The Tale of the Golden Yellow Weeping Willow

Submitted into Contest #215 in response to: Write a story about someone making a deal with the devil.... view prompt


Horror Thriller Fantasy

It is a tale as old as time, perhaps even older, I suppose. Pure evil has no recorded date of birth, you see. 

Deep in the forest the three teens worked hard to overcome their loss. The harsh and brutal winter had taken their mother and father the year before. This forced them to learn how to live off the land and support each other as there was no one else to care for them. Whenever Liam looked at his sister, Stella, he was amazed by how much she had grown. The golden streaks that glistened in her hair reminded him so much of his late mother. Growing up they hadn’t always seen eye to eye. In fact, they were mostly at opposite ends. Nothing motivates as strongly as the need for survival, and so, after a year the teenagers had become an inseparable unit. 

On a chilly afternoon much like the ones before it, Stella and Liam ventured out deeper into the forest. The youngest of the three, Lucas didn’t care much for exploration and so he stayed home. Stella and Liam shared a curiosity of the world around them, a need to learn everything they could. Little did they know they were about to begin a chapter that should have remained untold. 

The woods felt quiet, eerily so. The two of them felt a nervous tension in the air, but both chose to ignore it. Instead, their eyes met and an unspoken challenge grew between them. Stella laughed loudly as they took off, speeding past the trees that covered their surroundings daily. Her laughter was the only sound that broke the silence that hung over the forest like a thick blanket of clouds before a storm. Liam’s heart pounded in his chest as he tried his best to outrun his sister. 

They chased each other in a game of tag without any rules or purpose until they saw her. The sight of her brought them to a halt. It had been so long since they had seen someone else in this neck of the woods. The old woman sat peacefully under the gigantic tree, hands folded calmly in her lap. Her eyes locked with theirs and time seemed to stand still. It was only after her face softened into a big smile that Stella realized she had been holding her breath. They approached with caution as their parents had taught them. Father had often told them about the dangers of strangers. Oh, but how extraordinary to meet someone new here! Much too little time passed before father’s words of warning were forgotten by them both. 

They walked closer to the woman until they were close enough to see the wrinkles in her hands, the amber glow in her eyes, and the shimmer of silver in her long hair. Even though she had been kissed with old age, she was breathtaking. She was the one to break the stillness. Her voice was as warm and comforting as their late mother’s hugs used to be. Stella felt a pang of sadness as she missed her mother so intensely.

The woman seemed to notice as she told them not to waste their youth on misery, but rather to open their eyes to a world of beauty and luster. She lifted her skinny and veiny arms high into the sky and chanted something unknown to them. That is when they saw it. Stella felt her lungs expand as she breathed in deeply at the sight of it. Right above them, grew the most amazing thing she had ever seen.

The leaf was not like any of the others that grew around it. As the sun fell on it, it glistened brightly, showcasing its unnatural color. Even though neither of them understood how a leaf like this could exist, they both knew it was something they had to have. That is why, on that afternoon that appeared to be much like the ones that came before it, they pushed, kicked, and scratched at the other in order to first reach the leaf. 

Liam, being taller and stronger, grabbed it first. His face changed the second his fingers closed around it. He turned around in excitement to show the old woman, but she was gone. Fog had descended on the spot where she had been. His eyes became alive, as if they had seen a story that no one else could ever see. A smile grew on his face as he cupped this precious gift in both hands. Stella looked at him in disgust. 

Why did he have to be the one to get the leaf? 

Had she not done everything she could to take care of him ever since Mother and Father took their final breaths? 

It seemed the more the fury in her grew, the happier Liam became as he was completely oblivious to the suffering his sister was experiencing. That is why she did what she did. As she walked home alone, she told herself that it was the only way. She needed to have the golden leaf in her possession. Liam never would have understood. 

The wail of misery echoed through the forest as Lucas tried to work through the shock of what had happened to his beloved brother. “It was a horrible fall,” Stella had explained. The youngest of the three wept until he was weak. Stella showed no emotion, of course, for she had something much more valuable now. She held it firmly in her hand as she watched her brother grieve. 

The first few days after Stella got the golden leaf were the happiest she had ever known. She felt light and exhilarated. If you’d asked her when exactly that changed, she wouldn’t have been able to tell you. She began to miss Liam terribly, and darkness grew within her. Whenever she looked at Lucas, she was overcome with immense disappointment. The wrong brother had paid the price for her golden leaf. That is why she went back into the forest in search of the old woman who began all of this. 

Stella stood motionless, staring ahead at the woman who was seated again under the tree. How could it be? She seemed decades younger, but her youth had not been blessed with beauty. Rather a hardness had captivated her features. Stella held onto the golden leaf and fought the chills that ran down her spine as she began the negotiation. Before she could stop herself, she uttered the words, “Would you consider an exchange?” The woman smiled widely, but there was something sinister about the way her smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. 

“Say the words,” she ordered in a deep, haunting voice. 

“Take Lucas instead. I need Liam back,” Stella said, ignoring the tear that ran down her face. The woman’s smile vanished as she raised her arms once more. Stella felt a change in the air around her and she knew Lucas was suffering because of her greed. She stepped forward to stop it, but it was too late.

Deep from within the enormous tree, a pair of hands began to scratch, breaking and tearing the bark. The figure that emerged from the tree didn’t resemble anyone Stella had ever known. He stank of rotten soil and death. When her eyes met this stranger’s, she saw only a trace of the brother she once knew. He moved swiftly, in a way that could only be described as inhuman, grabbing at her hand in an attempt to get the golden leaf once more. Stella screamed as she fought back, and every aspect of herself broke as she killed her brother a second time. Liam’s body fell to the ground with a loud thud and disappeared into the roots of the tree.

The woman watched Stella intently. Stella let out a sob that echoed through the forest. What a foolish girl she was! At least she still had the golden leaf. Running her fingers over it, it felt different. It no longer felt cold, smooth, and unique. Stella opened her hand and cried out in agony as the golden leaf disintegrated in front of her eyes. She fell to her knees as she knew nothing in the world would ever be right again. 

Even though the woman frightened her, she crept to her while weeping. 

“Please,” she begged hopelessly, “Take me too. There is nothing for me here anymore.” 

The woman looked at her with a coldness that Stella had never known. Her long fingers grabbed Stella’s wrists as she threw her off of her. 

“If I take you, you will never learn what it is to truly have nothing,” the woman whispered coldly. Stella closed her eyes as she wept, not realizing that the woman was gone again. 

The forest fell silent as night descended just like it always had. Owls flew high above in search of food and comfort. Insects crawled on the leaves of the trees, scattering in efforts to survive. The tree stood proudly as it began to consume the weeping girl who had become entangled in its roots. For decades later, you could hear the weeping echo through the forest if you were ever brave enough to walk past the Golden Yellow Weeping Willow. 

September 14, 2023 13:58

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