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Beyond the Elder Tree

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It had seemed like a great idea at first: Timmy and one of his fellow scouts doing a wildlife survey on the small Channel Island of Mere. Two nights away camping with no adult supervision - Awesome!

Timmy had read up on the uninhabited island prior to the crossing. Mere was made up of rugged heathland and undisturbed woodland. With over forty native species of trees and shrubs Mere was a private wildlife haven for dozens of species of birds, red squirrels and a host of insects. Timmy loved conservation work and this was going to be a great weekend. That was until Lucas Jones volunteered for the second of the two places.

Lucas was one of those kids that no one really liked, yet he always seemed to be there, imposing himself whichever group he managed to sneak up on. What made things worse was the Lucas was a couple of years older than Timmy - nearly seventeen, and with age came authority.

The older scout had begun delegating jobs as soon as they’d disembarked from the ferry and he was already getting on Timmy’s nerves. Forced to carry the heavy equipment, Timmy trudged up the narrow dusty path that led from the grey shingle beach up through the yellow wind-swept grassland that covered the windy hillside.

They soon reached the trampled field where they intended to set up camp. The track had led them over the peak of the cliff and down through a thicket of trees: Hazel, ash and hawthorn, Timmy identified but Lucas wasn’t interested. He was staring at something on the other side of the patch of open ground. Timmy followed his gaze and he too stopped dead in his tracks. Neither of them said anything for several seconds as they stared in curious fascination at the abnormally twisted rotting tree before them.

Timmy didn’t like it. There was something darkly unnatural, almost morbid about the tree and its threatening stance. He could almost feel numerous unseen eyes glaring out at him from every knot, whorl and hollow from its exposed roots upwards. Its cracked bark and leafless boughs told of its corruption. Timmy was filled with a sudden dread as he became aware of a vengeful presence radiating from the decomposing trunk.

The other trees appeared to be disturbed by it as well. They leaned away from it as if fearful of its malignant touch. To Timmy’s keen eye the almost dead tree wasn’t one of the hazel, hawthorn or ash varieties, which made it seem even more out of place here. Whatever it had been, it had festered too long for Timmy to identify it. As he racked his brain a strange thought clicked in his mind, like a dream memory:

The veil between worlds is thin here. He didn’t know where it had come from and he shivered despite the heat of the day. Timmy suddenly felt very exposed out here. A sense of loneliness and separation from the rest of the world brushed his nerves and the he wondered why they had come to Mere, because something in the way the tree leaned towards them gave Timmy the impression that the island didn’t want any visitors.

“Hurry up you lazy tart”. Lucas pushed past Timmy shattering his thoughts.

Timmy watched as his fellow scout marched over to the tree and proceeded to urinate against it.

“It’s dead, it won’t mind” Lucas called over his shoulder. He didn’t seem bothered by its presence, which meant Timmy had to keep his secret fears to himself, for to do anything else would invite cruel taunts and ridicule from Lucas for the rest of the trip.

 

The witching hour was fast approaching and Timmy was lying in his sleeping bag just dropping off to sleep when he heard the crunching sound outside the tent. Timmy went rigid. He was wide awake and alert in an instant, heart pounding loudly in his chest. Someone fumbled with the zip to the tent.

Then he let out a heavy sigh and relaxed. Lucas clambered back into inside after relieving himself again.

“Strange how the trees look closer when it’s dark” Lucas whispered loudly as he wrestled his way into his own sleeping bag.

Timmy felt prickles run up his spine. “I know” he murmured quietly.  He’d considered the same thing earlier as the evening shadows had been crawling towards them when they built the campfire.

He didn’t like it here Timmy decided. Furthermore, now he was awake again he could see silhouettes of the surrounding trees on the side of the tent. The whole island was bathed in cold silvery moonlight. Normally he’d be glad of a full moon when camping but tonight the moon was far from friendly. Its sinister glow brought the distorted tree to life in Timmy’s mind; conjuring images of its skeletal branches ripping open the canvass to get at the two boys inside.

Throughout the night Timmy endured a restless sleep. His dreams came thick and fast and in every one he was being chased by an unseen spectre that lurked in the woods.

 

The next morning Timmy woke up first. He shuffled caterpillar-fashion in his sleeping bag and stuck his head outside into the early morning air. The bleary field and treeline was dominated by the disturbing black tree, as if it had been waiting for them to emerge from the tent. Its claw-like branches were pointing towards outwards as if to grab them and he wondered for a moment if they’d been at that angle last night? Lucas’ comments returned to him on the fresh dawn breeze and he was immediately forced to push a sheaf of half-formed spine-tingling images from his mind, before he spooked himself silly.

A second later he was suddenly grabbed from behind by Lucas.

“Gotcha!”

Timmy yelled in surprise and Lucas collapsed in hysterics.

The disturbing thoughts Timmy had been rounding up in his head were scattered in all directions and his unease quickly flashed into anger.

“You idiot” he shouted at Lucas, punching him on the leg through his sleeping bag. He was never violent usually and at once felt ashamed, but Lucas hadn’t even noticed he’d hit him.

“Too easy” the other chuckled as Timmy stomped out of the tent.

 

When they began their now, uninspiring, wildlife survey up at the lake, Lucas had made Timmy bring the fishing rods. Fishing wasn’t strictly allowed here but who would know? They were all alone on Mere, as Lucas frequently pointed out.

It was an observation that didn’t reassure Timmy.

His frustration had eased a little but the strange otherworldly presence still lingered all around him. Elusive crickets chirped unseen in the long grasses around them, warning each other of the two intruders.

Lucas must be worried about this island as well, Timmy thought. He’d caught him glancing at the tree when he thought Timmy wasn’t looking and he’d said very little this morning, as if his mind was elsewhere.

There are lots of doorways here he recalled the words from his fevered dreams last night. Not doors made by people but doors to other places. It didn’t make sense but thinking about the statement reawakened the idea that they were being watched. Plus, alongside with Lucas’ uncharacteristic introversion, Timmy felt even more strongly that something on the island was waiting for them.

It was so quiet here as well. If they had been anywhere else he would have described it as peaceful. But it was a tense, pregnant stillness that smothered any sense of tranquillity. Every sound they made was amplified in the grave austere environment so that everything on the island could hear every sound they made and knew exactly where they were all the time.

“What’s up?” Lucas’ voice cracked the silence and Timmy became aware he’d been watching him. Lucas couldn’t quite hide the note of forced casualness form his voice, as if he was trying to hide something.

“I was just thinking about this place and… that tree” Timmy ventured carefully.

“I don’t like that thing” Lucas said slowly looking back at the cold surface of the lake. “It’s creepy the way its branches seem to follow you”.

“What do you mean?” Timmy asked, becoming aware of the temperature quickly dropping around him.

“Like this morning” Lucas said conspiratorially. “I was taking a piss in the corner of the field and that tree was leaning over towards me. Then, later on when you were making breakfast it was leaning towards the left, just where we were sitting”.

“Should we move the tent to another spot?” Timmy suggested too eagerly before he realised his error.

Lucas paused as a hurtful smile curled at his thin lips.

“You’re not scared of it are you?” he sneered.

“No” He replied, too quickly.

“Don’t worry, I’ll protect you from the evil tree” Lucas’ coarse laughter was almost triumphant.

“Get lost”. Timmy had had enough.

 

Lucas revelled in his own hilarity as he headed back to the campsite to start the campfire for their evening meal of beans and pot noodles. They’d been running low on water and he’d left Timmy with the water purifying tablets and two plastic ten litre containers, which he had to fill and bring back to camp.

Timmy toyed with a number of things he could and should have said to Lucas as the other went crashing back through the foliage. Still, at least getting the water was a good excuse to stay away from that tree a little longer. Its disturbing form had continued to creak in his mind - its monstrous branches stretching out to seize him in the moonlight of his imagination.

Timmy had just filled the second container when he heard Lucas shouting. He knew something was wrong even before he saw the trail of smoke rising over the hill.

An urgent panic possessed he was propelled through the long whispering grasses. Startled butterflies tumbled upwards as he blundered through their resting places. Nettles and thorns scratched his bare legs but in his haste he wouldn’t notice them until later.

Bursting through the woodland Timmy was strangely disorientated. He’d either taken a wrong turn and entered the campsite from a different direction. Or else the twisted tree had actually moved! From where Timmy now stood, the tree was no longer on the edge of the clearing; it now rose halfway between the treeline and their tent.

Timmy registered this inconsistency in a split-second. There was no time to dwell on it because of the more immediate concern of the fire that had engulfed the hideous tree. Lucas, evidently, had had enough of the tree as well and he’d stupidly decided to burn it to the ground.

The tree’s decayed timbers must have gone up instantly. Its dry twigs and branches crackled loudly in the heat. Lucas was rushing around frantically shouting for Timmy to help.

Timmy lugged the water bottles as fast as he could, almost tripping over himself as the heavy containers banged against his thin legs. Smoke stung his eyes and he blinked away tears as he lumbered forwards to tackle the blaze before it got out of control.

 

That night Timmy was alone again in the tent picking the thorns from his legs. Explosions of shock and anger continued to go off in his head like fireworks. He’d not uttered a word since he put out the fire out and he’d not eaten his supper either.

Why did Lucas have to come on this trip, he kept asking himself?

The night was getting cold and Timmy shivered.

In the morning the ferry would be coming back to collect them and it would all be over. He lay down in the hopeful knowledge that this time tomorrow he’d be at home in his warm cosy bed.

Somewhere out there amid the nocturnal orchestra of Mere, a tree was creaking in the wind. It couldn’t be that nightmare tree because that was gone now.

After a while Timmy became aware of a shuffling sound outside, followed by Lucas’s heavy breathing and Timmy went rigid. His blood ran cold in an instant and his lungs froze. He couldn’t breathe, despite his heart hammering against his chest. He could see the other’s shadow moving across the canvass outside.

Lucas was at the front of the tent now, fumbling with the zip as he tried to get inside.

That nightmare tree had died in the fire, Timmy reminded himself… along with Lucas.

 

End

 

Bio:

Andy loves writing short stories with a horror / supernatural flavour and he is currently dabbling in eBooks. Please visit blackcattales.weebly.com to see more of his work. Andy has had his stories published on other websites and local magazines in the New Forest, UK, where he lives with his beautiful wife and two amazing kids.

 

 

 

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