The tree has a long and sordid history, starting with when it killed my uncle Luke back in ’87. He was clearing brush from around the edges of my grandparents’ property. As he was raking up pine needles underneath the tree on a clear and windless day, somehow a branch spontaneously snapped off, landing directly on the crown of his head and killing him instantly. I was too young to remember him, but my parents told me about it years later.
In ’90 my grandparents found a deceased homeless man propped at the base of the tree’s trunk. They lived in a small town two hours from the nearest city, and the cops could provide no answer as to why the man had decided to bring himself up to the tiny northern town, much less how he’d died. Not two months after that a local boy plowed into the tree on his four-wheeler and painted the trunk with his brains. The tree is by an off-road bike trail, sure, but it’s prominent and practically the only obstacle on the whole route.
Four years after my cousin died in nearly the same way, only he was on a dirt bike. Travis was always reckless, but he was an experienced rider, and after what had happened to the other boy he should have been extra-cautious of the pine. Grandma was the one that found him. She said his helmet had all but disintegrated, and what was left of his head looked like “…a tomato that’s been stepped on.” My aunt’s wails at the funeral still haunt my dreams.
After that grandparents decided that was enough, and that summer they contracted the local arborist to to remove the tree from the property. “I can’t do it,” he came back and reported an hour into the job. “That tree bleeds.” Though he had an established business, the man was never seen in town again after that day, his wife unsuccessfully trying to run the business for a half a year after that before giving up and moving out of town. They hired another man from down in Spokane, but at the end of the day grandpa, confused as to why he hadn’t come to collect his money, walked out to the tree to find the man dead in his truck, the tree’s largest limb having broken off and crushed the cab.
For the next decade, nothing happened. After everything that had occurred my grandparents decided to leave the tree alone. The townfolk did too, the off-road trail that went by the tree falling into disuse. “There’s a tree that will kill you if you go near it up that trail,” they whispered, often within my earshot.
But then three boys snuck onto the property, no doubt daring each other on because of the rumors around the tree. No one knows what happened, but somehow all three of them were found been beaten to death, their bodies left sprawled out at the base of the trunk.
Except I know what happened though. I saw their wounds, saw the flesh hanging from the limbs of the tree. It had reached down with its branches and pummeled them to death, but of course I didn’t offer that theory up to the authorities when they came, lest I be carted off to Eastern.
By then I was living up at the old familial home, taking care of my grandparents. Grandpa had suffered a stroke the year before, and Grandma couldn’t care for him by herself. In 2010 he had a second stroke, this one fatal, and Grandmother followed him less than a month later in the way that lifetime lovers so often seem to do. It was a surprise to us all when we found out that I was the sole inheritor of the house and the property, but no one argued with the will after all the work I’d done taking care of my grandparents.
It’s my inheritance now, my curse. I know I have to destroy it, but I don’t know how. I’ve been up by the tree a few times since, making sure to keep away from the reach of the limbs, and each time I find small animal bodies piled up at the trunk. Rotting piles of chipmunks, squirrels, skunks, porcupines, and the like. The dirt underneath the tree is as black as midnight. On the one time I dared get close enough for a good view, I noticed that the if you look at the pattern on the bark long enough sometimes you’ll see a face, but it goes away the second you shift your gaze.
In my garage sit three Molotov cocktails I crudely crafted from gasoline, old beer bottles, and crusty dish rags. I made them yesterday. I have to do it, I have to destroy the thing.
I’m just trying to work up the courage.