The Scary Tree

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It stood in the northwest quadrant of the front yard – this terrifying tree of unknown origin. It could be seen from every window of our bedroom and the living room, and it looked like a giant clawed hand. We called it the scary tree.

It was an important distinction. There was the boring tree, which couldn’t even be climbed because the limbs were too high up. The crepe myrtle tree bloomed and caused Momma to sneeze every Spring.  The climbing tree in the backyard was our favorite, and the giant tree, that cast a shadow on the house every afternoon, would kill us all if it ever fell.

There wasn’t anything special about the scary tree. It was quite normal during the day, but at night, it was a giant beast, clawing its way back to the earth from somewhere beneath us. We spent many a night averting our eyes from the windows only to hear the scratch of its branches outside. We imagined it coming for us, not because we were terribly naughty, but because we’d seen Poltergeist, and the only things scarier than clown toys were trees in a storm and possessed fathers, a la #2.

Locked in our room together, we’d huddle in a corner away from it, away from everything we feared, but we couldn’t escape it. It brought with it an intoxicating stench. When the lightning would crash and the wind would howl, we knew it was coming for us, or at least, someday it would. Until that day, we would be neither seen nor heard.

The scary tree was there after a late night return home when the silence in the house was not calm or pleasant.

The scary tree swayed at the sound of sirens at midnight or the sobs after a smack.

The scary tree convinced us we were worthless and needed to be taught a lesson, even when it never directly said it to us.

We wondered what life was like outside those four walls, but we never dared to leave or escape it. We just accepted it for what it was – a tyrant.

Back then there was more thunder and lightning than sunshine. (Or at least, that’s what my adult brain recalls.) Storms came frequent and fast, in trumpets and torrents, and we weathered them all – albeit frightened and alone in our little crowd.

The day came, though, when it all ended. The storm of our childhood started to settle down, and sunlight broke through the clouds.

Lightning crashed, shaking the house and our bodies, and the tree splintered in two sending a sweetness into the air. A soberness, as it were.

It wasn’t the same anymore. The claws, the sheer terror of it, was gone. But what it symbolized? That never diminished. It lingered there, a permanent reminder of the storms, until we moved and something else took its place.

 

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19 thoughts on “The Scary Tree

  1. You did so well at conveying a child’s viewpoint, for instance with the names for the trees. My sense was that the tree is a metaphor, a frightening one. You left us with that lingering fear that I thought was very effective.

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    1. Thanks so much! It was a real tree that was in our front yard. My siblings and I associated some of the things happening in our house to it, just because we saw it any time things were not so good. I’m afraid I was a little too subtle in that regard on this piece, but I’m glad that the fear was felt throughout.

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  2. Things are always bigger and scarier when we are children. But sometimes kids place their fears in irrational places – is that what you’re trying to convey? It comes off so subtly. Good job!

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    1. The story was more about how we, as kids, used to huddle in our room and see the tree from our window when bad things were happening in the other room. It became synonymous with Dad’s drinking. Sorry it was a bit too subtle.

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  3. I have never been afraid of trees in my childhood that I believed there are invisible beings who eat humans. I always believed that giants are gods and they kill everyone else who are smaller than them in height.

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  4. Good job using the last line to reinforce that the tree was definitely scary but it was imbued with extra power by association, and that association can transfer. I can see also a couple places in the piece where you used careful and deliberate word choices to give the reader an intuitive sense of what was really going on even if they didn’t necessarily know the actual backstory. (When you do that, try to go ahead and just use those words rather than flagging them – you’ll still feel clever and the words will become part of the reader’s understanding without the “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” exposure of your tricks!)

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  5. Very subtle and creative, Melony. I mean, I read it twice and enjoyed it, even more, the second time. Poetic and yet restrained. Laced with sadness. Great job.

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  6. Melony, I loved the way you conveyed your child’s eye view of events, and especially the moment where you paused to reflect on whether it really was a child’s perspective, or whether it was an adult rendering of past events. That was really clever. The insertion of specific details (the clown toys, Poltergeist, the names of the trees) was such a great way to bring the reader right into the heart of your piece, and place the work in a clear timeline. Really well done!

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