The tree wasn’t normal.
The hues. The oddly even crackling pattern in the bark. The finger and tooth shaped leaves that hung heavy from spider silk branches. The corkscrew manner in which it had crawled out of the earth.
Everything about this tree was awful.
It seemed, to the passerby, to be a piece of art: an installation of some budding sculptor or eclectic personae. But when those same individuals took a step forward, they all knew something was off about this particular tree.
Then they would take another step, and be certain that a heaviness spread out from that tree, just like the garden hose looping roots that ebbed out from the trunk.
Without realizing, those people, those once innocent civilians, those happy-people-that-were-no-longer continued to step forward, inch by repulsive inch.
The first thing they noticed, once they had taken several steps, was not the look of the tree.
It was the smell.
If smells and scents could carry dread, this is what the tree emanated.
It was the smell of those nights when the monster in the closet was in a particularly vicious mood; and of those times when a call home from the teacher meant that daddy would be angry, and angry daddy meant beatings; or even the times when that special someone would utter that horrible sentence, “We need to talk”. It was all of those horrible things put into a scent.
A horrible, gut-clenching scent.
Most people would turn back at that point, face still turned towards that odd, twisted blaspheme of a tree, feet back pedaling at a steadily increasing rate, hearts pumping, and foundations shaken.
Others would stand petrified for seconds, minutes; a few even stood for several hours, catatonic, eyes wide, mouths making the occasional attempt at speaking, but never achieving more than looking like a bass on a line. And once their period of still-life imitation was over, they too would step backwards and resolve, like the others, to find a new route home.
They never wanted to come back this way.
They never wanted to see that tree again.
But they would.
That crackled bark.
Those tooth shaped leaves.
The roots as twisted and writhing as the hair of Medusa.
All of it and more would pop up in the corner, somewhere in their dreams.
It was never dead center. No, no the dream never centered around the tree, or even the memories that it had caused their subconscious to regurgitate. No, the tree was never active. Much like it was in between the failing buildings, the tree simply stood; vigilant, watching, humming in the background of whatever was happening in their nighttime visions. Pleasant dreams turned terrifying. Horrible nightmares took on hues of passive terror. Erotic trysts morphed into disgusting scenes of rape.
Though they never returned to that tree, never crossed that path—some even moved to another city—though these passersby never again set their eyes on the tree, there was no doubt that it was with them wherever they went. It had planted its seeds in them and they, the dutiful carriers, were distributing its fruits and saplings all over the world.
In every neighborhood, in every corner of the planet, the seeds of disruption and disgust were being planted, and just like in this patch of clover in the middle of idealistic suburban America, more saplings were peeking through the vomit of society. And just like this standing writhing tree, the saplings carried that scent.
The smell of painful forgotten memories.
Of frenzied fathers and murderous mothers.
“Everything about this tree was awful.”
And just like the first tree, the saplings would petrify their audience and fill them with its toxic sap,its seed; destroying their dreams, haunting their waking hours, slowly twisting and turning them into shadows, ghosts that faded out of the memories of those around them, morphing them until they were nothing more than looming wisps of people with heavily creased faces that couldn’t forget. They could never forget.
What daddy did.
What mommy said.
What happened when no one was looking.
What was the real reason behind those scars.
The trees had planted their seeds in those that stood and smelled its cloying musk, that had breathed deep of its toxic fumes and in doing so, that had unwittingly become the bearers of pain, the distributors of memory.
The planters of a pain filled life.
All of those that had stopped, all of the people that had sucked up the scents and run off and cried and told others about the memories, that had sought therapists and prescriptions; all those that had eventually toyed with the thought of clicking the trigger of the gun they had in their mouth. All of those that had watched time slow to a crawl as they kicked the chair from out beneath their feet and fell with their necks wrapped in the Devil’s neck tie. All of those people had run. They had run from the tree.
It had hoped they would run.
It needed them to run.
It desperately needed them to drink down that sap of venom, to hold enough seeds of horror within their gut that their inner lining was bulging and about to burst.
The tree depended on their not forgetting.
Because if they didn’t…
If they behaved as some people did…