Stay Away From the Tree

 

It all began on a random Tuesday in 1953.

Billy Henderson went missing while walking to a friend’s house just a few blocks away.

There were no witnesses, no suspects, and no leads.

The police of the small town spent weeks, scouring the surrounding forest to no avail.

Being a small town, a missing child haunted the town for years, as parents would keep their kids indoors, neighbors would suspect each other, and rumors of who could have done it spread like wildfire.

Life had slowly started to return to normal, when a little girl went missing in 1958.

Once again, there were no witnesses, or suspects.

The police had no reason to suspect the two disappearances were related, since there were few clues and no linking leads.

There were no signs of a struggle, no missing clothes or toys. The children were just walking around town normally, when they just vanished.

Families began to move out of town as more children disappeared over the years. The dates the children went missing varied.

One child would go missing on August 21st, 1961, and another would go missing on March 2, 1963. And then no children would go missing until June 13th, 1967.

There was no way to link all the missing children together, so while it was traumatic to the town, there was no way to build a profile of the cases.

One day the children were there, the next they were gone.

Over time, it became common practice for the kids to always stay together, or better yet, in groups.

In the end though, kids would find themselves walking alone, and then disappear every few years.

Jimmy rode his bike along with his friends Molly, and Chester. He cranked up his tape player to full volume as they rode to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, enjoying the Summer of 1992.

It had been several years since another child had disappeared, but every day the kids wanted to go out to play, their parents would say, “Stay together and come straight home.”

This didn’t bother Jimmy, Molly, or Chester, as they spent all their time together anyway.

They were celebrating finishing the fifth grade and were excited about being sixth graders, the top of the food chain in elementary.

They pulled off into an open field, where they joined another group of kids for some backyard softball. One of the nice things about growing up in a small town was that there was plenty of big yards to play in.

“C’mon, Jimmy,” Molly yelled from the sideline. “Knock it out of the park!”

Jimmy gave her a brief smile, and readied for the pitch.

Charles stared him down from the pitcher’s mound, looked around to all the empty bases out of habit, and then pitched the ball.

Jimmy, who had never played on a team, knocked the ball over Charles’ head and into deep left field, being chased by little Dougie Barnes.

Dougie wasn’t fast enough though, and the ball hit the ground before he could get to it.

Jimmy ran past first, and then second, but stopped at third as Dougie threw the ball back into the infield.

All the kids on Jimmy’s team cheered.

Molly came out to bat next, and all the boys on the other team moved in closer to the infield.

These boys never learn, she thought with a smile.

Charles pitched the ball, and quickly looked up as the ball flew over his head again, continuing its flight over all of his teammates heads as well. They all scattered to chase the ball, but it was too late.

Jimmy ran home, followed not long after by Molly.

As the sun went down, the three of them started walking home.

“You guys did great!” Chester said pulling his bike up beside them.

Chester was a good friend, but a lousy softball player. He normally played deep right field, and tended to punt, so he wouldn’t have to risk having his pop up ball caught.

As they walked to Molly’s house to drop her off, the wind picked up, which felt good after playing in the field.

“See you tomorrow, Molly!” Jimmy said, Chester waiving beside him.

“Later!” she said back.

The boys walked away, talking and joking the whole time.

They stopped in front of Jimmy’s house.

“You want to stay over?” Jimmy asked Chester.

“I can’t tonight,” Chester said. “Mom’s new boyfriend is coming over for dinner, and she wants us to get to know him.”

Jimmy knew that would suck, so he said, “Sorry, Chester. Say hi to the creep for me.”

They laughed a little before Chester walked away to head home a couple of blocks away.

“Hi, Mom,” Jimmy said when he walked through the door, laying down his bag.

When he laid it down, he noticed he still had Chester’s Velcro wallet with some money in it.

“Crap,” he said. He knew his mom would give Chester crap if he didn’t come home with his wallet.

“I’ll be right back, Mom!” he said as he ran out the door to catch up with Chester.

He ran down the street towards Chester’s house, but didn’t see him.

Wow, he got home fast, he thought.

As he was crossing the street where Chester’s house was, he glanced right, and saw Chester walking down the street away from his house.

“Chester!” Jimmy yelled after him.

Chester didn’t answer. He just kept walking.

Jimmy ran after him, calling out every few seconds, until he caught up to him.

He stood in front of Chester blocking his way, but Chester walked right around him.

Jimmy got back in front of him.

“What are you doing?” Jimmy asked.

No response. Chester walked around Jimmy once again.

Jimmy got back in front of Chester and put his hands on Chester’s shoulders, stopping him from moving forward.

Chester kept marching in place.

Jimmy’s mouth fell open as he looked into Chester’s eyes, and only saw a blank stare.

The longer Jimmy held Chester in place, the harder Chester walked, eventually knocking Jimmy backwards.

Jimmy tripped and fell, Chester once again walking right past him.

He wanted to run for help, but he didn’t want to lose track of him.

“Help!” Jimmy called out, hoping someone would hear him, but as if on command, the wind picked up, blocking his voice from carrying.

He hoped he would see someone outside, but no one came out.

If someone had looked outside, they would have seen one boy walking, while another boy tried to stop him, getting knocked to the side, and then moving back in front of the marching boy.

Once he even tackled Chester and tried to pin him, but Chester’s feet never stopped moving, and Jimmy was eventually knocked off, allowing Chester to stand back up and keep walking.

Chester walked into the town park and appeared to be heading towards the town tree.

The town tree was said to be one of the oldest, and when the town was first built, it was the only tree in town not to have been cut down. As time went by and the town grew, the people planted new trees to replace the ones that had been chopped down, but everyone knew that one to be the oldest.

As Chester got closer to the tree, the wind began to howl louder. Jimmy looked around and noticed that it was only windy where they were at. Outside the park, it looked calm.

Jimmy also noticed that the tree seemed to darken as they approached. Jimmy didn’t know if it was a trick of light, but the tree seemed to now have eyes and a mouth.

It seemed angry.

Chester was almost to the tree when Jimmy couldn’t take any more. He stood in front of Chester, and punched him as hard as he could.

He had never hit someone like that before, and was unsure of what would happen, but right after he caught Chester in the jaw, Chester collapsed, unconscious.

 As soon as Chester’s body hit the ground, the wind stopped blowing.

Jimmy looked at the tree and noticed that though there were lines in the shape of eyes and a mouth, it no longer looked alive.

He turned his attention to Chester, who was lying unconscious on the ground.

After what seemed like an eternity, Chester woke up, squinting as he dealt with a throbbing headache, trying to figure out where he was.

They slowly made their way to Chester’s house, where Jimmy told Chester’s parents what had happened, and begged for them to call the police.

They seemed more upset about him admitting to hitting their son, than the ridiculous story of an angry tree.

In the end, they sent him home with a stern warning to never hit Chester again, and then trying to cover it up by lying.

Jimmy ran home and told his parents the same story, resulting the same warning from them.

Accepting that his parents wouldn’t help, he called the police himself the next day, but they seemed insincere when they said they would look into it.

Jimmy was unsure of what to do.

He could barely sleep that night, but he was determined to do something tomorrow if he could.

The next morning, he met up with Molly and Chester, and told them what had happened. Chester didn’t remember anything.

He remembered walking home, and then being home with a huge headache. Even the walk home from the park seemed fuzzy.

“My mom said you hit me,” Chester said, not wanting it to be true.

“I had to,” Jimmy replied. “You were in some kind of trance. I tried over and over to stop you, but you just kept walking. You walked all the way to the park, and I know this sounds crazy, but I think that old tree wanted to eat you.”

Jimmy worried that he had lost them with that last statement, but they both knew Jimmy wasn’t prone to making up stories, or lying.

Chester rubbed his head. “I don’t remember.”

“Trust me, Chester,” Jimmy said. “I didn’t want to hit you, but I had no choice.”

Chester looked at Jimmy and said, “I believe you.”

Molly said, “I believe you too.”

“We have to do something,” Jimmy started. “I think this is the reason all those kids have been going missing. I think that old tree has been taking them like it tried to take Chester.”

“But what do we do?” Molly asked.

“We chop it down,” Jimmy said sternly.

Chester looked up at him. “But we’ll get in trouble.”

“I know,” Jimmy replied. “But if we don’t do this, it will take another kid someday.”

“Maybe stopping it from taking Chester last night means we’re safe for another couple of years,” Molly said.

“Maybe,” Jimmy agreed. “Or maybe it’s still hungry and it’ll try to take someone again tonight, or tomorrow even.”

All three thought about it. Chester was the first to speak.

“You saved my life last night,” he said. “I know it. I’m with you.”

Jimmy nodded.

“I can’t have my two best friends facing a monster alone,” Molly said. “I’m in.”

The three of them headed out to Jimmy’s garage, and started to look for anything they could use to chop down the tree.

They found one Axe, but nothing else that would help.

“We have an axe at my house,” Chester stated.

“Us too,” Molly said.

“But my parents will stop me if they see me try to walk out with an axe,” Chester pointed out.

“We’ll have to wait until after dinner and then sneak out,” Jimmy said.

Molly and Chester looked nervous. They weren’t expecting to go out when it was dark.

In the end, they both looked up and nodded.

Jimmy was nervous at dinner, but his parents didn’t notice. He made up an excuse of needing to study for a test tomorrow, and headed up stairs.

He knew he had until nine to cut down the tree and get home before his parents would notice. That gave him three and a half hours.

He climbed out the window and stealthily made his way to the park. The entire time he walked, he hoped no one would come out and see him walking down the street with an axe.

When he made it to the park, he was the only one there. He was worried that Molly and Chester had been caught.

He decided he would give them a few more minutes to arrive before he faced the tree himself.

He was about to start walking towards the tree, when he saw Molly and Chester making their way up the street together.

“Hey,” he greeted them when they arrived.

“Hey,” Molly and Chester replied in unison.

“You guys ready?” Jimmy asked.

They nodded, but Jimmy could tell they were still unsure.

They turned and walked in the direction of the tree.

As they got closer, something caught their attention out of the corner of their eyes.

They all turned to see another boy walking in the direction of the tree.

“It’s Charles,” Jimmy pointed out.

Jimmy could tell he was walking the same way Chester had been the night before.

“Charles!” he called out. “What are you doing?!”

No reply.

All three of them ran towards him, trying to block his way.

Just like with Chester had before, he just kept walking through them, and no matter how much they tried to block his path, he just kept moving.

Once again the wind picked up, and Jimmy turned to look at the tree. The angry face had returned.

Seeing that they were not going to be able to hold onto Charles, and fight the tree at the same time, Jimmy looked to his friends.

“Hold him here!” he yelled over the wind. “I’m going to start chopping the tree down!”

They both nodded in understanding.

Jimmy ran at the tree and swung as hard as he could.

The wind seemed to pick up, and Jimmy could’ve swore that he heard the tree scream.

Behind him, Charles collapsed to the ground, released from his trance.

Once Molly and Chester realized that Charles had been released, they turned and joined Jimmy at the tree where they both began swinging their axes along with him.

The wind seemed to be turning into a tornado with each strike, and a howling began to fill the air, but they kept swinging, hoping with each strike, the tree would die.

Black sap began to pour from the tree like blood, and as they struck the tree, some of that sap would splash on them, making them look like they were slaughtering an animal.

Their arms were beginning to get tired, and they were all afraid that they wouldn’t be able to finish the job, when there was one final howl, and the wind began to die down.

Once the wind was gone, Jimmy could see that the angry face had faded, but he knew they wouldn’t be safe until the tree was cut down.

The three of them looked at each other exhausted.

“There’s no way we can cut it all the way down,” Molly pointed out.

“Maybe I can help,” a man said, coming up behind them holding a chainsaw.

He pulled the chord, bringing the chainsaw to life, replacing the wind with its own roar.

It didn’t take him long to slice through the tree until it fell over, falling away from the children.

Charles joined the other three kids, and none of them could believe what they were seeing.

Before the man walked away, he said, “My son went missing years ago, and every day I looked out my window, hoping he would return, or at least I would find out what had happened to him, but I never did. And then tonight, I saw you kids walking down the street with axes, and I had to see what you were up to. When I saw the other boy walking toward the tree in a trance, and I saw how the tree looked alive, I knew what happened to my boy.”

The kids watched the man walk off, and then began walking toward their homes. They told Charles what was happening since he had no idea how he had ended up in the park.

The tree being cut down was a big deal in the little town, but everyone involved never came forward to tell the story.

Over time, the police stopped looking. As the years passed, the town slowly started to come alive again as no more children went missing.