Shadows

They buried Boneheart Cole Carrow in shallow grave on the battlefield where he fell. For long years afterword, people avoided that burnt and broken land with its memories of tragedy and strife. So, no one knew when the tree began to grow.

It was a jagged, twisting thing. The old men would spit on the ground when they passed the place and would warn their children and grandchildren to stay clear of Carrow’s tree. It was considered a sign from heaven when the tree was stuck by lightning during one late summer storm.

Only, the tree didn’t die. New branches rose from the charred stump like a clawed hand rising from the grave. Men declared the field cursed, and none would build or plow or even cross through that place. A wood grew up around the undead tree. Or, as some whispered, that one forsaken tree, glutted on blood, had spread like a weed until it had become a forest unto itself.

Generations later, the battle has been forgotten, as has Boneheart himself. But the trees still stand. The folk of that region know to avoid Carrow Wood. Old twisted branches claw toward the sky and cast long, dark shadows.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Growth

“I didn’t know if you were coming,” Patty said as soon as Marie had pulled herself out of the dented beetle.

Her sister shrugged, shoved a cigarette between her lips, and lit it with the same beat-up Zippo she’d had since she was 17. “Let’s get this over with.”

Patty pursed her lips. Marie kicked off her shoes. They began walking toward the grove.

“They’re growing well,” Patti explained, stress compelling her to speak. “Much fuller than last year. I was a bit worried, with that late frost—”

“You know they’re dead, right?” Marie interjected.

“I,” Patti faltered, “was talking about the trees.” Marie snorted, took another drag and walked on. “Someone has to tend them,” Patti grumbled.

Then they reached the trees. Tall, sturdy oaks, some nearly 200 years old. Continuing on, they passed smaller and slimmer specimens until the sisters stopped suddenly about fifteen feet back from the two slender saplings on the eastern edge of the grove.

Stillness among the trees.

“That’s where they’re . . . ?” Marie asked.

“Yes,” Patti said in a whisper.

A gentle breeze. Leaves shaking. Their hands found each other.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t here,” Marie said.

Patti squeezed tightly. “I’m glad you’re here now.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Trunk

“Can you take a look at something for me?” Maple asked.

Fir creaked out a flat response. “Do I have to?”

“Please?” Maple asked. “I think I’ve got something on my trunk.”

A sigh of falling needles. “Like what?” Fir asked.

Maple rustled their branches impatiently. “I don’t know; that’s why I want you to look at it.”

“Fine,” the evergreen said..

Maple leaned with the wind, branches parting to give a clear view. Fir leaned as well, bending closer to inspect the trunk.

They spotted the source of Maple’s concern immediately. The growth, or whatever it was, was impossible to miss. Broad, blunt branches ringed Maple’s trunk, there was a lot of discoloration, and several vines hung down from their lower branches. Then Fir spotted the infestation. They were used to this sort of vermin of course; but it was extremely unusual to see so many climbing in the branches of a tree all at once. The squat, hairy little things were all over Maple’s branches, letting out shrill squeals as they scurried about. Fir straightened up with a shudder of revulsion.

“Well?” Maple asked.

“Yeah, you might want to get that checked out.”

“What . . . what is it?”

Humans.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by Aditi Gautam on Unsplash