A Tree in the Woods

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

A short story about a family living in solitary cottage in the forest, facing tragedies of present and past.

I

It was not so long after dusk. A little glow could be spotted between the trees in the dark forest. It came from a cottage, where a mother whose name was Elise ate dinner with two her children: A teenage boy Albert and his little sister Rose. The family was poor, but what does wealth really mean in such desolate place? Money has no value in a place no trader ventures into. A small cottage, a woodshed, and a little garden was all they needed to sustain.

Their home consisted of a stone hearth, now occupied by an old metal pot with watery stew, a table with wooden stumps used as chairs and 3 pallets – each had a little coffer for personal belongings. On the walls there were a few wooden sculptures representing forest animals – a rabbit, a deer and a crow – all made years ago by a father of the family, when he felt bored during long winter nights.

The cottage had wooden walls – with only exception of the hearth, and was coated by thatch roof. On the left side there was a little woodshed, and to the right lied a small garden, where Elise grown vegetables. The house was surrounded by a dark forest, not even a path led out. It was not necessary. The family knew this place well enough to never get lost during long years they inhabited the place, which is since Rosie was born.

The life here was harsh but tolerable, the boy was merely 15, and yet he had much work around the house. Living without a father, he had to embrace his fate as the head of family. He had flawless physique, but it was forced on him. He wanted an academic career, studying two books he had in his compartment, over and over in free time. His mother was aware of his aspirations, and by no means did she want to stop him. Deep down she knew they will soon need to leave this place for good.

Elise was a wise woman, despite knowing her son will have some difficulties perceiving his goal, she did not try to discourage him. But she wasn’t eager to leave. She once wanted to study herself, but no women were allowed at universities. She hated the roles the society tried to force on her. The wild treats everyone equally, equally brutal, but equally nevertheless.

Rose was but a small child, a seven-year-old who has not experienced the hardships of life yet. She was given small jobs, as every work matters in such place, but the most tiring work was done by her brother.

No one was ready for what was yet to come.

II

“Will daddy come home soon?” asked little Rose. “Of course he will, darling” responded the mother.

Albert remained silent. He knew it is a lie as well as he knew his mother wanted to believe it herself. She never told them she found her husband hanging from a linden tree two years before. But he was old enough to see the suffering in her eyes the day she returned from the woods that day.

“I’m scared, I saw the man today” continued daughter. The woman became pale. “He called me, I saw he was making wooden toys for me, but I ran away”. These words echoed in silence. Mother made up the man, so children don’t go close to the cursed tree. She hated the old linden, as if the tree caught her husband and hanged him itself. It was a symbol of loss, sorrow, still bearing marks where bark was torn off in rage.

The rest of the night was quiet, while tucking children to bed, Elise whispered to her son “Keep an eye on her”.

A few busy days passed, as there was some work around the house, they had little time to spend time together, at least not sitting, as they worked around, but they were too absorbed by work to talk. Only little Rose managed to find some free time for playing, still in sight of her concerned family.

Finally the whole family found some time to relax together. Rose was still playing outside, watched by her mother and brother through the open door. “She sometimes pointed at the tree, claiming she sees the man, but I didn’t see anything suspicious. I think it could be only her imagination.” started Arthur.

Elise sighed - “I saw him…” Her son was surprised, but said nothing, waiting for further explanation. “You are aware your father is dead?” he nodded, “It was him, I could not forget this sight, it was him, looking exactly as the day I cut the rope he was hanging on.” She burst into tears. Arthur tried to console her. “He was standing on his grave, exactly where I buried him” – She continued after a while.

Rosie heard something happening, and she timidly appeared in doorway. “Mommy, what happened?” – She asked.

“You and your brother are leaving the day after tomorrow, you will find a better life somewhere else, you deserve better than this solitude.” Arthur froze. He knew well it was coming, yet he momentarily felt he wasn’t ready. “Are you going with us?” Rosie continued asking. “No, I must remain here, this is the only place in the world I can feel happy, I could not stand going back, but you still can start a new life, you brother needs to study, you both will someday find love and have families of your own, this place is limiting you.”. Arthur wanted to protest, but he could not utter a single word. Whether he liked it or not, he was sure his mother didn’t mean any harm to them. Maybe there was some hidden reasoning behind this decision? Maybe he was ready? Whatever it was, he trusted his mother unconditionally.

III

The next day passed in silence. Arthur spent it packing his belongings, and so did Rose. It wasn’t said they were to leave and never come back, but in this household unspoken things were well acknowledged, sometimes even better than words. They sat in silence, yet it seemed as they held a discussion, exchanging sorrowful glances. Maybe there were simply no words to express how they felt.

“I will be back in a moment” said Arthur, breaking the grave silence and quickly left. Elise heard a maddened scream in the distance, the forest trembled. He came back short after, seemingly calmer. They did not do any other work that day, the family ate supper and went to sleep.

It was a cold morning. Tears flowed, it seemed they could form a river. Albert could never forgot last words his mother whispered to him: “Do not go back, this is a cursed place, I can feel it. Never, under no circumstances should you go back, or even near this godforsaken forest.”

This words echoed in Arthur’s head, as he left with Rose. “Where are we going?” she asked. “I don’t know.”

Elise tried to work around her little cottage, but could not concentrate on anything. She gave up on doing anything this day – it was clear she could not distract herself from what happened. She sat down, gazing blankly into crackling fire of the hearth. She felt heartbroken, and yet was sure that what happened was right. God knows what would happen if they stayed, and whatever it would be, he wouldn’t care a little.

The woman could neither eat nor sleep that night. She went out. Wandering in the forest, she eventually stumbled upon the ominous tree. She gazed blankly at the old linden. There was her husband, standing there, on his own grave, staring at her, as if he was looking right into her soul. She took a step forward. He opened his arms. Elise felt no fear, she came closer, trying to reach him, touch him. A slight smile appeared on man’s grievous face. She fell into his arms.

He softly whispered to her ear: “I promised to love you, till death us do part…”

“I lied.”

“For even Death herself cannot separate us.”

The branches of old linden creaked as if they gained additional weight.

The End


Submitted: June 01, 2021

© Copyright 2021 DagoStein. All rights reserved.

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