by Bob'n Around
Invisible matters of the mind turned real into the written word.
|1st place win, 1254 Word entry into August's "Distorted Minds Contest"
The swinging tree at the top of cemetery hill had a nasty history. No matter the clouded sky or drench of life giving rain, its roots were said to be nourished only by the grisly histories and remains of the buried dead.
“Weird,” shivered Arlo Thomas, hands stroking its trunk.
“What?” It was Mary Link’s first visit to the site. The climb up the long abandoned weed infested path tired her deep in her bones. “Is that a hangman’s noose dangling above your head?” She slid herself onto the wooden seat of the rope swing rocking gently on the tree’s other side.
“The tree grows and withers every year, yet there are never any leaves no matter the season. I’ve been here many times since my childhood. It's roots respond to and feed upon the nightmares of the buried suicides and lost souls planted among them.”
“You are putting me on. Trying to scare me.” Mary Link had been foster care trouble since first being put under Arlo’s care. He was sent the worst of the worst from across many states, willing to pay his price.
“That, you will have to decide for yourself.”
“Why did you bring me up here, then? There’s no electric fence around your group home, ankle guard, or staff bullies the other places I stayed in had. You think a spooky looking hanging tree is going to straighten me up?”
Arlo Thomas reached up to tug on the hangman’s knot. “The tree straightened up others.”
“No-one makes me do anything I don’t want to.”
“Yes. I could tell you were a real swinger when I read your case file. No-one else will have you. How many homes and lives have you trashed before leaving for the next one? They gave you more rope than you could handle.”
“I’ve murdered and buried more lectures than you’ve ever thought of spitting out your mouth.”
Arlo Thomas nodded. He yanked on the rope's knot, making the limb above it nod back before shivering into place. “We’ll keep this short. You can leave any time you want.”
Mary Link swung a little higher, feet pushing off the ground. “I want to see what you got, old man. I’ll leave when I’m good and ready.”
“You’d be a fool not to.”
The clouded sky began shrieking and weeping rain. “Weird isn’t it?” Arlo Thomas looked up at the bare branches. “The tree shields us. Not a drop is falling on our heads. Not a hair of our heads is disturbed. What do you make of that?”
“How did you do that crazy shit, man? You a witch or something?”
“It’s not me causing the thunder and lightning. It’s you swinging to fast, hard and high. Stop and the storm will.”
Mary Link dug her boot heels into the ground on her next low end pass. The limb above her danced as she came to rest. Fresh slivers of wood rubbed from where her ropes were connected, uncurled, smoked, burned. Instead of rain showering Mary Link, they fell, stinging in a rain of small flaming needles into her flesh.
“Christ. Do something.” Her palms slapped at the stink of her shriveling hair.
“Sit back down, make a wish and swing gently.” Arlo Thomas moved to pinch the glowing tips of the biggest needles out like they were birthday candles.
Mary Link’s boot stumbled where a root grew in her way. It forced her to fall into position, dangling back on the swing. The rocking motion blurred into feathery breath. The whisper of breeze blew each tiny flame out. The limb above Mary Link bobbed up and down. The movement jerked the tiny wooden spears out.
“I wish I wasn’t a human pincushion, is what I wish.” Mary Link blinked at the sores left behind. They’d brought her nerves painfully on edge. Another blink and they were gone.
Arlo Thomas moved back to keep from getting hit by the metronome push of the swing. “That was your wish? Slow and easy. Not too fast. Feel the pulsing rhythm of your heartbeats. Try to match it with your swing.”
“This is some crazy kind of shit. What do I do next? Do I only get one wish per ride?”
“Not even that. You have to make the right wish or the tree won’t grant it. I’ve tried.” Arlo Thomas stroked the branch above him, caressing it before giving the trunk a hug. “The storm has passed. The tree likes you. Good. You woke it up. Now get off.”
For the first time she could remember, Mary Link chose to obey someone else’s command. She stomped her boots into the weeds growing under them, feeling them squish and die. “All right.”
That was as far as she got. The swing slid under her knees, catching her as it rose, swinging gently back and forth in time to her racing heartbeats. The clouded sky threatened to storm once more.
“Gently, gently.” Arlo Thomas motioned his arms as if he were conducting a symphony. The wind sang, moaned, howled, grew silent.
Mary Link felt blood drip from her bitten lip. Her fingers clung to the tough rope fiber, grown to her tight grasp. “I can’t let go. I’m stuck,” she pleaded. Her body no longer seemed her own.
Arlo Thomas lifted his face to the tree. “You have made your choice for my replacement. I can finally rest.”
His fingers stretched and opened the hangman’s noose around his neck. “I’ll hang around for a while to see how things are going. Don’t try to cut me down.” The branch above jerked, pulling Arlo Thomas up by the neck. His feet danced in the air.
“Stop this. Help me. How do I stop swinging?”
Mary Link watched Arlo Thomas’ purple bloated face with its bulging eyes stare back at her. His tongue wiggled out like an escaping worm. His body began swinging slowly round and round, matching her heartbeats. “I didn’t wish you dead. Well, I might have when I first sat down, before I knew the score.”
The two of them seemed balanced, life and death, connected to the tree. The gentle swinging motion lulled Mary Link from agitation into an exhausted moment of slumber. She awoke falling from her swaying platform. Her limbs, both arms and legs struck the ground. “It let me go. Free. At last.”
It was hard to talk. Mary Link looked up at Arlo Thomas’ corpse. “No. You can't blame me. You can’t do this to me.” Her fingers went up to her neck. The feel of an invisible noose tightened and relaxed to the feel of her heartbeat.
It would be many days, weeks, months, even years before she learned the right wish. Her attraction to the tree was absolute. That long ago time, Mary Link found herself in possession of the Arlo Thomas’ group home and clients, a week later when she reached legal age and agreed to sign the contract keeping her in charge.
She rarely lost consciousness when the invisible rope tightened at a wrong decision she made. Mary Link chose to wear high topped dresses removing the sight of the ring of bruises around her neck.
It wasn’t until thirteen unlucky years later to the day, she stood with her newest charge on Cemetery Hill that she got her true wish. “It is the right one.”
The noose hanging from the tree branch was hers. She felt it jerk her feet dancing a foot above the weedy ground. The new charge sat swinging, well balanced, on the trunk’s other side staring into Mary Link’s bulging eyes.
Sheely Prad felt tied to the moment still struggling with her new found home and fate.