In the front garden of my childhood home, there grew a tall cherry blossom tree. In spring, it blossomed a deep rosy pink, and in only a few weeks, it sprinkled the lawn with light pink petals. I spent many summer days climbing it, and lying in its shade while I read. Fall and winter were occupied with holidays, and winter in particular had wires and lights intertwined about its branches, as if it were blooming in the snow.
Although fickle, my memory of that cherry blossom which sat on a soft mound of dirt and wood chips in the front garden of my parents home, had recently come to mind. Which is what spurred me to this. I have heard that the more you recall a certain memory, the more errors you can expect. So, getting down my thoughts as quickly as possible will preserve my sanity.
Most of my childhood was a blur. At a young age of about nine, my sister and I were sent to live with my Aunt Nancy Roberts and her husband Benson. The latter being a prominent attorney in Midland, a twenty-minute car ride from Bay City, Michigan. My memory of the distance that slowly grew between my sibling and I started at this time. I can’t quite remember what it was that drove us apart.
My uncle had a great interest in my education. He frequently kept me occupied with history lectures, arithmetic textbooks, and works of English literature. Much of my memories from then on were that of words on a written page. Although I never missed an opportunity to break my relative’s rules, whenever they so rarely appeared.
By my sixteenth birthday, my sister, at the age of eighteen, had fallen greatly out of favor with our relatives. Loud nightly debates concerning her choice of companionship were frequent companions of mine, while I attempted to sleep. Until it culminated with her untimely departure from my aunt and uncle’s home. My last memory of her was that of her sitting on the end of my bed crying. I laid motionless pretending to sleep. However, being still a young man, I had neither courage or understanding enough to reach out. That following morning, she was gone.
Two years later I graduated from North Midland High School. I was not at the top of my class, but was near enough to be offered a scholarship to the University of Michigan. Nothing extravagant, but was significant enough to bring my Aunt to tears. Excitement from my relatives showered on top of me, and I summoned enough effort to smile for them. Even with their pity for me on full display.
My first year of university was filled with lecture after lecture. Many of which I scarcely remember. My grades were falling, as my attention drifted away from studies. Without strict guidance, I stayed from the path my uncle laid for me. I felt listless, as if there was something important that I should be remembering, but couldn’t quite figure out. During my winter break, my uncle was severely disappointed in my performance. I used it as an opportunity to broach the subject of my parents and sister.
“Your Mother and Father? We told you years before.” Benson told me.
“I’m sorry, it seems I have forgotten. Could you remind me?”
“They died in that awful house fire. It was horrible, everything was gone.” My aunt’s eyes broke contact with mine, and she seemed to be looking past me.
“I see. I remember now. You did tell me, but I pretended not to hear her.” I said.
“It always seemed hardest for you. That sister of yours took it hard too, but she let it out. In her own way. But you, it never seemed to affect you.”
That night, I rummaged through old boxes, hidden away in the attic, until I had found a box filled with old photo albums. Inside leather bound tomes, I was greeted with happy memories, frozen in family photos. Sifting through page after page, I found a photo that satisfied me. In it, my sister and I stood in front of our parents, each with their hands on our shoulders. Further back still, was the blooming cherry blossom, and our old family home. Dark red petals floating in the air, as if in a mild flurry of crimson snow. It bore on its trunk a large black scar, which stretched from root to its first strong branch about six feet from the ground. Much of the tree seemed different to what I had remembered, the horrible looking scar being completely vacant from my memory. I took the photo with me, and went to bed.
After that winter break, it felt as if I had lifted my head for the first time in ages. I found myself attracted to a Japanese Literature class. I had not had much interest in foreign languages, but I had a general education slot to fill and it also made me feel like an intellectual. Throughout the semester, I read novel after novel concerning Japanese imperial bandits and pre-war romances. My professor, Takeda Yamaguchi, was a thin elderly man who always smiled and had the air of a man who truly loved his job. However, I never felt truly engaged, at least until our final project was introduced. Students were tasked with researching Japanese motifs in myth and literature.
In most of the literature we had read, the cherry blossom tree appeared in one way or another. I was compelled to explore it as my subject, and nearly neglected all my studies to focus on this single project. The Sakura-Ki or Sakura, known in the west as the Cherry Blossom, had been used to represent spring, the renewal of life, and having only two weeks a year to blossom, the shortness of that life. Much of this analysis was surface level. I found myself swiftly drowned in wholesome tales of flower viewings, romance, and coming of age tales. Although it provided me with enough material to finish my assignment, it left my interest in the subject thoroughly unsatisfied.
Mr. Yamaguchi took notice of my interest in the tree. When I showed him the picture of my family, and told him of my memories of the tree in our garden, his lips frowned in a very uncharacteristic way. He took me to his office, and dug through his humble, but impressive collection of old Japanese lore. Many dating as far back as the Taika or Nara periods. He found a small booklet, and brought it to a table.
Two stoic kanji, written in thick black inked brush strokes decorated the front cover. The pages of the book were older than our university, and had not been translated to English. Mr. Yamaguchi skimmed through the pages until he came across the relevant text.
It concerned an old folktale about cursed cherry blossom trees. According to the fiction, some cherry blossoms from a forest just outside a remote farming village used to bloom year round. They bloomed with gorgeous deep scarlet petals. However beautiful as it was, the village had a problem with sudden disappearances. Eventually travelers deemed the village too dangerous to travel to. After the village was abandoned, the red cherry blossoms stopped blooming. A traveler happened upon the last blooming tree in the forest. It stood on mounds of muddy human remains. In his haste to flee from the bloody sight, the traveler had managed to set the tree aflame, leaving a long black scar on its trunk.
After he finished speaking, his office became uncomfortably quiet. He told me it was a very early myth from the Heian period. Due to its disturbing nature, it remained an obscure legend. However, the black spotted tree in the photograph spurred his recollection, and compelled him to share it with me.
“Sakura is a very important symbol. Anything that would undermine their wholesome image are often ignored.”
“Thank you, professor, I understand why.” I said, and we shared a wholesome laugh. I studied the picture of my family with a renewed interest, and Mr. Yamaguchi noticed.
He offered me a good luck charm. An Omamori, a sort of pouch made of a fine red fabric, with Japanese Kanji embodied on to it in golden thread. He told me that his father had given to him, to keep him safe, just as his father had done before him. When I inquired as to why he would give me something he held so dear, he told me.
“If you go looking for the tree in that photo, it wouldn’t hurt to have a bit of extra luck. Bring it back. I’ll be waiting for you.”
The following spring, I determined to speak with my sister. She had used my grandparents as an emergency contact for a medical incident she had suffered in the year prior. They told me she lived alone in an apartment on the north end of Bay City. I drove for several hours from Ann Arbor to Bay City, arriving at her address at about noon on a warm spring day. It was not an apartment, it was a trailer with rust all around the edging where the metal walls met what could be considered a floor. A screen door hung uselessly by one hinge, showing signs of little use. I beat on the door, and shouted.
“Sarah, it’s me. Justin.” My words intertwined with my aggressive knocking, until the door creaked open suddenly. It was caught by a thick metal chain, and behind it was the emerald eye of my older sister.
“What?” she asked. I steadied myself and spoke.
“I want to see the house.” She blinked as I spoke, and a curious stare enveloped her brow. Her eyes had bags, and her youthful face seemed drained.
“Why?” again she prodded.
“Because I miss it. I want to see it again.”
“But it isn’t there, remember? It burned down.” She stepped away from the door, and I heard soft thuds of bare feet against a dirty floor.
“There was an old tree, I want to see if it’s still there.” I heard no response. As sudden as she had answered the door, she poked a stained envelope out of the crack in the door.
“The address is on that.” I took it, and read what I could.
Save on car insurance!, could be made out in a bold attractive font, but most of the writing had been aged or covered with stain. 194 Mariner Dr. remained clear enough to read.
“I always intended to go back, to look for mom, or just get my things. But I never had the courage.” She said slinking away from the door, before slamming it shut.
“What do you mean? Did Nancy and Benson lie about the fire? What really happened Sarah? I’m sorry for not listening before, I’m ready to now!” There was no answer. “Please tell me. I’m right here! I will do anything, just open up!”
I shouted at her until my voice gave out, but my words fell on deaf ears. Now I had to endure the same silence I had given her some years ago.
“Go back to them please, they would hate to see you living this way.” Those were the final words I spoke to my sister, before her accident. I suppose I could offer a reasonable explanation as to the circumstances of her untimely demise, knowing what I know now.
After the encounter with my sister, my mind was burning. I set out to our family home. With each passing mile, I became more anxious. The old two story log home should be gone, with only a charred corpse left. As I drove up a winding dirt road, familiar landmarks populated my vision. A boulder, the size of a pick up truck and the color of dirty snow. Then a tall sloped hill, which had once been used for sledding during long snowy winters. And finally I arrived.
Creeping through an ever thinning forest of pines and oaks, my old home came into sight. I brought my old ford truck to a halt, and stepped onto a muddy path. The long abandoned structure loomed over, as if out of a nightmare. Shingles, wood, and other assortments of furnishings littered the unkempt lawn surrounding it. Time had taken a heavy toll, save for the cherry blossom which was still on it's hill to the slight right of the front garden. There it sat, untouched and blossoming. Never had I remembered it to be so unsettling.
An unseen force, I mistook as the wind compelled me toward it. I refused, and made a conscious effort to avoid looking at it. My footsteps sank into the muddy path, as I proceeded to my front door. Clinking porcelain and running water hummed from the other side. My hand shook, as if a tremor had suddenly invaded. I steadied myself, and summoned what courage was left in me. The door gave way with no resistance, and I peered inside before stepping.
A lonely room greeted me, dark and cold. It was filled with an odor that only the most grim decomposing grave could compare. Heaps of black and white trash bags lined the walls, each of them swollen with unknown and unspeakable occupants. I made my way to the kitchen, with cautious steps, ready to turn and run. A lonely figure stood at a rusted and cracked sink. In an instant, I recognized the tall man, as my father. His silhouette defined by a large window just in front of him
“Dad?” I yelped. “What’s going on here?!”
“Oh, welcome home.” He never looked at me. Only a low groan of a voice.
“This isn’t right, what’s happening?”
“It’s okay son, now that your back we can be a family again.”
“What?” I shifted my weight to my back foot, in case the need for a swift exit became apparent.
“Your mother is in the garden. You should go get her. I can’t get her to come inside.”
I caught a glimpse of what his hands were doing in the sink, and nearly emptied the contents of my stomach. What passed for water flowing from the facet was mucus green, and his hands nearly skinless. White-brown bones protruding from his knuckles, cracking, snapping, and creaking in a horrible imitation of what I thought to be dining ware. His chest, as all but missing, replaced with rancid brown vines. In clear view of the window was that bloody tree. Now I could feel it’s evil sight on me, and settled to destroy it.
My fathers broken body lurched at me, as if something had suddenly felt my intention. His eyes were missing from their sockets. I tripped, and his weight forced me down. Roots, like rigid tentacles crawled out his eye sockets. Blood from my father’s semi-corpse soaked my chest, as an ungodly strength took me in its clutch. I slipped out, and scurried across the floor, picking myself up once I had left the kitchen. Fear filled my mind, fueling my desire to flee rather than to pursue any vain attempt at vengeance.
I leapt through the threshold, and felt a sharp pain on my right ankle. My face rammed into mud, which had seemed softer only minutes ago. When my eyes caught sight of what had taken my dignity, a root with the thickness of an oil barrel was wrestling its way out of the earth. My clothing was heavy with mud and blood as I crashed into the hood of my car. From behind, a shrill unearthly voice shrieked. I dared not to look, but beside the driver side laid a large rock. Suddenly revenge seemed possible.
The voice began to focus, and words meant to be produced by a feminine human mouth called out to me.
“Ju…. sss… t… nnn. C...me ...omeee.”
When I put the heavy weight on the floor of my truck, I turned the ignition. I had to look to line up my truck, by god I didn’t want to, and I deeply regret it. I wish I had just driven away, and never looked back. On the hill, my familiar cherry blossom’s branches grew abnormally long, with no clear pattern of growth, each of them pulsated and writhed in the air. The blood red petals had been replaced by sickly yellow eyes. It’s black scar had sunk in, revealing a never ending tunnel of what I could only recognize as jagged knife-like teeth, which wriggled and snapped as if they each had a mind of their own.
That is when I lost control, and let the rock roll against the gas pedal. It burst forward, and in moments climbed the hill to that monstrosity. In it’s haste, my foot had been crushed under tread, but that was the least of my worries. As I crawled away, my truck rammed against it, it’s tires spinning in the mud, kicking mud out like a shower of wet earth. However, not a scratch was left on the tree. In fact the sounds of pinching metal, and shatter glass echoed across the garden.
Never return to that cursed home. Obey your uncle and keep your mind focused on what is ahead. Whatever our relatives pulled us away from, is better left alone. This is the final message I leave to myself. I am sure I will blot out this memory, and someday my curiosity may compel myself to seek out this place again. May this writing be the first thing I come across in any future attempts. To preserve my fragile sanity, I must forget that damn sadistic Sakura.