The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
The Lightning Tree
by Alyson Faye
‘Stand beneath the Lightning Tree
on summer solstice eve
and you will see the future
and all you can achieve…’
The children of Maywood Elementary School learned this rhyme at their mothers’ knee, reciting it in the playground every summer solstice at the Reaping Ceremony and chanted the words during their games as a ‘dare’ to each other.
The whole town had been built around the tree, its shadow, and legend hung over the townspeople. It was a scarred survivor of numerous lightning strikes. Ancient, storm-battered, it carried an aura of desolation.
All the kids in town knew not to go near the tree during the scalding summer months, but there were always a few who hiked, hitched or drove out there, downing cans, staring at the skies – waiting for the first swollen drops of rain . . .
Three teens staggered into A&E after midnight, bloodied and gashed, two half-carrying the third between them. A lanky lad, with his right leg trailing behind, blood pouring from a head wound, and unconscious.
“Help us! Someone, please…” Libby’s voice trailed away, then she bent over and vomited.
Several nurses and a junior doctor raced towards the trio, catching the lad just before Libby crashed to the floor – out cold.
“It’s Jonas Wyke,” one of the younger nurses said.
Everyone in Maywood knew the Wykes – or knew of them. They had cachet and cash.
“Someone better notify the families. Let’s get these kids onto gurneys, checked over and to X-Ray.”
Jonas woke up, in darkness, alone. His body ached, and his head was filled with intense whispering. The voices of the others, who had inhabited him as he’d lain before the Lightning Tree – like a sacrifice, he now realised.
A ticker-tape parade of images flickered behind his eyelids, an autobiographical movie show on an eternal loop. He saw himself ageing, marrying, dying, but taking a hundred thousand alternative future pathways to myriad destinations – insanity crept out to smother him.
Jonas threw back his bandaged head and screamed. He raked at his eyes with his fingernails, tearing the fine blue-veined skin to shreds.
Libby, in the room next door, heard her boyfriend’s wail, and she burrowed deeper into the bedsheets. What had happened out there at the ‘Lightning Tree’ made her shiver with fear. All she wanted to do was forget. She touched the metal bars of the bed and watched the sparks leap from her fingertips, surging through the iron.
She began to sob. She wondered how Rick was getting on.
Not well, was the answer to Libby’s question.
Rick, the third of the teens, Jonas’ best mate, lay strapped to a bed in the psychiatric unit three floors above Libby, heavily sedated. He’d been assessed and after listening to his wild rantings, ‘the tree lit up … the light filled us … I can feel it burning me, man, it’s in me…’ the duty psych had sectioned him for the statutory state hold of 48 hours.
Miles out of town the Lightning Tree stood quiescent, embalmed in darkness – solitary. If you listened closely and put your ear to the bark you’d hear a humming, as though a million bees nested inside.
The earth around its roots was fire-scorched, blackened, dead. The tree held its secrets close, just as it stored its power deep inside.
It had fed richly the other night. The worshippers and the unwary, the suicidal and the insane – the tree welcomed them all under its spreading canopy.
‘Kneel beneath the Lightning Tree
on summer solstice eve,
take in its gift and energy
and to its heart you’ll cleave.’
(Lost second verse).
Fiction © Copyright Alyson Faye
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from Alyson Faye:
The Lost Girl & Spindleshanks
The Lost Girl
A nailed-up door. An inheritance which comes with a ghost. A missing girl. A fifty-year-old mystery. Parapsychologist Berkley Osgood is hired to investigate. What he uncovers reveals secrets the living want to hide and the dead will never forgive.
Adam is having nightmares about a skeletal shadow figure, who he calls Spindleshanks. Soon his whole class are sharing the same nightmare. Adam’s dad, Rob, knows that Spindleshanks can’t be real. But is he? One terrible night Rob has to face his son’s nightmare creature and fight for his son’s life. What would you sacrifice to have your child back safe?
“A decent two-for-one. Alyson Faye brings the engaging and eerie in equal measure.” CC Adams – horror / dark fiction author
I like that there’s a decent poem presented as well – 1/2 up front w/dark “come hither”, 2nd half last, the consequences, poor souls. I enjoyed this little story lots!
Thank you Marge, I had a lot of fun making up the little creepy verse too.
Excellent, very creepy.
Thank you so much
Love this – it has such a cinematic quality and feels so real – like a documentary…or maybe that’s exactly what it is…:-)
I do ‘see’ my stories unspool in my head like films, (I’m a huge movie fan especially Golden Hollywood years) so I’m delighted you mentioned the cinematic feel to my piece, Alex, thank you