Poisoned Oak — Romans vs. Monsters

May 23, 2013 at 12:00 AM

How ironic, Cnaeus thought to himself as the glowing horizon signaled the start of the new day. The trees his men had cut down to expand the protective walls of the Roman fort he commanded had led to the release of a horde of bloodthirsty monsters. And those monsters had come in force that very night and spread death and destruction to the village that lay outside the walls of his fort. He was standing in one of the fort’s four watchtowers and was looking down on the smoldering ruins of what the day before had been a thriving market town. As the day grew lighter he could more clearly see the numerous dead—men, women and children. They had died alongside their livestock. All had been torn to pieces, and the whole scene resembled an abattoir more than the village it had been the day before.
Cnaeus then turned his attention to the fort. Like most Roman forts of the day in Britannia, it could hold up to 800 men, but the current garrison only numbered around one hundred men. The rest were off campaigning against the tribes to the west. One hundred against twenty of those creatures. Based on what he’d seen that night, he didn’t have nearly enough men to hold them off. The creatures had no need to take on the fort while there was an entire village to ravage, but it was gone and the only living humans were now within the walls of the fort.
The fort was of the typical design of its day. It was rectangular and surrounded by a wide ditch. A rampart was built with the earth from the ditch together with heavy stones. On top of that the Romans had erected a defensive barrier of timber posts. That was why they had cut down the oaks in the first place. There were four stone gateways affording access to the fort on each side. The watchtower Cnaeus was standing in reach a height of 30 feet, as did the other three. One at each corner. Roman architecture and design dictated that two main streets crossed the fort.
Most of the buildings within it were wooden structures including the barracks, stables, granaries and the hospital. His own headquarters was made of stone and employed that great Roman invention—concrete. Even so, if the monsters—Night Stalkers Belenos had called them—got over the walls, his headquarters would provide scant protection. And he had no doubt they would be back when night fell.
The night just ended had been complete chaos; a mix of terror, blood, shouts, and fire. The Roman farmer who had been holding the head of one of the monsters had been quick to react when things went to hell outside the gates of the fort. Pointing to the legionaries who had been sparring in the courtyard he called on them to follow him. Approximately twenty men had done so, closely followed by Belenos. They had rushed out the main gate, and that was the last Cnaeus had seen of them. He himself had ordered a centurion to make sure the other three gates were closed, while he tried to manage the orderly entry into the fort of the panicked villagers at the main gate. That any had made it through the gate before he ordered it shut was likely due to the farmer and his little band of legionaries who had rushed to battle the monsters.
When he thought he could wait no longer, he had ordered the final gate shut and bolted leaving anyone outside the walls of the fort to his or her fate. He had then rushed to the gate tower to see what was happening outside the walls. It was a vision out of a wine-induced nightmare. Terrible man-sized creatures with wide black bodies, beady red eyes, membranous, transparent wings, and insect-like mouths full of razor sharp teeth were marauding through the village slashing and biting and ripping as they went. Villagers unlucky enough to get caught outside the walls didn’t stand a chance, and were torn apart and eaten alive screaming their final breaths. Their cows, horses and pigs were no better off, and the sounds of the dying filled his ears while fire started to consume the hovels of the townsfolk.
Cnaeus had looked for the small troop of his men who had run into the melee but he could not see them through the smoke and carnage. He thought of their brave, but futile actions, and grimly thought that he now had even fewer men to hold the fort come nightfall. He found himself hoping that Belenos had escaped. And that surprised him.
Bassa couldn’t move his legs in the first few moments after he gained consciousness. That didn’t stop him from throwing up as the stench of blood, shit and charred flesh filled his nostrils. He was lying on his stomach and used his hand to wipe his eyes. Looking at his hand he realized he had wiped blood from his eyes. He wasn’t sure if it was his or not. His vision restored, he lifted his head and looked down at his legs to see why he couldn’t move them. With relief he saw it was only a dead, half-eaten horse that had pinned his legs. Otherwise his legs were fine. With a little bit of effort he was able to shove it off and get awkwardly to his feet.
As he stood up he slowly got his bearings. He was on the edge of the village, the fort being less than a couple of hundred yards behind him. He was surrounded by body parts—animal and human alike—that were in various states of trauma. Like the half eaten horse that had fallen on his legs. The sun was just coming up over the horizon, giving Bassa enough light to survey the utter devastation which had been delivered upon the village and its inhabitants the night before. Not a single building was untouched, and not a living thing moved.
He couldn’t see any of the men who had followed him out of the fort the night before and tried to remember exactly what had happened. It hadn’t taken him long to realize how lucky he’d been in his first encounter with one of the monsters. He’d taken that one by surprise as it was eating his neighbor. This time they were ready and he and his fellow solders quickly found themselves fighting for their lives. Several of the creatures had herded them away from the fort, and taken down two of his men in the process.
Bassa rallied the remaining men and formed them into a defensive circle. Had they thought to bring shields they might have been able to hold on, but they only had their swords. And then Bassa learned what the monsters’ wings were for. While they weren’t strong enough for sustained flight, the wings could get them off the ground for brief spurts, and that was enough for two of them to get behind the men and into the middle of the defensive circle. After that it was a blur of swinging swords, snapping jaws, ripping flesh and cries of pain coming at him from every direction at once.
The last thing he remembered before waking up pinned by the half-eaten horse was the squishing sound his sword made as he shoved it into the gaping maw of one of the attacking monsters. Looking to his right he saw the now dead creature with his sword buried in its mouth up to the hilt. Next to it was another dead monster which had hacked to death. There was no sign that any of his fellow Romans had survived. Just a collection of shredded body parts, bits of uniforms, broken weapons and blood. Saddened to think that he was the only survivor of the fight, he headed back to the front gate of the fort.

Cnaeus had Bassa brought to him immediately upon learning that the farmer had somehow survived the massacre outside of the fort. Bassa made sure he washed the blood and pieces of flesh off himself before reporting to Cnaeus. He was welcomed to Cnaeus’ office with a mug of watered wine which he drank gratefully.
“So twenty of my best men and you were only able to kill two of the monsters? I admire your bravery, but that level of casualties is not sustainable for the fight to come. I only have eighty men I have left. If you killed two there are still eighteen of those things ready to return this evening.” Cnaeus said.
“Had we shields and enough men to form the testudo we might have killed more of them, but they are fierce creatures and they move like lightning!” was Bassa’s response. The testudo—or turtle—was a Roman battlefield formation. “They’ll get over the walls easily enough after dark.”
“Then here is what we need to do…” And Cnaeus proceeded to explain his plan to Bassa.
It was a good plan. It should have worked. As ferocious as the monsters were, they hadn’t shown much signs of intelligence. They were simple but murderously efficient killing machines. Based on Bassa’s experience from the previous night, trying to hold them off at the walls would likely prove futile. They’d simply fly over, and the men on the walls would suddenly find themselves being attacked from behind. Truth be told, Cnaeus didn’t have enough men to defend the entire perimeter even if he had wanted to.
So instead Cnaeus had his men bring all the remaining livestock to the center of the fort where the two axis roads met. There he had the pigs, sheep and cattle tied to stakes driven into the earth. In all there were about twenty-five animals, and Cnaeus hoped they would make a tempting target for the Night Stalkers. Around the staked animals his men dug a ditch three feet wide and three feet deep. Into the ditch they poured all of the pitch they could get their hands on. Normally used to pave and caulk, it was tremendously flammable.
Once this work was completed, Cnaeus divided his troops into 10 contuberniums, which was the smallest organized unit of soldiers in the Roman Army and was composed of eight legionaries. He directed them spread out in the barracks and other buildings surrounding the animals. The surviving townspeople would need to hide themselves and hope for the best. No one was getting out alive if the plan went awry. The key was to get the Night Stalkers to attack the livestock, after which the Romans would light the pitch creating a wall of fire around them. While Cnaeus assumed they could simply fly over the wall of fire to escape, he hoped that in their initial confusion they would make good targets for the attacking Romans throwing spears and shooting arrows at them from the other side of the firewall.
And it might have worked if the Night Stalkers had done what Cnaeus expected them to do.

Night had fallen several hours earlier. Bassa first realized that things weren’t going as planned when the man crouching next to him gave a startled cry and flew backwards. Bassa turned in time to see a Night Stalker bite off the soldier’s head with a snap of its jaws. The other men around him reacted quickly, but not quickly enough. Two more men were dead or dying before Bassa and the remaining four soldiers got out of the barracks they had been waiting in.
Outside it was chaos. Rather than go for the staked animals the Night Stalkers had attacked the Roman soldiers where they lay in ambush. The men who survived the initial attack were now fighting for their lives against savage attacks from all sides. Bassa saw Cnaeus desperately fending off one of the Night Stalkers, using his shield to keep the monster at bay while desperately trying to slash it with his sword. He sprinted over, jumped on the creature’s back and sank his sword into its head. The monster shook its back like a wet dog and sent Bassa flying. He landed hard on his back and briefly feared he might black out. Shaking his head he got to his feet and saw the Night Stalker he’d stabbed staggering away from Cnaeus.
“Follow me!” shouted Cnaeus as he ran towards the center circle where the animals were staked, and as yet unmolested by the Night Stalkers. Those men who were still able, including Bassa, ran after him, leaping over the ditch they had dug and filled with flammable pitch. Cnaeus had grabbed a torch from somewhere and, as the last survivor leapt over the ditch, he lit the pitch. It caught fire quickly, and within seconds the men were surrounded by a wall of fire six feet high. In the distance Bassa could see some of the townspeople running out the gates of the fort. Within the ring of fire the Romans now numbered only twenty-three men. The rest were dead or dying. Bassa saw three dead Night Stalkers, but that still left too many of them.
“This fire won’t hold them back very long!” Bassa shouted to Cnaeus. Cnaeus nodded grimly and clutched his sword tightly. He was turning to rally his remaining men when suddenly he heard shouts coming from outside the ring of fire. Cnaeus couldn’t believe his eyes! There were at least two hundred men rushing through the gates into the fort carrying axes and spears and various other weapons. And leading them was Belenos! He had rallied the local Britons to the battle! The Night Stalkers’ attention was still focused on the Romans inside the ring of fire making them easy targets for once. They were soon overwhelmed by the twenty men who attacked each one from behind and were hacked to pieces in a storm of axes and spears. Within minutes the one-sided battle was over, with hardly a casualty among the attackers. By now the fire was dying down and Cnaeus was able to cross back over to the other side. He walked over to where Belenos stood.
“We don’t like you Romans, but like those bastards even less.” Belenos said to him.
“Let’s go find their eggs and plant some oak trees.” was Cnaeus’ reply.

Credit To – LumaKing

Poisoned Oak
Poisoned Oak — The Sacred Grove

Poisoned Oak — The Sacred Grove

March 7, 2013 at 12:00 AM

Related: Poisoned Oak

Bassa was not unlike many of his neighbors in Glevum, a town in the Roman province of Britannia; men who were originally brought to this land by conquest, and who were now settling down to a new life as farmers. The town of Glevum had once been a Roman fort, but over time it had also become a “colonia” of retired legionnaires like Bassa. He was born to a poor farmer and his wife in Thrace. At the age of 17 he joined the Roman army and Romanized his name to Titus Flavius Bassus. He survived the mandatory 25 years of auxiliary service in the Legio II Augusta, and was proud of his service and of the fact that his legion had participated in the Roman conquest of Britain 26 years prior. He was also proud that the new Roman emperor Vespasian had been the legion’s commander at the time of conquest, and had led the campaign against the Durotriges and Dumnonii tribes.
Upon his discharge Bassa had been granted Roman citizenship and enough land to set up a farm and support a family. For the last several years he had been building up a flock of sheep while also growing wheat. He sold wool and mutton as well as wheat in the market in Glevum and was beginning to feel that it was time to find a wife among the local Britons and start a family. During this time the Roman fort had been gradually expanding its footprint beyond its original stone walls with the erection of a wooden palisade. Life was good and getting better.
That was before he noticed that his flock of sheep seemed to be getting smaller.
At first he hoped he was imagining it. He had never learned his numbers so he couldn’t be sure if he was actually losing sheep. He wasn’t stupid, he just couldn’t count, so he hit upon the idea of putting a pebble in a clay jar to represent each of his sheep. In this way, it only took him a couple of days to figure out that he was in fact losing sheep. He couldn’t afford this loss of his flock and determined to find out who was stealing his sheep and put a stop to it.
He spoke to his neighbor—also a former legionnaire—to see if he was facing similar issues, and wasn’t surprised that he was also losing sheep. Bassa was relieved on some level, for it meant that his neighbor wasn’t the thief. The two of them decided they would combine their flocks at evening and together watch over them during the night, taking shifts sleeping. Nothing happened for the first two nights.
Then came the third night.

Cnaeus Pompeius Magnus’s day had started and finished badly. He was the Praefectus Castrorum of the Roman fort at Glevum, meaning he was its commander, so trouble usually landed at his feet. Throughout the day he had nursed a terrible hangover from the night before and was counting the minutes until he could get back into bed. That should have happened hours ago, but now sleep was further delayed by the sudden appearance at the fort of the local Archdruid, Belenos. Cnaeus normally tried to keep his dealings with the druid priests to a minimum. He didn’t completely trust them, believing that they were behind the persistent efforts to sow dissent and rebellion among the native tribes. So when Belenos had shown up demanding to speak with him his initial thought was to simply have him sent away. Instead, he grabbed a cup of watered wine and strode into his office. Belenos and one of Cnaues’s senior commanders awaited him.
Nodding his head in greeting, Belenos got right to the purpose of his visit. “Praefect, have any of your men gone missing recently?” he asked. Belenos was dressed in typical druid priest fashion. He had an unbelted white outer cloak over a course grey woolen robe. His white hair and beard were long, but neatly combed. His left hand rested on a long staff, crowned with a silver cap. On his feet he wore yellow sandals. Once again, Cnaeus was struck by how well the druid spoke Latin.
“We usually lose 1-2 legionnaires a month to desertion. What business is that of yours?” Cnaeus replied. Dressed typically for a Roman officer, he wore a tunic that was made of wool and dyed red. Across his chest was a belt called a baldric from which his sword hung. He wore a linen scarf around his neck which would prevent chafing when he put on his armor. And on his feet were sandal-like footwear made of leather. Lastly, he wore a cloak that was fastened at his shoulder. This was the clearest sign of his senior rank.
The office in which they met was in the older, stone built area of the fort. It was on the second floor and had a view overlooking the parade ground where some of his men could be seen practicing hand-to-hand combat. Lit by torches on this dark winter’s night, it was still an impressive sight whose meaning would not be lost on the old druid priest. A large wooden table served as a desk behind which sat a bench seat topped with a cushion. Cnaeus dropped heavily onto the seat. Belenos remained standing.
“And has that changed recently?” Belenos asked.
Cnaeus nodded at the Centurion who then answered, “Over the last week we have lost 8 men”.
“But that’s not all, is it?” Belenos replied giving Cnaeus a pointed look.
Cnaeus paused a beat before answering the question. Taking a deep breath he said, “The patrols sent out to bring back the deserters found parts of a couple of the men. It looked as if they had been gnawed on by an animal…” He let the words hang in the air, waiting to see how Belenos would react. Only he didn’t react at all. For reasons he couldn’t quite put a finger on, that greatly unnerved Cnaeus. He asked the Centurion to leave the room, and beckoned Belenos to sit.
They sat there facing each other, each in his own thoughts for several minutes. Finally Cnaeus spoke up. “You’re about to tell me this has something to do with the fact that we cut down your ‘sacred grove’ of oaks to build our palisade, aren’t you?” He thought about the large pile of oak logs, cut down the prior week, and now stacked outside the gates of the fort. The local Britons and the Druid priests had protested vehemently against the action. A couple of the locals had to be put to the sword before the work could be completed.
“You think your wooden palisade protects you? You were better protected when the oak wood used to build it was still part of living trees in what you refer to as our sacred grove.” Belenos replied. “Now they are out, and the price in blood will be steep.”
Cnaeus thought again about the condition of the missing men when they were found. “Explain yourself, priest. What’s done is done, and there’s no putting the trees back in the ground!”
Belenos looked thoughtful for a moment. It appeared to Cnaeus that he was torn as to whether or not to speak more about the situation. Finally it looked as if he had come to some kind of decision, and he began to speak.
“It has long been told that many years before the time of the Romans this land was periodically set upon by savage beasts. They would show up without warning and rampage through the countryside for weeks. Entire villages—men, women and children—were devoured by the monsters. It was like a plague of locusts stripping a field of grain. And they were just like locusts except these monsters stripped the flesh from the bodies of their victims as they devoured them. The people started to refer to them as night stalkers, as that’s when they would attack. After a few weeks the creatures would suddenly die, but not without each leaving behind an egg-like object buried in a shallow hole.
It isn’t known when the druid priests first realized that their appearance was actually predictable and that the creatures crawled out of the ground every 25 years. Not so different from the cicadas that come every 17 years, other than the fact that these are man-sized and bloodthirsty. The druid priests back then tried digging up and destroying the eggs before they could hatch, but they were hard as a rock. Burning them did no good; neither did throwing them into a lake. They still hatched after 25 years.
The only solution was to be there when the night stalkers emerged and to try to kill them. But 25 years was a long time to remember exactly where each egg was buried. The priests realized that many of them wouldn’t even be alive 25 years later. So they came up the idea to plant an oak tree over each buried egg. This way, those in the future would know exactly where the next generation of night stalkers would be surfacing. And they would have the chance to kill them as they emerged before they could do any damage. Since the eggs tended to cluster in certain locations, so did the oak trees the priests planted. And this is what led to the creation of what you Romans now refer to as our sacred groves of oaks.
But 25 years later the priests made an extraordinary discovery. Wherever an oak tree had been planted over an egg, nothing came out of the ground. 25 years stretched to 26 years and still no night stalker. At first the priests hoped that simply planting an oak tree had somehow killed the things in the eggs before they could hatch. But then a lightning bolt struck and knocked down one of the marker oak trees. Within nights a stalker rose up from the ground and rampaged through the area. It was only then that the priests realized the oak trees were merely imprisoning the creatures. It was now clear they weren’t killing them.” ______________________________________________________________________

Bassa awoke with a start. It had been his turn to sleep, and he judged from the position of the moon that he’d been asleep for longer than he should have been. He listened to the night wind softly ruffling the leaves, and sniffed the air. The fire next to him had gone out, and there was no sign of his neighbor. With as much stealth as he could muster, he climbed to his feet. In his hand he held his gladius, a short, stabbing sword that was the primary weapon of Roman foot soldiers. He could tell the sheep were nervous, but then again sheep were always acting nervous.
He scanned the flock for his neighbor, or some sign of him. A voice inside his head was telling him not to call out, not to make any unnecessary sound. He slowly made his way through the flock of sheep, nudging one out of the way with his knee when it didn’t move quickly enough. It was the smell that first alerted him to its presence. Bassa had been on a battlefield too many times to count, and the smell of dead and decaying bodies, while hideous, was something to which he had grown accustomed. Spilt intestines, blood, burnt flesh contributed to a stench that clung to your skin long after you left the field of battle. This smell was more overpowering and more terrible than anything in his experience. It was all he could do not to throw up on the spot.
Bassa looked in the direction from which the smell seemed to be wafting, and that’s when he saw it. He had seen many terrible things in battle, but this was beyond his comprehension. It was man-sized with a wide black body, beady red eyes, and two sets of membranous, transparent wings, the front wings being longer than the rear ones. The creature also had sharp claws on all four of its legs, a blunt head with protruding eyes, and an insect-like mouth full of razor sharp teeth. It was the stuff of nightmares, though Bassa quickly concluded he would probably never sleep again. Most horrifying of all was that its mouth was buried into the stomach of his still moving and moaning neighbor—it was literally eating him alive.
Without thinking, Bassa roared in rage and charged at the beast, his gladius held high over his head

Belenos took a deep breath, before concluding his story. “An oak will reach a good height in 25 years, and we have come to believe it is the root structure and essence of a living oak tree that keeps the creatures imprisoned. The roots grow around the egg as the trees grow. Over time fewer night stalkers emerged in the 25 year cycles. Each time the eggs were marked by trees.
Eventually they stopped showing up entirely. We had trapped them all. Until now. The particular grove you cut last week was at least 150 years old. And it had exactly 21 oaks.”
As Cnaeus chewed on what he had just heard there was a knock on the door and the Centurion entered the office again. “Praefect, excuse me, but you need to come immediately.” he said in a shaky voice. Bidding Belenos to come, Cnaeus left to room and followed the Centurion down a flight of steps and onto the parade ground. There, in the middle of the darkened grounds stood what appeared to be a local Roman farmer. But what immediately drew Cnaeus’s attention was what he was holding up in his right hand. Even in the low light he could see it was the bleeding and battered head of the most horrible looking creature he had ever seen. He quickly realized what he was looking at. “This bastard ate my neighbor and my sheep, but it was no match for a Roman and his sword!” Bassa roared.
Cnaeus turned to Belenos and simply said “Now there are 20…”
Before Belanos could respond, there came from outside the stone walls a chorus of cries of terror and howls of pain accompanied by the sound of terrified horses and cattle….

Credit To – LumaKing

Poisoned Oak

December 31, 2012 at 12:00 PM

That’s the problem with cutting down a tree.  No one tells you how dangerous it might be.  Sure they’ll warn you about falling branches, and staying out of the way while the job is being done, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about how the tree you are about to cut down might be the only thing standing between you and something very bad.  Maybe that’s the reason trees have been the object of worship throughout history.  Could it be because they are extremely good at keeping things out of our world that we don’t want in it?  Or it could be that it wasn’t the tree that was being worshiped, but rather whatever it was that the tree was keeping at bay?

Unfortunately for me, the reason our ancestors started worshiping trees in the first place is something that most of us have long forgotten.  Until now.

I bought the house in the spring of 2009.    It was on the Old King’s Highway that cuts through Connecticut between New York and Boston. While it no longer qualifies as a highway by today’s standards, it is still a fairly busy road.  There is a nice historical marker in the front yard of the house claiming that it had been built in 1700.  Of course the previous owners (of which there were many!) had made many improvements to the original house over the years so it had an updated kitchen and bathrooms.  It also has a lot of old growth oak trees in the yard.  I believe they are black oaks, but I’ve never been one to care that much about this oak or that oak.

There was one particular oak tree in the back yard was bigger and more majestic than any of the other trees in the yard.  Its trunk must have measured 6 feet around.  Occupying the center of the back yard, all the other trees seemed to defer to it.  A tree house or a swing would have seemed right at home in this tree, but it had neither.  There was a nice spotlight at its base that pointed up and illuminated the tree at night.  Day or night, the oak was really nice to look at and best of all it provided excellent shade for the back deck on hot summer days.

And then it started to die.

I can’t really pinpoint exactly when it started to die, but in the spring of 2010, when the leaves began to come out, I noticed that a couple of the top branches stayed bare.  I didn’t think it was cause for any immediate alarm.  If they stayed bare, I’d just have them removed.  So when they were still leafless in the middle of June I hired an honest tradesman to come over and take those branches down.  He and his team made quick work of it, and I didn’t think anything about the fact that they broke one of their buzz saws on the first branch they tried to cut off.  I figured it was a tough old tree, and a broken buzz saw was one of the hazards of the job.

A couple of weeks later I noticed that on some of the other branches on the top of the tree the leaves had started to wilt and turn brown.  As the wilting and dying began to spread to additional branches I became more concerned.  By the end of July the bark on the branches where the leaves had first died began to slough off and accumulate at the base of the tree.  It was time to seek professional help so I called in an arborist.  She examined the tree and quickly came to the conclusion that it was suffering from something called hypoxylon canker.  And the really bad news was that there is no known cure for hypoxylon canker once the symptoms have appeared.  The disease is internal and kills the sapwood of the tree.  The mighty oak was going to die within months.

It was shortly after getting this grim diagnosis that I noticed something else.  My wired-haired dachshund Baxter had a habit of lying down at the base of the trees in my back yard.  In the dog version of “hope springs eternal”, he was convinced that a squirrel would one day be stupid enough to climb down the tree into his waiting paws, and barring that, perhaps fall out of the tree.  He spent his days this way under every oak in the back yard at one time or another.  Except the one that was dying.  At first I imagined that he could sense impending death in the dying oak.  But that wasn’t it.

After some observation I realized that he didn’t bother lying under that tree because there were never any squirrels in it.  I could see squirrels in every other tree in my backyard.  But not in the dying oak.  Not only that, there were no birds in the tree either.  Not a single bird on any branch, regardless of whether the branch still had leaves or not.  That hadn’t always been the case with the dying oak.  It had formerly been full of squirrels and birds.  I considered it strange, but didn’t really give it too much thought.  There wasn’t really any logical reason why animals would avoid a particular tree.   Little did I know at the time that I was right about there being no logical reason the animals would avoid a certain tree.  It wasn’t the dying tree the squirrels and birds were avoiding.  It was something else entirely.  And as the tree died, it was getting closer to getting out.

Through the rest of that summer and into the fall the tree continued to lose leaves and bark.  It was apparent to anyone looking at it that it was dying.  It occurred to me to have it taken down and be done with it, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that.  I had the weird sense that the oak was fighting back, and not simply bowing to the inevitable.  If that was the case, I was going to give it every opportunity to succeed.   But branch by branch the tree continued to die until only the lowest ones had any leaves on them.  By now it was October and all the oaks began to lose their leaves, so by the time all the trees were bare I couldn’t be sure whether the dying oak was gone, or it would once again sprout some leaves the following spring.

The footprints appeared in March.  We’d had a late winter snowfall of about 6 inches of snow, which had tapered off in the early evening of the 20th.  I remember the date only because the next day was the vernal equinox–the first day of spring.  When I woke up on the morning of the 21st and looked out the back window of my bedroom I noticed several pairs of footprints in the backyard leading up to the dying oak.  The footprints then spread out around the tree in a circle at the base.   I threw on some clothes and a coat and then, accompanied by Baxter, went out to investigate.  I gave Baxter a brief look of reproach as we left the house and his expression seemed to say “Well apparently you didn’t hear anything either”.  It wasn’t easy to determine exactly how many people had been in the back yard, but my guess was around six.  By the look of things they had formed a circle around the tree.

I didn’t have any idea who they were or why they had come.  It occurred to me that this may have not been the first time they had been there.  The only reason I knew about this visit was the footprints in the snow.  There was no other evidence that people had been there.  I followed the footprints out of the back yard to see where they had originated.  They dead-ended at the street in front of my house, which had been plowed earlier in the morning.  So all I really knew was that a group of people had come into my backyard sometime during the night and gathered around the dying (or maybe dead) oak tree.   Their purpose for the visit was a mystery to me.  I decided that the best thing to do was to start leaving the spotlight at the base of the tree on all night.  If they intended to make another visit, that might act as a deterrent.

Soon the weather started getting warmer and the trees in the yard began to sprout buds of new leaves.  I waited anxiously to see what would happen to the dying oak.  Was it dead, or did it have some life left in it yet?  As the days went by it eventually became clear to me that there would be no new leaves on the tree.  It was gone.  It saddened me more than I expected to see the dead tree surrounded by new life in the backyard.  The sooner I had it removed, I decided, the better.  In early June I contacted the honest tradesman who had earlier removed the dead branches and asked him to come back and remove the entire tree, including the stump.

I was still on the phone with the tree service looking out the back window at the tree when I first noticed what appeared to be a symbol carved into the trunk.  Making the appointment for later that week, I hung up and went out into the yard to take a closer look.  Sure enough, something was carved into the tree’s trunk.  It was plus sign with a circle or ring surrounding the intersection of the lines.  The intersecting lines measured about six inches each, and the diameter of the circle was around four inches.  I had no idea who had carved it there, though I suspected it was related to the footprints I had seen in the snow back in March.

I took a picture of the carving with my phone and uploaded it to Facebook to see if any of my friends recognized what it was.  Within an hour one of them posted that it resembled a Celtic cross.  Sure enough, when I compared my picture to images of other Celtic crosses I found on the web, that’s exactly what it was.  Specifically the pre-christian version before the cross morphed into the christian cross.  Now that I knew what it was, it was time to figure out why it was carved into the tree in the first place.  A little research was all it took to learn that the symbol was used by the pagan Celts as protection against evil spirits and spiritual dangers.

Armed with this new knowledge, things began to fall into place (or so I thought).  I came to the conclusion that some local wiccans/druids/whatever you want to call them had zeroed in on my dying oak and come to the conclusion that it represented a threat in some way.  That would explain the visit on the spring equinox–the oak tree played a central role in the druid rites associated with it (you can learn a lot very quickly with the Internet!).  And the same folks had likely been the ones to carve the Celtic cross into the trunk.  I guessed that both of these actions were efforts to remove whatever threat they supposed the tree represented.  My plans were a bit more modern–cut it down.

Over the next couple of days I noticed that the dead oak started to lean to the right.  Each morning its lean was a little more pronounced.  It was as if someone or something was pushing it out of the way.  Baxter started to avoid going anywhere near the tree.  Which was interesting because I had assumed the digging at the base of the tree was his work.  Most of ithe digging was on the side of the tree opposite from the direction in which it leaned.  My mistake was to assume that something was digging into the ground at the base of the tree rather than digging out.  Frankly, it would have been difficult to tell the difference.  In any case, with the lean getting worse, I grew more anxious to get the tree down.

As planned, on Friday morning the tree crew showed up ready to take it down.  If any of the team noticed the Celtic cross carved into the tree they didn’t mention it.  They went right to work starting with removing the top branches first.  As they worked their way down the tree I tried to ignore the growing unease I felt.  It seemed irrational, but nevertheless the feeling lingered.  Around midday the tree seemed to give a slight lurch further to the right, knocking one of the men cutting the branches off balance and causing the branch he was working on to suddenly break off.  It fell to the ground and delivered a glancing blow to one of the other men.  It hit him hard enough to knock him to the ground, and when he stood back up it was obvious he had dislocated his shoulder.

After the hurt worker was loaded into one of the trucks and driven to the ER to get his arm looked it, the remaining men went back to work on the tree.  By early afternoon the only thing left was the stump.  The smaller branches had been loaded into the wood chipper and chopped into small pieces.  The larger branches and trunk were cut into small logs and loaded on the back of one of the trucks.  They now brought in the stump grinder and turned what remained of the trunk and visible roots  into a pile of wood chips that were then shoveled into the back of one of the trucks. After that there was nothing left to do but to pack up, and as they prepared to leave I thanked them for their work.  Then it was just me and Baxter in the backyard.  I walked over to where the tree had once stood.  I would need to put sod over the area.  It was now just a few scattered wood chips and loose dirt.

That was three days ago.  A lot has happened since then.  The first morning after the oak was cut down I noticed there was a hole in the ground where it had stood.  It wasn’t very large, but it looked impossibly deep.  Even if Baxter had the nerve to go near the spot, it wasn’t a hole he could possibly have dug.  The second morning the hole was bigger and still impossibly deep.  Around the edges of it was bits of fur and pieces of bone of some unidentified animal.  There were also markings in the dirt that looked like it had been clawed by a very large animal.  The claw marks radiated outward from the hole.  I spent the rest of that day getting bags of dirt from the Home Depot and filling in the hole.  Only it never quite filled up

That was yesterday.  This morning I woke up and found the hole was back and bigger than ever.  There were footprints of several different people in the dirt around the hole.   It wasn’t like the time they had appeared in the snow, rather it looked as if there had been some kind of struggle.  The only other thing I found in the dirt with a necklace with a Celtic cross hung from it.  The necklace was broken, but I put it in my pocket anyway.  That was 12 hours ago.  As it got dark I started to hear noises coming from the backyard.  Baxter didn’t come back from his after dinner trip outside, and didn’t come when I called him.  I did eventually hear him start barking.  And it wasn’t a confident sounding bark. Baxter sounded terrified.

I’m beginning to suspect that it was never the tree that was the danger.  The ceremony on the spring equinox, the Celtic cross carved into the tree were both designed to give it the ability to continue its job as jailer even if it died.  Cutting it down was likely the last thing I should have done.  And now something has come up from underneath where the oak once stood imprisoning it.  I don’t know what it is, and I don’t know what it wants, but I hear it outside the house’s back door.  Baxter’s barking stopped long ago with a strangled yelp.  Maybe between the broken buzz saw and the dislocated shoulder the oak had been trying to tell me even a dead tree is better than no tree.  I don’t think I will ever know the answer to that.  That’s the problem with cutting down a tree.  No one tells your how dangerous it might be.

Credit To – LumaKing


Submission Status

Submissions closed on February 21st, 2017. Please allow me time to work through the queue before I reopen submissions. PLEASE READ THE FAQ AND ANY RECENT ANNOUNCEMENTS BEFORE ATTEMPTING TO SUBMIT YOUR PASTA OR SENDING CONTACT REQUESTS.

Top Rated Pastas

  1. The Seer of Possibilities
    Rating: 9.3. From 6766 votes.
  2. Love
    Rating: 9.3. From 5043 votes.
  3. The Fairies
    Rating: 9.3. From 2038 votes.
  4. Artificial
    Rating: 9.3. From 1752 votes.
  5. Ubloo, Part Four and a Half
    Rating: 9.3. From 1046 votes.
  6. Turn It Off
    Rating: 9.3. From 750 votes.
  7. Revelations (Sequel to The Fort and Survival)
    Rating: 9.3. From 67 votes.
  8. Psychosis
    Rating: 9.2. From 18630 votes.
  9. Bedtime
    Rating: 9.2. From 10697 votes.
  10. Mr. Widemouth
    Rating: 9.2. From 8369 votes.

Random Pasta Menu