Trigger warning - implied sex with a minor; mentions murder and mutilation.
15 April, 1692.
“Dig in deep, lads. We don’t want no evil leaking out.”
The spades work hard, while a hole large enough to swallow a girl is dug. This work cannot be done in the sanctity of daylight; it is only the moon that watches solemnly as they dig deeper and deeper.
Sweat filled brows are mopped, and then the sack is hesitantly lifted and thrown in. It cannot scream- they had stopped that, by cutting out its tongue earlier- but they hear its grunts and feel it wriggling and squirming in their hands. The Pastor had said that it was dead, but clearly, it was not.
The sack lands with a thud at the bottom of the hole. Like a spotlight, the moon casts its eerie glow on their deed one last time before the shovelling resumes, this time filling the hole. No one says anything, and no one dares look at the wriggling sack. There is life still, down there, it is plain to see, as the sack violently buckles with each pile of dirt thrown upon it.
The men work faster than before, all hurriedly pouring the dirt on top of the sack, hoping to cover their own guilt quickly with every shovel. After a while, the sack makes no more movement, and the men continue a little slower, secure in the knowledge that it has gone now.
Pastor John and his wife Mary bring out the tree. It’s a maple, good for soaking up the rain, a pretty thing, much like the thing it will be laid on top of.
The tree is placed in the hole, a prayer is spoken, and the final digging is finished by the Pastor and his wife.
“It had to be done,” says the Pastor, resolute to the last. “In the words of Job, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it.”
“Amen,” they all whisper. They trail back to their houses to get clean, but there is a taint upon them that they cannot scrub away.
Many years pass and the tree grows on. Plunging its roots into rich soil and soaking up the sun in delight. It rains aplenty, and the tree has no wants or desires. It is content with its life, until one day, its roots forage through the remnants of the sack and into the remains of the tortured soul that lies beneath it. The touch is so exquisite and so painful that overnight the maple casts off all its leaves.
“What is wrong with the maple?” asks the Pastor’s wife the next morning, looking into their garden. She is older now. There are wrinkles etched deep into her skin, like weathered bark.
Her husband, still the Pastor, has aged too. He had once been fresh of face, and full of scripture. Now he is a prune, withered and dry, with only half remembered words of God to fill him. He gives the maple a cursory glance. The tree has always been a reminder for them. Of what they almost lost, and what they did lose.
“Perhaps it is the seasons, an early Fall? Or perhaps the tree is sick?”
“Perhaps,” says his wife, and she resumes her knitting.
Neither of them say anything, but the memories flicker through their minds, like little needles incessantly pricking them.
The maple is not sure of how much time has passed, but its leaves have returned, and it has grown tall and strong. Its branches fill the sky and tower over its domain. It casts a pleasing black shadow over the little church house where the pastor and his wife hide. For that is what it thinks they are doing. Hiding. It wants them to come out and play, but they stay within their four walls. It hears them though, the little chinks of dead conversation that dribble between them, and it knows what they say and what words they choose not to say.
The tree has fed off the body that was laid to rest beneath it. Secrets have been shared, while anger and anguish has fertilised it. It has a name now. Rebecca.
It is a name that it whispers happily to itself. They are one and the same; the tree is filled with her essence. Its roots are intertwined with her skeleton, and her soul has seeped into its very fibres.
Rebecca has wants and desires, but she is patient. They wait together, content for now with casting black shadows and dropping leaves for the Pastor to rake.
The Pastor and his wife have a large family. Six children in all, and five grandchildren, but the Pastor always did enjoy procreating. Rebecca remembers him forcing himself upon her when she was but a child. She remembers the child that was growing in her womb from his vile seed, and she remembers tearfully telling the Pastor’s wife of her husband’s misdeeds. She was not sure what she had expected, but she knew it had not been for her tongue to be cut out, and for her body with an unborn child to be buried alive.
The tree shudders at Rebecca’s memories, which are its own now. It watches the Pastor’s family closely. Today is a gathering for something, and all of them are here. There is even a baby yowling, and children running around on the grass. All seeds from the same tree.
“That maple would be a good tree for a swing, don’t you think?” says one of the Pastor’s sons, looking at the tree in admiration. “Or a treehouse?”
The Pastor just nods.
“Why don’t we do it this weekend, Pa? Many hands make light work.”
The tree’s leaves bristle in anticipation. Yes, yes, they whisper. Come closer, Pastor, come closer into my shade.
The Pastor doesn’t hear the tree’s words, only the rustling of the leaves and the eagerness in his son’s voice. He is not afraid of the tree, only discomforted by its presence, and so he agrees to his son’s requests.
It was a pleasing year for Rebecca. The Pastor’s first grandchild died from a fall from the treehouse that was built, another slipped while climbing its branches, and another still was walking underneath when a branch of the maple just happened to snap right above the little thing, squashing the Pastor’s seed into the ground from where it will not grow.
The Pastor and his wife are bereft, and now they talk of the tree being cursed.
“It is her,” says the wife.
“Who?” asks the Pastor, as if he has forgotten.
“Rebecca,” she hisses. The tree is pleased to hear its namesake spoken through their walls. “She lives still, through the tree.”
“Three grandchildren, all gone, from the tree! That tree! What else, if it is not Rebecca?”
“It’s just their time, that’s all. Our Lord works in mysterious ways.”
“No! Cut it down!”
“You heard me, I want rid of it. We should never have planted it on her body.”
The Pastor is silent for a while, as if he is thinking, or perhaps remembering his murky memories of the girl he once fondled.
“If that is what you want, wife, I’ll take an axe to it on the morrow.”
The next morning, the pastor came out with the sharpened blade of his axe to do his work. Rebecca was waiting for him, eagerly. If you looked closely enough you could even start to see an impression of her face in the trunk of the tree. Some faint lips, the hint of a smile, and eyes that might be mistaken for tree knots. But the Pastor didn’t look closely enough; he didn’t even look at the ground where he walked, and tripped over the present Rebecca had left him. He landed headfirst into the soil at Rebecca’s base.
Rebecca, the tree whispered to him as he lay there. Rebecca. Remember her name. Remember what you did.
The pastor did remember. He had always remembered, though he had tried to forget. He stood up now. His body was shaking, but he still held the axe. It was at that point that he looked down to see what he had fallen over. Something white and hard was embedded in the soil. A gift, of sorts. He looked at it in mounting horror. He knew a skull when he saw one.
The scream made its way down to the kitchen where the Pastor’s wife was, still hiding. The heart attack followed next.
Rebecca watched on gleefully, her branches waving ever so slightly in excitement as the Pastor’s face turned pale and as he struggled to draw breath.
Still it wasn’t over yet.
The Pastor’s wife came running out. Mary. It had been so long, thought the tree. It had been Mary who had sliced her tongue out, as if she could slice away the words that had been spoken. It was Mary who had called her a whore and a witch. And now it was Mary who was crying tears, cradling her husband as he took his last breaths.
“You!!” Mary screams at the tree with her own wicked tongue, she reaches for the axe herself, to do what her husband could not.
Rebecca screams too, as she wrenches her roots from the soil and throws herself at Mary and the Pastor.
“I… I think…Pa must’ve been trying to cut the tree down, and something went wrong.”
“Maybe it was rotten?”
“Aye, maybe it was,” says one of the sons, wiping his tears away.
There is no Ma or Pa to bury; they are already well buried under the weight of the fallen maple, the weight of Rebecca.
Rebecca lies still. The bones of the pastor and his wife are crushed beneath her, and it is a pleasant, comforting feeling. But she is not content. All the seeds that have been sown must be taken care of. Just like the Pastor said, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it. She lets the wind blow her children across the land, where they will grow. Waiting, quietly, patiently to bury all the Pastor’s progeny.