© Cypherwrite Technical Services 2016
Kit Thornton
Short Stories
Plick!      Something   small   and hard    fell    on    my    head.        Plick!      There   was   another.      They   were acorns,   and   as   I   heard   the   merry tinkling     laughter     from     high above     me     in     the     oak     tree against   which   I   sat,   I   knew   that it    was    not    by    mischance    that these    acorns    had    fallen    upon me.      Thus   began   the   strangest incident         I         have         ever experienced   in   more   than   thirty years   of   walking   in   the   hills   and valleys around my home. Early   that   morning   I   had   set out    on    foot    in    the    September sunshine   determined   to   travel   further   than   usual,   to   explore the   valley   beyond   the   mountain   ridge   that   was   normally   the limit   of   my   walks.      I   loved   the   scenery   and   the   solitude;   I rejoiced   in   the   thought   that,   despite   all   the   sadness   and misery   of   the   world   beyond,   here   I   was   at   one   with   the   land, where little had changed in hundreds of years. Eventually   I   reached   the   ridge   and,   pausing   to   sit   on   a rocky   outcrop,   I   gazed   in   awe   at   the   scene   laid   out   before me.   Row   upon   row   of   mountain   ranges,   each   appearing   a paler   shade   of   grey   than   the   one   in   front   of   it   until,   in   the furthest   distance,   they   blended   seamlessly   with   the   pastel sky.   Directly   below   me   the   land   fell   away   gradually   to   the valley   floor   through   which   meandered   the   silver   thread   of   a river,   and   beside   this   river   I   could   see   several   small   copses, probably   of   oak,   beech   and   alder.      Even   at   this   distance   I could   see   the   first   tinges   of   autumn   staining   the   topmost leaves of the trees a russet brown.
I   was   hot   after   the   exertion   of   the   climb   up   to   the   ridge and   beginning   to   feel   the   pangs   of   hunger,   so   I   rose   from   the rock   and   set   off   down   the   mountainside   towards   the   nearest copse   where   I   determined   to   rest   beneath   the   shade   of   the trees   and   enjoy   the   packed   lunch   that   I   carried   in   the   bag   on my back. As   I   approached   the   copse   by   an   old   track   I   noticed   two black   birds   sitting   together   on   the   top   rail   of   an   old   broken gate    that    was    almost    buried    in    a    bramble    thicket.        My knowledge   of   birds   and   their   recognition   was,   I   had   thought, fairly   comprehensive,   but   these   were   strange   and   quite   new to   me.      I   was   sure   that   they   were   doves,   but   of   a   jet-black colour,    and    as    they    watched    me    I    formed    the    peculiar impression   that   they   had   been   waiting   for   me.      At   that moment   they   rose   from   the   gate   and   flew   ahead   of   me   along the track, soon vanishing amongst the trees. In   a   while   I   came   upon   a   huge   oak   standing   solitary   and majestic   beside   the   river.      This   ancient   tree   dominated   the small   clearing   in   which   it   stood,   but   it   offered   shelter   from the   sun   and   so,   with   my   face   towards   the   river   and   my   back against   the   massive   trunk   I   settled   down   to   enjoy   my   lunch. Plick!      Plick!      The   acorns   were   bouncing   off   my   head   and   I peered    upwards    into    the    branches    trying    to    locate    the source   of   the   sweet   laughter   that   accompanied   this   gentle bombardment. I   had   no   sense   of   danger   or   threat   from   whoever   was hidden   amongst   the   leaves   so,   my   curiosity   piqued,   I   left   my backpack    on    the    ground    and    began    to    climb    the    tree. Although   not   an   experienced   climber   I   had   done   some   rock climbing   in   my   younger   days   and   the   gnarled   and   knobbly bark   of   the   oak’s   huge   trunk   offered   me   plenty   of   hand   and footholds.   Yet   the   task   proved   tougher   than   I   had   expected and   so   my   fingers   burned   as   with   aching   limbs   I   flopped   over
the   first   branch,   some   thirty   feet   from   the   ground.      My   eyes were   closed   as   I   struggled   to   recover   my   breath,   but   my senses told me that I was not alone. “Hello.”      The   soft   voice   was   very   close   to   me.      “You’re the   first   to   do   that   climb   for   many   years.”      Opening   my   eyes I    saw    a    girl    and    a    boy,    of    no    more    than    seventeen    or eighteen   years,   sitting   together   on   another   branch,   maybe six   feet   from   the   one   on   which   I   now   sprawled.      I   pulled myself   up   to   a   more   comfortable   position,   back   against   the trunk   and   legs   dangling   each   side   of   my   sturdy   branch.      The girl   was   very   pretty   with   long   blonde   hair   and   eyes   of   vivid blue;   her   friend   was   lithe   and   handsome,   with   fine   features and   soft   brown   curls   falling   to   his   shoulders.      Both   were wearing    tunics    of    russet    brown    over    leaf-green    shirts.      Perhaps    their    unusual    dress    should    have    made    me    feel surprised,    nervous    even,    but    at    that    moment    everything seemed just as it should be.  “Who are you?” I asked. The   boy   spoke   again,   “I   am   William,   and   this   is   Eleanor, although everyone calls us Will and Ellie now.” “We   are   ghosts,”   said   Ellie,   as   if   that   were   the   most natural   thing   in   the   world.      “We   don’t   usually   encourage visitors   here,   but   we   know   that   you   are   different   and   that you will not want to harm us.” “Not   that   you   could,   of   course,”   added   Will,   “But   life here    is    very    peaceful    with    our    friends    and    the    many creatures    that    share    this    tree    with    us.        We    don’t    want outsiders spoiling it.” “Do   you   know   that   an   old   oak   tree   is   often   called   ‘a garden   in   the   forest’?”   asked   Ellie.      “That’s   because   of   the variety   of   different   plants   and   creatures   that   depend   upon   it in   one   way   or   another.      There   are   hundreds   of   kinds   of lichens;    fungus,    mosses,    ferns,    ivy    and    even    mistletoe-” Ellie   smiled   shyly,   “and   hundreds   of   different   insects   that
live   amongst   them   and   in   the   bark   of   the   tree.      And   then there   are   the   birds   that   feed   on   the   insects,   and   more   birds and animals that eat the acorns.  It’s our world.” “Ellie, you talk too much,” said Will gently. I   was   interested,   of   course,   but   I   wanted   to   learn   more about   the   strange   young   couple   sitting   side   by   side   on   the branch   in   front   of   me.      Could   they   really   be   ghosts?      They turned   to   look   at   each   other   when   I   asked   my   question,   as   if trying   to   decide   how   much   of   themselves   they   should   share with this stranger who had stumbled into their world. “Many,    many    years    ago,”    began    Will,    “Eleanor    and William   were   sweethearts,   but   their   families   were   feuding and   so   they   had   to   keep   their   love   secret.      Whenever   they could,   they   would   slip   away   to   meet   at   this   tree.      But   there was no future for them; no hope.” Ellie   picked   up   the   story.      “So   they   planned   a   final   tryst, one    last    meeting    when    hand-in-hand    they    danced    three times   around   this   old   oak,   and   then   they   would   be   together forever.” “The   two   families   were   very   angry,   each   blaming   the other,   when   the   two   bodies   were   found   hanging   from   the tree,”   continued   Will.      “But   good   came   out   of   it   in   time; when   the   anger   had   subsided   there   followed   acceptance, then   reconciliation,   and   Eleanor   and   William   were   laid   to rest together beneath this fine tree.  Together forever.” “But    that    was    a    long    time    ago,”    said    Ellie.        “Our families   are   gone   now,   even   our   villages   have   gone;   only   a few stones to remind you that they were ever there. “We   could   tell   you   so   many   tales,”   Ellie   went   on,   the sweet   smile   having   returned   to   her   face.      “We   are   not   the only ghosts hereabouts, but you will not see the others.” It    was    Will’s    turn    again.        “The    oldest    is    a    spirit messenger   of   Thor,   the   god   of   thunder.      The   oak   is   his   tree,
as   we   are   often   reminded   when   he   sends   lightning.      It’s scary   but   we   are   protected,   only   the   unrighteous   have   cause to fear the lightning here.” “And    another    of    our    friends    is    the    spirit    of    the mistletoe,”   added   Ellie.   “He   told   us   once   about   the   goddess of   love   whose   son   was   killed   by   an   arrow   made   of   mistletoe.     The   tears   she   shed   for   her   son   became   the   white   berries   and since   that   day   mistletoe   means   only   love.”   And   again   I   saw Ellie’s shy smile.  And   so   we   talked   and   talked,   each   speaking   of   our   own different   worlds,   until   it   was   time   for   me   to   go.      We   said   our farewells    but    when    I    promised    to    return    Ellie    and    Will suddenly became serious.  “You will never return,” said Will. “But   we’ve   had   fun   haven’t   we?”   added   Ellie,   smiling   at me   through   the   tears   that   had   come   to   her   blue   eyes.   “So you won’t forget your friends in the oak tree?” “No,   I   shall   never   forget   this   day,”   I   said   sadly   as   I began   carefully   to   descend   the   gnarled   trunk   of   the   great tree. Reaching   the   foot   of   the   tree   I   looked   back   up   to   the branch   to   wave   to   my   friends,   but   where   they   had   been sitting   were   only   two   black   doves.      As   I   watched   they   flew up   into   the   higher   branches,   away,   out   of   sight   amongst   the leaves. Striding    back    towards    my    home,    my    mind    full    of muddled   thoughts   about   the   strange   events   of   the   day,   I   met an   old   shepherd   whom   I   had   known   for   many   years.      After the   usual   greetings   I   asked   him   if   he   knew   the   ancient   oak   in the   copse   beside   the   river.      “Yes,   I   remember   it   well   from when   I   was   a   lad,”   he   replied.      “I   had   first   begun   to   tend   the sheep   in   these   hills   and   many   times   would   shelter   there, especially   when   there   was   thunder   about.      It   always   felt safe,   but   the   great   tree   fell   in   a   terrible   storm,   maybe
twenty   years   ago   it   was,   and   people   came   to   take   away   the timber.” I    was    stunned,    but    I    hid    my    surprise    from    the    old shepherd.      Perhaps   he   had   misunderstood   my   description   of the place, so I determined to return at the first opportunity. I   suppose   I   should   have   known   that   I   would   never   again find   the   old   oak   tree.      From   a   fine   piece   of   oak   wood   that had   long   lain   unneeded   in   my   workshop   I   carved   a   marker post,    and    I    inscribed    upon    it    the    words    ‘In    memory    of Eleanor   and   William,   my   friends.’      This   I   set   up   on   the   exact spot   where   I   knew   the   great   tree   had   once   stood.      It   was   a stiff   walk   from   my   home,   but   often   I   would   return   to   that spot   in   the   valley   to   sit   beside   the   river.      Of   course,   there was   no   sign   now   of   the   ancient   oak,   except   for   my   modest marker   not   the   slightest   hint   of   its   once   majestic   presence dominating   that   small   clearing.      Yet   always   when   I   returned there   I   would   find   a   small   posy   of   flowers   beside   the   marker post,   with   a   fresh   sprig   of   mistletoe,   and   never   did   I   forget my friends from the tree of ghosts. © Kit Thornton 2013 Tree of Ghosts won 3rd Prize in the Lady in the Loft Short Story Competition October 2013.  (www.theladyintheloft.webs.com)
Download PDF version Download PDF version Download Kindle version Dream the impossible!