(The story below is my submission to Chuck Wendig's flash fiction challenge at his website www.terribleminds.com. Direct link here http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/06/15/flash-fiction-challenge-the-crooked-tree/ . The story was an idea I had at two o'clock in the morning. Kept me up, but I enjoyed writing it. I will warn you, it's a bit morbid. I would probably label this under horror. The image of the tree is from Wendig's website, and taken by him personally.)
|Photo from terribleminds.com|
Ugh, he’s doing it again. He got this way whenever he went to visit the tree. A scary act of nature it was. A warped tree in the middle of nowhere near his family’s old house. The crooked tree, he called it as a child. He stared at a bit of mold-ridden rope tied around it. Probably used for a tire swing…probably. Everything had a tint of grey out in these woods. Looked like an old photograph a family would take while colonizing the frontier. Sitting in rocking chairs showing off their rifles and shotguns. Looking directly at the camera, but not smiling. No, of course not smiling. Since he was a kid, when everything else was too much or whenever his head hurt from the stress. He liked to come down, go out to the woods, and just stare at the crooked tree.
He had an awful headache lately. His grades were plummeting to an all-time low, or so he thought. His professors despised him, or so he thought. His girlfriend was sleeping with another guy, or so he thought. He was also certain that his roommate was secretly contemplating his murder, or so he fucking thought! He let a good yell and began punching the tree in frustration. Wincing at the pain, but enjoying it nonetheless. He wanted to do it right here. Blow his brains out right on to the damned plant. His blood and grey matter fertilizing the soil around the tree. Becoming part of it….
No, he thought. I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. Imagining the apathetic, unsurprised look on his classmates faces as they heard the news. His girlfriend having to fake grief in front of his parents as she rolled her eyes when they weren’t looking. Wishing that she was with the asshole that she was cheating on him with. If she was unhappy why didn’t she just say so? No, fuck that. He would not end as a tragedy.
Thoughts of this nature always came about when he was here. He wondered why that was. Why themes of morbidity always resonated with him near the tree. He stared at the blood his knuckles had left on the bark. He wanted to continue beating his fists into the wood, but held back. A strange sensation came over him when he saw his own blood on the bark. It was a feeling of satisfaction, of accomplishment. It didn’t feel like him though. If he didn’t know any better, it felt like it was coming from the tree. Like a heartbeat trying to sync up with his. Like it was trying to speak to him. Like it was calling him. He had this feeling before. Many times before, in this very spot. It was scaring him senseless, and it always had. In fact, he couldn’t think of a single good time he had with the hunk of wood. He was a happy kid. Wasn’t he? Yes, yes he was. Except when he came here. To his family’s old house. To the Crooked Tree. He was drawn to it. He stared up at the mold-ridden rope. He recognized it. Not as the beginning of a tire swing, but as the beginning of his first and only suicide attempt. The realization struck him like a bolt of lightning. He tried to kill himself here during his senior year of high school. Why didn’t he remember that? Why would he come back here? His senior year was one of the best of his life. He was happy then. He…he was happy now. None of the things he was distraught over were true. They felt true. No: his professors seemed to like him, his girlfriend seemed to love him, and he didn’t have a roommate! Did he even remember driving here? What day of the week it was? What month? Why did the lies feel so real? Then it hit him. He stared up at the crooked tree. At where his blood lay on the bark. He only had suicidal thoughts when he was standing where he was now. He was happy the rest of the time. Yet he kept being drawn to this place. He turned away from the tree and started walking. The feeling of satisfaction pulling at him, yet draining with every step. He popped some painkillers for his headaches, got in his car, and drove away. He wanted to leave this place and never return to the crooked tree. He managed the first one.