The Old Man Tree
Sherry glared down at her sister, who sat in a snowbank rubbing her upper arm. “It is not a man in the woods! It’s only a dead tree with ivy on it. Now stop being silly before Aunty Ella hears and you sleep in the attic with the mice and the spiders!”
Abby sniffled and willed herself not to cry. Her sister didn’t mean to hit so hard, didn’t know how much the punches that punctuated their disagreements hurts. But that wasn’t a tree in the woods. It was a man with horns on his head and a wicked hungry smile and branch-thin arms with claws at the end.
Her sister extended a mittened hand. “Here. Are you okay? I didn’t mean to hit so hard.”
Abby took her hand and stood up. “It’s okay. I’m sorry. You’re right. It’s just a tree.. An old stupid tree with ugly moss!”
Sherry laughed. “Yeah! Stupid moss face tree! Lets get inside. It’s getting dark and you know how Aunty Ella gets when we come in late.”
The younger girl wiped unshed tears from her eyes followed her sister into the house. Before the door closed, through, she cast a look back over her shoulder. The tree wasn’t where she had last seen it. It was closer to the house.
And it was smiling.
This is the third of three stories I wrote for the Mattawoman Creek Art Center’s 2020 Winter Open All-Media Show, which is a cooperative effort of the MCAC and the Charles County Chapter of the Maryland Writer’s Association. The first story is right here and the second is right here!
I had a grand time with this story but at the same time it was the trickiest to write. Originally, I’d planned to write two stories, but when I saw this painting, something right in the middle of the thing jumped out at me. Not literally — that would have led to an entirely different story! I sidled right over to talk a closer look and just a couple of minutes later, a very nice lady came over and started talking to me about the painting. She asked me what was wrong with it (because I was pointing to a certain figure that might or might not be a tree…) and whether I liked it. Turns out, she was the artist, Penny Gold, and she told me all about how she came to paint it (it is the view from her very house!). Once I’d talked with her, I couldn’t very well write the creepy-with-a-capital-C story I thought I would because who wants to think about that story every time they look out the window of their house. She’d have to move or burn her house down!
The result of my temperance is this story, which I hope is sufficiently creepy nonetheless. Ms. Gold and her husband seemed to like it just fine, which pleased me to no end. I hope you like it, too.
Oh! Here is a photo of Ms. Gold and I. She later insisted on a picture with just me and her painting and my story alongside. Very sweet of her, I thought!