The Old Tree House

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

A tree that holds the soul of a small child captive. A woman in search of justice.

The Old Tree House




It's gorgeous; it's everything I've ever dreamed of, cried, Joanna. That was the reaction Brett was hoping for as they pulled into the driveway. Brett first saw the house while driving to a meeting with some of his clients one day. It wasn't listed for sale, but his finances wouldn't allow him to make an offer at that time anyway. Six months later, he returned. His finances had improved, so here he was at the door; he knocked. The door was answered by an old lady, a widowed lady who lived there by herself. He explained to her how good the market was for sellers at the moment and would she be interested in selling the house. The old lady was interested, Brett made an offer, and it was accepted. He had passed this house many times after that first sighting and thought it was the perfect place for his wife, Joanna, and son, seven-year-old Joey. Brett wanted this place as a home for his family, where little Joey could play in the big backyard and the old tree house. Also, Joanna would love the kitchen, and the attic would be perfect for her art studio.
Brett was lucky with his timing, the old widow who owned the house was going into a nursing home, and the place was to be listed the following week. It was an older style two-story timber house with a shingled roof, a front and back porch, and an attic with a window looking down into the backyard.
They didn't waste any time moving in once it was vacant. Joanna, an interior decorator before having Joey, had already selected the colours for the whole interior and couldn't wait to start with the painting. Brett knew Joey would like the backyard; his eyes lit up when he saw it. He loved the old tree house and couldn't wait to climb up, but it was missing a ladder, so he would have to wait. Also, Brett wanted to make sure it was safe and wouldn't fall down as soon as he stepped inside.
The yard was overrun with weeds and long grass and needed a lot of work. Brett had to hire a local handyman named Fred to help. In addition, the base of the tree that held the tree house was overgrown with vines and bushes and looked like it hadn't been touched for years.
Fred was only hired for a few days until Brett could buy some of his own tools to do the work himself. Fred, was not a young man; his wife and himself had lived in the area for many years and knew the house quite well from working here for the old lady. He knew a lot of the house's history, so this would be a good opportunity for Brett to learn this history and its previous owners by talking to Fred.
One thing he wanted to ask about was that the first day Fred arrived, he walked into the backyard, looked straight up at the tree house, and made the sign of the cross. Brett saw this, and it made him curious about what it was about the tree house that caused him to do this.
They worked hard that first hot day and decided to call it quits mid-afternoon. Brett didn't get a chance to ask Fred about the house then, so he thought he would have a talk with him in the morning. He told Joanna that night about Fred's knowledge of the house, and he'll be talking to him in the morning. So Joanna said she'll join them herself; she wanted to learn more.
The following day Fred turned up early, seven o'clock, as it was a warm day, and they had a lot of work to do. However, Brett didn't waste any time; he stopped Fred before he had a chance to pick up his tools. Fred, he said, can we sit a minute and talk? I would like to learn more about this house, its history, like when it was built and by who, what can you tell me, Fred?
Well, said Fred, I could do with a cup of coffee. Coming right up, said Joanna, who already had the coffee brewing. She didn't take long to return, carrying a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. They then seated themselves around the porch table overlooking the backyard.
Fred started, as the story goes, they were a young couple, newly married, he was the banker in town, and she came from a well-to-do family back east. They built this house back in forty-one. There wasn't much around here then. After a year or so, she fell pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy; they named him Samuel. He was the apple of his father's eye, he loved that boy. So when he turned seven, his father had that tree house built for him. As you can see, the main branch it sits on is a little high, so he had a rope ladder made up and tied around the main beam of the floor. It was fastened with knots on both sides.
His father was at the bank the following day, and his mother was working in the kitchen. The boy climbed the ladder into the tree house and played there when his mother called. He started climbing down the ladder; when suddenly, one of the knots gave way and caused the ladder to twist. He lost his grip and fell; his neck was caught in-between the ropes. That young couple's lives would change forever after that moment when the life drained from that small boy's body.
The tragedy was that his own mother found him. She was busy making his lunch, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, his favourite, with a glass of milk. She walked out onto the back porch to call him again. That's when she saw him, it would have been a horrific sight for a mother to see. People nearby came running when they heard the screams, but there was nothing they could do except lower him down to his distraught mother.
Tears were forming in Joanne's eyes. She turned to see where Joey was. Come here, Joey, she said. When he came to her, she hugged him tightly, love you, she said, love you too, Mommy, he replied. What about the father? Brett interrupted. Hold on, said Fred, as he took a sip of his coffee. I wouldn't mind another slice of that delicate cake.
Fred finished his cake and started again. That man took it hard; remember, he had that tree house built for him. He got the old wooden ladder from the shed two weeks later and cut the rope down. He put the ladder back, walked back to the spot at the base of the tree, and looking up at the tree house, he pulled out a revolver, put it to his temple, and pulled the trigger.
Oh my God cried Joanna as she put her hand on Brett's. That is such a sad story. What happened to the mother, she asked? That is the old lady you bought the house from, Fred answered.
That was too much for Joanna; she burst into tears. That poor woman, what she must have gone through. Why didn't she get the tree removed, asked Joanna? And Fred said she tried three times, then gave up. Every time something would go wrong, machines would break down, and chainsaws wouldn't start. Finally, one guy did manage to get his chainsaw going, and just as it touched the tree, a branch came down, striking him on the back; he was in the hospital for weeks. After that, she couldn't get anyone to come near the place, and that's why I can't help you around that tree, Brett; it's cursed.
Brett wasn't convinced and said, that is some story, Fred, sad, but that tree house has to be cleaned up, so I'll handle the tree myself, and you stick to the yard. I don't believe in curses. Joanna gave Brett a stern look and warned, I do, so be careful.
Brett went to the shed and found the old ladder. I'm not afraid of some old tree, he said to himself as he walked toward it. Fred was working in the yard when he heard the yell. He ran to the tree to find Brett on the ground and the ladder on top of him. Brett didn't know that a giant beehive was halfway up the tree, just below the tree house. The bees took to him as he climbed and fell, fending them off.
Still not a believer, he said to Fred as he lay there. You better get me to the hospital; I'm allergic to bee stings. He had been stung six times and needed to spend the night in hospital under observation. Joanna banned him from working near the tree until the bees were removed. Joanna called a bee-keeper, but he couldn't help. The bees were way too hostile, and he had never seen anything like it in all the years he had been around bees.
One month later, the yard was looking good after all their work. However, nothing had been cleared around the bottom of the tree house, so Joey was still anxiously waiting for the day he could go play there. But, the painting was almost complete on the inside. Joanna's experience as an interior decorator had paid off.
Joanna had started work on the attic studio for her painting, so she spent a lot of time cleaning and getting it ready. One night she was working alone and just happened to glance out of the window and saw something in the tree house, a light, a dim golden glow coming from the gaps in the timber. It glowed bright, then dim, bright again, and then stopped. Joanna thought it was strange to see the light flashing from there. She knew no one could get up there; she thought it must be a reflection from the moon or street light. So she finished what she was doing, went back downstairs, and didn't think any more of it.
The same thing had happened as many as three times over the following two weeks, and she was getting a little worried but didn't want to tell Brett. He wouldn't take it seriously and probably just laugh at her.
On the days she had seen the glowing light, something else was going on, and it was with Joey. She noticed he was acting strange. He seemed distant and moody and wouldn't answer when his name was called. Instead, he spent a lot of time standing and staring at the tree house. Brett thought he was a little mad because he couldn't get up there and play.
It was time for Joey's lunch, Joanna had fixed him a sandwich and drink, then gave him a call. He started to eat then put the sandwich back down. I don't want this, he said in a defiant voice, you know I only have peanut butter and jelly on my sandwich. Joanna was shocked; you have never eaten peanut butter. You are allergic to peanuts, she said back. He started to walk away; Joanna wouldn't let it stop there; she called out to him, Joey, come back here right now. He turned and looked at her and yelled, MY NAME IS NOT JOEY, AND YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER! He got up and ran to the backyard. Joanna ran after him calling his name; she found him standing, looking up at the tree house. Its light was intense now, and it seemed to affect Joey. Joanna didn't waste any time; she gabbed the small boy around the waist and ran with him, out of the yard and into the street. As she looked back, she could see the light fade, and with that, Joey asked, Mommy, what are you doing? Why are we in the street? She kissed him and said, everything is ok, my darling, every thing's ok.
Brett was not far behind and followed them into the street; he wanted to know what was happening. Joanna told him the story of the light and how she felt there was something evil in that tree house, and it had control over Joey, but it stopped when she got him out of the yard.
Brett wasn't convinced; he suggested seeing Fred, getting the old lady's nursing home address, and paying her a visit.
They knew Joey couldn't go back into the yard, so Brett got the car, and they drove up to Fred's to get the address. The nursing home was only twenty minutes south of there, so they rang first to see if she would be up for visitors. The carer she spoke to said she would be happy to see them.
They all sat down in the day room; a nurse took Joey for a walk while they talked. Then, Joanna spoke; she explained what was happening but was careful not to upset the old lady by bringing back bad memories from her past.
The old lady then spoke, and Joanna was surprised by her calmness and willingness to talk about her son.
She said he would always come when I called, he was a good boy. Would drop everything and come to me, and that's what he was doing that day, coming to me, but he didn't make it; the rope, that dam rope stopped him.
I believe he's still there, his little soul trapped in that tree house, and I left him there when I sold the house. All he want's is his mother; he's looking for me. All those years, he was up there, and I couldn't go to him, and he couldn't come to me, trapped. So he used your son to try and find me. This had happened before, years ago, when my mother was still alive. I had to go and take care of her until she passed. I was gone for four weeks and had a family with a small boy living in my house, looking after it. When I returned, they were gone, but they left a note and what they described happened to their boy was exactly the same as you experienced with yours.
Joanna asked the lady if she could come back to the house to see if it would affect what was occurring in the tree house. She agreed to return with them, but Brett and Joanna stipulated Joey would not be involved. Fred's wife, Hanna, had already volunteered to take Joey and keep him at their house.
The old lady walked into the yard at the house, which held so many bad memories. She tried to escape by selling and moving to the home, but now she is back facing that tree house again, knowing it holds her son's tortured soul.
The golden glow shone through the gaps in the timber. It was a dim glow, weak at first but stronger when the old lady walked closer. Joanna had called Beth, a medium and friend. She had confided in her just a week before, and now she had arrived. They were all standing around the base of the tree with Beth, who was now standing with her eyes closed and her hands out, palms up, trying to contact the boy's soul. She said, he's just a little boy, confused and scared, and wants his mother. He said, she was calling him but was too weak to get to her.
We need to let him draw energy from us, stand in a circle and link hands, combine, and be one energy source he can draw. So they followed Beth's instructions. They linked together in a circle holding hands. The energy was there. Beth could feel it as the faint glow was turning into a bright gold sphere of light, but there was something else Beth could feel coming from the tree, which wasn't good. She could help the boy, but two other souls were trying to use the energy to escape the hold of the tree. Beth knew the boy's soul had to be let free, then close the way out for the others quickly. It drew a lot from her, and she was starting to feel weakened from the battle for the boy and simultaneously holding off the others. What is this tree? She thought. What evil power in this tree makes it capable of holding captive the souls of the dead?
Just at that moment, she felt like she had control. The energy was getting to the boy, and the light seemed to move. It hovered and moved from the tree to the air above the group, then lowered into the circle's center. The sphere expanded into a glowing mist and slowly formed a small shape of a boy with his arms outreached looking at his mother. Old now, but once young and beautiful, and that's how he saw her. She was crying and held out her arms to him. They touched, then the image of the boy moved back from her, looked up, then slowly rose and faded into the night. His little soul was free to move on.
A week later, the boy's mother passed away peacefully. Joey was back at home and being himself, and Brett started slowly clearing under the big tree. The bees settled down again, and the smell of honey came from the hive. Joanna called a bee-keeper who relocated the bees to his hives, promising a big jar of fresh honey in return.
Beth thought it best not to tell Joanna and Brett about the other souls she encountered that night. She kept that to herself.




It had been six months since that night they freed the little boy's soul. Joey was settling in good at his new school and making friends. Brett had transferred to the real estate office in their town, so he had less distance to commute. Joanna was happy with her art studio in the attic and seeking work as an interior designer in the town. But she still had this feeling she needed to know more about the house and was also interested in the history of the town they now live in. So she made a trip to the library.

She wasn't sure where to start looking, so she asked an elderly gentleman who volunteered to help people like herself, who wasn't up to date with what a modern library had to offer. She explained her interest in the town's history and the house they bought and now live in.

There was a coffee machine there, so she bought each a coffee, and both sat down at a table. He started to talk and explain how the town came about. It all happened when someone found gold in the hills not far from where the town stands now. He spoke of the pioneers of the town and where they are buried. That was interesting, but Joanna wanted to know things about the town that people don't want to talk about and secrets they don't want people to know about. Every town has them. You just have to dig around to find them.

She thought of telling him about the little boy and the tree house, it may get him started on some of the stories she was looking for.

When she finished her story, he said, as long as the souls of the ones hung from that old tree aren't released. Joanna got a cold shiver when she heard that. Was that a hanging tree? She asked. Yes, was the reply; this was a bad town back in the day. Killings, robberies, you name it, it happened here. The real bad ones got hung from that tree of yours.

Joanna stood up and said, I have to go, my son is coming out of school, and I'm picking him up. Of course, it was a lie, but she had to get home after hearing all that. She was starting to think the tree could be cursed after all.

Joanna spoke to Beth, her medium friend, about the old man's story. Beth said that on the night of the freeing of the little boy's soul, she had a strong feeling of evil coming from the tree and felt afraid but didn't say anything. She said that her feeling was from two more souls trapped but evil souls. They were trying to get out at the same time as the boy, and I was worried they would. The two souls were similar, like they were related like brothers. Joanna felt uneasy about all this, then Beth said more, which made her feel afraid, afraid of what was trapped there that could escape. Beth said, when the boy was freed, it was like the door was opened for him, but the others tried to get through as well, and I closed it, but I'm not sure it'll keep them out, they know there's a door, and they'll try and use it. Joanna was apprehensive now but thinking, she started this, so she would have to finish it.

The library was an excellent place to start, then the town hall and courthouse to check criminal records. She read that the town was first founded by William H. Jennson. He had built the first hotel in the town and ran a dry-goods store. He arrived in the area in 1875, looking for gold. He teamed up with James Mathews and struck gold on their claim. Then, started mining and made quite a lot of money until Mathews was shot dead in a bungled robbery by the Wilson brothers.

Jennson then went on to build the hotel and the town around it. There was a statue in honour of him in front of the town hall, erected by his son William Jr, back in 1920.

The brothers were arrested at the scene, tried in the company camp, found guilty, and were hung two days later, side by side. The Wilsons were twin brothers from Texas, looking for gold. They were born together and died together.

Joanna believed she had found everything she wanted to know. When a photo fell from one of the books onto the table, she picked it up, taken the day of the hangings. It showed the tree and a crowd of people standing around the base. That can't be right, she said to herself; that's impossible; it's been over 140 years; it can't be the same tree. But, everything added up after a check of records. That was the tree standing in her backyard. The tree hadn't changed since the day the Wilson brothers were hung. Then she remembered the chainsaws stopping and the branch hitting that man when they tried to cut it down. So, it wasn't the little boy that was doing all that. It was the evil souls of those twin brothers locked in that tree.


William H Jennson


William Jennson was a young man, a bit on the heavy side, unmarried, and worked behind the counter of a hardware store in St Louis, he got sick of that, and when someone offered him a chance to travel west with him to try their luck in the gold fields of California, he took it. Unfortunately, that person died of a fever the second week of the journey, so William got his wagon, horses, and goods, but wrote to his family and told of their son's death. A story of how they had lost everything to wild Indians, and he, himself, was lucky to escape with his life. Once in California, he started looking around for someone who could help him get to the gold fields; he met James Mathews.


James Mathews


James Mathews was a hard-working man of twenty-eight years of age. He came to California from the east after the death of his wife and child at birth. He didn't have a wagon or tools, so teaming up with William seemed like a good idea. They took out a claim in both names, and it wasn't long before it started paying off big time. They now had thirty men, and some had families with them. So, there had to be facilities built to cater to their needs. Like, housing, a store, a social area to meet, and kids to play. Also, there was a great need for security for the mine and the gold. All this was James Mathews' plan but not agreed upon by William Jennson. He didn't believe they should supply all that without making money from the deal. James tried to explain that it was needed to hold their workers. It was an investment in the mine, and eventually, the money will return with a loyal workforce. They had many heated arguments over this subject, but the project went through anyway. 


The Wilson Brothers


The Wilson brothers were young twenty-three year old cowboys from Texas. They had just finished a cattle drive to Kansas when they heard about the gold in California and decided to head west to try their luck in the fields. They were disappointed when they found the best claims were already taken by the big companies. So, they rode into the Jennson Mathews camp looking for work and headed for the head office. Jennson and Mathews were having one of their heated arguments in the office, but this was more heated than usual this time. Mathews was furious, there was missing money for the camp he was building, and he accused Jennson of taking it. Mathews was yelling and said the partnership was over and started walking towards the door just as the Wilson brothers arrived.  Jennson was mad; he reached for a revolver he kept in the draw, Mathews had just got to the door when the bullet struck him in the back of the head, and he dropped dead to the floor. The brothers, seeing this, pulled their guns for protection as Jennson fired a shot at them, hitting one in the arm. The other managed to get off a shot, but Jennson had fled out the back door. The security was on the scene in no time, and their guns were on the two brothers. James reappeared from around the corner screaming, they killed William, they killed my partner, William. They tried to rob us, but poor William tried to stop them, and they killed him. The brothers tried to talk, to tell the truth about what just happened. But, it was no good; there was shouting and yelling, string them up.  The trial was the next day in camp. The judge had barely sobered up by then; they didn't have a chance. Jennson claimed to be an eyewitness to the killing and called for revenge, the verdict was guilty, and the sentence was to be hung by the neck until death. So two days later, they were hung from the big tree, one-quarter mile west of the camp, now the property of Brett, Joanna, and little Joey. 


Joanna arrived home; she was happy with all her investigations and the information she had collected about the tree but unsure what to do with it.

So, she called Beth and told her what she found, like, the Wilson brothers' hangings, who had murdered James Mathews, the partner of the town's founder, William H Jennson.

She told of the photo and how the tree looked the same in the image as it looked now. Beth wanted to see that photo and said it didn't sound right. Something strange has caused an imbalance in nature, and it's in that tree. So the Wilson brothers hung there, and they were murderers; they were hung for their crime. Something's wrong; their souls should have gone straight to hell. 

Joanna went to her studio in the attic; the urge to paint came over her; she had to paint the tree. So she took hold of a large canvas, some paint, and brushes and started. Her hand was painting fast; she couldn't stop; it had to be the tree, but she didn't quite know why.

The tree was there, on the canvas, finished. Joanna was tired, it had taken her three hours to complete. She needed to rest and lay down for a moment, but she couldn't move from the chair. Arms and legs were fixed, her eyes looking straight ahead at the canvas, trance-like.

The painting was changing, no longer a tree, a scene was forming, it was a room with two men, one walking to a door, the other standing at a desk, the canvas changed again, the one standing at the desk is holding a gun, the other is on the floor in a pool of blood.

Joanna watched; something or someone was sending her a message. She mediately recognised the men, the one with the gun was, Jennson and the other was Mathews. Joanna had seen photos of both at the library. The images showed her the murder of Mathews, and it was Jennson who did it and not the brothers, who they hung for that crime.

Joanna could move now; she stood up and walked to the window, looked down at the tree, and said softly, I got your message; I'll do everything to set it right.

The town hall had a lot of logbooks and papers from the old gold mine in the historical section. So, Joanna got permission to go through all the material they had to see what she could find. Evidence was what she was after, which would clear the brothers of that crime. Joanna told Beth about what she saw in the painting, so she came along and helped in the search. They spent two days going through those books and found nothing. Then Beth spotted an unsealed envelope sticking out of a logbook; she opened it and looked inside. This is it, she said excitedly and handed it to Joanna. It was old, so she had to be careful, but it was clear to read.

It was written by Mathews; it told of the money Jennson was stealing from the company and their arguments over it. He spoke of how he was leaving, breaking up the partnership, but worried for his life. Jennson had threatened him before. He also wrote, "If I was to die an unnatural death, Jennson would have a hand in it," Signed: James Mathews. Janurary10th 1880.

This is what Joanna was after; she took the letter to a meeting with the Mayor. He didn't show any interest at all. Being a descendent of Jennson, he didn't want to ruin his name.

So, she and Beth took the story to the paper. They were happy to print the full letter and story behind it, excluding Joanna's encounter with the painting. There was a great response from the public; more information was brought forward about Jennson's shady dealings. More probing into the appointed judge found he wasn't even a judge.

Finally, letters were sent to the state Governor requesting a dismissal of the charges on the brothers. It took two months, but they were granted, the charges were dropped, and their names were cleared.

Joanna sat in the attic, looking at the tree in the painting, thinking, how can I tell them they're free to leave that tree where they have been trapped for so long. Then she saw the painting slowly change, it changed to an image of two young men on horseback, riding off down a dirt road, mountains and blue sky in the background. She stood up and walked to the window, and there she saw two lights slowly rise from the tree; they glowed once, then faded into the night. The next day Joanna located the grave of the brothers, buried together, in the town cemetery. She placed flowers at the headstone, placed there by their parents, and said softly, good-bye cowboys.


Submitted: April 15, 2022

© Copyright 2023 Bernie Fay. All rights reserved.

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Sat, April 16th, 2022 1:01am


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