The Boy and the Tree – a short story
A long time ago there was a tall, strong tree. It stood separate from all the other trees alone in the clearing. One day a little boy came into the clearing. His cheeks were rosy from the wind and his chestnut hair was disheveled. There was a bit of a golden fall leaf crushed in his hair. He looked around the clearing and his almond colored eyes fell onto the big oak. Staring at it for a moment, a calm came over his angst ridden young face. Taking a deep breath, he walked toward the tree. Once he was directly in the shade from its leaves, he looked up the massive trunk, and all the way to the tips of the branches. His strong jaw agape. Stepping back he took another deep breath, and then began pummeling the trunk with his small fists. He screamed at the tree and kicked it as hard as he could. Little flecks of spit flew out of his open mouth and onto the tree’s rough bark. He said horrible things to the tree. He called it childish names and told the tree that it was stupid. He punched it until the bark was red with blood and his hands were raw.
After a while the boy grew tired and he slumped down the trunk of the tree to rest at the base. The grass felt cool on his hot back as he stared through the tree’s leaves and into the clear sky. A breeze was picking up and his chest seemed to rise and fall in tune with the swaying foliage. Time passed slowly as he laid there and it was nearing twilight when he finally sat up. Rising slowly, his slight frame cracking from the lack of movement, he looked up at the tree once more. He took a deep breath, turned, and walked about out of the clearing the same way he came. Leaving nothing behind to reveal his visit except the crimson tinted oak.
A few weeks went by. It rained, it got cooler, and night came on earlier. Fall had officially arrived. The boy returned, consumed by anger. He attacked the tree in the same fit of blind rage. Screaming. Spitting the words out like some vile taste in his mouth. Using his fists to pound the hate from his young body and into the tree. He left in the same manner as before, with no telltale signs of the anger he had shown towards the tree left in his face. About a week went by before he came back, his hand now wrapped up in white bandages. Attacking the tree in what had become his customary manner. Screaming, crying, and telling the tree how much he hated it. White bits of bandage remained behind on the bark as he walked out of the clearing, tinted in places by the red of his blood.
Not even a full week passed before he was back. His hands wrapped in new gauze and one encased in a clean cast. This time he walked into the clearing with a baseball bat at his side. The bat swung at the tree with a new passion. First, he was only swinging with his good hand. Then getting caught up in the rage, he swung with both. Bits and pieces of bark flew from the tree as if he had gone at it with a chain saw. The bat cracked and he gave up on it and began flailing with his feet. Kicking so hard that he was driving bits of bark into his already scuffed sneakers. Dusk approached just as he let out a final shriek and sent the bat soaring into the forest. It flew through the air and smacked into another tree, knocking loose the few remaining leaves.
The boy was away for a while, almost a month. The first snow had fallen, and the forest was empty for all the animals were sleeping until spring, when the boy finally returned. His cast was gone and his hand was unwrapped. There were pink scars still visible, but nothing that wouldn’t heal completely with time. He walked into the clearing, bundled in a brown drab winter coat, thread barren across the shoulders. Walking up to the tree he commenced what had become the ritual. He beat his hands bloody and screamed his throat raw at least once a week all that winter.
Spring had begun in the forest. Everywhere was alive with color. The leaves were returning and the ground had thawed making room for the fresh sprouts to grow. The boy returned often, but less than he had in the winter. He came and went, never leaving more than his bloody handprints on the forest walls. Spring ended, summer began, and it continued. Summer ended, fall began, and it continued. The boy grew, and it continued. Years went by, seasons changed. He came more, he came less, but he always came.
The tree had always been there, standing tall. Through the years, the leaves began to fall sooner, and return later. They seemed to come back a little less shiny. Spots and streaks began to show in them. The deep green became tarnished by maroons and reds. The bark never quite grew back either, leaving the trunk permanently exposed to the seasons. First the grass was just trampled around the oak, but in later years it ceased to grow back all together, leaving only an earthen carpet for the boy to lie upon.
The boy showed his wear too. The sores that never healed on his hands, the clothes that were chronically grass stained, and the soles of his shoes that were splintered with wood. Although he always left the tree with a look of serenity, he always arrived with a look of absolute pain. His eyes always showing everything he couldn’t say, even to the tree. This continued for fifteen years. In the rain, in the snow, during the day, during the night. He’d even come on those cold winter nights that the stars don’t even like to come out on for fear of the wind’s sharp bite.
More years went by and the tree seemed to get worse. The leaves that were once merely tarnished by shades of red now seemed infected by them. The boy, now a man, had exposed the tree to several harsh winter freezes by both the barren ground and the balding bark. Each year fewer and fewer leaves came back until none came back at all. The grass had long since died all around the lone tree. The long growing branches that once reached for the sky became brittle and broke in strong gusts of wind. Not even bugs would infest the roots of the decaying tree. It was as though it was being eaten by something far worse. When the wind would blow on especially silent nights, a howl would come from the tree. The man who once broke his hand on the tree now broke the tree with his hand.
One chilly fall day the man headed through the woods and into the clearing. His almond colored eyes searching for the big oak. Only, the massive oak was now on its side, the roots partially sticking into the air like some gaping mouth with crooked teeth. Tears streamed down his wind burned cheeks as he stumbled over to the tree and began crying in earnest. Not the tears that he usually fertilized the tree with, but tears of remorse. Collapsing to his knees, and then falling backwards, he laid on the barren ground looking up and into the fall sky. He let out a cry so grievous that the birds flying above scattered. There he remained well into the night. The magnitude of his loss had not even begun to fully take shape as the wind picked up and howled around the dead tree. The howl sounded like the tree’s own cries of remorse. The man rose and left the clearing, never looking back at the shell of the oak.
The hate that had almost consumed him had poured out, much like the blood of his hands, onto the tree. The blood seeped into the tree and the same hate that had almost consumed him had consumed the only thing that had been able to save him.
A long time ago there was a tall strong tree. It stood separate from all the other trees, alone in the clearing. One day a little boy came into the clearing.