THE DAMSON TREE

by JULIE ANN REES

I SAW the light take the others but I held back. I felt life underground and followed that instead. I was only twelve when the fever took me. The damson tree they buried me under in the graveyard had been my favourite place. The headstone is a delightful pink marble. I can see it because I followed the slow drum of living tissue that collected water and nutrients from the earth. The same earth enclosing my body and the same nutrients my flesh expunged into the ground.

I can feel the tree’s soul, a slow and ancient presence, full of empathy surviving only to create more life. I thought nothing about it, when living I greedily gobbled the ripe damsons warm in the July sun. Now I am the damsons, and the trunk that steadies the tree, and the branches that hold the birds with their delicate nests of precious eggs. I am tempted to spill them, watch them crack against my headstone, but the tree would be angry. It’s such a righteous little thing, birthing life from rotten wood and dead leaves.

The tree bores me, even though I can see all around from the high branches. That’s when I spotted the little girl. I willed her to come closer. Eyes screaming wide with hunger she plucked the juicy damsons. I pushed myself into them and bit by bit she consumed me too. The wizened old wood sprite shot me a warning, but I did not heed. I didn’t want to spend my death locked in a tree. Now I’m inside her. I can feel her soul. It’s young and afraid, easy to push aside. A voice calls my new name.

“Amelia, wicked child, come back at once.” My new mother snatches my arm and I shrug her off. She looks at me oddly. Her own daughter cowers in fear. Why are you so frightened? I ask, but she scuttles away happy to hide.

“I’m sorry mother.” I say, “But the damsons are so good.” A sharp jolt snaps my head back and I realise she has hit me. I am sent to bed without any supper that night. The girl’s spirit stays hidden and doesn’t attempt to play with me. She’s a weak insipid thing. Her Father came home late and I know now why she quails with fright. Tomorrow I will return to the damson tree and choose my next body more wisely.

The dawn breaks gold behind the tree. A spirit shows its face, small and woody and before I know what’s happening, the soul of the little girl is pulled deeply into a woody embrace, and I am left alone within her trembling body. Furious I pound my fists against the bark. Then I hear her Father.

“Amelia, you will pay for your disobedience. Come here now.” Joyful giggles echo from the branches as Amelia and the wood sprite play together and I wonder why I never did the same.

 

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Julie Ann Rees recently graduated from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David with a Master in Arts first class honours degree for creative writing. One of her short stories “The Islanders” was published last year by Parthian in the PENfro anthology short story collection entitled Heartland. By day she is a librarian at a busy rural library and at night she resides at a house in a graveyard with her daughter and quirky Siamese cat named Spook. She lives near Swansea in South Wales. Picture by Annaliese Tassano.

Title photo credit. Jonathan Billinger. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Standard Horla disclaimer: This image has no direct connection with the fiction.

Horla Flash Fiction (May 2020)