival of their future siblings.

These mindless souls call out to me. They seek a benevolent mercy. They all crave a fulfilling existence above ground and I endeavor to give it to them. Either directly through a natural lifespan, or from the eternal process of reproduction and rebirth. Regardless, they eventually feel the cold, faithful embrace of darkness on their decaying flesh. We all do. It is an unbreakable cycle.

On the very next moon, another hatchling rises up through the musty soil and I am there to greet it. Some cleave to these efforts. Others yearn for true independence. I must break their willful, wanton ways if they are to survive until the next harvest. It is my sworn duty. My chosen vocation. I'm a farmer of the twisted sprouts that disturb the fertile earth.

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‘The thirsty sun’

Purified by rain, sanctified by fire. Only two remaining ingredients do the spirit gods require.

Earth and wind will complete the sky pact. All of these elements are mixed together for their final act. 

These rituals are conducted on sacred ground. From the laws of nature they are forever bound.

The handed-down ceremonies dictate a precise order. Whispered oaths must be spoken from within the border.

Components of the Earth are blended together as one. Our blood is mixed with soil to satisfy the sacred sun. 

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‘They say you can hear it at night’

   “Have ya heard it, Mama?”

   “Heard whut?”

   “The sound of tha’ dead lady a screamin’ at night. The one they killed way down in th’ holler, a long time ago. They say you can hear her scream at the top uh her lungs. Relivin’ th’ moment th’ knife went in her back.”

    “Who been fillin’ yo head full ah tha’ nonsense? Tellin’ you those spook tales? You ought not be a listenin’ to ’em! Folks like to tell spooky stories. That’s all dey is. Jus’ stories. Dey ain’t real. Now git on out thar and do yo’ chores ‘fore suppah time, ya hear?”

   “Yes’m. I didn’t know if it wuz true or not. I know I never hear…”

   “Go on! Git on out yonder and do those chores. They ain’t gonna do themselves. You still got ya school lessons to attend to, after suppah.”

   Little Mary Hogan ran outside to take care of her daily homestead assignments. In the back of her mind, she still wondered how much of the gruesome tale was true. Her Mama had a way of shielding her from the darker aspects of life. The harder she tried to convince her that it was a completely made up story, the more Mary figured there must be some truth to it. Her Mama would first deny something. Then she would try to evade talking about it. When she did that, Mary could tell. 

   “I wonder why someone would make up such a terrible thing, if it wasn’t true?”; She remarked within earshot. At first, Mama pretended she didn’t even hear the question. That was a pretty good sign. Then she acted aggravated that Mary dared to bring it up again. Eventually she drew a full breath and prepared to have a serious talk with her curious daughter.

    “About twenty years ago there was a man and his wife that lived deep in th’ holler. He was very cruel to her all th’ time. He drank moonshine from dawn ta dusk an beat her black an blue. One day she’d had enough an decided to fight him back. When he wasn’t lookin’, she walloped him with a cast iron skillet. He was so drunk he didn’t even feel it. Instead, he grabbed up a butcher knife and stabbed her dead as 4 o’clock. Once he sobered up the next mornin’ and saw what he done, he turned himself in to the sheriff. He’s still in prison to this day and damn lucky he didn’t get a rope from her grievin’ Pa. Now, drop this, ya hear?”

   Mary nodded slowly. Finally hearing the truth from her Mama was startling but also a relief. At last she saw her as grown-up enough to be completely truthful with. While she felt very bad for the dead lady, it made her feel good to be confided in about adult matters. Regardless, it failed to explain the source of the vocal screams in the woods at night. There had to be something that inspired the dark legend. She elected to inquire one more time about it while the sensitive topic was still fresh in the air. It was always easier when the dialogue was open.

   “So, if there are no ghosts, then who’s that a screamin’ at night? I’ve hear it, Mama. I heard blood curdlin’ screams just a couple nights ago.”

   Mama looked pained again. Her baby was growin’ up before her eyes but she wasn’t quite ready to have ‘the talk’ with her just yet. She had hoped for at least one more summer of innocence before opening her eyes to the wicked ways of the world. Judging from the direction of the conversation, Mary was going to be relentless until the full truth came out. Mama took another deep breath.

   “Have ya eva’ heard them ol’ Tom cats a fighin’ at night, child? They’s a fightin’ ta see who gets to make kittens with the female cats in the neighborhood. They snarl and hiss at each other while they decide who’s the meanest Tomcat around. Once they duke it out, the winning male an’ female try to make kittens; and that gets very noisy.”

   Mary objected immediately. “I’ve heard the cats a fightin’ in the past Mama but that is totally different from what I heard a few nights ago. This was no female cat, Mama. It was definitely a woman screaming at the top o’ her lungs. It sounded just like she was a being stabbed with a long knife. I swear.”

   “Dear heart. Sometimes people also make noises when they is a makin’ babies. It was me ya heard a couple nights ago. I was screamin’ but yo daddy wasn’t hurtin’ me, I promise.” 

   Mama smiled in embarrassment and left the room before Mary had time to realize what she really meant. She also made a mental note to close her windows the next time she was being ‘stabbed’. 

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‘The vortex beckoned’

Darkness crept into their lives.
Collapsing hope from all sides.
Casting ugly shadows of doubt,
destroying any lingering pride.

Pervasive sorrow seized hold;
repelling every source of light. 
There was nothing left to grip
in the vortex of eternal night.

They fell into the deepest hole;
with depression, black as coal.
Despair offered no plan to flee.
In the pit they’re doomed to be.

Drifting forever in a black abyss.
It’s cold embrace, a deadly kiss.
They sink into the spiraling mire.  
Sadness reigns the realm of dire.

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‘The threat of rai…”

   “I hate to say it, but it’s startin’ to look a lot like r….”

   “Shhhhhh. Don’t even say it! We don’t need that sort of atmospheric death, looming over our heads.”; Sandy exclaimed harshly. “Maybe it’ll blow on over. I for one hope it never does ‘that’ again. There is more than enough danger around here.”

   The young scamp recoiled from the unexpected scolding. “It’s not like talking about ‘it’ can make ‘it’ happen!”; He defended. “No one has the power to will weather events. They either happen or they do not. Saying the word ‘rain’ aloud, won’t push the ‘weather gods’ into action.”

   Once again Sandy cringed in abject terror from the mere mention of the word. Herman had never met anyone so painfully superstitious before. It was startling to know an individual could be so triggered by a common word. He looked at her and saw she was in the grip of irrational fears of doom. However, instead of teasing or tormenting her with it, he elected to be constructive and teach.

    “If it never rained again, we would all die of thirst! All the plants would wither. Eventually the oceans would dry up. The whole world would be a barren wasteland. Do you really want that, Sandy?”; He reasoned. 

   “Of course not. I know it has to; you know…do ‘that’ but anything beyond a light sprinkle will destroy everything it comes into contact with.”; She lectured. “Those clouds you were carelessly pointing toward, are bearers of pure, unadulterated destruction. It could mean the end of everything for as far as the eye can see! I just don’t want to die. Surely you realize what heavy clouds like those could do to a place like this. It would mean utter collapse and total devastation. The same mysterious gods who built these magnificent dwellings could choose to wipe them all away with a single sweep of their sky water. Now, be more careful with your ominous curses. The life you save just might be your own.”

    Herman was dumbfounded. Sandy was a lost cause of paranoid superstition. She was never going to be convinced of the science behind the weather events. She took cover inside her ornate home from ‘the apocalypse’ she anticipated at any moment. He shuffled on down the shoreline in stunned disgust. 

    “Good heavens!”; An old salt passing by shrieked at him. “Those look like storm clouds overhead! You’d better take cover as soon as possible, young’un. This might be the very one to do all of us in!”

    Herman rolled his eyes again in frustration. The older generation was filled with a bunch of trembling characters who were afraid of their own shadows. The old timer could bury his head in the sand if it made him feel better but it didn’t change the truth. Herman nodded politely at the well-meaning but pointless advice and kept on going. 

   Without prior announcement or fanfare, the sky opened up and the threatened rain began to fall. All around him, others scrambled around in chaotic panic. They sought any refuge from the liquid phenomenon. Only Herman stood bravely against the dreaded rainfall.

    Sandy’s beachside sand castle began to erode and then crumble into wet, melted clumps. The old salt’s whole body sank into the saturated ground but like all the other worried crabs, he dug himself out and scurried away to higher ground. Crabs could be so melodramatic.

   

Posted in Children's Stories, Controversial topics, Different Perspectives, Fiction Stories, Humor, Jokes, Macabre, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thought provoking, Twilight Zone Inspired, Uncategorized, Utopia & Armageddon, Whimsical | Leave a comment

‘Glass houses’

Way upon your majestic hilltop,
looking downward in contempt.
Sitting there on your high horse;
as if introspection was exempt.

You sneer at our many failures. 
Deriding human vice and flaws.
We may stumble with our faults
but we don’t shatter glass walls.

Perched up there in judgment. 
You leer through crystal panes.
You dwell in a blissful ignorance;
one marked by hypocrisy stains.

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