The Tree Atop The Grassy Knoll

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Submitted by Cade Simon (Senior Tech)

The wind softly blew across the freshly cut grass, she closed her eyes and allowed the breeze to carry her hazelnut hair across her face. Her slender legs were intertwined on the freshly cut green grass. The warm smells of summer mixed with its pleasant odor perforating the air with a beautiful aroma. Her eyes fluttered open as she heard birds call in the distance. The wind chimes atop the tall and sturdy oak tree chimed as the breeze gave another passing. She lifted her posture from leaning on the old oak to a cross legged hunch. Her petite hands drew back the hair from her face. Staring up at the oak tree with a smile she observed the rugged but comforting nature of the bark. Grey and brown with peeled chunks the tree withstood the wear of time. The cold seasons had come to pass, and the tall protective branches of the tree now proudly boasted an array of green leaves. Birds had nested leading the ambient flutter of wings and the whistling calls of mothers to their young. The young girl gazed in awe at the old oak. Twirling her finger gingerly on a piece or grass she arose facing the tree. Her sundress was lightly stained green from the grass, but she did not mind. Reaching out with her right hand she caressed the tree across a gash in its center. The bark shifted as small green stems began to protrude from the sides of the wound. Interlocking into a woven pattern they covered the gash giving way to a fresh layer of bark. Satisfied by her progress the young girl withdrew her hand and with a smile spun on her heel away from the tree. Her cream colored sundress lazily drifted behind her in the wind. As she carefully strode across the grassy knoll she found herself atop the overlook of the road.

Humming to the tune of the birds she skipped her way down towards the dirt road surrounded by a worn and falling wooden fence. Dust kicked up on the road as the whine of a labored engine encompassed the warm sounds of the isolated knoll. A rusted green ford truck putted its way along the road bouncing up and down as its suspension groaned at the effort. The driver shifted down on the gears and the vehicle slowed as it approached a withered barn down the road from the knoll. The aged structure barely stood as did the rusted silos and vacant country home to its side. The girl stared curiously cocking her head to the left at the sight of the approaching truck. There was a whine then a long hiss as the truck came to a stop outside the barn’s overgrown driveway. The dried and cracked pavement had long since been reclaimed by nature, grass protruded through deep gashes and vines had taken residency along the building’s sides. A man dressed in small brown dirtied formal attire exited the passenger door of the truck. His worn leather shoes clicked as they hit the pavement. The man took a deep breath and stared at the house, then emitted a long sigh before slowly removing his hat. He turned to the passenger window and delivered a shallow and pained smile with some words of thanks to the driver. The driver curiously thought nothing of the favor and with no further words pulled out back down the road. The man waved a goodbye and looked at his feet. He couldn’t bear to look at that empty house, he didn’t dare do anything. His baggy khaki pants were two sizes too large, his button down shirt was stained a light shade of brown its original color obscured. The jacket was too small and hardly reached his wrist, the bottom flaps hanging loosely above his waist. The worn shoes were a light shade of brown, with hollow worn soles. His callused hands gripped a green duffle bag; the right side of his mouth was turgid and bruised. His hair was closely cropped, grown out just to the point of no longer being the buzz cut he was so used to wearing. It felt like ages since he had worn these clothes. Closing his eyes and sucking in another breath he stood rigidly still. Releasing his breath, he opened his eyes to the decayed house.

The porch sagged with neglect, and the bright blue paint had long since faded and peeled. He gazed at his surroundings, the golden glow of uncut wheat that had long since been left unharvest stood in full summer bloom. A rusted tractor stood idle in the barn, the silos had holes rusted through them. Things had been old and breaking when he had left, but since his departure their neglect had reached fatal levels. With another sweep he spied something that made his heart stop. He gazed at the outline of a young woman in a sundress of the grass knoll across from the farm. He gawked at the sight  before him, the duffle bag hit the floor with a thud and plume of dust as he sped off towards the woman. “Sarah! Sarah! Sis! Sarah!” he shouted at the top of his lungs as he sprinted towards the girl. She stood idle in the grass staring blankly with a faint smile at the outline of the man coming towards her. Huffing from the effort, the man reached the knoll and began climbing. His legs tired so he used his hands to propel himself faster. Out of breath he finally reached the spot where the girl stood. He stopped mere inches from her face staring into her eyes. Tears welled in his eyes as he stood there in disbelief. “Sarah, but I thought….I knew it couldn’t be true…I am just so glad….I” he stammered. The girl smiled and began to softly speak, “I missed you, we all did, Mom and Dad….we were so proud”.

The man was merely twenty three; he had not seen this place, his home, in six years. “I wanted to come home” he mumbled through a torrent of tears. He couldn’t bring himself to hug her; he didn’t deserve it after the way he had failed to return. He had enlisted in the army as soon as he was eighteen. He wanted to see the world, he wanted to escape the farm life and make a name for himself. “I know you did, Davey.” she replied still smiling but concealing the same hurt coursing through the man, her brother, Davey. “They offered me a chance to leave the Army, on account of my heart flutter. But I didn’t take it, then the Japs attacked Pearl Harbor and one thing led to another..and…” The girl walked towards him silencing him by lifting her finger. He silenced himself and attempted to hug her. His hands went right through her as if she was some vapor like apparition. Alarmed his eyes widened and he frantically tried to find a solid hold on his sister. “Sarah!”. “shhh” she whispered. “It is okay, I came to terms with it”. Back peddling then falling onto his knees tears in his eyes he shouted “Came to terms with what…..you….you’re”. “Yes Davey, I died. You heard right in the letter from Uncle Chuck, me Ma and Pa died from the typhoid fever”. Davey sank, his aching hands cupped his face as he groaned. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I…I did this. If I had been here,” he rambled. “Stop Davey, you know you had nothing to do with our…untimely demise.” She lowered herself to her knees and placed a hand above his shoulder. “You wanted something more than this” she whispered “You did what you thought was right”. “No! NO, IT IS NOT.” he yelled with a burst of rage, he whipped himself to his feet angrily flinging his coat. “Who else was going to pay off the mortgage on the land, Davey?” the girl cooed as she slowly walked towards him. “I should have been here, Sarah. I should have been there to save you from….this….whatever the hell this is!”. “And do what Davey? Give us some elixir to cure us? All you would have done was get sick and die yourself. ‘This’ isn’t even that bad compared to waking up not knowing that the grain we worked so hard to harvest wouldn’t even get us enough to buy dinner!” she shot back. His face went pale, he knew things were tight around the house when he left, and even with the money he sent them it was worse. He didn’t have enough to go visit them in his breaks from the Pacific tour. “Davey” she signed, “Didn’t mean to snap at you like that ya know” she shuffled awkwardly.

His kid sister, only fourteen years old when she died. Davey blankly stared at her unable to form words, the anger and sadness coursing through the tidal wave of confusion in his head. “Look at you, all beaten up.” her vapor-like form was crystal clear and looked like a real physical human being, it even felt like an odd tingling as her hand touched his cheek. “I heard that was one tough fight you had” she murmured observing the welts on the side of his face. “Nothing I couldn’t handle” he weakly smirked. An artillery shell had hit his foxhole during a landing, he had hit the wall so hard he had concussed. Quickly changing the subject, he moved towards his sister. “I tried to come back as soon as I heard you were sick, but then the Iwo Jima landing, they needed everyone they could get.” She shook her head and embraced him as best as her apparition could. “It is okay Davey, you know once we got that bug we were on the downward spiral”. He clenched his first and shook with anger “We were always on the damn downward spiral” he shouted his anger returning “What makes it fair that we were given nothing but ten cents and a bunch of dirt to make ourselves a living?” he roared. The dust bowl had displaced his parents further into the mid-west, leaving behind all their once fertile farmland; they left all they knew only to raise two children in a new land with hefty mortgage. “What makes it fair that YOU,YOU of all people, had to die!”, he continued “Why couldn’t Hitler, or Mousseline drop dead from the fever! But no, the good lord had to take my kid sister!” in a frenzy he kicked his jacket down the Knoll. The chirping of the birds had silenced, and the breeze was picking up to a howl. “It doesn’t work like that Davey” she smiled, “We are all here for a reason, and fighting what we don’t understand isn’t any way to live. You have a whole life ahead of you.”. At this notion Davey huffed in disgust, “A whole life? YOU, Ma and Pa were my whole life; all I knew was farming and when I got sick of that I wasted my youth fighting across the globe on some god forsaken island. Was my purpose to sit there and watch everyone I love die while I am off in a muddy hole scared!”. Tears rolled down his beet red face, he look like some rabid creature in a complete rage with nowhere to place his anger. “What am I supposed to do now!” his crying was choking his speech and he stared at the tree with profound fury. “I don’t know” she muttered staring at him meekly. “All I know is that I am here for a reason, someone gave me the chance to see you again. And that should count for something”.

He calmed down, unclenching his firsts he stopped shaking and walked towards her “Sorry I’m so crossed sis. I am glad I got to see you again. I don’t know why you are the way you are now, but….what can I do to help”? Sarah motioned for him to take her hand, cupping her wrist as best as he could he was guided as she made her way up the knoll. They stamped through the grass, the leaves on the great oak tree withered into various shades of brown and flew off the tree. The humid air was windy as the late evening set in. “Sunset, sis, remember watching it from the knoll?”. She continued guiding him towards the tree, “I sure do, hurry I need your help with this”. While furrowing his brow in confusion, he picked up the pace following her increasingly fading form towards the tree. Stopping before the tree, she reached a hand towards the it with its bark withered and cracked at the touch. “Touch the tree, like we used to do when we were kids”. Davey smiled, his youthful piercing blue eyes contrasted the rings under them and the dark stubble that accumulated on his chin. “Anything for you sis”, reaching for the tree he touched its dark bark. It was an odd request, but it was an odd situation. The clouds swirled above him turning into a dark grey. “Davey, Davey, Davey…..so gullible. So weak.” his sister sang in a bitter sing-song tune. The tree’s bark engulfed his hand the ghostly form of his sister dispersed like vapor and then promptly transformed. The youthful expression of his sister turned into the ghastly pale complexion of a crooked old face. Hollow, dark eyes of the blackest oblivion starred directly into his panicked gaze. Blackened, needle-like teeth protruded from an elongated mouth howling with a sound like a thousand screaming souls. Fear coursed through his veins as he panicked and attempted to yank his hand free. He screamed as the ghastly figure touched his free hand. His hair turned grey and withered. Liver spots forming on his now wrinkled and sagging flesh. The strength he felt as a young man diminished and he felt fatigued, weak…helpless. As his body grew decrepit and crumpled to the ground he saw the outline of a skeleton protruding from the ground next to the tree. It had the tattered remnants of a cream colored sundress clinging to its decayed flesh and a necklace with the name “Sarah” engraved into it. It was the one given to Sarah by their father on her 14th birthday. Tears formed in his sunken, hollow eyes as they rolled into the back of his head. The creature shook violently as it took the form of a human. The clouds cleared, the roaring wind stopped, and the sun returned to the knoll. The tree grew green, the grass still.

Moments later Davey strode down the path from the knoll, clearing the dirt of his jacket. He walked into the broken house, rushing to the home rotary phone, he dialed a number then began a conversation. “Yes, yes…right away. Thank you doc,…yeah you too”. Casually sitting down at the table he smoothed his shirt and folded his hands waiting patiently at the door. Fifteen minutes later he heard the buzz of an engine moving down the road. A smile flickered across his face as his blue eyes showed a flutter of complete darkness, before returning to their usual cobalt blue.

The doctor drove down the road as his car jolted from the effort. It had been a long time since he had come to this house since the family had gone missing. But he did hear that the son was back in town, and was even more surprised to be called and informed that he might have typhoid but fever. The family had said the same thing the last time they had been in town, before they had gone missing. “Strange,” he thought to himself. But it was none of his business and the nature of being a small town doctor was that you showed up, gave the diagnosis, then packed up and left. His wife wouldn’t know where he was, she had learned to stop asking years ago. This was just a routine stop, he was sure the boy was fine. Hypochondria, the biggest diagnosis he would end up giving. After this a trip to the general store and a stop at the bar for a shot of whiskey and he would be in his armchair. Easy money, showing up at these people’s homes and making them pay for a checkup or diagnosis that they could have done for themselves. He had it all figured out, he thought to himself as he puffed on his corn pipe. The road was increasingly uneven, his car rolled to the left nearly falling into a ditch. Slamming on the brakes he was barely able to avoid the crash. Extinguishing the pipe and taking some deep breaths he exited the car, hefting the stone that knocked him off course into the wheat field flanking his right. Looking up towards the knoll outside the house, he noticed a peculiar tree. Adjusting his glasses he swore he saw the outline of a face in the tree. Rubbing his eyes he shook his head. A gaping mouth and two hollow eyes, it looked like it was trying to rip itself out of the tree. He cleared his eyes further and shook his head chuckling to himself. “I need more sleep” he grumbled aloud as he pulled the car out of the ditch and drove up to the house.

That was the last his wife heard of him.

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