Featured Review on this writing by hullabaloo22

Dead Wood

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

Why can't Mr. Jackson chop down his tree? the answer lies in the past

Submitted: December 05, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: December 05, 2017



Petersburg, VA.


The Jackson family had driven the short distance of twenty-four miles from Richmond to view their potential new home in Petersburg. The kids, Tom and Elle, were getting big and the whole family needed more ‘elbow room’ as Cynthia Jackson once described it.

Ian Jackson drove along Ashwell Drive while Cynthia looked out of the car window counting down the house numbers. “Number 1023, here we are,” she said. Ian indicated he was turning right, then drove their people carrier up the drive and parked in front of the garage. Tom and Elle took off their headphones, got out of the people carrier, then joined their mother and father as they all walked up the path towards the house. The lawn out front was in an immaculate condition. The lawn sprinkler splashed small droplets of cool water across the faces of the Jackson family, providing a welcome relief on this hot June Saturday afternoon. 

Bob Morrison opened the front door before the finger of Ian Jackson reached the door-bell. “Oh! Hi,” said Ian in his familiar cheerfully address. Ian liked to make a show of introducing his family to those they met for the first time. “We’re the fabulous Jackson Family!” Ian stood on the door step grinning from ear to ear arms held out wide. Normally this ice breaker went down well with folk, much to the embarrassment of Tom and Elle. However, today Bob Morrison was not in an ice breaker mood, he held open wide the door and said in a quiet sombre tone, “Please won’t you all come in.” Mrs Trisha Morrison stood behind her husband and greeted the family as they walked pass.

As Bob and Trisha walked ahead of the Jackson’s; Cynthia pulled Ian back and whispered to him, “Something has happened, ask them if we can come back later. They both look awful.” Ian caught up with Bob Morrison. “Have we come at an inconvenient time? We can re-schedule for later.” Bob Morrison apologised for his sombre reception, “I’m sorry, we came home late last night from our son’s wedding in Indiana. Please, come and join us in the conservatory for some refreshments.” Bob went to find Trisha and Ian looked at Cynthia as he shrugged his shoulders, “Good excuse as any.” The Jacksons carried on walking down the hallway and out into the conservatory.

The atmosphere seemed a little lighter as they all sat in the conservatory. Ian was regaling the Morrison’s with humorous stories about the kids were growing up. Both Tom and Elle jumped on their father trying to put their hands over his mouth attempting to shut him up. Trisha Morrison smiled for the first time since the Jacksons arrived. She glanced at her watch, time was getting on. “Maybe, Bob you could start with showing Ian the garden while I’ll show Cynthia around upstairs.”

Bob opened-up the conservatory doors and Tom and Elle were the first to go running outside. “No touching anything you two!” shouted Ian to the two fleeing children. Ian looked back to see Bob just staring up at a dead tree. Something, Ian had not noticed when they first walked outside. “Seen better days don’t you think?” Ian smiled at Bob. Bob seemed to be transfixed by this blacken tree “It’s been here ever since we have been here,” Bob was speaking about the tree like if it was a stray cat that refused to go home. “Why have you not just removed it? I’m sure it won’t take much to pull it down.” The more Ian looked at it he could see it was charred like charcoal. “It refuses to come down,” said Bob sounding defeated. Ian laughed, “What do you mean, ‘it refuses to come down’ you make it sound like it has a conscience of independent thought.” Looking at Bob; Ian could see he was tired, and beaten. Something was dragging the Morrisons down “Come on,” said Bob “let’s go back inside and join the women.”

Trisha looked weary has just dragged herself around upstairs showing Cynthia the various rooms. “How was your wedding?” asked Cynthia trying to lighten the mood. “What wedding?” said Trisha. “Your son’s wedding in Indiana; Bob said you both came home late last night.” Trisha could see Bob out back looking up at the tree and talking to Ian. “Oh! Yes, the wedding. It was very tiring.” Then changing the subject Trisha said, “Don’t you think it’s time we join your husband?”

After further talks and another look around the house, Ian and Cynthia said they would be in touch with the estate agent’s office on Monday morning to put forward an offer on the house.Then Bob and Trisha waved good-bye to the Jacksons as they drove back down the drive. Ian gave a blast on his horn, waved from the car window and headed back towards Richmond. Bob shut the door and held Trisha in his arms. The both began to cry.

The Jacksons headed out on I-95 back to Richmond, it was early evening and Tom and Elle were sitting in the back of the people carrier wearing their headphones while watching their favourite movie on their tablets. After twenty minutes, Ian looked in his rear-view mirror, Tom was engrossed in his movie, and Elle was fast asleep. “What do you thing?” Ian asked Cynthia. “The house or the Morrisons?” she replied. “Let’s start with the Morrisons,” said Ian. Cynthia stared out of the passenger window looking at the passing traffic, “I asked Trisha about her son’s wedding, she forgot she was ever there and then tried to hush me up by making the excuse of going to join you downstairs.” Ian thought for a bit, “Bob said something very odd when I asked him about the tree in the garden. He said the tree refused to be cut down.” Cynthia just gave Ian a look, “Something weird about those two, I was wondering if they are going through divorce proceedings,” said Cynthia. “Maybe,” said Ian, “but they both looked pretty tired and scared to me about something.” Cynthia gave Ian a squeeze on the arm, “Anyway, whatever is going on with the Morrisons it’s not our concern. We are going to buy a beautiful house.”

The day of the move had arrived, it was the beginning of autumn and the Morrison’s had already left Virginia and were making their way over to Indiana, that’s what the man at the estate agent’s office told Mr and Mrs Jackson when he dropped by with the house keys.

The removal men were waiting outside 1023 Ashwell Drive and once Ian had opened the front door to the house, the removal men began taking the Jacksons furniture inside. The Morrisons had left a bottle of wine and a card to welcome the Jacksons into their new home. Tom and Elle made straight for the back garden, this time they could touch whatever they liked. The dead black tree was still there, Ian had hoped that the Morrison’s might have dug it up and taken it with them.

It was Elle who spotted the tree house first, she ran back into the conservatory to pick-up her jumper and when she came back outside, instead of turning right to find Tom, she went to the left of the tree. Upon looking up at the tree, to her delight she saw a wooden house. She called on her father, “Daddy, daddy look what I have found.” Ian came out from the conservatory doors to where Elle was standing. “What is it sweetheart?” Elle could hardly contain herself, “Look! a tree house, we have a tree house!” Ian looked to where his daughter was pointing. Ian was surprised to see it, how come he never saw it before when he stood over by the conservatory doors with Bob Morrison way back in the summer. Ian kept his eyes on the tree house to see how he could have previously missed it. As he walked back towards the conservatory, he could see the wooden slats on the tree house morph back into branches. Once he reached the conservatory doors, the tree house was indeed just a collection of twisted branches. Then going back towards Elle the branches slowly turned into a two-storey tree house. “Well I’ll be damn!” exclaimed Ian, “Daddy!” shouted Elle her arms folded looking disapprovingly at her father. “Sorry, honey. Hey Cynth, come here look at this!” Cynthia came out to find them in the back garden staring up at the tree, Ian told her to keep looking up at the tree and not too take her eyes off it has she walked around to join them, she did so only glancing away occasionally to check her footing. When she reached Ian, Elle and now Tom, Cynthia witnessed the moment when the unremarkable branches miraculously turned before her eyes into a tree house. “How is that possible?” Cynthia stood open mouthed as she gazed upon the intricate structure. This was not a simple child’s playhouse; this was a complex dwelling that could have housed a small family.

Ian turned to his wife, “It’s a very clever optical illusion. We have looked at this from all sides. On the other three sides it’s just a jumble of tree branches looking quite natural, but from this angle, you see this,” Ian pointed to the tree house. “Is it safe?” asked Cynthia. “I doubt it, that’s why after Elle’s birthday party this tree is coming down.”

Elle’s birthday and Halloween are on the same day, so Cynthia decided it would be good to do a joint party and invite all the kids in the neighbourhood. Elle sat at the kitchen table writing out her invitations and Cynthia was busy writing the envelopes. When they had finished, they both put on their hat and coat and went up and down the neighbourhood delivering the invites. Elle was about to put an invite through Tyler Davis letterbox when his mother, Julie, opened the door. “Hi!” she said. Julie was a bright bubbly person and offered her hand immediately she saw Cynthia. “I have been meaning for some time to come over, so when I saw you walking up the path, I just had to say, Hi.” Tyler was a little way behind his mother. Elle spotted the boy and gave him a wave. Tyler sheepishly waved back. “It’s Elle’s birthday next week, the 31st, so we were wondering if you and Tyler would like to come to Elle’s birthday and Halloween party.” Julie took the invite, “That’s so thoughtful of you; yes of course we will be there. Look, I and the rest of the mums go for coffee on Monday mornings after we do the school run, why don’t you join us.” Cynthia smiled, “Thanks I would love too.”

It was a bright October Monday morning, when Cynthia parked the people carrier and joined Julie and the other mums in the ‘Take-Two’ coffee shop. She was welcomed with a hearty ‘Hi’ before the waitress came over to take her order. “Well, how do you like your new home?” asked Sharon as she picked at her blueberry muffin, “We like it a lot; it’s good for the kids. Nice big bedrooms for them to grow up in.” Cynthia noticed some of the ladies gathered there were eying each other. “So, you plan on staying, there do you?” said a dark-haired woman named Ruby. What a strange question thought Cynthia, not the sort of welcome she expected. “Sure, why wouldn’t we?” Cynthia answered. She noticed more eye contacts with the mums. “I’ll imagine you have seen the tree house?” said Julie, “Strange you can only see it from one side.” Cynthia was surprised they knew about that. “Trisha Morrison, the lady who had the house before you, she invited all of us around for a house warming barbeque the first summer they were there.”
“Yeah, ‘warming’ being the right word,” said Sharon, “Did the Morrison’s tell you about the accident in the garden? No, of course they didn’t. Poor Colin Norris had to have plastic surgery to hide the burns he suffered from when the barbeque blew-up in his face.” Cynthia put down her coffee, “Barbeque, Blew-up!” Sharon looked at the other ladies as if asking for permission to continue telling the story. “He was standing over by the tree preparing the barbeque; the next thing any of us knew of what was happened was when we heard the explosion and Colin fell to the floor screaming in agony covering his face with his hands.” Cynthia now looked up at the other women who were all slowly nodding. Ruby leaned in towards Cynthia and spoke to her in a slow deliberate tone “Some of the neighbours, the ones who have been here the longest reckon that tree is haunted.” Cynthia waited for a minute then burst out laughing, “You guys! You got me there! You are a bit early for Halloween.” Still laughing she got up to go and pay her bill. The other women said nothing, just lots of whispering and pointing at Cynthia.

As they were getting ready to leave, a woman from the group named Angie who had been quiet throughout the whole time, held Cynthia by the arm. “Have you got an hour to spare dear?” Cynthia wondered what Angie wanted with her but said, “Sure.” Angie walked with Cynthia back to her people carrier. “I hope the others didn’t alarm you. They love to be over dramatic to new neighbours who move into the street.” Cynthia liked Angie. “No, they were just fooling around I guess.” They walked for a while in silence before Angie spoke again. “I’m a local historian and part-time librarian. I would like to show you something in the library that might help you with some facts about Petersburg.”

Cynthia parked the people carrier and went into the library to find Angie was there waiting for her. “I have found a table for us to sit at and I think you might find some of these books and maps interesting.” Cynthia looked at the titles; they were all books on the Civil War. She began to say, “I’m not really interested…” before Angie interrupted her, “Read the facts first, then I’ll tell you the folklore.” The first book Angie showed Cynthia was of maps dating back to 1865. “You see here,” Angie pointed to some open land, “this is where Ashwell Drive is now.” Cynthia stared hard at the map and she thought she could see the tree that was in her garden but the chances of a one-hundred and fifty-year old dead tree still standing was very slim. Angie went over to her desk and came back with a roll of film that had a modern road map printed on it. She laid the film over the book and Cynthia could immediately see modern day streets over the top of the 1865 map and to her astonishment, that tree was the same one as in their garden. She mentioned it to Angie who just looked and nodded to her over the rim of her glasses. Cynthia then pointed to a dark green patch on the map. “What’s that?” Angie tapped the film covering the book “Your house would have been on the edge of woodland, see your tree is just outside it.” Angie then looked up to see there were some people over at her desk so she excused herself and said she will be back. Cynthia looked at the history books on the table and opened the one entitled, ‘The Siege of Petersburg, 1865.’ She flicked through some of the pages and began to read,

After a long siege, Union General Ulysses S. Grant captured nearby Petersburg in April 1865. As the fall of Petersburg became imminent, the retreating Confederate soldiers received orders to set fire to bridges, the armory, and warehouses as they left. The fires spread out of control, and destroyed large parts of the city,’

“You won’t find what you are looking for in there!” Cynthia jumped out of her skin has a middle-aged woman with black hair sat opposite her stabbing the book with her finger. “You gave me such a freight!” Cynthia was holding her chest as she began to laugh. The woman carried on “Those books won’t tell you about the witch who lived in your tree house.” Other people in the library were now staring at Agnus Winter. Angie came back over to rescue Cynthia. “Agnus Winter how many times I must tell you not to bother people in the library” Agnus stood up from behind the table, “If no-one is going to tell her, then I will. The last woman in that house thought I was mad. She never listened to me.” Angie gently escorted Agnus out of the library, “You will tell her, won’t you?” said Agnus has she climbed back down the library steps. “Yes,” said Angie, “I’m about to tell her now.” Agnus Winter got back on her bike and muttered something to herself as she cycled down the road.

Angie returned to the library and sat back down with Cynthia. “Sorry about that, she’s harmless really.”
“Who is she?”
“Agnus Winter, self-proclaimed medium of Petersburg. She claims to see dead people like that boy in the film.” Cynthia was looking at the map again. “And does she?” Angie Sumner was skeptical of Agnus Winter, “The only spirits she sees are in a brown paper bag. I see you were reading about the ending of the siege of Petersburg and the retreat of the Northern Virginia Army. That was the Confederate regiment here during that time.” Cynthia closed her book, “Burnt the place to the ground by the looks of it.”
“I don’t think it was done intentionally, just a bit of fire rising to hinder the Union Army that got out of hand. Which now leads me nicely to the folklore part? Legend has it that at the time of the fire a hermit lived in your tree house which then, if you remember, was at the edge of the woodland. The locals called the hermit a witch but she was most likely by today’s standards an herbalist. As the fire raged it eventually reached the edge of the woodland and trapped the woman inside her tree house. She screamed out to the fleeing soldiers for them to rescue her but they just laughed and walked on. As the last soldier passed by he could hear the woman curse the future decedents of every man that left her to burn.”

It was raining by the time Cynthia left the library, Angie had leant her the book, ‘The Siege of Petersburg, 1865.’ She told Cynthia there was no rush to return it as most people here knew of Petersburg’s involvement in the Civil War. After she picked-up Tom and Elle from school, Cynthia made her way back home thinking all the time about what she had seen and heard that day.

It was early evening by the time Ian and Cynthia got to sit together. Tom and Elle were upstairs playing in their bedrooms, making the most of the time they had before mum and dad came up to get them ready for bed. Ian was sitting opposite his wife having a beer and Cynthia had her legs up on the sofa and was reading the book Angie lent her. Ian caught the title of the book, “Not the sort of thing you normally read?” Cynthia rested the book on her lap. “Angie the librarian I met today gave it to me.” Ian then remembered her coffee morning date. “Oh! Yeah! How did it go with the other ‘mommies’” said Ian in his mocking tone. Cynthia said, “It seemed like I was in front of an interview panel. Every time they asked me a question, I caught some of them looking at each other as if they were taking notes. One of them asked me an unusual question, she asked, did we plan on staying here? Not the sort of question I would ask someone new to the area.” Ian took a sip from his beer and raised his eyebrows. Cynthia then carried on, “Angie asked me to join her in the library afterwards where she got for me books and maps of the Civil War. Did you know that our tree in the garden, is featured on a map from 1865? And I now know why we can only see the tree house from the left-hand side, it’s because in 1865 there was woodland in front of it.” Ian put down his beer on the side table, “I see, like a concealed entrance which you could only see if you were approaching the tree house from the woods. What else did you find out?” Ian came over to Cynthia and lifted the book from her lap. “I met a local character named, Agnus Winter, some kind of medium according to Angie. Did you know our tree is mention in Petersburg folklore?” Ian returned to his seat with the book, “Go on.”
“According to Angie, in 1865 the Confederate Army was in retreat from the advancing Union Army led by Grant. The Confederates abandon Petersburg to regroup in Richmond. As they fled, the Confederates set fire to their barns and armory. However, the fires got out of control and a large part of Petersburg succumbed to the flames. Now for the folklore, our tree house had a resident witch living in there, eventually the tree caught fire and she was heard screaming to the passing soldiers for them to rescue her. The soldiers just laughed as she burned, the last rebel to pass by was said to hear the witch curse every soldier’s future descendants.” Ian put down the book, “So, what was the ‘curse’,” said Ian as he made speech marks in the air. Cynthia ignored him, “The descendants of every Confederate soldier that watched her burn will die within the boundry of the tree house.” Ian laughed “Well, that tree is defiantly coming down next week, because I don’t fancy dying up there!” Cynthia gave him a look, “You never told me you had relatives in the Southern Army?”
“Yes, I did, on many occasions you just zone out when I mention the Civil War.”
“So, was he here in Petersburg?”
“Sure was, Second Lieutenant Elijah Jackson of the Northern Virginia Army.” Cynthia was now sitting upright on the sofa, “And did he pass by here?” Ian was surprised at his wife sudden interest in the Civil War, “I don’t know if he came by this very spot. Why are you concerning yourself about an old ghost story as I said, after Elle’s party that tree is coming down.”

It was October 31st Halloween and Elle’s ninth birthday. Ian and Cynthia were dressed as Herman and Lily Munster, Elle was a unicorn and Tom dressed up as the Joker. Ian had decorated the lower branches of the dead tree in coloured lights and elsewhere in the garden were hollowed out pumpkins illuminated inside with battery tea-lights. The kids from the neighbourhood were playing all kinds of Halloween games while the adults fixed the food and arranged the tables outside for the buffet. The door-bell rang and Ian let in Mr Chuckles the clown they had hired for the entertainment.

It was late afternoon early evening when Mr Chuckles took up his place beneath the tree as he started his act. He began with a Punch and Judy show based on the Bride of Frankenstein which the kids loved, then a few magic tricks which involved chopping off the head of Elle’s favourite doll and then quickly showing it to her again in one piece before she burst into tears. He concluded the evening with a pin the tail on the dragon. Mr Chuckles went over to the tree and nailed to it the picture of the dragon, he passed the green plastic tail to Elle and Cynthia placed a blindfold over her daughter’s eyes. Then for good measure, she spun Elle around and gently pushed her in the direction towards the picture.

A gentle breeze began to shake the dead hollow branches; the sound was like rattling dry bones. No-one paid much attention at first until the breeze turned into a gale. The paper plates went flying from the trestle tables and the pumpkins rolled across the lawn like severed heads. The gale grew in strength and the children got up from their seats to run indoors for cover leaving Mr Chuckles still standing by the tree. The lights that Ian had strung along the lower branches began to move down the tree towards the clown. A piece of light cable looped around the clown’s neck and started to pull him up the tree. The wind continued to blow and the branches seemed to be pulling the light cable up further. The clown by now was trying to tear the cable away from this throat. It was Ian who first realised the clown was not with them in the house; he looked outside in to the darkness and could see a white face contorting in fear. Ian ran out into the freak storm that had suddenly brewed up and pulled the plug out of the socket before the rain electrocuted the clown. However, the light cable continued to constrict around the clown’s neck. His white make-up streaked in the rain to expose the blue colour the clown was now turning due to his lack of oxygen.

Ian tried to get his fingers under the cable and tug it away from the clown’s throat. The cable now pulled even tighter into Ian’s fingers and he had no choice but to let go in fear of the cable cutting through his own finger-tips. He wanted another attempt at releasing the clown from his noose, but he was too late. The branches yanked the cable further up the tree leaving Mr. Chuckles hanging there lifeless like a marionette puppet.

The storm had quickly receded, and the Halloween festivities came to an abrupt halt. The only lights now in the street were that of the red and blue type from the emergency services. The ambulance took away the clown’s body while the police took statements from all the adults. They did not detain those attending the party any longer than they had to, conscience that a lot of young children needed to go home.

Ian and Cynthia were the last to be interviewed. Cynthia showed the policeman to the door, and as he walked back to his patrol car, she caught sight of Agnus Winter standing on the street looking back at her. Cynthia waited until the policeman drove off, then Cynthia went out over to Agnus Winter. To Cynthia’s surprise Agnus did not turn away. “You’re Agnus Winter, aren’t you?”
“I did not think you would remember me.”
“How could I forget you, you scared the life out of me the other day.”
“Did the librarian tell you about the curse?”
Cynthia nodded.
“Now do you believe her?”
“Believe what, the curse? The clown got caught up in some cable, a freak accident, that’s what the police said.” Ian shouted across the street to Cynthia to come back inside. “Can I meet with you tomorrow Mrs Jackson?” Agnus displayed an air of concern for Cynthia. Cynthia was in two minds at first then said “OK, where?”
“Dixie Diner, North Sycamore Street, ten a.m.” Cynthia agreed to the rendezvous and went back to Ian. “And bring that tablet thing!” Agnus shouted over to Cynthia. She waved her arm in the air to acknowledge Agnus.

Cynthia arrived early at the diner the next morning and ordered a coffee with egg on toast. The first day of November had brought with it a cold northern chill. Agnus was there on time and could see that Cynthia had finished her breakfast. Cynthia stood up and greeted Agnus. “Would you like some breakfast?” she offered her. Agnus relented at first then agreed to have the same as Cynthia. Agnus was not the mad alcoholic portrayed by Angie Sumner; in fact, she was a well-kept woman. Cynthia was also surprised to hear that Agnus was once married to the Pastor of Petersburg Baptist Church. She soon learnt that one evening during a prayer meeting Agnus started getting messages from spirits. She became frighten and her husband with some of the elders from the church prayed over her, but the spirits would not leave. Eventually her ability to contact the dead became an embarrassment for her husband and the church, so she felt it was better for everyone if she left both.

“Did you bring your computer thing?” asked Agnus. Cynthia got her tablet out of her bag and placed it on the table. “Right,” said Agnus, “We are going to do a bit of, what’s it called? Oh yeah, ‘surfing’.” Cynthia smiled, “OK. Where to first?”
“Bring up a genealogy website,” said Agnus. Cynthia was impressed Agnus knew such a thing existed, “Who are we looking up?”
“The clown you hired, what was his name?” Cynthia had to think for a bit, she only knew him as Mr Chuckles. Then she remembered the name on his invoice, so she entered John Walker. “Good,” said Agnus, “Now date of birth.” Cynthia looked blank at Agnus, “Bit difficult to tell how old he was with his make-up on.” Then Cynthia had a thought, she looked up his website and there on the ‘about me’ tab was his age, thirty-five. Cynthia now typed in on the date of birth field, 1982 then clicked the +/- button to give a plus or minus of three years. Place of birth, they both thought of him to have been born a local man, so Cynthia again typed in, Petersburg. Within seconds of the enter button being pressed a record came up for only one person who was named as John Peter Walker, born 16th July 1982. Cynthia was using the free trial to get this far, if they wanted more detailed records she was going to have to pay for a monthly membership of $19.99. So, Cynthia got out her credit card and signed up.

John Walker’s great-grand father was Thomas P Walker born in Richmond 1830, died in Charlottesville 1903 aged 73. Cynthia now clicked on the tab for ‘All U.S. Civil War Soldiers, 1861-1865 Results’ and entered Thomas P Walker in the name field. His regiment came up as, Northern Virginia Army. Cynthia moved back from her tablet turning it towards Agnus for her to see. Agnus just nodded as if this just confirmed her theory. “Your clown, John Walker, had a relative in the regiment that walked by your tree that day the witch burned.” Then Agnus asked, “How did you find him for your party?” Cynthia thought for a moment, she then remembers she did have trouble finding a child entertainer so close to Halloween. “He was my last hope in securing an entertainer for Elle’s party. He was only too pleased to come. For some unexplained reason he said all the advanced bookings he had for that night were cancelled.”
“The curse is bringing the relatives to the tree,” said Agnus.
“Come to think of it,” said Cynthia, “We only saw that house was for sale because it was the only estate agent’s website not to crash the day we were looking.” Then, fear gripped Cynthia has she took back the tablet and entered in another name. Soon she had another potential soldier. To her dismay her husband had been right, on the screen appeared, ‘Second Lieutenant Elijah Jackson of the Northern Virginia Army’. Agnus saw the worried look on Cynthia face, “Where is your husband now?” Cynthia remembered Ian was going into the town to hire a chainsaw form the Hardware Store to cut the tree down. “Quick!” said Agnus, “We have to stop him before the curse gets him too!”

Cynthia drove as fast as she legally could with Agnus sitting next to her. The last thing Cynthia wanted right now was a speeding ticket. By the time they had arrived back at Cynthia’s home an ambulance was parked in the drive. Cynthia abandon the people carrier in the street and ran screaming towards the flashing lights. Ian was being treated for multiple cuts to his hands and arms. A few of the neighbours were gathered in the street, over the past years, most were now use to seeing the emergency services at the door of 1023 Ashwell Drive. Julie Davis came over with Tom and Elle who ran to their mother while still crying at seeing their dad fight off a chainsaw. The paramedics were dressing Ian’s arms and hands when they saw Cynthia approach them. From a distance she could see Ian, was still visibly shaken. The paramedic stood back to allow her some time with her husband. Cynthia flung her arms around Ian, she was relieved to see he was still alive “I tell you Cynth,” said Ian “that chainsaw was alive! Soon as I tried to cut into the tree, the thing leapt out of my hands. Even when I’d let go of the kill switch it just kept going! It was deliberately coming after me!” Cynthia put her husbands head onto her chest, “Also the tree, it was trying to trip me up! The roots were lifting out of the grass before my very eyes!” Ian could not contain his feelings and began to sob. For the first time since the birth of their daughter, Ian Jackson then burst into tears.

Once the paramedics had left, Cynthia took Ian back into the house to rest on the sofa; Agnus sat on the chair opposite him waiting for Cynthia to join them. She was seeing Julie Davis out of the door after thanking her for dialling 911. Julie was still in shock herself at finding Ian covered in blood. She kept repeating her story to Cynthia. “Tom and Elle came running to me saying daddy was being attacked by a chainsaw. I thought someone had broken in to your house and was trying to rob you. I went over taking Mikes pistol with me. When I went into the back garden, I could not believe what I saw. Ian was covered in blood and the chainsaw was still buzzing and jumping around on the lawn. It was the strangest thing I have ever seen.” Then Julie held onto Cynthia’s arm as she whispered to her, “Be careful of Agnus. She’s not what she seems!” and with that passing warning, Julie went back to her home.

Cynthia returned to the living room after she looked in on Tom and Elle, who were both, now fast asleep. The whole day had been very traumatic for them. She went back downstairs and formally introduced Agnus to Ian. “So, Cynthia tells me you’re a medium?” She was quick to point out that her ability to see the dead was considered by her to be a curse rather than a gift. Agnus made it also clear that she was no side-show charlatan and shunned any propositions to make money out of it. Agnus then revealed the fact that she only saw fallen Confederate soldiers “How come?” enquired Cynthia. Agnus just shrugged her shoulders, “When the spirits started to come to me I was unaware of their dress, and then I realised they were all soldiers from the Confederate army.” It was Ian who asked Agnus if she could see any now. Reluctantly she answered him “Two walked through here ten minutes ago.” Both Cynthia and Ian felt an icy shiver run down their spines at the thought of their house was now being violated by the spirit world. “There is nothing to worry about,” Agnus reassured them. “They are just imprints of the pass still echoing through to the present. It’s like when a camera flashes into your eyes, you still see the image of the flash sometime after.”

Cynthia was now getting concerned for the safety of her family and thought of Agnus as the one person she could turn to for help. “Ian, I brought Agnus here because we have found something out that affects us and it’s to do with that tree.” Ian became intrigued, “Remember I told you about the curse.” After what Ian had seen in the garden today he was now a little less sceptical. “We looked up John Walker on a genealogy website that was the real name of the clown we hired for Elle’s party. His great-grandfather was a member of the regiment that was evacuated from Petersburg in 1865. We then looked up your great-grandfather, you said you could not remember if he passed this way, well he too was evacuated from Petersburg in 1865 so would have been one of the rebels that ignored the witch’s cry for help.” Ian was looking at the two women not knowing what to say. Agnus then spoke up, “I tried to do the same with the Morrison’s but they were not interested, just calling me a fake. I still believe one of them had a relative in the Northern Virginia Army.” Ian thought for a while and then turned to his wife, “What do you think Cynth?”
“You said the Morrison’s looked scared about something when we viewed the house,” she reminded her husband. “With the death of John Walker and nearly the death of you today, there is something disturbing about that tree. Agnus has agreed to hold a séance tomorrow evening to communicate with the ghost of the witch.” Ian was still listening. “The thing is,” Cynthia continued, “as a living descendent you are going to have to ask for her forgiveness.” Ian could now see he had no choice in the matter if he wanted this to end. So, he reluctantly agreed.

The next evening, Julie Davis across the street said she would look after Tom and Elle, telling them that Mummy and Daddy needed a little time to themselves. Out in the garden as the light began to fade, Agnus had gathered Ian and Cynthia round her at the tree. Agnus took Ian’s bandaged right hand and Cynthia’s left hand and explained she was going to ask her spirits to fetch the ghost of the witch from the tree house. “It’s a pity we did not have any more living relatives with us, it would have made our circle stronger. Without delay Agnus closed her eyes and fell into a deep trance.

The spirit of Agnus was now standing in the tree house; the interior was charred like the outside and smelled of burned flesh. Agnus spirit moved from one room to the next. Without warning the spectre of a witch came running towards her. It spoke in voices that of a hundred tormented souls the witch demanded, “Who dares trespass in my house?” The two spirits immediately collided and in that moment Agnus knew who she was addressing. “Mary Drew I have a decedent of one of the men who watched you burn, take his soul release your curse and move on.” Mary Drew reached into Agnus Winter to find the soul of Ian Jackson.

Ian began to shake violently, convulsing as Agnus Winter held on tight to his hand. His wounds reopened and blood oozed from his sores. Cynthia let go of Agnus and was now trying to break Ian free from her trap. For the first time in her life Cynthia Jackson saw ghosts, seven Confederate soldiers came out of Agnus Winter and moved over to the tree where they started digging at its base. Cynthia was memorised as she watched the soldiers dig a hole then bury something before replacing the earth. Like a film on a repeating loop the ghosts of the soldiers performed the ritual over again.

Ian was getting weaker; soon his soul would belong to Mary Drew. Then the conservatory doors barged opened and Pastor James Winter, Agnus ex-husband, with Angie Sumner came running over to where Cynthia was trying to rescue Ian. Julie Davis from across the street believed the rumours she heard that Agnus Winter had been longing to gain entrance into 1023 Ashwell Drive and feared for the Jacksons safety, so she phoned Pastor Winter and Angie Sumner.

 Pastor Winter knew of his ex-wife involvement with black magic and correctly surmised she would be trying to exorcise the spirit of the witch in the tree. For what purpose he was unsure.

Straight away Pastor Winter threw Holy water over Agnus, she screamed as she fell to the floor. With the link broken between Agnus the ghost of Mary Drew was now out in the open and looking for a host. Angie grabbed Cynthia and pulled her towards the house. Pastor Winter sprinkled more Holy water on to Ian to act as a barrier to repel any attempt of the spirit of Mary Drew taking up resistance. With Cynthia and Angie safely in the house and away from the realm of the witch, the only person available to be a host was Agnus Winter herself. The ghost of Mary Drew entered her new home and then Agnus Winter began to have convulsions. After her seizures the body of Agnus Winter rose up from the ground. Mary Drew, now living inside, was once again bound within the tree. In frustration she brought down from above fire to burn her cursed prison. Pastor Winter recoiled back as the flames once again consumed the tree and tree house. Only after the tree had been completely destroyed could she, Mary Drew, be free to roam the land leaping from host to host on her search and destroy quest of all living relatives for the Confederate army that abandon her.

Pastor Winter tried to pull his ex-wife away from the flames, but Agnus was hypnotised by the glare of the fire, like a rabbit memorised in a cars headlight. There was a crack from above and a flaming bowl from the tree rained down on top of Agnus Winter. By now the fire appliances had arrived and the Fire Chief grabbed Pastor Winter around the waist and took him inside the house. Cynthia and Angie were there to comfort him and stop him returning to the flames.

When the fire had been doused, the charred remains of Agnus Winter were removed and the police declared the area a crime scene. For the second time that week police were taking statements from Ian, Cynthia and their guests. It was during the police investigation that the discovery of the Confederate gold was found at the base of the tree. Many years ago, Agnus Winter found an old diary in her late uncle’s house. It was written by a one James Bailey a Confederate general who had buried the gold beneath a tree, two years before the fire that engulfed Petersburg. James was killed not long after he hidden the gold so no one knew of its exact whereabouts, not even the witch Mary Drew. Agnus Winter needed to contact her dead relative to find the tree he had buried the gold under. However, she was unaware that not only had she manged to contact the soul of her grandfather but also every fallen rebel soldier that died in Petersburg. Agnus went behind the back of her husband and his church and became involved in black magic. James Bailey told Agnus where the tree was to be found. Agnus Winter heard stories of the tree being haunted and so had a plan to exorcise the ghost of Mary Drew which then would allow Agnus back on to the property to search for the gold.

Agnus Winter was laid to rest in Oakwood Cemetery and the gold was sold to an anonymous buyer. The Jacksons wanted no profit from the sale so agreed with Pastor Winter that the proceeds would go to the Baptist Church to help the needy of Petersburg.

1023 Ashwell Drive became a tourist attraction for every ghoul, spiritualist, and treasure hunter. Ian and Cynthia had no problem selling the house and they moved just a few streets down from where they used to live.

Tom and Elle eventually went back to school and Ian returned to his office in Richmond once his wounds had healed. Cynthia was the one who surprised everyone the most, after all that had happened, she returned to college to start a course in American History specialising in the Civil War. She also took a part-time job in the library with Angie Sumner.

Life quickly returned to normal and the paranormal experience just seemed like a bad dream. Although Cynthia was reminded of the recent events, when she sat down to watch TV with Ian one night. They didn’t normally watch, ‘America’s Most Haunted’ but tonight there was a live feed coming from their old house, 1023 Ashwell Drive. The programme started with a piece to camera by the presenter, then the rest of the show was filmed in infa-red vision which always made those taking part look luminous green. The programme had its normal knocks and bangs, then the live feed was cut and the screen was filled with white noise and static. It was in this static that Cynthia would later insist she saw the face of Agnus Winter.

© Copyright 2018 Markie Bee. All rights reserved.

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