Exercise: make a misshapen tree a central object in a short story or scene.
Since I had a lot of fun with Mr. Oni and his little ghost town, I took this opportunity to wrap up his adventure. I rather like how it turned out.
Survivors, Pt. 2
Aside from Mark Oni, there was one other living entity in the ruins of town. She (for that was what Oni imagined it to be) was a huge old craggy tree near the edge of what had been a sprawling housing development. In the absence of pruning, she had entangled old, long dead electrical lines and her roots had demolished the nearby sidewalk. Some of the heavier limbs had made sizeable dents in the house she’d formerly shaded. Oni never understood why this tree, out of the thousands of other scattered about the shattered urban landscape, had survived. He wouldn’t say she had thrived, exactly; there were scorch and claw marks, blood both dried and fresh, and numerous dead limbs. The bark splintered in numerous patches and the limbs gnarled and twisted in odd ways. However, she clung to life as stubbornly as Oni had, and for that the old plant earned his respect.
Oni crouched beneath the old tree to reload his rifle. He’d tracked the essence of his bounty to this general area, but it stopped around the tree. He looked again at his only clue, a matchbox from a local bar that the man’s daughter had found. Oni was certain the mad had to be dead, or worse. He looked to the horizon. The sun would be up soon.
“She’s here, isn’t she?” Oni spun at the voice. Standing just a few feet away was a man, about forty, in jeans and a leather jacket. He looked sad.
Oni hefted the rifle over his shoulder and studied the man a moment. “Your daughter is looking for ya.”
The man looked at the tree. “A lot of people died here, a long time ago,” he said. The tree couldn’t help. The tree became a symbol of everything those…” he shuddered, “…things hated.”
Oni watched the man worry his hands, and studied his eyes, which darted about the dark tree limbs. Oni casually dropped a hand to Lacy.
“I saw them, the things they did to those people here,” the woman’s father said.
“Did it to a lot of people around here,” Oni growled. The man looked at the tree roots.
“I haven’t seen my daughter since she was six,” he said. He ran his hands through his hair, trying, apparently, to straighten the dark blond waves. “She can’t see me like this.”
Oni looked back at the tree. The man was now there, too, stretched across the trunk of the old tree. Twenty years older, he had a thick, scruffy beard and long, curled fingernails. Tree limbs impaled his hands and legs, skin stretched and torn. At some point, something had been gnawing on him. Worst of all, there was slight movement. Blood still trickled from sores and wounds, dripping into the tree. The eyes shifted slightly to fix upon Oni’s.
“I think she’s only alive still for me,” the shade behind the transfixed Oni said. “She protects me, hides me from the monsters.”
“She protects what’s left of you, I guess,” Oni said, tearing his eyes away from the man’s dilapidated body. He started rummaging around in a small bag at his belt, and shortly produced a lantern. Oni upended the lantern, spilling oil all over the tree roots. The tree groaned and shifted slightly, though there was no wind.
“Tell my daughter I always loved her, and I miss her,” the shade said. It faded away, and the eyes on the man’s battered body slowly closed.
Oni stepped away from the tree and ignited a butane lighter. “There’s a conversation to look forward to.”
Oni looked at the tree one final time. “Sorry old gal, it’s for the best.” He dropped the lighter, then turned away as flames engulfed the tree and the sun began to creep over the skyline in the distance.