**Warning: Coarse Language**
Outskirts of Salem Town, Massachusetts. 1694
A brutal February wind rattled the front door of the lonely farmhouse. Small wisps of cool air wafting in through the thin walls tested the warmth of the dull fire burning.
The sisters dined on salt pork stew in an awkward silence.
“Abigail, the trial-”
“Enough about the trial, Mary. There is no evidence.”
“But it did not go well, it’s only a matter of time before-”
“I said enough about the damned trial.” Abigail glared at her sister across the table in frustration. She sighed heavily, disappointed at her outburst, and softened her tone. “They have no evidence because there is not anything to prove. This accusation is absurd.”
Mary looked away and frowned into her stew. She had barely eaten a thing.
Abigail reached across the table and held her hand gently. “You are my sister. I will not allow anyone to hurt you. Do you hear me?”
Her little sister nodded slowly, eyes still downcasted. Abigail returned to her dinner, picking at the potatoes. The door shook loudly against the frame, making Mary flinch with fear.
Abigail paused and smirked at a sudden thought. “Mary, if anything is going to kill us, it will be this winter cold.” They both laughed dryly.
Another awkward silence.
“So,” Abigail cleared her throat, “did you see-”
The door banged open. Three men entered the small kitchen, each one ducking through the low frame. Mary jumped out of her seat and retreated against the far wall, flattening herself against the cold boards. Abigail stepped between the men and her sister.
“You are not welcome here” she stated, trying to mask the tremble in her voice with authority. “Leave this house at once.”
The first man shoved Abigail to the side. She tumbled over Mary’s discarded chair and fell to the floor. The other two approached Mary, their eyes solemn. The third man carried a hunting rifle.
Mary sobbed and pleaded frantically, “no, please, it is not true. None of it. I swear I am innocent.”
The two men grabbed her arms and began dragging her out of the house. She screamed and struggled, crying for her sister in despair. “Abby please! Please tell them! I am no witch!”
Abigail struggled to stand, her long skirts tangled in the legs of the splintered chair. The first man stood guard by her, ensuring that she didn’t interfere. She called for Mary and began cursing at the men, cursing the chair, cursing her skirts.
She managed to stand, only to be pushed back down by the man. He wore a scarf to mask his face, but she recognized his unusual green eyes. He was a local farmhand employed at the neighboring property. She cursed him again, and in response he raised a calloused hand threateningly. She turned and called for Mary, but she had disappeared into the dark winter night with her assailants.
The gunshot cut through the howling wind and echoed into the house. Abigail froze in shock and let out a choked sob. The other men didn’t return.
Sorrow was diminishing to anger. Anger so strong her hands shook. As the first man went to leave she glared at him with pure hatred and vowed in a soft whisper, “I will not forgive this. God will not forgive this.” He paused and looked back at her, his eyes void of emotion. “You will suffer. Your children will suffer. A fate worse than death will befall your kind, sinners.” She spat the final word at him with defiance. Eyes downcast, he replied quietly, but his response was muffled through the scarf.
Finally free of the chair legs, Abigail sprang from the floor and ran past him into the blistering cold. She followed the tracks left behind by the other men and her sister; a long steady trail between two sets of large boot prints. The light from the farmhouse only reached so far, but she continued into the night. If she has truly lost her sister, her only family, dying from the frost would be a far better fate than being hanged in the gallows.
She stumbled over a hidden stump and fell. Her mouth and nose filled with dense snow, but it tasted different. It tasted like copper.
Rural Danvers, Massachusetts.
“C’mon John, break’s over.” Tim tipped his hardhat back to wipe the sweat off of his brow. The summer sun was relentless today.
“I’m almost done my smoke, gimme five more.”
“Hurry the hell up. Boss says we gotta start over there.” Tim pointed towards a grove of elms growing through dilapidated wooden ruins. “Trees are already marked.”
“Great, why don’t I meet you there.” John took a long drag and smirked at his partner.
“Yeah, nice try bud. Put that out and let’s go.”
John exhaled, took another small puff, and flicked the cigarette butt into a nearby ditch. The duo approached the trees, each hauling axes and thick rope.
“I didn’t think the city would develop this far out.”
“They aren’t”, Tim replied. “Some rich guy bought all of this.”
John scoffed, “you’re telling me some asshole with money to burn bought this mess? This shit hasn’t been touched in years. I didn’t even know you could buy it.”
“Something about ‘historical value’ I think.” Tim adjusted his grip on the wood axe. “This used to be a small town.”
“Another ghost town?”
“Except there aren’t any ghosts.”
“What do you mean?”
“Local rumor is that everyone just disappeared one night. All gone.”
John laughed. “Sure, whatever.”
They approached the sparse growth of trees, searching for any with a red slash painted on the trunks. Tim called his partner over to a marked tree, but John was distracted. He was staring at the first tree, unmarked, squinting in the sunlight. Tim walked back over towards him.
“You deaf? I found one, let’s go.”
“Does this look weird to you?”
“The fuck are you talking about?”
John pointed at the tree. “It looks funny.”
Time scoffed “ok, man. We got work to do.”
“No, I’m serious. Look at this shit.” He walked towards the trunk of the elm and started tracing pieces of the bark. “It doesn’t look right.”
“It’s just knots in the wood.”
“I know what knots look like. It’s just growing weird.”
“It’s a fuckin’ tree.”
“Tell me this looks normal to you.” John pointed at the contorted trunk. The bark had healed in different directions, creating odd shapes in the usually linear pattern.
Tim shook his head. “Man, I just want to get this done.” He started walking back towards the marked elm.
John glanced at the tree once more, unable to lessen his uneasiness. He laid his axe on the forest floor and shrugged the coil of rope off of his shoulder. John snuck a quick look at the marked tree looming over his partner; everything about it was vastly different. The tree was taller, produced healthy growth, roots sunk firmly into the ground. But the bark was different, it grew naturally. He turned back to his elm and mumbled a quiet curse, inspecting it closer.
“John, what the shit? The heat getting to you or something?”
He hesitated before replying, an idea slowly forming. “No, I’m good. I want to try something first.” He picked up his axe.
“Stop fuckin' around and -”
“Just humor me, then I’ll shut up about the stupid trees.”
Tim stepped back and huffed. “Be my guest.”
John planted his feet wide, pulled the axe back over his shoulder, then swung at the tree. The sharp blade sunk into the wood. He swore he heard the tree groan in protest. He gripped the handle and yanked the axe out of the trunk. Nothing happened.
Tim scoffed. “You happy now?”
John stared at the trunk dumbfounded. “I thought…”
“We’re not paid to think. We’re paid to cut down trees. Now-”
A small trickle of liquid began seeping from the axe wound. John pointed excitedly, “see, see that there?”
“Yeah, it’s sap or whatever.”
John stepped closer to the tree and bent down. The liquid definitely wasn’t sap. He took off his work glove and lightly touched the thin stream. The tree groaned again.
“John, buddy, it’s a tree.”
He looked at his fingertips. The liquid was warm and thin. Red.
Tim stepped closer and noticed the unnatural sap on John’s fingers. “What is that?”
“I think it’s…” John looked back at the quickly thickening stream. Almost gushing from the wood.
“It’s kind of like....blood?”
“What? No way. That’s impossible.”
“Look for yourself. It’s definitely not sap.” He looked up at the tree again. The bark pattern started to make sense.
Tim knelt by the trunk and smelled the liquid. “It can’t be blood,” he mumbled.
The liquid saturated the ground and formed a puddle around their boots.
John removed a can of spray paint from his tool belt and traced the odd circles with bright red paint. He frantically tapped the top of Tim’s hat. He stared at the painted outlines slack-jawed, eyes wide.
“What, what, whaddaya want?”
“Look,” John whispered, “look at the tree!”
Tim rose and stood next to John, still focused on the sap. “Should we call someone about this?” He looked up at the painted bark and fell backwards, startled. “That..that’s a-”.
“A face. It’s a fuckin’ face, Tim.” John’s voice grew louder with panic. “We gotta go, man!”
“What the hell happened here?” Tim rose to standing haphazardly, tripping over raised roots and shoelaces. He started backing away from the tree, unconcerned about his discarded axe. “What the hell, John?!”