The Taking Tree

This probably isn’t the most original idea in the world. Still, there actually is a tree visible from my apartment, and in the summer it truly does look like the leaves form a fairly sinister looking face. Really. When I was a kid, there also really was a neighbor with a dog named Lightning. A Westie I think it was. And she really did talk to it like Mrs. Cratoville below. Oh, and I always hated The Giving Tree.

 

The Taking Tree

Mrs. Cratoville took a hose to children’s sidewalk chalk drawings, criticized neighbors’ lawns, and loved having city codes enforced. Concerning the incessant yapping of her evil white poodle, Lightning, however, Mrs. Cratoville was apparently deaf. Vernon, her neighbor, called the police about this. They said unless he kept a record tracking frequency and duration of the barking, there was little they could do.

Worse than the dog was Mrs. Cratoville talking to the brute. “Lightning!” she’d cry from her back door, “Go shooshie!” Then she’d go inside, and the barking would start, often near the tree just outside Mrs. Cratoville’s fence. The tree was two feet thick with smooth, gray bark. Its uppermost branches reached past the tops of the nearby houses. The leaves on the lowest drooped a few feet above the ground where no sunlight reached.

Vernon noticed the face one late spring day. It leered like a demonic Pan. He could not, however, see this face with his reading glasses on, convincing him it was merely some random arrangement of foliage. Still, Vernon would drift into a reverie of summery childhood images—his old Aunt Sylvanya at her oven, the round cakes she baked that nobody was allowed to eat, bundles of herbs in her window, and strange beeswax figures on the sill.

One afternoon he drifted into what seemed more like a vision than a bizarre dream. People joined hands forming a ring around an old-growth tree, its base piled with wreaths, pastries, and small dolls made of bundled twigs wrapped in bits of multicolored cloth. From afar a white shape approached. The tree’s leaves and branches formed a face Vernon recognized. He jolted awake.

That evening, Vernon watched goldfinches dart into the tree. Not thinking, he removed his glasses and reached for the newspaper. He saw the face instantly and remembered the figure in white. He realized he saw no birds fly back out of the branches. Squirrels often ran up the trunk but he never saw them again either. Then came the usual, “Go shooshie!” followed by yapping which, surprisingly, stopped. Vernon knew it would start again. But it didn’t. He heard Mrs. Cratoville call, “Lightning!” then silence. She called louder. Then came the shriek. Vernon and several neighbors rushed outside. Lightning was gone, and Mrs. Cratoville was frantic. “One of you sonsabitches did something to him!” she screamed at those who’d gathered. She clutched Lightning’s collar and staggered away. Vernon stared at the tree.

The ground around the trunk was bare. Vernon examined the broad, five-pointed leaves. They spread wider than his hand and had blood red veins. He touched the center of one. Its leaf tips curled inward. He found no evidence of disease or insect damage. Not even an ant scurried along anywhere. He touched the trunk and wished immediately he hadn’t. It was fleshy, warm, like a human limb. He tore his hand away wondering sickly if it would ooze sap when cut or if it would bleed.

That night Vernon dreamed again of the figure in white—a woman. She carried a scythe like a pale Grim Reaper. As she passed through the crowd, people strained to touch her. She reached the tree, picked up a ragged doll, kissed it, placed it back on the ground, and raised the scythe. The face leered. A strong but supple vine whipped from below the evil grin, snatched the scythe and swung it, hooking the woman through the ribs and lifting her effortlessly. She neither struggled nor screamed. Vernon woke up gasping.

After that, Vernon kept his reading glasses on to avoid seeing the face. One evening he absently watched a sleek, black cat stalk something he couldn’t see. She crept toward the tree, keeping low, then crouched and swished her tail. Vernon looked. The face was there, even with his glasses on. He held his breath. She leapt. A green tendril shot out from below the face and snagged the creature by the neck. Another wrapped around her midsection, and then the cat’s head was gone. Instantly the rest followed. Vernon gaped as nausea swept over him. That night sleep was impossible.

The next morning he saw the soccer ball. Vernon tried to convince himself it had been left outside. The local news dashed such hope. “Police need your help finding a missing child.” He turned the television off. Enough was enough.

Vernon couldn’t take a chainsaw to the thing in broad daylight. Mrs. Cratoville would call the police. Nearby houses made fire unfeasible. Vernon went to a hardware store and bought the biggest bow saw he could find. Quietly, at night, the godforsaken thing was coming down.

He waited until three in the morning. In a black shirt and pants, Vernon crept out with his saw and stole beneath the tree. He touched the saw’s teeth to the trunk but stopped, convinced of movement in the branches–nothing. He touched the blade to the tree again and nearly screamed when something brushed his cheek. He dropped the saw and clawed at his face–again, nothing. Vernon snatched up the saw and raked it across the trunk. The blade leapt from his hand, a green tendril wrapped around the handle. The saw flew at Vernon’s head. Jagged teeth ripped into his skin taking a chunk of scalp. Blood rushed down his face as he tried to scramble away. Two thick vines gripped each ankle. Another wound around his chest, crushing his ribs and hoisting him from the ground. Vernon tried to scream as the face opened its emerald jaws, but another vine encircled his mouth. Then it was dark.

The next day Mrs. Cratoville stood on her back porch. She drew a breath to call Lightning but stopped and dabbed her eyes with a balled up tissue. Sunlight glinted off something in the grass near her garage. She walked over and picked up a large, perfectly clean saw. Mrs. Cratoville glanced at the tree. For a moment, she thought some of the leaves and branches formed a face.

Pesticide

I’d been reading an awful lot of Russell Edson and Barry Yourgrau when I wrote this, and it shows, especially if you’ve ever read them. If you haven’t, they’re well worth checking out. They certainly do this far better than I do.

Pesticide

The heavy rain has not let up for three days with flooding in low-lying areas, tornado warnings issued for surrounding counties. My wife and I settle into our nightly routine of television and awkward silence but are interrupted by a waterbug skittering across the floor (it’s said that during the rainy season, they follow drain pipes into otherwise well meaning middle-class homes). I leap to my feet searching for the perfect implement of destruction. My sledgehammer is all the way in the garage. The only thing at hand is my daughter’s dollhouse. I send it crashing onto the insect’s back. Small chairs, couches, tables, a doll-sized toilet scatter to the floor. The thing twitches under the corner of the house and dies unceremoniously. There is sudden giggling. Bands of tiny people crawl out from under the couch, television set, bookshelf. They gather around the dollhouse cheering, “Hurrah! She’s dead! He’s killed her!” and begin to dance. I stoop to inspect my handiwork and find bug-sized ruby slippers on the creature’s feet. As I try to take them off, my wife dashes in from the kitchen wielding a can of ant and roach spray. “Oh my god,” she hisses, “look at them all!” and sprays angrily at the floor, stomping at the figures fleeing her chemical wrath. Frozen with shock, I watch the carnage unfold. When the sun rises, there will be a lovely rainbow.

Help

There’s a painting by José Bedia, “Ayudandonos” (I tried to find an image but couldn’t). Not long after seeing it, I wrote this. It didn’t take long to write or edit it. Sometimes one gets lucky that way.

Help

One morning, a very large man wakes up with a pain in his back. He tries to stand up and finds that he can’t—a house is balanced on his back and shoulders. He has no choice but to remain bent, torso parallel to the river he finds himself standing in. His feet sink into the silt but only until the water is up to his knees. Recognizable things flow past him every so often, a shingle or two here, a couple of shutters, but the very large man can’t pick them up. He waits.

Soon, an average sized man rows by in a well-proportioned boat. He calls to the man with the house on his back. “You’re in obvious agony, friend. Why do you hold up that house?”

“If I don’t,” the very large man asks, “who will?”

“Fair enough!” calls the boatman, paddling for the moment against the current, “But hardly a problem. Look at you—a nice solid foundation, a sense of purpose. All I have is direction. Why, just this morning I discovered that I’d been rowing upstream for God knows how long. Obviously, I turned around immediately, and though the going is much easier, I must admit that now I don’t know where I’m likely to end up.”

“But I’m stuck here,” the other complains arching his back and jostling several knick-knacks. A hammer and knife clatter to the floor. Each man considers his lot.

Finally, the boatman suggests a trade. “I will hold up the house,” he says. “You may take my boat.”

The very large man hesitates. “I’m not sure. Something doesn’t seem right.”

“Nonsense!” the boatman laughs, and steps out. The boat drifts off. Before it’s lost from view, the very large man, upsetting several dining room chairs, shifts the house onto the shoulders of the boatman. “I have to admit, my back already feels better.” The very large man straightens up. As he makes for the boat, he glances over his shoulder and stops. The boatman is crushed beneath the house as it settles into the riverbed. The boat drifts out of sight.

Heartless

Back when I used to write poetry, people who should have known better would ask, “Why don’t you write anything happy?” The mere thought gives me hives. The only question that makes me twitchier than that is, “Don’t you ever write love poems?” Instead I wrote this. Careful what you ask for.

 

Heartless

A man gives his heart to the woman he loves. First, he extracts it. The trickiest part, aside from using the rib spreader, is not scratching the heart against the rib cage. He wrings out the blood left in the ventricles, washes off the clotted gore, pats the organ dry with a clean dish towel, trims the veins and small filaments—a very practical offering. The man chuckles as he slips this valentine into a red velvet pouch, the pouch into a silver gift bag. Pink tissue paper sticks out from the top—overall a fine presentation. And why not? This is, after all, the big night. He waits, almost smug, not minding the blood seeping into his shoes as the woman he loves rips the tissue away. She reaches into the red pouch. Against her palm, smooth and cool, his pulsing heart. Her fingers tighten. “How heartless,” she says, and, of course, she’s right.

New Look, New Content, Same Unfortunate Attitude

Hello BlogfeRats. Yes, it has been a while. It became time to sit back and assess what it was I wanted to send forth next out of Castle Blogferatu. Yes, I still love horror movies. Yes, I’m keeping the old reviews here, but after much deliberation and soul taking searching, I decided to refocus on my first, truest, and most abiding love: horror fiction. So starting in the next few days, I will be posting my own horror stories here, mostly in the form of flash and microfiction (and maybe the odd horror-related observation here and there).

Now, now, no time for heartache and tears. I may still be reviewing horror movies on another venue. If so, I will pass that information on. Thanks for reading, and please, please come along with me on this next step in my mutagenic transmogrification evolutionary process.

Kisses. Hugs. Skulls.

Non-horror Moments In Horror Movies

Those damaged, misguided souls who follow this blog semi-regularly (now don’t be shy–you both know who you are) know that I’ve discussed a number of horror moments that show up in movies that aren’t horror movies. I thought it might be fun to flip the script this time and look at some not-so-frightening moments from a few horror movies.Read More »

Summer Reruns 2: Dark Shadows

No, not the Ben Cross mini-series (which did not, pardon me, completely suck). And certainly not the Tim Burton “Look at me acting like Tim Burton” version. No, this is the original 1966-1971 ABC series in all its Gothic supernatural glory. And this is a tough one. I mean, if you’re a fan, there’s nothing I really need to say. If you’ve never seen it, where the hell do I begin?Read More »

We’re Back! With Summer Reruns!

So, we took a little unannounced break. Call it what passes for a wee summer vacation here at Castle Blogferatu. We’ll probably take it easy for most of the summer in fact, but not completely. There will still be some posts to check out along the way, so we’re back, back with a new special little summer project for your dining and dancing pleasure:

Summer Reruns!

Read More »

Oh, Brainiac, Where Have You Been All My Life?

One fine Monday afternoon at ye olde video shoppe, the indefatigable Tim Cooper and I were talking about bad horror movies, and he asked if I remembered the name of the movie in which the antagonist eats people’s brains with a spoon.

I had no idea what he was talking about which shocked me mightily. I mean, how could I have possibly missed such a thing?

He soon remembered it was called The Brainiac (U.S. release. It was El Baron Del Terror in Mexico) and fetched it from the Cult section. Clearly it was a professional obligation (if not a moral imperative) that I take it home and watch it.

Which I did.

Three times in a row.

Cuz damn.Read More »